The fan film/series RENEGADES was in the right place at the wrong time. Still called Star Trek: Renegades when the fan film guidelines came out last June, the producers had already completed a very impressive 90-minute feature film in 2015 for $350,000 and were about to begin production on a new series of episodes with a starting budget of $515,000 for the first one.
With Tim Russ directing and reprising his character of Tuvok, plus both Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols reprising their roles as Chekov and Uhura (likely for the final time), plus appearances by Star Trek veteran actors Cirroc “Jake Sisko” Lofton, Aron “Nog” Eisenberg, Terry “Jadzia” Farrell, Robert “Chakotay” Beltran, Gary “Soval” Graham, and a few others–some playing the same characters, other playing new ones–Star Trek: Renegades‘ first two-part episode, “The Requiem,” looked like Trekker’s fan film dream come true! Even the production crew was a virtual “Who’s Who” of fan film luminaries, including VFX wizards Tobias Richter and Tommy Kraft, prop guru Scott Nakada, and many more.
But as I said: right place, wrong time…
With sets constructed, props built, costumes sewn, scripts finalized, and dozens of cast and production crew assembled for several days of filming, the first scenes had just started to be shot the morning that the new guidelines were announced. Star Trek: Renegades was already in violation of most of them (or so they thought):
- They were making a fan film that would be longer that 15 minutes.
- They would be creating an ongoing series with more that two parts.
- They had “Star Trek” in their title.
- They were making their own uniforms and props. (It would later be explained in a follow-up podcast that this was actually okay, but this restriction wasn’t clear on the days the guidelines were announced.)
- Many on the cast and some on the production crew had previously worked on Star Trek productions/projects for Paramount and/or CBS…now a no-no. And while we don’t know if anyone on Renegades was getting paid, that was a no-no now, as well.
- The production had raised, through multiple crowd-funding campaigns, more than $515,000 (well over the new $50,000 limit), and they were distributing perks…including DVDs/Blu-rays of the finished project.
In short, they were screwed. While Renegades could easily pull the words “Star Trek” out of their title, that was about it. The script couldn’t possibly be shortened down to just 15 minutes–not with actors who had already memorized their lines sitting around in costume and make-up on the set! Ordering licensed Starfleet uniforms and phasers, etc. online would also require time to wait for delivery. And how do you recast at the last second when you’ve already got Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and over a half dozen other Star Trek veteran actors all signed up to appear in specific roles? And of course, there was no way to un-spend $465,000 of crowd-funded money and return the extra to donors.
Faced with an impossible Kobayahi Maru scenario, the Renegades show-runners made the only decision they felt they could: they did emergency surgery on the script the removed all references to identifiable Star Trek elements of intellectual property:
- The Federation was now the “Confederation.”
- Walter Koenig was now simply “The Admiral” (whose first name was still Pavel, which is just a common Russian name and not copyrightable).
- Nichelle Nichols’ character is never addressed by name.
- Tuvok was now Kovok, and his pointed ears were removed…along with the antennae from a blue-skinned character from what was now an unknown alien race (don’t say the “A” word!).
- Nog was now Fnaxnor with different make-up that was definitely NOT Ferengi (which makes his line “I’m all ears…” toward the end seem a little less amusing).
- While Cirroc Lofton is still addressed early on as “Mr. Sisko,” he’s listed in the credits as “Jacob.” Terry Farrel is now “Jada,” an Altarian host (not a Trill).
- For some reason, there’s still a Breen in his environmental suit. But he’s not called a “Breen”…and we remember from our many blogs about intellectual property law that clothing cannot be copyrighted, right?
- All Starfleet logos and comm badges were immediately removed from uniforms, props, and sets/readouts.
- Section 31 is now “Section 6.”
- The CGI visual effects were completely redone with the starship Archer (still named that) no longer looking quite so Starfleet-ish. Likewise, the “Rigelian” warbird (y’know, the one with the cloaking device?) looks very much like a Romulan warbird while also looking totally different…see the still image below.
Frustratingly, it turned out that Renegades did NOT havve to surgically remove the Star Trek references after all! Just one week after the guidelines came out, on the “Engage” Official Star Trek podcast, CBS Licensing VP John Van Citters explained that fan films that were already in production at the time the guidelines were announced would be allowed to complete their projects. And even though Renegades had started filming that same morning, they still beat the announcement by a few hours! But alas, they didn’t know that at the time, and so they decided to opt for the surgical Trekectomy. By the time of John Van Citters’ podcast, the script had already been completely changed and all of the scenes filmed.
