Usually, I do features and interviews about fan films that are either complete and already released or at least have posted an enticing trailer or teaser. But not always. Occasionally there’s a gem out there that’s worth covering even at a very early stage of development.
In this case the gem is a pearl, ALIZA PEARL to be precise. (And it’s pronounced “uh-LEE-zuh.”) And this pearl has an alter-ego: Guinan. Yes, THAT Guinan…the one made famous by actor Whoopi Goldberg on six seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Aliza and her co-writer/director Lamar Perry set out to make a prequel to TNG focusing entirely on Guinan, her mysterious past, and the experiences that shaped her into the fascinating bartender and confidante of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D. The fan production was going to be called GUINAN: THE SERIES.
Then the fan film guidelines happened.
Different fan productions have responded to the guidelines in different ways. Some folks are trying to follow them as best they can. Others are pretty much ignoring them and hoping for the best. A few productions have shut down completely, and others are still on hold. And a couple have decided to un-Trekify themselves, like Renegades, which has renamed characters, races, and alliances, ditched comm badges, and tried to surgically remove anything directly tied to Star Trek from their production in order to fly free of the CBS/Paramount jurisdiction.
Well, you can add Guinan: The Series to that latter category. Aliza and Lamarr decided to likewise remove any and all obvious references to Star Trek, renaming their series to THE LISTENER: SPECTRAL AWAKENING. However, here’s the best part, it’s still Guinan! Guinan has been known by many names, so they simply won’t be calling her “Guinan.” But yeah (wink-wink), it’s Guinan. And I, for one, am really eager to see this new fan series!
We might not have to wait that long, either. After a few years in development, Aliza and Lamar have finally started shooting footage at, of all places, Ares Studios (now Industry Studios) where Axanar was/will be(?) produced.
I recently had the true pleasure of sitting down with Aliza Pearl for an interview. And while I seldom call an interview a “must read,” well, by the time you get to parts 2 and 3, you’re gonna really love this one…
JONATHAN – Let’s start off with a little bit about your background, Aliza…
ALIZA – Well, I am an actor and writer from Newark, New Jersey. I grew up in New Jersey, spent my formative years there, and lived in New York briefly and did theater—mostly musical theater and a lot of stage plays and a little bit of film. And then I moved to L.A. and started writing/producing my own stuff here and there, but also doing things like improv and sketch comedy and a little bit of sci-fi here and there and TV and indie films…just working when I could and starting to find my own creative voice.
JONATHAN – You’re pretty darn busy! So how long ago did you move to Los Angeles?
ALIZA – I’ve been out here ten years now.
JONATHAN – What are you doing now as a living? Are you actively writing/directing/producing and getting paid for it…or is your day job something different?
ALIZA – The answer to that question is…both. I am an actor, and I work here and there. I do commercials, and I do other random paying gigs here and there like TV (a little bit) and web series and things.
JONATHAN – Any commercials we might have seen you in?
ALIZA – Yeah, a lot…and I’ll just say the most recent. I did Wal-Mart, and the big one I did last year was a series of McDonalds commercials that were on the Internet. And there were, like, seven of them that came out. We shot a bunch, and then they released, like, five to seven of them. And then there was a California Lottery one I was in.
JONATHAN – Well, now I have to look for you! And for anyone who is interested, I’ll include a link to your IMDb page.
So you’re pretty much making a living as an actor then?
ALIZA – Not entirely. Like most actors, I do have other work that I do to make sure I’m able to pay my bills between acting jobs. For the past five or so years, it’s been as a development consultant and grant-writer for non-profit organizations.
JONATHAN – Do web series actually pay anything, or are you just doing that for free or for ridiculously low amounts of money?
ALIZA – Yeah, they do pay. Some of them don’t, some of them do. SAG has a new media contract, which is a very low rate of pay…it’s like a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty or two hundred for the day rate. But usually it’s about a hundred. So it pays something, which is nice…better than nothing. [Laughs.] Sometimes it’s deferred or actors will do it for free.
JONATHAN – And of course, with the new Star Trek fan film guidelines, actors will now have to do it for free…but we’ll get to the guidelines later on. Right now, though, I’d like to find out more about you and your co-writer/director Lamar Perry. How did you two first get together?
ALIZA – I met him about three and a half years ago on the set of another mutual friend’s comedy project. I believe he was the director of photography on that, and I was one of the actors in it. And it was all friends and friendly atmosphere, and between one of the takes, he says—in the way that people say “Okay, everyone, turn your phones off, we’re about to shoot the scene”—he says, “Everyone, set your tricorders to silent!” And my ears perked up.
And then later, after we had finished the shoot, we were all just kind of like hanging out and getting dinner together. I turned to him and said, “Hey…Star Trek fan?” And he said, “Yes, how did you know?” And then I said, “You said this thing on set…” and he said, “Oh, of course. Yes.”
And so we started talking about Star Trek and the films and the TV shows and our favorite things about it. And then, as the conversation went along and we were geeking out about Star Trek, I said, “Y’know, I’ve been kinda, like, batting around this idea. I don’t know if it’s a good idea. I don’t know if anyone would want to see it, but I want to see it. What would you think of a show that’s Guinan’s backstory?
