Mike Disa has been in the entertainment industry since the 1990s. Some of his credits include The Origin of Stitch, Dead Space: Aftermath, Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, and rebooted Wacky Races for Warner Brothers. Working with Chris Judge and Joe Goyette, Disa’s latest project is Sentinels: Point of No Return is a space opera audio drama. Staring Stargate alumni Chris Judge and Alaina Huffman, is set 400 years in the future and uses space exploration to explore racism and the growing power of corporations. Wanting to learn more about his career as well as Sentinels, I was able to interview Disa for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any from your youth that have shaped you the most?
Mike Disa: Sci Fi and science/history were great escapes from the violent neighborhood I grew up in. (South side of Chicago)
A short list would be Doctor Who, Star Trek, Space 1999, Forbidden Planet, When Worlds Collide, The Thing from Another World, Twilight Zone, Heinlein (Lazarus Long – best character in fiction ever!) Tolkien, Asimov, Zelazny, Piers Anthony, James Blish, Bester, Jules Verne, The Ascent of Man, Cosmos, Kirby, Ditko, Byrne, Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, biographies of American Presidents, Caesar, Alexander, Rome, Greece, Beowulf, the Odyssey, mythology of all kinds…. I read a lot.
As a writer/filmmaker – the greatest childhood influences are probably Tolkien, Heinlein, Bashki, and Ford. Probably.
I have a passion for film history and I am always discovering new things to love about old movies.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Disa: Never interested in a career in “entertainment.” I wanted to be an artist. Most art is considered entertainment in its own time, but material that is only pure pop entertainment fades (Rocky II to LVII) as art endures (The Searchers). My father was a public-school art teacher so I was always raised to think about media as art.
On my twentieth birthday, I decided to be a professional artist in a buddy’s garage listening to “Teenage Wasteland” by the Who. (Yes. I might have been high. I was definitely drunk.) For some reason that was the moment I decided to grow up and leave Chicago and all that meant for me behind. It was the beginning of a long road of homelessness, poverty, and struggle, but I never looked back or regretted the decision I made in that garage.
Yanes: You moved to Los Angeles in 1990. What are some of the changes the city has gone through you think aren’t discussed enough? On this note, what is your favorite restaurant in the area?
Disa: The growing division between the rich and poor has in many ways ruined a city that once had a glowing pride and lovely mixed culture of North and South American identity. I used to live on Venice Beach and was involved in the art scenes there and around town. L.A. used to have exciting and vibrant street markets, festivals, accessible neighborhoods, and a vital downtown where people, culture, and art would mix. L.A. never had the “city” identity of Chicago, but it had a wonderful mix of vital neighborhoods and cultures. Now all I see in those same neighborhoods is isolated poor families desperately struggling to survive or disconnected rich people obsessing over social media nonsense. More than most cities, I think L.A. reflects the present tragic state of our country.
I used to know dozens of local family or “hole in the wall” joints to eat authentic regional foods around town. But all those independent restaurants are out of business. There’s a little Greek place near me I go to run by a family from Iraq, but now they are going out of business too because of the Covid lockdown and pressure from chain restaurants.
I don’t want to sound negative, but a few trendy eateries owned by millionaires catering to rich folks here and there doesn’t replace the authentic neighborhood food culture L.A. has lost over the last 30 years. If you’ve never experienced it the way it was, I guess you can’t miss it. Maybe that’s a kindness.
Yanes: Sentinels: Point of No Return stars Stargate alumni Chris Judge and Alaina Huffman. Though you were never worked on Stargate I’m curious to know why you think this franchise has maintained such a vibrant fanbase?
Disa: As a fan, I would have to say – the quality of the writing. Space operas should be both epic and personal. Stargate did that brilliantly. Great characters with depth, histories, faults, strengths, and contradictions that all cared about worthwhile things.
I’m sorry to say most of the sci fi I see now is a lot of grit, flash, and angst with very two-dimensional characters when compared to Stargate. Stargate had long story arcs that actually paid off. I don’t think there’s a show out there right now that compares to Stargate. When there is, the fans will love that too!
