LIEF Productions

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Star Trek: Intrepid in 2005

Location: Dundee, Scotland, UK

Star Trek: Intrepid, which is based in Dundee Scotland, is characterised by solid production values – beautiful CGI & crisp, green-screened backgrounds – a character driven script and strong performances. The Intrepid’s storyline hinges on the hitherto unexplored relationship between Starfleet and the UFP Merchant Marine. They have just completed live shooting and the crew is working steadily towards a 'Summer' release, probably the second quarter '06.

Nick Cook, has been a major player in our discussions during the campaign. In common with most who work on fan movies, Nick wears many hats on the Intrepid. Not only is he the writer and one of the lead cast members but he is also the mainstay of the wardrobe department! This is an online interview I conducted with Nick and the director of Intrepid, Steve Hammond.

Kirok - Perhaps it is because of the portrayal by James Doohan as the "miracle working" ship's engineer of the Enterprise, but the idea of Scotsmen in the 24th century merchant marine just seems *right*. Did you write this with an echo of Scottish maritime traditions in mind?

Nick Cook - That's not an unreasonable assumption, though it's not the case. I've always been curious about other aspects of the Federation beyond Starfleet, and the Merchant Service was mentioned during the Original Series episode "Bread and Circuses". It's not implicit, but I came away from that episode with the impression that the Merchant Service were considered Starfleet's poorer cousin in some ways, and I wanted to explore that idea a little. Talking of the Scottish connection, after James Doohan's passing, the cast and crew unanimously agreed we should dedicate
our first film to his memory. We felt it only fitting that a Scottish fan film should pay homage to Trek's most prominent Scotsman.

Kirok - That was a stirring speech about man in the stars on the trailer, was that the character talking or Nick Cook?

Nick - I can't actually take any credit for that one, since Steve Hammond wrote that piece of dialogue for a short story he posted on our forum some time back. We filmed it as a stand alone piece, and thought that line would make a nice intro to the trailer. I'd say there's a fair degree of everyone involved in that speech though, since we've all known each other for so many years now, and we all pretty much think alike.

Steve Hammond - It was the director talking. I'm also the astronomy nut of the group. I remember some years ago seeing an image that was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was at the time the longest and 'deepest' exposure ever taken up to that point. The frame was absolutely packed... with galaxies! This was something that made quite an impression; that you will find stars in galaxies (obviously) but few in between them.

So this was a line that I'd wanted to use someplace since the early days of the project, the idea that we're so far out, on the very edge of the Galaxy, that very few of the points of light in the sky – at least looking away from the centre – are actually stars.

One of the things that doesn't really come across in TV SF is the sheer grandeur and immensity of the Universe. In the short story that Nick refers to, I thought it was interesting to contrast Hunter looking into the sky from the Solar System, where every line of sight had life there, and from the Charybdis Sector, where there's mostly just emptiness. Emptiness and vastness isn't easy to do in the Star Trek universe...

Kirok - Your storyline seems, like all good Trek, character driven. Were the parts made for the actors or is it good casting?

Nick - The roles were specifically written for the actors, and some of them created the characters themselves. S'Ceris, for instance, was the creation of David Reid, with some input from myself. Several of them started out as role playing characters, others were created specifically for the film. We went through a lot of changes and
refinements as we found our feet. Some of the characters originally intended to be included became unavailable due to the people who would fill those roles moving away. An Intelligence Officer called Marcus Tovey, later became Keran Azhan, who later also had to be replaced when the actor pulled out. Hunter was originally the captain, and later became First Officer, Joseph Garren was originally a Bajoran, Garin Jol, and so on.

Kirok - I've read elsewhere that the ST: Intrepid project was started 2½ years ago. What got it off the ground?

Nick - We're all members of a local Trek club, and if I remember correctly it was Dylan, who scored our theme, that originally put the idea in my head. Steve Hammond became involved shortly thereafter, and we literally couldn't have pulled any of this off without his involvement.

My personal inspiration comes largely from the people behind Starship Exeter, who I have a great deal of respect for. They created their first film at a time when the technology was not very conducive to such endeavours, and they produced a film that is, to my mind, still head and shoulders above their contemporaries.

