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Paul Feig opens up about the legacy and return of his forgotten 2015 sci-fi series 'Other Space'
Other Space has been on the back foot since its Yahoo! Screen debut in 2015. Though it’s been searching for a future nearly since its premiere—creator Paul Feig (Ghostbusters, Freaks and Geeks) has been a staunch advocate for a second season even after the streaming service shuttered—the scrappy and hilarious sci-fi comedy has recently made a step in the right direction, finding a new streaming home thanks to DUST.
Now all eight episodes of the spaceship-set silliness (which sees a fresh crew on the exploratory vessel UMP Cruiser immediately thrust through a wormhole to another universe) are streaming, welcoming a new audience to the low-key workplace adventure—Avenue 5, Space Force, and The Orville all occupy a similar-yet-different subgenre—filled with under-the-radar actors who’ve only gotten bigger in the last half-decade.
Led by Karan Soni, Neil Casey, Eugene Cordero, Conor Leslie, and Milana Vayntrub, the show also features Mystery Science Theater 3000 stars Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu.
Your passion project has gone from NBC to Yahoo! Screen to your tumblr account to DUST. How did it make this latest leap, and what’s the next step for the show, best case scenario?
Paul Feig: I've been trying for the last five years, driving my agents crazy, to get Other Space out there again to one of the streamers or anybody, but nobody would take it! We just couldn't get any interest because, I think, once something doesn't do well somewhere - no matter what the reason for it not doing well - it somehow gets this reputation. It becomes tainted goods, I guess. I don't know, but it's one of the things I'm most proud of in my career.
It was a passion project for so long and when Yahoo came on board and wanted to do it, I was so pleased and so happy when it came out. But then when Yahoo! Screen cratered and nobody knew it was there, then you're kind of left with a thing that nobody could see. I was just desperate: A. I wanted to get the eight episodes we did out into the world and B. I wanted to make more.
Then DUST popped up and thank god for them. They really wanted to do it - it's in their M.O. of what they want to have on there, and I love that they're true sci-fi fanatics over there and open to very alternative kinds of sci-fi.
For me, the perfect situation would be we get to make more seasons of it. We had so many more stories we wanted to tell and such a great cast. Even though it's been five years, I still very much look forward to a seeing a new season where we meet the cast after them being trapped in space for five years and see what happened to them all.
What were some stories you didn't get to that you were excited to tell in the show's future?
PF: We liked the idea of having that alien coming on board and what's gonna happen when they meet up with an alien race. How deep they get into this alternate universe - we loved the idea of sending them into yet another alternate universe. I'm very much into that whole membrane theory of universes where different universes are floating like amoebas around each other, so I think there's an infinite number of universes you could go into. We really wanted to play with a lot of different conundrums and unexpected movements. Every time they think they're gonna get out of it, they actually go in deeper - I just love the comedy of getting deeper and deeper and not being able to extricate yourself from something.
There are a lot of layers and the show really loves pulling the rug out from under the audience. Were there any pieces of new sci-fi that came out in the last five years where you were like "Oh, this gives me a perfect Other Space episode idea?"
PF: One of the things I loved when I came up with the idea for the show was the idea of every week having a different conundrum, or weird reveal, or surprise, or riddle that you don't guess. It started with the pilot, not knowing what was real, and then obviously with the second episode with the hilarious reveal we have with the one crew member. I love always spinning things so you never know which way is up.
One of the reasons I wanted to create the show is because I didn't want to make a sci-fi/comedy that just made fun of sci-fi. I wanted to do a sci-fi/comedy that had fun with the laws of sci-fi, but was very true to sci-fi. I never want to do something like "Look how dumb sci-fi is." I love it, it's one of my favorite genres. It really helped me get through my childhood and teen years, so I'm very respectful of it. I'm also a big science-head, so I'm always looking for those things we don't know about or surprise things that we can play with - like time travel or "what is real and what is not."
Speaking of layers of reality, the show is connected with reality TV. Were there any reality TV developments in the last five years where you said "Maybe this could fit into Other Space"?
PF: That was a big part of the show because I wanted to do it with that handheld documentary style, but I needed to justify it somehow. So that's how I came up with the idea that there were these electronic cameras floating around and the spaceship is constantly filming them. Honestly, I think we were a little ahead of reality TV just in the idea of how secretive reality could be.
