LIEF Productions

Monday, January 09, 2006

Starship Exeter in 2005

Starship Exeter

I cannot help but feel that Starship Exeter has had an unlucky year in the public eye and it has been totally undeserved. They started with the ambitious objective of releasing their latest episode, "The Tressaurian Intersection", as a series of five weekly instalments, beginning on March 17. Part of the idea was to give themselves some leeway in post-production however it would also have the practical effect of spreading the download fever that accompanied the release of their first episode!

Unfortunately they got off to a delayed start when their teaser - the introductory section leading up to the titles - was delayed to July 1st. perhaps they thought their troubles were behind them for the next instalment, Act 1, was scheduled for a week later on the 8th and the other acts to follow shortly after.

In actual fact we had to wait until October 27th.

I say this is unfair because, let's face it, this is a fan production, we will get it for free, so who can say we have the right to hold them to scheduling commitments? Their only commitment is to produce the best film they can! Most fans realise this and the message comes through clearly from their fans, that the fan film community would prefer to see a good fan film arrive late, than a bad fan film now!

There is no denying though the disappointment that the delay caused and this sentiment has caused a reaction amongst other fan film productions, so that none are so bold as to commit themselves to a firm release date.

The oldest American Trek Fan Film production company, Exeter Studio's first episode "Savage Empire" was started way back on Christmas Eve 1995. "We were sitting around my dad's office, and I said, 'We should try to make our own episode,' " Jimm Johnson recalls. "My brother [Joshua] said, 'Yeah, and we should have an Andorian in it.' ". Their aim, as they state on their website, was (and still is) to produce "an original self-produced pilot intended as a concept for a new television serial based on the look and feel of the 'Original Series.'"

Over seven long years Jimm and Josh pretty much created the whole thing themselves from scratch. They were not just the producers, they researched and wrote the script, rented warehouse studio space in Minneapolis, Minnesota for two years, sewed costumes, built sets, played the two lead roles and shot much of the production. It was all pioneering stuff as they battled with the emerging technologies of video editing, computer graphics and the internet in their post production.

The pay-off finally came on December 19, 2002, when the first episode of Starship Exeter, "The Savage Empire", made its internet debut! As recounted by Dennis Bailey "A mention of The Savage Empire on " article in January of 2003 resulted in an upsurge of demand so great that Apple Inc., which hosts, had to shut the site down for six hours while mirror download servers were set up" A more subtle effect of the success of Savage Empire was the impression it made on the Star Trek fan community, who realised what could be done - several existing fan film groups point to Exeter as their genesis.

How do you follow up on a success like that then? The Johnson brothers ended up with two scripts to follow up on Savage Empire, "The Mighty Galvanaut" and "The Atlantis Invaders", however "Galvanaut" was eventually dropped from the line-up. A new story was added, "The Tressaurian Intersection", with a teleplay written by Dennis R. Bailey, an established screen writer with two Next Generation episodes - "Tinman" and "First Contact" - to his credit.

When Tressaurian was in pre-production Maurice Molyneaux contacted Jimm Johnson about helping rewrite one of their scripts. "I took a shot at Atlantis." Says Maurice "My involvement with TTI was originally just to give feedback on the script. Enough of my suggestions were incorporated that they were nice enough to add my name to the "Story by" credits."

A strong web presense gained them a dedicated core of followers, and as filming drew closer all the preparations started to come together. An interesting article by Dan Murphy, who played a red shirt (and survived!), tells of the casting calls in late May of 2004, the costume fitting in June and the start of shooting in mid July at the Austin Studios. The local News 8 crew even filmed a segment with their "Morning Girl" putting on a Starfleet Uniform and re-enacted a scene with the Exeter Crew on the bridge. See C.D.Hall's and Jenny Taylor's web site amongst others for some great candid set shots.

The volunteer/amateur cast and crew numbered about 50, some coming from a considerable distance. Dennis Bailey drove all the way from Washington DC, and nearly gave the director, Scott Cummins a heart attack when he introduced himself!

Filming wrapped on August 1st with only a short on-location scene, some pick-up shots and special-effects sequences still to do. Unfortunately they were unable to get the filming done of their 3rd episode, "The Atlantis Invaders", which is now on hold until they have finished episode two.

The trailer for the second episode was released on Dec 1st and from there, as I have said, it has been been a long tough haul through post-production! Why is the pace so slow? To paraphrase a point made elsewhere, you can either have money to spend on a project or plenty of time to spend on your project, but if you have neither you have to compromise your standards.

Exeter are adamant that they will not compromise on production quality however they don't have any money to spend, so... they are taking as much time as is needed to get the best results possible from the unpaid volunteers who are contributing.

So what does the future hold for Starship exeter? Well there will be at least one more episode, "The Atlantis Invaders", which has a script and a certain amount of pre-production work done on it. However, in common with other fan film groups, they are feeling the restrictions of only producing fan films on a virtually "zero" budget! jimm Johnson has been quoted in the Herald Journal as saying "In the future, [he] hopes to produce original movies so they will be in complete control of marketing, as well as production."

originally published in the "The LIEF Erikson", January 2006


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