LIEF Productions

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hidden Frontier in 2005

Location: Palmdale, California, USA

On December 12 Carlos Pedraza, the long standing scribe of Star Trek: Hidden Frontier (HF) posted on their forum that he was resigning, citing "creative challenges we were unable to resolve." Whatever the cause, the split seems reasonably amicable although it sent shock waves through the ranks of the HF supporters!

Three days later, Carlos and James Cawley, Executive Producer for Star Trek: New Voyages (NV) announced that they "are working together on a very Special "New" Trek series! Together we have co-created a VERY unique concept, that will take place in the 23rd century." Mr. Cawley, who plays Cpt Kirk in NV, is no stranger to HF after playing Cpt Mackenzie Calhoun in a cameo on their recent episode, "Vigil". Bobby Rice, who plays Lt. Ro Nevin in HF, has agreed to star in this new series as one of Capt. Kirk's three nephews.

Hidden Frontier sprang from the USS Angeles, a Starfleet International chapter in Southern California. During the mid 90's, the Angeles put together a live action, episodic, VHS video series which was distributed & sold for the cost of the materials, only to club members and featured many club members as performers.

Rob Caves has been the prime mover in this project right from the start, aided by a core of dedicated fans. What has characterised the success of Hidden Frontier?

Well, first and foremost has to be the sheer bulk of the body of work that they have presented! Six complete seasons spread over five years! Forty two episodes! These guys are not fly-by-night! They've "paid their dues" and deserve respect for the dedication they have shown. This is compounded by the fact that they have done it all without sets and a zero-budget for costume and make-up.

The decision was made early on, partially because of this lack of sets and partially to reduce the amount of work required in post production for each episode, to do their Chromakeying (green screen) live, through a hardware keyer, to tape. This is in contrast to other productions that do their Chromakey work in post production, such as TOTSF and Intrepid.

Unfortunately this causes a slight "halo" effect which for some casual viewers is an insurmountable problem. If you look beyond this and immerse yourself in the story though, most fans find the production an entertaining and challenging production.

Challenging? One of the frontiers that Hidden frontier has explored has been the inclusion of a gay male couple as a major plot element. Make no bones about it, this was no easy thing to do, to strike a balance that was neither a token to political correctness nor gratuitous sexuality. Frankly in my opinion it was a triumph of script, direction and acting that never has been - perhaps never could be? - assayed by a professional company.

Their dramatic statement has garnered them kudos from the gay community, such as the media attention at Boston's Gaylaxicon last July, however it is just one thread in a larger tapestry. As the show's producers cautioned, it only played a role in six or seven episodes of the 40 that had produced to date.

Their gruelling schedule has paid off with some solid performances. The second half of season six started with "Beachhead" in August, followed by "Vigil" in September and the season finale, "Her Battle Lanterns Lit" in November.

They have been amongst the first to grasp new innovations as well. For example, not only can you get a "blooper reel" for most episodes, many of them are in low and high resolution (meaning smaller or bigger downloads) and they are amongst the first to make their episodes available in a format suitable for viewing on the new iPod videos!

This hugely successful series decided quite a while ago that this season, their seventh, would be their last. There have been pleas for a movie but so far the producers have only announced an extended final season of nine episodes instead of the normal six.

HF have just announced, on their newly redesigned website, that Dan Crout, who wrote or contributed to more than 13 of their previous episodes, has been signed on as their new staff writer …

"I'm happy to be working with the staff on the final season of Hidden Frontier. I'm honored to be asked back, and humbled by the steady and exciting progress that's been made over the three years I was away."

Dan will pick up the pace after "Heavy Losses", which was written by outgoing writer and loyal fan, Carlos Pedraza. When asked about what he and Rob Caves have in store for season 7, Crout said, "Summing up, we have a scorcher of a storyline on tap for season 7, with a little something for each of our characters, and enough tears of joy and heartbreak to swamp the Queen Mary. Stick around for it.

Well as they say, with every ending, there is a new beginning … Could this be an opportunity for HF to breath new life into their five year odyssey? To end the saga with renewed vigour? Keep your eye on the HF website, their forum or subscribe to their Newsletter.

I'll wager you'll see a few surprises over January.


As the production of Hidden Frontier moves into its final season, Rob Caves has consented to share with us his views from the producer's chair as he looks over the past and into the future.

Kirok of L'Stok - Rob, as a director/producer, you will be aware of the delicate problem that is faced by fan film makers regarding Viacom's copyrights of everything to do with Star Trek. This last year there has been a virtual explosion of new productions, what have you learnt over the years and what advice would you offer newer production groups?

Rob Caves - I can't really talk about copyright issues beyond what we've put forth on our site or encyclopedia, but rest assured we don't have any special arrangement with Paramount or anyone else. We're just holding to the same guidelines that were handed down via New Voyages and their limited talks with Paramount, that are now public knowledge. There are a couple of threads on where Jack Marshall explains exactly what those guidelines were.
I would say to current and new productions, just use good judgement and when it doubt, play it safe. What happens to one fanfilm could domino into all fanfilms. I've seen far too many groups jump to sell merchandise, DVD's and ask for donations, often before they even have something to show for it. Just use common sense folks. It's my opinion that Paramount will support fanfilm as long as we treat their franchise well, and use it as a hobby. An expensive hobby. That means we shell out a lot of our own money for our hobby, not ask others to bear our burden, in my humble opinion.
Trek copyright is a very sensitive issue, but from the fanfilm maker's point of view, it is less about the letter of the law, and the legality of what we're doing, and more about how our actions are perceived by Paramount. They are the law when it comes to Trek fanfilms. Every fanfilm I've seen so far in the Trek genre could be shut down by Paramount, so that is why it comes down to making sure you're not giving Paramount a reason to take you down.

