The women of TREK SHORTS, Part 1: THE THOLIAN GAMBIT (interview with NIMRAN SAUND)

Even though the awesome fan film THE THOLIAN GAMBIT from the British Minister of Visual Effects, SAMUEL COCKINGS, came out nearly six months ago, I’ve been saving it in my back pocket in order to combine today’s interview into a series of three interviews, each with one of what I was originally going to collectively call “Sam’s Women.” Instead, I’ve decided to use the monicker “The Women of TREK SHORTS.” Either way, the three actresses have all proven themselves to be very impressive performers, certainly some of the highest caliber among Star Trek fan films.

But perhaps even more notable than their obvious talent is the fact that Star Trek fan films don’t typically present women as the leads. There have certainly been plenty of female actors who appear in a wide range of Trek fan films, but seldom do they sit in the center seat and/or become the main/sole focus of the story. There are, of course, some notable exceptions, dating all the way back to Captain Elizabeth Shelby in STAR TREK: HIDDEN FRONTIER, Lexxa Singh in STAR TREK: RENEGADES, Captain Sian Gabriel of STARSHIP DEIMOS, Captain Castille of STAR TREK: DECEPTION II, Captain Kara Carpenter of STAR TREK: AURORA, three of the four captains of the Czech fan film SQUADRON and Captain Shelby of the Czech fan film MYSTERIOUS ODYSSEY, Ensign Williams of THE RED SHIRT DIARIES, the two PROJECT: RUNABOUT fan films, Commander Alisa Vandre of PACIFIC 201, Captain Keller in THE HOLY CORE, and Aaron Vanderkley’s main character in LINE OF DUTY plus his captain in BEYOND THE SUN and OUTBREAK.

(And yeah, I might be missing a few female fan film leads, but trust me, that list is waaaaay shorter than the list of male captains and lead actors…kinda like Star Trek itself, to be honest.)

So let’s give Sam Cockings credit for casting three very talented female actors as leads and captains in his various fan films, including his recent parade of Trek Shorts releases. Speaking of which(!), just a friendly reminder that Sam is trying to raise $35,000 for a series of even MORE awesome Trek Shorts (plus the final release of CONVERGENCE), and he’s 11% of the way there as I type this. I encourage everyone reading this to click on the link below and donate at least a little something. There’s some very nice perks, but mainly, Sam and this team just make incredible fan films, and we’d really like to see more…!

Today’s Part 1 blog turns the spotlight on NIMRAN SAUND, or “Nim” for short. Her first Trek fan film dates back to 2013 when she filmed scenes for Sam’s excellent TEMPORAL ANOMALY, which was eventually released in 2019. Since then, she’s reprised her character of Keeley (or rather, Keeley’s 24th century descendent) in A LONG WAY FROM HOME, ONE SMALL STEP, and a cameo in the INTREPID episode “PURSUIT OF A DREAM.” And most recently, Lt. Anna Keeley got a promotion to Captain in one of the first Picard season two fan films, The Tholian Gambit

Being from the U.K., Nim has a lot of fascinating things to say in an irresistible and super-intelligent sounding accent. Sadly, this is a text interview, so you’re gonna need to imagine the British accent as you read her answers…

JONATHAN – What is your theatrical training and background?

NIM: I studied drama and theatre since the age of 14/15. Before that, I enjoyed writing poems and stories. I would often showcase them in creative ways, with my sisters and cousins. I continued to study drama at university and then began getting involved in mini-filming projects.

JONATHAN – What led to your getting involved in Sam’s first Star Trek fan film, Temporal Anomaly, back in 2013, and what was that experience like?

NIM: I got introduced to Sam through housemates at university. I then started doing small filming projects with Sam. It wasn’t until shortly after that Sam asked if I could stand in for a read-through of the Temporal Anomaly script, as the original actor couldn’t make it. He liked my read-through so much that he cast me instead. I was honestly taken aback, but very appreciative and agreed.

I played the character ‘Rachel Keeley,’ an engineer who specialised in warp cores. The entire experience was completely new to me, as I hadn’t acted on green screen before. The cast were lovely, talented, and great to work with. It’s also how I first met MARCUS CHURCHILL (another great actor that Sam hired and who I have had the pleasure of working with many times since).

Marcus Churchill with Nimran Saund in TEMPORAL ANOMALY

Working on Temporal Anomaly, although an enjoyable experience, did come with its issues (both on and off set)…one of them being the late arrival of my costume, which then meant I had to film most of my scenes at a later stage and some completely by myself. We also had sound issues (no one’s fault but a learning curve for sure—we’ve definitely gotten better!) and various other issues that were out of our control. Despite this, it was honestly a great experience which opened my eyes to the film side of acting (I was a huge theatre and stage advocate prior). But not only that, it was the beginning of a whirlwind of filming and led to the beginning of great friendships and opportunities. I will always be super thankful to Sam for seeing and always believing in my potential, even when I don’t. 

