The history of STAR TREK: INTREPID (interview with NICK COOK, part 3)

In part 1 and part 2, we met NICK COOK and the crew of STAR TREK: INTREPID, a long-running Star Trek fan series based out of Dundee, Scotland. Starting off production waaaaaaay back in 2003, Intrepid is (at the time of this writing) the longest continuously-active Trek fan series still filming episodes.

By 2011, Intrepid had already released six episodes with run-times ranging from 6 minutes to 47 minutes. They also released three different crossover episodes, produced in conjunction with STAR TREK: HIDDEN FRONTIER. The first of these crossovers, ORPHANS OF WAR, came out in 2007. The second, OPERATION BETA SHIELD, followed a year later. There was no crossover in 2009, but 2010 saw the final joint Star Trek: Intrepid/Hidden Frontier production: ONE OF OUR OWN. Take a look…

When last we left off in our interview, I’d just asked Nick how this third crossover came to be…

NICK COOK at the iconic Vasquez Rocks north of Los Angeles

NICK – One of Our Own was a different kettle of fish. We had a vacation planned and knew we’d be in Los Angeles. A group of us from Intrepid and HF did a road trip to Yosemite from L.A. and back that summer of 2010. So I suggested doing another short team up.

Rob said yes, so I had to come up with a story. I thought the idea of Shelby chasing down a rumour that Lefler wasn’t dead might be interesting. The twist being: it’s not Lefler, but they end up helping someone anyway, and Shelby gets some sort of closure. As always, it never quite turns out as the way you envision it, but for what it is, I think it’s still a fun piece, even if the narrative could have been clearer.

JONATHAN – I was actually going to ask you if you’d come to America to film that one. If you watch the fan film, the two of you are never on the screen at the same time except at the very end, which could have been a split screen composite. But you and RISHA DENNEY (the actor who played Elizabeth Shelby) were actually doing that scene together in the same place?

NICK – Yes, Risha and I delivered our lines together for all the shuttle scenes in One of Our Own. I always liked the interplay between those two characters and have to credit Risha for much of that. At the time, I’d have been far too nervous to take some of those risks if she hadn’t first. I’d still love to revisit that some day.

JONATHAN – One of Our Own also had some exterior shots of you that were very green and lush. I’m assuming those were NOT filmed in dry California during your summer trip?

NICK – The exterior scenes were shot in July, at an abandoned train tunnel in Scotland.

JONATHAN – Now, One of Our Own was a pretty short fan film, with a runtime of only 7 minutes and 44 seconds (over a minute of which was credits). So that one was probably fairly easy to shoot and edit. But Operation: Beta Shield, however, had a run-time of an hour and seven minutes…

NICK – Beta Shield was much more complex. We knew the Intrepid cast would only have so many days to shoot their scenes, so Rob shot everything that didn’t involve us before we flew out to L.A. DAVID REID, who plays S’Ceris, was unable to make the shoot, so his role was minimal and written to allow us to shoot it in Scotland. I think Rob did a pretty effective job of integrating him into the interrogation scene.

JONATHAN – So why did you stop at “just” three crossovers? Rob was still making fan films in 2011, although he began retiring from Star Trek fan films shortly thereafter.

NICK – No, we didn’t do one in 2011, and after that, yes, Rob got out of the fan film game. But never say “never.” If there was an opportunity, and it was practical, I’m pretty sure we’d all be willing to reunite.

JONATHAN – Now I’d like to transition to what is perhaps your most famous episode (and the first Star Trek: Intrepid that I saw), “The Stone Unturned.” This 30-minute episode came out in May of 2013 and featured GILES ASTON as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. So how did Giles wind up as Picard on the USS Intrepid?

NICK – I hadn’t met Giles before he came to do the shoot, so it was something of a leap of faith for him to do it. I’d seen some links he did for the UK Sci Fi channel back around the mid 2000s and thought it would be fun if we could get him to appear. I never really thought it would happen, but I dropped him an email anyway and was genuinely surprised when he expressed an interest in doing it.

JONATHAN -Now, Giles was well-known as a Patrick Stewart impersonator. Did you guys write the script first and then seek him out to play the part, or did you write in Picard because you knew Giles would be appearing?

NICK – Honestly, I don’t think we even had a script at the point I first reached out to him. But BRIAN S. MATTHEWS did a pretty good job at coming up with a concept and fleshing out a story in short order. Once we had a script it all came together pretty quickly.

JONATHAN – How was it bringing in someone who was completely new to the Intrepid team? Were there any problems, or did things go completely smoothly?

