As some of you may have noted from my list of other blogs I write, in addition to blogging I also work on the creation of an original, dramatic series called “Star Trek Unity”. At the beginning of this month, I was informed about a major achievement for this production, something that we’ve now been able to share with the public. Our first audio dramatic presentation “Disunity”, which I directed, co-wrote and even acted a few roles in, has landed one of the five coveted nomination spots for the 2008 Parsec Award for “Best Speculative Fiction Audio Drama – Short Form”. On our project’s website and blog, we’ve made this news public along with our obvious pride and elation at landing this honour. But I wanted to use this outlet to speak about this accomplishment on a more personal level.
But before I do that, let me provide some background for those of you who are not familiar with this dramatic series. “Star Trek Unity” is an amateur series production set in the time period between the TV series “Star Trek Enterprise” and “Star Trek”, the Original Series. Our series will be a full CGI animation series, but for now, we’re releasing a set of audio-only episodes that serve as a prequel to our animation series, to help introduce and establish our original characters and some future story plot lines. Our premiere episode, “Disunity”, which was released last December, is a mystery story that centers around a terrorist attack on a Federation construction yard. The episode was written as an allegory to our ongoing conflicts with those who use acts of terrorism for political/social gain, with certain character actions mirroring the posturing of some world leaders on this issue as well as the fallout that events like 9/11 have had on our collective society. Although the main cast consists of amateur actors, we have been fortunate to land the talents of professional actor Kurt Carley, who quite effectively breathes life into the part of the leader of the terrorist organization.
When I was offered the chance to direct “Disunity”, I was both excited and anxious about the prospects of taking on such a role. Although I was experienced in acting, I had never directed others, let alone in an audio-only format. Taking on this role of director also meant I had to play the part of the episode’s producer and sound engineer – two other jobs I had no prior experience to lean on. But one thing people soon learn about me is that I not only love learning new skills, but I love challenges as well. So for me, this chance to work as a director, producer, etc. was just the kind of opportunity I relish.
Working on this episode, I had no doubts about my abilities to coach the actors through their scenes, helping to give them a context for where their character was internally at that moment in the story. But I must admit there were times working on the other elements of directing and producing a dramatic work where I worried whether I would be able to successfully translate the vision I had in my mind for this story into something tangible that would impact the audience in the manner I wanted it to. One aspect that I think has been absent in many dramatic works these days, whether it’s made by a professional or amateur organization, is the need for the story being told to have an impact on the audience – you need to create a work that makes an impression on the audience, that makes them appreciative that they did take time from their busy lives to give your work a listen. Indeed, I have to say that notion was my one biggest concern working on that episode; from the start right until the episode’s release, I was driven to make sure my audience would not feel like I wasted their time. And to that end, every detail, every line, every performance had to be the best we could achieve as I was not willing to let us use that safety net of this being our first effort to deter us from pushing to do the best.
And there’s really no way for me to confer to anyone just how much work it took to get our first episode to sound the way it did, whether it was making the actors actually sound like they were in the same room interacting with one another, as opposed to being hundreds of miles apart or creating a soundscape that immediately made the unseen scenic environment manifest itself within the listener’s imagination. As we hear so often from film and theatrical professionals who toil behind the scenes, they know they’ve done a good job if you don’t notice all the hard work they’ve put into their creation. I can tell you my own impression of this reality is mixed since it really is a testament to how well you succeeded that no one appreciates these details, that it doesn’t take the listener out of the story. And yet, it’s a bit discouraging to realize that all those weeks if not months of work can never really be appreciated without releasing the rough starting materials you had to work with to create this work.
That’s why this Parsec nomination means so much to me – it’s a validation from those who know what it takes to create an audio drama and make it sound real of just how much work was put into this effort. It’s an acknowledgment from my new peers that yes, you succeeded. But what also makes this nomination so sweet and rewarding is looking at who my competition is for this award – all the remaining four nomination spots are held by completely original works – ours is the only media tie-in. And that’s a big deal for me since as I mentioned in the director’s commentary I recorded for “Disunity”, the way I approached the telling of this story was not to create yet another “Star Trek” tale; instead, I wanted to tell an original story set against a science-fiction setting. Standing now shoulder to shoulder with works that exist in their own universe is for me proof that I succeeded in translating that story-telling approach to my audience.
It’s going to be almost another week before I know if we won this Parsec award or not. But I wanted to post something about it now because for me, landing this nomination is a huge success. Remember, this episode represents a lot of firsts – it’s our series first episode, it’s my first directing effort, it’s my first work co-writing a story. To come out of the gates and out of all the dramatic audio works out there – and there are many – clinch one of these five spots as the Best Audio Drama for 2008 is amazing. I’m immensely proud of this achievement and though I’m well on my way to completing work directing our next episode (and with greater confidence in my abilities to direct it thanks to working on “Disunity”), this nomination is just the wind in my sails needed to push me, and thus our next episode, even further. Mind you, even before we won this nomination, I knew I wanted our next episode to be more challenging for me to direct and produce and certainly the darker nature of this next story is going to do just that, if not also the fact that I’ll be writing an original score for the whole episode during post-production.
Hey, I said I loved a challenge; I never said I wasn’t crazy.