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to Six Days in Roswell
An Interview with
Filmmaker Roger Nygard
Rich Kronfeld and
friend from Six Days in Roswell
A few weeks ago, I happened to be looking over a flyer for the
Newport Beach Film Festival with some friends, trying to decide
which inde flicks we wanted to see. As we flipped through the pages,
we came across a listing that immediately intrigued us, for a film
called Six Days in Roswell.
The listing featured the photograph you see above, along with the
following description of the film:
"SIX DAYS IN ROSWELL documents the
hilarious pilgrimage of UFO enthusiast Richard Kronfeld to Roswell,
New Mexico for the 50th Anniversary of the infamous (and alleged)
Roswell UFO crash. Leaving Minneapolis for the first time in his
life, Kronfeld undertakes his journey obsessed with finding answers
- even hoping to pick up tips on how to be abducted!"
Now, those clues should have been enough. Certainly, they were
enough to convince all of us that this was clearly a film that
demanded our attention. Amid the usual plethora of snooty-tooty,
high-brow, film festival shorts (and don't get me wrong - we love
those too), here was a film that stood out as different. But what I
mean to say, is that the clues in hand should have been enough to
make the connection. Call me dense.
Trekkies - now
until my wife and I (along with three other friends) were
sitting there in the theater that I figured it out. It helped
that, before the screening for Six
Days in Roswell, the festival emcee introduced the
film's producer, Roger Nygard, who addressed the crowd. You see
without realizing it, I'd seen Roger's work before. Roger
directed a film called Trekkies
which, as many of you know, is a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek look
at the worldwide fan phenomena that's developed around the Star
Trek franchise. The film has garnered a huge
following on the independent film circuit and on home video. And
like many of you I'm sure, I discovered it first on DVD, when it
was released last year by Paramount.
Trekkies is laugh-out-loud
funny, revealing to the outside world exactly what happens at those
mysterious and strange Star Trek
conventions. It follows a handful of fans as they get into costume
for the big show, and talk about why they love Star
Trek so much. You'll see the real Trek-themed
dentist's office (Star Base Dental) and the woman who went to jury
duty on the Whitewater case in Starfleet uniform ("The
Commander"). Trekkies is
also narrated by actress Denise Crosby (from Star
Trek: The Next Generation), and includes interviews with
practically the entire cast of the original show, along with cast
members from the follow-up series as well.
But one of the funniest things about Trekkies,
is a guy named Richard Kronfeld. Rich builds props from the show.
Not the typical props mind you - you'll find no phasers and
tricorders here. No
Rich builds stuff like the electronic
wheelchair that Captain Pike rode around in. And yes
ride around in it, frightening and mystifying all those around him.
Rich stood out so much in Trekkies,
in fact, that he's the star of Six Days
there we were, sitting in the theater waiting for the film to
start, knowing that we were in for a treat. Before long, the
five of us were just rolling. I had tears in my eyes at one
point, I was laughing so hard. And we weren't alone - the film
was a definite hit with the whole audience. I liked it so much
in fact, that after the screening, I went up and introduced
myself to Roger. As it turns out, Roger is a fellow Minnesotan
transplanted to Los Angeles. And I quickly discovered that he's
also a great guy. After talking with him for a few minutes, I
invited Roger to do an interview with us here on The
Digital Bits. And so it was, that on a recent balmy
afternoon, Roger and I met for lunch on the Santa Monica
Promenade to chat about Trekkies
and Six Days in Roswell.
We ended up covering everything from what it takes to make and
get distribution for an independent film to alien life and even
DVD. So enjoy!
Hunt (The Digital Bits): So how did you find yourself
getting involved in filmmaking?
Roger Nygard: Well, I've been
making films since I was seven, when I found my Dad's 8mm camera
sitting around. There was a half a roll of film left on it, so I
shot it. And when he got it developed, I heard ,"Who wasted my
film?!" (laughs) It was all out of focus birds and trees and
stuff. So that was the beginning. And I've been making videos all
though college - that's all I've ever wanted to do.
Bill Hunt: You went to the
University of Minnesota?
Roger Nygard: (nods)
University of Minnesota, and I graduated with a degree in Speech
Communications, which as you know is the closest thing they had to
Bill Hunt: Yeah
to Wisconsin for that exact reason.
