From the basement of a former YMCA transformed into a green screen film studio comes the next adventure in sci-fi: “Scienstars.” The pilot for the new show is gaining momentum with a Kickstarter campaign that runs through September 2.
“Entertain. Educate. Inspire.” Those words form the mission for the new show, but reach deep into the roots of the project, conceived by producer/writer Vince Barnett of Raleigh, N.C., who made his venture into filmmaking with “Scienstars.”
“‘Scienstars’ was the result of two factors coming together,” Barnett said. “The first was my lifelong love of all things sci-fi and the desire to make a contribution to the genre. The second was my son, Zefram (after Zefram Cochrane, inventor of the warp drive in ‘Star Trek’). After he was born, the writing I’d once done just for fun turned more toward education and the fanciful notion that someday it might inspire him to a career in science, just as ‘Star Trek,’’ Babylon 5,’ ‘ Dune,’ ‘Foundation’ and other sci-fi classics had once done for me.”
Each “Scienstars” episode is based on one of the core principles of the Next Generation Science Standards, released in 2013.
“It struck me that a whole series could be created to cover those ideas,” Barnett explained. “As soon as I read the section on energy, a previous story I’d been tinkering with crystallized into a full-blown outline and ‘Scienstars’ was born. That was the moment I knew I had to see this thing through.”
An educator’s information packet is available and the production hopes to involve science and education experts in its mission to educate, entertain and inspire its target audience of students, ages 8 to 12.
Barnett’s previous experience was limited to being a production assistant on two other projects and writing, producing and directing a short sci-fi web series about the ins and outs of green screen filmmaking, a technique used in the making of “Scienstars.” He wrote the script for the first episode of “Scienstars” in late 2013 and reached out to local actors to find a director.
Enter Adam York. After a conversation and email with York, a 34-year-old Salisbury, N.C., resident, Barnett knew he had found his director. Although York has extensive experience in directing theatrical shows and entertainment lighting design, “Scienstars” was his first film project as a director, winning the job over four other directors who were more experienced film-makers.
“In our first conversation, Vince and I really delved into character relationships and plot development, themes, action and storytelling in a big way and we walked away with a starting look at the ‘Scienstars’’ universe, the core of the Unity and where we wanted to go with the first episode,” York said.
Barnett had already hired CGI artist Jorge Bouza from Spain to help with the project and York brought Jerod Jacobs and his media production company, Six Foot Kitten, on board to help with filming and the developing the technical aspects of the new sci-fi series.
“Recreating aspects of the concept art proved a difficult task,” York said, “especially since we incorporated a bit of an Art Deco spin to the creation of the scenic elements. In order to achieve this we had Adam Henry tackle the command table and David Holland create the fighter cockpit.” Both elements are featured extensively in the pilot episode of “Scienstars,” called “Energy Vampires.”
The crew included Luke Voorhies, assistant director; Jessica Bustamante, costumer; David Holland, Adam Henry, Allen Jones and Dan Willard as the art department; Matt Krieg, camera; Renonda Anderson and Jamie Lee Frase for visual make-up effects.
“Renonda and I were able to find the same page very quickly in terms of color palette and then I watched her develop the incredible work that is right now spreading all over the internet,” York said. “Her assistant Jamie Lee Frase made sure that every aspect of the make-up was perfect through the long hours of shooting.”
He had high praise for Bustamante whose unique costuming ideas combined fantasy elements with a sci-fi theme. “She brought flair and a decisive eye to the work that allows the ‘Scienstars’ universe to be something completely of its own kind,” York said.
Erin Meeks helped with pre-production tasks such as editing copy on the website, organizing auditions and callbacks, creating performer schedules and providing aid in budgeting and formatting for every aspect of “Scienstars.”
“Sherri Killam-Williams was actually a late hire, but a great one,” York said. “She served as an incredible script supervisor, ran the clapper and made sure that we kept everyone in line, and that we kept going,” York said. Other crew members included: Dan Willard, grip, Best Boy and assistant director; Akira Fukasawa, sound technician; Andrew Watkins, production assistant at Six Foot Kitten and other production assistants: Erica LaLand, Matt Cosper and Jabe Fisher.
York and Barnett shared high praise for the cast and crew, many of whom got their first taste of filmmaking on the set of “Scienstars.”
“Without each and every one of those people, ‘Scienstars’ would not have been possible,” Barnett said, “so give them all the credit!”
Two of the young leads hail from Baldwin County, Alabama. Veteran actor Andrew Wilson Williams of Robertsdale and newcomer Bella Alberti of Gulf Shores, were tapped to play cadets Gabrael Brand and Liliana Malotte, ordinary teenagers from earth who stumble upon an interstellar struggle between the Shadar, an ancient alien evil, who are eliminating all intelligence in the galaxy and the Scienstar Unity, a collection of sentient humanoid species, who are fighting to stop them.
Casting the new series was the biggest challenge so far, York said. “I was extremely lucky to get such a wide range of talent, but I feel like I was the most blessed by the kids, Andrew Wilson Williams and Isabella Alberti in their performances of Gabe and Lily.”
He noted that Williams and Alberti came to him “by luck and fortune.” After reviewing their audition tapes, York arranged separate Skype interviews for them and talked for an hour to each about everything from science fiction to education to music. The two were then asked to come to Salisbury for a callback at the Six Foot Kitten offices.
“Normally after any audition I have everyone on staff tell me what they thought,” he said. “It’s always a range of ideas and opinions, I like to weigh each thought and consider it carefully. But for these auditions, after the kids left there was nothing but silence. There were smiles and perhaps a sigh of relief. We all just knew that they were our leads.”
Playing the roles of Commandant Aeolen and his first officer Victoria Xen are Tim Ross and Lilly Nelson; the vampiric Ferata is played by Amaris Kirby and Christian Jiminez plays the wolfish Grwys.
Alberti, who has done community and children’s theatre and extras work on other films, said the role of Liliana Malotte was her favorite one so far.
“She is very feisty and even a little bit bossy at times, but when it comes down to it, she is just trying to do what is right,” Alberti said. “She is a great role model for young girls.” Alberti is in the eighth grade and is homeschooled.
Williams, a junior at Robertsdale High School, said the character of Gabe is coming to terms with the fact that his life is completely out of his control. “The character of Gabe really appealed to me. I wanted to create a believable character that people could see themselves as or witness the growth of an average teenage boy who is presented with an amazing opportunity and sees what he can do with that opportunity.” Williams other screen credits include: “We Are Marshall,” “Season of Miracles,” “Grim Reapers” “In Gramps’ Shoes” and roles in other movies, videos and commercials.
Barnett credited his wife Zarina for much of the behind-the-scenes work done while preparing to film including sewing EL wire onto the gauntlets worn in the fighter. He said his biggest challenge in bringing “Scienstars” to life was overcoming his own weaknesses. “I am very introverted, but as the executive producer I constantly have to call people and make arrangements, argue over budgets and work through crises,” he said. “The introvert in me just wants to curl up with a book and ignore it all! “I’ve lived outside my comfort zone every day since I shared Scienstars with others, but I also wake up every morning excited to get going on it, so it’s a good thing,” Barnett said. “The best part is seeing others come into the Scienstars family, seeing the spark of enthusiasm light up in their eyes as well and seeing them reinterpret for the camera what was originally only in my head and doing a much better job of it!
To help with the Kickstarter campaign visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/704403163/scienstars?ref=nav_search
(The information above was not written by Fox10 personnel. It was provided by those involved with Scienstars.)