Four TREK SHORTS in three blogs – Blog #3: PAKLED RESURGENCE and PROTOSTAR SAVED (interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS)

And so we come to the end of my 3-part “catch-up” blog series on the recent releases in the TREK SHORTS fanthology series. Blog #1 covered BROKEN REALITY (premiering back in May), and Blog #2 focused on FIRST MEETING (which debuted in August). Today’s blog will look at the most recent two releases, PAKLED RESURGENCE (September) and PROTOSTAR SAVED (October)…both of which focusing on the U.S.S. Protostar from the recently-canceled and even-more-recently-picked-up-by-Netflix STAR TREK: PRODIGY.

I fell behind because British frenetic fan filmmaker SAMUEL COCKINGS decided that 2023 would be the perfect time to release one new fan film EACH MONTH from February onward (not counting April). I was managing to keep pace for a little while, but…blimey, mate! You’re on a frickin’ tear!!!

If you’re curious to check them out, in addition to the two blog links I provided above, I invite you to read and/or listen to the blogs spotlighting Sam’s other four releases (so far!) from this year…

Before we get to our final chat with Sam (at least for now…as there are still two months left in 2023!), let’s take a look at both of his latest Prodigy-inspired releases. First up, the rather epic 28-minute Pakled Resurgence, starring Sam Cockings himself along with MARIE-LOUISE SVALENG, SEÁN FERRICK, ROY EAPPEN, and Sam’s co-podcaster from TREKYARDS STUART FOLEY…

And then, here’s the quick five-and-a-half-minute vignette (and the last two minutes are the closing credits!), Protostar Saved, again starring Sam and Marie…

And now, ladies and gentleman, returning to our stage for a second encore, Mr. Samuel Cockings…

JONATHAN – Let’s start with Pakled Resurgence. If you could describe that fan film in just one word, Sam, what would it be?

SAM – Ambitious. And if you gave me two words: REALLY ambitious. I think I had, like, 67 space shots in it. It’s filled to the brim with stuff. It’s also my longest fan film since TEMPORAL ANOMALY and my largest cast, too. And I guess it’s ironic that my longest Trek Shorts fan film was followed immediately by my shortest-ever one.

JONATHAN – So how did Pakled Resurgence come about?

SAM – We are producing a very, very special…um…thing. And that thing was meant to be out already. That thing is still gonna come out, but certain ambitions of it that are in the 3D department but are out of my hands got delayed by two and a half months. So we couldn’t progress on that project in any meaningful way, and therefore, with this forced delay—I still was enjoying the monthly releases of Trek Shorts—I was able to say, “Okay, we’ve got this story that we are going to release that’s very ambitious. It can’t be released until maybe December, maybe January. But we know that the story is going to be big. If we need to release something in between to keep us “on schedule,” then let’s do a film or two films that actually set up elements in that big story which the audience won’t realize are set-ups because they’re just part of the narrative.

That’s why we’ve got Seán, Stuart, and other things that you will see. This is a way of creating a story that sets up another story. A payoff is only a payoff if you have a set-up. And I was forced to skip a ton of my set-ups for this giant project. Those set-ups are in other films, but I can’t release them before the giant film. So this film, Pakled Resurgence, allowed me to jump a few set-ups and put them in.

The U.S.S. Resolute from the video game Star Trek: Resurgence

And I was also very keen to do a first-in-the-world Star Trek: Resurgence fan film, because that game had come out, we’d talked to the creators for Trekyards, and we really liked them. I wanted to give them a fan film to show their ship in action. (I’ve actually heard from some of them, and they were thrilled.) I also wanted to incorporate the Protostar to give another shoutout to the Hagerman Brothers to help #SaveStarTrekProdigy…which we did! Maybe we helped get Prodigy sold to Netflix. We hope we did, if only a little.

JONATHAN – So was this another script that you wrote in a fortnight?

SAM – Yeah, a week or so.

JONATHAN – Wow! Considering that this was your longest fan film yet, that’s really impressive.

SAM – Well, I was highly motivated. Not only did I want to drop breadcrumbs in anticipation of the giant project, but I was very keen on being the first in the world to make a Resurgence fan film (the creators of the game loved seeing the shot of the Resolute joining the fleet). It was also the first time Seán Ferrick of the TrekCulture YouTube Channel ever appeared in a fan film.

Seán Ferrick of the TrekCulture YouTube Channel

JONATHAN – Well, you were also the first in the world to make a Prodigy fan film, as well, with Flight of the Protostar.

SAM – Yeah, I’ve also been the first to do a PICARD season two-era fan film and a live-action LOWER DECKS era fan film, too.

JONATHAN – So lots of firsts!

SAM – Yep. But the other reason I wrote the script so quickly is because I wanted to keep releasing one film a month…so I knew I only had, like, 20 or 21 days until the end of September. And we released it on September 30, so we just made it!

JONATHAN – Considering the amount of 3D that had to be rendered, that’s actually pretty incredible!

SAM – And it wasn’t just the space VFX shots. Each take of an actor in front of a green screen had to be composited against a background. Each time I’d render a take of the whole film, I needed to leave the computer processing overnight. If something got screwed up—and that did happen a couple of times—I had to go back and render it all again overnight.

JONATHAN – This film also features the character that you yourself play, Lieutenant William Davis.

Samuel Cockings as Lt. William Davis

SAM – Yeah, that was another benefit of making this film. I could enhance my own character: Who is he? What has he done? A link to the Pegasus was a nice touch, I thought. It’s a dark story of the background of his dad—NOT played by my dad, by the way! It also explores his relationship with Reed and Keeley…more subtext than full on, but it’s there.

As I said, when you watch the full thing we’re doing, this will be more poignant, and you’ll understand. Because I literally had scenes from that thing I’m doing that I could pull into this film and reuse those assets but use them first…if that makes any sense. And in that way, I could get more production value, in theory.

JONATHAN – So how did you decide on the Pakleds being the antagonists in this film?

SAM – Honestly, this visual popped into my brain: the Pakled clumpship—their warship from Lower Decks—I just pictured that dropping out of warp in front of the Protostar. That visual was so bold, that I made the entire film around that concept. And then I added all of the other things I wanted to include like the Resolute and Seán to connect these bits, and I think it was very successful. Also, it’s sort of a Lower Decks-themed film in that there’s a silliness to it that isn’t present in most of my other films. I mean, Pakleds are silly by definition. But throwing a ship is silly. The fact that their guns don’t work so they do this other thing instead is silly.

That’s why my characters just kept going weirder because that’s the joke. It escalates again and again and again because the Pakleds are ridiculous. And so, when I got to that realization, and since Lower Decks is so referential in and of itself, I wanted to include a visual from as many Star Trek franchises as I could. So Martok represents DS9, the Enterprise-E represents TNG movies, Pegasus and Challenger represent TNG, Protostar is Prodigy, Intrepid is is Voyager, I included Captain Riker on the U.S.S. Titan, there was the first-ever use of a Picard-era starbase, and the U.S.S. Foley (Stuart’s ship, that he designed, by the way) fighting the Tholian was TOS…incorporate a little bit of everything under one umbrella. And that Foley scene is important in the later film, and you’ll appreciate it later, but it’s self-contained here.

In fact, everything is in there for a reason, not just for the sake of doing it. For example, Geordi being in temporary command of the U.S.S. Challenger was something that happened in the Voyager episode “Timeless.” And even though you could argue that was a different timeline, it still makes logical sense that he would do it in the prime timeline, too…and of course, he knows the Pakleds, so he would jump to this call. And I wasn’t going to have Worf be the captain of the Enterprise-E, but TERRY MATALAS says that Worf WAS captain of the Enterprise-E, so I wrote that in. And that’s “fresh” for me. I wouldn’t have written that in six months ago, but then we all watched season three of Picard.

JONATHAN – LOTS of Easter eggs for the keen-eyed fan…almost too many to count! So how did this squeeze-it-in “bonus “fan film end up becoming your longest since Temporal Anomaly?

SAM – It ended up being longer than I thought. I thought it was going to be just 20 minutes, as the script was only 17 pages. But I tried to really take my time with the dialogue, really act it, because as you know, I usually speak very quickly.

JONATHAN – Well, you are from the U.K.!

SAM – It’s not just that. I was able to read an autocue [teleprompter -Jonathan], which allowed me the comfort level to really slow down. Normally, if I have to remember lines, I have a very bad short-term memory. So the stress of keeping those lines in my brain creates the stress of me trying say it quickly before I forget it. I literally forget it as I’m saying it. I can’t hold onto a line for more than a few seconds. But the autocue actually allowed me to do the whole thing; I think I did, gosh, seven minutes in one take at one point…without a blooper! And unlike Emma or Nim doing a documentary, where they don’t understand the subtext, I knew everything I was trying to say, all the subtext. Anyway, I’m quite pleased with how I did. It’s passable acting, and passable is good. I’ll accept passable.

JONATHAN – And you directed yourself, right? No one else came down to help?

SAM – For this one, yes. The next one I’m in, I was directed by someone else…which is very interesting because I filmed this after that one. So I’d already been directed, and that was fresh in my mind. So that really, really helped. And you’ll see who directed me when that film comes out.

JONATHAN – Okay, let’s finish up with a brief discussion of Protostar Saved, your shortest Trek Shorts to date. Obviously you made that to announce/celebrate Star Trek: Prodigy getting picked up by Netflix. Now, I understand you making Flight of the Protostar after Paramount canceled Prodigy so you could demonstrate fan support. But we all got what we wanted, and fans were already aware of the news. So why did you bother to make this ultra-short fan film?

