TrekMovie Interview: Vic Mignogna

Art at its best is when it evokes emotions out of people who are experiencing the words and images, especially when it affects people in a positive or cathartic way. The writing staff for Star Trek Continues added another extraordinary episode to their oeuvre with “Come Not Between the Dragons”, which addresses domestic abuse from all points of view. Once again, the writer demonstrates his deeper understanding of what Star Trek can accomplish when it is used to comment on the world at large.

Rich Schepis spoke with STC’s Executive Producer and lead actor Vic Mignogna about the episode’s reception, Gigi Edgley’s performance, receiving fan correspondence and more.

NOTE: This interview took place before the Fan Film Guidelines were announced.

Fan feedback is all positive regarding “Come Not Between the Dragons”, with many noting how closely this episode is to The Original Series. Do you feel you are hitting your stride telling these stories now that you have been doing it for two years?

I think it’s perception. We aren’t doing anything different than we have ever done. I think this episode was a great combination of multiple elements that came together very well. To be honest, we still have people that come up to say that Episode 4 is their favorite, or two is their favorite. Different people take different thing from different episodes.

There are people out there who have experienced abuse, been abused or have been the abuser. This episode really resonated for them. I got an e-mail this morning from a fan who said that Episode 4 meant so much to him. He just went through heart bypass surgery, his heart was operating at 25% of its efficiency. He had a lot of unresolved issues; pain and loss in his life. Watching “The White Iris”, he said, meant the world to him and that he connected to it in so many ways.

We’re changing lives, that is what fans are telling us about the work we are doing, and healing people’s hearts. That is beyond priceless. No amount of money can replace the privilege to make something that actually impacts people’s lives. I am humbled by the amount of messages we have received in the last 16 days Episode 6 has been out, messages that state ‘Come Not Between the Dragons’ brought them to tears. I’m very proud. Everyone involved did a stellar job.

What made you decide to go with Greg Dykstra’s pitch for Episode 6?

I had wanted for the last two years as we were making episodes, to tell a creature story. I had no story in mind or preconceived ideas whatsoever. There were several in TOS and I knew I wanted to do one. When Greg pitched the story to me, not only was it a creature story, but it does another thing I am adamant about our episodes doing, which is address an important issue in a creative Star Trek way. The moment he told me his idea while we were sitting in Longhorn Steakhouse in Georgia, I said this is Star Trek.

One of the awesome parts of the episode was Usdi, especially when it becomes clear that it is a physical costume and not CG. Was making Usdi physical deliberate in keeping with the original feel of TOS that you incorporate into every part of Star Trek Continues?

Absolutely! From the very beginning it was my conscious decision that if we ever had a creature episode, most assuredly it was going to a person in a suit. Then the challenge is, how do you do that without it being too cheesy. As much as you love the Gorn, you go back and watch it today and there is a cheesy element to it. It’s endearing knowing there is a guy in an alligator costume who is so restricted that he can’t even move. But it had its own wonderful Star Trek charm.

Doing a creature episode, it could not be so cheesy that the audience would not engage in the story. It couldn’t be so bad. If we’re going to make a creature, it better be a damn good creature along the lines of something they would have done in 1967. We knew it had to be done really well so that the audience would accept it immediately in the universe to allow us to tell them a deeper and more endearing story.

This episode really stands out from a character point of view, as the audience gets to see the crew behaving in a way they are not accustomed. How fun was it on the set with all the physical attacks on one another?

I think everybody had a lot of fun doing that, and the reason it’s fun is because it’s atypical to these characters; Kirk is a good guy, Spock is a reserved man, McKennah is an even tempered ship’s psychologist. The story would have to be one that would reasonably show why these characters who normally act one way, behaved another, in the same way “Mirror, Mirror” did in The Original Series. I’m sure if you sat the original actors all down, they would probably say they loved the Mirror episode because they got to play those characters differently, but, you can’t do that every time. It would not be consistent with the characters. This episode created a way for them to behave in an atypical way. Humanity has evolved beyond walking up and clocking one another. That’s what makes it fun to do, because it is so not their characters.

Are you now worried about Michele [Specht], since she demonstrated her fighting form?

Oh yeah, she had a wonderful time doing that. She loved it. She is very funny, she has a great comedic sense to her, and knows how to play physical comedy. She fit right into what we were doing in the episode.

Another moment that stands out from “Come Not Between the Dragons” is the amount of story and screen time supporting characters received, especially Kipleigh. Is this ever deliberate on your part, or just what the story necessitated?

Kipleigh was awesome. She always does a great job, but then all of our cast members do. If the story takes us there, then I am proud to say that we have a team of actors that take us where the story dictates. If our story calls for Spock to throw people around, Todd can accomplish that. We have the actors capable of doing whatever the story calls for.

For me, it’s always been about story. As long as we are able to do Star Trek Continues, it will be about story, story, story. I’m not going to write something just to figure out new ways of giving characters more to do. If it works out that way, great.

Michele is a wonderful actress and one of our best. I received one message from a fan about the episode. They wrote they did not understand why we needed Gigi in the episode, because everything could have happened to McKennah. But that is the way I wanted to tell this story, that Usdi chooses a complete nobody from the crew. What made the story so beautiful is that Usdi chose an anonymous crewmember, not an important character like Uhura, Sulu, Chekov or McKennah. It’s just a crew member, nobody special who ends up becoming very important. It’s one of the many beautiful moments in this episode.

When we were crafting this story, I was constantly telling Greg Dysktra and James Kerwin that I wanted this to be like an E.T. story, where this exotic, special creature connects with just an average person who is nobody special. I wanted the episode to be like E.T. with Elliot, who feels like he is just an average kid. He doesn’t stick out, and then this magical creature chose him out of all the people in the world. There becomes a special and undescribed bond that they had.

