Four TREK SHORTS in three blogs – Blog #1: BROKEN REALITY (interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS)

I might be the blogger behind Fan Film Factor, but overachieving British CGI artist and showrunner SAMUEL COCKINGS is a veritable fan film FACTORY! (See what I did there?) Since February of this year, with the single exception of April, Sam has released one fan film PER MONTH…with no end in sight! Each was a chapter in his ongoing TREK SHORTS fanthology of stories, featuring the same main characters at different points in their respective careers…spanning mostly the 24th and 25th centuries (with a dollop of 23rd and 22rd century thrown in for good measure).

Each Trek Short release features Sam’s usual jaw-dropping VFX shots of a plethora of starships and other alien vessels, ships that he and co-Treknologist STUART FOLEY regularly cover on their long-running TREKYARDS podcasts. Trek Shorts also feature actors shot in front of green screen (mostly) and digitally composited against computer-generated backgrounds of starship interiors, virtual “sets” modeled and rendered in 3D that look nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. The quality of Sam’s productions is truly uncanny—and releasing eight such visually stunning fan films within nine months is beyond impressive, in my opinion.

Those eight films, in order, have been the following:

I’ve supplied links to the blogs I’ve published covering half of the above Trek Shorts, but that still leaves four not yet covered…and I’m falling farther and farther behind each month!!! So in an attempt to catch up, I have just interviewed Sam about each of the remaining four fan films and will present those interviews in a 3-part series of blogs, beginning with Broken Reality, starring EMMA THORNE as Ensign Laura Reed, MATT MILLER as Ensign Stuart, and RHEA KHEEHN as the Starfleet Computer. Check it out below…

And now, let’s start chatting with Sam…

JONATHAN – I know you often shoot footage many months or more before a fan film comes out. When did you film Emma’s dialog for Broken Reality?

SAM – Back in January. Emma lives close enough that she can come down for the day to film and then head back home. Same for MARCUS CHURCHILL (“Sam Harriman”). But ALEXA BROWN (“Joan Keller”) and NIMRAN SAUND (“Anna Keeley”) have to take the train down and stay for the weekend, which adds the expense of two hotel nights, three dinners, two breakfasts, and two lunches to the cost of transportation…all of which I cover. So Emma is very “budget friendly.”

We actually shot three things that day. In addition to Broken Reality, which went fairly quickly, I did a photo shoot for a new product line of clothing that Emma is launching. That took about 90 minutes. And we finished up shooting proof-of-concept footage for a Doctor Who fan film…which we’re finally getting around to producing 11 months later.

Samuel Cockings

JONATHAN – When did did you write the actual script for Broken Reality?

SAM – January.

JONATHAN – That same January?

SAM – Yeah, because once I knew that Emma could make it down for shooting, I wrote it that fortnight. That’s one of those “Well, we’ve got you coming in in two weeks, so let me write you something that we can shoot” sort of films. It’s one of those projects where the visual ambition of the film makes it feel “bigger” than what’s actually being shot. In fact, I don’t even think she read it until the actual day of filming either. She’d watched some Stargate episodes to get a feel for the film, but for the most part, she went in pretty cold—which was sorta fun, as it made it vaguely improv. The character is very “What is going on???” and she, as an actress, was also “I don’t quite know what’s going on!” So she hearkened into the vibe, as they say.

JONATHAN – When did Matthew Miller (who lives in Australia) send you his lines?

Matthew Miller

SAM – I think about two or three weeks later. He was very efficient on that and delivered a high-fidelity video, which allowed it to look like they were both in the same shuttle even though they were filmed on different continents. It was good to be able to continue the arc of Matt’s character as well as Emma’s.

JONATHAN – So let’s discuss the whole Stargate crossover idea…

SAM – Yeah, that’s the really exciting thing. It’s the first Star Trek/Stargate crossover ever.

JONATHAN – I do believe it is! Although JOSHUA IRWIN is hot on your tail with his mega-crossover CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALIBURS later this month.

SAM – Yes, I do believe there will be a bit of Stargate in that one…wink, wink.

JONATHAN – And you did do a Stargate fan film with Marcus last year, as I recall, NEW MISSION. But that wasn’t a crossover with Star Trek.

SAM – No, it wasn’t. It was my second Stargate SG-1 fan film (my first one was way back in 2012), and in the second one, Marcus’ character says that Ba’al, one of the giant villains from Stargate, is back. So that film obviously takes place before Broken Reality.

JONATHAN – “Obviously”? I might have missed something then.

SAM – Well, it was very subtle. We never actually say that it’s Ba’al’s ship that Emma’s shuttle is encountering, but if you listen carefully to the music, Ba’al’s theme from the Stargate TV series plays often. So if you’re a Stargate fan, subliminally, you should know that that’s Ba’al’s ship. So that’s the next step in his plan. And the next film really goes into that. And the next next film goes even further.

JONATHAN – Oh, so this won’t be the only Stargate crossover film you do for Trek Shorts?

