Rod Roddenberry (son of Star Trek creator Gene) brought a new project to San Diego this year for Comic-Con (SDCC). The film short, Instant, begins innocently enough in Mickey’s, a neighborhood bar with a group of regulars doing the usual stuff: drinking, playing darts, schmoozing. But things get very tense very quickly when a guy with a gun bursts in as he runs from the police, taking the five friends hostage. It’s like an episode of Cheers gone terribly wrong.
As they wait at gunpoint, the hostages try to pass the time. One patron, clearly a newcomer to the group of friends, suggests they take their minds off the stress by exploring where/when they might go given the opportunity to travel somewhere else in time. e
It’s hard to talk about the movie in detail beyond this, because to do so would be to spoil the reveal, which transforms Instant from a hostage drama to a science fiction slice of life. I will tell you it’s worth it watch if not two.
Instant stars Manu Intiraymi (Star Trek: Voyager, One Tree Hill), Tony Janning (The Legend of Neil), Tyler Hilton (Extant), Phil Morris (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Work in Progress), Tara Perry (The Fresh Beat Band), and Emily Chang (The Bold Type), and debuted July 19 at San Diego Comic-Con before its release on social media.
Last time I interviewed Roddenberry, it was in 2016 for the 5oth anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. This year, I caught up with Roddenberry and Trevor Roth (executive producer, Star Trek Discovery) to talk about their short film Instant, which they brought to this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
As I watched Instant, I began to wonder how it fit with Roth’s and Roddenberry’s universe, which is very Trek-imbued. “It takes a while, doesn’t it?” Roddenberry quipped. I wondered what inspired Roddenberry and Roth to take on the project.
“The script came to us through a friend, who I trusted,” explained Roddenberry. “And it hit me in a personal way. The end is really powerful.”
It’s not until you watch the film all the way through that it’s possible to understand Roddenberry’s reaction without giving away the main conceit of the plot, so I’m going to avoid telling you, suffice to say, there will be an “aha” moment. It’s not a huge “boom” but a quiet, “yeah, okay, that’s why.” And it’s a lovely payoff.
Roddenberry and Roth assembled a great cast, all of whom loved the script. “There’s no money in it. No endgame in terms of financial success, but everyone was passionate,” he said. “There was little ego involved from anyone.”
The short has an almost-Twilight Zone-ish vibe to it. That show would lead the viewer through what seemed at first like a straightforward story, then hit you with a twist sure to elicit an “aha!” I wondered if that classic Rod Serling series was an influence on Instant.
“Twilight Zone was so good, it’s hard to think of anything [in the genre] not influenced by it,” Roddenberry noted. “Serling came on the scene about 10 years before my dad [Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek], I have to believe that even he had to have been influenced by what Serling did.”
Like Twilight Zone, Instant is a “small, compact story with a beginning, a middle, and end. It explores several themes and issues” within that small space. “If we can make something as good as Twilight Zone or can be referenced” in that context, it would be fantastic.”
Roth added that he loves with the British series (on Netflix) Black Mirror, which tells short-form stories within strange contexts, often not apparent until the end of the story. “Except for the darkness,” which Instant is fundamentally not.
During the tense hours passed while held hostage by the gunman, the hostages reflect on where (or when), given the opportunity of time travel, they might go. Who would you want to know? What big of history–personal or global–would you want to experience first-hand? I asked the producers the same question.
Roddenberry settled on ancient Greece. “I find it fascinating.” He’s never been to Greece but would like to be there, during that time to witness it. “Although,” he quipped, “the hygiene wouldn’t quite be up to our standards, would it?” Beyond that, he said, there would be relatives he’d love to go back and talk to, learn the family stories, etc. It would be interesting to talk to a grandparent in that way, beyond family legend. “You don’t get to have that opportunity.”
Going to the future–an optimistic future as envisioned by Gene Roddenberry–would also be on the itinerary. But when to go–how far in the future…that is the question.
Instant is executive produced by Roddenberry Entertainment’s Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry and Trevor Roth, Instant is written by Todd Beauchamp, directed by Alex Albrecht, and produced by Todd Beauchamp, Chad Kennedy, Tony Janning, Alex Albrecht, and David Flannery.