When a major volcano eruption throws a future Earth into chaos, a crew aboard a space escape pod attempt to make it safely to a new planet. But when an alien life form boards their ship and begins attacking, the crew find themselves in a race for survival. That’s the premise behind writer/actress Morgan Lariah’s 5TH PASSENGER, an indie sci-fi feature film with a thrilling story and a strong female lead. We spoke with Lariah about her interest in sci-fi filmmaking and about 5TH PASSENGER, which is her first turn at co-writing and acting in a feature length film.
RECURSOR: How did you become interested in sci-fi?
Science fiction, as a genre, has so much creativity in it — and there is also a lot of metaphor, which is appealing to the writer in me. It was also the first place, along with fantasy, where I saw strong, intelligent and capable female characters with their own agency. That was a big draw for me. They mirrored the women I knew in my own life in a way that I usually didn’t see in our media.
What are some of your favorite sci-fi films and TV shows?
I think ALIEN is one movie that everyone who loves science fiction has seen and has been affected by. I’m no different. 5TH PASSENGER, in a way, pays homage to the ALIEN franchise, but only to a point. Growing up, my mother was really into STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, so we watched that a lot. My two most favorite recent sci-fi films are ANOTHER EARTH and ARRIVAL.
What sci-fi writers or stories are most influential to your writing?
As a child, I was encouraged to read a lot. We always had a lot of very thick novels on our book shelves — and one of them was DUNE. This idea of a totally new planet, where humans have found a way to survive, but the elements are extreme and deadly, was very influential. I also wished my eyes looked that blue.
I read THIS PLACE HAS NO ATMOSPHERE by Paula Danziger when I was maybe eight or nine, having no idea at first what it was about, and it was something that stuck with me. The novel was so “futuristic” in a whimsical way and blended so many elements. This idea of colonizing the moon and the feeling of leaving Earth completely was not something that I had truly processed before. The thought was jarring— leaving all you know and love.
The novel was easy for me to connect to because the young protagonist starts off on Earth; we see her life there. Then she goes through the process of moving and then living on the Moon. When we see something like STAR TREK where they are just already in space, you accept it and it isn’t as shocking.
What drew you to filmmaking?
I used to audition for USC Film School projects, and one of the filmmakers who cast me became a dear friend. He, his friends, and the feeling that I didn’t really fit any of the roles I was auditioning for inspired me to start creating my own stories. He and I are started writing scripts, and we ended up creating a short film together.
It was such a positive process that I knew I had to make a feature film. I met Scott (Baker, co-writer, director and producer) at an indie filmmaking group. He told me his idea for the premise for 5TH PASSENGER, and we set out to make it together.
Tell us about your film, 5TH PASSENGER. What’s it about?
The year is 2151. After the Yellowstone Volcano erupts, throwing the Earth into chaos and class struggle, a pregnant officer, Miller, and her crew struggle to survive in an escape pod with limited resources as they try to reach a new home planet. Running low on air, the team must work together when a vicious alien boards their ship and hunts them down, determined to become the dominant species. But the key to survival may be the secret that is buried deep within Miller’s own mind.
5TH PASSENGER stars many actors who have worked in the STAR TREK universe, including Doug Jones, Marina Sirtis, Armin Shimerman and Tim Russ. How did that collaboration come about?
One of the actors who came on to co-produce and act in the film had been in STAR TREK: VOYAGER, and he thought Tim Russ would be great for the role of Franklin. So, when we made the concept trailer years ago, Tim Russ was in it.
When we were ready to make the film, this co-producer also talked to Armin Shimerman and Marina Sirtis. We were so lucky to have them in the film too — not just because they are amazing actors in the TREK universe, but also because they are really amazing people. They were all extremely professional but also really down to earth.
Doug Jones agreed to be in the film because another one of our co-producers is friends with him. He is one of those actors who gives back by being in indie films. He is very generous. I’ve gone to film festivals and seen him in little indie shorts. His being in the project elevates the whole piece. He knows that, and I think the world of him. He is always helping out us small filmmakers.
What budget issues did you face in making an indie film, and how did you address them?
5TH PASSENGER is entirely indie through and through. The main issue with the budget was that it was very low. The film took a really long time to make because of a myriad of budget restrictions. As a creator, you make do as best you can with what you have. We asked a lot of favors of people, and they were very generous with us. People were very giving with their time and craft.
We’re lucky in that we live in Los Angeles, and there are a lot of talented people here. People will sometimes agree to help you out if they really like the story. Often, someone would agree to work under their normal pay rate with us because we were making a sci-fi. When you aren’t paying someone their normal day rate, then when they get a better job, your project takes the backburner until that gig is over. That’s just the reality. So, it can take a while to complete a full feature film.
How did working on an indie sci-fi film connect to your desire to promote women in film?
I think it’s important to talk about inclusion and hiring people who identify as women in this industry, and really in all industries. I had a real education during the making of this film, on many levels, and that was one of my biggest takeaways — the importance of diversity in all things: cast, crew, perspective, story, etc.
I mean, don’t we all essentially like sci-fi because there are so many diverse ideas within the genre? Diversity makes everything better. It’s exciting.
To learn more about the film, visit its website at 5thpassenger.com.
Morgan Lariah graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and Antioch University Los Angeles with a BA in Film Studies. Always seeking roles that are challenging and enriching married with a deep desire to help shift the way women are often portrayed in the media, she began to write and produce her own works. Her first short film, 2-STAR, premiered at the East End Film Festival in London and went on to screen at festivals around the world. 5th PASSENGER marks her first feature film as co-writer, producer, and actress. 5th PASSENGER had a limited theatrical run in Los Angeles and was picked up for distribution by Epic Pictures. It is available on most VOD platforms and in Redbox. Her current script, FULL TAKE, was a semi-finalist for the 2017 Sundance/YouTube New Voices lab. The teaser trailer created for FULL TAKE is an official selection of the 2018 Women in Film Mini Upfronts program and screened at Netflix with sixteen other female filmmakers.