Since his time playing the former Borg drone Icheb during the last two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Manu Intiraymi has stayed active with acting roles, but in the last few years he has also turned to producing. His latest project is The Circuit, for which he’s currently seeking crowdfunding for a pilot via Kickstarter. His bigger plan is to eventually make a 10-episode season telling different stories with different sub-genres, along the lines of Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories. Star Trek luminaries attached to The Circuit include Walter Koenig (TOS), Terry Farrell (DS9), Armin Shimerman (DS9), Ethan Phillips (VOY), Robert Picardo (VOY) and Robert Beltran (who TrekMovie recently interviewed). TrekMovie talked with Intiraymi about The Circuit and his time on Voyager.
Before we get to The Circuit, let’s start with your last project, the sci-fi horror film 5th Passenger, which was also successfully crowdfunded.
5th Passenger was about me being angry at crowdfunding in general. It was during the time of the Trek fan film debacles, but there were also a few other projects that didn’t come through on their promises and there were a couple of court cases beyond the Trek stuff and I remember being pissed about all of that. I got together with my buddy Scotty Baker who had written this sci-fi script that took place in a small escape pod that has blown off this mega-ship, and most of the film takes place on the pod. And we had wanted to make it for about five years and talking about how to get it done, then finally Scotty found these sets from Marc Zicree’s Space Command film that were still up and he said “we could shoot here if we raised the money in four months, could we do that?” There were space hallways and a bridge and a sort of sick-bay looking set, which would save us around $150,000. So I got Tim Russ to come on board and Marina Sirtis and Doug Jones to come on board and later Armin Shimerman.
We decided to crowdfund and raised close to $75,000, and then did another for post-production for a total of about $100,000, but god bless our producer Morgan Loriah who was able to match those funds many times over, and we were able to make a beautiful film that the fans sparked. I am really gassed for people to see it. We are five weeks away from submitting it for the first screening in Toronto a couple of months from now. I think we will sell it right away. We have already talked to Syfy and we’ve got meetings with Lionsgate and we made a really, really strong film. I think the fans are going to be blown away.
So essentially the same team moved from 5th Passenger to The Circuit?
Yeah. The unit production manager, the director, the camera guys, the director of photography and a bunch of the same team came over. I also teamed up with these guys who made this World War II movie I was in called Fortress and their digital effects team Radical 3D. These guys worked on Iron Man and Planes and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow. I also teamed up with James Bird who directed a film called Honeyglue, which people should really see. It is the essence of what The Circuit is really about. It’s about bringing heart back to science fiction instead of lasers and robots and explosions. And also Ryan Eggold, who just directed his first big budget film [Literally, Right Before Aaron] with myself and Justin Long and John Cho in it. So he came on board to direct, so we have a really talented crew from three different projects to create this sort of anthology series.
You have already passed your initial goal to fund The Circuit pilot and the campaign ends on Monday so you will be making something for sure right? And do you know which actors would be in that pilot?
No doubt we are going to make something. The question is whether we can get to the level where we can get matched funds to make a mini-series off the bat or whether we are just going to start with the pilot and give the Kickstarter people what we promised. We would probably start shooting in September regardless. We have got six screenplays already and there are two I am juggling right now to decide which to do first, but Walter Koenig is definitely going to be in the first one and Robert Beltran. There are about eight of us who are almost sure to be in the pilot.
So what is the stretch goal for this final weekend?
The plan for this weekend is to run what we are calling “The Circuit Challenge.” We have been on the phone with sci-fi fan groups from around the world and fan clubs from every one of our actors from Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, Stargate, Lost Girl, The Wonder Years and more. We are trying to get the entire sci-fi community to tune into a 24-hour live show we are doing on Facebook Live on Saturday. A bunch of our actors are going to come on and talk to the fans. There are going to be new trailers. Hundreds of fans have sent in video to tell us why they believe in The Circuit. They have really touched my heart deeply, seeing these videos.
So whether we just shoot a pilot, or if we can pull off some kind of miracle this weekend and get to $150k which would get us to episode two, and with $200k we get matched funds and get a couple of A-list actors who are interested and make this into a major multi-million dollar project and that is the real stretch. The ultimate dream for this show is to be the Game of Thrones of sci-fi anthology for someone like HBO or Amazon or Netflix or somebody who could spend the millions on each episode and keep the fans involved in it.
How will fans be involved?
We have always said this is going to be collaboration with the fan base and professional filmmakers and celebrities. I’ve spent 17 years going to conventions to keep the bills paid when I am not acting or producing and I meet so many creative people making props and kick-ass makeup artists and costume makers and guys doing 3D modeling. Like Tobias Richter from Germany who has this small studio and he is making amazing visual effects out of there and so he did our effects for 5th Passenger and I met him at FedCon. There are so many people in the community that want to be in movies and TV and they could be.
