Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day 5: Five Fan Films

Where have we come from? Where are we going? Well if I knew where fan films were going, I'd be investing in the share market right now! Where have they come from is an easier question! To be fair, the 1997 Star Wars fan film, "Troops" set the stamp for the 'made for internet' fan films we are used to today, but There is another! In fact, there were quite a few "others" - Star Trek fan films created between 1969 - 2000.

Here are just five of them.

Junior Star Trek

The key to making good movies is two-fold: having access to the right tools and knowing how to use them. In 1969, the tools for making movies were not digital, it was the world of 16mm cinematography. How many of us have super 8 home movies lying in the attic? I know I have! Sadly it is dying technology as the film deteriorates and the irreplaceable drive belts in the projectors break, so that our only option for saving them is to transfer them onto digital media.

I wonder if our grandchildren will feel the same nostalgia about VHS or Blu-Ray?

Ten year old Peter Emshwiller was lucky enough to have access to the hardware and the know-how when he was growing up in Levittown Long Island during 1969. He was the son of Ed Emshwiller, an experimental filmmaker who had a 16-millimeter camera, tripod, lights, etc. and the experience to guide his young son's desire to make a Star Trek movie. There is no question though that the resulting film is a testament to the talent and perseverance of the younger Emshwiller, who went on to be an actor and author. In an interview for the Trek Nostagia website in May this year, Peter reminisced...
“I meticulously created all the props and costumes and “sets” for months in advance. On the big first day of “production” I tried to get the captain’s chair out of my room where I had slowly, carefully constructed it. It was too big now. It didn’t fit out through my bedroom door. I burst into tears and threw myself on the bed, almost giving up right then. “Mini-Kirk throws a tantrum.” Eventually I calmed down and took the chair half-way apart, slowly re-assembling it again in my living room where we’d be shooting. Whew!”
Read the article for the full story of how Peter did external shots with his AMT plastic models in his father's home-made attic studio and then added the special effects by “scratching, frame-by-frame, on the actual finished film with a tiny exacto blade while squinting through a magnifying glass” then colouring them in with fine-point magic markers!
Star Trek: Axiom

At the start of this year questions were asked about the whereabouts of a very old fan film that had starred George Takei as Sulu, years before his frankly stunning performance on Star Trek: Phase II production of "World Enough and Time".

Originally titled, Yorktown II: A Time to Heal, the film they were referring to was part of a live-action fan film series, Star Trek: Axiom, written and produced by business-major Stan Woo and a filmmaker who used the pseudonym, Da Han. It is mostly of interest due to the names that were involved with it - they were able to interest a diverse group of leading entertainment industry figures (in alphabetical order)...
  • Stephen J. Cannell** provided incidental Sound Effects
  • Bill Conti** composed the original music
  • Peter Kuran** of ILM fame was a consultant for Special Effects.
  • George Lazenby** was scheduled to play the role of Admiral Nogura but due to scheduling conflicts, couldn't make the shoot. Veteran actor James Shigeta** stepped in to fill the spot in his stead.. 
  • Andrew Probert**, the designer of the USS Enterprise-D, joined the team in pre-production and helped redesign the Yorktown, design for the enemy vessel Nagear ("Reagan" spelled backwards) and create a new design for a Klingon fighter
  • George Takei** reprised his role as Hikaru Sulu
Shooting began in 1985 on 35mm Super 8 film but unfortunately it was never released due to creative differences between the co-producers. It was reported on in issue #119 of Starlog Magazine dated June, 1987. Recently the production has been revived with a new production group looking at ways that the existing footage could be used and the possibility of more episodes. The trailer for the original fan film can be seen after registering as a member of the group.

On a side note, I wonder what happened to the prequel to this? The Star Trek Expanded Universe Wiki article says that it was called Yorktown: In Temporary Command, later renamed Yorktown: The Quadroplastine incident but nothing more has surfaced about it.

The Intrepid Finale

Star Trek has always had an international impact and there have been a number of fan films made outside the USA. In 1998, Laurie Calvert, a native of Romford in England, made a Star Trek fan film, The Intrepid Finale, over a period of two months on his Sony Video 8 XR CCD-TRV15E camcorder. With a combination of live action on location and greenscreened over screen shots of original series episodes, most noticeably The Doomsday Machine, he added a number of what were then innovative special effects, both as post production on computer and with models - the alien is actually Scorpio from the Major Matt Mason toy series.

Laurie Calvert is still filming and recently added another Star Trek fan film to his YouTube page, "The Brave and the Valiant"
The Voyages of the USS Angeles

The USS Angeles is a Star Trek Fan Club, an affiliated chapter of Starfleet International started in 1995, which produced a series of Star Trek fan films between 1998 - 2000 entitled The Voyages of the USS Angeles. This VHS video series which made extensive use of greenscreen technique and computer generated starship scenes was distributed & sold for the cost of the materials only to club members, many of whom were featured as performers.
In a post on the Hidden Frontier Productions forum, Janice Willcocks, the current chapter head and co-executive producer of the club's fan films, described how she and Rob Caves met at Loyola Marymount University and went on to create the fan film series. The influence of the USS Angeles series went far beyond its state and national boundaries and 'alumni' of this production were to go on work on other fan productions, most noticeably Rob, who went on to helm Star Trek: Hidden Frontier for seven seasons before graduating to his own Indie film project, Frontier Guard, a project he manages whilst still producing other Star Trek video and audio projects.

Over the past year the club has relaxed its ruling against releasing the shows and they are currently being hosted on the Hidden Frontier Productions website and Vimeo. Although the club cannot make the commitment for further video productions, there is talk of an audio drama. The filmography of the series is...

1.01 - 'Return to Duty' Website Vimeo See above
The USS Angeles returns to Earth for R and R following the Dominion War. But trouble is brewing in the Briar Patch and the Angeles is dispatched to check it out!

1.02 - 'A Little Night Music' Website Vimeo
The Briar Patch and Deep Space 12 are threatened by a mysterious subspace storm. The crew of the USS Angeles must unravel its mystery before it destroys planet Baku!

1.03 - 'Dreamers' Website Vimeo
Artim from the planet Baku is caught in the middle of an intergalactic power struggle over the healing planet. DS12 and the crew of the USS Angeles may be the only hope to save Artim, and fragile relations with the Breen!

1.04 - 'Q in the Dark' Website Vimeo
Lt. Munoz completes his officer's training on a routine exercise that quickly turns deadly with the appearance of both Q and the Borg!

1.05 - 'Last of the Iconians' Vimeo
In the exciting season finale of Voyages of the USS Angeles, the Angeles stumbles upon an ancient Iconian Colony that's been devastated by war. But something survived.


Redshirt Blues

Much has been made recently in the mainstream media of Star Trek fan films as if they sprang out of the woodwork last year. In fact they have been seen on the tube before. Redshirt Blues, written, directed and produced by David O. Rogers, was shown on a special Star Trek episode of Sci Fi Channel's short film television series Exposure on September 16, 2001 after debuting the previous year at the Boston Film Festival and subsequent showings at the Pacific Palisades Film Festival and Nodance Film Festival.

The involvement of professionals shows in this short parody, which satirises the expendability of redshirts on the television series, is very evident and the critical acclaim is well deserved.

You might notice a common thread in most of these? Success in filmmaking is not just a matter of getting the right software or hardware, it is about having the knowledge to use the tools well, something you can easily learn, and the talent to create something worthwhile with them, a thing that can be developed but not bought.

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