Monday, October 22, 2012

Star Trek Bridge Restoration Project Interview

Greetings friends!  Today I’m happy to be interviewing Huston the main “Kickstarter guy” of the Star Trek Bridge Restoration Project Kickstarter.  A pleasure to speak with you Huston.  

You too sir!

So as always my first question is, “Why Kickstarter?”  

It’s the biggest, it’s the best, it’s the most famous, and 3 of my friends had great success with it, including director Joe Dante with his Trailers From Hell campaign and Marc Zicree with his phenomenal Space Command fundraiser, which incidentally, our main “Kickstarter” guy also worked on.

So where did you find this version of the bridge?  It doesn’t look like the one from Star Trek the Experience from Las Vegas or the traveling one from Star Trek the Tour  both of which I’m happy to say I’ve been on.  

That’s amazing you were on both! A friend who worked with Paramount told me about the set, and said it was going to be thrown out, and no one cared about it or remembered it. I called CBS (who owns the rights to all Star Trek TV shows) and asked if it was legal to own something like this, they said “Yes, as long as we don’t make a profit from it.” So I immediately started a Non-Profit Organization called New Starship and planned to turn the Bridge set into an Educational Museum, for kids, Klingons and Vulcans! (Pardon if I left anyone out) Our set was made in the late 90’s by Paramount as a display bridge, and was probably seen in Hyde Park in London, and possibly Germany, then came back to California and was discarded and left outside for 5 years. Thankfully it was made of Fiberglas and heavy metal, so it wasn’t completely destroyed. The Vegas bridge was totally ripped apart with few pieces remaining, and the TV Series bridge was completely destroyed for the film Star Trek Generations (as we show vividly show in our Pitch Video).

Now my wife will attest that like many a Trekkie out there I geeked out being on the bridge of the Enterprise-D every chance I got.  There was always so much detail in that set and it really let you imagine yourself there.  How are you planning on bringing that feeling back with the restoration project?  

Ours is really really close to the original TV Bridge. Herman Zimmerman, who actually created the Original TV Set, as well as ours, said ours was the closest it had ever been, other than a few changes they made for Fire, safety and Disabled regulations, changes which don’t apply to what we’re doing. With the help of Herman, Michael Okuda and other original Star Trek designers, we’re making it EXACTLY as it was seen on the TV show, which has never been done before. But the biggest addition is that we’re making our Computers, REAL COMPUTERS, with real touch screen technology, something that was impossible in the 80’s and 90’s. The TV show, as well as the Vegas and tour bridges, used backlit Plexiglas which looked cool but not as cool as ours will be.

Now I love the idea of being able to actually interact with the bridge beyond playacting.  How are you planning to do that?  Are we talking networked tablet systems, custom designed touch interfaces for a computer network?  How much work is being planned just in the “interactive” part of the project?

Our fundraiser is a several step project. To be honest, to really make our set totally interactive on display, will cost probably $250,000. We set our limit at $20,000 because that’s the absolute minimum of what it will take to pay the expenses we already have in it, keep it safe for a while and get the main pieces restored and taking them to Conventions for people to sit and take photos with.

Step Two is replacing the computers with independently working touch screen computers, as we gradually start having them communicate with each other.

Step Three is finding a permanent or semi-permanent location for the Bridge in some fairly large city, where anyone can visit at any time.

Step Four is having everything electronically work with each other, sounds, lights, computers, and a pre-programmed “simulation” possibly with Star Trek actors portraying characters on screen, and people manning their stations, would fly the ship, make decisions and basically live or die on the bridge! With subwoofers and over 20 speakers surrounding you, hidden in walls and computer and chairs, it will give anyone the feeling of motion.
I’m not scientifically minded enough to know EXACTLY how all this would work, but our designer Brian Uiga and I have been studying up and asked some truly brilliant people and they all agree that it can be achieved, without costing MILLIONS of dollars.

But the other major piece of this puzzle is the educational value of this. With the same programming, our bridge could be the coolest “space classroom” ever! Working computers, “flying through space” and learning about wormholes or planets.

Have you heard of the video game Artemis?  It’s an indie video game that basically lets you take control of a starship using 6 computers (and soon tablets/phones) and gives the players that Star Trek bridge experience.  Those guys sound like a perfect fit for your project.  

We heard numerous times about Artemis and I saw a video of it and loved it. The problem is, their programming wouldn't really work with what we're doing. Our computers will have to control the entire ship set, all the computers in the back, all the lights, the front projector, going to red alert, warp speed, as well as new plots and scenarios and scripts for the programming On Screen. It would be easier to create it from scratch than to adapt theirs. Since we can't "Make Money" for our efforts other than Tax Deductible Donations, this has to be a Proof of Concept, and more like 1980's Laserdisc type games where a live actor would appear on screen, and you would have to interact, while also steering the ship, and dealing with computer graphics of flying through space and conflicts with other  ships. Those 80's laser games in concept were brilliant, but the technology wasn't there, and for some reason no one has done it since! As Ron Moore and Naren Shankar testify, when you were on the Enterprise D Bridge set, it surrounds you and it fools your mind into thinking you're really on a starship. With the concept we're planning, and if it all goes as we plan,  this will be unlike anything anyone has ever seen, outside of Star Tours.