So if you want to be involved in The Circuit, then plug into The Circuit. Write me at email@example.com and tell my why and how you want to be involved and show me what you do. At the end of the Kickstarter campaign we are going to pick five fans that are amateurs who are passionate and want to learn something and we are also going to pick five fans that have some talents they can offer.
The simple description for The Circuit is it an anthology series of standalone episodes like Amazing Stories or Black Mirror, with a new cast for each episode. But there is a connecting storyline as well?
In all ten of the planned standalone episode there are references to something called “the circuit,” and what it is and how it affects people’s lives. It is something that exists within the future city of Urbiessa where all the episodes are set. We learn a little bit more about what this thing is and what it does through each episode. So it is a story beneath the story. But as you say they are all ten standalone stories. They are all sci-fi, but they are each in a different sub-genre of sci-fi. The interesting thing is to look at the same world, but through a different twist in genre in each episode.
Mentoring and love on the set of Voyager
Let’s go back to the dawn of the century when you started your run on Star Trek: Voyager. At the time they had already made literally hundreds of episodes of Star Trek so they had the production end of it pretty nailed down. Was that a learning experience for your later interest in producing?
Not really. I wasn’t intelligent enough. I was just 21-year-old. I was focused just on acting, but it was certainly an acting workshop for sure. Of course because it was my first and longest gig, you learn how to cover a scene and to block and light. You can’t help but pick these things up if you have any sort of interest in how TV and movies are made. But I was very focused on giving a good performance to keep my job, so acting was the priority.
You say it was an acting workshop. Were there specific actors, directors or producers who were particularly influential or helpful?
All of them. There were a lot of things that were so cool about being on Voyager but especially this. A lot of times when you come on to a show as a guest star or a recurring character, the cast will treat you like “oh, you might take time away from me.” This has happened to me. You are only going to be there for a couple of weeks so they don’t even talk to you. It is this competitive actor weirdness and it sucks. On Voyager there wasn’t anyone on that cast who didn’t take care of me. Plus I was a kid, I was 20 or 21, and I was playing a character that was probably more like 17 or 18, and so they all took really good care of me.
I remember in my first episode “Collective” I knew about the Borg and had watched First Contact and all the films but not all of the series. I was a fan of Star Trek but I didn’t know all the little things the Borg did and there was this scene where I needed to talk to the collective. And you know there is this thing the Borg do when they talk to the collective where they tilt their head to the left and do that ‘tune into the collective’ thing. I had no idea about that so when that part came up I remember Bobby [Duncan McNeill] said “this is what the Borg do” and he showed me. They were always mentoring.
Jeri [Ryan] and I got along really well. She was an incredible actor. A lot of my scenes were with her and with Kate [Mulgrew]. That was where the main Icheb character scenes were between the Captain, and Seven and the Doctor. And [Robert] Picardo (The Doctor), around the fifth episode in, when we were doing “Imperfection,” I put my heart and my soul into that episode. That episode was about sacrificing something for your family; what would you give up for your loved ones? For me when I see a good piece of television or a movie that rocks me and floors me and makes me feel connected to my fellow human beings, it is the biggest rush.
I knew when I read that episode it was going to have an effect on the world if I did my job so I put my heart into it. And I remember for that final scene where I am screaming at Seven and the Captain and the Doctor and I am going to do this. You are going to take this and try to save her and you don’t have a choice. “Isn’t that what people on this ship do? They help each other.” So after the scene I was huffing and puffing and crying and I had rehearsed my ass off and Robert Picardo took me aside and he said “well young man, every once in a while one of you recurring people come on and it is a pleasure to have you. You really wake us up. You have woken this cast up. You made us all remember why we are here. Thank you, young man.” And then he walked off and right now I am still getting emotional thinking about it. I was kid man, and Robert Picardo was like a stud to me. So getting that from him, I was like, “Oh my god, he thinks I can act.”
And I got that from the whole cast of Voyager. It was a family to me and there is no bullshit to that. There was a really loving energy on that set. The boys had a lot of fun but when the Captain came on set we stopped having so much fun. But not in a bad way, in a good way because we respected her. We would fart around a lot and waste the producers’ time, but when she came to set it was like, “Okay boys, time to work.” It was incredible. It was a great two years.
Icheb: from Borg brat to complete character
You got there in the last two seasons. Was there an element where they were in a bit of a familiar pattern?
Yeah, but that is why I say it was an actor’s clinic. They had played their characters for six years and I was coming on a recurring character that they were going to give episodes to that I had to hold as the A-story or B-story. So a lot of the episode counted on me and here were these guys and gals that knew their characters so well and could do their characters with their eyes closed. So all the time with the boys they would be off-camera trying to mess each other up – trying to keep each other’s game up. I had to come into that environment and trying to keep up and I was just tying to get my game on at the time.
So we had to find ways to have fun. You settle into a character. You don’t necessarily phone it in, but it gets easier and easier to do your scenes and to do your work. I didn’t really get to know who Icheb was until probably first third of season seven. They had had six years of that already. It was second nature to them by that time.