Roger Nygard: I'm glad I
didn't study filmmaking per se, because I think it's more important
for a filmmaker to learn a broad perspective about the world, as
opposed to learning how to load a camera. I mean - you hire people
to load the camera for you.
Bill Hunt: It's funny that you
mention that, because I know lots of people here in L.A. who have
expensive film degrees, but they end up sort of stamped out of the
cookie cutter - working on sitcoms or something. Film school isn't
always like they expect it's going to be.
Roger Nygard: Exactly. I
always tell people to study literature. If I had it to do over
again, I'd study literature. Because you need to know how to tell a
story more than you need to know how to light a scene. More than
anything else, you need to know how to write in good English and to
communicate. Speech Com is pretty good, because you have to learn
how to manage and deal with people - persuasion and interpersonal
relationships and group dynamics - all of which is extremely
important when you're trying to manage a team of people to make a
Bill Hunt: And a lot of people
don't think about that aspect of it. You might know everything there
is to know about the films of Orson Wells, but if you can't work
well with others, you'll make a lousy filmmaker.
Roger Nygard: (nods) You have
to get people to understand your vision. They have to understand it
so well, that they can help you to make it happen. That's the most
important thing really. But there are a lot of movies that have been
made where people didn't respect the director, and that means you'll
probably make a bad film. Or an over-budget film. It all comes from
the top when you're making a movie. The director really has to set
Bill Hunt: Let's talk about
Trekkies. A lot of it takes
place here in L.A., but some of it was shot in Minneapolis - is that
Roger Nygard: Yeah, we shot at
two conventions in Minneapolis, and also at the Klingon Language
Camp - the school where people learn to speak Klingon - which is in
Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. And we also shot in Iowa, as well as here
in Los Angeles. Timothy B. Johnson was my second unit director on
Trekkies - he directed Six
Days in Roswell. He lives in Minnesota. He shot the Rich
Kronfeld scenes and all the Minnesota stuff. So I would send him
these assignments to go shoot footage in his area. And he went out
and bought a wind-up camera - a Krasnagorsk - a Russian-made,
standard 16mm camera. They cost like $500. You wind it up and you
have like twenty seconds to shoot (laughs). So all these clips and
sound bytes had to be twenty seconds or under. And he just did wild
sync sound with a DAT machine, and I had to sync it all up by hand
in the editing room later.
Bill Hunt: Where did the idea
for Trekkies come from?
Roger Nygard: It was actually
Denise Crosby who had the idea. She had wanted to do it for years.
She starred in my first film in 1991, which was called High
Strung - a one-room comedy starring a comedian named
Steve Oedekerk, who also wrote it. And Denise played his evil boss.
She was great, and we became friends and stayed in touch. She'd been
doing Star Trek conventions,
and had seen the sorts of interesting people who are out there in
the Star Trek world. And she
always thought that someone should do a documentary about it. And
about five years later, we started shooting. That was in 1996. So
almost just to shut her up (laughs), I went ahead and shot some
footage with her. And the footage was so great that we never
stopped, until a year later
we had the film done. The people
were just so great - they were hilarious, they were funny, they were
interesting and unusual. They're just great people.
Bill Hunt: They're largely
misunderstood too, wouldn't you say?
Roger Nygard: Well, just like
I remember growing up in high school, the intelligent "geeks"
always were sort of the outcasts. But they're the ones who have the
last laugh - who are starting all the dot-coms, you know? So things
seem to have a reversal in life. The misunderstood misfits tend to
become the power brokers of the future.
Bill Hunt: Well, look at Bill
Gates and Steve Jobs
Roger Nygard: (nods) Gates is
a Trekkie. One of the stories goes that he wore his Spock ears to a
board meeting at Microsoft once.
Bill Hunt: (laughs) So because
of Denise's involvement, you were able to get that much more
leverage with Paramount, and get some of the other cast members to
participate in Trekkies
Roger Nygard: Yeah, because of
Denise's involvement, we were seen as "one of them" by the
other actors. She was asking them - she would approach the other
actors at conventions and say, "May we interview you?" And
they would always say yes, whenever we found them in our ambush
style. Going through an agent or a manager, we would never get
anywhere - it was fruitless. But when Denise called them personally,
we'd end up going to their homes. People like Brent Spiner and John
de Lancie - Denise has a personal relationship with them. But most
of them, we got because we just ran into them at conventions.
