STARSHIP TRISTAN relaunches as a green screen production with “SEEING IN THE DARK” (guest blog by RANDY LANDERS)

A quick introductory note from Jonathan…

Usually, I write the blog entries ’round these parts. But every so often, a fan filmmaker writes something up that essentially does my work for me! This time, it was POTEMKIN PICTURES showrunner RANDY LANDERS, who just posted the latest release from the STARSHIP TRISTAN creative group: “Seeing in the Dark.”

Although this was the 22nd Tristan fan film (you can view them all here on the Potemkin website), I’d begun to wonder if they were still active. It had been more than two years since their previous release, “36 Hours,” and a full year since the one before that, “Reclamation.” And unlike their sister production team, STARSHIP DEIMOS, the Tristan folks didn’t seem willing to make the long drive from Birmingham, Alabama up to Lexington, Kentucky to use the Potemkin sets that Randy took with him (and expended) when he and his wife relocated to the bluegrass state in late 2019.

Three new creative groups sprang up in Lexington—STARSHIPS WEBSTER and CALIBORN and SCOUTSHIP QAB’ELTH—and as I said, Deimos cast members were making the drive up to shoot there. But what of Tristan?

In a comment posted on the new video release on YouTube, Randy explained everything that was going on with Tristan both then and now. So with his permission, I’m just going to let Randy tell his own tale this time. But first, let’s watch the latest Starship Tristan release…

And now, here’s Randy…

In 2015, word came suddenly and unexpectedly that Potemkin Pictures was relocating from Albany, Georgia, to Birmingham, Alabama.

With barely any time to pack up the studio, we moved to the suburb of Pelham Alabama, came back and salvaged two truckloads of materials from Studio 2, and went back to Pelham to set up house and to create Studio 3. Only a handful of actors were able to transition with us to Birmingham, and so I reached out to Star Trek fans in the area to see if they would be interested in helping create a new fan film.

The response was overwhelming, and we ended up immediately creating not one but two Star Trek fan film series: Starship Tristan and Starship Deimos.

The majority of the Project: Potemkin cast were incorporated into Starship Tristan, and once the sets were built in Studio 3 (a boathouse atop a mountain, of all places), filming on both productions began at roughly the same time. Each production filmed every other month, so that we were going to shoot around four episodes each per year. And over five years, we did shoot twenty episodes for each, along with a handful of other productions including Hospital Ship Marie Curie, Starship Endeavour, Starship Alexander, Starship Triton, and Battlcruiser Kupok.

Randy Landers

Five years later, it was time to move again, this time to Lexington, Kentucky, and in a house that had a full basement capable of serving proudly as Studio 4. Even fewer actors from Birmingham followed us up to Lexington, but those that did comprised the crew of the Starship Deimos.

Tristan, Marie Curie, Kupok, Endeavour, and Alexander were let go. We had footage from a partially filmed Starship Tristan, and RICK FOXX was able to assemble it into the wonderful “36 Hours” during the COVID epidemic.

TERELL MANASCO (who not only appeared in episodes of Kupok, Endeavour and Triton but also filmed and directed a number of episodes, including Starship Tristan, and even wrote/co-wrote a couple of scripts) wanted to continue producing Star Trek fan films, as did several of the key cast members of Starship Tristan. We had discussions for several months and were working on a way of bringing Tristan back. At that time, STEVE GALLANT had been doing graphic animations for the digital photo frames on our set and had discussed doing a digital background for the Tristan bridge.

In late 2022, it was decided to film a new Tristan fan film in Alabama, shot almost entirely with a green screen—except for one scene to be filmed at a remote location serving as the “planet surface.” The Tristan shoot, directed by Terrell, would serve as a “test run” to determine if a digital background of the ship’s bridge could be integrated with the actors in a realistic manner.

While the actors were shooting scenes, Steve Gallant began to design a 3D mockup of a bridge and briefing room ‘set.’ The software gave him the ability to move the ‘camera’ around so that reasonable angles of the backgrounds could be achieved that would marry up with the camera footage. The overall aesthetic and layout of Tristan’s upgraded concept bridge and briefing room were approved by director Terrell Manasco and executive producer Randall Landers.

Once principal photography was completed, the raw video files were shared with Steve Gallant, who started a rough assembly cut of this footage. When this was completed, he was able to grab appropriate backgrounds of the newly designed bridge and briefing room for compositing into the film.

Animated graphics were either adapted or newly created that presented the ‘back wall’ of Tristan’s bridge in a single, utilitarian style display. The idea was the main bridge stations (e.g. sciences, engineering, tactical, etc.) would be in a line along the back. Helm and navigation sat in their traditional starship positions in front of the on-set captain’s chair. Once the composting was completed, subtle color grading and lighting effects were added to complete the overall appearance.

The exterior farmland and house footage was subtly enhanced with color grading, atmospheric “particles,” and ambient sound effects. Planetary rings were added to the sky to give it an alien world feel. The interior shots were enhanced with some VFX to animate the doctor’s hand-held scanner, and to add some blur to an actor’s eyes to simulate blindness.

The ‘rebooted’ Tristan production is Potemkin Pictures’ first production rendered and distributed in 4K. If the episode is deemed a success by producers, it will hopefully spawn more episodes filmed and edited in the same way. It will also require the designs of more 3D interiors of Tristan, so other locations can be depicted in the storytelling.