Chris Smith - Science Fiction Noir
|At the age of ten, TV producer Chris Smith claimed his parents’ video camera and used it to make a lot of home movies and even a fake television call-in show. “I recorded callers using fake voices,” says Smith. “We also tried blowing stuff up but it wasn’t always as successful as we wanted it to be.” In high school, he made more video projects. One of which was a parody of “Star Wars” and “Les Miserables,” with literary figures thrown in for good measure. “So we had Obi-Wan Emerson fighting Darth Thoreau,” says Smith. “I played both parts.”
Nonetheless, Smith remained conflicted about a career choice. “My dad was an engineer and I was really good in math so I was going to be a math major and become an actuary. It was solid work. But every time I was asked what I wanted to be I would say ‘cinematographer,’” explains Smith. His father is proud—and relieved—that Smith is able to earn a living in film.
Smith earned a film/video degree on a full scholarship from the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus. “Eventually I ended up at NASA. I found my job through Craigslist. I thought it was a joke,” says Smith. Although he came here as a videographer, he has become a producer, which is exactly what he loves to do.
From 2006–2009, he wrote, directed, filmed, and edited a science fiction film noir called “For Us.” “It is about a couple caught in an infinite time loop. It took 2 ½ years to make an eight-minute film. The need to actually finish something was the only thing that kept it going,” says Smith. His film was eventually shown at film festivals in San Francisco, Pasadena, Toronto, New Orleans, and Athens, Greece. He saw Ron Perlman at one of the festivals and heard Richard Dreyfuss give a talk at another.
Smith spent 2010–2011 writing a feature length comedy script called “M1.” “It’s about an accountant who gets stuck in a top-secret, government-made suit of armor,” notes Smith.
|› Larger top image|
› Larger bottom image
Pictures of the piano player and what was required to keep the “piano” from wobbling in the shot. The green screen in the background of the bottom image allows the camera to capture the scene, and in post production, a new background (seen in upper photo) can be introduced. Photo courtesy: C. Smith
“He replaces the original secret agent who was supposed to wear the armor and now has to battle monsters who are experimental, government-made creatures that did not work out.”
“In a perfect world,” says Smith, “I’d get to make this movie. In a miracle world, someone would actually want to buy the script. In the real world, I don’t really expect anything to happen with it, but it was a lot of fun to write.”
He is currently writing and producing a 16-minute science fiction noir film called In Memory. “It’s about four people on a space salvage ship who find an abandoned research ship parked near a strange ‘phenomenon.’ Somehow the ‘phenomenon’ can project your memories, emotions, and anxieties. One salvager has recently lost his wife, and the ‘phenomenon’ helps him let go,” explains Smith. “Guy finds peace with a lost loved one through strange circumstances. I guess you could say it’s like a sci-fi Hallmark Channel movie. But maybe I have to work on the title,” he notes.
“The film is in the style of sci-fi from the 1960s through early 1980s,” explains Smith. “There is very little camera movement but each frame is really well-composed.” Another fun part is making the costumes. “I am making the astronaut’s backpack and helmet, says Smith. “A vacuum cleaner attachment holder and some aluminum water bottles will be the air supply. I buy cheap stuff and then bang it up and write on it. If we have a Halloween party, I will wear it.”
He remains philosophical about success. “I really cared that people saw my first movie ‘For Us.’ I care a lot about my ‘M1’ script, but if people do not see it I can accept it. The current shoot is all about having fun. I do not want to get wrapped up in wondering who will see it or will it be big. It’s a never ending struggle,” says Smith.
For Smith, enjoying himself is more important than marketability. “Financial success depends on being good enough and being what people want. My first film was a success because I enjoyed making it, but it just was not marketable. I’d like to finish this film in less than 2 ½ years and see it reach a big audience. Most importantly, I want to have a lot of fun making it,” he says.
Smith recently left Goddard for the Bay Area to accept a video position at a software company, but his NASA legacy lives on. To see one of Smith’s movies, visit: http://www.forusmovie.com/
› More Outside Goddard profiles
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.