Thursday, July 26, 2012

Virtual Reality Can Be Murder

I just came across this magazine I purchased back in April 1995 and haven't seen since. It's odd, I can even remember the store I bought it at. Well, I bought it for the feature article on William Shatner's TekWar and thought it might be of interest to some of you who may remember the show.  From the April 1995 issue of Sci-Fi Universe...

Keep On Tekking
by David Giammarco

Old starship captains don't die... they just franchise. While Captain Kirk's remains are presumably disintegrating under a pile of rocks somewhere, William Shatner finds himself at the helm of another science fiction enterprise: TekWar.

The futuristic action/adventure cyberseries which premiered early this year has evolved into a multi-media empire built from Shatner's one-line pitch back in 1988: "T.J. Hooker in the 22nd Century."

First Shatner penned the TekWar novel which, in due course, led to four TV movies, a series of novels (the sixth TekPower has just been published), as well as a Marvel comic book series, CD-ROMs, trading cards, and now, the weekly series that he executive produces, not to mention occasionally stars in and directs.

"Bill is a very shrewd businessman," notes produce John Calvert, on the Toronto set of TekWar. "He is really the fountainhead for all of this."

Hans Beimler, who served as writer and then producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, is now co-executive producer on TekWar and says Shatner's involvement is invaluable. "We're on the phone all the time," offers Beimler. "Sometimes ten times a day. Bill throws out story ideas and we take them and run with them. One of the pleasures of this series is that stories are not so very hard to come by.

"A lot of times Bill will walk into our office or call me and read stories to me from today's newspapers, literally ripping the stories from the headlines because this show is very grounded in reality," says Beimler. "We look at issues from today and project them 50 years from now and see what might happen to them."

TekWar's hero, played by Greg Evigan, is a renegade ex-cop named Jake Cardigan, who was accused of murdering his partners while under the influence of Tek, an illegal and highly addictive virtual reality drug that can prove fatal. Cardigan is imprisoned in a cryogenic freeze for a crime he didn't commit, but is freed after four years of incarceration by Walter Bascom (Shatner), the enigmatic head of the Cosmos Detective Agency, who recruits Cardigan to work for him. Partnered with Sid Gomez (Eugene Clark), Cardigan hunts down Tek drug lords, killer androids, and greedy cartels, all the while trying to repair his strained marriage and clear his name.

The Trek To Tek
Shatner originally envisioned the TekWar universe back in 1988, when he was biding time during the writers' strike that grounded his directorial debut - Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. He wrote the part of Jake Cardigan for himself, but then remembered how gruelling series work was. "It would've been too much to be responsible for the world and also play the part at the same time," says Shatner. It's more fun for me to produce and direct." 

"Someone else told me that Bill was originally going to play Jake," relates Evigan, resting between scenes for episode number six, Stay of Execution, "but it didn't change my way of doing the character.

"And that's why I didn't want to read the books either," adds Evigan. "I didn't want to get any kind of suggestions on what they were going for or any preconceived notion of what the concept of the character was. I just didn't want to imitate anything. That's how I approach almost everything. I just try to come up with what I would normally do and then see how much I can get away with."

"But I did get a few tips on what the universe was all about," says the former star of My Two Dads and B.J. and the Bear." I think Jake was this hard-line tough guy who didn't take any crap. I wanted to keep that because you can understand from the first show that he was pretty angry about being frozen and coming back to find his family gone.

"And to be honest, that anger really propelled me through the first few episodes," says Evigan. "It was that struggle to get information. That was such a drive in itself. And what I really like about Jake is that he was a Tek addict himself. It makes him more human and it gives him even more of a fight to overcome it. I mean he is the hero, but he makes a lot of mistakes. And it's how he gets out of those mistakes and how he handles it that makes it so interesting."

Beimler feels that what made Star Trek: The Next Generation so successful can be duplicated for TekWar. "One of the things we did very, very well on Next Generation was present an optimistic view of the future. And that's the key for TekWar too," he says. "You don't want to tune into Blade Runner every week. Blade Runner is a wonderful movie, but I don't think it'd work well as a weekly series. It's too dark. Our characters aren't those brooding, troubled people, though they are human characters. Jake has a lot of flaws and foibles but at least he's not too unhappy getting up in the morning."

"Jake is actually more like Jim Rockford," adds Beimler. "Rockford lived at the beach in a little RV, but I don't think he'd trade his life with anybody. Neither would Jake Cardigan. He likes his job, he likes his work, and he's a good detective. And even though there's danger in this world, it's not that bad a place to be."

Future (Sticker) Shock
Of course, when you think science fiction, you figure hundreds of years in the future, like the setting for the TekWar novels. But the TV series is only set fifty years from now and Beimler has a quick explanation. "If it was set any further into the future, we couldn't afford it," he laughs.
"The books are set 200 years in the future and this is set 50 years in the future in order to really take advantage of the world," explains Calvert, who won't divulge the shows FX budget, but says it's a substantial amount of each show's bottom line. "What we do we want to do well. We don't want to do anything cheesy. So rather than do 10 or 15 things cheesy per episode, we'd rather do four things, but do them extremely well. And some of our signature pieces, like cyberspace, are done extremely well, but they're scaled to something we can afford to do. Even though it's a big production, we don't have the budget to do the kind of world we'd like to do."

