Earlier this week we reviewed the documentary-style fan film The Romulan War (Part I) set in the Star Trek: Enterprise era. We now follow that up with an interview with Writer/Producer/Director Mark Naccarato to discuss how he put together Part I, and what he has in mind for Part II.
What was your initial vision for The Romulan War, and when did you begin moving on it in earnest?
My vision for The Romulan War was to emulate the World War II documentaries I grew up watching like The World At War and to a lesser extent Ken Burns’ Civil War. I felt that the documentary format, which I’d used in previous film projects, would be the most economical way to try and show the vast scope of a sprawling interstellar conflict. I completed a first draft of the script back in 2011, but the thing that held me up for so long was finding someone who could do the CGI work. After a couple of misfires with other artists who flaked out or who didn’t get Star Trek, I finally connected with Samuel Cockings in 2017 and the rest, as they say, is history.
I noticed in the comments section on YouTube that some fans believe you stole the documentary approach to your film from Alec Peters’ Prelude to Axanar. Can you set the record straight on that score?
Even though I’d conceived of and written The Romulan War as a documentary 2-3 years before anyone had even heard of Axanar, they definitely beat us to the punch with releasing an actual film, but that’s only because I hadn’t met Samuel yet. So to set the record straight… no, Axanar did not inspire our approach at all, though I have met Alec Peters and I really like Prelude to Axanar. I’ve done two other films using a documentary format – one was made in 1990 and the other in 2001 – so this is kind of old hat to me. In reality, it’s not uncommon for similar ideas to happen independent of one another (two asteroid movies, two volcano movies, etc.), but people are going to think what they want to think and there’s nothing I can do about it.
The film has a sort of High Noon quality to it – Earth increasingly stands alone against a hostile force that is bearing down on it. What were your film inspirations?
Well, the obvious one is going to be those old World War II documentaries like The World At War, but you can definitely see a Tora Tora Tora feel to the attack on Starbase One because that scene was supposed to be a Trek version of Pearl Harbor. There’s also a mystery going on about what the Romulans are looking for, so in that regard, I’d say a little bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark and I also looked at Gladiator and Spartacus to try and capture the feel of the Praetor’s speech.
In addition to an “Earth stands alone” theme, are there other themes you hoped to get across?
Well, one of the themes we hit on in Part 1 has to do with what kind of society Romulus is. In our film, we have a charismatic ruler, Praetor D’Deridex, who is untouchable, which allows him to liberally use propaganda and even ignore sound advice from his generals. This costs the Praetor dearly in terms of the beating the Romulans take at Andoria, but that’s just the beginning of the problems D’Deridex is going to have because of his arrogance and hubris. The flip side is what Earth is going through. The humans are trying the opposite approach – trying to build consensus among their allies, which is a much more difficult and slow process – especially during wartime. In the end, we will see that the humans’ tendency towards democracy and consensus-building are durable enough not just to win the conflict, but to set the stage to create the United Federation of Planets. Themes of hope vs. fear or even democracy vs. fascism are very pronounced in our story and we try to show the strengths and weaknesses in both approaches.
The film is sprinkled with references to many bits of Trek canon, from Praetor D’Deridex to the Starship Archon, to Captain Stiles. What’s your favorite “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment in Part I?
Good question. Well, you mentioned the Starship Archon and there are a couple of other ship shout-outs we do to canon, including starships Essex and the name of Starbase One – both of which are TNG references. Several people have commented on the Romulan computer virus weapon and attribute that to an idea from Battlestar Galactica, but it’s really supposed to be a nod to the Romulan War novel series. For those who are not particularly big fans of the new JJ Trek films, we promptly hammered all of the Freedom (Franklin)-class ships in the film in their honor. A couple of easter eggs are hidden in the backgrounds behind Brandon Chambers, Hannah Cochrane, and in the signs floating in the shots on Altair VI. We were also excited to include Masao Okazuki’s ‘Starfleet Museum’ designs and we will see more of those in Part II.
There are actually several more “blink and you miss it” moments in our War Stories audio episodes, particularly “Hunting Grounds,” “Final Flight,” and “The Fighting Fourth.”
How did the CBS fan film guidelines change things for the film, when they came down? How do you see The Romulan War fitting into those guidelines?
I’d say the biggest impact the guidelines had on me was in the format. The Romulan War was supposed to be a web series in 16 episodes and that’s actually how we filmed it. Now, we’ve collapsed it all down into two parts and the extra storylines are being repurposed into the various “War Stories” audio dramas. It is becoming apparent that the studio is not cracking down on their guidelines very much at all. Nearly all of the Trek fan films that have come out in the last two years break one guideline or another if you know what to look for. I think they really just want to keep filmmakers from raising big bucks, selling merch, and in some way profiting off of their IP. I’m not doing any of those things, so they’ve left me alone, thankfully.