Shatner was the hardest, and he was also the most impossible to
Bill Hunt: But as I recall,
you did finally get him
Roger Nygard: He agreed to be
on film, but he wouldn't sit down to give us an interview. He just
wants to be paid for whatever he does. And his fee is $50,000 per
appearance or whatever you want him for. That's his minimum fee.
Bill Hunt: Wow - no wonder
there's so much bad blood between him and the rest of the original
Roger Nygard: Nimoy, on the
other hand, was the greatest. He was the most gracious, insightful -
just the nicest guy. He welcomed us into his office, and let us ask
as many questions as we wanted. He answered every question. He was
Bill Hunt: Nimoy was the one
who had the John Wayne story in the film, is that right?
Roger Nygard: Yeah - he had so
Bill Hunt: People don't
realize that he was an accomplished actor long before Star
Trek came along. He was in Mission
Impossible and lots of films.
Roger Nygard: Oh, yeah. I
loved Mission Impossible when
I was a kid. DeForest Kelley was also very nice. Just a gentlemen.
It was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to spend time chatting
Bill Hunt: Now what kind of
resources did you have to make the film with?
Roger Nygard: We paid as we
went along. Our producer put up a lot of the money. Denise and I put
money in as well. By the time it was over, it cost us $120,000 in
hard cash. Once we sold the film, and we paid off all our bills and
deferments, the final budget was about $375,000. Roswell
was about the same
maybe about $10,000 more because that
included a 35mm film blow-up. Trekkies
did not. We didn't blow that up until Paramount paid for the
Bill Hunt: One of the
highlights of Trekkies is a
fellow by the name of Richard Kronfeld. Whenever I've talked with
people, he's the guy who always stands out in their minds. Where did
you find him?
Roger Nygard: Rich Kronfeld,
like myself, grew up in Minnesota. He's been part of the circle of
people there doing theater and commercial work - performing. But
he's also a Star Trek geek,
and he's the first to admit it. You could name of an episode of the
original series, and he'd give you a line of dialogue from it. And
vise versa. So I'd known Rich for several years. And when I was
shooting Trekkies, Rich
happened to be in Los Angeles, and so I called him up, along with
everybody else I knew, 'cause we needed free labor. And I asked him
if he wanted to help out on the shoot, and he said sure. Because,
being a Trekkie - almost our whole crew was willing to work for free
just so they could meet the cast members when were interviewing
Bill Hunt: (laughing) That's
Roger Nygard: (smiling) So
Rich helped out on the very first shoot, the weekend we shot at a
convention called Fantasticon at the LAX Hilton, back in August of
1996. Rich was a production assistant on the shoot, helping to get
releases signed, getting people for us to interview - whatever
needed to be done. About eight months later, I was talking to Rich
on the phone back in Minneapolis, telling him how the shooting was
going, and he said, "You know what - I made this Captain Pike's
chair a few years ago
" (we're both laughing at this
point) And I said, "What do you mean you have a Captain Pike's
chair?!" He said, "Yeah, I made one." "Well why
did you tell me this before?!" It's like going to the doctor,
and after the examination, saying, "Oh by the way, I vomited
blood this morning. Is that important?" Yes - it's important!
So we quickly whipped together a shoot. One of the last things we
shot was Rich Kronfeld in his Captain Pike's chair. It just barely
made it into the movie.
Rich Kronfeld and
his Captain Pike wheelchair
Bill Hunt: How ironic that the
funniest part of the movie almost didn't happen.
Roger Nygard: It is funny.
Well then Rich mentioned that he was thinking of going down to
Roswell, New Mexico, for this big 50th Anniversary that was coming
up, of the alleged crash of an alien spaceship. So Tim suggested to
me that we should go down there and shoot some footage - he figured
there would be a lot of Star Trek
fans, and we could get some more footage for Trekkies.
And the more I thought about it, I started to realize that there's a
whole other movie in itself here - Rich and his pilgrimage down to
Roswell. Which is what we decided to do.
