Some fans believe that Axanar was the first fan film to use professionals or, at the very least, the first to pay them. Both of those assumptions are incorrect by nearly a decade.
The first fan film to feature a known Star Trek professional in their credits was the debut episode of Star Trek: New Voyages in early 2004, “Come What May,” which featured Doug Drexler as visual effects artist (under the pseudonym “Max Rem”) while Doug was also actively working doing the digital FX for Star Trek: Enterprise and also for the new Battlestar Galactica.
New Voyages’ next episode, “In Harm’s Way,” likewise included Doug Drexler…this time as an executive producer. It also featured veteran Star Trek TOS guest stars William Windom (reprising his role as an older, time-displaced Commodore Matt Decker), BarBara Luna, and Malachi Thorne (also voicing his former role as Commodore Jose Mendez as well as playing a Klingon).
By the end of 2006, New Voyages broke new fan film ground once again, this time by featuring a series regular (not just a guest star) from TOS reprising his iconic role. In a sequel to the classic episode “The Deadly Years,” Walter Koenig returned to play an older Ensign Pavel Chekov. Mary Linda Rapelye, who played the space hippie (and Chekov’s love interest) Irina Galliulin in “The Way to Eden,” performed opposite Koenig in this third New Voyages production. The episode, “To Serve All My Days,” was also penned by legendary Star Trek writer and story editor D.C. Fontana. So by this point, New Voyages was certainly using professionals as both actors and writers.
But that was just peanuts compared to New Voyages’ fourth episode, “World Enough and Time”! This episode was written by two former writers for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Marc Scott Zicree and Michael Reaves. It also featured George Takei playing an older Sulu in a masterful tour de forceperformance, along with professional actor (and Star Trek alumna) Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand and actor Christina Moses (who would later have a major role in the miniseries Containment on the CW network). Released online in August of 2007, “World Enough and Time” became the first truly MUST SEE Star Trek fan film project. And even though that “must see” list has grown in the decade since, “World Enough and Time” still stands proudly among the best Star Trek fan film projects to date.
One of the reasons for the amazing quality of this episode was that the production was very much professional. Everyone who participated was undeniably a fan. But even though the vast majority worked for nothing or nearly nothing, many of the nearly 300-person production team were Hollywood industry professionals. And CBS and Paramount actually knew about this. In fact, the studios were directly approached by writer/director/executive producer Marc Zicree about licensing and releasing the episode themselves…and they nearly did!
Marc Zicree never made a secret about his episode of New Voyages being a professional fan film (which, despite what CBS and Paramount might believe, is NOT an oxymoron). Indeed, when “World Enough and Time” was nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula award, Star Trek novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido complained directly to the rules committee asking that “World Enough and Time” be disqualified and removed from contention because a fan film is not “professionally produced” (a require for nominees). Marc Zicree countered with this letter that he later gave permission to be posted publicly.
I was curious what the writer and director of what can now be considered as the first truly “professional fan film” thought of the new Star Trek fan film guidelines released by CBS and Paramount. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say about the massively controversial guideline #5: “The fan production must be a real ‘fan’ production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.”
Marc had a LOT to say on that one…as well as on most of the guidelines! As both a seasoned Hollywood professional who has written and produced hundreds of hours of various beloved network television series and also as a true Star Trek and sci-fi fan, Marc’s insights were—to borrow phrases from two notable Starfleet officers—both fascinating and engaging. And of course, we also talked a bit about “World Enough and Time.”
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Marc Scott Zicree!
Jonathan: Thanks for agreeing to chat with me, Marc. Let’s jump right into it. Obviously, we’ve got some major news in the world of Star Trek fan films which, it seems, you wisely exited eight years ago…
Marc: It’s appalling. It’s really appalling. And I’m actually going to be doing an episode about it for my Mr. Sci-Fi Youtube Channel. And there’s one thing that no one has pointed out, and I will. Star Trek is a very different category from most sci-fi series. For example, when Star Wars came out, it was hugely successful from the beginning, and so Lucas wasn’t reliant on the fan base to “save” it. It was a different relationship. But Star Trek…that show was going to be canceled the second season, and a million of us wrote letters to NBC; we picketed in front of NBC. I was there when I was a kid. I was holding my little sign. And we got that third season. If we hadn’t gotten that third season, then Star Trek would not have succeeded in syndication, the conventions would never have happened. And so the relationship between the fans and Star Trek has always been a very special one…unlike any other fan base.
Jonathan: I completely agree!
Marc: And another thing that I want to point out is that Hollywood is rife with ageism. Ageism defines Hollywood. The young are hired, and old are generally passed over. It’s true for writers, but it’s physically true for actors. And the studio would never do the great Sulu story with George Takei. They would never do stories now with Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols. The notable exception was that they had Leonard Nimoy show up in the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film, and he’ll do a little cameo saying, “Y’know, you should do A, B, and C.” And then they do A, B, and C, and he’s got maybe one or two scenes. But there’s no way that the studios today would ever have these guys in a lead role.
