WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Last time, we looked at an overview of what made STAR TREK CONTINUES unique among fan films. This week, we’ll take a closer look at how this fan series got its start and some of its earliest fan film releases.
Months before producing and releasing its first full episode in 2013, STC filmed three short vignettes in May of 2012 to “introduce themselves” and get their space legs.
The first vignette, about four minutes long, recreated the ending of “Turnabout Intruder,” the final first-run episode of TOS to air on television. But instead of ending on the depressingly somber line from Kirk, “If only…” the vignette CONTINUED the scene (get it?), following Kirk, Spock, and Scott into the turbolift and onto the bridge. Joined a few seconds later by McCoy, the somber mood is lightened by a good-natured poke at Spock by the doctor, and then Kirk orders the Enterprise to rendezvous with the Potemkin. The music shifts to an uplifting, optimistic melody, portending new and exciting adventures into the future. The camera pans out to reveal the entire bridge crew as the credits roll.
You can watch the vignette here…
And if you’re curious, here’s a couple of still-frame comparisons to the original version of that same scene from TOS…
This first vignette was released onto the Internet on July 31, 2012 and served to do more than simply say, “Hey, we’re here! Look what we can do!” It also introduced four of the main actors who would be starring in the new series.
Show runner and executive producer Vic Mignogna (playing Kirk) is a professional actor who has done extensive voice-over work on amine and video games…along with having been a lifelong Trekkie who used to drag his mother to conventions and film his own Trek episodes on Super 8 as a child in the 1970s. Vic had worked on other Trek fan films, directing and acting in episodes of both Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II and Starship Farragut (and later appearing in Star Trek: Renegades).
Vic decided that, as much as fans loved appearing in fan films, most of them weren’t comfortable or convincing enough in front of the camera. For his fan series, Vic wanted trained actors to be the ones appearing on screen. Non-professional fans could help out behind the scenes, but even there, Vic preferred to have people with film-making knowledge and experience leading those efforts, as well. Fans with less experience were welcome to assist, but under the supervision of the “veterans.” And it paid off by having a very professional and polished look and feel to their production.
Vic brought in two fellow voice-over actors to play Spock and McCoy: Todd Haberkorn and Chuck Huber, respectively. Chuck would later miss the first two full-length episodes due to health issues, but he returned for the third episode and each one thereafter. Both actors brought their own interpretations to the iconic characters they were playing. And considering that there was no way that Leonard Nimoy or DeForest Kelley would be able to reprise those roles, Todd and Chuck did a pretty impressive job.
Perhaps most striking, however (eerily so!) was the person playing Scotty…and with good reason. The actor portraying the chief engineer literally had Montgomery Scott in his blood! Chris Doohan is the son of late actor James Doohan (the original Scotty) and does an amazing job recreating that unique Scottish brogue that his father made so iconic. Chris initially came on to voice Scotty in an animated episode of Starship Farragut a few years prior, and Vic convinced him (with some effort) to come on board STC…and he’s been one of the standouts of the cast ever since.
Star Trek Continues‘ second vignette “You’ve Got the Conn” was released two months after the first. This short film introduced the three remaining actors who had very minor roles in the first vignette: Kim Stinger as Uhura, Wyatt Lenhart as Chekov, and Grant Imahara as Sulu. You might recognize Grant’s name as one of the regulars on the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters TV show. All three of these actors were given extensive lines in this 3-minute story showing what goes on when Kirk isn’t on the bridge, and each actor did a masterful job of recreating his or her character. Grant speaks in a low Sulu voice, and Wyatt’s Russian accent is vonderful!
The final vignette, “Happy Birthday, Scotty,” (released on November 30) was the shortest of the bunch at just two minutes. Rather than introducing a new character or actor, this brief film introduced the new hand phaser props that the series would be using…similar to the originals but with a slightly sleeker appearance and cool flashy lights. Nevertheless, the vignette, like the other two before it, felt like TOS Trek.
Vic wore a lot of production hats in those three vignettes, including writing or co-writing all three (with the exception of the parts of “Turnabout Intruder” originally written by Gene Roddenberry and Arthur H. Singer, of course), directing two of the vignettes (Jack Marshall directed the first one), and editing all three.
THE FIRST FULL EPISODE – PILGRIM OF ETERNITY
Down the line, Vic’s eventual goal was to not have to do so many jobs simultaneously and instead concentrate mostly on acting. But for what would be the first full-length episode, Vic was still the “guy in charge” and would again (co)write the story (other professional screenplay writers would assemble the final script), direct, and edit…as well as appear as Kirk. No pressure.
In an interview from CNET from April of 2014, Vic shared how he decided on telling a story of redemption in the first full STC episode. And not just redemption for any old character—redemption for a Trek “bad guy” in a sequel to the second season TOS episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Vic said…
Years ago, I became friends with BarBara Luna — who played Marlena in the original “Mirror, Mirror” episode — and one day out of the blue we were talking and she said to me long before I started Star Trek Continues, “You know, Mike Forest would love to do some more Star Trek.” And I said, “Who is Michael Forest?” And she said, “Mike Forest played Apollo in the original series.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I love Apollo and I love that episode!” And so I kind of logged that away in the back of my mind, and when I started Star Trek Continues and was looking for an idea, I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to do a follow-up episode to that episode? And so I contacted Michael Forest and told him I had an idea for an Apollo redemption story. He really liked it, and so we moved forward with writing the script and shooting the episode.