SAM – Oh, totally, no. There will be a whole trilogy…and possibly more! The point of this first story is to show that the villains of the Stargate fan film series that I’m working on can send ships through to an alternate universe, but the crew dies. In the next installment of the crossover series, the crew doesn’t die, so they’re far more menacing and far more active in the story. And that’s a lot of fun because we progressively up the stakes in each successive film organically. And the next story is a Nim story, and she’s phenomenal in it! Really, really good performance. It’s during her character’s darker times. And then, eventually, we’ll lead into fleet battles, which is a culmination point of the Stargate stuff. And all three films will be titled [Something] Reality or Reality [Something]. The first is Broken Reality, the second will be Reality Burns, and then finally Shattered Reality.

JONATHAN – Well, that IS exciting, Sam! So this fan film was written specifically to introduce that trilogy?

SAM – Not initially, no. The story was always gonna be “they bump into something” because I like the shuttle narratives. They’re fun, and you get to have motion without actually having to go anywhere. And that “something” could be anything—an Orion ship, a Jem’Hadar, it could be anything.

And at that point, the only Stargate crossover fan film we had planned was Shattered Reality, the one that we crowd-funded during our first Trek Shorts Indiegogo campaign back in 2021. We had to recast KILIAN McINTOSH because he became unavailable, which meant i just scrapped that version of the film and wrote a different one. Anyway, that fan film had already been shot during a great weekend shoot plus one extra shooting day and is now in post-production.

So I had the idea: “Let’s combine stories. Let’s add another Star Trek/Stargate crossover, and rather than a random Trek alien ship, lets have the ship they bump into be a Stargate vessel and be another breadcrumb for the Stargate story!”

And having it be Stargate, to the characters, it’s just a random ship. But to the audience, it carries all this extra weight of Stargate, plus you get this lovely sense of scale: tiny shuttle, giant spaceship. And it’s a very high-end model of Ba’al’s ship that we built ages ago and have been really excited to finally use and show to the fans. This was very rewarding and a nice excuse to do those visuals and help tell multiple levels of different stories in the same thing.

JONATHAN – When did Broken Reality and Shattered Reality turn into a 3-release trilogy?

SAM – In April, I decided to write the script for Reality Burns when I knew that Nim was coming down the following weekend to shoot a bunch of things and sign posters for the last Indiegogo. That film will be documentary style with MARIE-LOUISE SVALENG as Dr. Nilson doing the narration.

So we started with the big finale, then we did a prequel, and then we added a film between them to make it a trilogy.

JONATHAN – When will the other two parts of the trilogy be released?

SAM – Burns I’d love to see come out at some point during the first three months of next year. Shattered…maybe next year. It depends which of the “big” fan films I decide to do first. I think I’d rather do the Doomsday Machine one first. All the big ones are 3-4 months of post-production, so when I decide to work on the big releases, there will be long gaps because they are so time-consuming. It’s not like one of our documentary-style films. There will be something like 40 or 50 custom background plates needed as the characters walk around the ship.

JONATHAN – Wow, that IS ambitious! So is everyone satisfied with the way that this fan film turned out?

SAM – Completely. Emma absolutely adored being in a TOS uniform. She thought that was incredible. MATT MILNE, who came up with our score, thought that the music was very challenging to create (I’m not sure if he’s even that familiar with Stargate!), but he had a lot of fun doing it. And I personally think he’s a phenomenal composer. I was also really happy to finally be able to use my spatial anomaly effect, which I actually created more than a year and a half ago.

I should also mention that, in Ensign Reed’s crew quarters at the very end, everything in the background is an Easter eggs to films we’ll be releasing in the future that we’ve already shot. So I has assets build for other things that I then put back into prequels. Eventually when fans watch the episodes in chronological order—if they eventually choose to do so at some point—they’ll gasp as they see all of these little references of other previous films. But right now, since most of those previous chronological films haven’t been released yet, those references don’t mean anything to viewers. But every single thing’s a story point, which is great!

JONATHAN – One final question. How did you wind up with a shuttlecraft with a name like Skeleton Hands???

SAM – There was an Indiegogo perk to name a shuttlecraft or starship, and one of our Trekyards regulars donated to get the name was Skeleton Hands.

JONATHAN – What the heck does Skeleton Hands even mean?

SAM – I’m not entirely certain. It’s a very deep-cut Trekyards reference. It was on one of STUART FOLEY’s live broadcasts with his wife about four years ago. I wasn’t on that one, as it was, like 7am my time. But apparently, one of the regular viewers said something which had the phrase “Skeleton Hands” in it, and that person, his name is Ozzie, started using it as a catch-phrase when he arrived in the chat. “Hey, guys, I’m here. Skeleton Hands!” He’s gone through a bunch of other catch-phrases since then, but when he donated, he went with Skeleton Hands.

So now I just needed to figure out which fan film to include it in and whether to put the name on a starship or shuttle. And the U.S.S. Skeleton Hands sounds kinda ridiculous.

JONATHAN – I’m not entirely sure it’s any less ridiculous on the side of a shuttle, Sam.

SAM – Enh. I can kinda get behind it. But hey, it was fun. And Trek Shorts should always have some fun in it, right?

JONATHAN – Absolutely!

Next time, we take a look at First Meeting, starring Emma Thorne (again), Nimran Saund…and Sam’s dad!

If you’d like to support Trek Shorts with a monthly financial contribution, Sam now has an ongoing Patreon campaign: