Olympia resident Ken Carlson has a spaceship in his garage.
Well, sort of. It’s the interior of a lander module, one of several sets built for his latest film project, Dead Drift. As Carlson describes it, “Dead Drift is Red Dwarf meets the YouTube vlog. A sometimes ribald, screwball buddy comedy in space, told by characters interacting via video communication consoles.”
In Dead Drift, the uptight captain of a decrepit spaceship must work with his bumbling mechanic to survive an alien encounter and save Earth from a terrifying ancient evil. Luckily, these hapless protagonists also have a wise (and wisecracking) holographic AI named H.A.N.N.A.H to help them.
Seattle-based actor Alyssa Kay portrays H.A.N.N.A.H. “It’s so nice to play a clever, interesting female character,” she says, adding, “I also was just drawn to the show as a fan of sci-fi: I haven’t had much chance to do sci-fi or work with a green screen, so that made it especially fun and different.”
The use of green screens is actually quite limited on Dead Drift. Carlson did most of his filming on three-dimensional sets that would throw light and shadow. “You can do that with computers, but not very well at our budget level,” he says. “We wanted it to look like a real spaceship interior, but we were also going for a bit of a run-down, rustic, cyberpunk kinda vibe.”
The show’s world owes its multi-layered look to tons of conceptual work, followed by the creative use of 2x4s and plywood in several friends’ garages. The painstaking process made Carlson extremely grateful for both his general construction knowledge and his Makita drill set. Most important of all, however, were the talented volunteers who dedicated countless hours to the project.
Dead Drift’s overall production value makes it clear: Carlson is no mere armchair enthusiast. He’s been creating shows or movies since his senior year of high school. Public access aficionados may remember his award-winning sketch comedy show, Dammit This is Stupid, which ran on TCTV from 1996 to 2003. Local film fans have probably enjoyed some of the shorts he created during the days of Mutually Assured Productions. And many community members have hired his production company, Kinetic Vision Media, which films everything from TV commercials to weddings.
Carlson’s team is quick to note his technical skill and cinematic eye. And yes, Carlson can clearly recount every step of his artistic self-education, tossing around film jargon with the best of them. But he eschews gear fetishism, explaining that all the equipment “really only serves one purpose – to tell a story. That’s why we have cameras, and lights, and mics, and editing stations, sets and special effects. To quote one of my favorite episodes of Futurama, ‘When you’ve done something right, no one will be sure you’ve done anything at all.’”
This philosophy puts Dead Drift’s focus exactly where it should be: on the story. As explained by Chris Nacey, one of Carlson’s longtime collaborators, “Storytelling has always been a passion of mine. Ken shares that passion, which is one of the reasons I think we have maintained friendship through all these years.”
Nacey and Carlson met back in the 90s, when they both worked at the Hawk’s Prairie Godfather’s Pizza. They bonded quickly over a shared interest in such “nerdy” pursuits as Dragonlance, comic books, and Star Trek. It’s a pattern that has repeated itself throughout the years, with Carlson’s coterie expanding to include other talented, proudly self-labeled nerds. As Carlson jokes, “I’m starting to realize that Dungeons and Dragons has been a major enabling force in this whole thing.”
Alyssa Kay confesses, “I was a little nervous at first to come in as a total outsider to this group of people who obviously knew each other so well, but everyone was really kind and welcoming. I always love to see good friends developing projects together. There’s just so much more love and joy that goes into the work, and you really need that for the times when things go awry or get trickier.”
She attributes the group’s cohesion to Carlson’s unflagging passion and dedication. “Film and theater are such collaborative art forms, so those qualities are a huge asset.”
Nacey concurs, describing Carlson as an approachable, visionary leader. “He is open to the cast and crew contributing ideas and has often let those ideas get into the final product, but he has no trouble cutting something that doesn’t work, whether it is one of his babies or someone else’s.”
It’s interesting that Dead Drift’s creators and target audience are essentially one and the same. Carlson describes them (and himself) as “folks with a fanatical devotion to sci-fi, comic books, cartoons, and video games… who happen to appreciate a bit of goofy fun.”
Final verdict? This meticulously crafted space spoof, which Carlson rates as PG-15, is definitely worth your time! Watch the first 8 episodes here, and tune back for the remaining episodes in spring 2016. Also be sure to like Dead Drift on Facebook.