Last month, we were contacted by Nathan Blackwell of Squishy Studios about his sci-fi parody web series Voyage Trekkers and we got to do an interview with him about the project. He talks about the joys and challenges of filming a science-fiction show on a low budget.If you haven't seen it yet, here's a description:
The worst starship in the Galactic Union gets into one adventure after another. Lead by the cocky Captain Sunstrike, the exasperated Doctor and the nonchalant Commander Powell struggle to stay alive.It really is hilarious and all the actors do a great job. We've enjoyed all ten episodes and, as season one comes ends, Nathan tells us more about the series and what we can expect.
Q: Tell us about your most recent web series Voyage Trekkers.
I've always been a fan of science-fiction, but I've never found the right opportunity to do it. The original premise was just to do six episodes of the series, but we had so much fun doing them after we shot them last December that we decided to round it out to an even ten and make it a full web series.
Q: How did you decide to create a parody of space operas?
Well, first of all, comedy is kind of my favorite genre to work with. Because I'm such a fan of movies I like to mix it with other styles. Some of the other short films I've done in the past were like a zombie comedy, or a 1940s noir comedy called "Masters of Daring." Other shorts like that. The great thing about sci-fi is that you get to invent everything. You get to create the world. From the costumes and props to the guns you don't get too much for free.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you've had filming Voyage Trekkers?
That was one of the challenges. We have these characters going throughout the galaxy and visiting different worlds, but we're actually in Phoenix, Arizona and we don’t have any money
Q: When I first saw it, I thought back to the original Star Trek series where they filmed almost everything in California.
Exactly. And so they probably have a few more places than we have. If we want a forest location we have to drive quite a distance. That’s probably been the biggest challenge is making it look like they're visiting different worlds when we have very few options.
Q: In one episode you filmed at the Phoenix Zoo. How did that come about?
Well, I used to work at the Phoenix Zoo and I still have a lot of contacts there and they’ve been big supporters and fans of mine. So, luckily I was able to work out an arrangement with them that I was able to shoot a couple of times when the zoo was closed. Of course, there were supervisors and others making sure that we were above board, but I'd actually shot there years before when I was an employee. So they trusted me in that regard.
It was all thanks to a couple of really cool old supervisors of mine.
Q: The season finale for Voyage Trekkers airs October 3rd (Monday). What can you tell us about it?
Its turned out to be such a beast. We've got so much work. I'm actually going to be continuing to work on it after the season wrap party. Its going to be one of those things were I'm going to be uploading it the day its supposed to be airing.
The big deal about the season finale is that it's going to be called "Many Paths to Eden." Kind of an old Star Trekky name. The big thing is that its going to be a choose-your own adventure. The audience is going to be able, a couple of times, to chose the path the story goes with. There are only going to be two major choices, but having two choices means there have to be seven separate video segments. There are actually four different endings you can have with this. That’s why its been taking so much time. Its literally three times as long as a normal episode.
Q: How will that work?
There’s going to be two points in the story basically they’ll be able to choose two different paths. If they’re on YouTube with the annotations, they’ll be able to just click and it will take you to one of the other videos. If you don’t have YouTube, the very first video will have all seven segments combined so you can scroll to the right time and pick up the rest of the story there.
It's not as complex visually as some of the stuff we’ve seen, like episode nine, where it was completely green screen. That was the most difficult and complex one we've done. This had green screen in every single shot, but like green screen out the window. Unfortunately, the quantity of shots, they're not very difficult, have just made it take a while.
There's nothing crazy going on, we just wanted to open up the location a little more to make it feel like they're on another planet. Its one of the techniques you have to use when you have a limited set of places to shoot.
Q: Can we look forward to a second season?
Q: Will there be opportunities for fans to send donations?
We're probably going to do some kind of fund-raising. We don’t want to just ask for money. We want to make it a little fun. We'll probably do some kind of screening where we show all ten episodes and all the proceeds go to the web series. And we'll probably also do something like Indie A Gogo if they want to donate also.
But, since we do want to raise the bar. We'll probably also solicit from some local businesses and put an ad on the website or fund an episode or something like that. To really take the project and take the series where we want to go, it unfortunately, costs money.
Its just like KickStarter. it has a couple things that KickStarter doesn’t have. One of the cool things about Indie A-Go-Go, is that you don’t have to reach your entire amount to get the money.
Q: How has the Internet changed the world of film distribution and where do you see it in five years?
Well its kind of good and bad thing. There's more product out there, so you have more competition. At the same time, its more accepted by people.
Now, the downside with web series is that they’re not really financially viable. So, in the sense of getting people to invest money into them unless you're getting huge numbers.
It's definitely difficult for people doing web series. If you want to do it for a living, there's much easier ways to go about it in the Indie feature world.
Basically, if you’re willing to work hard enough there's a lot more opportunities than what you’ve had in the past. It just turns into a grass roots operation. You have to do a lot of person-to-person and getting the word out there you have to kind of make it your job. In terms of the next five years, that's a tough question.
