Back when I initially started blogging about Star Trek fan films, the very first blog I published was about the 1974 fan production PARAGON’S PARAGON from show-runner JOHN COSTENTINO. Some folks mistakenly assume this was the first-ever Star Trek fan film, but those have existed since Star Trek TOS was still airing first-run episodes. In fact, I recently discovered the remnants of a silent fan film from 1967 titled THE THING IN THE CAVE that used actual props and tunics apparently borrowed from those used on the Paramount set! A more high-end Star Trek fan film was pitched directly to GENE RODDENBERRY by a film school student back in 1968, and Gene was all for it, but a Paramount studio lawyer nixed it.
But by 1974, things were much different for Star Trek. The original series had been off the air for half a decade, and while a small but well-produced series of 22 animated episodes featuring the voices of most of the original cast was airing from 1973-74, nothing much else was happening with Star Trek at the time. Well, I shouldn’t say “nothing.” As TOS reruns grew in frequency on television in the early 1970s, Star Trek conventions had just started to become popular beginning in 1972, attracting a few thousand fans, and the word “Trekkie” was entering the colloquial vernacular (usually describing an obsessed and nerdy fan who would use terms like “colloquial vernacular”).
But in 1974, Trekkie fans were still starving for new Star Trek content. With Star Trek literature limited to episode adaptations by author JAMES BLISH into novelized anthologies plus one original story titled “Spock Must Die!” released by Bantam Books in 1970. With no other original stories of Kirk, Spock, Bonesm and the crew, Trekkies created their own underground fan fiction using typewriters and distributing their original tales person-to-person at cons. Most of the mid-1970s fan-produced paraphernalia like the U.S.S. Enterprise blueprints and Technical Manual were still a year or more away.
Into this “desert” of fresh Star Trek content in 1974 walked a carpet-layer from Warren, Michigan named John Costentino. In additional to having interests in being an artist, engineer, and amateur filmmaker, John was also a huge Trekkie. And he would go on to produce what might not necessarily be the first-ever Star Trek fan film but is undeniably the first MAJOR Star Trek fan film with elaborate sets, costumes, lighting, make-up, a 65-page script, and a run-time of 100 minutes. John spent nearly $2,000 of his own money on the project (that’s about $11-15,000 today!), about half of which went to building sets like a recreation of the Enterprise bridge, transporter room, and turbolift.
Originally shot on Super-8 film, the film was shown at conventions for a few years and ultimately transferred to a limited number of VHS tapes. But as the years passed, this important piece of Star Trek fan film history passed into oblivion. Or so we thought…
Back in April of 2012, a fan with a VHS copy of the film posted 8 minutes and 39 seconds of Paragon’s Paragon on YouTube, but the voice dialog was gone, apparently lost over time. Instead, a bed of background Star Trek music accompanied the limited visuals. And that was all that remained of Paragon’s Paragon for fans to view…until this spring of 2021 when that same fan, ROBERT LONG II, unexpectedly posted two 15-minute videos with restored audio! It’s still not the complete film, containing only the first 25 minutes plus 5 minutes of “coming attractions.” But it’s a darn sight (and sound!) more than we had before. You can take a look here:
I caught up with Robert and did an interview, which I’ll share with you all next time in Part 2. He discusses where and how he got a first-generation copy of the film and how he went about restoring the audio track. But first, I want to re-publish most of my original blog entry featuring the behind-the-scenes making of Paragon’s Paragon based on an elaborate blog that John Constentino wrote many years ago along with other background information I collected from various sources…
Prior to tackling what would become his magnum opus, John had made a series of shorter (12 to 30 minute) comedy films. But Star Trek was his love, and he spent months researching materials and prices, designing and building sets and props, collecting costume patterns (and getting his mother, a seamstress, to sew them!), producing make-up prosthetics for Klingons, Organians, and a Vulcan (each alien requiring one-and-a-half to two hours to prepare in make-up), and even developing and printing his own enlarged slides for the screen displays on the bridge panels.