Of course, keeping the original script and costumes, etc. inside of the Star Trek universe would have only delayed the inevitable. Even though the 2-part “The Requiem” would have been grandfathered in, the rest of the Renegades episodes would have required the change…especially since the “no continuing series” rule would have made any more episodes impossible within the guidelines.
Part 1 of “The Requiem” debuted last Thursday night, and I watched it almost immediately…curious to know how this now non-Trek fan film would feel when I finally experienced it.
The effect of the Trekectomy, at least for me personally, was very disorienting. I had to mentally edit things in my mind and “translate” them back into “Star Trek.” It’s much like when I try to speak Spanish. I know the language somewhat from high school, but I’m not fluent. So when I hear something, I have to stop for a moment and examine what I just heard, internally rearranging it into my native English.
And to be honest, without doing that “translation,” I felt little emotional connection to what was going on. I’m sorry to be so blunt (as I know this was a difficult choice for the producers to make), but unless I reminded myself that these were actually Chekov, Uhura, Tuvok, Jadzia, Nog, et. al., I just didn’t invest myself emotionally in the characters because they had no real background in my mind.
I will say that I found the production values to be very impressive, especially the physical (practical) sets that were constructed. The green screen scenes, while better than most fan films, were still noticeably Chroma-keyed composited scenes…sometimes with inconsistent lighting of the characters. And while most of the costumes were very impressive, the Fleet (don’t call it STAR Fleet!) uniforms were not tailored well for some in the cast. That said, I couldn’t begin to do any better myself, so I don’t really have any right criticize.
Now compliments, those I can dispense quite liberally. The visual FX were stunning and the music was amazing. The acting was top-notch by everyone involved. The make-up was superb…especially in a bar scene loaded up with aliens. The props looked quite convincing. Aside from some of the green screen stuff, the lighting was actually really well done and convincing. The film editing was strong and kept the pace moving quickly. I didn’t feel like there was all that much that didn’t need to be in there (except, of course, for plot exposition…which is hard to avoid when you’ve already done a 90-minute pilot/prequel).
So, have you seen it yet? Likely, you haven’t.
Why? Because “The Requiem, Part 1” has only been released so far to donors to the Renegades project. Donors (such as myself) been given a special URL and individual password, and the show-runners have requested that we not share either with non-donors. So while I’d love to just copy/paste the YouTube link right here like I usually do, this time I can’t. And please don’t ask me to violate their trust by sharing the unlisted URL and the password.
(To be honest, I suspect that, if my–or anyone’s–password is released, they’ll just change it.)
So when will “The Requiem” be made available to the general public? Curiously, I haven’t been able to get an answer…and yes, I’ve asked a number of people both on the Renegades Facebook page and directly through IM.
However, I do have a suspicion that it won’t be for a while (if ever). You see, their Facebook page posted the following message last Friday:
Remember, if you want to see Part One of The Requiem, you can become a donor at any time! www.renegades.show/home/donate
And if you go to that page, you’ll discover that the minimum donation to view the entire first episode (including immediate access to the 27-minute Part 1) is $35.
Now, before you start typing that it’s a ripoff for just a 27-minute–or even an hour–episode of what is essentially a fan film (and not even a Star Trek fan film), and that for $6, you can get 13 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access if you wait and binge-watch them all in a month’s subscription time…well, just wait for a moment. Remember that fan films are a brand new “industry,” and they don’t have reliable funding sources right now. Kickstarters and Indiegogos used to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars. But lately, they’ve been far less lucrative.
So think about it: what is a professional-quality (or something trying to be professional quality) independent fan film supposed to do? They need hundreds of thousands of dollars. If fans aren’t flocking to crowd-funding campaigns…then why not charge to see the finished product? People do have to pay for movies at theaters, after all.
But $35??? Yeah, you’ve got a point there, so stop typing that angry comment. I’m right there with you. But then again, who’s to say that $35 needs to remain the magic number? This number is, I would assume, an experiment. And if the $35 minimum donation doesn’t work, maybe they’ll try taking it down to $25 or $15…closer to the price of a movie ticket. And keep in mind that, if you’re like me and believe in fan films and giving the “little guys” a chance to strut their stuff, then you’re gonna need to put your money where your mouth is. I’m a Renegades donor because I believe in the project and the people behind it. But for them to do what I want then to do, they need money. And some of it, yes, will need to be my money.
So let’s see how the experiment goes first before we start complaining about it. In a way, we’re all in this together, even the Renegades folks. Give them a chance.
Now, while I can’t show you the full film, I think I can at least post some still images. They didn’t tell me I couldn’t, and anyway, stills might get folks interested in seeing it…and that could encourage some donations, right? (They’ll thank me later.)
So here–with no captions to spoil anything, are some sneak peeks at how “The Requiem, Part 1” turned out…