Interview: Roger Nygard on Trekkies, Trekkies 2 and The Nature Of Existence

Interview Simon Brew 2 Jun 2009 - 07:09
Mr Roger Nygard

The man behind Trekkies, Six Days In Roswell, and now The Nature Of Existence: Mr Roger Nygard spares some time for a chat...

Appreciating that some don't warm to it, I was nonetheless one of the many people who roared their way through Trekkies, as affectionate, funny and entertaining a documentary about fandom as I've seen to date. To track down the man who made it, Mr Roger Nygard, was thus something of a thrill for me, and he spared some time to talk about the Trekkies films, Six Days In Roswell, and his incoming movie, The Nature Of Existence...

How did you get started in film making?

When I was 7 years old I found my dad's 8mm camera with half a roll of film still in it and I shot my first short film.  And I haven't stopped making films since. 

And what are your memories of one of your earliest projects, directing American Yakuza 2?

How do you beat blowing Bobcat Goldthwait to bits as the climax to the first act? That was a fun day. The special effects guys used mothballs - which it turns out are highly explosive - to destroy the Bobcat dummy.

Your breakthrough film was the documentary Trekkies. Where did the idea for that come about?

Denise Crosby came up with it. Denise had co-starred in my first film, High Strung, and a couple of years later she suggested the idea to me. I couldn't believe nobody had done it yet, it seemed so obvious.

How hard was it to put together?

We teamed up with a producer who funded our first shoot, a weekend at Fantasticon, a convention at the LAX Hilton. It was organized and hosted by William Campbell, known for the character Trelane in the TOS episode called The Squire Of Gothos. We ended up interviewing six of the nine TOS actors, and the footage from that first weekend was so colourful and amazing that we kept shooting until we had a movie.

I like the fact that Trekkies walks a tight line, and never ridicules its subjects. Were you always conscious of that?

Yes, we wanted Trek fans as well as non-fans to be able to enjoy the film. But maybe one reason our film seems affectionate is because we liked the people we met. When we laughed, we wanted to be laughing with the people on camera, not at them.

Were you surprised by the response to it? Did its success open up new projects for you?

We started to get an idea of what to expect once we began test screening the film, as we were editing it. We screened a rough cut for a group of non-Trek-fans and there were a lot of laughs. And what was surprising to us, was that when we next tested the film for a group of hard-core Trekkies, they laughed even harder than the civilians. They recognised a lot of people in the film, or knew people just like them, and got all the references.

The film has led to more documentary projects, like Trekkies 2, Six Days In Roswell, and my current documentary, The Nature Of Existence. You can see the trailer for that film on the website www.TheNatureOfExistence.com.

Was it the response that led you to consider the sequel in the first place? And how was it to go back to that world for another film? Were the subjects of it more wary, and did they react in a different way having seen the first one?

Not everybody was happy with the first Trekkies. Some of the fans voiced a similar critique, saying, "you should have shown more normal fans." But if you make a film about the average folks, who would want to see a movie about them? It's the exceptional people that make for interesting profiles. Plus, I have no idea what the definition of normal is. So when we decided to make Trekkies 2, that's one of the questions we asked people, to define what is and is not normal fan behavior. 

Also, we wanted to expand beyond the United States, and meet fans around the world. And it was fun to check in on some of our favourites from the first documentary, seven years later.

Which of the two are you happier with?

You only have one first time, and it's hard to top your first. But a second chance gives you an opportunity to do it better...

Would you revisit that world for a Trekkies 3?

We received a lot of suggestions from fans for the Trekkies 2, and we tracked many of them down. The suggestions are still coming in for Trekkies 3. Keep ‘em coming. We may come and find you...

Are you still in touch with any of the people you met and filmed in the two Trekkies films?

Yes, indeed. And many have been very helpful to me as I travelled the world shooting my new documentary.

We'll come to that shortly! What led you to your Roswell documentary?

My second unit director on Trekkies suggested that we go to the Roswell's 50th anniversary celebration to commemorate the alleged crash of an alien ship. How do you turn down a chance to witness such an explosion of alien Americana? Of all my projects I've completed, it's still the one that upon repeat viewings still amuses me immensely.

What challenges did you face doing that film?

There was so much to see in Roswell and so little time. We barely took time to stop and eat the whole time we were there shooting. My favourite moment was watching a performance of Roswell: The Musical.

I love the fact that your documentaries could stem out of questions and conversations you have over a few drinks: Roswell, why we exist, Star Trek fans. Where does the inspiration actually hit you?

You never know. Sometimes it takes somebody else suggesting it to me. Whatever idea you choose to pursue, it has to be sufficiently captivating to hold your attention for a year or more because it takes a year of your life to finish.

How was it going in and directing an episode of a show like The Office? How much room do you have to allow for improvisation there, and how hard is it to cut together?

Directing television is much different from directing feature films or documentaries. Television episodes are the domain of the writer-producers. You are there to service their vision. The Office is fully scripted, but there's always a little room to play when it's warranted. The first cuts are around 45 minutes, so you often have to cut the episodes in half for air.

Do you have any favourites among your television work?

My favourite is always the next project, whatever it will be....

What are you up to now? And what can you tell us about your new film, The Nature Of Existence?

Have you ever wondered what's the point of everything?  Why are you here? Where exactly is the afterlife located? Why does God seem so interested in our sex lives? I wrote down the 85 toughest questions I could think of and asked people all over the world for their answers, and have collected the answers in this movie.  t's amusing, to say the least, to watch people attempt to answer some fairly unanswerable questions. My questions are listed on the film's site. If you've got some of answers, let me know!

Finally, what's your thus-far unmade dream project?

Any book by Larry Niven that hasn't been made as a movie yet.

Roger Nygard, thank you very much!

Roger's next film, The Nature Of Existence, is currently touring several film festivals. For more details, check out its website: www.thenatureofexistence.com

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