If you hear the words “Star Trek” and “Scotland,” chances are you’ll immediately think of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott. But do you think of NICK COOK and the cast and crew of the STAR TREK: INTREPID fan series? You should…because Intrepid is currently the longest-running Star Trek fan series still in active production (and there’s no end in sight).
Even though their first episode didn’t premiere until 2007, production actually began way back in 2003—before there was YouTube!—and you could count the total number of Trek fan series on one hand (well, maybe you’d need a couple of fingers from your second hand, too).
Since then, Intrepid has released twelve fan films PLUS an additional three crossover fan films with STAR TREK: HIDDEN FRONTIER…and has also had its characters make cameos in three (soon to be four) additional fan series.
A resident of the city of Dundee on the eastern coast of Scotland, Nick Cook is the unstoppable force behind Star Trek: Intrepid (now simply “Intrepid,” as the fan film guidelines no longer allow the use of the words “Star Trek” in a fan film’s title). Nick is well known in the fan film community and generally considered one of the nicest guys out there…and I heartily agree!
I recently shared a trip down Memory Lane (no relation to yours truly) with Nick to look back at the full 15-plus-year history of this much-respected fan series from his perspective. We started with the very early years…
JONATHAN – Nick, if we want to learn the “secret origin” of Intrepid, how far back should we ask the Guardian of Forever to take us?
NICK- I ran the local Trek fan club from about 1993 up until around 2002. We would meet up every 6-8 weeks and watch new episodes of Star Trek as they came across from the US (back then, there was a much longer delay between them airing in the US and the UK). By 2002, though, the Internet had really changed the way these things worked, and a lot of people were just downloading them at home and not coming to the club as much. I was also getting busier with work, so between declining attendance and my own declining free time, I decided to fold the club.
JONATHAN- Okay, end of story—that was a quick interview! Thanks for sharing, Nick. [We both laugh.] Sorry, you were saying…
NICK- Well, a core group of us, mostly those who had known each other for years before (some of whom had helped form and manage the club) had also had a Star Trek role-playing group going for years, and we were keen to keep doing something Trek-related for fun. I’d seen some early Hidden Frontier episodes at that point, as well as the first STARSHIP EXETER film, but doing a fan film wasn’t something I’d really considered. Instead, I suggested an audio novel.
JONATHAN- Oh, was there an Intrepid audio drama first?
NICK: No, we never did one. It was actually DYLAN FEENEY, who would eventually compose our theme tune, who suggested we do a fan film. STEVE HAMMOND, who did much of the heavy lifting on our first episode, chimed in to say he had a camcorder…and it all took off from there.
Our initial plan was for me to write the script and make the costumes. Steve would film and direct (he also ended up editing and doing most of the compositing). Many of the group would end up playing their roleplaying characters. My wife LUCY as the Trill Yanis Caed, DAVID REID as the Romulan/Human S’Ceris, ALAN SCORE as Aaron Prentice, and our late friend GORDON DICKSON as a new character Joseph Garran (originally a Bajoran called Garin).
Steve ended up pulling double duty as Merchant Service Captain Jago Merik and MIKE CUGLEY as Rick Garran (Jospeh’s adoptive brother). Later, STEVE PASQUA would come on board as Matthew Cole and LYN McGARRITY as Governor Finney. As time went by, we roped in a number of people as extras and to help behind the scenes.
JONATHAN- So you made those wonderful costumes, huh? I see them as some of the best 24th century uniforms in all of fan filmdom.
NICK- Thanks. I’d been making Trek costumes for a few years at this point, so I was essentially the costume department. I made everything we used in the first episode, though to be fair, I’d made quite a few of those costumes before we started work on the film. I also designed and made the Merchant Service costumes.
JONATHAN – I’m just curious, if you made all of the costumes yourself, why weren’t they all the same gray-shoulder style that was used in late DS9 and the last three TNG movies? Why do a mix?
NICK – I decided to use a mix of costumes because I liked the concept of different uniform styles for different roles. I felt it was more visually interesting, and honestly more real world military, as well. It didn’t hurt that we’d seen them do this a bit on DS9, even as late as season 6.
JONATHAN – Your first episode, the 47-minute “Heavy Lies the Crown,” featured a mix of scenes filmed on simple sets, scenes shot in front of green screen, and outdoor scenes filmed on location. What location(s) did you use to shoot the outside scenes, and how did you choose it/them?
NICK – The exterior scenes were shot in a place called Glen Doll. It’s about an hour drive from where we live, through some pretty windy (and often single track) roads. There’s no cellphone signal out there either, and other than a ranger station, a farm, and a hotel, it’s mostly pretty unspoiled forest and hills. It’s a very striking, beautiful place. I’d been hiking and camping there a few times when I was younger, and I knew it well enough that it seemed like a good place to shoot.
