The women of TREK SHORTS, Part 3: DUTY CALLS (interview with EMMA THORNE)

In the last of my triptych of interviews with the female actors who have been playing leading roles in recent releases of TREK SHORTS from VFX Minister SAMUEL COCKINGS, I turn the spotlight on newcomer-to-fan-films EMMA THORNE. (The previous two interviews were with NIMRAN SAUND and ALEXA BROWN.)

Now, Emma might be a newcomer to Star Trek fan films, but she is certainly NOT a newcomer to YouTube! In fact, Emma has spent the last six years building a following of more than 112K subscribers to her YouTube Channel, having posted in excess of 200 separate videos (most of them of quite decent duration)!

Sam noticed Emma on one of his many long stretches of editing his films when YouTube videos playing on the second monitor can keep him company. He liked her vibe and noticed her geeky props in the background, and he’d been wanting to expand the cast of regular actors/character in Trek Shorts. So he took a chance and messaged her on Instagram.

“She saw my rather detailed first message,” says Sam, “and because she has experience working in the VFX field, realised the quality of the shots I was sending. This wasn’t as amateur as the ‘Star Trek Fan Film’ name suggests. We had a wonderful Skype chat, and she was clearly curious but still a bit, ‘What is all of this?’ Now I’m thrilled to say we have shot on multiple days with multiple cast, and we’ve become good friends.”

The first Trek Short to feature Emma, DUTY CALLS, made its debut on YouTube at the end of September, and has already logged upwards of 42K views. Take a look…

According to Sam, “The reaction to her prologue short has been TREMENDIOUS! The You Tube algorithm rarely favours fan films, but when it does…amazing! We’ve had a ton of comments asking for her to do more, and I know Emma is pleased with this reaction because we have done more, and she didn’t know what the reaction would be—ha!”

By the way, before I forget! Sam’s crowd-funding campaign for Trek Shorts is struggling with about a week and a half left. It’s only about 15% of the way to its ambitious $35K goal, but with Indiegogo, you get to keep whatever donations you raise regardless, which is currently very close to $6K, which is still decent money!

But every little bit WILL help. So if you can afford to give even a little bit, it’ll go directly toward making some impressive Star Trek fan films…

Before we get to the Emma interview, a quick mention of the other person who appeared in this fan film: my fellow fan film blogger on the opposite side of the planet, MATTHEW MILLER. He appears at the end as a transporter officer. I asked Sam what made him decide to go halfway around the world to find an actor for what was not much more than a cameo.

“With all the cast problems that I’ve had lately, I’ve moved my style to simpler and more manageable films because I actually want to get them completed! So, when I was writing Emma’s prologue, I knew it was skipping the cue and releasing next, and I needed a new character to fill the transporter chief role. BAM! I thought: who has a green screen, proper cameras, good audio and would probably appreciate being in costume?

Matt Miller

“Matt just felt like such an obvious choice, and LUCKILY he already had a TNG costume, so I asked, and he enthusiastically said yes…even when I motioned It needed it to be filmed in the next fortnight. I think Matt did a tremendous job, and now he’s a canon character in fan films!”

One last thing before we get to Emma. I asked Sam about Emma’s uniform having the ensign rank pip on the wrong side of the blue stripe. (In TNG‘s first and second seasons, the pips were always placed above the stripe.) Was that a purposeful gag or just an “oops!” moment?

Apparently, it was the latter. They shot the film on the hottest day of the 2022 UK summer, and they couldn’t remember which side of the stripe the pip went on…and they guessed wrong.

“No one even realised until I started sending our pre-release copies of the film!” said Sam. “But luck would have it that I was shooting her Indiegogo sequence right before the Duty Calls release. So I told Emma about the mistake and said we should just shoot a little extra add on at the end to fix it. And actually, it came out really well and made what would certainly have been a weird annoyance to some hardcore fans into a fun character moment that most people can probably sympathise with. She’s so new to Starfleet that she even got her pip wrong…ha! And special thanks to Matt Miller, who was able to get me an additional voice-over line within 24 hours!”

Okay, and NOW we’re finally ready for Emma…

JONATHAN – Welcome to the crazy universe of Star Trek fan films, Emma!