Bill Hunt: Now the whole
Roswell thing was a week-long event, so did you just follow Rich
around for a week to see what happened?
Roger Nygard: Yeah. There were
events going on all six days, and we just tried to cover as much as
we could. There was media there from all over the world - tons of
Bill Hunt: Along with everyone
in the world who's into flying saucers
Roger Nygard: Absolutely - all
the experts too. We filmed everything we could, but we missed a lot
of stuff, because you just couldn't be everywhere at once. So I cut
together the footage we had, while I was working on another film
called Suckers, and about nine
months later I had a finished cut. And that time frame meant that in
about three more months, there was going to be another week-long
event in Roswell, because it's a yearly thing. So we decided to go
back, and shoot everything we missed - try to get some of the
experts we missed the first time - and finish the movie. And we did.
We shot two years in a row. And the best part of that, is that there
was something new happening when we went back: Roswell:
The Musical. And that alone was enough to interest us.
Bill Hunt: It was definitely
(we're both laughing again)
Roger Nygard: There was
nothing that could top it. So we put it toward the end of the movie.
Bill Hunt: Well, Roswell the
city is really interesting, because the whole place has developed a
sort of cottage industry around this crash, that no one can really
prove happened. But everyone and their dog there has a personal
story has a story about - how their grandfather's best friend met
someone who saw an alien body or something. And all these experts
and UFO researchers are looking into this supposed event, and since
people are trying to make money on it, there's no way anyone is ever
going to know for sure what really happened.
Roger Nygard: The good news is
also the bad news. The good news is that the event is finally
getting all this attention, and the bad news is that it's all the
kooks who are flocking there. But that's what makes it interesting
to me. Human beings are kooky and weird. It's classic Americana.
It's what we're all about. Like Rich says in the movie, every third
off-ramp on the freeway has some kind of goofy museum. No matter
where you stopped on the trip, there'd be a Mustard Museum or a
Bill Hunt: Or stuff like the
World's Biggest Ball of Twine.
Roger Nygard: (laughing)
Exactly. The Outhouse Museum or something. And in Roswell, there's a
UFO Museum that gets more visitors yearly than many highly-funded
traditional museums. They're the third most visited museum in New
Mexico. And that tells you something about people, I think.
Bill Hunt: It's interesting
the way people here in America - and everywhere I suppose - sort of
buy into stuff, no matter how off-center it may seem on the surface.
The UFO phenomenon is particularly interesting in that way, because
there's just no evidence at all for any of it, but people still
flock to the subject.
Roger Nygard: People want to
Bill Hunt: Sure. And it's
fascinating to see these self-proclaimed experts on UFOs, some of
which you interviewed in the movie. Every one of them has a
different theory on what happened, and none of them jive, so they
end up endlessly bickering back and forth refuting each other - "There
were two crash sites, not just one! And there weren't five alien
bodies, there were seven!" And they make a pretty good living
writing books and lecturing about it all.
Roger Nygard: (laughing)
Believe me, there are factions within factions. It's definitely
become a meal ticket for them. And who can blame them? But people
definitely want to believe them. And I say, buyer beware. You
shouldn't always believe everything you hear or see or are told on
faith, just because you want to. Human beings have agendas. Always
Bill Hunt: Wasn't there some
poll recently that like 60% of Americas believe we're not alone in
the Universe, and some 40% of them believe aliens are visiting us
Roger Nygard: And aliens may
very well really be here. But in the absence of proof - for me at
least - I'd love to believe it. But I need more.
Bill Hunt: That gets me to the
subject of the name of your production company - I'm guessing it
stems from that skepticism?
Roger Nygard: Benevolent
Authority? (laughs) Yeah.. it's kind of my response to Big Brother.
There never has been a benevolent authority has there? The term is
Bill Hunt: So tell me what
kind of success you've had with Trekkies
and Six Days in Roswell on the
independent film circuit.
Roger Nygard: Well, these
days, to sell your inde film, you have to get noticed. You have to
get reviews. That's what distributors look at. And a lot of times,
that's not even enough. What they really want are big names, because
nobody trusts their gut instincts and they figure that if you have a
big name, they have a way to sell it. With a documentary film,
unless your documentary is about Madonna, you don't have that. So
you have to do the film festivals. That's what we did with Trekkies.