You funded the film on Indiegogo. What was the total budget for the film? Were there any nail-biting moments in the fund-raising phase?
Well, I had funded a lot of the early R&D work, some effects shots, and even some of the shooting days out of my own pocket. The Indiegogo didn’t launch until many months later, which in retrospect was good because I had some footage in hand already that I could show our potential donors and they would be able to see that we knew what we were doing and what to expect in the way of quality. The Indiegogo campaign goal was $10,000, which a lot of people thought we would never hit since several high-profile Trek fan films within the last year didn’t come close to that. We struggled a lot in the middle weeks of the campaign to raise any money at all, but then at the eleventh hour, we hit our goal, and then we learned that Indiegogo would allow us to keep the campaign going after the initial 30-day period. So then we set a Stretch Goal of $12,000 and by the time it was all over, we raised a little over $13,000. Not a fortune by any means, but still very helpful to keep the quality high.
How did you get Samuel Cockings involved? It seems like he and his VFX team are responsible for over half of the footage in this film.
I wish there was some wacky story, but honestly, when I discovered Trekyards on YouTube and saw that Sam was producing all of the various video clips they used in their show, I just dropped him an email and gave him the pitch about what we wanted to do and he immediately came on board. Frankly, I think he was shocked that someone wanted to do a fan film in the Star Trek: Enterprise era. At the time, most of the films were still beating the TOS horse dead and this would have been a change of pace. I also think he liked the idea of the documentary format, which meant that he could be animating not just multiple ships, but whole big sequences. If you don’t include the virtual greenscreen sets or the shots we’ve made for our “War Stories” audio series, Part I of The Romulan War has close to 200 CGI shots in it. That’s a LOT of shots for what is basically a 24-minute short and if there’s another Trek fan film out there that has more original CGI shots in it than that, I’m certainly not aware of it.
It seems from the credits that you filmed parts of the project in Nashville, and parts in Perth. Did it involve travel for you, or did you work with fans in different locations?
All the footage of our “experts” who were interviewed, as well as the Praetor and the Andorians, were shot in Nashville. Filmmaker Aaron Vanderkley shot some footage for us in Perth using the sets and crew he’d put together for his Trek films (all of which are great, by the way). So far, only a tiny bit of what Aaron filmed has made it on screen but you will see a lot more of it in future War Stories episodes and of course in Part II. I didn’t need to travel to Australia. Aaron has a system and knows exactly what he’s doing, so all I did was the writing and we had a few pre-production meetings over Skype.
What was your gateway into Star Trek? What made you a fan? What keeps you a fan of the franchise?
Some of my earliest childhood memories were of watching TOS at my grandparents’ house, followed by The World At War documentaries on the local PBS station on Sundays. Along with watching Steelers football, classic Star Trek and black-and-white WWII docs were almost a family tradition among the Naccarato men back in the day. What brought me full circle was when TNG premiered right as I was going off to college. I was a video production student so I made a point of recording all the episodes, editing out the commercials, and showing them to my friends and classmates.
Back in the day, I was such a passionate fan of Star Trek. I wrote a DS9 spec script and sent it to Paramount as part of their spec program. A few months later, the DS9 producers invited me to come pitch story ideas! I ended up doing four pitch meetings (one for DS9 and three for Voyager) in the mid-’90s and that put me on a path towards focusing more on writing instead of just production and post-production. Incidentally, the very first pitch I made to DS9 was nearly identical to a story they were already developing, so that gave me some confidence to realize that I was at least on the right track. One of my pitches to Voyager (it was a comedy showcasing Neelix) was almost sold, but they passed at the last minute.
As for what keeps me a fan of the franchise? Well, I’d be lying if I said that I got as much enjoyment out of the newer series as I did from Berman-era Trek, but my kids and I love watching Lower Decks together and to the show’s credit, Discovery seems to be getting better every season.
How many parts will the project eventually encompass? How long will the completed project be (all parts)?
Well, officially, “The Romulan War” as a film will be in two parts. We’re working on Part II right now. But we have and will continue to have other content that fills in some blanks on the larger story. Those will come in the form of audio dramas, “teasers,” and digital comics. We have two comic stories out already and three others are in the pipeline once I find artists who are a good fit. I have no idea how long the whole TRW saga will be after everything is completed, but I will simply say that the Earth-Romulan War story is much larger and expansive than what people have seen so far in Part I of the film and I hope folks will enjoy all of it through our YouTube channel and on our website.
More Romulan War
You can keep up with progress at The Romulan War YouTube channel including a new feature about the visual effects (see below).
Keep up with the news and analysis of Star Trek fan productions at TrekMovie.com.