But Beimler is quick to add that "we're doing stuff in this show I've never seen done before. And it's the guys at CORE who are always coming up with new and mind-blowing ideas for the show."

CORE is the digital-effects company based in Toronto that provides the various CGI effects sequences. Shatner also happens to be a partner in the FX house, which he refers to as "the ILM of Canada."

"CORE always brings new and different effects to us," says Beimler." They give us choices as opposed to us anguishing over how to do something. It's more like 'look at this cool effect' and 'look what we can do!' It's very exciting to be coming up with effects no one else has. Stuff we're doing on this show, like weather manipulation, we couldn't ever dream of doing on Next Generation - the technology just didn't exist. And when it did exist, it was so expensive that you still couldn't touch it. It's really amazing that we can do things now that we couldn't do even just last year. I think it's incredible how far we've traveled since Jurassic Park."

Calvert cites TekWar's cyberspace sequences as an example. "We shot cyberspace in the first movie and it took us almost two days. Now we can shoot that same scene in half a day. The work is of the exact same quality, but the technology is just advancing tremendously."

"And really, those first TekWar telefilms really broke the ground for the series," Beimler admits. "They really discovered what worked and had the budget to experiment and make those discoveries. We've really taken advantage of that very expensive learning curve from last year."

As for TekWar's look, Shatner immediately cites cyber-punk author William Gibson as his influence. "Gibson is our mentor in that he brought forth the archetypal cyber-punk world and from that we've got all kinds of ideas, like downloading brains and things of that ilk. I admire Gibson very much and took a great deal from him in the visualization of TekWar - the movies and the series."

Regardless of the dollar exchange, Shatner says that shooting on location in Toronto, as opposed to Los Angeles or New York, is essential to the look, feel and attitude of TekWar.  As a city, Toronto has the exact combination of old and new, which is truly an integral part of TekWar's look," he offers.

"Also, the people of Toronto are different than people in other cities," continues the 63-year-old Montreal native. "There's a feeling of security in Toronto. There's a feeling of friendliness - it's the feeling of the way things used to be before I came to the States . And there's an undeniable sense of enthusiasm among the Canadian crews and a real sense of adventure about them that a lot of American crews have lost. They've seen and done it all so many times before. But Canadian crews still retain a real enthusiasm and loyalty that is just so beneficial for a production."

Words, Not Deeds
TekWar employs a crew of top sci-fi writers, including Beimler and his partner, Richard Bernheim (Quantum Leap, Next Generation) and David Carren and Larry Carroll (Next Generation). And although Beimler won't confirm or deny it, upcoming TekWar scripts are set to include Cardigan's spiral into Tek addiction, as well as the strengthening and disintegration of certain relationships.

"On Next Generation, my argument with Gene Roddenberry was that he felt we were going to solve too many of our problems," confesses Beimler. "Human characteristics, like greed and that kind of thing, were going to be gone. Captarin Picard doesn't have those really. He doesn't have any deep, dark secrets or fears... but Jake does. Jake Cardigan has a lot of fears.

"And I always said to Gene Roddenberry that Shakespeare works 300 years later because the things that motivated human beings then still motivate us today. And I think that's still going to be true in 50, 100, or 200 years."

"People love to see science fiction," adds Evigan, "Because they want to see what might be. You can do anything and create anything and get away with it because it's science fiction. And TekWar isn't so much science fiction that you can't believe it either. That's what I really like about this show - it's science fiction, but it's also based on what's now. It's taking things, issues, technology to the next step, but not too far out of reality."
Adds Shatner, "Because it's a science fiction show on which we have limited money, it's going to affect the ability to project the futuristic look of it. But all series rely on good stories and good characters, so we'll be concentrating on good stories that have their basis in a futuristic concept, and that should help. There is no overriding philosophical element or message involved. To my mind, as long as the characters are colorful and interesting and the plot progresses and excites you makes you want to find out how it ends: Those are the criteria I use in selecting story material. Each story has at its core a very interesting idea and if tyou were to distill it over the coffee maker in your office the next day, you could say, 'The story was about such and such,' but there will be a core of an idea that you will be able to grasp and say, 'Wow, they took off on that.'"

With another Star Trek Memories book in the works, as well as two Star Trek novels and an upcoming film entitled Underground, which he will direct and star in alongside pal Leonard Nimoy, Shatner feels this sudden flurry science of activity can be directly attributed to the success of TekWar.

"I think what I have learned as a like result of writing and becoming connected in more creative areas," Shatner explains, "is that although I had directed before, I did it with some tentativeness. I felt, even though I had been films all my life, that others who had made decisions must have known what they were doing. I finally discovered that my creative choices were just as valid as anybody else's. And once I understood the material and had a view of what was needed dramatically, I could then judge what was needed as readily as anybody and probably better than most.

"To be honest, TekWar has really taken on a life of its own," marvels Shatner. "And I don't know if you can ever plan anything. The only thing you can do is just go with the flow. You know, after the first TekWar book started selling and I was asked to do more, I started wondering if there was more to it that I didn't understand, some universals that I'd tapped into. It's the same with Star Trek. Who knows why those things work? It's just magical when it happens and you go with it. You hire and associate yourself with the best people you can find to help and then cross your fingers."


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Cinema Raiders said...

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