- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Home Theater Forum spoke recently with Andrew. M Siegel who served as Property (Prop) Master on Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the reboot series produced by J.J. Abrams. Siegel also served as prop master on Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as films as varied as The Amazing Spider-Man, Bad Teacher, 2012 and the upcoming J.J. Abrams produced feature, God Particle (rumored to be the third Cloverfield film).
In Star Trek Beyond, Kirk and crew are attacked by an overwhelming force, with many of the crew captured by the mysterious Krall on a rocky planet. The splintered crew must work in unfamiliar terrain, against a superior enemy who stands against everything the Federation, and the crew, stand for.
Star Trek Beyond is available November 1, 2016 on Blu-Ray, 3D Blu-ray, and 4K UHD, and is available now on Digital HD. You can read my review of Star Trek Beyond here, and read Robert Harris’ “A Few Words About…” on the 4K release here.
HTF: Thanks for talking to Home Theater Forum today. Your first introduction to Star Trek was on Into Darkness. Had you been a fan before that? Are you a fan now?
Andrew Siegel: Yeah I'm a fan. I've seen all the movies and I've seen all the original series. I'd never really saw any of The Next Generation stuff, but growing up I watched Star Trek all the time. All during college we'd watch it on channel five and the reruns. Two of my assistants are crazy fans which they managed to keep hidden from me until it became too much to do so [chuckles].
HTF: Does that make a difference do you think? I know that Simon Pegg, who of course contributed to the writing of this story as well as playing Scotty, is a well-known geek and a long time Star Trek fan. It shows in the writing that he has a familiarity and a deep appreciation for what Star Trek is; the vibe of Star Trek. But do you think when it comes the many people that work on a production like this behind the scenes, and I know it's not a requisite to be a fan but do you think that it comes there are more benefits or challenges being so knee deep into something?.
“And, especially on Into Darkness, we really did a lot of research into all of the iterations that came before to get an appreciation for that because there's no sense in doing it if you're not going to do it right…”
Andrew Siegel: I think if you're not a fan you have to become one, it certainly helps. And I mean in this case - as well as a couple other things that I've been involved with - you realize that it's a huge responsibility. This movie's the end of a 50-year span of time in which people have been watching Star Trek, so you really want to get it right for the fans. And you want to be part of something that's going to live on as part of the bigger picture. And, especially on Into Darkness, we really did a lot of research into all of the iterations that came before to get an appreciation for that because there's no sense in doing it if you're not going to do it right. [And that’s especially important] on something like Star Trek where you get really scrutinized especially in terms of the props.
HTF: Talk about the scope of responsibility of a property master? And maybe particularly what that looked like Star Trek Beyond because I know that can vary from production to production.
Andrew Siegel: Well, the quick definition is anything that the actor touches is sort of what is the long line of a prop master. We're responsible for that. But especially on a movie like Star Trek, when that includes phasers or communicators, you also have to figure out how to help costumes put those things on the actors. So you have to integrate stuff with them, like this is the holster that goes on the belt that doesn't ruin the line of the tunic. You have to interface with the art department to make sure that weapons go in weapon racks for that shot where they're all pulling weapons out of the armory. You have to deal with stunts to make sure that there's rubber versions of props where they need to be. You have to deal with special effects, in case you have to coordinate actual, physical effects that integrate with the props.
HTF: So we're talking about working with the visual effects. I imagine there are times when there's something that's physically handled on set, but in some moment in that scene there may be a CGI version of that thing which is interacted with. So must there be a physical in addition to a computer based version of that thing?
“Peter Chang on “Beyond”, and Roger Guyett, who did “Into Darkness” as the visual effects supervisors, are just so good, and it's one of the great things about Star Trek – it’s very, very collaborative…”
Andrew Siegel: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Rom Ames, who also did visual effects on Into Darkness, is a phenomenal person and really great to work with. And Peter Chang on Beyond, and Roger Guyett, who did Into Darkness as the visual effects supervisors, are just so good, and it's one of the great things about Star Trek – it’s very, very collaborative. Ron and I had a really great relationship where we could discuss what the best methodology to achieve any given goal is. At the end of the day, as Ron will tell you, it's going to touch almost every prop, and piece of set dressing, and just about everything digitally. But you want to make sure that he's got what he needs to make it look and feel as authentic as possible. So, a lot of times, that's making sure that a prop has weight so the actor's body reacts appropriately, or making sure it either lights up, or doesn't light up, so that that interactive nature of the prop, again, is appropriate. And then he can take it and do what he needs to do to make it look really great.
HTF: Earlier in your career you worked as a model maker on The Abyss, one of my absolute all-time favorite films, and one that was made just as CGI was, if you pardon the pun, making a splash. You've worked as assistant prop master. You've worked as prop master. How has the industry for your role changed over the last 30 or so years with the advent of CGI? Has it made it easier? Has it just meant that there's another group of people to collaborate and partner with, or has it affected you and your role in more challengingly?
