As you might recall from this recent blog, SCOTT JOHNSON and KENT “WORDS” EDWARDS, with the help of VANCE MAJOR, posted a video showing many critical pieces of the TOS sets that were removed, 90 days earlier, along with damage done to the remaining set pieces during the removal process. But the question must be asked: was this “theft” and “vandalism” or simply someone reclaiming his personal property? And it is now looking as though that question will end up being answered in an Arkansas courtroom.
There’s a LOT of ground to cover right now, folks, and I’m going to share as much as I’m allowed to while trying to break this whole situation down for you. Ready?
IN THE BEGINNING
(For a full history of Starbase Studios up through early 2016, read this blog interview first.)
Starbase Studios began in 2010 when Oklahoma City resident JOHN HUGHES discovered the amazing TOS bridge set that had been built way back in 2004 for the Starship Exeter fan series. Unfortunately, the poor set had been left to rot and decay for five years in a Texas barn and was in really bad shape. John wanted to “rescue” and restore the bridge for use in a fan film that he was planning called Starship Ajax. The set’s owners—JIMM AND JOSHUA JOHNSON—agreed to let John become the caretaker for the bridge and transport it to Oklahoma.
Note that I said “caretaker.” Apparently, according to Scott Johnson, there was never a bill of sale or transfer of ownership from the Johnson brothers to John Hughes. In fact, part of their handshake agreement was that John could use the bridge set as much as he wanted for his fan film, but Exeter could also use the sets whenever they wanted; they’d simply need to drive to Oklahoma.
In 2011, John Hughes stepped away from the bridge restoration project and turned over the caretaker and renovation duties to SCOTT JOHNSON and his friend RICHARD WELLS. They were the ones who decided to create an entity known as Starbase Studios that would offer fan film-makers a place to shoot their projects on an amazing TOS bridge set…all for the cost of a small donation to cover electrical usage for the day (about $50 or so). In subsequent years, a transporter and partial sickbay would be added to the bridge set. Later on, a crew quarters was built, and there was even a $3,500 crowd-funding campaign that paid of the creation of a full briefing room and table.
From 2011 through the end of 2016, Starbase Studios lived in a “state of grace,” enjoying free rent in a warehouse in Oklahoma City. But all good things must come to an end, and when the warehouse owner finally decided to sell his property at the end of 2016, Starbase Studios was forced to relocate their amazing TOS sets—including a full 360-degree bridge, a transporter, and a partial sickbay—to a new location in Arkansas.
Before that move, and slightly after, Starbase Studios had been used to shoot a staggering number of Star Trek fan films, including:
Yorktown: A Time to Heal (still in post-production)
The Red Shirt Diaries
The Minard Saga (multiple episodes)
The Federation Files’ “His Name Is Mudd” and “Walking Bear, Running Wolf”
Those last two fan films were produced by GLEN WOLFE, although he also volunteered on a number of other productions. In fact, Glen was an integral part of Starbase Studios projects, as were Scott and “Words.” When it came time to move the sets to another state, Glen rented a small U-Haul truck with his own money to take certain items to the new location. Later on, VANCE MAJOR ran a GoFundMe campaign that generated $3,500 to rent four large moving vans (plus fuel and tolls) to transport the rest of the massive set pieces. Many volunteers helped to load and unload the trucks, including Glen.
As Starbase Studios departed Oklahoma for a new home in Arkansas, a $3,000 payment was made to John Hughes, consisting of $500 each from Scott and “Words” plus $1,000 each from Glen another fan film producer named DAN REYNOLDS (a good friend of Glen’s who worked on The Federation Files). The purpose of this payment is currently a point of disagreement between the two sides in the lawsuit (more on that in Part 2).
Glen believes that the money was essentially intended to purchase the bridge set from John, giving Glen and Dan 1/3 ownership each, and Scott and “Words” 1/6 ownership each. A few months later, during the summer, Dan would step away from the joint ownership group and give his 1/3 stake to Glen.
Scott, however, told me that the sets were never John’s to sell, and that the money was more of a “finder’s fee” or a thank you to John for bringing the sets over from Texas in the first place on his own dime and paying to house them in Oklahoma until the Oklahoma City warehouse with the free rent was found. Basically, they were just paying John back some of the many thousands of dollars he himself had put into the bridge set early. “There’s no bill of sale,” Scott told me, “not Jimm Johnson selling the sets to John or John selling them to us. Glen has a cancelled check for $1,000 from him to John Hughes plus two $500 paypal payments from Dan to John. But there’s no bill of sale or transfer of ownership because we didn’t buy the set.”
