Roger Lay, Jr – producer of Aliens Ate My Homework – is also a creative guiding force behind a variety of Star Trek-related Blue-ray projects (including The Next Generation season sets and the acclaimed The Roddenberry Vault). Working on those, allowed him to meet and forge friendships with a variety of people involved with the franchise over the years, many of whom became a part of Aliens Ate My Homework. William Shatner provides his vocal talents (no, not singing) to the plant-like being that pilots that starship. But the Shat is only the start of the connections from the world of Star Trek that were brought onto this film.
We recently spoke with Lay, who is resurrecting Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future as Phoenix Rising, about the film, William Shatner, and some of the other Star Trek connections we can expect to see.
GEEK: Big time obvious question: the Star Trek connections. We’ve got Shatner, the Reeves-Stevens…anybody else? How did you get them involved (especially the Shat), and how much “credibility” did you have with them due to your Star Trek projects?
ROGER LAY, JR.: Star Trek has been a huge part of my life, first as a fan growing up watching all the shows and movies while simultaneously reading every magazine or book on the making of Trek that I could get my hands on. That was really my introduction to the world of film and TV production at an early age. When I had the opportunity to work for CBS and Paramount on a lot of their Star Trek projects, including producing and directing Star Trek: The Roddenberry Vault (and countless cast reunion specials and docs for TOS, TNG, Enterprise, and even some of the films) I got to develop a relationship with many of the “behind the scenes” and creative personnel. When the time came to produce Aliens Ate My Homework, I called many of them and asked them to come aboard to help bring the world of The Galactic Patrol to life just like they had made the worlds of the Federation a reality on Trek.
First up was Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who have written some of the best Trek stories ever across multiple mediums, including classic novels like Prime Directive and Federation, and even some of the best damn episodes produced for Enterprise like “The Forge” and “Terra Prime”. I knew they were the perfect team to adapt Bruce Coville’s novel for the screen so we could achieve the right balance of adventure and sci-fi. But most importantly, to make sure that the themes at the heart of the novel could shine through in this cinematic adaptation. Soon after that I reached out to Mike Okuda, who is one of the most talented and imaginative people to ever work on Trek, and is now also a dear friend. I really wanted his design talents in order to create a visually coherent language of symbols, graphics and logos that would help make our ship and the Galactic Patrol feel like part of a larger and very real universe.
When we started to focus on how to best implement that idea I had mentioned about making a film that would rely on practical effects to bring the creatures to life, we felt the only right course of action was to call on another Trek alumni and, fortunately, our good friend, Todd Masters, who agreed to take on the challenge. He was able to bring all the alien characters to life in a way that just blew away all the kids in the cast. These kids really believed they were interacting with beings from another world thanks to Todd’s creations. He also brought a lot of other Trek alumni into the team. That includes Michael Westmore, Jr. — who engineered and built the animatronic pieces based on Todd’s designs and direction. Todd even made it possible for us to execute one of the most complicated characters in the book — an alien plant-based life form that also happens to pilot the ship. The other major component in bringing this character of “Phil the Plant” to life was the voice.
We knew we needed an iconic voice for this intrepid intergalactic hero, so immediately I thought of my own personal hero – the legendary Bill Shatner. I was in the middle of production on The Roddenberry Vault when we started pre-production on Aliens. One afternoon I was with Bill at CBS TV City filming his segment for the 50th anniversary project, when the idea hit me that he would be incredible for this role. So I ran outside and called the Reeves-Stevens to see what they thought of the idea and, oddly enough, they said they’d been thinking about him all along. I thought Bill would turn us down, but the possibility of playing a character that is not even humanoid actually intrigued him and he saw a lot of the same comedic potential we were aiming for! Bill came in to the recording session with a great deal of hysterical lines of his own that helped make the character into one of the more memorable elements in the film. I can’t wait for fans to see this – it’s the most surreal thing to watch the scenes with Phil (essentially a plant) piloting the ship and delivering one hilarious pun after another with the comedic talents of Bill Shatner. Just amazing.
Bill is one of the most inspiring individuals you’ll ever meet and any opportunity to spend time with him is a gift. Also, in terms of Trek connections, our original director on the film was James L. Conway, who has directed some of the most visually dynamic episodes of all the modern Trek shows and is now directing on The Orville and The Magicians. Unfortunately, as we went into pre-production our schedule changed and he wasn’t able to stay with the project, but he has been incredibly supportive every step of the way. Everything worked out beautifully and we were able to get Sean MacNamara of Soul Surfer fame, and the upcoming King’s Daughter adaptation starring Pierce Brosnan, to direct the picture! Bringing together such an amazingly talented group of people that I’ve admired for years has been the highlight of the entire experience.
Aliens Ate My Homework is now available for streaming, download and on DVD.
Images: Universal 1440/Lay-Carnagey Entertainment