Thanks to popular sci-fi movies and TV series (most notably the STAR WARS and STAR TREK franchises, among many others), plus the heroic real life exploits of those brave astronauts and cosmonauts who’ve conquered the far reaches of space, our continuing fascination with all things relating to life beyond planet Earth has never been stronger.
Along with Hollywood’s depiction of space exploration, web series like VOYAGE TREKKERS, RED SHIRTS and others have brought online viewers equally memorable, as well as comical, depictions of life in outer space. At the same time, the popularity of first-person “vlog” (video blog) shows like Pemberley Digital’s THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES, EMMA APPROVED and CLASSIC ALICE have also made a significant impact on audiences.
Now, the upcoming comedy series PERSONAL SPACE employs the narrative style practiced by those aforementioned series within the context of a sci-fi/comedy setting; one that can best be described as STAR TREK meets THE TRUMAN SHOW. PERSONAL SPACE is set in an extraordinary alternate universe where America’s space program has far surpassed the total history and progression of humanity itself.
Co-created by Tom R. Pike, Zack Wallnau and Dana Luery Shaw, the series is soon to launch its first season of 28 episodes (4-7 minutes each) on its official Youtube page and via the new ShareTV network (see additional links below).
A Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for production of season 1 (approximately $45,000) is already underway.
PERSONAL SPACE follows the seemingly mundane, yet constantly hilarious, journeys of the spaceship Overture, which, in 2016, continues a mission that began way back in 1991. While they carry on with the usual tasks of maintaining and operating their ship, and their continuous search for intelligent life, the Overture crew also experiences the same personal problems that many of us face back down on Earth.
What they don’t know is that their otherwise discreet therapy sessions are being televised to a worldwide audience as part of a reality TV series. Why? Well, it turns out that when the American space program went belly up, an ambitious production company called Actaeon bought NASA’s mission control center (which would broadcast their sessions).
As part of this incredible alternate scenario, famed scientist/rocket designer Wernher von Braun (played by THE MERCURY MEN’s Mark Tierno) defects from his native Germany to the United States before the outbreak of World War II (in reality, he did so afterward), and ends up overseeing the design and construction of the Overture itself.
Tierno plays the legendary scientist in a series of meticulously prepared and produced “archival” photos, as well as PERSONAL SPACE’s 4 episode ’80s educational series homage SCIENCE MARCHES HAN (also streaming on its Youtube channel),
The Overture’s crew consists of newly-installed Second Shift Commander Gail Gartner (played by Nicki Clyne, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA ’03), an idealistic scientist whose predecessor, ex-Navy man and First Shift Commander Robert King (played by Richard Hatch, veteran of both the original and rebooted BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series), struggles to loosen his 25 year grip on the Overture.
Among Gartner’s charges are Flight Engineer Leonard Freeman (played by Kurt Yaeger, SONS OF ANARCHY, CLOSE ENOUGH), who joined the Overture after having saved a NASA Mars spacecraft, and its crew, from a near-fatal crash landing as it returned to Earth.
Other members of the Overture’s quirky but dedicated crew are Dr. Stanley “Blasto” Blaszkiewicz (Sean Persaud), who possesses not just an overly emotional personality, but also a considerable tendency to remove some of his fellow crew members’ own personal belongings from right under their noses.
PERSONAL SPACE’s impressive cast of sci-fi veterans also includes Tahmoh Penikett (from the 2003 revival of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, plus Joss Whedon’s short lived Fox series DOLLHOUSE) as Overture Captain James LaBarre. Ready at a moment’s notice to bail the Overture’s crew out of their latest jam, Capt. LaBarre will be right on schedule – except when you take into account the fact that he’s been cryogenically frozen for years.
Joining Capt. LaBarre in the perpetual state of suspended animation that is living in an isolated cryonic chamber is First Shift Flight Engineer Jeff Lipschitz (Tim Russ, STAR TREK: VOYAGER), a man whose expertise and command of the Overture earned him the praise and respect of all those he worked with. Of course, his friendship with Commander King was just as legendary.
