The Star Trek Axanar Kickstarter wraps up Sunday, but it has already set a new record for independent Trek production crowdfunding. TrekMovie sat down with producer and star Alec Peters to talk about the dream of making his own Star Trek movie. In part 1 of the interview below, Peters talks about the Axanar Kickstarter experience, how they plan to spend the money, how they are making Axanar a professional production, the approach to designing a look for 20 years before the original Star Trek series, and more.
Alec Peters Talks Axanar As They Blow Past $400k On Kickstarter
“Star Trek Axanar” is an independent Star Trek film set in the time before the original series, which will tell the story of the Battle of Axanar – with a focus on the character of Garth of Izar (from the TOS episode “Whom Gods Destroy”). Axanar is brainchild of Alec Peters who was first introduced to fans as a Star Trek collector and CEO of PropWorx which, handled some major Star Trek memorabilia auctions (Peters even wrote some Auction update stories for TrekMovie.com). As a life-long fan, Peters was always fascinated by the character of Garth and decided he wanted to be the one who told his story – creating the concept for Axanar and casting himself as Garth.
Peters then surrounded himself with industry professionals and actors who shared his dream and they began with the “Prelude To Axanar,” an in-universe History Channel-style documentary about the Battle of Axanar which was released earlier this summer. That acted as a proof of concept and sales pitch to seek crowdfunding for the feature-length Axanar. TrekMovie talked to Peters about the campaign and where he and his team are going next.
TrekMovie: Congratulations on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. It looks like Axanar is going past $400,000, which would be a record for any of the Star Trek related crowdfunding projects. Why do you think it has caught on so much?
Alec Peters: I think it is due to the professionalism of ["Prelude to Axanar"]. It doesn’t look like a fan film, it looks like a Hollywood production.
TrekMovie: So you see "Prelude" as a sales pitch for the full "Axanar" Kickstarter?
Alec Peters: Yes. And I think the other thing about "Prelude" is not only does it look and feel like a real production, but it is a compelling Star Trek narrative. I think people are excited about seeing a time twenty years before TOS that they have never found anything out about before and not only is it well written – by Star Trek people – people like the story and how we tell it and it really comes across as Star Trek.
TrekMovie: So even though you guys already have around $400,000 pledged, your actual goal is $650,000? Will you have to go back to Kickstarter?
Alec Peters: The $650,000 figure is a rough guess of what our budget will be for the full length feature. It will probably be a little more. One of the things on "Prelude" is we learned a lot. We spent four times as much as we expected to spend, but we originally expected it to be a ‘fan film’ and now I don’t think many people consider it just a fan film. So for the full-length feature we want to make sure we knock it out of the park for the high bar that we have established for independent Star Trek…So for the rest of the budget, I don’t know if we will go back to Kickstarter. I think we are in a powerful position right now to be able to create a method for our donors for us to get the rest.
Behind the scenes filming "Star Trek: Axanar"
TrekMovie: You have used the word ‘professional,’ so does that mean that everyone who works on the project in production and post-production will be paid? And will they be paid union wages?
Alec Peters: Everyone will be paid, but we can’t afford union wages. If we were to pay standard industry union wages, then we would need to raise millions of dollars. People are still doing this because of their love for Star Trek, but we will pay them something.
TrekMovie: So when people are hired for this, they are still Trek fans so there is still an element of volunteerism, like other fan films.
Alec Peters: Right. "Prelude" was made with a totally volunteer crew. All professionals, but they still volunteered their time. But when we do the full feature it won’t be a two-day shoot, it will be a twenty-day shoot. Now you are asking people to commit three weeks of their life to your film, so you better pay them something. It may not be union wages, but they are being paid something.
TrekMovie: With you guys collecting more money than anyone has before, what are you doing to be transparent about how you are spending all this money.
Alec Peters: If you look at the Kickstarter it tells you exactly where the money is going. First hundred is going to the sets, the next hundred and a quarter is going to the sound-stage, etc. We strive to be accountable and transparent, which is the right thing to do. And if you go back to "Prelude" we were pretty specific about where we were spending the money and we are getting ready now to actually publish the budget for "Prelude to Axanar" for all the donors to see. [Note: Not long after the interview was conducted, Peters posted a detailed "Prelude" budget at Kickstarter].
TrekMovie: Getting back to the issue of a professional production, I can remember talking to you years ago about Trek fan films and we both agreed that they could often have lots of great elements – like sets and costumes – but were hampered by non-professional elements – often the actors. So for the full Axanar film, will any of the actors be non-professionals (besides yourself)?
Alec Peters: Besides myself, everyone is going to be a professional actor to one extent or another. Not everyone is going to be J.G. Hertzler or Tony Todd. Everyone has to audition for parts. There is no family and friends program in our auditioning.
