Space: the Final Frontier. Or... is it? While space travel has consistently been depicted in science fiction and popular culture as an exclusivity attainable by elite scientists, engineers, and air force pilots, Floaters poses an interesting predicament: what if ordinary people went to space?
Enter Floaters: your new favorite sci-fi comedy. When ordinary, everyday, unimportant, typical landwalkers float their way to the space beyond our atmosphere, they deal with the same everyday trials and tribulations they would have on Earth. Except. In space.
Promising the same wit, cynicism, and humor as the 2015 hit The Martian, (minus Matt Damon. And fertilized poop.), Floaters is a promising new take on space travel, the future, and the 90% of people who aren't attractive-looking Michael Fassbender androids. Floaters comes to us from the mind of Bay Area Filmmaker Jeremy Solterbeck, who sat down with OMNI in this exclusive interview.
OMNI: How did you come up with this particular vision of life in space?
Jeremy Solterbeck: I was partly inspired by John Carpenter’s Dark Star, and its simultaneous homage and parody of sci-fi genre movies. It’s an imaginative movie that has some worthwhile things to say about the various futures we could be headed toward. The other side of the same coin is, Floaters is a reaction to the tropishness that has overcome mainstream sci-fi in the last several years, and the feeling that Hollywood is selling sci-fi that smells a lot more like fantasy.
What about life in space seems funny to you?
What’s funny to me about technology and evolution is that when we figure out something new and great, we don’t get to mark off anything from the bottom of the list that we’d rather not deal with anymore. Civilization’s total knowledge in your pocket, and it’s a telephone too? Great! Too bad you just dropped it in the toilet. Instant communication between people anywhere on Earth? That’s amazing! But you just got killed by a mosquito. So my vision of space and science fiction is one that very much includes the basic humility of being human. You may have just landed on a moon of Jupiter, but your sock is still going to have a hole in it whether you like it or not.
Tell me about the production design. What was your approach?
I had a couple goals in mind when I started to write. One, as little green screen as possible. I hear a lot of actors talk about how uninspiring it is to work that way, and I thought it would be more fun and convincing to build real sets for the actors to play in. I wanted it to look comedic in a way that underlines the lack of futurism we’re used to seeing, so I scavenged all my local industrial areas for old junk. Almost everything you see in Floaters is debris commandeered from various questionable locations. I did wash the stuff first though. Two, I wanted to make an environment that felt like it was playing against your expectation of space. The result isn’t sci-fi in the ordinary sense, nor is it exactly making fun of sci-fi. It’s more like the byproduct of something that thought it wanted to be sci-fi, but gave up on the way. Electricity doesn’t work, the plumbing is visible, it’s cold, it’s cramped, it’s literally shipping containers carried to space and stacked on top of each other.
Why the de-emphasis on technology? Is this an anti-tech statement?
I wanted to play against expectations, and avoid certain things that I feel are obvious within the genre. One expectation I think the audience has is, whomever is on a spaceship, whether they’re the good guy or the bad guy or the friendly martian, they know what they’re doing. They’re familiar with the ship, they know what the buttons do and where the hallways go. That’s how it is in sci-fi, cool looking things just happen, that’s part of why you watch. I wanted to portray a vision of space that was a more like several annoying people who live on your street volunteered to run a neighborhood committee meeting for all the wrong reasons. It’s like life, things just don’t work the way that makes the most sense. And if I’m portraying an environment in space that somehow lacks forethought, organization, oversight, and, you know, engineering, the subtext is that it’s probably pretty dangerous, which lends tension and a sense of adventure. No one has ever thought space life would be carelessly thrown together while everyone was looking the other way. When you have no idea what you’re doing or why, there are a lot more possibilities.
That feels like there’s more backstory involved than what you let on in the series. Is there more information we need to know about this world?
I had come up with some degree of backstory, but you can’t put that in the movie so to speak, so I just let it inform the overall vibe of the series. The concept of a space elevator is not new, it’s been around for a century or more. It’s somewhat legit science. It’s an object tethered to the Earth that swings around the equator and is held aloft by centrifugal force. There’s a Japanese company working on such an elevator right now. There’s one in the game Halo. Where I began to take license was how and why such a structure was built. I’d love to get into a little more of how everyone came to space, how Dymaxion City works, and how all that toxic garbage plays a role in season two.
Do you think life in space will be as crappy as life on Earth?
Well I certainly don’t think space will be less funny than Earth. All those astronauts I see on the NASA socials could use some comedy training.
You cast a lot of comedians. Were they allowed to improvise?
There was definitely some improv taking place. For the most part it was a line here and there that someone either had a good idea for, or just forgot a line and made up their own. Tony Cirimele who plays Morgan, loves to point out moments where he’s about to bust up laughing because Clay Newman made up a new line as Blake. We shot several experimental “guided improvs” led by the other writer and brilliant comedian, Sean Owens. They will be posted for fun in the future. Two of them are up already as Bonus Episodes.
How was the music and sound design handled?
I love making music and due to my tendency to want to do everything myself, I started down that road. I did the Floaters theme song that you hear in the series teaser and promptly realized taking on the music was going to extend my already protracted timeline. At that point, I handed over scoring to a long time colleague and music producer, Jim Greer. He did a great job. As far as sound design, I did keep that to myself, and what you hear is pretty much an audio accompaniment to the lo-fi aesthetic. I’ve got air compressors, broken radiators, engine rooms, short circuiting toasters, old elevators. I scavenged those sounds the same way I put together the sets.
What is some sci-fi that you like?
Shane Carruth is making incredible movies. Primer was authentic-feeling in the best way. Rian Johnson came up with a proper, classic sci-fi story with Looper. Coherence was really interesting. I tend toward the underdogs and the under appreciated.
Watch Floaters and stay tuned for updates at http://floaterstheseries.tv