A key part of any successful Kickstarter campaign is tapping into an existing community and I see you’ve firmly grabbed onto not just the Star Trek community but Dr Who, Battlestar Galactica, and pretty much any other Sci-Fi fandom you can.  How did you manage to do it?  

Scott Tipton, Star Trek and Doctor Who writer, came to us offering items, and Ronald D. Moore was our first fan. Without Ron there would be no project. I cannot overstate how helpful and  giving he has been. I’ve gone after every “show biz” friend I know and many I don’t know: The cast of Community, Big Bang Theory, JJ Abrams Star Trek and of course all the Star Trek TV show cast and crew. I’m still looking, unfortunately Joss Whedon is a little busy right now.

(Laughs) I bet. Now by my count you have forty-five backer levels, isn’t that a bit excessive and confusing?  

I don’t see it as “Levels” it’s more just the numerous bits of merchandise we’ve been receiving to offer. As you know, there are MILLIONS of Sci fi fans, and many of our items we only received one or two of. I’m no Kickstarter expert, but to keep things fresh and new, we didn’t know any other way to do it!

I noticed you have at least one convention appearance by parts of the bridge planned for during the campaign,  what other updates and events do you have in mind for the duration of the campaign?

We’ll be bringing at least a few restored chairs to two Wizard World convention in Austin Texas Oct 26th -28th, then WW New Orleans Nov 30th-Dec 2nd. It looks like the WHOLE CAST of ST The Next Generation will sit in our chairs! Then in February 2013, we’ll have Worf’s Tactical Horseshoe restored for Doctor Who’s Gallifrey One in Los Angeles, and probably Emerald City in Seattle and Megacon in Florida, both in March 2013. Whatever we have finished by that point, we’ll bring if they let us! It’s hard to think that far ahead, right now we’re just trying to see if we can get enough money to pay the rent! The set is 35’ long, 22’ wide and 12’ tall, even unassembled IT’S HUGE!

How easy/hard has it been working with as many famous people as you are in bringing this Kickstarter to the world?  How did you even manage it?

I grew up in a showbiz family, my dad Floyd Huddleston was an Oscar nominated songwriter, writing “Everybody Wants To Be a Cat” for Disney among other things, so I know how to approach famous people without sounding “gushy”. To my astonishment, many famous people have already heard of us, including Felicia Day and Seth Green. Star Trek is a big deal, and making this set available to people a bigger deal than even I imagined.

So besides pledging how can fans and backers help out the project?

Spreading the word, to anyone and everyone.
our main page
and if someone has connections in one thing or another, or to famous people who might support us, or wants to help us at a convention, please let us know! We need ALL the help we can get!

Have you gotten Wil Wheaton on board yet?  He seems a very appropo person for this project.  Especially with his blog and social media connections and of course it being his bridge too.  

We LOVE Wil Wheaton, but still haven't met him or heard from him. But it looks like we'll meet him at Wizard World Austin TX next week, here's hoping! We want to give him our "CAPTAIN, I SAVED THE BRIDGE! Shut up Wesley!" shirt.

Any tips or suggestions for others interested in starting their own Kickstarter?

Honestly, I wouldn’t know how to do this a second time. It’s like the old Steve Martin joke “How to make a million dollars and never pay taxes. First, make a million dollars-”

I fell into this, I found the set, I knew it was a Once in a Lifetime thing and I took the plunge, put up a Facebook page saying “I’m restoring the Bridge of the Enterprise” two days later SciFi channel Blastr did an article about it, then it went viral. Yes we’ve worked our tails off, but so have a lot of people on things that didn’t work. Ultimately our concept is bigger than we are, and totally unique. I’d say learn from our mistakes, like for instance, having 45 different confusing categories!

Well thank you for your time I can’t wait to step onto the bridge of the Enterprise-D once again.  Do you have any last thoughts for our readers?

We want everyone who wants to be involved to not be shy and just let us know! Yes it would be great if everyone who reads this gave us just 1 dollar, but this will take more than just money. This is a labor of love by fans for fans, and I think it goes beyond even Star Trek. I know how I would have felt as a child if I’d been exposed to anything even close to what we’re planning. If we’re allowed to do this right, our Bridge could inspire future writers, artists, scientists, technicians, designers,  astronauts- and the list goes on and on.

Thanks again!  Here’s to a successful Kickstarter campaign!  

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