EMMA – Thank you, Jonathan. It’s been a wild ride so far, but I’m really enjoying it.

JONATHAN – I’m intrigued by your dedication to building up your YouTube channel. How long have you been YouTubing, and what got you started doing it?

EMMA – I started my channel at university years ago. I mostly made vlogs that were a way to keep in touch with friends and family. I was studying film at the time, so it was just a good way to get in regular filming and editing practice.

JONATHAN – You’ve got 112+K subscribers and tens of thousands of views per video. With all of the videos you’re releasing, how many hours per week are you putting into their production?

EMMA – It varies, but I’d say I probably put in 45-50 hours per week.

JONATHAN – Wow, that’s a full-time job! Is YouTubing now your primary source of income, or is it still just a side-gig?

EMMA – As of this year, YouTube is my full-time job.

JONATHAN – That’s quite the commitment! Is there anyone else helping you, or do you do everything yourself?

EMMA – I do it all myself, from editing videos to managing the merch store. The reality of starting any kind of small business is that you kiss goodbye to your time. My partner is always happy to help me film silly things, and my mods on Twitch and Discord take a lot of weight off those things. Plus, I get a lot of support and advice from friends who are also creators.

JONATHAN – Your performance in Duty Calls was very lively and convincing. Do you have any dramatic or theatrical training/experience?

EMMA – I was in a youth theatre group for the best part of my childhood, though the closest we came to a professional gig was the one time I played a giggly garden gnome. I took up classes as an adult, mainly in screen acting. I started getting involved in student films, and now I enjoy voice-over work and nice indie projects.

JONATHAN – How did you and Sam first connect?

EMMA – Sam reached out to me, (very kindly) saying he liked my voice/energy and shared some VFX from his Trek work, asking if I’d like a little role. As a big Trekkie and someone who was working in VFX at the time, I was probably more excited than he expected!

JONATHAN – Ah, so you’re a Trek fan! (That was going to be my next question.)

EMMA – Oh yes!

JONATHAN – Do you have a favorite Star Trek series?

EMMA – TOS has always been my series. The heart of what it was trying to do, combined with the pure silliness of its execution, is something I’ve always found endearing…followed by Voyager and TNG.

JONATHAN – What was this experience of shooting a fan film like?

EMMA – Shooting the film was equal parts fantastic and strange! It’s odd filming something in a universe that you love so much; I can’t explain the giddiness of trying on a Starfleet uniform for the first time or getting to play with a tricorder. It was nice for me to join after Sam had produced so many fan films already, it was a very smooth introduction to that world.

JONATHAN – What are the challenges to acting in front of a green screen and
doing mainly long pieces of monologue (and/or responding to dialogue
without another actor present)?

EMMA – Putting yourself into the environment is obviously one of the main challenges of a green screen shoot. There are lots of little things that help, especially the costumes and props. The good thing about Star Trek is that I know a lot of the environments very well, and Sam provided references for me if I wasn’t familiar with one. Most of the time I didn’t find it too difficult to envision the room around me.

Long monologue pieces are certainly tricky, but they are also Trek‘s bread and butter. We’ve all imagined recording our own captain’s log, right? The cheeky benefit for me in this film is that it’s really the start of my character Laura’s journey, so it’s punctuated by that nervous energy that makes solo performing a lot easier for me. It’s all bubbling up inside her and spilling over the top.

JONATHAN – So how long did it take to shoot all of your footage for this short film?

EMMA – Just a couple of days—that’s one of the positives of green screen shoots. No set building or location changing, just reset cameras and onto the next scene.

JONATHAN – How was Sam as a director?

EMMA – I’ve found Sam to be a really great director. Typically, for a longer solo scene, we’d do one take with no direction, just my prepared choices, and then he’ll use that to direct any changes or alternative ideas that he wants to capture. Sam’s very clear about what he wants from a scene and gives great feedback. I think that blend is the best way. Being redirected always presents a fun challenge, and it forces you to think about the character in different ways.

JONATHAN – And finally, what are the plans for Ensign Laura Reed in the future? How much more of her will we see?

EMMA – I believe Laura has a bright career ahead of her! We’ve only seen the first baby steps of her journey so far, plenty more to come.

Nick Cook with Emma Thorne in a soon-to-be-released Trek Short film