PERSONAL SPACE also stars Brent Bailey (EMMA APPROVED) as ex-NASA writer Trevor Richards, the Overture’s Mission Control-based digital media coordinator. Unfortunately for Trevor, his new job with Actaeon has resulted in his being stuck in a far less ambitious role – that of managing the Twitter page for the company’s ever popular reality series SAY MAYBE TO THE BABY.
Driven by his own lifelong love of, and fascination with, space itself, Pike created PERSONAL SPACE as a way to not just honor that passion, but also to develop a show that would be ambitious in its production style amid a meager budget and the typical time limits of a web series.
Having worked with Shaw and Wallnau to create the TV Tropes show ECHO CHAMBER, Pike’s latest collaboration with the two filmmakers grew out of their decidedly bigger ambitions for a similarly themed project that never got off the ground.
“We had always wanted to make something set in space. I wrote a TV pilot script called AMITY full of explosions and adventure, and Zack loved it. He told me, ‘we should just make this.’ I said, ‘this is a $4 million per episode kind of show. We can’t just make this.’ So for years, we tried to create ‘mini-Amity’, a small show with small explosions, and each one was just terrible,” recalls Pike.
“Everything that was exciting about AMITY was just replaced with a cheaper, crappier version of itself, and the half-dozen mini-Amities Dana and I wrote were all tedious and disappointing. They never made it out of development,” After abandoning what would have otherwise been a costly idea, Pike, Shaw and Wallnau immediately refocused their efforts toward creating a series that would work within the small production budget they could work with.
“Eventually, we stopped trying to work against the constraints of the web series medium,” explains Pike. “We asked instead, what kinds of stories can be told well with a budget we could actually raise? Zack came up with an idea to do the show vlog-style for the most part, with us seeing the therapy records of a spaceship crew.”
As it turned out, PERSONAL SPACE took full advantage of the “vlog” narrative format, while effectively poking fun at the more seamy aspects of reality TV itself. It also helped that Pike and his crew could spend less time building elaborately designed spaceship sets, and more time developing and fine-tuning the series’ story and characters.
“From there, I assembled a writer’s room, and together we developed the characters and their arcs, and added the alternate past idea so that we could tell the story as if it was happening in the present,” adds Pike. “I sometimes forget that the core of the show was Zack’s idea, and he incepted it into my brain and got me to fight for it like it was my own.”
Pike and his production team went to great lengths to present a strong sense of realism in every episode of the series, even going so far as to creatively employ the usage of real life personalities.
Along with the faux “archival” presentation involving von Braun, PERSONAL SPACE also features extra content in the form of a prequel series: the ‘80s era PBS style educational science show SCIENCE MARCHES HAN, airing during PERSONAL SPACE’s Kickstarter funding drive.
“PERSONAL SPACE wants you to feel like it’s really happening. The point of the von Braun and PR photo shoots, as well as the coming Bill Nye homage (in SCIENCE MARCHES HAN) is to make the show feel like a believable part of the real world,” he says. “Our teaser will feature a speech from President Reagan about Overture, which was assembled from real speeches Reagan gave.”
Pike’s emphasis on accuracy also extended to the most critical aspect of PERSONAL SPACE’s storyline and production. “The science is designed to be plausible. The idea that even well-qualified, intelligent people would start to annoy each other after being locked together for extended periods of time is inspired by experiments like Biosphere,” he explains. “AMI, the ship’s therapy computer, is based on an early therapy chat bot named ELIZA from the 70’s.”
While making a sci-fi comedy series has its own share of challenges, it’s obvious that getting the science part of PERSONAL SPACE right was the greatest test for Pike and his behind the scenes crew – even if Pike’s unwavering commitment to nailing the scientific elements of the series drove some members of his team crazy.
“Our VFX (visual effects) guys are too nice to admit it, but this dedication to accuracy can be a pain in the butt! I made them use real topographical NASA data on the Moon and Mars, instead of just slapping a moon map onto a sphere,” recalls Pike. “You can’t really tell the difference, but I know there’s real ridges and craters on those things. It makes a difference to me.”
Another major part of PERSONAL SPACE’s appeal is its impressive cast of sci-fi genre stalwarts. Even though the task of bringing those popular stars on board was a challenge all its own, Pike says that it was another cast member/alumna of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA whose efforts would make a tremendous difference in the casting process.