SAM – I wrote the first Protostar fan film the night it got canceled. I started doing the first CG that night, and I released the completed film within six days of it getting canceled. It was a show of support and solidarity by the fans. But it seemed to me that it would be disingenuous, when Prodigy was saved by Netflix, not to release something then, as well. After all, we had released two Prodigy-themed films in the meantime that got massively shared by the community, so lots of people saw them. Did it help? We don’t know. But I had already filmed something with someone else earlier in the day, so I still had the green screen, camera, and lights fully set up downstairs. So I said, “Y’know, I’m just gonna do something. Just…something.”

JONATHAN – So you jotted down a quick script then?

SAM – No. Actually, that entire piece was entirely improvised.

JONATHAN – Really?

SAM – Yep. Only one take with no bloopers.

JONATHAN – Well, that’s impressive!

SAM – I know! Because I had, like, 20 minutes to film it. So I thought, as I was getting in costume, what I could do. Then full improv and straight to editing.

JONATHAN – Well, that explains why you delivered your “lines” faster in this film, since there wasn’t any teleprompter for you to read from.

SAM – That’s why it’s so real. But it’s also an entirely canon piece. I’m actually talking about it as if it’s all in-universe. So I had to improv, in character, unscripted, one take. And I did it! And I managed to release it THAT NIGHT…which is phenomenal. I stayed up until 5am just to make sure it came out properly.

JONATHAN – It seems unbelievable that you got it done so fast considering how many VFX shots are in it.

SAM – I actually used all existing CG footage. It’s entirely a “clip show!”

JONATHAN – Wait, some of those were shots I don’t recall ever seeing before.

SAM – Some are from the first Prodigy fan film, some are from the Pakled film, and the rest are from an upcoming film that hasn’t been released yet. I think I tweaked two shots to remove spoilers. But because I had so many so many clips made in two months featuring the Protostar, it ended up being a very “full” visual film. I mean, if you hadn’t seen those other fan films, it feels like a million bucks. But it was just a clip show with me talking because I only had about four hours to make it. Well, maybe six, if you include rendering time.

JONATHAN – I noticed that the voice-over at the end from Marie was the same one from Pakled Resurgence.

SAM – Yeah, that was lucky! Marie did a phenomenal job in the Pakled film, and I thought that would be a beautiful way to end this other piece because it’s so poignant. It’s meant to be a flagpole in history: this is the day Prodigy was saved. And the hashtag at the start is changed from #SaveStarTrekProdigy to #SAVEDStarTrekProdigy. And that became a hashtag that night of the movement.

JONATHAN – What kind of reaction did you get to releasing it so quickly?

SAM – Well, the Hagermans were happy, and lead writer AARON WALTKE tweeted, too. I think they posted about me three or four times.

JONATHAN – Well, they should be happy. I mean, 4-to-6 hours has to be some kind of record when it comes to producing and releasing a full, quality Star Trek fan film!

SAM – You know, it’s funny, but I value quality and consistency so much that 45 minutes of that time—while I was working on other parts of the film compositing green screen—I decided to remaster the first shot from the first Prodigy film to add the new bridge that we now have. So I had the computer rendering a new version of a shot that I already had available, just to make it look nicer.

JONATHAN – Some might call that obsession, Sam.

SAM – Hey, can I help it if my standards increased between releases?

JONATHAN – You’re one of a kind, Sam. So my last question about this latest film has to do with the footage of your character. You said that you got the entire monologue in one take, but I noticed that you feature both close-up and wider shots of yourself. Usually in fan films, when that happens, keen-eyed viewers can spot some loss in quality in the zoomed-in close-up. But both framings look just as sharp. Did you use two cameras for the shoot?

SAM – No, just one camera. But I film myself in 6K. And because the footage is so hi-res, the zoomed-in close-up is still 4K, which is the resolution of the final film. You can’t have just one uninterrupted angle for a three-minute scene; it gets too boring visually. But if you cut between wider angles and close-ups, it doesn’t feel like it’s all one take anymore.

JONATHAN – So what’s coming next from Samuel Cockings and Trek Shorts?

SAM – Well, since I’m still aiming for one new release per month…

JONATHAN – Dude, yer killin’ me here with all these fan films that I have to cover!!!

SAM – Sorry, Jonathan. But that’s still my goal, and actually, the release of the Protostar Saved let me have an October film to give me just a little more time for our November release, which I needed. But that’s well on its way to completion. It’s another “world’s first,” as it has some Picard season three crossover elements as well as the use of another model that we’ve never used before. Plus some more exploration. And again, once you see the big thing, you’ll gasp and say, “I see the hints!” But you won’t get them without it.

And then December’s release is a different franchise. And then hopefully in January we can start the big thing. But I really want to get more elements completed and wait then release early, even it it means missing a month. But it’s really exciting.

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

2 thoughts on “Four TREK SHORTS in three blogs – Blog #3: PAKLED RESURGENCE and PROTOSTAR SAVED (interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS)”

  1. Great set of articles. Behind the scenes details are always fascinating. Here’s to Sam keeping you busy!

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