But the fans love these actors, and they love these characters. And the idea of seeing a new Chekov story, a new Uhura sotry, a new Sulu story is wonderful. The studios are doing Star Trek because it can generate revenue. That’s the only reason for the studios and networks. But anyone doing a Star Trek fan film is doing it because they love Star Trek. It’s a totally different energy. And for me, working with George Takei in “World Enough and Time” was a huge honor. And I told him when I invited him to participate, I said, “You never got the Sulu episode you deserve, and this is it.”
And it proved to be. It was the first independent project–he first production not made by a studio or network–that was ever nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula Award. But would Paramount have ever done that story? No. And in fact, when we finished “World Enough and Time,” Michael Reaves, Winston Engle, and I worked up a Sulu TV show. It was called Captain Sulu. And I went to CBS and worked out an entire series bible, we worked out an entire two-hour pilot, which Michael and I outlined, and they had zero interest. I mean, they were interested in hearing the pitch, but they had no intention of ever doing a Captain Sulu series. But it would have been terrific, and sadly, we didn’t get to see that show.
Jonathan: That totally bums me out. I re-watched “World Enough and Time” a few nights ago, and it was amazing to me how strong a performance George Takei put in. You gave him so much to work with.
Marc: Yes, he was phenomenal. He worked out for months. He lost 15 pounds before the shoot, he was lifting weights. He was 69 years old when we shot that! He’s just astonishing. He’s just an amazing actor…an amazing guy.
Jonathan: So right now, there is a whole segment of fandom who is pointing a finger blaming these new guidelines squarely on Axanar for crossing a line from a fan film into a professional film…
Marc: When I did “World Enough and Time,” I made it into a professional film. All of my department heads were Hollywood professionals. And certainly I am, and Michael Reaves was, and George Takei was, and Christina Moses is now starring in Containment on the CW. So in my mind, I wasn’t doing a fan film. I was bringing my A-game, just like when I was producer on Sliders or when I was writing for any of the hundreds of hours of television I’ve worked on.
I said to Michael Reaves when we were writing it, “We’re not going to step back from this all. We’re going to do it exactly as if we were doing a network show. And actually, the level of production is way beyond what any network show would be because you would never have 700 visual FX shots in a single hour on any network show…not even a big episode of Galactica would have that.
Jonathan: There were 700 VFX shots???
Marc: Pretty amazing, huh?
Jonathan: I guess every time Alanna was covered with those swirly light things, that counted as an effects shot.
Marc: That’s right, every single time. And then all that stuff with the shuttlecraft and the Romulan ships and on and on and on. It’s crazy. And there’s a lot of stuff you wouldn’t even notice. For instance, when we shot with Grace Lee Whitney, she gave us her measurements for her costume, but she gave us the measurements that she used to have. So when she showed up, she wouldn’t fit in the costume! So we had to put her in a fake, baggy costume which looked like crap. And she had this raccoon-like make-up around her eyes that she wouldn’t let us touch. So digitally, we had to fix her hair, remove her raccoon circles from around her eyes, take wrinkles off of her, raise her bust, and give her a waist so she wouldn’t look like she was wearing a parka. And while the medium shots were doing all that, in the wide shots when she’s sitting in Captain Sulu’s command chair, we actually put her head on someone else’s body and match moved it.
Marc: I so wanted somebody to say to me, “Grace Lee Whitney looks terrific!” And I would have then said, “Well, she’s had a lot or work done.”
(Lots of laughter.)
Jonathan: So you’ve said publicly that some people were paid for their time working on the episode. Now, I don’t want to ask you to reveal anyone’s specific salary, but in total, how much was spent and where did the money generally go?
Marc: I’ll walk you through it a little bit. Most people who work on fan films are working for free. So for instance, I directed it for free; I was an executive producer on it for free. Michael Reaves and I were paid a token amount to write it, but it wasn’t much. It was far below what Michael and I would have been paid under Writers Guild rates. George Takei was paid, but it was nowhere near what he got paid to, for example, guest star on a show like Heroes. And most of what we paid him was to compensate George for working his ass off for the time he was in upstate New York. I remember that our special effects team at the DAVE School worked for free, and they put in a lot of time.
So no one was getting rich or doing it for the money at all. I worked on that episode for free for three years, and we went post for a solid year of that. But I had to hire an editor to work with me full time to get that cut, and that editor had to be paid. He couldn’t pay the rent, he couldn’t have made his gas bill if I wasn’t paying him. He was a professional editor working here in L.A.
Jonathan: Did you really need to hire a professional editor for it? Weren’t there fans who would have helped you for free?
Marc: No, not at the level this needed to be. I had final cut on that episode, so every frame was my vision of what I wanted “World Enough and Time” to be. I brought an enormous amount of polish to it. As I said, it took a full year to do. Not having a professional, it would have taken a decade and still not have come out right.
But look, we were still doing it because we love Star Trek. My editor wasn’t doing it for the money; he just needed to pay his bills. And while he was working full time for me, he couldn’t be working elsewhere in bring in income.
Jonathan: Do you remember about how much in total was spent on this episode for everything?
Next time: our interview with Marc Zicree concludes as he finishes discussing “World Enough and Time” and then shares some VERY strong opinions about the new guidelines and the folks who wrote them…and suggests what Paramount and CBS should have done instead.
And remember, we still have an organized protest going in our Project: SMALL ACCESS Facebook group. Check it out and please consider joining up to help put pressure on the studios to revisit and revise the new guidelines.