Ian Anderson noon, July 31
Star Trek: The Continuing Mission - Interview with Patrick McCray
Sith Apprentice co-star on the new internet Trek series
STAR TREK: The Continuing Mission “I don't know how long the story will last,” emailed Patrick McCray awhile back, “but the show on which I'm a producer, STAR TREK: THE CONTINUING MISSION, is a top story on the entertainment page of the CNN website!”
Patrick and I worked together on various comic book projects back in the day, including a Gene Roddenberry bio comic that I wrote and he edited, so I’ve long known he was an avid Trekkie (or Trekker, ‘pending the bitchiness of the beholder). So it was with great curiosity that I checked out the web radio audio series which he not only co-produces but also co-stars in, as Lt. Commander Jack McGuire, Chief Engineer of the Starship USS Montana.
Star Trek: The Continuing Mission is a fan-made noncommercial, nonprofit enterprise, not necessarily authorized by Trek owners at Paramount, but not discouraged either. Since the demise of TV’s Star Trek: Enterprise, productions like The Continuing Mission are helping to keep the franchise alive with fresh, new stories. Created by Andy Tyrer and Sebastian Prooth, Star Trek: TCM features an ensemble cast and crew of radio and stage veterans. The storyline, as excerpted from the TCM website, goes like this:
Star Trek: The Continuing Mission follows the adventures of the Trieste class starship, USS Montana, under the command of Starfleet veteran, Captain Edwards. The pilot episode “Ghost Ship” begins in the 23rd century around the time of the second Star Trek feature film, “The Wrath of Khan” and after the unexpected and rather deadly turn of events the USS Montana and her crew end up in the 24th century, approximately 5 years before the missions of Captain Picard and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Once they arrive in the 24th century, they cannot get back to their own time and the series takes place in the new time period.
The “Ghost Ship” pilot featured a guest actor from Trek’s first TV incarnation: Lawrence Montaigne appeared in the original series as Romulan officer Decius in Balance of Terror, and Spock’s rival Stonn in Amok Time. Within a couple of weeks of being released on the internet, the episode had already been downloaded over 20,000 times!
Patrick McCray’s background includes working as a design assistant on the pilot for the Babylon 5 TV series, for which he also served as art department buyer for the show's sophomore season. “B5 was at once grueling and stunningly dull,” he says. “I bought a ton of fake plants for the station. I got material to cushion the two sliding doors to me medlab... a project that took the better part of a week. We got all new wall panels for medlab, all of which lived in the back seat of my car. I got the yellow oxygen tank that went into the Starfury cockpit. I bought paint. I researched how to make a fake tooth filled with blue jelly."
"It impressed me how many mundane things have to happen to make a show get on the air," says Patrick, "and the crazy hours you put in even when the show's not in production. The best thing I DIDN’T have to do was clean out the Zen garden. That was located right across from the medlab and was a big sandbox. Cats had snuck in while everyone was away and did exactly what feral cats would do with a giant sand box."
"So, whenever you see people waxing philosophically over that Zen sand garden, imagine stray cats evacuating their bowels at their feet a few weeks before."
Sith Apprentice is comedy short, featuring (among other chuckle-worthy scenarios) Darth Vader and a chorus line of Imperial stormtroopers, high-stepping an onstage rendition of Riverdance.
Patrick moved from San Diego and is currently a drama coach in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has directed of over thirty plays, has been a professional Shakespearean actor, and his voice work in radio commercials has been heard throughout the Midwest.
“I am saddened to hear that the population[in San Diego] has exploded since I left,” he says. “When I lived there - off-and-on with my dad from 1987-1990, and then solidly from 1990-1994 - it was two steps away from THE OMEGA MAN. It was a big city that was a tad more underpopulated than you'd expect. I hear that's changed. That's been the big thing that's kept me from moving back. That and, in Knoxville, I live in an apartment with the sort of neighborhood, fixtures, and architecture that would cost a San Diegan four figures a month. I pay $585. But, oddly enough, the thing I like about my neighborhood is that it really feels like University City.”
