The history of STARSHIP VALIANT! (Part 4)

In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, we watched how the fan series STARSHIP VALIANT grew from the aborted STARSHIP AJAX fan project, utilizing the 360-degree TOS bridge set at STARBASE STUDIOS in Oklahoma City. The brainchild of local resident MICHAEL L. KING, who would play the main character of Jackson Bishop, Valiant was the first completed fan production to film at Starbase Studios back in late 2013. They released their debut fan film, “LEGACY,” the following summer at SoonerCon 2014. Then in 2015, they released a special edition of “Legacy” with a freshly-added scene that introduced new characters on screen that hadn’t been seen in the original version, including VANCE MAJOR as Chief Engineer Erick Minard and DAVID COX as Chief Medical Officer Dr. Roger Floyd.

The Starship Valiant team headed into 2016 with plans to produce a much more ambitious second project, a 90-minute fan film titled “THE TIES THAT BIND,” and they were able to shoot the first ten minutes during the summer of that year. (You can view that segment here.) But just as they were filming those scenes, CBS announced new fan film guidelines that effectively killed any possibility for a single episode longer than 30 minutes. For a few months, plans for further work on “Ties” were put on hold.

However, at the same time, Vance Major decided to expand upon his character of Erick Minard in a new series of fan films, and some of these projects also featured Michael King as Captain Bishop. This included MINARD, THE VALHALLA STONE, a new fan series called MELBOURNE: “Storm Front”, and a crossover with fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION called CHAIN OF COMMAND. Each of those included footage shot at Starbase Studios in 2016 and were released in either 2016 or 2017.

In the meantime, Michael made a decision to move forward with Starship Valiant and continue filming “The Ties that Bind.” But because director BRADY FOSTER had picked up some professional production work outside of the country, shooting had to be scheduled for after he returned in November. But that wasn’t much of a problem—the Starbase Studios sets weren’t going anywhere.

Or were they…?

The main reason that Starbase Studios could continue to exist—free for use by any fan production willing to pay a nominal cost solely for electricity used during their shoot—was the fact that they paid no rent. The owner of the building in Oklahoma City used it primarily for temporary storage of estate sale items and had ample room to spare—plus he was a Star Trek fan. But in November, he announced to the Starbase Studios folks had he’d sold the property and that everything had to be out of the building no later than December 31!

Starbase Studios gets ready to leave Oklahoma City.

“When the news came that Starbase Studios had lost the lease to their building and had to be out by end of December,” says Michael, “we realized that shooting there at a scale that we had planned was just out of the question.” Plans were quickly made to disassemble the TOS sets that had been housed there—the bridge, sickbay, transporter, and briefing room—and move them to a location in Arkansas called Dogpatch, where an offer had been made to house them at least temporarily without paying rent.

But Michael wasn’t quite ready yet to simply walk away from the studio where he and his team had accomplished so much. “Valiant holds a special place in the heart of the studio,” Michael explains. “I decided that I wanted to make a final film to represent what the studio had meant to me. So I literally wrote the 14-page script for ‘CROSSES TO BEAR’ in about a week, did all the planning, casting, and begging everyone that I could find to help behind the scenes, and we shot the film in one day.”

Michael King with the child stars of “Crosses to Bear” (right-to-left) sisters Reagan Mahaffay, Presley Reese (who played the two ill sisters) and Hudson Mahaffay (who appeared in a flashback sequence)

“I must wholeheartedly thank RICHARD WELLS, who along with SCOTT JOHNSON (who created some beautiful lighting akin to the original series), JOHN HUGHES and a few others for constructing the sickbay and doing additions to it for the shoot. And then there’s DAN REYNOLDS, who came all the way down from Arkansas to not only shoot the film but edit and do the sound mix on it as well. Also thanks to GLEN WOLFE for assisting as my first A.D. on the film and supplying all the props. We all knew that we were creating the final film at the studio, and it was a moving experience but bittersweet, as well. ‘Legacy’ became the first film ever shot and released in Oklahoma, and ‘Crosses’ was the last shot and released at Starbase Studios: Oklahoma.”

Michael continues, remembering his first time directing: “Although I was under quite a great deal of pressure to get the shoot done quickly as to not impede the studio break-down, I managed to get in two rehearsals with the cast. I had some very good people in terms of acting, and everyone knew their lines…so much so that we managed to shoot the film and get done a day early. I owe a great deal of thanks to everyone involved and a special thanks to my good friend Scott Johnson, who has always stood behind the Valiant productions and given his all to help them succeed.”

You can actually get a little taste of Michael directing a scene rehearsal in this fun little video…

Michael describes the theme of this film: “It’s about dignity…dignity in death and keeping those that move on to the other side dignified in our minds and souls…honoring those that we care about and healing those wounds that cut deep inside of us. It’s about forgiveness and how, no matter the circumstances, sometimes we need each other to forgive ourselves. It’s about humans caring for one another and helping one another to heal.”

Some fans saw “Crosses” as too dark, not just in terms of theme but also the lighting in its opening scenes in sickbay. However, this was very much on purpose. “There’s a lot of things in the film that I wanted a specific way, and it was for a reason,” say Michael. “Many folks might look at the picture and wonder why a certain thing was done a certain way. Well, it’s that way for a reason, and it’s my vision for the film. There’s an awful lot of dread in the vignette, and my personal feelings are all over the subject matter like a fingerprint on the wall. It’s a confined, subdued story that really hasn’t been touched on in a fan film in this manner. I chose to limit the amount of light; the spatial shots are dark and quiet but at the same time, to counter the dread, we see people who genuinely care and are touched by the situation—so there’s always a shadow of hope. One thing to remember: there is always room for hope.”