Did you know they would keep bringing you back?
I didn’t know Icheb was going to stick around. That is how they were really tricky. If you go back and watch, Icheb almost dies in about seven of the episodes he was in. Each time I would read the episode I would be like, “Oh, they are killing me off.” And then a couple weeks later they would call and that is how they kept me coming back every other episode and then almost kill me and then bring me back.
So you never knew after an episode if you were ever coming back?
Yeah, all the way to the final episode when I found out, “Cool, I’m in the final one and making it home with the ship.”
You talk about getting to know Icheb. He did have a bit of an arc. Were you satisfied with it, or was there more you would have liked to do?
I was definitely satisfied. They brought me in half way through season six. I thought “Collective” was a fun episode. We got these five kids on a ship and for some reason they were not fully Borg and suddenly they leave four of them on the ship and we already have Naomi Wildman on the ship so now you got five kids with Icheb as a young adult but still one of the kids and the writers didn’t know what to do with them.
I remember the first two or three episodes, Icheb was just a bratty kid. He was like, “No, I don’t want to have game time, I want to do what I want to do.” He was just kind of a brat and it was boring and there wasn’t much there and I remembered thinking I am going to be on this show for two years and they are just going to keep me around to be some kind of brat and rarely use me and that is not going to be fun. But then the episode “Child’s Play” where they found and sent me back to my parents and they sent me back to the Borg and Voyager rescued me. It was a very dark episode; I think one of the darkest episodes of Voyager. They looked at this question of whether it is okay to sacrifice your children to send them off to war as a sacrifice. It was a heavy episode.
I think it was a test from [executive producers] Brannon Braga and Rick Berman to see if I could handle the character and to see if the fans wanted to see more of this guy. And I remember a few days into shooting Braga came down to the set and he came up to me out of the blue and said, “I just wanted to shake your hand. You are doing great work on the show so thanks for coming on board.” And I knew then they were going to write for me and this kid was going to stick around and it was going to be fun and from that point on it was.
Of course you always want more – you want to be in every episode – but I was very satisfied. The one thing I never got to do that I wanted to do was a holodeck episode. Icheb was so straight-laced and so serious and I don’t think he cracked a smile except maybe once or twice. I would have liked to do a holodeck episode where he got to play somebody different. Someone with some personality or maybe a Fair Haven thing. I was asked but I was not on high up on the pecking order. But the long and short of it is I got to spend two years on a spaceship and getting beamed up and beamed down for a living. It was awesome and I enjoyed every minute of it. And to be there for that final episode, that was awesome.
Saying goodbye to Voyager and hello to Discovery
What was the mood like for that last episode? Was it sad?
I wasn’t there on the last final day, but I am sure that was gnarly. I remember they were tearing down other sets while we were shooting so there was this weird feeling of finality that this was really it. But I also remember a real jovial sense of “We did it!” and now we were going to go do something else. I remember soaking it all in and saying goodbye to everybody. I never stole anything from Paramount but that day I ripped off my Icheb nose and eyepiece and shoved them in my pocket. And then I went and stood at the end of where both stages of the main ship are where you can see down where ‘Planet Hell’ is where they build the different sets and the Delta Flyer and where Astrometrics were. And it was like 11 o’clock and I knew it was going to be the last time I was going to see it all and sort of soaking it all in and being thankful for the experience.
You are a fan of sci-fi and Star Trek, so I assume you have seen the new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery. What did you think of it?
I did see it. What blows my mind is how some of the fanbase are quick to bash it. I was blown away by it. I don’t understand how you can get so opinionated about a hype trailer. It is supposed to be hype and sizzle and shots and fun and just a glimpse. But some of the comments I saw, I was like, “Wow guys.” One I saw said “worst captain ever” and I was like, “You just saw a trailer, man.” One thing I have never understood about this franchise I have been part of is how these die-hard fans who love the show are so quick to dismiss and bash and when it is off the air they are screaming for more.
I loved it. I thought it looked cool. I love Sonequa [Martin-Green], I love Doug Jones who is a friend of mine and I am really glad he is on the show. I loved the captain who was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [Michelle Yeoh], she was amazing. I was impressed. I know some see inconsistencies like with the Klingons. For me Star Trek has always had inconsistencies and it is always going to. Just watch the show and enjoy the show.
Here is what I hope – and this is what The Circuit is screaming about – is to bring back those conscientious and heartfelt episodes that make you feel and think about the important things in our culture that Star Trek used to do. I really hope they do a few of those each season. And if they do that I will be happy.
Manu Intiraymi is the executive producer of the sci-fi anthology series The Circuit, currently seeking funding via Kickstarter. They have already passed their initial goal of $50,000 but there are more stretch goals for more resources to make a pilot. The Kickstarter campaign closes on May 23rd. The video below featuring Star Trek’s Walter Koenig gives an introduction.
Read more TrekMovie interviews here.