Steve - I think it was just the right time for it, all things considered. In the wider picture, the tools needed to do something like a fan film were easily available. My current computer is roughly 1000 times faster than the first computer I ever owned – and it's still just an average on! On the software side, tools like VirtualDub are completely free and my 3D renderer was bought through a special offer with a magazine very cheaply. The other thing was the decline of our Star Trek group. This is just my take, of course, but the internet was to blame. Classically, we'd get new episodes of Trek sent across the Atlantic by post and it was quite the event to have an entire afternoon of this. Filesharing meant that more and more people were getting episodes directly and attendance dropped until there were only us left. We realised that the ones who remained were there because we wanted to socialise, not just for the viewing. A fan film, when it was mooted, was the ideal way to keep us all together. My own involvement came when Nick mentioned the idea to me and I exclaimed "Hey, I have a camcorder!"

Kirok - Over the years, you've been amongst the pioneers of Trek fan films. What do you think of the new crop of fan film productions that have hit the screen? How much harder was it when Intrepid started?

Nick - I'm not sure I'd call us pioneers, but I guess it's true we've been around for a while, and we're still here. I don't personally think things are any easier now than they were when we first started out, though Steve might have a different perspective on that. I think the main reason we're seeing so many now is that more people are realising that it is possible, due to the efforts of Hidden Frontier and New Voyages. I think if you see another fan producing a film, it makes you think "hey, I could do that." Certainly, that's the effect Exeter had on me, though it's also worth adding that the reality is a lot harder than it looks, and I've personally learned a few hard lessons along the way.

Steve - I think the level of difficulty I've experienced has been a constant; it's just becomes different things as time progresses! At the beginning, getting the greenscreen to work was causing me endless nightmares, now that I think I've got it to a point where I'm happy with it (note: I didn't say it was fantastic, I said I'm happy with it!) I'm tearing my hair out about other things. You'll note that I have short hair now and I never used to...

In any case, the ultimate pioneering fan film has to be Troops and that's the one I encountered first. Each of the existing Trek productions has it's own strengths and the new ones will have their own strengths too. Quite aside from all the technical challenges, the most important thing for a new production is to be sure that you'll still be around throughout the project. Anything over a year is not a small investment of time and people might not realise that it actually takes effort, which is why anyone out there who's already been here and done this is deserving of respect.

That said, I think of Intrepid as being a serious hobby, otherwise I'd go nuts. You can call us pioneers when we've got a complete product!

Kirok - You seem to have a large ensemble cast, has this presented problems?

Nick - Oh hell yeah! Scheduling has been out biggest headache, especially since our script called for a lot of location work. We've all got busy schedules, and trying to find time for the people we need to get together has been extremely difficult. Like Hidden Frontier, we have a fairly small area to work in for our indoors scenes, so trying to cram several people into the same shot is not an easy task.

Steve - The biggest problem is definitely people-wrangling! I made myself unpopular for a while by shooting the first scene when I had a cold. But time is certainly an issue when a lot of people are needed for any particular day. Over the course of the shoot, we've found out things that might have been obvious in retrospect, but took us by surprise. Such as haircuts. I've got a small role myself and most of it was filmed with a fresh haircut. So far so good, but filming a scene six months later and trying to coax my barber into giving me an identical haircut was a problem. Handy hint: get a simple haircut such as a number four at the top, a number two at the sides and tapered at the back!

Kirok - You're within cooee of the release of your first episode, how does it feel ... or is that too silly a question to answer? (^V^)

Nick - It feels wonderful. There's a great sense of satisfaction from everyone involved. There were those who said we'd never finish our film, and others who said we were being too ambitious. Now, no one here's going to claim we are doing Shakespeare, or that we have the production standards of New Voyages, but we're pretty proud of what we've accomplished, and we think it's a pretty decent story. Whether anyone else will agree, is another matter, but I guess time will tell.

Steve - I don't think about it. I can hardly remember a time when I wasn't doing this, it's just part of my life.

Kirok - We've heard nothing about episode 2, do you have any plans in the pipeline? Given that you have a seasoned production group together now, do you think we'll see the second episode within 12 months of the first?

