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Nathan Blackwell Talks About the Future of VOYAGE TREKKERS [Interview]

Voyage Trekkers (2013) From left to right: Lieutenant Rena (Gabrielle Van Buren), Captain Sunstrike (Adam Rini), Nathan Blackwell, and Lt. Commander Powell (Logan Blackwell)

Nathan Blackwell tells us why being the worst crew in the galaxy is a good thing. Voyage Trekkers is in its second session and I caught up with Nathan Blackwell, the show's creator, and asked him what's in store for the intrepid crew.

He told me about how season two is different from season one, the challenges of producing in Arizona and the 

MM: First, what's the biggest change between the first and second season of Voyage Trekkers?

Nathan Blackwell: I think the biggest change between season one and season two is how much we wanted to cram into what is that short little span of what a web series episode is. We tried to put in a lot more time filming each episode. There's not nearly enough time of course. And then just bring the full weight of our "A Game" it's also the writing as well. The storytelling that we've had to do. People can be impressed by your production design, but ultimately what it comes down to is choosing to tell the characters in a strong way.

"People can be impressed by your production design, but ultimately what it comes down to is choosing to tell the characters in a strong way."

In season one the episodes were very situation dependent, Like, oh they're trying to get  through the door, or they're sneaking into a bad guy base.
What the characters did was based on the situation, and I think in season two the characters themselves are creating the humor.

So we've decided to tell bigger stories, but now they're driven more by the characters themselves.

I think the first episode of season two is, in some ways, kind of us announcing how the season is different that we wanted to introduce more characters, tell more of their story and actually visit them in their work every day is on their ship. Even though there are still a lot of episodic stories in season two, that's where we start of it where were going to end. I think that the audience will find that this season starts gradually moving back to where we begin with episode one of season two: With them on their ship and the characters creating the comedy from their own behavior.

MM: I got to talk to you a bit at the Phoenix Comicon? What was your experience with the con this year?
NB: It was great experience. We won "Best Web-series and "Best in Arizona." So, we were really happy with that.

The panel was a great experience. Even though we kind of had a technical snafu at the very beginning, we were able to kind of get over it and introduce it to a lot of new people.

I was surprised we had a huge turn out of 160 people and about half of them had never seen the show. They were just interested in it. They saw it in the program or they'd seen it at the booth, which were sharing with the steampunk web series Mantecoza , and wanted to kind of check out the show. It was a really great experience. It was a lot of fun.

MM: How important are the fans to you and your group?
NB: It's hugely important. I was talking about how making a web series is like driving a train and then you've got to kind of stoke the fire of not only the production but the promotion and the fan interaction. I thought we did a really good job between season one and season two.

"Those superfans are so important to a web series, or anything, because they're actively promoting your project for you."

We're able to continually engage with the audience and bring out kind of like new things. For example, the novella Voyage Trekkers: Gambit of Chance, the radio play and then a fan fiction contest. That way, even though we didn't have new episodes coming out, our fan base was continually active instead of dying out.

I've seen this with other web series where they have these long periods where the episodes aren't coming out. You can sense the cooling of the energy around the project. You can sense people aren't engaged anymore with the show.

And so, when were able to continually interact and talk and post things with our fans, when season two came out it was primed for everyone to get involved on that first day.

MM: Were the novella and radio plays always part of the plan?
NB: Our original ambition was always just to do a couple of episodes for fun and move onto other projects, but it became so much fun that we kept doing more. With the radio play and novella we had originally created those things because we wanted to. We thought it was a lot of fun, but we were also trying to make a lot of new fans by using this kind of like special feature projects.

However it didn't actually work out the way we thought it would by bringing in new fans. Instead it was actually really successful in keeping our existing fan base engaged and excited. It kind of cultivated especially our superfans which are the fans who take in anything in our world, who tell all their friends about the show and who like and comment on all your videos. Those superfans are so important to a web series, or anything, because they're actively promoting your project for you.

MM: So, where did the novella come from?

NB: Well, that was a situation where you use what you have. The co-creator of Voyage Trekkers, Craig Curtis, is actually an author. He writes novels and he was game to write a novella in between his epic fantasy novels.

He just came out with one Elefante Bianco, which is a sequel to The Other Side of the Gate. We had a novelist on our team. It was an exciting way to tell a longer story that also kind pf introduced a lot of characters that we knew would appear in season two before they actually appeared in season two. It kind of reminded me of when they would come out with the Star Wars novel before the movie came out. And a way for the fans who wanted to dig deeper into the universe to actually find out more about the ship and the crew.

Also, we come up with a lot of ideas and characters that we're not always able to squeeze into a four or five minute episode, so it was a way to introduce some things with a longer form of storytelling

MM: Will there be any more books?
NB: I would say that would be really cool, but it depends on how many people have downloaded it. I don't know if we have those numbers yet. The problem with Amazon is that they only post their numbers quarterly, so we have to wait a couple of months before we get those numbers back from the kindle. I think that as our fan base grows our people will dig the novellas or like the radio plays. It's always going to be a smaller percentage than your entire fan base.

I would love it if we were able to do more novellas. It's definitely limiting when you can only show so much because of your budget or because of how short your episodes are. So we're always chomping at the bit to find a way to tell more Voyage Trekkers.

MM: Do you guys have a "Show bible" that you reference? Is it an actual book or something in your head?
NB: It's half and half. People keep asking if we have something like that. We've kind of made an occasional attempt to update a Word document that has what the tech is called and what certain planets are called,  but no.

MM: While your special effects have always boon good, it seems like this season they've gone to a new level. Is it because you got more funding or more resources?

NB: We have spent zero dollars on visual effects in season one and two.