Here’s an interview I conducted with Patrick via email, RE the fanmade Trek series, along with new material added October 4 2009, covering all the way up to the impending sixth episode "We Will Control All That You See and Hear":
JAS: Once the first episode of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission was done, how did listening to the end result influence the way the second ep was planned to unfold?
PATRICK: It really made a big impression with us. First, we got a good idea of our strengths... namely the ability to create vibrant, ambient sound atmospheres with Andy Tyrer's genius in the editing bay. We also got a handle on what needed improving. We began to get an idea of what directing approaches elicited even better responses from the cast. We found places where timing could be tightened. We got the idea that it's good to start things out with as much of a bang as possible. And finally, we began to experiment with my accent. Although the producers were pleased with it, it didn't ring as authentic as we would have liked. McGuire's now morphing into a bit more of a "John Huston" as opposed to the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
The accent comments largely came from people from Ireland. It wasn't a matter of comments by the score or even a dozen. Probably three. But it was enough that I thought, to hell with it. Let's go for something that won't distract *any* of the audience. I had originally -- pre-recording -- planned on a much thicker brogue. In fact, I was instructed to do one by my producers. No problem. I'm a theatrical dialect coach and this was a no-brainer. The thick brogue was meant to make him stand out from O'Brien on DS9.
Then, all of a sudden, when I sat down to record, my director -- after months of me practicing with my very heavy brogue -- changed his mind and asked me to make it a very light lilt. I try to be a "director's actor," and I did it without complaint. But, overall, it was a little disorienting. It's a lot easier to credibly do a thick accent than a believable light one.
So, when I was later told that my accent was "all over the map," I had to agree. Of course, these complaints come from people in the UK, who hear Irish accents all the time. I've now narrowed it down to a few vowel sounds with a deeper growl to the voice. If I had my druthers, I would have made him a New Englander. My stepfather is from one of those parts of New Orleans where the natives have a light New England accent, and I can do it effortlessly. A New England accent is seafaring, rugged, stoic, and unlike anything we've ever heard on Star Trek. But they asked for Irish and they got Irish.
JAS: What sort of events transpire in the second episode that set up the ongoing premise and characterizations?
PATRICK: I can't give away too many surprises [the episode is available for download], but we take on the main goal of *any* Star Trek pilot -- to answer, "What makes these guys unique from the five other crews we've seen?" They're now in a time roughly five years before Picard launches the Enterprise in the Next Generation time period. What is the culture clash? How do they fit in? Are there people from the past who hold grudges? Are there people in the "present" who misinterpret our heroes? The plot revolves around addressing those key issues.
Episode 2 is really the crucial one, because it sets us up in the new era. How are we, as a crew, regarded? How do we establish our necessity in the 24th Century? Crucial, crucial questions. The more interestingly we answer those questions, the more of an interesting spin we can give to the entire rest of the show. As far as I'm concerned, it is WILDLY more important than the first episode.
JAS: Having listened to episode 4, "The Darkest of Thoughts," the richness of the audio backdrop is astounding, from the perfectly scored music growing more sinister as the Mad Vulcan Sytok weaves what seems to be his murderous trap, to the ship's own working sounds and even subtle stuff like the wildlife heard on Galvos Prime.
The performances are sterling, especially your Vulcan. And the script just sparkles - I laughed out loud at lines like "You've got to be kidding, the ventilation shaft?!" and your own gem "Did someone find another loose bolt?"
I also got a huge chuckle out of "Who designed this thing," having just heard the Doctor say this on Voyager less than an hour before as he was making one of his first trips outside sick bay ----
I did note the new woman's very polished performance, elevating her far above mere "red jersey" cannon fodder. One of the real strengths of the ep is its ability to stand alone regardless of the situational "lost in another time" aspect. Your characters are becoming so well developed (and well played) that stories like this can unfold naturally, without always revolving around (and being too dependent upon) the big picture premise.