Nick - Steve Hammond is working on a possible second script, called "Bit Patterns", which focuses a little more on the Merchant Service. We'll see how our first one does, but if people want to see more, we're certainly open to doing it, and I'm confident we'd be able to get it out a lot faster if we did.

Steve - We have plenty of ideas, both Trek and non-trek. I think it was important to have done Trek first because our love of Trek kept us together for the duration. If it had been a completely original production, I'm not saying we couldn't do it just as well, but it would have been a lot more trouble maintaining interest over what has been about three years. Now that we're comfortable with the process, other projects become possible. My own plan, once we're done, is to take a few months to write episode two, though that isn't a confirmation that it will actually go ahead. I think we'll do a small, entirely original film, say 10-20 minutes, and then take stock. As for ep 2, we'll see more of the Merchant Service and hopefully contrast their operating styles with Starfleet. As an example, Starfleet would diagnose malfunctioning equipment with a variety of elegant scanning techniques; the Merchant Service is more "Well, let's just saw it in half and see what's melted."

Kirok - What's been the highlight of the production for you so far?

Nick - To be honest it's hard to say. We laugh a lot, and while we take our work seriously, we generally have a good time at our shoots. But if I had to pick one, I'd have to go with the weekend shoot we did this past Summer. We had this huge campfire going at midnight, out in the middle of some of the most beautiful countryside. We had barbecue, we drank, we laughed, we even danced around the campfire, with a full moon peeking through the trees. It was a great experience.

Steve - This might sound odd, but the bit that had me most giggling like a loony was about five seconds after I bought Premiere online. How much damage did I just do to my credit limit??? Wow! This means I'm serious!!! Followed by the thought that I
had damn well better finish this project and get my money's worth!

Kirok - Will this lead to bigger and better things for you Nick or are you content to remain in the ranks of the inspired amateurs?

Nick - I think my acting should stay relegated purely to the status of amateur. Though I wouldn't mind taking the writing side of things a little further. Who knows? I do have a few ideas that aren't Star Trek that I'd like to develop, but we'll see.

Steve - My default operating mode is writer. I knew Nick whilst at college and that was some fifteen years ago and even then we thought it would be great to make movies. It was just idle thoughts back then and most of it was geared towards creating stories, rather than actually make a movie because the digital revolution hadn't really kicked in. Looking back, I still had ambitions to make a film of some kind even so far as making sure that my video recorder worked as an editing deck, even though I never made use of it. Doing it that way would have been so difficult and frustrating that I'm kind of glad I never put in the effort back then because it would have put me off of film-making for life. We really are privileged to be here in 2005 with the kind of kit available. I do think that if we do become 'professionals' we'll be a generation completely apart from traditional film-making because we learnt our stuff via DVD commentary tracks and had the computer as our centrepiece instead of the traditional editing suite. What I hope is that we never forget the values that don't depend on technology; stories and characters.

Kirok - Any thoughts on licensing? If an agreement could be struck with Paramount which allowed you to charge enough to cover your costs could you produce more?

Nick - I'm very much opposed to anyone making money off of a licensed product without approval, but sure, if Paramount came knocking you'd have to be insane to turn them down. :) If we had a way of covering costs, that would give everyone involved the necessary free time to make more, I'd do it in heartbeat. But I don't think it's all that likely.

Steve - My first reaction would be to try and re-do everything to a higher standard! Seriously though, if anything we made suddenly wasn't a free download any more, then suddenly there's an obligation and perhaps it wouldn't be quite as much fun. As Calvin, of Calvin & Hobbes fame, said; "It's only work if someone makes you do it."

Kirok - What do you do when you're not on board the Starship Intrepid?

Nick - I work as an anaesthetic nurse, which basically means I assist the anaesthetists in theatre, or anywhere else in the hospital. When I'm not at work, I like to spend time with my fiancee (we got married November fifth), build props, do a little costuming work and generally lounge about.

Steve - I work for an aerospace company that manufactures - amongst other things - microwave coaxial cables. Part of what I do is reviewing specifications for them, many of which are used in satellites. If that wasn't remarkable enough – and we tend to take so much for granted – I've held cables in my hand which, if everything goes well, will be in orbit around Venus next year. It just doesn't get any cooler than that!


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