“From the start, we’d hoped to involve as many sci-fi veterans as possible, but we didn’t really know how many we’d be able to get,” he remembers.
“We exceeded our expectations, and one big reason for that is Nicki Clyne (who plays Gail Gartner in PERSONAL SPACE). We’d written the part of Gail Gartner picturing Nicki, and her joining the show was a turning point. She helped us track down Richard and Tahmoh, and the rest of the cast came together easily.”
PERSONAL SPACE’s dedication to bringing viewers a realistic, yet highly entertaining view of life aboard a space station, instantly attracted Yaeger to the series. A self-described “sci-fi geek” who pursued a Master’s degree in hydrogeology before a fateful biking accident that forced the amputation of one of his legs, Yaeger found much in common with the journey of the character he would portray in the series.
“I understand the amount of effort (that) behind the scenes scientists do to become what they are. I also understand picking yourself back up after a major, life changing event and what it means to fight through your fears to get back to ‘regular’ life,” Yaeger says. “My character has gone through a similar situation, and (has) had to fight his way back to his position. That leaves him with a lot of confidence, but also makes him formidable to deal with.”
Having starred in the comedy/documentary series CLOSE ENOUGH (recently covered on this blog), Yaeger is already accustomed to the production demands of, and opportunities for social media interaction through, independently produced web series. Thanks to the personal nature of such shows, and the infinite possibilities for creative growth for actors and filmmakers alike, Yeager views web series with strong enthusiasm.
“Web series are like the wild west, in that you can do and try anything to see what works. It’s a great place to work with like minded people who want to produce content, (and) not just talk about it with an endless stream of agents/producers who promise the world and deliver very little,” explains Yaeger. “I like to work. Working makes me a better actor, and this (working on PERSONAL SPACE) is an immediate return on my efforts.”
Part of that return is the instant communication he enjoys with viewers and personal friends on his work. “Being on the web, I get to directly link with my fans and friends to my social media pages and this gives me immediate feedback. I greatly appreciate the public’s feedback because it’s almost always positive,” Yaeger says.
“There is nothing better than to have a message on one of my social media pages that is positive and encouraging of the work we do. It really helps in those quiet hours when you don’t know if anyone gives a sh*t.”
Working on PERSONAL SPACE with a tremendous assortment of sci-fi talent has also made a positive impact on Yaeger as an actor, who was thrilled to collaborate with Hatch for a second time on the series. “Richard and I are good friends! We met on another film project years ago and we’re both excited to work together again,” he says.
Yaeger made the most of working with a talented, experienced group of performers; actors who would also bring out the best in him during every scene. “There is nothing better than getting to work with friends on a project. It makes it so much more enjoyable,” adds Yaeger. “I learn from every actor I work with. It’s always a positive lesson even if things go south. So, I always look forward to working with actors who have different ideas, techniques, and ways they approach a project. It’s always good to learn from everyone you come in contact with.”
While government bureaucracy and squabbling has, at least for now, grounded the once thriving American space program, Pike feels that PERSONAL SPACE will bring viewers both a series with hilarious moments and heavily accurate science, while presenting an equally positive view of what can be accomplished by anyone who’s ever wondered what life is like beyond the stars.
“Though the show can be dark at times, it’s our sincere hope that PERSONAL SPACE shows what could be done, if we applied our ingenuity to the challenges of space travel,” he says. “The biggest hurdles between humanity and a real Overture are political, not scientific.”
As for PERSONAL SPACE’s overall success, Yaeger hopes that its distinctive mix of comedy and sci-fi storytelling, plus its impressive cast, and its high level of production quality, will make the series a hit with viewers. In fact, Yaeger feels that those elements will also result in a show that he, Pike, and its talented group of actors and filmmakers can be proud of.
“I always put out there that we need a massive following to make a dent in Hollywood, but I know we can do that with our fan bases,” Yaeger says. “I would love to see this series develop and be picked up by a network, so we can continue on creating good content that people enjoy. Hell, I want to be able to watch good content and enjoy a good show. That’s what we all want in a show as viewers. Hopefully, with everyone’s help, we can reach that goal.”
To support PERSONAL SPACE on Kickstarter, visit this link:
ON THE WEB: http://personalspace.tv/