BLOG Metascifi: A New Species of Science Fiction

For the past two years conceptual artist Martin Firrell has been working on something very special for science fiction fans, and he’s been keeping details about his new project super-secret… until now. A teasing first look of the project is now live on the Metascifi website, and in this first major interview about Metascifi , Martin reveals how the project will appear as an app; which sci-fi performers are involved (it’s a jaw-dropping line-up); and why this work will be significant to every genre fan.

Kell: “Who did you film for Metascifi , and how did you choose who to include in this project?”

Kell: “ Metascifi is being developed as an app. When will it be available for fans to buy?”

Martin: “I am going to show Metascifi for the first time @rewirelondon Unconference at the Google Building in London on 28 September, then present it again at BAFTA on 30 September, and there will be tickets for fans. The app itself will appear in stores in time for Christmas. It’s a little bit frightening because it sounds like such a long way away, but it isn’t at all so I have to keep working.”

Kell: “Why do you think this project is important?”

Martin: “I feel very passionate about it; it’s like a huge conversation. And obviously sci-fi is like a conversation we all have together through our fandom, but this is like making the conversation more formal and philosophical in nature. So what I hope I’m contributing is some of that more deeper and thoughtful stuff, and then as a fan you can play with action figures and watch favourite episodes, and you can also think really deeply and be supported in thinking really deeply. Obviously fans do anyway, and I think the really great thing about science fiction is the extent to which people think quite hard about the ideas contained there. I want to create this platform for even more thought and sharing of ideas. You know what it’s like when you have a really deep thought; sometimes you don’t necessarily share it with everybody because you don’t know if everyone is in that mood; you don’t want to come across as really serious if everyone else is feeling really frivolous. This might help people find each other if they do want to be quite serious. So that’s the plan. I’m starting to think that maybe ‘art’ is the less interesting part, and the more interesting part is the public conversation. I’m really excited about that.”

Kell: “As a public artist and cultural activist, what first sparked your interest in portraiture?”

Martin: “I suppose the people. At first it was an interest in people because they’re so interesting aren’t they? They’re just so fascinating. And of course one way to get to know somebody is to think about their portrait and you would try to understand them and present that to others. So really it was quite selfish because I just wanted to get to know people and that’s a really good way to do it, and to do it on a deeper level; to investigate what people are really like and what they really believe, and also what your ideas about them really are.

“We all have an idea of someone when we’ve seen them, say, in a show, and then when you meet them very quickly you realise that they are not Malcolm Reynolds, they’re another person, for example. But the actual portraiture did begin with Nathan in 2007 because I just felt that character was so fascinating. And of course Joss Whedon is a genius and Firefly as we all know is that incredible thing that brought us all together, and Nathan was at the heart of that show.

“And for the first time ever I went on a UK bulletin board and met some really interesting and thoughtful people, and it was really that that fuelled my interest in talking to fans about Firefly before I approached Nathan, and it was partly their enthusiasm that made me think that it’s worth doing and it’s not mad, and there’s other people that think it’s similarly interesting. That’s why Nathan is my muse.

“You know when someone believes in you, they don’t actually really have to do very much, but they express their belief in you. And right from the beginning when Nathan and I met in 2007 when we started working with each other he said, ‘I think what you’re doing is really fascinating, and that’s why I’ve come to take part’, and he said that he was really interested in the point of view that was very different from movie making or television making because it was so much more thoughtful, the things I was interested in. But then subsequent to that he has been a really consistent source of just saying that he believes in me. And when it came to the Metascifi app, the timing was really difficult because of Castle because they shoot like 14 hours a day, ten months of the year. In the end there was some doubt whether he would take part and so I wrote him a note saying, ‘I’m not sure how we’re going to pull this off,’ and he wrote back saying, ‘I am really committed to being a part of it. No wait a minute, I insist on being a part of it.’ That’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s so encouraging.”

Kell: “Working on this project you’ve spent time with so many amazing performers! Being a sci-fi geek yourself, do you have a favourite geek-out moment you can tell us about?”

Martin: “Yes! The amazing thing is that the kinds of things I noticed that struck me was how close to John Sheppard that Joe Flanigan is – he’s really is like John Sheppard himself! He’s really kind of cool and funny like John Sheppard… He really is like John Sheppard and that’s kind of amazing because most of the other performers aren’t. I found most people are very different. Like Nathan is not Malcolm Reynolds. And Nathan has said in lots of interviews, ‘I’m not that guy.’ But that really struck me, because if you meet Joe Flanigan, you really are with John Sheppard! And it is quite exciting because he is this sort of duty heroic, so I had a bit of a geek-out bromance moment because he really is that cool!”

Kell: “For now you’ve chosen to look only at American sci-fi television, but will the project keep expanding?”

Martin: “I hope so! That is the plan. We’re already negotiating some shoots. It’s all set up on a not-for-profit basis so it is around whatever we can do. I’d quite like to do everyone and everything… just keep going for a decade! My hope for it is for it to have an encyclopedic authority, so that in 50 years time someone could look back and be looking at the shows but then want to look at Metascifi because it had a sort of social history aspect to it because people had spoken so deeply about some of the motivations behind why the shows were made, so it became a part of the history of science fiction. That’s what I’d really like for it, on a personal ambition level for it.”

Kell: “You say that you want to keep Metascifi going forever. Do you think that science fiction will always be a good source for ideas and lessons, and for conversation?”

Kell: “What have you learned from this project?”

Martin: “I’ve learned the kind of lessons that are in the project. I’ve seen hours worth of content, and so I have a composite picture in my mind – an impression – about everything that is said. And it is about a bold and brave and fair and compassionate and tolerant universe. And it’s wonderful to be part of the conversation, and I’m the only person who is a part of that at the moment and I’m really keen to share it.

“But I didn’t realise that it would be quite so touching and so deep. I thought it was going to be great, but I think I’ve learned that if you do ask people difficult questions that it’s like therapy and people will tell you and they will really go with you, and you will really learn about them and it will be moving and personally important, not just funny or a nice anecdote, but really touching and important.”

Kell: “Is there anything more you can tell us about the app itself?”

Martin: “My hope for it is that it’s really big. The app itself is big so there’s a lot of material: there are about 180 video clips. So if I’ve gotten it right it should be like having a little feature film, but all in tiny little pieces so that you can spend a couple of minutes with it, or in theory you can spend 90 minutes with it. Most apps I don’t think are like that; they don’t have that much content. But this will keep bringing you new content and it is all original and all made particularly for this. I’m hoping this is a new science fiction material. Hopefully people will think it’s interesting and new. It’s not journalism about science fiction like SFX , and it isn’t science fiction obviously because it’s not a show, it’s called Metascifi for obvious reasons: it is science fiction commenting on itself and relating to itself. I hope it’s like a new animal, like we’ve invented a new species of science fiction.

“People have also started asking me why I use double heads of everyone? And the answer is that is amplifies their characters; you see the little idiosyncrasies of the way they move their features because of the doubling so I think it makes a more telling and intimate portrait!”

Kell: “Nathan Fillion with two heads? Shiny shiny! Thank you, Martin!”

Martin is encouraging you to get involved and you can do so by going to the Metascifi website – that's going to be the metascifi HQ from here on in. You can also follow @martinfirrell on Twitter for the inside story.