LAUNCHING A TV SPACE THRILLER
After months of planning, the creators of “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" are putting the finishing touches on their video production. With editing complete, a computer-generated soundtrack is being added to the program, a space thriller that also features fanciful sets and complex special effects.
The folks at Magic Dragon Productions are working hard to put a big-budget Hollywood sheen on the half-hour program. But this isn’t Hollywood, and the budget is hardly big: The volunteer cast and crew of “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" have put the production together in public access cable TV studios on a shoestring budget that director-writer-co-producer Mike Goetz would only describe as “well into three figures.”
Goetz, a resident of Westminster, and co-producers Kirk Stephens and Kris Hyatt have honed a talent for creating quality products with limited resources. Among the programs they have produced are “Star Truk,” a 1982 “Star Trek” spoof that was nominated for a local Emmy award, and 1985’s “Cable Macabre,” a half-hour “Twilight Zone"-style anthology that was nominated for a national award by ACE, Awards for Cablecasting Excellence.
The Magic Dragon team is doing its post-production work at the Southern California headquarters of Rogers Cablesystems in Garden Grove. Taping took place at Rogers’ La Mirada facility. The Toronto-based Rogers Cablesystems provides studio and editing facilities for public access in cities where the company provides cable service. When “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" is finished, it will be shown on public access cable television stations primarily in Orange and Los Angeles counties.
“We’ll send it around to all the cable companies we can get, because we want some exposure on it,” Goetz explained. “At the same time, we’re going to be working on the contacts that we’ve got--and we’ve got some pretty good ones--to see if we can get some backing of some kind on developing this into a series, or at the very least saying, ‘Here’s what we can do; can we work on something else?’
“The actors, of course, will be using this and showing it around. Everyone involved will have at least a copy of it and more if they need it.”
According to Goetz, glossy productions such as “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" are the exception among public access products. “This studio has always been kind of a fun place. It’s attracted a more creative sort of production than most (public access) places get,” Goetz said during a break in the program’s recent two-weekend shoot.
“You tend to get a lot of talking-head shows and really a lot of mundane, boring stuff. Here, we’ve had four or five half-hour programs that have been fairly elaborate and have been mini-Hollywood productions all the way through,” Goetz said. “I don’t know anywhere else this is happening.”
The ability to make the most of inexpensive--or, preferably, free-- materials is a vital skill at Magic Dragon, the moniker under which “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" is being produced. Ordinary office corridors, vacated when Rogers consolidated its sales and marketing operations in Garden Grove, were dressed up for the shoot with Styrofoam packing and sheets of molded plastic rescued from trash bins. Goetz fashioned the spacesuits in his garage workshop, turning salad bowls into space helmets and water containers into backpacks.
“For the most part we have substituted volunteer labor and our own labor for money and creativity for money,” Goetz said. Like others in the production, Goetz squeezes in his work on the project around a full-time job and a family.
Goetz says the ability to draw dedicated and talented volunteers is the key to making the productions work. “The crew here is as good as I’ve run across anywhere. They just work real hard; they know what they’re doing,” Goetz said. “I don’t think it works quite that way when you’re paying them all big bucks. Then their motivations are different; they don’t work quite as well.”
Martin Kluck, a veteran of several productions with the group, agrees. “Anyone, if they got upset, could just walk out, but it never seems to happen,” Kluck said. “If you’re doing it for pay, somehow the whole psychology changes. It’s more of, ‘Let’s see how little I can do for the money I’m getting paid.’ That’s a standard employer-employee relationship. Here, that just doesn’t exist.”
Kluck, an architect by profession, has been instrumental in building sets for productions dating back to “Star Truk.” Cameraman Dana Farley is another Magic Dragon veteran, as is Robert Karr, who built the spaceship models for “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5.”
Two newcomers to the team are helping to give the production a high-tech gloss. Westminster resident Mark Williams is in charge of creating computer effects, while Aaron Hallis, a music student at Cal State Long Beach, is creating a sound track and score using the latest in digital technology.
“In Hollywood it would cost you thousands of dollars. We’re hoping to do it for a very realistic price,” Williams said of the planned effects. “It’s very experimental. We’re just seeing how it works.”
“We’re trying to expand our horizons a little bit with the use of computers,” Goetz agreed. Computers play a role in the story line as well as in the technical side of the production: Two of the leading characters in “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" are intelligent computers with human-sounding voices. One of the computers is the entity that “haunts” the abandoned space station Alpha 3-5, which is boarded by a salvage crew from a spacecraft called the Rosie O’Grady, setting the stage for the suspense to come.
“I’d always wanted to do a space station project of some kind,” said Goetz. The idea for the current project was formed by Hyatt, who wrote and co-produced “Cable Macabre,” and Goetz, who went on to write the script for “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5.” Stephens, access coordinator for the La Mirada studio and co-producer of “Cable Macabre,” completes the creative triumvirate behind the production.
The trio has tackled increasingly difficult projects, with “The Haunting of Alpha 3-5" being the most challenging to date. “It’s the most elaborate, the most complicated, the hardest to do,” Goetz said. “It’s probably stretching us as far as we can conceive of being stretched at the moment, as far as creativity goes. We’re also stretching the capacity of the studio quite a ways.
“When you look at the videotape, I think you’re going to be kind of caught up in the magic of it, as you would in a big-budget production. I think this is going to surprise a few people for a low-budget--extremely low-budget--TV production.”