That's always been my big issue with reality TV, is that it's reality but there's cameras there. I've been in the business long enough to know the difference between how people act when there's a camera in the room and when they don't know they're being filmed. To me, the only true reality show ever was Candid Camera because you had people with no idea they were on camera doing things. That's why I love, for our show, the idea that everything that's going on in the show is being filmed but nobody has any idea they're being filmed because of the technology they're being surrounded by. It'd be fun with a second season to go like "Now that they know the cameras are there, how does that affect their behavior?"
With both Other Space and the Ignatius MacFarland series, this subject—enthusiastic nerds finding purpose in another universe/frequency—seems close to home for you. Is it something you daydreamed about when you were a kid?
PF: Yeah, I was very into alternate realities because I wasn't very happy with the reality I was stuck in. I had a lot of bullies and I was so awkward and I didn't have any confidence around girls. I escaped into sci-fi because there was this idea of you could be something else. The most formative thing to me was when I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When I first saw that opening weekend, it wasn't a movie: it was a documentary. I didn't take away "Oh I want to make movies about sci-fi," I went "I want to be Richard Dreyfuss. I want aliens to come down, select me, and take me away to another planet that would probably be better than the one I was stuck on."
All my nerdy friends and I were into sci-fi for the same reasons: we loved the escape. We loved the idea that you could be somebody else, that you could be taken away. That there was a world or a civilization somewhere else that was so highly intelligent that they'd appreciate our eccentricities and not look at us like a bunch of weirdos.
Speaking of nerdy sci-fi, Other Space currently has the same episode count as '70s sci-fi/comedy Quark - is there some appeal to being the next generation of sci-fi creators’ hidden sci-fi gem?
PF: Quark was a big influence on me! We used to watch that show religiously when it first came on when I was a teenager. My goal was never to match the obscurity of Quark [laughs] but somehow it happned. That tends to be my record in TV: I do one season that everyone really likes and then we never get any more. I think this year with both Love Life and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist getting pick-ups, it's very much a first for me in my career.
You're actually going to get some follow-ups now! Unprecedented. If you get more Other Space, I know you've said “It will be back if I have to shoot it on my iPhone.” There are so many ways to produce a season of TV right now, especially as creators take to Zoom or other techniques to shoot now - have you ever seriously considered a non-conventional production?
PF: Yeah, I'm very much into low-tech - I mean if you look at the show, it's low-tech as it is - but I'd say I'm not the Edge, I'm more Jack White. I don't a million pedals and processors to play a guitar solo. Let me make a guitar out of a piece of wood and a wire and I'd be happy. But yeah, I think about that all the time. There is something slightly tedious about - well, here's the thing: we're all, in life, in Zoom meetings all day every day, so there's a part of you that goes "Oh my god, I can't deal with Zoom again."
But at the same time, I'm all for anything that completely democratizes the creative process. The fact that everything is so low-tech now because of the situation we're in is really equalizing. That someone could come up with the world's greatest movie and it happen to be a Zoom movie - that's the greatest thing ever, talk about a meritocracy. I'm open to it, I just want stuff to get seen. I've had too many things in my life where the heartbreak of putting so much time and energy and love and effort and tears and sweat into something - and then nobody sees it. It's such a bummer. But again, with the internet, you have a better chance of going viral, as the kids say.
Now you've got the double-edged sword of a streamer again, where you get to play in the Wild West of digital distribution but you're in the situation of "Well, I hope this finds its audience." Are you personally approaching it any different this time around?
PF: One of the reasons I was so happy with DUST is they really want to promote it. They really want to put marketing behind it and get it out there. I was very grateful to Yahoo for letting us make the show, but once the show was made, they changed their mind. At first it was going to be very traditionally marketed and at the last minute they decided they wanted to do it through their algorithm on their site. And my heart just sank because I was like "Who's gonna know about this?"
The first thing we asked DUST was "Are you going to promote it?" The fact that I'm doing interviews about it right now? That barely happened five years ago! I'm so happy - you're literally getting five years of pent-up "I want to talk about this show" energy from me.
I remember going to a con and I saw two people doing cosplay in our outfits, and I was the happiest person in the world. And then I never saw it again. Ever. Because nobody knew the show existed.
