Interview – ‘Outer Space Astronauts’ Creator Russell Barrett

prod_pickTonight on Syfy a new series will premiere call Outer Space Astronauts. This mock-sci-fi comedy series is something very new and very different for Syfy, and for the rest of us as well. If you’ve seen clips or screen shots and you’ve had negative thoughts that relate to the low-tech look of show, well, then you’re totally missing the point here. Outer Space Astronauts just happens to take place in outer space, but it’s really more of a workplace comedy that uses sci-fi conventions. TVOvermind got an opportunity to talk to the shows creator, producer, and yes, even actor, Russell Barrett about his new show, his inspirations, and why being a sci-fi fan can be so frustrating some times.

TVO: When did you first come up with the idea for Outer Space Astronauts and what was the process that you went through creating it all?

“This has kind of been a one man band kind of situation…I’d say it was back in 2002 when we first sort of had the idea. My friend Adam Clinton was living out in L.A. with me and the first idea was really just to play around and do some tests on how to put a live-action head on a computer generated body. And through testing that out with a green piece of paper on the wall and a DV camera, through a lot of trial and error we kind of found a lot of ways to do it. And once we started seeing what the characters looked like, this story of these people on a spaceship kind of started taking form. I think probably the first thing that came to me was the title. Its funny because I’ve noticed there are a few people who don’t get that it’s a joke. They keep saying, ‘isn’t that kind of redundant,’ and well yeah, that’s sorta the point. I think it kind of sets the tone for the show as a whole. Please don’t take this too seriously, this is basically a show about dumb people doing extraordinary things.”

TVO: How would you classify this show? Is it Sci-fi, is it comedy? What is it?

“I would say its probably comedy first using sci-fi conventions. If you take all the stories that were done in Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica and turn it on its head and made them comedies, you could totally do it. I think more than anything these are people at their job and showing how they interact with each other in their workplace, and it just so happens that their workplace is a spaceship. And because we’re using sci-fi conventions we can sort of go out there and get pretty crazy with the events that take place for these characters. But the real story is just the work place interaction with these characters.”

TVO: If someone was trying to get a feel for whether they’d like this show, what can you compare it to in order to pain a better picture?

“Its probably more of a traditional sitcom format, almost like News Radio. Its a workplace comedy where they’re interacting with one another. This is a family, they have to live with each other because they’re on a spaceship together.”

TVO: You star in this as well, correct, as the Captain?

“I’m the captain but the mistake that I think people make is assuming that because I’m the captain I’m the star. This is really Commander Dick Amos’s story, played by Adam Clinton. Everyting is kind of centered around him and it’s because he’s really the only capable person on the bridge. It’s kind of the curse of the go-getter, where when you’re good at your job you take on more and more responsibility and the people around you get more and more lax. So he’s really the center and we all revolve around him. My character tends to make bad decisions that Amos has to spin in ways to make sure they survive and get the mission done. I just see myself as a part of a group of people that surrounds Amos.”

TVO: Do you like being in front of or behind the camera more?

“I definitely like being behind the camera more. It was certainly a necessity that I be in there, I don’t know if you’ve read the bios, but everyone on the cast is a close friend of mine, and the roles were written for each of them knowing their strengths, and luckily I have very talented friends. But in kind of putting these roles together I only had so many friends that were willing to do this so I put myself in there knowing my limitations and I knew it wasn’t a stretch to sit down and jump into that role. I certainly don’t see this as a jumping off point to other acting gigs.”

TVO: Are you a big fan of sci-fi?

“Huge fan. Absolutely.”

TVO: What are some of your favorite science fiction shows?

“It all really starts with Star Trek for me, I guess I’d call myself a low end Trekker. I’m such a fan of every frame of that show and in different ways too. I’m so intrigued by how they’ve made 5 series now and each of them has its own kind of flavor and its such a huge universe. And I’m just talking about the tv shows. The movies themselves are fantastic. Gene Roddenberry managed to create such a huge universe I think its going to go on forever and be good forever. So that’s the cornerstone there. But I never missed Battlestar Galactica and the other day I was watching the marathon of the original V on Syfy and man, I forgot how good that was. For what was probably such a low budget they managed to get so much drama and action in there. But I’m also a big fan of sci-fi comedy which I don’t think there’s enough of. I think Galaxy Quest is such a perfect movie. It might require a little bit of love for Star Trek to delve really deep into it, but man do they use science fiction ideas to make you laugh in such a great way. And I have to say I’d never seen a Stargate show until Stargate: Universe, and I watched the pilot of that and got immediately hooked and I think that is a great show as well.”

TVO: There was a bit of decent on a sci-fi wire article a few weeks back to the show, which didn’t even have a promo yet. Was it hard to take that kind of critique and frustration when they haven’t even seen your show yet?

“Well, I think if you are feeling that sort of pent-up anger that there aren’t more sci-fi shows out there, that certainly seems like a pretty good forum to let people know. And you do get the feeling that there is a community of people there that are frustrated that the sci-fi they love hasn’t gone more mainstream. I myself get really frustrated when a show I get into, like I really got into The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and towards the end of the 2nd season when things weren’t looking so well and they weren’t getting the ratings, you start to get really emotionally involved. You’re like, no I need more of these stories, I need more. And when there’s not enough people watching and its an expensive show and things get canceled, you do kind of lose a piece of yourself and all you’re kind of left with is your imagination on what could have happened next. So I certainly understand the frustration.

“I just hope that people will give my show a chance and watch a couple of episodes and see that its made by one of them. I’m a sci-fi fan too and a big fan of comedy and trying to mix the two…which I think a lot of people on those boards aren’t really interested in the science fiction comedy, and to each his own on that one, but I kind of feel like that’s a sub sub genre that’s under represented, especially in America. But I guess it doesn’t really bother me that much. It bothered me that they automatically assumed the show was bad when all they were doing was announcing the title and air date [laughs]. I know that if they have any sort of interest in it they’ll tune in and get their opinions from that. All I can do is work as hard as I can to make a really great show. I’m really proud of these 5 episodes and how they turned out.”

If the thought of a drunk captain who sits in a Lay Z Boy and gives orders like “Haul Balls” sounds funny to you then check out the pilot episode of Outer Space Astronauts tonight, December 8 at 9:30/8:30 C on Syfy channel. Can’t wait for tonight? Catch the episode early at Syfy’s website and learn more about the crew in the process by going here.

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