Audiences loved it. But it still took us six months of screenings at
all the studios before someone made a distribution offer. Which
oddly didn't come from Paramount. They hadn't even seen the film yet
- they couldn't be bothered. They finally took a look at it when we
had a competing offer, and they put in their counter offer. I think
they realized that they had to win, because it would look silly if
some other studio was marketing this documentary about their own
franchise. For Six Days in Roswell,
we're sort of following the same path. I have a foreign sales
company that's just starting to work with us. And as you know, I'm
in the process of trying to find domestic distribution. We've got
some people interested. There's even one company that wants to do a
limited theatrical release. I'm not sure I want to do that though,
because the expenses required to make and distribute prints to
theaters could eat up any royalties we might make on video. Six
Days in Roswell is definitely a title that should live on
video and DVD.
The poster for Six
Days in Roswell
Bill Hunt: Yeah, I'd agree
that that's where your real audience is. It's got the potential to
become a great cult flick, and that's definitely where it will
thrive. So how is Trekkies
selling on DVD? Do you have any information from Paramount on that?
Roger Nygard: Quite well for a
documentary. They released it on home video, at a rental price, and
on DVD last November. And it's going to a sell-through price on
video in July. That will be the true test. But it sold a lot of
cassettes already at the rental price. And a lot of DVDs, which is
already sell-through. As far as notices,
our website we've got all the reviews for the films. The
Hollywood Reporter loved Trekkies,
and Roswell is getting great
write-ups too. Audiences seem to really enjoy it.
Bill Hunt: Well, I can vouch
for that. I haven't laughed that hard in a while. The whole crowd I
saw it with was rolling in the isles. My wife and friends too - they
had a blast. I think Six Days in Roswell
might actually have a bigger audience that Trekkies
, because everyone seems to have a little interest in the UFO
subject. When you talk to people about it, you're always hearing
them say, "You know, my Dad saw a UFO once," or something
like that. The whole idea of outer space and alien life seems to
grab at the imagination - like when NASA landed that little rover on
Mars, and something like 3 million people a day were visiting their
website to see the pictures.
Roger Nygard: And the
conspiracy theory people are on top of stuff like that too.
Bill Hunt: Sure - which the
whole alien thing feeds into. People have that healthy distrust of
government in this country, and the word "Roswell" just
gets them going. Look at the popularity of The
X-Files. It's a perfect example. There are a lot of
people who are just sure that the government has a flying saucer
hidden in some secret hanger somewhere.
Roger Nygard: Or seven of them
- that's what one of the researchers we interviewed claimed. But the
guy wasn't sure if they were all alien, or if the Air Force had
built a few on their own based on the captured technology.
Bill Hunt: The beauty is that
if it is true, it's a self-keeping secret. Anyone who talks is going
to look like a kook.
Roger Nygard: And there's no
doubt, some of them are kooks. There are some bad apples that are
ruining it for the rest of them.
Bill Hunt: And that scares off
the serious scientists. Even the people who say that UFOs are bogus,
but who just want to search for radio signals from intelligent life
in space - they get egg on their face because of the kooks. The NASA
SETI program got sacked for that reason. Some congressman complained
about tax dollars being spent on looking for "little green men"
and that was that.
Roger Nygard: You know my
brother does that - he downloaded that program where your computer
can search for radio signals.
Bill Hunt: Speaking of that
greater level of interest we were talking about, Seti@Home is the
largest computing project in the world right now, because so many
people are downloading that program. There's like hundreds of
thousands of people involved.
Changing the subject a bit, what's next for you? You've done Trekkies,
you've done Six Days in Roswell
Roger Nygard: Well, Suckers
is currently playing on Cinemax and it will be on home video later
in the year. I'm writing a script now and I've been pitching some TV
series ideas. I spent the last year going to film festivals with
Roswell, so I haven't decided
exactly what's next.
Bill Hunt: Any plans to follow
up on Trekkies or Roswell...
make it a Kitchey Americana Trilogy?
Roger Nygard: The White Trash
Trilogy? I say that, by the way, being one of them myself. (laughs)
Well, Trekkies II is very
likely something we'll start doing later in the year. As far as the
next, I don't know what would be the right next topic. They sort of
flow from one to the next. Anything with Rich Kronfeld.
Bill Hunt: Maybe send him in
search of Elvis?
Roger Nygard: Sure. Or
Bill Hunt: Yeah, I could see
Rich out on the side of a mountain looking for Bigfoot, wearing that
furry cap with the floppy ears
Roger Nygard: He's kind of the
Inspector Clouseau of researchers, but he gets the job done.
Bill Hunt: He's a character
all right. I really enjoyed Trekkies,
but when he appeared and went to that Radio Shack, man - I just lost
it. The whole bit with the blinking light on the Captain Pike's
chair - oh, man
Roger Nygard: One for yes and
two for no. You'd think in the future they'd have a little better
system than that.
Bill Hunt: What was even
funnier was that in Six Days in Roswell,
the motor in the chair didn't work anymore, so it had to be towed in
the parade - funny!
You know, before I forget, there's one other thing I wanted to ask
you about, which is how did the Trekkies themselves react to Trekkies?
Because as an audience member, you're definitely laughing at these
people. But as something of a Star Trek
fan myself, I couldn't help thinking that even as you're laughing AT
them, you're laughing WITH them just as much. It's almost reverent
in some ways. Sort of like people collectively saying, "Boy
aren't we something. We are funny, but we get the joke too."
Star Trek float in the Raspberry Festival
Grande Days parade in Hopkins, Minnesota
Roger Nygard: Well, some
people have seen the film as mocking. But most see it as good
natured fun. It's like a Rorschach test. People project their own
viewpoint on the film. If you see these people as freaks, you're
going to go away with that. But if you're open minded, you'll come
away with a new understanding of these fans. That's why there's no
commentary or narration - we wanted these people to represent
themselves with their own words. You decide.
But we did do a screening of the film, before it was finished, for
a group of diehard Trekkies - or Trekkers - and they laughed twice
and three times as hard as the average, non-Trek-fan
audience. It was the only screening I was really nervous about. But
they got all the in jokes, they recognized all the people. They
laughed at themselves as much as anyone. They've got a great sense
of humor about themselves. And I found this to be a pretty
interesting psychological effect - no matter how extreme a fan they
were, when they came out of the film, they said, "Those people
but I'm not THAT bad." (laughs) It's like
there's a line, and you can never get too far across it. And the way
I look at it, why is anything too far?
Bill Hunt: Well
makes people happy. That's what makes life interesting.
Roger Nygard: But there are
some Star Trek fans who were
very disappointed with the film, so you can't please everyone. Just
the fact that we called it Trekkies
and not Trekkers pissed off a
lot of people.
Bill Hunt: (laughing hard now)
Roger Nygard: Yeah. You know,
there are some very vociferous Trek
fans who think that Trekkers is the only right term, and they want
to separate themselves from the Trekkies
Bill Hunt: Who are seen as
Roger Nygard: Right. And by
definition you're making yourself MORE extreme by saying, "Their
label is wrong, and they're too extreme!" People are nothing if
Bill Hunt: So one last
question - can you still get tickets for Roswell:
Roger Nygard: (laughs) It's
bigger and better every year. They've even got
own website. It's moved to an outdoor theater this year, and I
think they've got an orchestra. I would highly, highly recommend it
if you're looking for something to do over the July 4th weekend. Go
to Roswell, New Mexico and see the musical.
Bill Hunt: Just be sure to
make your hotel reservations in advance, right?
Roger Nygard: (laughs) Yeah.
Mexico - it's a great place to crash!
All of us here at The Digital Bits
would like to thank Roger for taking the time to chat with us. As we
mentioned, Trekkies is now
available on VHS and DVD. You can also visit the
website online. Six Days in Roswell
is currently playing only on the film festival circuit, but if you
can find a showing, don't miss it! We're working to help Roger
arrange domestic home video distribution for the film, including a
special edition release on DVD, and there may be good news to report
soon, so stay tuned to The Digital Bits
for the latest. In the meantime, you can also visit the
Days in Roswell website, where you'll find photos, reviews
and clips from the film. And you can contact Roger Nygard via e-mail
at: firstname.lastname@example.org Tell him
the Bits sent you!
As always, I welcome your comments.