Michael Forest wasn’t the only Trek veteran actor to participate in that first full episode of STC. In a bit of a coup, Vic convinced Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation) to provide the voice of the Enterprise computer. (That made Marina the second TNG regular series actor to appear in a Trek fan film…the first being Denise “Tasha Yar” Crosby in Star Trek: New Voyages’ 2-part “Blood and Fire” four years earlier.) It seemed oddly appropriate that the person who played the daughter of Lawaxana Troi (portrayed by the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry) would lend her voice to the Enterprise computer, which had also been voiced by Majel.
Another actor of sci-fi note to appear in the episode was Jamie Bamber, who played Lee Adama (Captain Apollo…how fitting!) in the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Also worth mentioning was a cameo by Star Trek and Galactica art department veteran Doug Drexler. Doug, who had previously worked on other fan films’ 3D computer FX, had recently decided to move away from fan films. But he changed that decision in order to do CGI visual effects for STC. The 3D animations for the three vignettes had previously been done by Gabe Koerner. Doug also appeared on camera in the opening sequence of “Pilgrim of Eternity” in a scene which immediately grabbed the viewer’s attention as being plucked straight out of the Tombstone, Arizona setting of the TOS episode “Spectre of the Gun.” It turns out the sequence is part of a virtual reality program running in a very early version of the Holodeck!
Yes. Vic and his co-writers decided to “evolve” Star Trek a little to move it forward toward things that were seen later on. It wasn’t unheard of for the original Star Trek to add new things between seasons. Chekov was added to the crew in season two…along with a larger Engineering set and an expansion of Sickbay. So what might have been added in season four? Why not an early, experimental Holodeck (something already considered possible canon from the animated episode “Practical Joker”)?
Another addition for STC was the completely new character of Lt. Elise McKennah, PhD, played by professional actress Michele Specht. Dr. McKennah was among the first of Starfleet’s new ship’s counselors, a bit of an experimental program…and not a program Kirk was particularly fond of at first.
With Chuck Huber unavailable to play the role of Dr. McCoy for the first two episodes, a stand-in was found in the person of Larry Nemecek. If you’ve never heard of this legend of Star Trek folklore, look him up on Google (there’s about 75,000 results!). He’s also served as a creative consultant to STC, but for its first two episodes, he played a very convincing Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy.
With all the pieces in place, including the amazing sets and props, costumes from Anovos, make-up artists, lighting specialists, sound engineers, production crew of all shapes and sizes and specialties, and of course, the actors, filming on “Pilgrim of Eternity” began in October of 2012 and lasted a little over a week…just like an episode of the original Trek did back in the 60s.
Vic himself paid the expenses of the actors and some of the crew to come down to Georgia for the shooting. Michael Forest brought along his wife Diana, who ended up playing a small role as Athena, who gives up the last of her energy so that Apollo can live. The two of them had a blast and, according to Vic, still come to STC social events that happen in the Los Angeles area (where they live) because they feel like they’re “a part of the family.”
With all the footage “in the can,” work began on post production: adjusting sound levels and light and color, cutting and editing scenes together, adding music and sound effects, and completing visual effects shots until the episode was finished and ready to premiere to the world on May 24, 2013. Take a look at the finished production: “Pilgrim of Eternity”.
Fan reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Sure, there were complaints that Vic Mignogna’s acting was too derivative of Shatner or that this or that actor could never replace the original. Well, of course not! No one was trying to replace anyone, only to honor them by carrying forward their iconic characters. But despite a few grumblers out there, the vast majority of fans were blown away by what they saw (including me!), and were eagerly anticipating what would come next.
And what came next would require…a Kickstarter! (Or rather, a KIRKstarter, as STC cleverly called it.)
Vic reportedly spent about $40-60,000 of his own money financing the first full-length episode. Vic later commented in an interview, “My feeling was that it would be unethical for me to ask people to give me money to do something I had not proven I could do.” And even though the three vignettes had grabbed people’s attention, they were short. A full-length episode would have a much stronger impacy.
And now that Vic had his full-length episode to show people, it was time to see if folks would donate their money in order to see more. But this was only 2013…before most Trek fans even knew what a Kickstarter was. In fact, by the time STC launched their campaign in early October, only one Star Trek fan film had ever successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign (Star Trek: Renegades). Everyone else had failed to fund.
STC set an ambitious goal of $100,000. Would they be able to convince fans to give them that much money? Remember, with Kickstarter, if you don’t make it to your goal, you get nothing.
Next time: we find out whether Star Trek Continues reached that $100,000 or not. Then our spotlight rolls on with a closer look at STC‘s next three episodes, as the make-up and costuming departments get pushed to their limits!
And of course, all of the amazing offerings of STC can be found on their website: