Short Stories for Teachers
During my junior year in high school, my best friend told me he was making a parody of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What was really cool about this short project was that I would play a version of Khan and do my Ricardo Montalban impersonation. But much to my excitement, the material never happened, as those involved later graduated, as did my buddy and I would a year later.
Space Cadets, my short film, would never die, as wouldn't Captain James Kirk, if he and his crew were caught in a same situation on a reality show. After high school, I pretty much bumbed around taking odd jobs before I finally enrolled in a small (but expensive) college as a Communications Major. Since I was raised in a Catholic home, my mom encouraged me to attend a religious youth group that met every Sunday. The members that preached the word of God also acted in skits, and before I knew it, I was acting in those skits as well. It took a year before I introduced the members a skit I had written based on the original Star Trek series, but with a Holy-twist: Jesus vs. Khan. They liked it, but the skit, some felt, was long, and to design the bridge of the Enterprise would have been too costly for a church budget. Again, my dream of playing a villain from a popular series was closed out.
One day I was channel flipping on my television when I saw what was a home made, video spoof of James Bond. I thought this was the coolest thing since cable was invented. When the program was over, a screen appeared with a number for anyone who wanted to do his or her own program. The way it works is that I would take a class in learning to run a camera, shoot a scene, and then edit my program, all for free! What excited me more was that any program I created would appear on this particular channel, public access television. Well, I called that number, but it took about two to three months before I took my first class. I graduated, thank you, thank you, and directed subjects for other producers and acted in several spoofs. In 1995, I felt the time was ripe to make Space Cadets! I had created my first screenplay and showed it to my friend Scott John, whom I had acted for his programs. After looking over the script, he phoned me and said, "Jose, this is too long."
My script was about 50 pages. John told me to consider how difficult it was to make any video based on sci-fi, especially when it came to designing the props, the costumes, etc. He should know: he did a version of Doctor Who that took months and labor. He recommended that I trimmed the script down, maybe to twenty pages. But I felt that every page could be done. I wish I had listened to him.
What begin as a spoof of Star Trek turned into a version of Kevin Costner's Waterworld, which had premiered in theaters that summer. In fact, this was the nickname I gave my short film. And soon all the volunteers of the cable station would peak in the editing room and ask, "So Jose, how's Waterworld coming out?" They mocked and laughed as my production took from spring to the end of the Christmas holidays to make.
During a fight scene between two actors, one of them accidentally hit his head against a wall when he was thrown against a stack of chairs. When he got off the floor after I yelled, "Cut", he had lost some of his memory! I rushed this guy, who had done stunts for other films, to the hospital. The following day he recovered, thank goodness, and he repeated the same stunt the following week! As month passed, I was burning grudges with the Director of Program at the cable station, and the volunteers were upset with me for using up the editing room. Everyone was soon advising me to put Space Cadets! in the can. They wanted me to quit. But whenever I had faced discouragement, I pictured myself having a conversation with William Shatner and telling him my nightmare on filming this parody. And I fantasized that he had encouraged me by saying, “Finish Space Cadets!”
In 1996, I had moved far away to attend (a bigger and less expensive) college, leaving Space Cadets half way done. I actually didn't finish the film until I returned for Spring Break of that year. When it was over, Space Cadets premiered on public access television on April 1st, my birthday! And what was also special about that year was that Star Trek was celebrating its 30th anniversary. Ironically, in the ST episode Space Seed, 1996 was also the year that Kirk had discovered Khan and his people frozen in a space ship! Go figure on this one!