TrekMovie visits with Of Gods and Men
The crew for the independent Trek web mini-series ‘Of Gods and Men’ (henceforth referred to as OGaM) did some location shooting in L.A. last weekend and TrekMovie.com was there. The first thing you notice when pulling up to the location is that this does not look like the proverbial ‘bunch of fans in a barn’ scenario. The scene looked like a typical L.A. filming location complete with honey wagons, equipment trucks, trailers, P.A.’s running around screaming into their headsets and extras milling about. What was different about this is that most of the extras had pointy ears. OGaM has turned a little corner of the San Fernando Valley into the planet Vulcan.
A 40th Anniversary Tribute
The idea behind OGaM started with producer/co-writer Sky Douglas Conway. Conway is the man behind the recent Planet XPo in Seattle and previously produced the indy film ‘Roddenberry on Patrol’. A friend of the Roddenberry family, Conway feels that OGaM is a way of carrying on the legacy of Star Trek. “If we believe in the ideals laid out by Gene then it is up to us, the fans, to meet Gene’s challenge,” says Conway. As 2005 came to a close Conway saw that there was no new Trek slated for the 2006 (the 40th anniversary) of Star Trek. Taking inspiration from popular fan films like ‘New Voyages’ he decided that it was up to the fans to make something special for the 40th Anniversary. “I wanted to keep the dream of Trek alive and show how Trek changed the world’ said Conway “that is the theme behind ‘Of Gods and Men’” Conway then solicited help from DS9 storywriters Ethan Calk and Jack Trevino to craft a script. Production began over the summer using the New Voyage’s meticulously built Original Series era sets. The ‘planet Vulcan’ location shoot finished on Sunday and now the film is in post-production.
Letting the ‘other’ Trek stars shine
One thing that is unique about OGaM is its cast which is made up primarily of actors who have worked on Trek in the past. The lead stars of the film are Nichelle Nichols (TOS: Uhura), Walter Koenig (TOS: Checkov) and Alan Ruck (Captain Harriman of ST: Generations). The producers originally planned to include George Takei but his schedule couldn’t permit it. Part of the motivation behind the film was to give these stars a chance to shine, as co-writer Jack Trevino put it “mostly for the Star Trek movies it was the ‘big three’ and the others were comic relief…we wanted a story that centered on them” The film rounds out its cast with a number of familiar Trek stars inlcuding Tim Russ (VOY: Tuvok), and Garrett Wang (VOY: Kim), Grace Lee Whitney (TOS: Rand), Chase Masterson (DS9: Leeta), J.G. Hertzler (DS9: Martok), Cirroc Lofton (DS9: Jake Sisko), and Gary Graham (ENT: Soval). They even picked up some lesser known Trek guest stars like Celeste Yarnell (TOS-The Apple: Landon), Crystal Allen (ENT-Bound: D’Nesh), Jack Donner (TOS-The Enterprise Incident: Tal), and Arlene Martel (TOS-Amok Time: T’Pring). “We wanted to try to bring in as many original guest stars as we can. It is not just honoring Chekov and Uhura but the 40th anniversary," said Travino. Usually films cast based on their script and not the other way around, so hopefully this appraoch does not end up being too contrived. That being said having working actors involved is a welcome sign as the acting in previous fan films is probably their weakest link. As Walter Koenig points out “in this case we have a totally professional cast and not just some volunteers.”
Never know who might ‘valk by‘
‘Trek’ meets ‘A Wonderful Life’
The production team are still keeping much of the plot to themselves but have revealed some nuggets. The film is set exactly 40 years after the beginning of the series (and 12 years after the events of Star Trek Generations). Co-writer Ethan Calk sets the stage “at the beginning we have a sort of little reunion between Chekov, Harriman and Uhura…then something happens”. Co-writer Trevino chimes in “and then a lot of things happen and then you have explosions.” From talking to the writers the ‘what happens’ appears to be some divergence into an alternative timeline created by Kirk never being born. “It is ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ meets ‘Star Trek’,” says Conway. Due to the alternative timeline plot some of the actors play ‘alternative versions’ of their original characters (not to be confused with ‘mirror universe’ versions). As Grace Lee Whitney puts it "I am my original character but then kind of different, and in the end I am me again." In addition some actors (like Garrett Wang and Gary Graham) will not be playing any version of their original characters but will portray totally new characters created for the film.
Sticking with Star Trek Traditions…
Even though the story takes a huge diversion the writers assure us that they are staying true to Star Trek continuity “we are totally careful with canon” said Trevino. In fact they go to great lengths to tie in to several episodes of the original series (although they wouldn’t reveal which ones). ‘Star Trek Generations’ is also tied in due to the appearance of Ruck’s Captain Harriman who gets a second chance. “When we got Alan involved we thought this is a perfect opportunity to redeem everyone’s view of him as a bumbling captain,” says Calk. It appears that 12 years after the events of the film, Harriman is still haunted by his role in the loss of Captain Kirk. We are told that none of the main characters gets knocked off, but of course the same can’t be said for the whole cast…so expect a few red shirts to do their duty. That being said the film is to end on an up note and leave room for more adventures in the future.
…but made relevant
Although the film is an homage to 40 years of Trek, the team very much want the film to look and feel like a 21st century production. “We tried to have what someone would expect to see in Star Trek while still telling an interesting story that addresses current day issues,” says writer Trevino. Sky Conway goes into more detail saying that like all Trek the film is a morality play, but in this case dealing with modern issues of freedom, war, peace, terrorism, vengeance and redemption. Director Tim Russ also wants the film to look modern, telling TrekMovie that he didn’t want OGaM to look like a typical Trek film, especially during the alternative timeline portions “there is a change in shooting styles between certain parts of the film, some will look traditional and others will look edgy and gritty…more in tune with ‘24’” Russ feels this approach is necessary for a film today saying that audiences may not accept something “staid and traditional."
Can it break the ‘fan film’ barrier
Although figures are not available, it would be no surprise that OGaM is the costliest Trek fan film ever made. Of course the producers don’t really use the term ‘fanfilm’ at all, referring to it as an ‘independent film.’ They have big dreams for Of Gods and Men…they want CBS to license it as an official Star Trek product. They point out how CBS have put together ‘fan fiction’ into official trek book compellations (the ‘Strange New Worlds series) and see fan films as just the next logical step. Other fan films like Star Trek New Voyages have the same goal, but it appears according to our sources in CBS that OGaM is the test case. To date Paramount and CBS have taken what they call a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ approach to fan films. They have had a simple rule that boils down to: do what you like but do not charge money. The OGaM team want to change this dynamic and begin to charge for their mini-series, but only with the blessing of CBS. One major complication with official licensing seems to be the issue of unions, but Sky Conway says that at least for the actors they have that covered. All members of the Screen Actors Guild who appear in OGaM have been paid the ‘internet scale’ rate. No decision has been made by CBS, but the notion of licensing is under consideration. If OGaM does become an ‘offical product’ it could be the start of many more licensed Star Trek films on the net. TrekMovie.com has spoken to another well known producer in Hollywood who is interested in producing Trek for the web but is waiting for CBS open the door to licensed ‘webisodes’. Sky Conway tells TrekMovie that regardless of any decision that gets made, the first of 3 episodes of the Of Gods and Men mini-series will be released by the end of the year.
NOTE: All images above are ‘clickable’ to see the full size