Check out our Q&A with "Trekkies" filmmaker Roger Nygard on the sequel to his cult hit, Star Trek vs. Star Wars and the beautiful madness of international Trekkies.
Roger Nygard (pictured at left, with "Spock") is the rare kind of filmmaker who can successfully straddle the worlds of fiction and reality. Probably most famous for helming cult docu-comedies on subjects like Star Trek fans and UFO's, his resume also includes directing two comedic features ("High Strung" and "Back to Back") and a two-season stint as a director and editor for HBO's "The Mind of the Married Man."
But it's really the space stuff that keeps his name abuzz in Hollywood, on the internet, and in DVD stores. After former Star Trek actress Denise Crosby (right, waving to adoring fans at a Trek event) worked with him on "High Strung," she sold him on the idea of doing a documentary about Trek fans. It wasn't long after shooting began in 1996 that Nygard realized what an unusual group of people he was interviewing; the Trekkies were funny and engaging in a way that's unique to people who are genuinely passionate about something.
In "Trekkies," Nygard opens up the Star Trek fan universe, exploring everything from a Trekkie dental office to the now-infamous Whitewater juror who wore her Starfleet uniform to court. He also captured the magic of Star Trek conventions, the revere afforded to Star Trek actors, and the plethora of Trek-inspired fan art, fan fiction and fan films.
When "Trekkies" was released on DVD, word-of-mouth praise sent the film into bona-fide cult status. Nygard went on to make another documentary,"Six Days in Roswell," which follows the pilgrimage of Richard Kronfeld (a Trek propmaker who'd been featured in "Trekkies") to Roswell, New Mexico for the 50th Anniversary of the famous alleged alien spaceship crash there. The film examines the UFO phenomenon in American through a lense of playfulness similar to that of "Trekkies."
After spending two years following UFO freaks around the country, Nygard shifted gears and co-wrote, edited, and directed "Suckers," a dramatic-comedy about a car salesman, before returning to the Trek world to make "Trekkies 2." After criticism by some Trekkies that the first film had not accurately explored "normal" fans, Nygard set out to examine what level of fandom Trekkies themselves felt was "normal" versus "extreme." He also wanted to tap into the mine of international Trekkies, who despite vast cultural differences share a unifying love for all things Star Trek.
Roger Nygard and Denise Crosby join Marty in our studio Monday, October 11th. Click here for free tickets, then keep reading for the Q& A, which offers a sneak peak at all the dirt behind the filmmaking.
G4techTV: You've admitted that when Denise Crosby initially pitched to you the “Trekkies” idea, you weren't sure if it would work. Once you agreed to make the film, was there a certain turning point, a sort of "ah-ha! moment" when you realized how compelling these people were?
Roger Nygard: Actually, when Denise pitched me the idea, what I said was, “I can’t believe nobody has done this yet. It seems so obvious.” But once the project was underway, we weren’t sure where it would take us, andif we would be able to find a story in all the footage. The moment where it really jelled was when the original series actors remembered the first convention they attended. Intercutting their stories brought back a glimpse of the excitement that was generated at that very first meeting, which was packed to overflowing.
G4: When you made the first film, nobody had any idea how it would all come together, including the people you interviewed. But when you went to make the second film, there was a good chance your interview subjects were already familiar with the first “Trekkies” film. Was that part of the reason you decided to go internationally rather than just revisiting American Trekkies?
RN: We liked the fact that we had a second chance to approach this subject. It gave us the opportunity to improve, and to address mistakes we made the first time. One of the tricks we missed, was that we didn’t open up the focus to fans around the world.
The biggest criticism we got for the first film was that we didn’t show enough “normal” trek fans. I wasn’t sure what a “normal” fan was. So this time we asked the fans to define for us what is normal, and what is extreme. As you can imagine, there was no consensus. That segment is one of my favorite parts of the movie.
G4:Did the awareness of the first “Trekkies” make it easier or more difficult to get Trek fans and Trek actors to talk to you on-camera?
RN: Fans and interview subjects sought us out as soon as we put the word out (and they still do). It’s not hard to find Star Trek fans to interview—if anything, it’s hard to get them to shut up once the camera is on. They love to talk about the passion they share for Star Trek. If they are willing to wear a uniform in public, not only are they probably not afraid of a little publicity, they crave it.