Along with the bridge set (built in John’s basement, of course!), he and his friends constructed a transporter room, starship mess hall, officer’s quarters, briefing room, turbolift, a portion of the exterior of a shuttlecraft, and the interior of a Klingon ship. Twelve Starfleet crew uniforms were sewn, along with two Klingon outfits and three Organian robes. Along with make-up materials, camera equipment and batteries, and lighting…it’s a wonder John Cosentino was able to do it all for as little money as he did!
As with many productions today, the most impressive set, and the most difficult to build, was the bridge. And remember that these were the days before TVs had the ability to freeze frame so that you could carefully measure and analyze the sets on the Trek episodes, although there were publicity photos available. And so John did his best to design and build something that looked as close to the original Enterprise bridge as he could, and he got pretty darn close!
Wood and wood paneling was combined with cardboard/ chipboard, Plexiglas, acetate, and a host of other building materials painted with oil-based paint (since water-based paint would warp the cardboard). Buttons were colored marbles sunk halfway into a hole. Below those marbles were 60 and 100-watt light bulbs wrapped in aluminum foil cups to reflect and intensify the light. And because these lights got hot around materials that were flammable, they placed asbestos paper between the material and the bulb. Yes, asbestos! Welcome to 1974.
But the fire danger didn’t end there! In order to have a blue glow emanate from the viewer on the science station, a powerful 500-watt bulb was placed inside. This meant that scenes with the science officer looking into his viewer had to be filmed in only one minute max before the bulb would get too hot and burn out! Also, a layer of Plexiglas was placed inside the viewer to protect the actor’s eyes just in case the 500-watt light bulb exploded! Oh, the things we do for Trek.
The lights behind the bridge panels were all Christmas tree bulbs wired to blinkers, and the acetate covering the holes was painted in different translucent colors. All told, hundreds of feet of wire, plugs, and sockets were scattered like a spider web behind those few bridge panels, and they used about 3500 watts of electricity. The studio lights sucked another 4000 watts while filming on the bridge, and occasionally, someone upstairs making an unannounced pot of coffee or using the toaster in the kitchen would blow the fuse box! Other disturbances during filming included the sound of the dishwasher, a flushing toilet, or even just the footsteps of someone walking around on the first floor being easily picked up by the microphones.
The story itself was loosely based on the first-ever original Star Trek novel “Spock Must Die!” by James Blish. To avoid ripping off Star Trek completely, though, the starship name was changed to the USS Paragon (hence, the title of the film: Paragon’s Paragon), the captain was now Richard Kirk, the first officer Mr. Sellek, Doctor Costa, Helmsman Tokato, etc. Without going into too much detail, the Kligons find a way to project an energy field around the planet Organia, cutting off the Organians’ powers and allowing the Klingons to start an interstellar war. In trying to beam Mr. Spock, er, Mr. Sellek through the field, he is split in two: one good and one evil. But unlike “The Enemy Within,” they both appear identical in temperament and logic, each explaining why he alone is the true Vulcan first officer. Ultimately, Kirk can only allow one to live, but how does he choose?
The movie was shot in Super 8 sound and color and shown at the occasional convention over the ensuing years. But unfortunately, time and decay have taken their toll on the original Super 8 film, and even the beta and VHS copies made years later have given in to the effects of the earth’s magnetic field. There appears to be no copy of the full 100-minute fan film that survives intact nearly half a century later.
By today’s standards of high-end cameras (even on cell phones), green screen, elaborate sets, digital CGI effects, and the resources of crowd funding, Paragon’s Paragon might not hold up too well in comparison. And of course, the acting was done by John Costentino’s friends and family members, none of whom had any training. But looked at through the lens of 1974, John Cosentino was a visionary who was able to accomplish an amazing feat. Today’s fan film show-runners walk in footprints that John made over four decades ago.
Next time, we talk to the fan who has rescued at least part of Paragon’s Paragon, Robert Long II. How did he get a copy, and what did he do to restore it? And is there any more of this trailblazing fan film that still remains in a viewable form?
I’m also going to feature a special treat: I found a long-lost Paragon’s Paragon BLOOPER REEL!