Kirok - Act 1 of the popular second-season episode, ‘Yesterday's Excelsior’ was never released as a video but as a graphic novel, was this due to external circumstances or is it an example of the guidelines you mentioned at work?

Rob - The withholding of Yesterday's Excelsior Act 1 was our own protective decision long before New Voyages was on the scene. As much as I'd love to include the first act, it does use clips from Paramount Trek to illustrate a changed timeline and I'd rather play it safe until I hear from PAR that it's ok to release it. The graphic novel does a pretty good job of showcasing it.

Kirok - Have you had any professional training in drama or cinematography?

Rob - I went to film school, Manny Coto's alma matter in fact, LMU, and produced shorts as well as worked in Hollywood for a while, but in all honesty, that's not needed to make a fanfilm, or even a good fanfilm. Often you'll learn the most important things in the field, and by trial and error.

Kirok - Do you think working on a fan film is an experience that could help someone wanting to break into "show business"?

Rob - Fanfilms can be a great place to learn the art of film production. But I'm not sure if there are any real practical ways to turn it into a career in show business. I've seen lots of people come out of Hollywood to work on fanfilms, but I don't think I can name one person who has made the transition from fanfilms into Hollywood as a result of their work in fanfilms. For actors, fanfilms can be something to put on their demo reel, so that is a help to their careers. But directing a fanfilm won't really get a directing job, and producing a fanfilm won't really help you become a producer. You almost always have to work your way up in the Hollywood framework starting out as a PA (Production Assistant), often know as a gopher.

Kirok - Is making fan films still enjoyable?

Rob - Fanfilms are absolutely enjoyable! As they should be! Why else would someone spend their own money and time on something they can never profit from?

Kirok - How about Star Wreck VI: In The Pirkinning? This is enjoying an amazing international success! What do you think about parodies?

Rob - The Star Wrecks are great parodies, some of the finest I've seen even if I don't get all the humor. But I also don't think they satisfy the Trek fan for new Trek adventures. I think that's why we also need serious dramatic efforts. I think they can both serve important purposes in the fanfilm world and I applaud the efforts of all involved.

Kirok - This is the last season for Hidden Frontier, can you tell us anything about your future plans?>

Rob - There is a *lot* of talk about this right now, and quite a big debate about what course to take. Is it time to create an original science fiction universe so that we can at least ask for donations? Or is it more important to keep it Trek and continue to be limited by budget? There are a few lucky folks who don't have to worry about the budget as much, and their Trek efforts shine in visual appeal and in other ways too. But for the vast majority of us, budget will always be a consideration, and so having done a Trek fanfilm for 6 years, I think we have to at least consider the possibility that it may be time to move in an original direction. Since we've concluded there is little or no way to get into Hollywood through a Trek fanfilm, at least an original concept may have a better shot in that regard. But again, it's all on the table at this point, and we're watching other projects closely for clues as to where it would be best for HF to go in a year.

Kirok - Fans are making more and more films, do you think this is a pointer for the future direction of fandom? Or is it just a "curiosity", a fad, that will die off?

Rob - I think that as long as Paramount is not making Star Trek, and there are fans alive that remember the shows or grew up with the shows, there will be Trek fanfilms. (Paramount willing of course). Even when Trek was on the air there were several fanfilms. So as a hobby, I think fanfilms are here to stay. On a more professional level, I don't know. The shows that become *too* professional may wander off into something more lucrative, or find a way to go pro. Unfortunately, there is really no way to know.

Kirok - If you could start of with a new, "clean slate" would you do things differently?

Rob - Oh absolutely. If I knew HF would grow to what it is, or go on for so long, seasons 1 and 2 of HF would be very different. Back then it was just for fun. If a few people watch, that's great. If I had to do it again, I think the biggest worry is that you're going to screw up and lose the dignity that you had. I think I know just a bit better how Berman and Bragga must have felt constantly having to come up with something new. It's hard! And one or two bad episodes and you've pissed people off. But at the same time, it's kind of fun to think up new concepts and try to put a new spin on Trek. I'm just thankful we have the opportunity to do that with this genre.

Kirok - What do you think of the current success of fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter...) as against Science Fiction?

Rob - Harry Potter is a great universe, and I enjoy the books and the movies. So is LOTR. I think if anything, it's a reminder that scifi needs to be nurtured or people will move away from it. And we all have a great opportunity there. I want to personally ask every fanfilm maker out there to press yourselves, to make science fiction a big part of your fanfilms. The prevailing trend right now seems to be to turn Trek into pure drama, soap, pure action, or model it after other popular shows. And I admit, HF has been guilty of this on occasion. But let's push ourselves to raise the bar. Not settle for anything less than science fiction concepts, mystery, wonder, and yes, SCIENCE in every episode we make! It can be done. I think we owe it to the genre to make sure sci-fi doesn't get amalgamated into other genres.

Kirok - If you were given a multi-million dollar budget what would you choose as a film project?

Rob - Star Trek of course! If that's not an option, I guess another scifi universe that could be the next big franchise?

Kirok - What was the last Science Fiction that you read that impressed you?

Rob - When I read, it's usually something totally unrelated to Trek or scifi. We all need a break sometimes... ;-)


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