Star Trek Communicator issue #148, February/March 2004, interview by Kevin Dilmore
Tim Russ is hardly one to rest on his laurels. Star Trek fans who have seen the Voyager alum at conventions can attest to the enthusiasm he shares about his music or his forays into directing. He would be the first to say that he greatly prefers facing forward than merely reflecting on his seven years as Tuvok, the U.S.S. Voyager's resident Vulcan.
Tim Russ is very cognizant of the inrony that his future now includes a fun look into Star Trek's speculative past.
That look will take the form of Roddenberry on Patrol, a comedic short film that Russ directed this fall featuring appearances by a number of his Voyager comrades as well as some players from Star Trek's classic past. Aside from an immediate future on the festival circuit, it premiered at November's Gene Roddenberry celebration in El Paso, Texas.
"It should be an absolutely wonderful piece," says Russ, speaking while the film is in post-production for sound and music. "In every scene, you're going to see something that relates to Star Trek, not to mention a bunch of really funny bits. I was so happy to get this script once I read it. It just came out of the blue. The script was so charming and wonderful, funny and poignant, I said: 'Let's crank it up!'"
Russ describes Roddenberry on patrol as a humorous and reflective - and completely fictitious - slice-of-life story about Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's days as a Los Angeles motorcycle policeman before becoming a writer and producer for television. The script, he says, came his way through Sky Doug Conway, who had secured financing for creating this labor of love for longtime fans.
"In our story, we create and bring up all of the things he found on the job that proved inspiring to Star Trek, whether as characters or as gadgets," Russ says, not wanting to divulge many details. "Some of it is quite funny, some of it just raises a smile, and some of it is very poignant. And everyone involved in it did such a good job."
In a short film especially, you have the option of doing just about anything you want within the context of the piece. That can mean a major challenge, and that's what makes it so much fun to do. It's even better when you can bring in some of your friends that you worked with for seven years to do a day with you. That was a kick in the pants.
With the cast he put together, that should come as no surprise to director Russ; many of the performers in the film are no strangers to the sets of Star Trek. Among the film's cast are Voyager veterans Ethan "Neelix" Phillips, Robert "Chakotay" Beltran and Robert "The Doctor" Picardo. The original Star Trek series cast is represented by Walter "Chekov" Koenig and Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols. And for good measure, recurring Star Trek performers including Robert "Gowron" O'Reilly and Richard "Admiral Paris" Herd take part as well.
"In a short film especially, you have the option of doing just about anything you want within the context of the piece," Russ says. "That can mean a major challenge, and that's what makes it so much fun to do. It's even better when you can bring in some of your friends that you worked with for seven years to do a day with you. That was a kick in the pants."
While his role was as a director rather than as a performer, Russ says it proved great fun for him to revisit the worlds of Star Trek as a professional.
"A part of what was so enjoyable for me was that I find the directing a lot more challenging and a lot more fun than doing simply the acting," Russ admits. "The acting is fine, but this is another step; it's the next level for me, and it's a lot more challenging and a lot more interesting part of the creative process. All around, it's a very, very fun project, and I'm hoping the response will be positive."
Not only did Russ revel working with what he calls a witty and sometimes touching script, he also broadened his own perspective on the Star Trek phenomenon as a whole.
"I was not aware of the fact that he was a motorcycle cop at the time he developed the show," Russ says. "What a juxtaposition for a Los Angeles police officer to be writing these shows in his spare time. Nichelle (Nichols) spoke to him about that first hand, and she said to me that Gene very much was that way, a juxtaposition. On one hand, he was detail-oriented and methodical like a police officer, and on the other hand, he was completely creative. And those two sides of the mind are so contrary, it's absolutely extraordinary to have that fusion in an individual. I didn't know that about him."
With a running time of about 15 minutes and a subject matter that Russ admits takes some good-natured liberties with the actual origin of 1960s Star Trek, it is no surprise that the project already is drawing comparisons to the 1999 Star Wars themed parody George Lucas in Love. Russ encourages the comparisons and is quick to note that his film is twice as long but moves at a pace as brisk as its predecessor.
"It's going to be a fun thing for the fans, if nothing else than for watching us parading through the cameos - that's initially what makes it interesting," Russ says. "We've got some minor sound effects that will give it a Star Trek feel. We're having it scored by Bill Burchell, who works for Neil Norman's (science-fiction) band."
"George Lucas in Love is eight minutes long, and this is 15 minutes long but it flies by," he says. It tells a story, makes a point, gives you a feel for what's happening and doesn't take forever, after all. It's the perfect length for running at festivals."
While Russ does plan on showing Roddenberry on Patrol at as many film festivals and sci-fi cons as possible, he reserved the seats for the film's debut for the residents of Gene Roddenberry's hometown at The Great Bird of the Galaxy Convention, where 10,000 fans were expected. Russ says, producer Sky Douglas Conway has plans to make the short film available on DVD, complete with souvenir packaging suitable for autographs by the Star Trek personalities who appear in it.
November also saw the first airing of Russ' other recent directorial project, an episode of The FBI Files produced by New Dominion Pictures for The Discovery Channel. The episode, titled "Delusion," chronicles a 1993 bank robbery and kidnapping plot master-minded by a California man named Eural Wills. Russ has worked for New Dominion Pictures for about two years and hopes to be doing more directorial work in the future.
It wasn't like this on Voyager, where quite often when it came down to it, we were talking to people face to face. There was a whole lot of face-to-face communication in the future. What's it going to be like in the next 50 years, the next 25 years, let alone the 24th century?
"I'm a big fan of these shows myself. These are absolutely fascinating," says Russ, who is responsible for shooting documentary footage as well as dramatic reenactment scenes to highlight each case. "I told them that I prefer to do the reenactment stuff, mostly because it's a lot of fun. You have the actors and the script with dialog, and you get to come up with creative ways to tell the story. To me, it's the narrative that I enjoy shooting the most. The narrative is what I'm in it for, whether in those shows or for something else. Telling the story is the most exciting thing for me."
Russ is quick to share his excitement for his music as well, including Brave New World, his fourth CD of songs that was released last spring. While Russ does not envision himself becoming a prolific songwriter, he does want to keep his musical performances a part of his future activities, including gigs at Star Trek conventions.
"I only write tunes when I feel inspired or motivated to write them. Each one of them has a particular theme or message that I want to deliver, as opposed to just writing a love song, for example," he says. "What I really like about the songs on the latest CD is that I can take three guys, walk into the room, throw the amplifiers on the floor, plug them in and start playing. This is a great opportunity to get in front of people and do something new."
What's one thing that Tim Russ is not so excited about? As surprising as it may sound coming from a man who played a Vulcan in a world 300 years ahead of his own, his answer is simple: the future.
"I'm not a gloom-and-doom guy, but here is an interesting perspective. Look how companies deal with us on the telephone with robot voices or on the faceless internet," he says. "They are going to let technology go ahead and fix or solve all of our problems, and we're sucked into the convenience of it all. Each individual thing is not going to bring the building down, but it's the accumulation of all these things, the trend and direction that's so frightening when you stop and think about it. It's something people need to be reflecting on and at some point take a stand on, because it's obnoxious that we get treated this way.
"It wasn't like this on Voyager, where quite often when it came down to it, we were talking to people face to face. There was a whole lot of face-to-face communication in the future," Russ says. "What's it going to be like in the next 50 years, the next 25 years, let alone the 24th century? What's it going to be like for my daughter when she's my age or even half my age? Every time I look at her, I just think. 'I feel for you, love, I really do.'"