And he was like, “Ohhhhh, my God! Uh…yes! I wanna see it, and let’s make it! Can we make it? I wanna help make it!! Are you gonna make this???”
And I was like, “Whoa…uh, um, okay. Um, yes, I guess. We’ll make it, then.” It turned instantly from this vague idea that I had knida wondered, “Would anyone else want to see this? I know I would want to see it. I would totally watch it. I would be totally into that if it existed.” And then I shared it with him, and instantly it became a project. And I think, within a week from that day, we had our first writing session for the script.
JONATHAN – That is really cool! So I’m guessing that you guys are probably both of that age where Next Generation was your introduction to Star Trek?
ALIZA – Yes. Next Generation, DS9, Voyager…we were kids and coming of age during all of those shows. But of course, the original series has always been on. So I was also watching that. It would come on late at night, and I remember, during college, I would fall asleep to that. That was always a fun, comforting thing in my life….the excitement of watching episodes of TNG with my family and Voyager with my dad.
JONATHAN – How long did it take you to write Guinan…and how much did you write?
ALIZA – Hmmm, it’s been three years, so… I know that our first script was done within a couple of months. And we wrote about 40 to 45 pages that were pretty cleanly falling into about 10-page episodes each. So that’s about four episodes within those 45 pages or so.
JONATHAN – So you were thinking about 10 minutes per episode (or webisode)?
ALIZA – Yeah, four 10-minute episodes. And I don’t remember all the details from back then…if we started out that way planning that or if we were writing and it just turned into that. But from the very first draft, that’s what it sorted itself out to be.
And so we spent the next few years doing lots of rewrites and reaching out to people and getting notes and taking meetings with other people who are in the industry and fans of Star Trek. And also, we were just building our presence and letting people know what we were doing.
We’ve taken the route of doing it right, which is why we’re not rushing into things. In a perfect world, we would have all the funding already and everything lined up to just shoot the whole thing tomorrow. But we don’t. We’re professionals, but we also don’t have big investors behinds us just yet. So we’re happily taking our time to do this the right way and get our ducks all in a row.
From day one, we were working on building into the script. And so the past two and a half to three years of really honing the script and getting notes back has been so beneficial for the script. We’re really happy with where the script is now.
JONATHAN – So as you’ve worked on your script, has it gotten any longer or shorter?
ALIZA – Yeah, it’s still around 40 or 45 right now. We’ve really just honed what the tone is, what the story is that we’re telling. It’s deepened. We haven’t really added more story elements—which is good because we didn’t ever really want this to be cluttered. We just kinda dived deeper into the character: who she is, why she’s the way she is, and what she’s dealing with in this point of her life. And that’s the kind of work, that’s the kind of writing, the kind of acting that I prefer to do. I’m obviously very into sci-fi, and I think sci-fi has been a major part of who I am as an artist and, of course, as a person.
JONATHAN – And what is it about science fiction that has so attracted you to it?
ALIZA – The things that excite me about sci-fi are not limited to just the special effects and the idea of wonder and spaceships and aliens and all that stuff. That all excites me, but I also am excited by the potential of sci-fi to be an allegory for the human condition and to use sci-fi to speak to people on a more universal level about the things we all deal with.
JONATHAN – So you’ve been rewriting the script. What else has been going on in prepping for turning Pinocchio into a real boy?
ALIZA – We’re just trying to strategize, I guess. We’re trying to figure out the best way to create this project, the best way to raise funds, the best way to build our fan base and to build our community so that when this comes out, when we actually have the funds and can shoot it, that it has a place where people will see it…that it has an audience that will already know what it is. We don’t want to simply release it into the cold, dead universe of the Internet.
JONATHAN – As you were doing your rewrites and as you were preparing for this Guinan series, on June 23, CBS cames out with these lovely fan film guidelines. What was yours and Lamar’s reaction when you saw those?
Come back tomorrow (yes, tomorrow–the next two weeks include Christmas and New Years, and Jonathan’s gonna be BUSY!) for Part 2 where we discover what changes had to be made to Guinan: The Series due to the new guidelines. Also, Aliza and Lamar have just completed filming their first trailer at–of all places–Ares Studios (now Industry Studios). Has Alec Peters been involved at all, and if so, has he been helpful or not? And finally, are you curious how Ares/Industry Studios measures up against “real” Hollywood studios? Aliza has worked in both places, and I’ll ask her that very question!
Aliza invites anyone in the southern California area to come enjoy her live comedy group, The Improvised Generation, at the Impro Studio, located at 1727 N. Vermont Ave #211 in Hollywood.
The Improvised Generation creates original, improvised 45-minute episodes in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation. With new characters and a new ship, this cast of professional performers/Trekkies mix genuine Star Trek reverence with core storytelling techniques to create authentic voyages through the final frontier.
Their new season opens on January 14 and runs on Saturday nights at 9:15 through the end of February. Tickets are $10, and they recommend you order online rather than buying at the door, as they often sell out.
Check the Impro Studio website in January for more information.