The thing that's cost a lot of money was building the bridge set. That was hugely expensive and in terms of time.

In terms of the visual effects for season two, we had a fan from Australia come forward to us and said he wanted to be part of the project and he's been doing all of our CGI ship effects, which have been awesome. It was the case of someone who saw the first season and really dug it and they had a real talent of making these effects. SIGIL FX has been great and we've been so pleased with the work. He's been a real asset to the project.

MM: Now that Voyage Trekkers is an established part of the Arizona community are there plans to expand outside of Arizona?
NB: It definitely is still more centralized in Phoenix in terms of our fan base and mainly because of the value of face-to-face interaction. We've made a lot of fans from the Phoenix Comicon who came by our booth and met us who were able to ask questions and have that human connection with us. Obviously we're only able to bring our full weight to our home town comic con.

It's just so much more expensive if we have to get plane tickets and hotels and things like that. And I really wish that we had more money to do San Diego Comic-Con, Dragon*Con, Gen Con and all these other conventions. But, I think as season one has been out for a while now, that we've been getting more and more fans via social media. Things like Facebook and social media type and YouTube as well. And when we get articles on websites that'll bring in other fans from around the United States and the world.

MM: Speaking of social media, I saw you got a tweet comparing Voyage Trekkers to Galaxy Quest!
We had gotten a tweet from Saturday Night Live Weekend Update. They're Twitter feed plugged us and it was such a crazy and abstract experience.

"If you enjoy the movie Galaxy Quest, you'll love this hilarious Voyage Trekkers web series." - The Official Twitter for SNL's Weekend Update

I don't know how they found out about the show, but I'm sure it was some intern that came across it and dug it. But also because it got hardly any views from that. It was really abstract in a lot of ways. That was so cool though.

MM: You said last time we talked that you've been a filmmaker since High School. How has your experience with Voyage Trekkers changed your view of being a director?

Well, the world is changing in what you can do and more and more of it is going to be online. I was in film school before there was YouTube, and I remember being kind of in a self-enclosed vacuum in terms of the film-making society of just having seen what film festivals or short films that I could physically go to or see on TV.

Now that you can see stuff online, everything is so much more visually interesting and sophisticated. It really kind of opens up todays filmmakers to what people all over the world are doing.

Its kind of a peer-to-peer experience. You were always able to see what feature filmmakers were doing, but you were never able to see what other film students are doing or people your age. And with social media, you're able to see who these people are and sometimes blog about what they do. It's really been eye opening in terms of that.

In terms of being a film maker in Phoenix its still very difficult if you're trying to make a living in terms off web series or feature films.

There are actually other cities that you wouldn't necessarily think you can have an easier time and a lot of these cities or states that have tax breaks. But I think as the web and TV start merging together that there will be more opportunities to remain independent and to actually generate a career out of it. That you can decentralize a lot of production. Because there's a lot of people in Phoenix who are great at film-making. It's just that if you're good at certain crafts like lighting or photography or being a grip, then it makes sense to go where the work is. Which is LA.

"I think as the web and TV start merging together that there will be more opportunities to remain independent and to actually generate a career out of it."

It's tougher for me as a writer/ director to go to LA without something in my hand because I don't have a skill. It's just tougher. Because, effectively, the director is the boss. I've always been a little weird about not taking the scenic route. It also kind of frustrated me.

I would have loved to have paid my dues for ten years doing assistant directors stuff or other kind of things in L.A. to where I would get the opportunity to know more people to network in L.A. and then to direct feature films there. However, I always found that incredibly boring.

I just wanted to tell stories, for better or for worse, but things have gotten so much easier to get the work out there thanks to the Internet.

MM: Thanks for the interview Nathan!

About Voyage Trekkers
Voyage Trekkers is a comedy web series described as following "the worst starship crew in the Galactic Union." Lead by the charismatic but self-centered Captain Sunstrike (Adam Rini), with the help of the unfazed first officer Commander Powell (Logan Blackwell), and the exasperated Doctor Rena (Gabrielle Van Buren), they seek to climb their way up the space adventure ladder.

Created by Nathan Blackwell and Craig Michael Curtis, the show is produced by their production company Squishy Studios and Executive Producer Tray Goodman's Goodman Creative Minds Media.  Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Season One began production in December 2010 and premiered in July of 2011.  Season Two started production in February 2012, but was spread throughout the year as they tackled the ambitious undertaking of building a physical bridge set for the crew.  Season Two will premiere with weekly episodes starting in May 2013.

"The show is truly a labor of love and it's our comedic love letter to the sci-fi genre." said Writer / Director Nathan Blackwell, "It never escapes us how great it is that we're grown adults running around in space outfits with ray guns, fighting people with lizard masks. The project was born out of the desire to make something that was good and silly fun.  There was no ambitious master plan.  It was just supposed to be a single weekend with however many episodes we could finish in that time and that would be it.  But because we had such a good time, with people we loved to worked with, the project took off with a life of it's own."

"We're so incredibly thankful to everyone who have helped us along the way and volunteered their time and energy to bringing this show to life."

For more information, see Voyage Trekker's website VoyageTrekkers.com, Twitter or Facebook page.

What do you think of Nathan Blackwell and Voyage Trekkers? Do you have a favorite episode from the show? Is there a web series you love?

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  1. Don't really follow web series but it does sound kind of like Galaxy Quest, or at least the show within the movie.

  2. I have never heard about Voyage Trekkers but it sounds like a fun show to watch!



  3. It really is Nutschell. Take a look and you'll be hooked.

  4. It's just like it actually, worth the same sense of ironic humor.

  5. interesting... that so much dedication goes into the project, will... need to check it out.

  6. Don't know of this show, but it sounds awful fun. Maybe Netflix will pick it up.


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