G4: How different are American fans from other fans in other countries?
RN: We found small differences in every country. In the United States, sometimes the fans go more out there with their expression of Star Trek fandom. The phenomenon started here, and Americans are the most creative with it. Witness the Star Trek theme bands in Sacramento, or the fan films, or the massive conventions.
I’ll break the countries down for you…
Germany: They know how to party! And they had the best Enterprise bridge recreations (e.g., Christoph Hees' fan film, "Star Trek: Das Vermactnis") and the second best costumes (sorry, but the Italian's took that crown--the best Italian tailors are in Italy.)
Italy: Yes, the best costumes. And the best food at a convention—by far. The best convention location: seaside on the Adriatic. Not just a great convention, but a great vacation as well.
France: The best food that involves cheese, duck liver, or snails. We learned that the Star Trek fans are still not mainstream in France because television shows are not considered a part of culture there—yet.
England: The Exceptional Fan Award goes to Tony Alleyne for the amazing remodel he did to his flat, turning his living space into a starship interior, 70% based on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Australia: The cliché is true, the Australians really do have a quirky sense of humor. And it also extends to their enjoyment of Star Trek. We met Judith McGinness, who told us, with a twinkle in her eye, that she wants to open a retirement home for old Trekkers, called "The Decaying Orbits Home for Geriatric Children."
Brazil: The most colorful, upbeat Star Trek fans. The most varied mix of people. And the best nightlife! A beautiful country, and beautiful Star Trek fans. Sao Paulo is also the largest city we visited, with 14 million people.
Serbia: The heart of the documentary. We were privileged to attend the first convention ever held in the Balkans--an historic event. And it was an emotional event as well. There were tears in our eyes when it came time to leave.
But the lesson was that you could take all these people and put them in a room together and they would all belong, because they all share similar beliefs, based on the philosophies underlying of Star Trek.
G4: I have a theory about Star Wars vs. Star Trek. The struggle in Star Wars is centered around a monarchy and revolution, while Star Trek is based on democracy and education. Do you think those themes play into why Star Trek appeals to some people more than Star Wars? Obviously Star Wars and Star Trek both have cult followings, but do you think Trekkies take their fandom to a much more social, intimate level than Star Wars fans?
RN: It’s simply a difference of philosophy. The Star Trek fans are the type of people who share a positive vision of human beings and the future. Star Wars fans are more into conflict, battles, and laser blasts. Or as Star Wars fan Jon Garrison says as he debates Whitewater juror Barbara Adams, the reason he likes Star Wars better: “It doesn’t say anything. You don’t have to think about it, it’s just good.”
G4: You ended up making "Six Days in Roswell," a film about UFO fanatics because of Rich Kronfeld, one of the instrumental forces behind the first "Trekkies." Do you find a lot of overlap between "Star Trek" fans and true believers of extra-terrestrial experiences?
RN: There is a natural overlap among all things science-fiction related. And specifically there is overlap between the people who look to the future and the people who look to the skies. They are all searching for something, searching for meaning in their lives.
G4: I know your goal in producing a follow-up to Trekkies was partly to respond to the concerns some Star Trek fans voiced after seeing the first film. What has the response been to “Trekkies 2”?
RN: So far so good. We are posting all the film’s reviews on the www.Trekkies2.com website. Star Trek fans seem to be responding to what they feel is a more balanced portrait in T2. In fact, some of the criticisms thus far say we weren’t mean enough this time. We’ve never meant to be mean, or to poke fun at oddballs. We simply wanted to provide a platform for exceptional folks to be able to get their message across, no matter how odd they may be.
G4: Will there be a “Trekkies 3”?
RN: We hope so. Of course, it all depends on how Trekkies 2 is received. We should know in about a year’s time if number 3 will happen.
G4: Thank you so much for your time. We all look forward to sitting down and chatting more with you on Unscrewed!
RN: My pleasure.
"Trekkies" filmmaker Roger Nygard will be in our studio Monday, October 11th. Click here for free tickets.