What REALLY happened with STARBASE STUDIOS! (Part 1)

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.)

STARSHIP EXETER bridge set circa 2004

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.

Richard Wells and Scott Johnson

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:

Starship Valiant
Starship Republic
Dreadnought Dominion
Melbourne
Starship Grissom
Yorktown: A Time to Heal (still in post-production)
The Red Shirt Diaries
The Minard Saga (multiple episodes)
Project Defiant
The Federation Files’ “His Name Is Mudd” and “Walking Bear, Running Wolf”

Glen Wolfe loading up the box truck with props and other set-related items.

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.”

30 thoughts on “What REALLY happened with STARBASE STUDIOS! (Part 1)”

    1. Now, now, Dave….remember our agreement. But yes, this is a real mess. I’ve been wanting to report on it for several months, but the participants wanted it kept quiet. Now that a public civil lawsuit has been filed, though, the story is out there. So now I just want to make sure fans have the whole story (or as much as I’ve been cleared to share).

  1. Damn…just…damn…

    Stuff like this just serves to give the fan film community a huge black eye…and draws the wrath of a certain entity who shall not be named…

    Doug

  2. The fans shouldn’t fight among themselves. CBS is a big enough obstacle as it is.
    This is the reason the Fan Films need a united union for Trek.

    1. What would this union do? There’s no way to unite even a few fans without someone disagreeing with someone else. Unions take a lot of work, time, and money to organize. I sure don’t need the hassle as my unpaid day job! 🙂

  3. Re: “Scott, however, told me that the sets were never John’s to sell, and that the money was more of a “finder’s fee” “….

    By that logic, one could say that Alec Peters does not own the Axanar sets. He could sell them off and be given a “finders fee” too. Its ridiculous. From what I gather, put less than $1000 into the sets, and Glen Wolfe spent a small fortune (In the thousands). What right does Scott have to claim ownership of something he barely put any money towards?

    Finders fee…. were any taxes paid on that? No? Good luck using that logic in court.

    1. Ah, but Scott is NOT claiming ownership of the sets. As you’ll see in Part 2, the response states that, technically, the bridge set is still the property of the Johnson brothers. The rest of the sets were all part of Starbase Studios, the end result of hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars in donations from many volunteers…including Glen. If anything is owned by anyone, it’s the entity that is Starbase Studios itself.

      1. Which seems to be part of the issue. Scott and “Words” registered Starbase Studios, but didn’t include Glen in that decision, so it sounds like he took his toys and left. Why would you register something unless you were expecting to make a profit?

        By the way, will part 2 mention how Scott Johnson offered to give all the sets to Alec Peters in the Fall of 2017, to store at his new location, rather than let Glen Wolfe take the stuff?

        1. Actually, I was the one who suggested that they might want to store the sets in Georgia if they couldn’t find a location in Arkansas that was offering free rent (Bud’s offer of no rent through the end of 2018 didn’t happen until July). And that idea was quickly shot down by everyone! The SS folks didn’t want to deal with moving everything that far away, and Alec didn’t have the space available. And it wasn’t the fall when I made the suggestion; it was back during the spring (can’t remember which month).

          As for registering Starbase Studios as an LLC, Glen was offered an opportunity to be a part of the Starbase Studios LLC that was created back in July. He declined. According to Scott and Vance, Glen told them that he didn’t want to be connected to the studio itself. He didn’t want to deal with running it or scheduling or any of that hassle. But Glen wanted a separate LLC for the “owners” of the bridge set. The LLC for Starbase Studios was intended simply to protect individuals in case someone got injured on the set and sued. Honestly, I think that was a wise move. But it was Glen’s decision not to be a part of the Starbase Studios LLC. As for the “bridge owners” LLC, before the details of that could be worked out, the removal of items happened and the “who owns what” controversy started. So I’m guessing there won’t be any “bridge owners” LLC any time soon.

    2. S’bok, if I give you the title to a car(gift it to you), and I write a statement that I am transferring control/ownership of that car to you, if your friend helps you with repairs(but puts more money in because he has more than you) does he own the car?

      That document of transfer states that the bridge set is owned by star base studios, whose CEO’s at the time were Scott and Kent. Unless Glenn can produce a document stating he has assumed some form of control of the studio(simply putting in money would not suffice). Putting in money makes him an investor, it doesn’t give him control or ownership of assets that never belonged to him in the first place.