JONATHAN – At the time (2013), were you familiar at all with Star Trek and/or fan films before becoming involved with an actual Star Trek fan film?

NIM: I had been exposed to Star Trek since I was a child. I remember watching the films and series with my dad, but that’s as far as my knowledge of Trek ever got to. However, all that changed when I got involved with Temporal Anomaly. Since then, my knowledge and love for sci-fi has increased. I enjoy Star Trek and have certainly expanded my knowledge with watching episodes such as TOS and DS9. I simply, however, cannot call myself a Star Trek fan, as so many of you are far worthier of holding that title.

In my degree and whilst studying at school, I was exposed to many genres of film and books. I had read several sci-fi books written by the likes of Stephen King, Philip K. Dick, and H.G Wells, to name a few. Sci-fi as a genre is so complex and contains many elements that make a film, book or performance far more interesting and likable in my opinion. The thought of being able to teleport or time travel or even be in a parallel universe is astonishing, so to be able to play on those parallels and immerse yourself within that genre on screen, is something I will always enjoy and be honoured to be a part of. 

JONATHAN – In 2018, Sam asked you to to appear as your own great-great-great-great-granddaughter (give or take a few greats). Had you kept in touch during the interim, or did Sam just ring you up out of the blue with this request?

NIM: Sam and I had loosely kept in touch since leaving university. We messaged each other from time to time to check in. Low and behold, one day Sam asked me to meet up. We went for lunch and caught up, which was so lovely. Out of the blue, Sam pulls out a piece of paper and says to me (not exactly in these words) “I have a monologue that I’ve written for you. Have a quick read. I’m just going to pop outside, and when I get back, I want you to perform it to me.”

I felt super rusty and was so nervous. Sam came back a few moments later and there I was, still nervous as ever and trying to pluck up the courage to just go for it. After a few words of encouragement from Sam, and a kick from myself, I performed this short monologue. Sam asked me what I thought of it, and I said I loved it. He then told me that he wanted to cast me for his next labour of love: Convergence. I genuinely was elated and said yes straight away. The project sounded super exciting, especially as I was going to be working with a few old faces and new ones too.

Sam Cockings and Nimran Saund share a scene in A LONG WAY FROM HOME.

JONATHAN – Are you still acting outside of Sam’s fan films? If so, what else have you appeared in?

NIM – I would love to say that I have, because I wish I had more time for acting in my life. I work a full-time job and often film with Sam during my weekends, which means I sometimes work for two weeks straight, which can be tough and exhausting. The filming days are no joke either. Because many of us that are involved in Sam’s passion projects have full-time jobs, we often film for 8-9 hours per day! Sometimes we are filming for hours at a time and only stop for a quick bite of food or some fresh air and then get straight back to filming. Often, we only have a short amount of time that everyone can schedule in to film, so we have to make the most of our time.

JONATHAN – How has both the preparation process and also the performance and production process changed for you between Temporal Anomaly and Sam’s more recent fan films?

NIM – I think the preparation process was more extensive back when I was shooting Temporal Anomaly, mainly due to the time-factor. Back at university, in my opinion, we all had more time. I remember we scheduled an entire week for the performance and production process, along with many read-throughs of the script where notes were being made and discussions taking place. Not only this, but we had a lot more rehearsal time too. Sam had even marked out where things would be on the ship. The scene where Marcus and Ashley were crawling through the Jefferies tube, Sam had taped the dimensions onto the floor where we were rehearsing, so they could get a real feel of one. 

However, now when filming Sam’s recent fan films, time is of the essence! This means we don’t always get to rehearse extensively. A lot of the time, we will rehearse on our own and then rehearse a few times before filming. There have been times we will just do a read-through and then begin filming if we are confident. I do miss having the time for a full rehearsal process, but at the same time, I think the performances can be rawer. Occasionally, we tend to nail it in a couple of takes, if not one (practice makes perfect of course; we’ve certainly had our fair share of times where that just wasn’t the case). 

JONATHAN – How has Sam evolved as a director? 

NIM – Where do I start? Sam is a pleasure to work with, he’s super-talented, and I have nothing but love and respect for the guy. I owe it to him for the journey I am on and for the endless opportunities he has given me. He directs well, always listens, and takes on board what you discuss. We often have discussions about the script, and there have been numerous occasions where we end up discussing my character’s journey and timeline. This is very important in order to create a well-rounded, robust character who has depth. There’s so many interesting stories and films which Sam is working on, especially in reference to my own character. Keep your eyes peeled! I can’t wait to share them with you soon! 

JONATHAN – Speaking of your character, how has she changed as she progresses through different periods of her life and career?

NIM – Anna Keeley has definitely been on a journey as a character, not only with her numerous stages of life and promotions but with her mental state too. Many of you might be wondering what I am talking about, as we have only released three films out of many yet to come. So far, we have seen Ensign Anna Keeley, who is at the beginning of her career. She is full of zest, nerves, and essentially just wants to be the best. Then we have Lieutenant Anna Keeley, a great pilot who holds herself to very high standards, which result in her questioning herself a lot. She isn’t afraid to take risks, as long as she knows she’s certain of what’s involved. Finally, we have Captain Anna Keeley, who is everything Anna has always envisioned herself to be, if not better. Sure, she has her flaws, but she works hard at being who she is and appreciates how far she’s come.

