Anyone who's ever seen the original Star Trek knows that, unless you're part of the core crew, it pretty much sucks to be a redshirt. You'll be the first to go when a proton torpedo from a D7-class Klingon starship slams into the hull of the Enterprise and you'll most likely die if you are ever chosen to be a member of the away team. Who are these expendable members of Operations, Engineering, and Security and why doesn't the Federation value them more?
We'll likely never know why creator Gene Roddenberry singled out the redshirts for an early demise, but writer/director/co-creator Ryan Gowland and writer/executive producer/co-creator R. Benjamin Warren have offered up the hypothesis in their Star Trek parody series Red Shirts that these space expendables are simply "idiots in space," misanthropic adventurers hurtling through space with nothing to do but kill time until their inevitable demise.
Red Shirts debuted one year ago and so far only three full episodes have been released, but the series already has a dedicated following, thanks to the clever premise, witty writing and likeable cast. I sat down with Gowland on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the series to discuss the future of Red Shirts and the crew of the I.S.C. Bichon and he offered CBM the first look at a brand new promo for the series.
BRENT: Hi, Ryan, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. First of all, let me just say that I love the series.
RYAN: Thanks, Brent. That means a lot.
BRENT: Any fan of the original Star Trek knows the fate that awaits the typically-lone red shirt who accompanies Kirk, Spock and Bones down to the surface. What made you want to make an homage to those poor saps?
RYAN: It started out as a bit between me and Ben [Warren, co-creator]. We were chatting about Star Trek: The Next Generation and how whenever Data or whoever gets up to leave the bridge, some random guy is always ready to take their place and we figured they were just standing aginst the wall of the bridge, waiting. So we started doing bits about what they were talking about while they waited to take someone's place, and that evolved into Red Shirts.
BRENT: Considering the concept, I was expecting casualties, but I honestly didn’t see the first death coming. It made me think, “Who’s next?” Is everyone fair game and does that make the cast nervous?
RYAN: Well, yes and no. The Star Trek conceit of “redshirts” dictates that characters are going to die, so we decided to have a “death of the week” in each episode. And sometimes it's not exactly a death. It's not always a Red Shirt, either. We try to be clever about it, so it isn't totally predicatable.
But what we really wanted to do was to use the “redshirts” conceit as an opportunity to have a comedy show set in a familiar world. They have crappy jobs, they... clearly, they are often fodder for away missions, but we wanted to explore what life was like living on a spaceship for guys who weren't smart enough to do anything else. However, Ben and I both know that we can't have our main characters continue to live in perpetuity, so we have plans... Let's just say that. We have plans.
BRENT: What’s your writing process like?
RYAN: I want to say that it's a really unique process and make it sound more interesting than it is, but basically it's just Ben and I getting together, talking about plot and then writing up the episodes. And then we rewrite it a bunch.
I will say that it is a rather long process. We started writing together in late 2011, and got our first episodes online in 2013, but that's because we could only get together in our free time, which wasn't very often. Then, once we had 5 episodes written, probably after about six months or so, we had a reading with some of our cast, like Shannon, Arnie, Brandon and Deanna, and the result was very encouraging, so [we] wrote up another 7 episodes. Not that we shot all those episodes, so we have plenty of material left over!
BRENT: When are we going to see more episodes?
RYAN: Probably around May. We're in the process of editing them and plan on releasing them in a more uniform fashion than we did the first three.
BRENT: Tell me you have plans for Deanna Russo to return as Captain Aleena Trueheart.
RYAN: Of course! You know, if Deanna wasn't such a successful actor, we'd have her in every episode! But, sadly for us anyway, she keeps getting cast in other things! Don't worry, we'll see Captain Trueheart by season's end.
BRENT: You come from an improv background. Do you encourage the Red Shirts cast to improv?
RYAN: I think I actually have to discourage them from it, to be honest. I know the cast from doing improv with them and they are all hilarious and can go for hours if I let them. As far as I'm concerned, the funniest idea wins every time, so when we shot our first three episodes, I let them go and go and go. Our episodes could have been double the length if we had included everything. For this latest batch of episodes, I tried to be a bit more disciplined, though I certainly encourage the casts' input and I always try to give them a few takes to do what they want.
BRENT: You cameo as the Ambassador in the second episode, but you suit up in red for the wacky “Harlem Shake” video. Any plans to make an appearance as an ensign in an upcoming episode?
RYAN: Maaaybe. You might see both Ben and I have our Hitchcock moments. Neither of us intended to be in the episodes, but, you know, it's hard to ask someone to hang out in the desert all weekend and lay on top of a rock in the sun (for hours and for free), so you end up in an episode here and there.
BRENT: Speaking of “Harlem Shake,” what are you doing to that puppet and should we be worried?
RYAN: All I'll say is that our feelings are real and everything was consensual. The song really took our relationship to the next level.
BRENT: Tell me about your new promo.
RYAN: Well, primarily, this is about our new episodes coming out in a few months, but this one is also our reaction to the FX news [about a Redshirts mini-series]. You know, when we started this, we didn't have any idea about Scalzi's book, nor was it even out yet, and by the time we had found out about it, we'd already spent almost a year of working and building sets and props and casting and everything else, so we figured that a web series and a book built off of the same premise could co-exist and not trip over one another. Also, besides us both using the same conceit, we figured we'd also be different enough from the other that we shouldn't worry too much about it. However, when the FX news hit, I thought it was time to finally comment on it and have some fun with it.
We put this together kinda fast. We still had part of a set built, so we went for it. On a technical level, this isn't our most sophisticated promo. However, we got to get the band together for a night, the guys improvised quite a bit, and we had a lot of fun making it.
BRENT: You guys made a big splash at Comic-Con last year. Is Red Shirts going to have a presence at this year’s con?
RYAN: Thanks. I think “big splash” is one way of putting it. I would say it was more like a tidal wave. This year, expect a tsunami.
BRENT: Is there anything else you want us to know about Red Shirts?
RYAN: Uh, well, I did talk about our wildly talented cast, so... oh yeah! We were blocked by William Shatner on Twitter. I used to tweet at him a lot from our Twitter account (@redshirts3), things like: “Hey, @WilliamShatner, a new episode of your favorite webseries is now online!” Or “Watch our new episode! @WilliamShatner loves it!” And eventually I found that he had blocked us. Or whoever's in charge of his account did. Either way, it was very fitting and we took it as a badge of honor.
BRENT: Thanks a lot, Ryan. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next.
RYAN: Thank you, Brent. We really appreciate the support.