In recent years Star Trek fan films have been growing in popularity and the most popular has been Star Trek New Voyages. This is mostly due to the production values and some pretty serious guest stars. TrekMovie.com talked to show star and creator James Cawley to find out what is behind this attempt to complete Star Trek’s 5 year mission. “I felt that the characters had more to say, I think Kirk Spock and McCoy are more relevant now than even in 1969,” explains Cawley. That belief set Cawley off on his rather expensive ‘hobby’ almost 10 years ago. Now with two high profile episodes released, millions of downloads, and another star-led episode about to premiere Cawley feels like they are finally getting close to their goal of making their fan production ‘as if you were to sit down and watch the TV in 1969.’
Original Sets – Original Actors
What probably got people’s attention most was the incredibly accurate recreation of the interior sets, props and uniforms of Star Trek: The Original Series. Cawley says that he began collecting and building props in 1997. Funding this hobby through his successful career as an Elvis impersonator, he poured money into building sets and making costumes which matched the look of TOS. Eventually friends and fans found out about the project and by 2003 a pilot “Come What May” was shot as a proof of concept (but not released). A year later the team released “In Harms Way” which featured William Windom reprising his role as Cmdr. Matt Decker from “The Doomsday Machine.” Cawley claims “In Harms Way” has been downloaded over 30 million times and it set the trend for New Voyages to involve professionals who were involved with the original series. Up next was Walter Koenig who reprised his role as Pavel Chekov, suddenly aging rapidly. Koenig also brought on TOS vet writer D.C. Fontana to pen a script. “To Serve All My Days” was released last November and was well received by many fans, but was also controversial over how it played a little fast and loose with continuity. But like with the previous episode, STNV used the popularity to attract more people to project.
The next episode to be released will be “World Enough and Time” which has a premiere for the cast and crew this week and will be launched on the net in April. Koenig was happy with his experience and mentioned it to George Takei who then expressed interest in getting involved. The script is based on an unused story pitch for Star Trek Phase II by Michael Reaves. Reaves came on board to produce and co-write the STNV script along with Marc Scott Zicree, who also directed the episode. The plot revolves around some anomaly (always an anomaly!) that somehow explains Sulu’s aging. Cawley won’t provide details but says that it isn’t time travel or the same disease Chekov had in “To Serve All My Days.” The team has also brought in Grace Lee Whitney who reprises her role as Rand. She will be seen with Takei on the bridge of the ISS Excelsior (Sulu’s ship from Star Trek VI) which the team also lovingly recreated just for the episode.
“World Enough and Time” is the episode that Cawley feels will really break the mold of ‘fan films.’ He explains that his goal for the episode was to truly make it ‘indistinguishable with modern network television.’ “We listened to a lot of criticisms from fans and we love it, we want to get better. For this one we really upped the ante visually and performance wise it is going to astound people what we have been able to accomplish this time” The ‘ante upping’ was not only in terms of Takei and Zicree, but the whole production. The episode was shot using 3 High Def cameras and several hundreds of thousands of dollars of donated lighting. They also brought in a professional director of photography and an acting coach. This last item is important, as acting tends to be the weakest link in all fan films including Star Trek New Voyages. Cawley also states that there are over 600 effects shots, and more importantly a new effects team lead by former Foundation artists Ron Thornton and Lee Stringer (now teachers at the DAVE school)
New Voyages Gets Dochtermanized
One of the weaker aspects of STNV to date has been the special effects. This is something that Cawley freely acknowledges. “The problem was that the effects were done by guys with their own vision, but they were donating it on the terms that they could do it their own way,” explains Cawley. The problem was their way gave the effects a very modern feel that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the production which had the goal of matching the original show. Cawley promises that, starting with the Takei episode, everything will be as it should be. "No more barrel roles, no more road runner backups,” promises the producer. The new team from the DAVE school and the STNV producers are now on the same page to create shots that according to Cawley “look like the 4th season had the shown continued.” To ensure this trend continues they have brought in Daren Dochterman to act as special effects supervisor starting with the next episode (after “World Enough and Time”). Daren is well known to TrekMovie.com readers as leading the CGI team for Directors Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture as well as proposing the digital enhancement TOS. Although Daren is not working on the effects for the “World Enough and Time” he did create a new title sequence that will be first used with that episode. Cawley is thrilled with Daren joining the team, saying “there is no one who captures the original series the way Daren Dochterman does”
The next episode from STNV is sure to raise some eyebrows; Trek is finally going gay. “Blood and Fire” will be an adaptation of script by David Gerrold, the writer for “Trouble With Tribbles.” The script was originally written 20 years ago for Star Trek: The Next Generation, but was shelved due to its homosexual characters. Although Gene Roddenberry had originally expressed his approval, the idea was killed off by Paramount. Cawley sees that moment as fateful for TNG, saying “As great as TNG was, when that decision was made it forever altered Star Trek…Star Trek was no longer the first.” D.C. Fontana helped get Cawley and Gerrold together and Gerrold was intrigued by the idea. To convert the TNG script to TOS they brought in Carlos Pedraza from the TNG fan film series Hidden Frontier, which also features gay characters. Cawley knows that even after all these years the show will be controversial, but says “the best episodes of Star Trek dealt with relevant issues, the issues of the day thrown into the future was the heart and soul of the show.”
"Blood and Fire" starts shooting in June and will be released around Halloween. The plot revolves around an encounter with another Starfleet vessel with everyone on board dead. The situation is related to a disease (the AIDS allegory) which is so virulent that there are standing orders to self destruct any ship where it breaks out. The two central figures are an openly gay couple on board the Enterprise, one of whom is Kirk’s nephew Peter (seen in “Operation – Annihilate”). The show will depict the couple just like any other romantic pair on the show, with no prejudices.
Mudd’s back – Then Uhura
After "Blood and Fire," STNV will follow up with “The Sky Above, The Mudd Below” – yes Harry Mudd is back. Cawley thought the show could use the change of pace, “it is much more light hearted than everything attempted….After 3 deadly serious episodes you need something to lighten up a little bit.” Harry Mudd will be played by J.G. Hertzler (better known as DS9’s Martok). The episode will also include Mudd’s battleaxe of a wife Stella (or maybe the android Stella…or both), but that role has yet to be cast. Cawley says that fans should expect more familiar faces thanks to the new Mudd, “J.G. is pulling in some heavy guest stars.” The y will also use this episode as an opportunity to get off the sets and do some location shooting. After the Mudd episode the team plan on bringing back Nichelle Nichols to reprise her role as Uhura. DS9 (and Of Gods and Men) writers Ethan Calk and Jack Trevino are currently working with Nichols on the script. Trevino tells TrekMovie.com “Nichelle truly believes there are many layers to the character that, as an actor, she never had the opportunity to explore during the original series.”
Finishing the Mission
Cawley hopes to keep up the pace of doing 2 or hopefully more shows per year. To that end he has permanently standing sets and a dedicated crew for the show. “Our goal is to finish the 4th and 5th season of Star Trek,” says Cawley. He even has the end planned out “I want to see the ship dock and the crew get those new uniforms…and have them not like them.”
for more info…check out StarTrekNewVoyages.com
all images courtesy Star Trek New Voyages