Steven Calcote

Steven is an award-winning director with a passion for great storytelling, world building, and exploring humanity’s relationship with technology. He has created projects for such clients as Netflix, Twitch, Amazon, Adidas, Sony Pictures, Disney, BBC America, Nickelodeon, HBO, AT&T, Sega, Electronic Arts, Boeing, MTV, Nexon, and Intel. His aerospace work includes a series of films for a major exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. An expert in the latest digital and interactive filmmaking, his work has been recognized by the Telly Awards, Spikes Asia, One Show Interactive Awards, and the LA Weekly Theater Awards.

Website   / Twitter  / Instagram  / IMDB

Dust Films

Q & A

If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?

SC: If you dropped me into the Orbital Redux universe with your vibranium-powered reality-muxing Dust portal, I would relish the opportunity to travel in space with Max, Tommie, and the rest of the Moon and Earth Station family. BUT it’s a scary prospect for two reasons: the Earth is falling apart in the year 2050, and we’re already well on our way to that reality in 2021. As Lillian says, it’s not that far off from where we’re headed now. Heavy weather events, Russian hacker takeovers, and automation gone awry are daily headlines! If you gave me a golden sci-fi ticket, I’d love to reside in Becky Chambers’s Wayfayers universe. First off, she’s one of the best humanistic sci-fi writers I’ve ever read. That’s actually an ironic description of her writing since she’s so good about telling stories about aliens that you can relate to. And of course, this is the big point: “humanity” isn’t limited to the human species. In fact, Becky puts us at the bottom of the heap of the Galactic Commons. I love how humbling that is. The idea we’d have to prove ourselves and that there would be so much to learn from lifeforms who have been around far longer than us.

Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?

My spirit animal is closer to the David Tennant Dr. Who, constantly swinging from unabashed unhinged enthusiasm to feeling the drama of the universe so deeply at times that it can be hard to get out of bed on some days.

Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?

Friend! But only if we work really really hard to not screw up their adolescence. It’s an exciting question to ask right now since we’re truly at the dawn of creating AI with the kind of self-aware sapience we’ve been promised since Asimov. And think of the amazing insights we could gain into humanity with another thoughtful species completely outside ourselves commentating on us. Robo sapiens riffing on homo sapiens. By the way, I’m practicing being polite early in the process: I always say “please” when I ask for Siri’s help!

In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?

The sci-fi universe is staggeringly vast, so I’m gonna want some players who can thrive in a wide variety of situations: Picard and Data are obvious choices for me. But I wanna round that out with some unpredictable creative genius as well with Walter from Fringe; Martha Wells’s Murderbot, because Data can’t talk his way out of every situation; and for her unceasing community building, Ouloo from The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. And we should throw in the crew of the Rocinante for good measure!

You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?

My one-man show of Othello, done for my high-school thesis project, remains a personal all-time high-water mark of bad ideas. It was a multimedia stage production that involved a dozen randomly selected audience members reading from scripts to carefully play back bits of pre-recorded character lines from tape recorders. At least that was the idea. But I forgot it would be dark in the theater. And that the audience would forget when to hit stop on the recorders. So my attempt to deliver lines from the stage variously as Othello or Iago grew progressively more frantic and disjointed as the play melted down from within. Here’s the thing, though. Your question made me realize that out of this epically bad idea came the genesis for a project I would pursue years later: steering the narrative interactively during our filming of the “rough cut” of Orbital with a live audience. This time, I made sure everyone could clearly see the plot choices!

Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?

Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?

Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?

Yeah, definitely a balance of digital and analog on all fronts. I might spend a twelve hour stretch editing a project and hacking my brain to run at 2x or 3x speed, but on that same day you’ll find me writing longhand in a paper journal (which I’ve done since the age of 10) so I force myself to formulate more considered thoughts. I’d be one of the first to sign up for a neural interface (once it’s out of beta!) but I also love going completely offline for a couple of weeks and trekking in the untamed back country of another continent. I’m often the first kid on the block to try a new technology like VR or drones or wearable devices, but I also don’t hesitate to pound away on a typewriter or shoot with a Polaroid camera to get out of the habit of relying on the undo key. As long as we focus on being human, I think that keeps the technology disconnect at bay.

When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?

I love tracing the through-line from need to creation. So in terms of artifacts, I want to make sure it’s clear that a device or controller or display solves a problem that a real person would face. That design philosophy is evident on every inch of the interior of the Tsiolkovsky—the spaceship that serves as the unofficial third star of our series. Specifically for our show, I wanted a different perspective than we normally see in sci-fi, so I turned to the history of the Soviet side of the space race as well as everyday objects of the USSR. Check out Frederic Chaubin’s CCCP, Moscow Design Museum’s Designed in the USSR as well as eBay for a fabulous tour of cold war artifacts.

Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?

SW/ST are the yin and yang of sci-fi, and you can’t remove one without ripping apart the space time continuum. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner made me a permanent Philip K. Dick fan before I even knew about the novel. Practical and CGI—see any episode of Orbital! Utopia is dystopia—you can’t fool me. And I fundamentally believe we can solve the future, so I’m pre-apocalypse all the way, even if we do hover at the edge of midnight!