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Director Adam Stern Talks Star Trek, Asimov, and FTL

Orbiting Earth from outer space

The Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival returns for the 13th year on March 24 with twenty new films to beam directly into your eager, genre-loving eyeballs.

With the festival just a little more than a month away, we wanted to introduce you to some of the incredible filmmakers behind this year’s films.

Adam Stern has spent many years in film and television, primarily as a VFX Supervisor—creating visual effects for dozens of shows with the team at Artifex Studios. His film FTL follows a recently retired NASA astronaut must fly one last mission to test the first faster-than-light spacecraft.

What attracts you to science fiction and fantasy as genres?

I’m a huge fan of both genres, and have been since watching re-runs of Star Trek (TOS) as a kid. I love the opportunities for storytelling and world building. 

Science fiction is truly a favorite of mind. I grew up reading Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov… followed more recently by William Gibson, Nick Harkaway, and many others. 

After that, seeing what great directors could do visually in sci-fi locked everything in for me. I love “big ideas” and their explorations on the big screen—from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Matrix, and many, many more.

Why do you think sci-fi and fantasy continue to be such popular genres for storytellers?

I think there are so many tremendous opportunities. Sci-fi and fantasy are both completely wide-open: you can create an extremely intimate story in a grounded world or explore the entire universe (or universes). Some of my favorite sci-fi involves stories you don’t even realize are sci-fi until you’re well down the rabbit hole. I love that.

What inspired you to create FTL?

A few things. One of my goals was to try and create something that recalled the sense of wonder I had years ago watching Star Trek. I love stories of space exploration, along with extrapolating current-day technologies and research. 

I also love the idea that we truly have no idea what’s out there. If we were to ever come in contact with extraterrestrials, they may be so advanced—potentially on the far end of a cultural singularity—that we would have trouble relating in any way. I also love theoretical explorations of Dyson Spheres, faster-than-light technology, and how it would feel to be one man facing such vast unknowns.

I also wanted to give the Artifex team an opportunity to show some new work—work that we could steer creatively. That was a huge part of the decision to make FTL, and I think the project provided a rewarding experience for the whole studio.

You have a strong visual effects background. Has your work in visual effects informed your directorial work?

I’ve tried to be careful with that and to always keep in mind that character and story are the most important aspects of film. Cool visuals and huge worlds are great, but what people want to see are those visuals and worlds through the eyes of relatable characters. It’s definitely a challenge and something I’m constantly working on.

Having a visual effects background is certainly helpful when directing, as I feel quite comfortable with the technical aspects of what’s required. This means I know when we can move along, and I know when we have to take the time to get something technically right. I’m not guessing about green screen shots or whether something is going to work in post. It’s very helpful.

What’s next for you as a filmmaker and an artist?

I’m developing a feature version of FTL, as well as another sci-fi feature based on my previous short (The Adept). I’ve also recently completed a screenplay that’s a bit of a departure for me, inspired by my time spent in music years ago. Artifex continues to work on some great films and series as well. 

The Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival takes place at Cinerama Theater on March 24.

Film, SFFSFF, Sci-fi, Fantasy

About the author

Adrienne is a writer and editor from Seattle and is MoPOP's Content Wizard (patent pending).