By the way, do you know what Elliot’s last name is in the movie? It’s Taylor. E.T., Elliot Taylor. Gigi’s character name is Eliza Taylor. Her character’s name was my decision as a nod to E.T. It’s why I wrote those lines in the last scene, ‘when your son first came to us, I knew he had chosen me, but didn’t know why. But now I do.’ I wanted “Come Not Between the Dragons” to have that shared experience, with a crewmember and this creature as they bond. I do not believe it would have been as effective as if it was Mckennah or Uhura.

You know how many people in the world who feel insignificant and don’t feel important at all? Now they can connect with Ensign Taylor. She ends up being the most important person on the ship.

When Greg first wrote the screenplay, it opened on the bridge with some random Red Shirt handing Scotty a pad. He signed it, Kirk comes on the bridge, asks about the Lexington and changes duty shifts. As I read the script, I was milling around and contemplating the idea of a nameless nobody whose life the creature entered. I thought, let’s make Gigi the character that hands Scotty the pad. You just think she’s an extra, a nameless faceless nobody who was handing Scotty a pad.

Your good luck with casting guest stars continues with Gigi Edgley. How did she come about joining this episode?

Gigi and I have done several convention appearances together. I’m a voice actor and I do a lot of anime and pop culture cons. I have probably done three or four with her and we became friends. When Greg delivered the screenplay to me, with this woman, I started to think about who I knew who would be really great for this role? She was absolutely perfect for this. After Gigi was cast, she called me and said, ‘I assume you want me to do an American accent’. I said no, Star Trek was about diversity, I want you to be you to use your own voice. There should be Australians on the ship.

It was great to see Scotty in the chair, opening the episode.

Chris enjoyed it that a lot. We’ll most likely see him there again. I think he is a natural and I think what he’s doing is in his blood and extremely proud that he is in our family.

This episode saw a lot of destruction to the interior of the ship, with walls being ripped through. How expensive was this episode?

I love that. What a great question. One of the guys that works on our set, one of our main set construction guys is Royal Weaver. Royal has been involved in the construction of our sets since the very beginning, and as you can imagine he is extremely protective and parental of the sets. When he read this episode, he wrote me immediately, ‘what the hell is this, creature busting through walls?’ I said don’t worry we’re not going to destroy the sets.

I had no desire to destroy the sets, but we did need to figure out a way to make this work. I had them build a flat wide (8×10) sepatray wall, that was two-sided and a foot and a half thick. There were only two occasions in the episode where Usdi broke through that wall; in Gigi’s quarters and in the Rec Room.  We needed two holes in the wall. We built a wall, painted it on one side the colors as Gigi’s quarters and the other side the color of the corridor. It’s 18 inches thick so we could put all type of wires and conduits hanging down. We used the breakthrough wall for this purpose and just replaced it with one clean wall when we were finished. If you look closely, you don’t really see the creature bursting through the wall. You hear the sound effect, you look and the creature had already busted through the wall and you saw the result of the damage.

There is one quick little shot at the end of the teaser, when Gigi is in her quarters getting her uniform back on. She hears something, then the wall busts open and knocks her flying. That was two pieces of 4×8 styrofoam, painted wall color and was done in one shot. We sliced up pieces on the back so the creature could bust through the wall and make it shatter. We only had one shot at that.

The Engineering set was amazing. Did it work out the way you had hoped?

It was everything we dreamed of. When our director of photography Matt Bucy finally got in there with his team and lit the thing, the first time we saw engineering lit up, it brought tears to our eyes. I helped build that set. I was down there myself four or five times building the set, working on engineering. To finally see it finished and lit properly on set, on camera was amazing.

You have a very special cameo in this episode. How did that come to be?

Rod Roddenberry really appreciates, admires and respects what we have done. He has said repeatedly and as recent as last year at STLV on stage, that he loves Star Trek Continues and feels if his dad was alive today, it would be canon. Rod has been very kind in his support and encouragement of what we have done. We invited him to come down, and he came and had a wonderful time, everyone loved having him there. He wanted to play a Red Shirt, so we put him in a uniform and gave him some business. It was an honor and privilege to have him be a part of it, He has been a big supporter of fan production for years. He supports and embraces productions he feels are carrying on his dad’s legacy.

Any last comments about the episode?

I could not be more proud of the team that we have. Every single person in Star Trek Continues is such a valuable member. I think one of the reasons why episodes come out the way that they do is because of the people behind making it and the care and love that everyone in our team puts into these episodes.

 No one is making any money. Nobody, nobody, nobody is doing this because they are getting paid. They’re doing it because they love doing it and want to be a part of something special that moves people. It’s one of the things that makes our production special, from the guy pounding nails on set, to makeup, props, wardrobe, the main cast, everybody involved understands how special what we’re doing is, and they are happy being a part of it, and it shows on screen.

 I am grateful to God that I have been blessed with the team of people who have come together for Star Trek Continues. I never wanted to make this with hired guns. I had no interest in hiring a bunch of Hollywood people to make this. Making Star Trek Continues was way too personal and important to me to just hire a bunch of people to do it. I did not want to make this with strangers, but with friends.

When can we expect updates for Episode 7, “Embracing the Winds”?

Episode 7 will debut at Salt Lake Comic Con the first weekend of September. I am far more inclined to let out stuff we are working on instead of keeping it a secret, however the only reason we are going to wait to announce more on Episode 7 is because I don’t want it to eclipse Episode 6. It’s only been out a few weeks. I want to ride the wave.

Thanks again Vic for joining us. Look forward to speaking with you again after Episode 7.

Thank you, Rich. It’s a pleasure as always

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