As the second Cardiff International Film Festival hits our capital city this weekend, Daran Hill talks to the engaging screenwriter Marc Zicree, who has arrived in Wales to join the judging panel.
The second Cardiff International Film Festival will again be hosted in the historical Pierhead Building in the heart of Cardiff Bay, taking place Friday 19th – Sunday 21st October, with additional events at the Atrium of the University of South Wales film school, which is a new partner in the Festival.
The event not only marks Wales’ front-running status within the creative arts but also celebrates international talent, with categories from Welsh Language to foreign features, all submitted via FilmFreeway.com, the world’s best online submissions platform. Over five hundred submissions have been reduced to a cross section of shortlisted films and screenings of these animations, shorts, documentaries and full length feature films will be made throughout the weekend.
The celebration of film will culminate in an awards dinner on Sunday evening at which an impressive jury of local and global faces set to crown the winners from ten different categories. Judges include British Welsh actors Kimberley Nixon and Maria Pride; acclaimed Indian director, writer and producer Anurag Kashyap; Neath based script consultant and video conceptualist Keith Williams; and award-winning documentary filmmaker Florence Ayisi.
Joining them will be Marc Zicree, one of the most creative names in science fiction writing, who has flown in to Wales especially to join the judging panel.
Marc and his wife Elaine, have sold over 100 teleplays, screenplays and pilots to every major studio and network, including landmark stories for such shows as STAR TREK– THE NEXT GENERATION, DEEP SPACE NINE, THE NEW TWILIGHT ZONE, BABYLON 5, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Their work has been nominated for the American Book Award, Humanitas Prize, Diane Thomas Award, and Hugo and Nebula Awards, and they’ve won the TV Guide Award, the prestigious Hamptons Prize and 2011 Rondo and Saturn Awards. Fans of their work include Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Ray Bradbury, Damon Lindelof, Frank Darabont, Joss Whedon and millions of fans around the world.
Daran Hill: Welcome to Wales. Is this your first time here and what persuaded you to join the judging panel for the Cardiff International Film Festival?
It’s not my first time. Actually my first time in Wales was when I stayed in Portmeirion with my wife, because I was a huge of The Prisoner TV show which aired when I was a teenager back in the States. That was my first introduction to Wales, and of course I love this country, it’s beautiful and wonderful. The people are so friendly and welcoming. How green everything is, it really is just so beautiful. And the weather is gorgeous. I was fearful of a grey slate, rainy day.
I’ve been to Cardiff previously because my wife has been hired to write a feature based on a book by Lord Peter Hain, and our partners on that are two producers based here in Wales – Cheryl and Andrea – and they were putting on the Film Festival and asked us if we would come and be judges.
Daran Hill: What is the judging process like for the Cardiff International Film Festival? How open and inclusive has it been?
I am a huge advocate for inclusivity and the fact that now everyone has a video camera in their pocket so if there is a desire to make a film there really is no impediment the way there would have been twenty or thirty years ago, when it would have cost millions of dollars to make anything. So all you need is the passion to do it and the desire to tell a story. That can be in Nigeria, it can be in Japan, it can be here, it can be in Macedonia. The fact that the Cardiff International Film Festival has entrants from all around the world is testament to how enthusiastic the film makers are, and how welcoming the people behind the Festival are.
Daran Hill: You’re premiering one of your own productions, Space Command, at the Festival. Tell us about it. It’s been funded in a particular way, hasn’t it?
I’ve written hundreds of hours of television for all the major studios and networks back in America, and I’ve even written for the BBC, but with this project I wanted to do something that would inspire people the way Star Trek inspired me when I was a kid. Something that would say “we have to reach across boundaries and barriers, we have to reach out with compassion, and we must not give into fear and divisiveness and chaos and racism and hatred.”
I didn’t want to trust the fate of the Space Command project to the networks, in that they might cut me off at script or cut me off at pilot, so I reached out to my audience and my audience has given me over a million dollars to make the two hour Space Command pilot. My actors are the top stars of many TV shows and films. Doug Jones is one of our stars, and he was the creature in The Shape of Water, and also one of the leads in Star Trek: Discovery. So it’s a dream come true.
Daran Hill: So me and my kids will enjoy the world premiere of Space Command on Saturday night? This is something that will appeal across the generations?
We’re showing the first half hour because we’ve created visual effects for the first half hour. We’re continuing to complete the pilot but we wanted to show a good chunk of it. The show is very deliberately family friendly so you can watch it with your kids. It’s not that it isn’t delving into serious subjects – it is – but I wanted to make something that a family could enjoy and which kids would find their favourite show as well as adults.
Daran Hill: You run your own Youtube channel too. How did you get into that and how effective a medium do you find it?
I was having lunch about two years ago with my friend Glen Mazzara, the show writer from The Walking Dead, and he said “You know so much about science fiction, you should have your own YouTube channel. Because Space Command is such a massive project involving so many people and such a long term project, I wanted to do something simple and immediate. I wanted to just be able to grab my phone, speak for how ever long I wanted to speak about anything related to science fiction, and then post it. So that’s what I did with my Mr Sci Fi Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkKt7gHnZpcY0nreBdPhwmQ
I post videos about science fiction TV shows or films, personal experiences related to people I have known in the science fiction genre, and it’s got 15,000 subscribers and it’s building toward 100,000 by the end of the year. Now, when I go to science fiction conventions I am recognised – which is very fun – and also the fact that when you reach a certain level of subscription on YouTube, they give you their studio for free, including all the equipment, and so we are looking to shoot Space Command there. This was an unforeseen benefit.
Daran Hill: You’re also known as the author of the official companion to The Twilight Zone TV series. How influential was that series on your writing and on science fiction writing more generally?
Hugely. The three TV shows that made me want to be a writer were Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits. I saw them all when I was a kid. They showed me the enormous power of television. The fact that one episode of one show could change your life forever for the better. I take that responsibility very seriously, and every time I write anything, I’m trying to probe deeply into what I feel and what I think, and make sure what I am writing has meaning and is coming from a compassionate spirit. Those are the shows that shaped me, and Twilight Zone was incredibly instrumental. Being able to go deeply into The Twilight Zone enabled me to learn how to write and produce television.
For more information on attending the Cardiff International Film Festival, please visit their website www.theciff.co.uk