Stargate survives for exactly why the original Star Trek survived and thrived with fans during the time of Buck Rodgers, The Man From Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica, The Starlost, Arc II, Space Academy, etc. Hey, I watched them all. Gimmie some Jason of Star Command or Blake’s 7 any day, but Star Trek always was the giant among them. Nothing else compared. Stargate is like that now.
Also, really good acting!
Yanes: On this note, your latest project is Sentinels: Point of No Return. What was the inspiration behind this story?
Disa: There were two big ideas that started this off. (Along with about a million other just cool things like a tour I had of SpaceX, Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, The Fall of Gondolin, etc.)
One was a series of ongoing discussions Chris Judge and I have been having for years about the overwhelming institutionalized racism we experienced indifferent ways growing up. Me on the South Side of Chicago and him in L.A. Two vastly different experiences with a surprising amount of violent horrible crap in common.
The other was watching the intrusion into our lives and souls of huge powerful corporations over the last 30 years. Young Americans just have no idea how much the fabric of our society has been overwhelmed by giant soulless engines of profit and of the damage it has done to our society’s values and character.
We thought these two powerful concepts – the lasting effects of the unforgivable original sin of slavery on the American experiment and the unsustainable corrupting pursuit of wealth for the few – would be a powerful backdrop for an epic tale about colonizing the Solar System and the final days of Humanity.
Yanes: What is your elevator pitch for Sentinels?
Disa: 400 years in the future, Baselines (pure-gene humans) and corporate owned Genens (genetically modified humans) live and work across the Solar System, with peace being enforced by the Baseline corporate security force known as the Sentinels.
When an “alien” invasion devastates the System and destroys most of the Sentinel fleet, the first crew of Genens is drafted into the Sentinels under the command of a young pure-gene officer named Jack Armstrong.
The crew of the Phoenix battle the racism of the Baseline officers, chaos across the Colonies, and each other as they strive to pull the System back from the edge. But as they do, they discover the terrible truth behind the “alien” attack and the lengths corporations will go to keep power.
Yanes: Covid struck and changed everyone’s plans. How did Covid impact Sentinels?
Disa: Chris and I developed this an adult anime or live action series, but when Covid locked us down we decided to call our many famous and talented friends and do it as a podcast. Yes, exactly like Micky Rooney/Judy Garland musical. I danced. Chris sang. Our buddy Joe Goyette painted the barn and off we went! With what I think is the most talented, nicest, and fun group of actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of directing. May I list them all here? It’s a long list but I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. The whole cast were wonderfully generous and really brought the sci-fi feels!
Yanes: While developing Sentinels from an idea to a completed audio drama, was there a character or subplot that came to life for you in an unexpected way?
Disa: I always knew that every member of the crew had cool back stories (cause I invented them) , but as we worked I was surprised to discover they each had more secrets than I knew about, and that those secrets were all crucial to the ongoing series and the conspiracy between the Sentinels and the Corporations.
From page one we knew how this ten-year story arc is going to end. (I’ve already written the last two episodes). It’s going to be a brutal journey, not everyone is going to make it, and the fate of the Phoenix crew is going to change humanity forever, but until I heard these talented actors bringing these characters to life for me in unexpected ways, I never realized how much pure fun this trip was going to be.
Yanes: When people finish listening to Sentinels, what do you hope they take away from it?
Disa: A desperate need to hear the next six seasons and a compulsion to hound networks to make the anime version of our series!!!!!
But also to remind our fellow sci-fi fans that smart action filled drama can be about something and still be fun. Can be epic without being relentlessly grim. And that good stories can open our hearts to how other people see the universe we all live in together.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Disa: I’ve been talking to some folks about doing two more podcasts. One about classic film and the other about animation. Also, Chris Judge has a wonderful supernatural pilot he wrote called Rage of Angels that we would love to dramatize into an ongoing podcast.
I am presently writing two live-action romantic comedy scripts for a network, a family film follow up to Dolphin Island, and a prime-time animated workplace comedy. But if the fans want more Sentinels, just have them like and comment on iTunes. If we get enough interest, I’ll drop everything to do another season in a heartbeat.