There weren’t any exterior scenes in the original script. I added them in much later when I realised it would be much more interesting to get us off the ship and away from the green screens. Steve Hammond often jokes about how I sprung the news to him that I’d written exterior scenes one day while we were chatting on the bus. I think I did stuff like that to him a lot. (It’s worth noting that he didn’t have grey hair when we started shooting.)
JONATHAN – Let me ask you about the green screen stuff. There are some scenes on the bridge where you can see an officer at helm, you in the captain’s chair behind her, and your wife Lucy at the tactical station behind you—three layers of depth plus the CGI background. Did you digitally composite those layers together, or were they shot that way with the three of you in frame at the same time. (I know that the Netherlands-based fan series DARK ARMADA did digital layer compositing.)
NICK – We had thought about doing layering, but we never did try it. All the shots you see were careful camera work. And if people were in the frame together, that’s how we shot it. Steve Hammond deserves credit for those shots working because he’s always had a good eye for framing, and it really made a difference.
JONATHAN – You had some very nice background interior graphics for an Intrepid-class starship. Who did your CGI?
NICK – JEFF HAYES was kind enough to build the bridge set for us. Steve did a couple of tours (the transporter room and Finney’s office). The mess hall set was loaned to us by ROB CAVES [of Star Trek: Hidden Frontier in California –Jonathan] , though I think it was also built by Jeff Hayes.
JONATHAN – Speaking of Rob Caves, almost from the very beginning, Intrepid had a very close connection with him and with Hidden Frontier. How did that relationship begin?
NICK – At the time, I posted a very premature message on the old Hidden Frontier forums, announcing our intent to produce a film. Rob was very supportive, and very kindly worked with us to have RISHA DENNEY film a guest spot for our first episode playing Captain Elizabeth Shelby. That onscreen relationship between my character of Daniel Hunt and Shelby turned out to be one of those “lightening in a bottle” moments that—for whatever reason—people just seemed to enjoy, and we revisited it more than once during several crossovers with Hidden Frontier.
One of the other advantages of chatting on the HF forums is that I got to know LEE ANDREW, who at the time was planning to produce his own fan series. Lee ended up doing many of the effects shots on that first film, as well as all the sound work (he would continue that role on several subsequent films). DENNIS BAILEY (who co-wrote the TNG episode “Tin Man”) was kind enough to provide a few shots for us, as well.
We were also lucky enough to connect with South African musician DAVID BEUKES, who would do a such fantastic job scoring that first episode for us.
JONATHAN – So how long did it end up taking, in total, to complete your first episode?
NICK – We officially started work on Intrepid in August 2003. We very naively thought it’d take us about a year to make the first film. We were off by a couple years! It was finally released on 26 May 2007.
JONATHAN – Four years, huh? Why do you think it took so long?
NICK – Largely inexperience. We really didn’t have a clue what we were doing, and we (I) utterly underestimated the sheer amount of work involved. There were a lot of false starts. Adding exterior shooting didn’t help either, and that probably added a good few months at least to the production. Weather was often a problem, and there were times we ended up re-shooting scenes because we weren’t happy with them. One scene in particular (the “we’re Starfleet you idiot” scene) was shot three times. The third time because we had to abandon the first re-shoot due to rain. We were literally drenched and frozen on the middle of an exposed, windy, Scottish hillside.
But you want to hear something funny? We were on the news internationally a year before we ever finished our first film!
JONATHAN – Really? How did that happen?
NICK – I think it was 2006 when the Starship Farragut team scored a front page article in The New York Times focussing on fan films. As luck would have it, there really weren’t a huge number in production at that time, so we earned a single line mention “…there is a Scottish production in the works at www.ussintrepid.org.uk.” [NOTE: that is no longer their Web address. You can now find them at http://www.starshipintrepid.net -Jonathan.
Within hours, every major news outlet in the U.K. was trying to contact me. It was nuts! We were featured in most of the major U.K. print news, and the UK breakfast show, GMTV, did a feature on us. As part of that feature, they asked that we feature LORRAINE KELLY, who is pretty much daytime TV royalty over here, in our film. We could hardly say no, which meant a frantic flurry of activity trying to write her a scene and set up to shoot it.
In addition, we were interviewed by CNN and German outlet ZDF. There were others, but I don’t recall them all at the moment.
JONATHAN – Wow, a meteoric rise to stardom!
NICK – Something like that.
JONATHAN – Okay, let’s talk about your second fan film—which wasn’t exclusively Intrepid. You did a full-on crossover with Hidden Frontier…multiple ones, in fact!
Next week: Star Trek: Intrepid hits its stride as Nick and crew team up with the folks at Star Trek: Hidden Frontier for not just one, not just two, but THREE crossover fan films! And the crews get an on-set, in-person visit from a fellow with the last name of RODDENBERRY! Plus, we also talk about the next FIVE Intrepid fan film releases.