Unlike the other Valiant productions, Michael didn’t appear in “Crosses.” In fact, the time frame is prior to “Legacies,” and Captain Jeffrey Clark appears briefly. The main character who is featured is Dr. Floyd. “I like fleshing characters out,” Michael mentions. “I like making people real, and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that, so I chose the doctor. More than that though, we only had a certain amount of time to film the story, and Cox was already here in Oklahoma. I knew that he had the acting chops and presence to carry the story so he was the perfect choice. Watching the film now, I am amazed at just how natural and commanding he is. He goes through a wide range of emotions in the picture, and I think his performance allows fans to empathize with his dilemma.”

The real McCoy? No, it’s Frank Jenks!

“Crosses to Bear” also marked the fan film debut of cosplayer FRANK JENKS, who is a dead ringer for a young Dr. Leonard McCoy and makes a cameo as this iconic character. Frank would go on to appear as McCoy in “Walking Bear, Running Wolf” and “The Equinox Effect” from THE FEDERATION FILES, in LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, and AROUND THE WORLD AND FOREVER and WITHOUT REWARD from Vance Major.

“Crosses” was filmed and completed amazingly quickly, premiering on YouTube on December 9, 2016—even before the final removal of the TOS sets from Oklahoma…

The Starbase Studios sets were moved about 5 hours drive east to neighboring Arkansas in a place called Dogpatch and started being reassembled in early 2017. On February 6th, Michael began writing a new Valiant script, “ANIMALS.” Michael describes the story “…that at its core was an extension of the ideals and spirit of the original series. It’s a story that examines the human condition and a moral lesson on how we all can be be better if we so choose.”

The script called for scenes on the bridge, in sickbay, and in an outdoor wilderness location. Michael went scouting with director of photography Brady Foster and lighting wiz Scott Johnson and decided on the staggeringly majestic Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge about 2 hours southwest of Oklahoma City near the town of Lawton, OK. You can check out the scouting “mission” in this stunning video…

The cast would include two professional actors, PRESLEY REESE (“Ellie”) and JOSIAH OVERSTREET (“Hilton”). Presley previously played the role of Sara, the younger sister who passed away first in “Crosses to Bear.” (Presley’s real-life sister Reagan played the older child in “Crosses,” and even their youngest sister appeared in a portrait in Dr. Floyd’s office and a memory flashback.)

Michael explains how Presley and her family first got involved in Valiant. “I met Presley and her mom while I worked as producer on a local film called Repercussion, written and directed by BEN RICHARDSON, the man that stood in as our acting coach on ‘Legacy‘ and did some of the sound on ‘Animals.’ I kept Presley in mind and always thought that she was a talented girl and would love to use her in a fan film if the opportunity arose. Well, it did in ‘Crosses,’ and I messaged her mom, Stacy, who by the way is a super-sweet and supportive mom. I often tell her that she’s one of the best moms ever, and I admire her so much for that. Stacy read the script and really liked it and she agreed that the girls could do it for exposure as actors. It was the same with ‘Animals.’ The free publicity and exposure would hopefully aid in Presley’s career and expose her to more people, and that’s why both she and Josiah signed on. Lots of folks watch Trek fan films and they saw it as free exposure…plus lots of fun!”

Presley Reese acts like a trooper in 100-plus degree heat!

Of course, fun can sometimes be relative. The first shoot of the production was on June 23, 2017 at the Wichita Mountains location…in 100-plus degree heat! It got so bad that Michael began to worry about members of the cast and crew, especially young Presley, who didn’t seem to be doing well. So they quickly packed up everything and got back into their (air conditioned) cars. The shoot would need to be rescheduled. Unfortunately, Presley had a busy schedule and wasn’t available again until the following spring (May 17, 2018)…which was another 100-plus degree day. Fortunately, they were able to get the footage that they needed.

All told, there were a total of six shooting days. In addition to the above two location shoots, they filmed all of the Starbase Studios scenes on June 25, 2017 in Arkansas, giving them a day to drive from the previous shoot in Oklahoma. On October 15, 2017 (a much cooler day), they were back at Wichita shooting sequences with the aliens as well as all of the scenes with SALLY VAN DER VEER, who played the other security officer.

The final two dates on location involved Josiah and the aliens. The first of those two shoots was on May 22, 2018. But the project would need to wait more than TWO YEARS before they could schedule Josiah and the production crew together for the final shoot on June 28, 2020. That’s just the nature of the industry, but it answers the question that Michael is asked most often (including by me): “Why did it take you so long to finish?”

But now it is finished, and if you haven’t seen “Animals” yet, you can watch it below…

So what’s next for Starship Valiant? Will “The Ties That Bind” ever be completed? Will there be other missions? Michael had this to say: “Brady and I would certainly like to go back to one day and finish the story for ‘Ties,’ but I’m not sure ‘finish’ would be the correct term, as it would have to be rewritten from the ground up, given the CBS Guidelines. But yes, we do have intentions to revisit that story and focus on the events that we had written and adapt it to the 30-minute format. I’m not sure on where it would be shot at this moment or what sets we would even need, but I have been outlining and rewriting it.”

As for other Valiant adventures, Michael has already hit the ground running. “I’ve got two finished scripts and had actually started online rehearsals for a story called ‘The Least of Us.’ And I had already cast the leads, but then the pandemic hit, and I halted the project as I did not want to put anyone in harm’s way. We will most likely return to that story when it’s safe to do so, but in the meantime, I think we might do a couple of vignettes to tide us over until we can really get into the scripts that I have prepared. These stories will be local and limited but hopefully topical. Our first vignette could see a release in May of this year, so we most certainly want to continue in the Valiant Universe. Thank you for having me.”

If you still want more, click here to check out a series of behind-the-scenes mini-podcasts that Michael L. King released in the days leading up to the premiere of “Animals.”

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