“On Into Darkness especially, J.J. really emphasized trying to do everything as in camera as possible, so we really did work hard to do that. But these days, because of the possibility of moving something over to CGI, sometimes you do that just as a default. That can be a slight downside…”
Andrew Siegel: Well, it's both, because it makes literally anything possible, which is terrific. Ultimately, anything can look however the director wants it to with CG. It's also speeded things up, and the only downside is that sometimes you don't have the time on a production to figure out how to do things practically, because you know you're just going to punch it to CGI. Sometimes you don't get the time or resources to fully make something practical that could be. On Into Darkness especially, J.J. really emphasized trying to do everything as in camera as possible, so we really did work hard to do that. But these days, because of the possibility of moving something over to CGI, sometimes you do that just as a default. That can be a slight downside.
HTF: What was your biggest challenge on Star Trek Beyond? Did you get stumped at any point? I mean there are challenges on any production, but was there anything that stood out as either being a particular success, or a fun thing to do, or something that really stumped you that had you working to try and resolve?
“And we literally sent that drawing off and when it came back it was one of the few props that when it came out of the box I looked at and went, "Oh, there's nothing I would change about this," which is a rarity…”
Andrew Siegel: Well, the super successful things, I really liked Jayla's music box, and there's the little tech pad that Scotty uses for a lot of the film in the Franklin that you don't see very much of in the film, that I really liked. Again, I really liked the stuff that's collaborative, where everyone's standing around thinking, "What are they going to do?" And then, everybody's sort of coming together and figuring it out. That's sort of the most fun of it. It's more fun than just having a great drawing and saying, "Okay, well, let's get this made." And then making it, and it shows up, and it looks like the drawing. Which is also great. Krall's giant blaster gun was one of those things where we had a drawing. I said to the artist, "Hey, why don't we just flip that around and make the front end the back end?" And then we did, and it looked terrific. And we literally sent that drawing off and when it came back it was one of the few props that when it came out of the box I looked at and went, "Oh, there's nothing I would change about this," which is a rarity [laughter]. But I liked Jayla's music box was cool, because there was a lot of collaboration in trying to figure out what we needed it to look like. All of the federation stuff, I was really proud of what all of the artists and manufacturers were able to do as far as making it look like updated version from the last movie without going too far afield. But just getting things to look just cool and real as they could.
HTF: And then from the outside, you know I always assumed that working on a science fiction film opens up that artistic and creative possibility perhaps more than a contemporary picture, but within that will come with its own set of guard rails-- keeping with the design aesthetic of that story of that production especially with Star Trek there's a history of how federation things tend to look. But I wonder if you would characterize it the same way having worked on an array of genres in film and television, whether science fiction does indeed open up the imagination a little more or if it just comes with its own unique sets of challenges?
“You know one of the things that J.J. really always stressed that we've taken with us on a couple of different movies now is you need to be relatable. The audience needs to see something and go, "Oh, that's what that is," without too much explanation…”
Andrew Siegel: Well you're right, it's both. But on the 2009 Star Trek, Scott Chandler and J.J. created such a strong visual language that in the next two movies you don't want to go too far afield from that. But then you have the other braces like the Klingons or Krall’s Base where you really do have a lot of freedom, again given the confines of the Star Trek universe. You know one of the things that J.J. really always stressed that we've taken with us on a couple of different movies now is you need to be relatable. The audience needs to see something and go, "Oh, that's what that is," without too much explanation. We really try to keep to a visual language, that even though it's a futuristic version of something, it's a version of something you recognize and look at and go, "Oh, that's what that thing's supposed to be."
HTF: You've worked with a number of different, very good directors over the years. You've worked on Avatar, you've worked on The Abyss, as I said. I'd love to know a little more about your experience on The Abyss, but-- so each new production comes with typically a new set of producers and often a different director. What is the hardest part acclimating to that new production? I mean, you're a very busy man looking at your filmography here. What's the hardest part of acclimating to that new project on day one?
Andrew Siegel: You know, it really depends on the production. A lot of times you're really lucky to get to work with a lot of the same people you've worked with before, and I've again been super fortunate to get to work with the same group of people over and over. That group changes, but generally when you come on you know a lot of the people. Like I said, on this one, it was so good to have Ronnie [Ames] there because he and I have such a short hand working together and we know what I can provide him and vice-versa. I knew all the producers on this movie going into it, so you know you're going to get supported and you're going to get the ability to do the best job you can. Every job has its challenges, and that's part of the beauty of doing this job. Everything's different all the time and you get to the challenge and you get everybody together and you figure out how you're going to solve the problems.
HTF: Wonderful. Well, thank you very much for speaking with me today. It's been a distinct pleasure. I wish you all the best in the future.
Andrew Siegel: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.