NICK – Oh, no problems. He was a lot of fun to work with. Giles would be quick to tell you he isn’t an actor, but he genuinely worked his ass off. The script really does revolve around him, and what he did was largely responsible for making it work. I do feel guilty that we worked him so hard though, it was three full days and very full on, but he never once complained.

JONATHAN – In addition to Giles, obviously you appeared a lot in this episode. But your wife, LUCIE FARIA-COOK, also played a significant role this time. What was it like doing so many scenes with your spouse?

NICK – Sharing the screen with my wife was similarly fun and challenging. I tend to be the bossy one in real life, so it’s kind of fun to flip the script. Lucy wouldn’t call herself an actor either, and she’s not terribly confident doing it, but she had an awful lot to do in this one. I think she did great.

Talking of Lucy, there’s a moment towards the end of the film when Caed escapes from Coleb and makes a run for it. She slips and falls before scrabbling to her feet again. That wasn’t scripted; Lucy actually slipped and fell. It looked so good it made the cut. I think we even made her do it another couple of times, but ended up using the original fall.

JONATHAN – Oh, I’m sure she was thrilled you made her do all those extra falls for nothing! So when was “The Stone Unturned” actually filmed?

NICK – Back in 2008.

JONATHAN – It took you FIVE YEARS to finish and release this episode??

NICK – There’s a couple of reasons. The first was we needed to ADR a lot of the film [ADR is re-recording clean-sounding dialog to lay over a scene with bad sound after it is shot -Jonathan]. For most of the cast, that wasn’t an issue, but Giles was a lot harder to organise. Eventually, my friend Bruce Wilson, who’s an anesthetist in London, kindly agreed to record Giles’ lines there.

Another issue we had was one of the scenes was really hard to cut. There’s a scene about half way through, where Picard comes clean and explains what’s going on to Hunter and S’Ceris. This was one of the last scenes shot on the last day, and the last scene for Giles. It was long and full of lots of exposition. We were all pretty spent, and Giles had some really long tracts of dialogue—and it was just proving too much at that point. I ended up trimming the dialogue as we were shooting, and we eventually reworked the scene in the edit. But that held us up, as well. All things considered, though, I think it turned out alright.

JONATHAN – The next episode to be released was “Transposition” in September 2015. That was a pretty short one, running only about 6 and a half minutes. When was that one shot?

NICK – We shot “Transposition” in March 2015. It was a fairly straightforward production by comparison to some. I’d always wanted to shoot something at our local observatory, and this script just happened to work. We basically had the entire building to play in, which was great fun. The local council were very helpful and accommodating. Storywise, I rather liked the idea of a time travel mission where the crew actually fail in their mission, and I think that sets it apart a little from other such stories.

This episode was also dedicated to GORDON L. DICKSON, who had been such an important part of the production. He had died suddenly in 2014, and as I recall, this was the first film we shot after his death.

JONATHAN -And then the last Star Trek: Intrepid episode to be released—before the fan film guidelines made you remove the “Star Trek” from your title—was “Nemo Me Impune Lacessit.” This 11-minute episode came out in April 2016…just two months before the guidelines. When was this one filmed?

NICK – I think it was 2012.

JONATHAN – Another one that took years to finish, huh?

NICK – Yes. The episode initially started off as an exterior shoot in an abandoned train tunnel (the same one we used for One of Our Own). We planned to shoot most of it in the tunnel, but weather conditions were too problematic. Barring one scene, we ended up going home and shooting it all on green screen.

Unfortunately, we did a pretty poor job of lighting it, so it kind of languished for a while until Leo Tierney, of STAR TREK:L DECEPTION, came along and did cracking a job of keying it. Leo really is a magician who made our bad lighting look pretty good.

We finally released that one in April 2016, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I still think it’s one of our better films to this day.

As I mentioned, our friend Gordon Dickson died in 2014. And even though his character of Kashid-Zar hadn’t been intended to physically appear in this film, we nevertheless felt it was fitting to give him a brief appearance using footage from Turning Point and a little clever FX work from Leo.

JONATHAN – Two months after you released that episode, CBS and Paramount announced their fan film guidelines. How did you and your team react to that?

NICK – After the guidelines where released, we chose to suspend production, ultimately very briefly, so we could assess how those guidelines would affect us. Once we realised we could easily work within the spirit of the guidelines, and that they were, in fact, guidelines and not a straitjacket, we resumed production.

JONATHAN – So your next release, “Duty of Care,” came out in January of 2017, the first Intrepid episode to debut after the guidelines and the first not to have Star Trek in its title.

NICK – It wasn’t a terribly difficult change to make.

JONATHAN – And when was that episode filmed?