      Yep I get that Glenn might want his “sunk cost” paid back in some form, but taking items with you have no title of ownership to, is still theft no matter how you parse it. When this gets dismissed(I am assuming “chain of custody will show Glenn has no rights to studio sets) Glenn will be facing court orders to return studio property, and criminal charges.

      1. Glen is pinning a lot of his argument on the $3,000 paid to John Hughes at the end of 2016 (of which, $2,000 came from Glen and Dan). In Glen’s mind, that constituted a purchase, and he and Dan now own 2/3 of the bridge (although not the rest of the sets…except those items that were Glen’s “property”). Scott and Words contend that the payment to John was simply a finder’s fee (they didn’t actually call it that at first–Scott said it was a “thank you,” and I asked if he meant “finder’s fee,” and he said, yeah, I could call it that), as they wanted to acknowledge the money that John had put in getting the bridge to OKC in the first place and making Starbase Studios possible. Now that the bridge was moving hundreds of miles away, John wouldn’t have the easy access that he used to.

        The problem I see with Glen’s argument here is that there’s no bill of sale or transfer of ownership…only a $3,000 payment. If I buy a used car from someone, they need to transfer ownership. If I buy a Snickers bar at Rite Aid, they give me a receipt telling me I’ve just bought a Snickers bar. Because John Hughes didn’t provide anyone any paperwork saying, “You just bought my bridge; it’s now yours…” the money paid to him would, indeed, be legally considered, as Scott and Words claim, just a gift. (As for taxes, I believe that, as long as the gift is less than $14,000, no taxes are owed on it. Someone feel free to double-check me.)

      2. Sets are different though. The Exeter bridge was never a finished bridge (not a full “circle”). My understanding is that Glen bought and paid for materials to build new parts of the missing bridge. If he didn’t like changes made to whatever agreement he had with Scott and Words, he was in his right to take his stuff back.

        1. Well, that’s the question, though. Does Glen’s signature on that waiver contract negate his claims of ownership? After signing it, all of his efforts in building those sets became volunteer donations to Starbase Studios. Also, he did not build out the rest of that bridge all by himself. There were many other volunteers involved, as well. As I said in my follow-up blog, if you volunteer with Habitat for Humanity to build a house, you don’t get to own that house, or even a portion of it, when it’s finished.

  4. “What the f*ck? (Pardon my French.)”
    For instance, your french is correct 😉

    It is clear that, again, troubles arrive with lack of precision in legal-related matters. Relations based on money and ownership are frequently ending this way and generally with some obvious abuse. Will a StarBaseMonitor appear now to say someone was willing to make money with unlicensed stuff ?
    It is really sad to see so many dark sides behind the scenes…

    1. Sometimes salience is mistaken for tendency. In other words, a really big controversy like this is suddenly seen as the “new normal” for fan films. It isn’t. It’s simply one rather heated and public disagreement among a whole bunch of other fan films getting along just fine.

      But having spoken with both sides, I have come to realize that a lot of fan films are made based solely on happy conversations and handshakes. And that’s fine to a point. The smaller fan films are usually fine with that. But the STCs and Axanars of the world, those have layers and layers of intricate paperwork, accountants, lawyers, etc. And many times, they have to.

      Starbase Studios existed in a space between the two extremes. Unfortunately, there was less paperwork than there probably should have been…and that’s completely understandable. Lawyers cost money. And if you aren’t being sued, why “waste” your money hiring someone to write a silly contract when it’s just a fun fan project among friends? A few years later, though, and that lack of paperwork is coming back to bite them all on the derriere!

  5. The more I hear about the legal problems these people using hard sets have, the happier I am with my decision to work with animation/machinima.
    All I have to do is credit 900 people for voice acting and making game mods.

  6. Wow!

    At least the main structure of the bridge set is still there and largely undamaged. The briefing room and sickbay can be repaired, and the crew quarters can be rebuilt. (I know, it will cost $$$ but it can be done.)

    As far as the legal ramifications are concerned, I have the feeling that by the tim the dust finally settles this is going to make the CBS/Paramount v Axanar lawsuit look like a church social!

      1. Yeah, actually, the sets were never a part of the lawsuit. In fact, they couldn’t be because they had not yet been finished. The infringement items in question were Prelude and the Vulcan Scene…and neither had any significant sets that weren’t virtual.

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