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'Into the Black' interview

Published on 8 September, 2010

Authored by Titan Books

In Still Flying, we explore Firefly fandom, with an overview of the Browncoats. However due to space constraints, we simply weren't able to cover everything. So here on the blog, we wanted to pay tribute to a fan-made Firefly show called Into the Black by speaking with star Troy Rudolph.

When did you first become aware of Firefly?

I was aware of Firefly right from the very beginning.  I was a big fan of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel, and followed Joss Whedon's work almost
religiously, so I heard about Firefly through Joss fandom when information
first started being made public.  I tuned in the night of the premier, and
like everyone else, was a little confused at first about what was going on,
and the relationships of the characters because it was aired out of
sequence, but I was instantly hooked.  The story, the visuals, the setting,
the costumes were all amazing, and I thought so original and what a
refreshing take on Sci-Fi.  I love Star Trek, but that world is always so
clean and sterile and perfect.  The world of Firefly was so real and lived
in, and you believed that Serenity was these people's home and it had
history behind it.  The characters all had that same level of realism and
believability.  Joss was able to put together such a talented cast that
embodied these rich and varied characters.  Most of the cast I was
unfamiliar with prior to Firefly, with the exception of Ron Glass, who I'd
been a fan of since I watched him on Barney Miller as a kid.

Despite how Firefly kept getting bounced around on the schedule, I always
managed to find it, and watch the new episode, and was pretty crushed when
it got cancelled.  I remember that on the website, there was a distress call
broadcast when the show was in danger.  It was a staticy message from Mal
calling for help as a thinly veiled appeal for more people to watch the
show, and bolster its ratings.  Sadly, the help never came.  I was actually
disappointed when that distress call never made it onto the extra features
on the DVDs....which I bought shortly after they were released.  I knew that
I had enjoyed the show, but forgot how much until I bought the DVDs.  At the
time I was really busy with work, and didn't have the time to sit down and
watch them, but once the show I was working on ended, I had nothing to do,
and decided to put the DVDs in and give them a watch.  Over the course of 3
days, I watched every single minute of footage on them, episodes, extra
features, Easter eggs, etc.  I instantly fell in love with the show all over
again and became really bummed that there wasn't any more, and likely
wouldn't be.  That is until a couple of years later when Serenity came along, and it
all started again.

What made you decide to start work on 'Into the Black'?

The project initially started at a Vancouver Browncoats meet-up for a movie
premier in the spring of 2005.  Damian Spracklin had recently moved to
Vancouver from Newfoundland, and was looking to connect with local Firefly
fans, and was also interested in doing a fan film.  At the movie, he met
Laura Sutherland who was also interested the idea.  A little later on, he
and Laura went to a Browncoat Shindig celebrating Jewel Staite's birthday,
where they met up with a number of like minded people, including Eric Tong.
Together, they began to put together what would become Into the Black.

In the summer of 2005, I moved from Calgary to Vancouver, and I didn't
really know many people here, so I spent a lot of time at home, and this was
when all the preview screenings of Serenity were happening.  So I was often
on the official Universal website, reading through the forums, and in one of
the threads, someone posted a message saying there was a group of fans in
Vancouver making a Firefly fan film.  Having watched a number of fan films
for Star Trek and Star Wars, I had often thought that it would be cool to do
a Firefly one, so I sent the poster (Laura) a message, and asked about it. I
knew I wanted to act in it, but was told that they'd filled all the main
character roles, but they'd love for me to be involved behind the scenes. At
that point, I was working as an assistant director, and had no interest in
working on the crew, so I declined.

About a month later, I messaged Laura and asked how the project was coming
along.  She told me that they were looking for an actor to play the Captain.
Seems that at one of the planning meetings, someone volunteered to play the
Captain, but then never showed up again.  I seized the opportunity and said
I'd love to throw my hat in the ring.  She went on to basically try and talk
me out of it for some reason, but I persisted.  Eventually an audition was
arranged, and I met everyone for the first time.  I was the 2nd of 3 people
they had read for the part, and apparently the director was the only person
who wanted to go with someone else, but fortunately he was overruled by
everyone else, and later left the project.  He had some different ideas
about the show and characters...and film making in general.

Since becoming involved initially only as an actor, my passion for the
project has kind of led me into a much bigger role.  I've worked hard to
keep Into the Black alive in the hearts and minds of our cast and crew, but
also amongst Firefly fandom in general.  I, along with Aaron Harrison (who
plays Dr. Call, and is also directing Mind Control), have tried to use our
connections in film as well as the prop and costume world to really step up
ITB.  The fact that Vancouver is the main hub for Science Fiction production
in North America has been of great help.  We have elements of Battlestar
Galactica, Andromeda, Psych, and a whole host of other shows that have gone
into the building of our sets and providing props.

Everyone involved is a Browncoat, and this is a chance for us to play in the
world that Joss created.  As we've often said within the group, as regards
Firefly - We weren't finished watching it yet.

How did you settle on the title 'Into the Black'?

By the time I came onboard the project, they'd already named it, so I wasn't
involved with that aspect of it.  From what I'm told, a suggestion was made
to take the name for the show from the lyrics of the Ballad of Serenity.
They didn't want to name the show after the ship, and wanted to make sure it
had a ring to it that made people think of Firefly.  The inspiration came
from "Take me out, to the black", and it was tweaked a little, and finally
Into the Black was born.

You play Captain Jon Lee. What is his backstory?