However, there are many films Sam and I have already filmed that have not yet been released where we see Anna go through some tough moments. She not only is a high achiever but is full of self-doubt, which leads her to overthink and become panicked at times. She struggles with daemons people have not seen yet. Anna has had her fair share of setbacks but also achievements. I think that a lot of people will really resonate with her; I know I do. I myself struggle with anxiety and have had feelings of not being good enough or constantly doubting myself. I think most of us have, at one point in our lives, gone through this. It’s important to remember: self-doubt won’t lead to self-love!

JONATHAN – In The Tholian Gambit, Anna was digitally aged-up. How did it feel seeing yourself as you might look in another 20-25 years?

Before and 25-years after: Sam Cockings digitally ages Nimran Saund from the left to the right.

NIM – Seeing myself aged up by about 25 years was an experience, to say the least! It was surreal seeing myself looking older, and Sam did an excellent job on the digital aging. It looked so real that some fans were fooled and wondered why an older woman had a younger voice. I did have a few funny reactions when I showed friends and family a photo of my older self—one being my mum who said, “Is that what you’re going to look like when you’re older?” I hope not! I hope I age gracefully like my mum, to be honest.

All that aside, I think the project was executed very well, and the digital aging, as well as the film being the first Picard debut, gave it a fresh take to what the fans have seen so far. We have a few other things in the pipeline…all I’m gonna say is: if/when Sam ages me up to 70, I hope that I still look as good!

JONATHAN – Most of your Trek Shorts films were shot during the pandemic lockdown with only one person on screen at a time. What were the most challenging aspects of acting primarily alone in front of a green screen?

NIM – Acting alone was always something I never liked. I didn’t like the idea of being on stage myself, nor did I feel comfortable. I didn’t enjoy performing monologues, and to this day, I’m still not overly keen on them when performing on stage. However, I have gotten better and do feel more comfortable acting alone. I guess I have worked on my confidence (a special thanks to Mrs. Davies for her wise words and advice). She helped me massively, and I have definitely grown since then. I think acting alone is definitely easier when filming, especially with Sam, as it’s just you, the camera and a small handful of people in the room. That definitely is less nerve-wracking and more manageable. 

Sam only bought one 25th century tunic: a blue one. Then he digitally adjusted the color to both red and gold.

Acting alone comes with its fair share of challenges, one of them being you don’t have anyone else to jump off of—be it energy, the way you might deliver a line, the connection you might share, and so on. The fact that we also work with green screen can also make the acting process more difficult, as you’re constantly having to use your imagination…not only with working out your eyeline as to where things might be or where you have to look but also imagining people that you are supposed to be acting alongside with. This was definitely an issue we experienced post lockdown, as some people couldn’t fly in for filming, so a lot of the time we filmed remotely.

In Temporal Anomaly, I mentioned before that I had to act mostly alone, due to my costume not arriving on time. That was a difficult experience, and I remember there were times I was getting frustrated at myself mainly because I had acted far better alongside the other cast members, but also because I had to imagine them beside me. I do feel I’ve come a long way and have vastly improved at acting alone. I trust myself more and will make acting decisions I might not usually make. I feel there is more scope to develop a character when acting alone too.

JONATHAN – Your role of Anna Keeley was recently honored with the Admiral (1st place) level Showrunner Award for “Best Original Character” in a Star Trek fan film. What did you think when Sam informed you of the news?

NIM – First of all, I just want to say thank you to everyone who voted for me. What an honour! I am still reeling from it, especially as someone who’s never really won many competitions or awards. I am so hugely grateful to you all—we wouldn’t be anywhere without you fans, so thank you to each and every one of you. I’m out here writing a speech…haha!

Back to the question: I was shocked and taken aback when hearing that I was nominated for ‘Best Actor’ at the 2022 Trekzone Fan Film Awards. Not only that, but to be the only female nominee in that category meant a lot. I didn’t, however, win, but to be nominated was already a huge achievement in itself.  When Sam broke the news that I had not only been nominated but had won ‘Best Original Character’ for the 2022 Star Trek Fan Film Showrunner Awards, I was genuinely shell-shocked. I never thought that I would win an award. I put my all into these films and have spent numerous times with Sam discussing Anna’s backstory, so to have her win felt amazing. She is such a complex, interesting, witty, and intelligent character, and I have had the absolute pleasure of acting her.

Sam told me of the news so nonchalantly. We had just taken a break and were about to begin filming, and he casually said, “Oh by the way, you are now an award-winning actress.” I didn’t believe it at first, but I am so grateful. I began this process as a hobby, and now it has evolved into so much more than that. These films really are passion projects, and I have Sam and Star Trek fans to thank for this.