PATRICK: Yeah, it was written by a friend of mine, David Raines, who is incredibly talented. He's turning it into a trilogy. He wrote the first episode to the producers' specs, and then they gave him the next episode with more freedom and then a third episode with complete freedom. I cast most of the actors out of
JAS: Does the cast feel constrained or obligated to echo past characters in order to keep things on familiar ground, or do any of the Continuing Mission characters totally break the mold from previous programs?
PATRICK: I think we try to stay as original as we can, but it's hard not to have hundreds of hours of Trek programming not inform some of your decisions. Still, the executive producers want to work towards tooling this as a Star Trek that address the concerns of 2008-2009 the way the previous shows have addressed the issues of their eras.
JAS: With scriptwriting, do you consider the events in Continuing Mission to be canonical, ie adhering strictly to the overall Trek premise as well as the small technical details? Or will the stories mix and match alternate timelines and/or universes, ala several Voyager eps hinting that there is no one linear timeline (anymore)?
PATRICK: We attempt to stay *very* canonical. I'm sure there are technical details that may escape us now and then, but if that ever happens, we plan on really listening to the fans to help right the ship. But yes, canon is very important. We have talked about several alternate timeline ideas, though.
JAS: How far in advance is the storyline currently plotted, ie how many episodes and what span-of-time will take place within the series (five year "mission" in the time period they're thrown into, or ?) ?
PATRICK: We have the first season's stories pretty locked down. The second season is starting to ferment. Each season is about ten episodes, each season taking place roughly over a year of the Montana's life. The end of the entire show, as planned, leads into an event that will be very familiar with Star Trek fans.
JAS: What possible storylines do you envision far down the line, beyond what's already been officially plotted? Any dream scenarios come to mind? Kayless VS Surak? Gorn licks Salt Vampire? Sybok teams up with Spock from the Evil Beard universe? Q VS Trelane, with the loser getting spanked by Apollo? Some green-on-green slavegirl action?
PATRICK: That's more in the hands of the executive producers. A major new villain is coming along. The Cardassian War is heating up. My writing partner, David Raines, and I keep coming up with "A Piece of the Action"-style comedy episodes. But the "big thinking" is largely between Sebastian Prooth and Andy Tyrer, our executive producers. I have written the start of an episode that quickly devolves into Seinfeldian quibbling on the bridge. I'd like to see that happen. Captain Edwards' cilantro allergy would be a key point. I can dream, can't I?
JAS: Your character gets a lot more face time in episode 5, "Command Decision" (see my review below interview). What can you tell us about the upcoming sixth episode "We Will Control All That You See and Hear," which appears to be named after the classic intro from the old Outer Limits TV show?
PATRICK: The next episode wraps up the first cycle of episodes and rounds out the Sword of Romulus trilogy. It should be out in mid-to-late November. The script is of a complexity -- technically and artistically -- that shows a tremendous growth for us as a show and the characters. It's an example of everyone doing what they do really well. Andy is doing a bang-up job as our sound designer, Sebastian did a great job lining up guest stars, I cast and directed a record number of auxiliary characters, and FAR FROM LEAST, author David Raines has provided a script that crackles with tension, political allegory, vast scope, and sardonic humor.
Guest stars include alums from almost every incarnation of Trek. Celeste Yarnall is best known to Star Trek fans as Yeoman Martha Landon in the Original Series episode, “The Apple.”
Spice Williams-Crosby ís most prominent role in Star Trek was when she appeared as the Klingon Vixis in the 1989 Star Trek theatrical feature film, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Spice later went on to appear as a Klaestron Officer in the Deep Space 9 episode “Dax.”
Also, Star Trek:
JAS: Holy crap! Spice Williams was probably the best-ever female Klingon, and you even have the guy who played Morn in DS9?! I don't recall ever speaking a word of dialogue, even tho people were always having conversations "with" him and talking about his great exploits (and reportedly lovely singing voice).
PATRICK: Yes, Morn Speaks!
Star Trek: TCM Co-Creator and Co-Executive Producer Sebastian Prooth is well known in the Star Trek Community for his interviews with Star Trek Production and cast members, posted on his blog, Seb’s Raw Takes.
Episode 1 - Ghost Ship: Download Now
While on a routine assignment Captain Edwards and the crew of the USS Montana are called on an urgent mission. It seems that the outposts along the Neutral Zone have been attacked and the Klingons are responsible. Upon arrival and investigation the crew quickly discover the enemy is far deadlier than they could have possibly imagined and they will be lucky to escape with their lives!
Episode 2 - Integration: Download Now
Captain Edwards and the crew of the Episode 3 - Learning Curve: Download Now
Captain Edwards and the crew of the
Episode 3 - Learning Curve: Download Now
On the shakedown cruise of the newly refitted USS Montana, the ship is attacked without provocation by a heavily armed unknown vessel. Captain Edwards and the crew of the
Episode 4 - The Darkest of Thoughts: Download Now
The USS Montana is ordered to transport a derranged prisoner to a secure Federation facility. The prisoner however is no ordinary prisoner and takes an unhealthy interest in a certain member of the senior staff. Can Captain Edwards and the crew of the Starship Montana thwart the plans of an insane Vulcan, and which of the crew will be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice?
Episode 5 - Command Decision: Download Now
The crew of the Starship Montana fight to uncover the truth behind the terrorist group known as the Sword of Romulus, while Captain Edwards confronts his inner demons regarding the death of Lt. Natukov in an all new adventure of Star Trek: The Continuing Mission.
Command Decision REVIEW, by JAS: The new ep ended all too quick and I was left wanting more, more, more ---
Patrick McCray’s character got to command a battle from the bridge, and own introduced his own signature strategy, the Drag & Drop (which sounds for all the world like Dragon Drop). His Chief Engineer is heard a lot more than in previous shows, interacting with multiple characters - in fact, there seemed to be more character interaction in general, allowing for much more personality development in a short span, and in ways that advanced the story at the same time.
Previous eps seemed to be more like individual set vignettes strung together, while this one seemed more like one flowing story with more seamless scene jumps. This was best displayed with the battle in the sky happening at the same time as the drama between the Captain and, well, everyone within arm's reach, and then the two events melding via communicators and the (exciting!) reboarding.
The Captain's increasingly irritable and impulsive attitude helped to smooth out the way his backstory was revealed with that long bit of pure exposition aboard the shuttle. Without visuals, it's gotta be tough to pull off an expository soliloquy like that, and a lesser actor would have left listeners losing interest or fast-forwarding. Luckily, it was well written, and delivered in a thoughtful read that, bookended by his more Yosemite Sam moments this ep, both informed and engaged. The subtle music backdrop to his monologue helped as well.
The integration of the music grows more professional with each ep, and I was struck by how this was also layered with a huge array of bridge and ship sound FX. I wonder if the increasing DS9 influence has to do with Patrick’s expanding backstage role - I see this in lines like "Everything in Starfleet is classified" and the Captain's cranky replies ("Permission to speak freely..." "DENIED!") that remind of final-season Sisko (and a bit of Capt. Jellico/Ronny Cox from ST:TNG, ie "My way or the Milky Way!")
Bringing a reporter aboard seems like great groundwork for future storytelling devices - nobody listening to the show would ever attach the word "amateur" to any aspect of the production, least of all the actors, all of whom now pretty much surpass almost all of the first season TNG performances (outside of Picard and maybe Q, both representing the thespian gold standard of the entire franchise) ---- All in all, a very enjoyable 50-or-so minutes!
Episode 6 - We Will Control All That You See And Hear (coming November 2009)
Captain Edwards is forced to take a desperate gambit to uncover the mystery behind the group known only as The Sword of Romulus. With Starfleet pushed ever closer to the brink of war, Edwards must journey to the heart of the conspiracy to uncover the truth. What they discover will change the face of the Federation forever in the final climatic installment of the Sword of Romulus trilogy...
READER EXCLUSIVE - For the first time anywhere on the web, here's the promo trailer for Star Trek: The Continuing Mission, episode six:
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