Jon's past is kind of shrouded in mystery.  No one on Samsara really knows
who he is, or where he came from.  They know he has a real hate on for the
Alliance, but they don't know the details.  The only person who really knows
anything is Dr. Call, and even he doesn't know the whole story.  Unlike Mal,
Jon isn't a veteran of the Unification War, he tried to stay as far away
from that as possible, and continues to try and put as much distance between
him and the Alliance as the verse will allow, only venturing into the core
if absolutely necessary.

Call knows that Jon Lee isn't his real name, and is aware of the fact that
he's had other identities in the past, but Jon isn't about to tell any of
them his real name, or why all the secrecy and paranoia.

Jon occasionally says things that don't make any sense to anyone listening,
but he doesn't seem aware of it.  He also exhibits odd behaviour from time
to time, things even he can't fully explain, and sometimes has a sense of
what people are thinking or are about to do.  He mostly uses this to cheat
at cards.

Jon isn't particularly close to his crew or ship.  To Mal, Serenity is his
home and his crew are his family.  To Jon, Samsara is a tool that allows him
to do the work that puts food on the table and his crew are a necessary
annoyance.  Though as time goes on, he'll start to appreciate both ship and
crew more and more.

The first episode of 'Into the Black' is called 'Mined Control'. Can you share anything about the plot?

In true Firefly fashion, Mined Control is the second episode of ITB, mostly
because we're not sure we could afford to shoot the actual pilot.  In this
episode, the crew of Samsara are contracted to steal a set of mining plans,
when something goes wrong, and all hell breaks loose.  As written, it plays
out in a non-linear fashion where the story jumps back and forth in time.
Hopefully it should all make sense in the final edit.

We tried to really set up the characters so people will understand them, and
see the relationships, even though they don't get to see how they've come

From the footage you've already shot, is there a particular moment or scene that you're most proud of?

A lot of it is kind of a blur at this point, the majority of the scenes we
filmed were back in 2006.  I was also working on a TV series at the time,
and was pretty tired most of the days we filmed.  That being said, I'm
actually pretty proud of most of what we did.  I've been able to watch some
of the footage, and have been pleased with the majority of my work.  I would
have to say though, that the scenes that take place in the Tavern when I
accept the job and the scene in the forest after the job is over were some
of my favourites to film, and I think they turned out really well.

One scene that I'm particularly proud of was a small scene that was added
after the fact.  Laura had moved to another city, and we found ourselves
having to explain her absence from the Tavern, and why Sera (played by
Miranda Coombe) and Hank (played by Sean Bygrave) were along with me.  The
writing duties for that scene fell to me, and we got together and shot it in
our galley set one day.  That was also the day that Global National News in
Canada came by to do a story on us that aired across the country.  So all in
all, that was a very memorable day.

What I'm really looking forward to is filming the scenes that take place in
the cockpit set now that that's finished.  We were able to go in there and
film something to show at the Vancouver CSTS screening, and finally getting
to sit at the controls of Samsara was a huge thrill for me.

How did it feel to get support for the project from Nathan Fillion?

That was pretty amazing.  Nathan is good friends with one of my best
friends, and I was surprised to find us all heading out to party on St.
Patrick's day.  When I first met him, I said that I was a Browncoat, and as
soon as we got to the bar, he sat right next to me, and all we did was talk
Firefly for most of the evening.  I took a chance and brought up Into the
Black, and he seemed very interested.  When he opened up his wallet and
handed me a wad of cash, I was floored!  I never expected that, and it was
really overwhelming at first.  He was great, and we kept in touch for awhile
about ItB.  That, combined with what Joss wrote about us on Whedonesque, we
really felt like we were being welcomed into the Firefly family.

We were very surprised when Nathan again mentioned us during an interview
he did with Fangoria radio a couple of years ago.  Great to know that he
hasn't forgotten us.  We just hope we do him proud in the end.

On the 'Into the Black' page, you mention that you're a Browncoat. What would you say the difference is between enjoying episodes of Firefly and being a Browncoat?

Being a Browncoat has almost become a lifestyle amongst Firefly fans.  I
know some people who are casual fans of the show, y'know the ones who
enjoyed it, and maybe have the DVDs, but Browncoats are above and beyond.
They've become an international community.  Because Firefly was so short
lived, and so few people really knew about the show and watched when it was
first on, we almost feel an ownership and are protective about it, but at
the same time, want to expose as many people as we can to it.  Whenever a
Browncoat meets someone who hasn't seen it, they will sing its praises, and
offer up their DVDs.  You can be in a city or country all alone, but you
hear someone say Gorammit or is sporting a Jayne hat, you have an instant
friend.  How many TV series that only lasted 13 episodes have spawned fan
groups that are still active 7 years after the show ended?  Groups that come
together every year to celebrate the birthday of the show's creator by
throwing big fundraising events around the globe, that generate tens of
thousands of dollars for charity.

After Firefly ended, we were desperate for anything related to the show, and
that translated into big enough DVD sales, that it spawned a feature film.
I think this is the first time anything like that ever happened.  As Mal
said "We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty"

I honestly think that Browncoats are unique and quite special when it comes
to fandom, and I know everyone at ITB is proud to count themselves amongst
their ranks.

Find out more about Into the Black here.
Visit the Into the Black YouTube Channel here.

If you've worked on your own Firefly fan film, let us know about it at: readerfeedback@titanemail.com