NICK – Barring Hunter’s brief appearance, “Duty of Care” was shot on location at Tentsmuir Beach near Dundee on a single day in May 2016. The Hunter footage was shot later that month.

JONATHAN – So this episode was filmed just before the guidelines were announced, although released afterward. Anything particularly noteworthy about “Duty of Care”?

NICK – Well, this was the first time I really directed one, and while I think it has its flaws, I also feel it’s some of our strongest work, in both the script and the performances. And I think the two lead actors were just perfect. There are always things we’re not happy about with these films, and this one’s no exception, but it’s probably the film I’m most happy with.

JONATHAN – Okay, so your most recent release was “The Story” in February 2018. Was that one shot after the guidelines came out?

NICK – As a matter of fact, no. We shot that whole episode in a single day in May 2015 on location at an abandoned Lime Kiln at Boddin Point. Barring a small costuming hiccup, I think this one turned out pretty well. I’m particularly proud of the old school matte painting JAMES AVALOS created for the final ruined cityscape.

JONATHAN – So what’s up next for Intrepid?

NICK – Looking ahead, we have three films currently in various stages of post production. The first is “Dissonant Minds.”

JONATHAN – And you shot that one after the guidelines, right?

NICK – No.

JONATHAN – What is it with you guys???

NICK – “Dissonant Minds” has proven a real problem. The exterior scenes were shot on location back in 2012. We’ve done a few extra pick-up shoots since then, the last of which were in February and April 2018. We made a lot of mistakes in that one, and it’s taken a long time for us to turn it into something sort of coherent. I’m hopeful it might be finished this year, but it will certainly be finished before 2020 passes.

JONATHAN – Well, at least a few of those pick-up shots you just mentioned were shot after the guidelines. Anything else?

NICK – Quite a bit, actually! “Destruct Sequence” was shot post guidelines the weekend of 22nd January, 2017. It was written by STEVE HAMMOND, and he’s tackling the edit himself. I don’t know when that is likely to be finished, but it’s entirely green screen. So I think it’s a good couple of years off.

JONATHAN – So if “Destruct Sequence” is still a couple of years away, then what will be next after “Dissonant Minds”?

NICK – “A Treasure for the Ages” is in post and awaiting some effects and sound design. SAM COCKINGS has performed his usual magic on the space scenes, and JON CARLING is working on some green screen shots for us. I have a firm release date of April 2020 for that one, and I’m confident we’ll make it. Running time is 15 minutes.

A sample storyboard page from “A Treasure for the Ages” drawn by James Avalos (click to enlarge)…

JONATHAN – And when was that episode shot?

NICK – “A Treasure for the Ages” was shot throughout 2018 and 2019. The interiors were shot aboard the RRS Discovery on 27th June 2018 and at a local monastery called The Friary on 19th of January. Exterior shooting took place in February and April 2019.

They found the nuclear wessels!

JONATHAN – Cool. Anything else in the pipeline?

NICK – We have two more 30 minute films planned. The first of these, “Echoes,” is not cast and will be going into production shortly. We’ll be shooting the green screen interiors this winter, and the exteriors will be shot in the spring. “Echoes” will involve some time travel shenanigans, and I think people will appreciate what we’re trying to do with this one. I think it’s likely we’re going to run a small crowd-funder to help with the production costs, but we’ll see how that goes.

And last up is “Down This Road Before” by DAVID EVERSOLE. I’ve had this script in hand for some time, and I’m really looking forward to shooting it once “Echoes” is in the can. David’s written a really lovely little tale for us. We’ve had to trim it down a bit to fit within the guidelines, but I think we’ve managed to maintain the core of the story pretty well.

JONATHAN – Speaking of the guidelines, let me ask you one last question: do you think the guidelines have damaged Star Trek fan films in a significant way?

NICK – I think the current fan film environment is actually pretty healthy. I know some people are unhappy, but I think for most of us, the reality is that nothing has really changed. Yeah, the days of five- and six-figure crowd-funded budgets are over, but again, for most of us that’s not an issue.

So I’m generally pretty optimistic about the future of fan films. I think we have much to look forward to.

You can watch all of the Intrepid fan films here.

6 thoughts on “The history of STAR TREK: INTREPID (interview with NICK COOK, part 3)”

  1. Really interesting articles, especially as I’m from the UK as well, it nice to here of something closer to home.

    I remember seeing Nick Cook in an independent sci-fi film called ‘Odyssey’ or ‘destiny’, I could be wrong about the names. It wasn’t trek, it was original. I wish I could find it again and find out if any more episodes have been done. Perhaps Nick could let us know?

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