Did you know that George Takei did a whole promotional video for us?
PF: It's hilarious, it's really funny. I don't even know if it's on YouTube, I'll have to look it up and see if it's out there.
As you were saying, I was doing research for this and only found a handful of interviews back in 2015. You can tell you're bursting at the seams and kinda thinking "This is not enough. I hope, I hope people are reading these."
PF: Totally. You know what happened also is, when we were promoting it, I was just finishing Spy and going into Ghostbusters so I was absolutely buried. I wasn't able to be as proactive in getting out there and doing, you know, a parade with the cast - which I would normally try to do. Anything to get attention for the show.
Ghostbusters has almost the entire Other Space cast scattered throughout.
PF: I'd just come out of the show and with Neil [Casey, who plays baddie Rowan North in the film], I was like "please be my villain, you're so funny." Ironically, Neil actually spent a couple days on the set of The Heat writing jokes for us. I got to know him because he performed with Katie Dippold, who wrote The Heat, so she brought him around. It's just one big happy family. And then Karan, who I love, has shown up in a bunch of my stuff. He's one of the most talented comedy people I've ever worked with and one of the most talented improvisers I've ever worked with.
I know you stepped back from the writing of the show, but did a lot of the editing. What was the improv like on set and how do you control that in the edit?
PF: The rule is always "Don't get just the script as written." Have alternate jokes, let the cast play and then we wrangle in the edit. That's how I do on my movies too. We have tight scripts, but we encourage people to play around. Then my editors and I sit and try all these different things to see what works. You end up with a wealth of stuff - that's why we were able to cut all these promos and things we didn't use. It all comes from who you hire.
When we audition people, we have a bit of an improv segment just to see how their brain works. I write these monologues for characters where I say, "Just make this your own, you don't have to stick to the words. Just play with it because I want to see what you bring to this."
You know you're gonna get a lot of extra stuff, so then it's your job to stay out of their way once you've guided them to what you need. Let them augment and bring their personality, surprise each other on set. That's why I always want things to be shot live. Even with Trace playing A.R.T., originally we had the whole thing where it was like "Oh, we'll have him there, someone will read the off-camera lines, and we'll loop it later." And I was like, "No, I want Trace's voice to be coming out of that robot so he can be improv-ing along with everyone else.
It makes all the difference in the world. Same with Conor Leslie playing our computer. Poor Conor! It was the craziest thing, because her day was being in a room next to the stage, on-camera. She had this camera on top of her monitor that looked at the set, so she had a security camera view of everything going on and was able to act in real time with everybody else. So everything on that show happened in real time.
Wow. So really, Conor was already effectively doing the show via Zoom. How did y'all pull off A.R.T.?
PF: We just rigged it up so [Trace] would be right off set. He controlled the eyes and the eyebrows, and we had another puppeteer remote-controlling the robot. Actually, there were two: one was working the arms and one was just moving him around. It was all happening live, so I could go up to them and be like, "Hey, have him crash into something" or "Have him get to close to someone" and they'd be able to react. It was all very real. That's what I like. I don't like rehearsing everything a million times and then doing it; I like to turn on the cameras and say, "Start doing it" to see what happens.
Final question, about another passion project of yours that sounds like it’ll pay homage to some classic genre - can you give us an update on Dark Army?
PF: I've written two drafts of it and I love it. I'm just not sure when it's gonna go, is the thing. With everything going on, no movies are gonna get made and then I signed on to do this movie at Netflix, The School For Good And Evil, which we're in heavy prep on. I really wanted Dark Army to be my next movie but, because of the holding pattern that everything went into, when The School For Good And Evil popped up I loved it so much and it was going faster, so I thought, "Oh, I'll jump on that." But I really hope to make Dark Army.
School For Good And Evil also sounds right up your alley - do you have a script yet?
PF: Yep, we've got a script. Actually, you know there were a few drafts when I came on board. The most recent draft is the one I read that brought me on, that I loved, and now I'm in the middle of a rewrite on it right now. It's a great script. The books are great, it's a really good property. I'm really excited about it - everything about the story and the characters is everything that I love, and it's a genre I haven't done yet. I'm always looking for new genres, so it checked a lot of boxes for me.
Other Space will be available on DUST on Aug. 1.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.