Indeed, Scott provided me with a copy of an agreement from 2013 between John and Scott/Richard that transferred the rights of responsibility / control / upkeep and maintenance…but not full ownership.
AND THEN THINGS GOT BAD
Initially, the new location for the sets was supposed to be in a building owned by Dan located in the town of Mountain Home in northern Arkansas. Unfortunately, that building became unavailable at the last minute. Instead, the sets were moved into a different building about an hour west in Marble Falls, AR.
A deal was made with the building’s owner, CHARLES “BUD” PELSOR, to have free rent for a limited period of time. Scott describes “Bud” as “just a good ‘ol boy and a big Star Trek fan.” He was excited to have the sets in his warehouse and was, of course, welcome to come in and visit them at any time.
So what went wrong?
Scott explained, “I used to do the booking for the studio back when it was in Oklahoma City, since I lived nearby. I’d schedule the shoots or the visits, go over and unlock the studio, watch over the sets, etc. But once things moved over to Arkansas, Dan was closer, so we just kinda assumed that he’d take over setting things up. But then we started hearing that Dan was quoting prices of, like, a thousand dollars a day to use the sets! What the f*ck? (Pardon my French.) And then they also wanted to charge extra for using certain props and costumes—like $10/phaser for the day or $15/tricorder—and they wanted to charge separately for their time helping in the studio and with services like directing for $300/day). Can you believe it? It completely shocked a lot of people.”
After some discussion with Scott and “Words,” who still wanted to charge essentially zero to fan films, Glen and Dan agreed to lower what they would charge to a reported $500 for the first day, $400 for the second, and $300 for third. But even these reduced prices were problematic for a number of productions. Vance Major commented, “I was sleeping in my car and eating ramen noodles when I drove from Kansas to Oklahoma City do my shoots at the studio. Charging me in the hundreds or the thousands of dollars…they might as well have been charging me a million dollars!”
For Glen and Dan, the feeling was that there should be an intrinsic value for the privilege of shooting on these sets, as many fan productions had begun to take them for granted. A lot of money went into maintaining them, expanding them, and making them available at certain times for what were usually long shoots late into the night. And that included Dan’s and Glen’s time—even just to be on hand to watch over things—which had some value, as well. Also, the “add on” pricing for things like uniforms and props was because, reportedly, some of those items would occasionally get damaged or mysteriously go “missing.” So charging for their use would cover the cost of replacement if necessary. (Personally, I would have just charged a refundable security deposit, but that’s just me.)
By early summer, Dan had stepped away from Starbase Studios…and by mid-July, Scott, “Words,” and Glen were discussing with “Bud” what to do about rent. After a lengthy meeting, “Bud” generously offered the group another 18 months of free rent (through the end of 2018) in exchange for their help producing a fan film. Yep, “Bud” had caught fan film fever and wanted to try making one of his own! No problem, of course, since that’s what Starbase Studios has always been about, right?
Two and a half weeks later, though, in early August, Scott got a call from the studio saying that things were missing and some stuff was damaged. The police were called, and because there was no sign of forced break-in, they asked who had access to keys. At the time, it was “Bud,” Scott, “Words,” Glen, and Dan…and that’s where the police began their investigation. They headed off to talk to Dan first because it was a small town and they knew him.
When the police returned to give an update, they said they had spoken with Glen’s lawyer, who explained that this was a civil and not a criminal matter. Glen had simply taken possession of his property from a location that he had access to, which they did not consider theft. The cops told the Starbase Studios folks that, until the matter of ownership was settled in court, the police would not be getting involved. The locks were quickly changed.
Here’s a video they shot documenting all the missing items and damage…
I asked to Glen about this incident, and he did not admit to taking anything. However, he did say, “I bought, paid for, and built a lot of sets specifically for my shoot,” [both of The Federation Files episodes] “and have receipts for everything. I have overwhelming documentation to verify my ownership of every item that I bought.” Many of those items were among those removed from the studio.
So what happened next?
Tomorrow: as if things couldn’t get any messier…they get messier. Come back for Part 2 as we take a look at the legal summons filed by Glen, the response from the other side, and a single piece of paper that some are calling “the smoking gun.”