Stephen, thanks for taking a few moments for a short chat with our readers. Let’s start with you. In your words, how would you describe yourself and your sprawling project In Saturn’s Rings?
I would describe myself simply as an independent filmmaker. And by filmmaker I specifically mean conceiving, writing, producing, shooting/animating, directing and editing a film. The start to finish of making films is what I love.
In Saturn’s Rings is best described as “necessity is the mother of invention”. I wanted to make a film project that captured the feeling I got when seeing the photographs from Cassini and put those photographs in context on humanity’s exploration of the cosmos. A long journey led me to make the first long-form multiplane photographic animation in the history in film although I never set out to make such a thing. It was the only way to make something that would feel 100% real about place I could never take a motion picture camera.
Looking at your filmography, it looks like you’ve directed a ton, but it seems like this is your first documentary. Have you always been interested in documentary filmmaking?
Never had before and have no plans to return to it. I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/art filmmaker at heart and that’s what I will return to. This project is not a traditional documentary film and early drafts of the script in the pre-IMAX days were abstract art films, not documentary in nature.
How did you first get interested in this topic?
It came out of childhood dream. As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut and devoured every book I could on the subject. That led me to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and reading about Saturn’s moon Titan, I imagined myself being the first astronaut to land on Titan and discover alien life. That dream did not work out, but over the years I kept following space exploration, especially when the Cassini mission launched as not only was Saturn my favorite planet but Cassini carried the Huygens lander – our first landing on an alien moon.
In making this film, you got to work with a true icon in LeVar Burton. How’d that come about?
I actually was a fan of LeVar from Roots and STNG – RR was past my time although I did back the Kickstarter. The film started out early as a narrated film but then became a film with title cards, music and no narration. In the last year of production I realized narration was going to be needed, but I was very concerned about the choice of narrator – it can truly make or break a film and given that this film dealt with big subjects, not just anyone would do.
I listened to a lot of people – famous and not famous. I came up the kind of person I was looking for:
- A skilled reader with a great voice
- A strong background as an actor
- Someone with both gravitas and humanity
- Global, sci-fi appeal
- Not the biggest, hottest names today that we could not afford
LeVar was actually our first choice and his agent and he were both open to the project from first communication so it felt like it was meant to be.
In creating this documentary, what are your goals as far as what the viewer can take away?
I want viewers to be inspired by the amazing beauty and wonders captured by space imagery to take an action to change their own perspective or views on space exploration.
So, what’s next for you?
We are working on figuring out the Fulldome output and distribution options for the film. Creatively, I have a long list of projects built up including Someday – a short I shot in 2012 shortly before signing the distribution agreement for In Saturn’s Rings and several complete sci/fi scripts, both shorts and features to tackle next.
As we wrap up, where and when can folks check out In Saturn’s Rings?
Just Google us – easy to find… insaturnsrings.com is a great place to start – list of screenings, tons of behind the scenes etc. And the film will continue rollout, first in giant screen theaters but eventually disc and streaming over the next couple of years.
Looking forward to seeing this film get more attention and see what you have in store for us moving forward. How can folks stay on top of you and what you’re up to?
As an individual, I don’t have a huge online presence but in addition to the In Saturn’s Rings, follow SV2 Studios on Facebook. I will have lots of announcements there about future projects. I’m exploring Patreon and Drip as possible future homes for myself as a filmmaker.
Thanks again, any final thoughts?
Look up! It’s a majestically beautiful universe will live in.