TrekMovie: I understand that all the actors from "Prelude" – including Richard Hatch, Kate Vernon, Gary Graham – will be in the full Axanar film, and you recently announced Garrett Wang will be joining to play a Klingon. Have you cast any other parts?
Alec Peters: No news yet on that. We are still casting the entire Ares crew. There are more big roles to be cast.
TrekMovie: While you are not casting friends and family, you have cast yourself in the lead role of Garth of Izar. You are now the star of this big thing and it is your first time as an actor. What have you done to prepare yourself? A lot of people are going to see this thing, so are you nervous, optimistic? terrified?
Alec Peters: That puts a lot of pressure on, because of what we did and how good "Prelude" was. I was fully prepared to step aside and just produce. I had that conversation with Christian where I said "if you don’t think I can do this, we will get someone else." I have been in acting class for two years with Richard Hatch as my acting coach, because you got to prepare. "Prelude" was a test of what we can do and what I can do. I know I can produce – "Prelude" proves that, but the question is: could I act? It is scary to be the weakest link in the chain. And it was great because Gary Graham said to me "you know Alec, there were a lot of people on the set who were really worried you were not going to be able to pull it off, but I have to say I was really impressed. You did amazing work." I knew Richard was going to say good things because I am his student, but for Gary say that totally unsolicited told me that I hit the mark OK.
TrekMovie: You and director Christian Gossett are writing the script. What role is David Gerrold playing with the writing?
Alec Peters: He does a read and makes suggestions so he is our creative consultant. I am the primary writer with Christian as director and helping me revise the script.
TrekMovie: And I understand Robert Meyer Burnett is returning to edit, who are some of the other key people on the creative team.
Alec Peters: Well there is Kevin Haney – who is doing make-up – he won an Academy Award for Driving Miss Daisy. And Frank Serafine who won an Academy Award for The Hunt for Red October is our sound editor. They show the kind of people that Axanar is attracting.
TrekMovie: What about music and visual effects and design?
Alec Peters: The music it totally original by an outstanding young composer named Alex Bornstein who actually came to us when he read your first article about us two years ago. He worked for Bear McCreary and Hans Zimmer and now he is working for us. Tobias Richter – who most Trek fans know – is doing the visual effects. We have a couple of guys doing the production design work. The stuff you see on our Kickstarter page is by a guy named Eric Henry who is a young graphic artist who hasn’t worked in the industry but his stuff is spot on. Plus we have another guy from the industry, plus Christian Gossett designed stuff and he is a visual artist – that is his specialty.
Early USS Ares flyby test by Tobias Richter
TrekMovie: Speaking of the look, you guys are trying to capture an aesthetic between the USS Kelvin from the 2009 Abrams Star Trek movies and the original series Matt Jefferies TOS design. What are the challenges of trying to fit into that spot? Will everything you do be a new design?
Alec Peters: Everything we do will be a new. We aren’t doing TOS, it is going to be different. But our greatest problem is TOS is an almost 50 year old vision of the future. If we are twenty years before that, the challenge is to make your ships and everything about them look 20 years older without looking like you are from a Buck Rogers serial. So JJ’s people took a stab at that. They were mindful for making the Kelvin look older than certainly the Enterprise in their timeline. That is the challenge. You need to create stuff that looks somewhat retro to TOS, but still looks cool.
3-D render for bridge of the USS Ares from "Star Trek: Axanar" by Eric Henry
TrekMovie: What is your current schedule for production and release? Is it rigid or more flexible?
Alec Peters: It is flexible. We aren’t a studio that has a deadline and there are so many variables so it is hard to nail down right now. Getting a studio space is the first job we are trying to execute on. We have a place we are in the midst of closing a deal on currently. We will start shooting in Q1 of 2015, January of February.
TrekMovie: How much of the shooting will be done on location?
Alec Peters: We have lots of locations planned, at least five locations. Probably all around the LA area but it is possible we will go to the Valley of Fire [Nevada State Park] for the landing party scene but we are still far away from that.
TrekMovie: And the hope is to release it in the Summer of the 2015? How do you plan on releasing it?
Alec Peters: It will be kind of like we did with "Prelude." We had a red carpet premiere at San Diego Comic-con, then our donors got exclusive access to it online. And then we released it on Kickstarter and now it is out publically on our YouTube page.
Full "Prelude to Axanar"
Check back tomorrow for part 2 of the interview, where Peters talks about Axanar as a ‘war movie,’ how it fits into Star Trek, and what the plan is for the future after release.
And if you want to donate, visit the Axanar Kickstarter page.