I definitively see people where I am, kind of the low end, getting a lot more savvy with publicity and this whole grass roots thing because, thanks to the Internet, we can kind of see what they’re doing right and what they're doing wrong. I dunno.
In terms of the next five years? Boy. I wish I knew.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a film-maker?
I had been making movies for years, but I never decided "Hey, I think I'll try this filmmaker thing. I'll give it shot, until my Sophomore or Junior year of high school. It had been my primary hobby for nearly ten years at that point. It never crossed my mind as something realistic. Or possible even.
Because there was not much similarity between the movies I liked and the movies I made. I basically transferred to South Mountain High School which had a video production program. It was a really exciting time where I got to actually use more professional tools editing. It was just like magic at that point. So, that was really exciting. And to actually have other people, other than my friends, wanting to do the same thing was really encouraging.
Q: What was the first film you ever made like?
I was probably making movies around six. It was kind of like, with my parents, we would make kind of like little Star Wars movies with action figures and kind of like stop motion and things like that. I never got to direct a movie, where I was the decider of everything, until I was eleven, and that was a super 8 film.
It was still kind of homage, slash ripoff. Which I think is like a lot of kids movies. It was a little like an Indiana Jones kind of adventure film. Ours was an original story. Well, I don’t know how original it was. It was basically an Indiana Jones kind of short.
Q: Do you think you'd even make another film like that again with your more advanced budget?
Something like that was pretty cool. I probably wouldn't be a remake or something like that. It would probably be along the same lines as Star Wars and Star Trek like Voyage Trekkers, doing something a little of center.
Q: My brother and I have talked about how Arizona is developing it's own culture in the "geek" community with the Comic-Con and several prominent Cosplay groups. Where do you see the Arizona culture developing? Do you think we'll ever be a prominent place like Los Angeles?
That would be great. I'm not sure how prominent it would be as an actual business. In terms of creating kind of a cool indie geek scene that would be great.
It's really hard to kind of develop an industry if you really wanted to work in feature films because it would require that the big studios come here for one reason or another. We have a lot of environments that California has so they’d rather just stay there. But, maybe if we develop tax incentives. There have been a lot of attempts to get studio down here.
In terms of an indie geek scene that would fantastic, and I do kind of see that happening in the last couple of years. And there’s more and more of this kind of stuff going on in Mesa and in Phoenix with with the monthly art walks we're seeing more and more of this kind of stuff.
And with a couple of indie film theaters popping up like "The Royale" in Mesa and "The Film Bar" of Phoenix. Phoenix grew really fast, but its taken us a while to develop a kind of culture. If you have a Boston or Chicago you can easily see 200 years of development and culture and identity where as with us we’ve had to kind of work through the Walmart's and Circle Ks and develop and come into our own.
Q: What's next from you and "Squishy Studios?"
We definitely want to do another Voyage Trekkers season, that would be great. If we do want to do that we have to make a decision real quick because of how long it takes to shoot and edit we need to get our act together in the next couple of months. I'm hoping it's going to happen.
We shot, before Voyage Trekkers, a series called Normally this Weird. It was a webseries that we had started years ago, we shot the first two pilot episodes and we never got around to actually doing the rest of the first season till the beginning of this year. We actually have that all in the can.
So what's going to happen is that Normally this Weird probably in the beginning of this year is going to come out in the off-time of voyage trekkers. We have basically another webseries coming out in the downtime of Voyage Trekkers.
The first two episodes are already out now. They came out almost two years ago, it was kind of one of those long developing things. Between Voyage Trekkers and Normally this Weird there’s not time for anything else I’m afraid. It's like a thousand hours a week.
I think everyone is really going to be excited about the season finale of Voyage Trekkers. Because its basically going to be an eight to ten minute episode and then each of the choices has they're own like gags and subplots. I think its a way where we’ve kind of broken the formula just a little bit to where we can have a longer form of adventure.
Q: That'll be great. Voyage Trekkers has always been way too short for me.
That’s kind of been the back-handed compliment. And we do want to make the stories longer for season two. But, we're worried about how much is too much in terms of our own production time and resources, but also how much is too much in terms of breaking the formula that people like as a product.
Q: One of my favorite episodes is "Language Barrier." It almost felt like two seperate epsidodes.
Actually we had only seen episodes that were two minutes long and then suddenly a five minute episode comes out. Its like "Oh, my gosh, this ones so long!"
We'd like to thank Norman Blackwell for the interview and the entire team at Squishy Studios, which has been great!
Thanks to Adam Rini (Captain Sunstrike), Logan Blackwell (Commander Powell) and Gabrielle Van Buren (Doctor Rena) and the rest of the fantastic actors involved.
To find out more head to the official site for behind-the-scenes videos and info. Make sure you like them on Facebook and why not buy one of their amazing T-Shirts or other gifts?
Most of all, tune into the season finale in two days! It's going to be amazing!
What do you think of the interview? Are you looking forward to the season finale of Voyage Trekkers?