Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A super-fan dreamed of making a fan film covering an era of Star Trek history previously unexplored: approximately twenty years before Kirk’s first five-year mission. This was a couple of years before Discovery was even announced, of course.
With a six-figure budget, a cast of trained Hollywood actors, a professional crew, costumes, props, make-up, and all the trimmings, the original goal was to release this 90-minute feature-length Star Trek fan film in 2016. But that didn’t happen. Although footage was shot back in 2015, it’s now 2020, and the darn thing still isn’t out yet…despite a few teasers/trailers and lots of coverage here on Fan Film Factor. Fans have been patient, of course, but we really are dying to see the finished production at some point—hopefully this year!
A number of very nice sets, including a starship bridge, were built for this fan film—and for the last few years, these sets have been kept in a facility near Atlanta, GA. But the cost of storing these sets has been a financial burden of tens of thousands of dollars. But now that expense is finally ending.
I’ve been referring, of course, to the fan film project STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER, created by KENNY SMITH, that will feature the launch of the brand new USS Enterprise NCC-1701 under the command of its first captain, Robert April. The “Cage” era TOS sets were constructed in 2015 and used for filming later that year and then put into public storage in Marietta, GA (about a half hour north of Atlanta), where Kenny has been paying about $7,000/year to house them.
But truth be told, the sets would probably never have been used again. Indeed, they weren’t even really built to last (unlike the AXANAR sets). But Kenny didn’t have the heart to toss them into the dumpster.
Enter: ALEC PETERS. The same person who built many of these First Frontier sets—SCOTT LYTTLE—is currently working as a volunteer on Axanar (and also helped out with Interlude) doing set construction. (Check out the first five minutes of this video to hear Scott discussing construction of the First Frontier set pieces.) As it turned out, Alec had wanted to shoot some footage for Axanar on the USS Enterprise bridge, and Scott suggested they use Kenny’s old sets…which were just sitting in storage anyway. Long story short, Kenny just donated the sets in their entirety yo Alec, and now their new home is Ares Studios.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Axanews today…!
Last Saturday, between Christmas and New Years, a team of over a dozen local Axanar volunteers of all ages helped Alec clear out Kenny Smith’s storage unit(s) and transport all of the TOS set pieces by truck from Marietta about an hour’s drive to Lawrenceville and then unload everything at Ares Studios.
The “haul” included a couple of bridge stations and turbolift alcove (enough to shoot about a third of the bridge), a transporter platform and steps, a couple of sickbay beds, and a briefing room conference table. As I said, the quality isn’t anywhere near the USS Ares bridge set—the buttons don’t light up, areas need to be sanded down and repainted, and the quality of the wood isn’t as strong—but the framing structure and overall look are still very much intact. A little paint, some new bracing, and a bit of detail work on the console controls, and these babies will easily be ready for the next shoot in February. Kenny is keeping the captain’s chair, but Alec already had an extra one anyway (a TOS Kirk-style chair…in addition to Garth’s command chair on the Ares bridge).
So after all is said and done Ares Studios will be home to the full 360-degree USS Ares bridge, a turbolift, an April/Pike-era 90-degree bridge segment, Garth’s quarters, a transporter room, and the beginnings of a sickbay. In addition, there are slats available to create a partial corridor, and soon the Ares Studios team will be constructing an old-style Klingon bridge set. Not too shabby!
But, wait…I hear you ask: “Where is Alec going to put all of this stuff???” After all, from the videos I’ve posted, Ares Studios is already pretty full! How is there possibly room for all of those new sets?
Well, remember I said there was really HUGE news?
Before I get to that, however, a little update on the “clutter content” of Ares Studios….
It’s true that the warehouse unit that Alec is renting has been holding a lot of extra stuff—most of it swag merchandise (especially patches!) that was sitting in boxes on shelves stuffed into the corner. There were also props, costumes, collectibles…much of it just lying around taking up space (and space is the final frontier, after all!).
Enter: TREY McELWAIN. More specifically, enter Trey about a week before the December Axanar shoot at Ares Studios. Trey and Alec spent a solid week moving the vast majority of the clutter (nearly all of it!) from the studio into Alec’s large basement five minutes drive away. Alec’s basement is now a bit of a disaster, of course, but the studio has usable space that wasn’t available six weeks ago. This is where most of the new and donated sets will be stored.
Not everything will be set up all at once. Slats can be assembled and disassembled and stacked neatly in a corner when not needed. The new bridge consoles can be rolled into position for a day of filming before being “parked” again until needed the next time. And so on. This is the way that many Hollywood studios with standing sets and rotating set pieces work. Some sets are always there while others are put up and then taken down as needed.
But that’s not the HUGE news! That just explains how there was space available to move all this new stuff into the studio and still have room to film anything. No, the really HUGE news is…
Ares Studios is moving!!!
Okay, it’s not moving immediately. In fact, it could be months or even as much as a year away. But when it happens, Ares Studios will have much more space available AND Alec will own the building instead of having to pay rent.
What am I talking about, Willis? Read on…
Lawrenceville is a lovely area, a quaint suburban town 45 minutes from Atlanta with many amenities. But drive another 20 minutes, and the Georgia landscape gets pretty rural…with lots and lots of land available for purchase in nice, quiet, out-of-way areas without traffic noise or passing trains or planes landing at the local airfield (all features of the current Ares Studios location).
As it stands now, monthly rent and utilities on Ares Studios run about $4,000/month….of which around $2,600 comes in monthly from Patreon donations (and that’s a pretty stable amount). Now, imagine instead if Alec were to buy an acre or two of land, put up a 10,000 square-foot metal building, and move the sets there. That same $2,600/month could go into a $300,000 mortgage. Rent would never go up because there would be no rent! And eventually, that mortgage would be paid off in full, and Ares Studios could survive for the cost of utilities, maintenance, and insurance only. And if more space is ever needed, just put up a second (or third) building on the same property…or buy more property.
The only downside is that the studio will be a longer drive from Alec’s house and from nearby amenities like restaurants and shops and hardware stores…but not by that much. And it’ll still be reasonably accessible from the metro Atlanta area and also from the nearby Gwinnett County District Public Schools (which use the Ares Studios sets to help teach filmmaking to their high school students).
But the upsides will far outweigh the downsides, says Alec.
So what’s the time frame on this big move? As I said, it’s uncertain just yet. The idea is reasonably new, Alec having thought of it after considering how GLEN WOLFE and DAN REYNOLDS keep their WARP 66 Studios TOS sets in buildings that they own on inexpensive rural Arkansas properties that belong to both of them. They don’t pay rent, so why should Ares Studios when Alec can afford to do basically the same thing?
Anyway, the wheels are now in motion. And in the meantime, plans are also starting to come together for the first post-Axanar film project—which will not be Star Trek but is still something that Alec is SUPER-excited about…and super-SECRET about. So we’re just gonna have to wait for that huge news another time.
Here’s a video from last Saturday showing the new set pieces arriving and being unloaded from the truck into Ares Studios…
And remember that you can donate to the Ares Studios Patreon here:
And you can donate to help fund the production of Axanar here: