I am not a fan of bad endings – life is full enough of those. My goal for The Emissary was to make a movie that looked beautiful, sounded amazing, was funny and fun. I was raised on Star Trek and The Three Stooges so most of what I do naturally combines the sublime and the ridiculous.
I had already decided by age seventeen that I would try to become an astronaut and was about to enter college in aerospace engineering, so when I saw Star Wars for the first time that summer of 1977, I was mesmerized – I was Luke Skywalker! That experience of being transported in corpus to another time and place had the most profound effect on me as a moviegoer.
While I enjoy the fantasy of Star Wars, my favorite science-fiction is found in the books of Isaac Asimov and Andre Norton. I like Arthur C. Clark’s approach to science fiction in that there is clear line between fantasy and science. I endeavor to have my imaginings of the future be actually possible.
Since The Emissary is my first feature-length film, an original-worlds type of production was out of the question financially, so I fell back to the next-best thing – the sci-fi gadget movie. The Emissary is kind of a The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original 1959 version) meets Ghostbusters. There is the fish-out-of-water spaceman, some weird atomic-powered hardware, and some buddies on a mission and they are running out of time. I feel bad when I see excessive violence in movies and think a great story can be told without it.
I thought that by fabricating a few important props that actors could engage with (part of a spaceship; the alien power generator), and building up my own visual effects studio, I could handle all the visual effects on my own. I simply had not accounted for the nearly four years of effort all of that would take. It seems comically overambitious in retrospect. My deep wish for the next production is to have a complete team with me – now I know exactly what to ask for!
The wonder I experience while contemplating the cosmos inevitably creeps into the art I produce. I somehow yearn to share this wonder with others as I feel it is mostly missing from our day-to-day lives. I am also saddened by scientific illiteracy, and wanted most of the science in The Emissary to be in the realm of real physics, even in the backstory. For example, when Koyper flies from the Colony near Saturn to the Earth, it takes over three weeks at an acceleration of 1G for the entire time. Amazingly, the halfway mark is the planet Jupiter. I also worked out the engineering of the Colony habitats including their pressurized spheres and shielding against cosmic rays and micrometeorites.
The essence of this movie is Door County, Wisconsin, where I live. This movie could have not been shot while I lived in a city, and I cannot overstate
the influence of being in a beautiful, rural place on the creative process. Our numerous visits to Newport State Park both during the day and
deep into the night were unforgettable – the night sounds of crickets (and mosquitos!) and frogs and coyotes, all while horsing around with
my friends and technical equipment. As Koyper says at the end, “this was an unforgettable time for me!”