written by Patricia Wright
"Who ARE these people?!" Those exact words woke me when I answered the phone at 3 am one morning. I had given a DVD copy of the Star Trek: New Voyages episode "To Serve All My Days" to mildly-addicted Star Trek friends. Hence, their astonished questions that wouldnt wait. "Who are these people? Where did the sets come from? Whos paying for all of this?!"
For those of you, like my friends, unfamiliar with Star Trek: New Voyages, it is a ground breaking independent web series of new original series episodes that are available to download off the internet for free. Executive Producer James Cawley began the endeavor with every fans dreamto see the last two years of the five year mission on film. As a consultant for both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, he began collecting Paramount props and costumes, and drew together a group of fans to rebuild the sets from original blueprints. Cawley and his group then began the complicated process of filming the missing episodes from Star Trek: The Original Series. A pilot, three episodes and a vignette are complete. A fourth episode and second vignette are in post-production. A fifth episode is in pre-production, with several more lined up to follow.
The answers to the inevitable questions are simple: this remarkable fan-made series is done entirely on a volunteer basis and the fans involved have donated their time, skills and money to make it happen. Although shaky at the beginning, the quality of Star Trek: New Voyages now has attracted a host of well-known professionals to contribute their work for the love of Star Trek. The CGI, lighting and camera work is done by industry names; Trek actors from every series have appeared on New Voyages episodes; Eugene Roddenberry Jr. is a consultant; and episodes are now being written by notable Trek writers, including D.C. Fontana, David Gerrold and Howard Weinstein.
Despite all this I must admit that "Who are these people?" was the question that was foremost in my mind when I was invited to donate my time as wardrobe manager in the episode "Blood and Fire." Really, what kind of person donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to build Star Trek sets and spends all their vacation time having their friends film them playing on them?
The answer to this question is simple too: these are the BEST kind of people. The Star Trek: New Voyages studio is over-filled with people who still think and feel and care; people who discuss the universes larger issues far into the night and still take time to care infinitely about the person they are talking to. We used to call them "Truefen". That was back before conventions were run by big businesses, and you went to them knowing you were going to find a thousand soulmates in a single weekend. When you enter the studio that makes Star Trek: New Voyages, you know immediately that you have something in common with these people; you all believe in the future of mankind and in the ultimate goodness of the Human race. You also know that they believe Star Trek is a good way to spread that message and the hope that goes along with it, and that they believe it is vitally important to spread that message if the future they see is to come about. If they didnt believe those things, they wouldnt have invested their time and souls to be here.
It is not an investment to be taken lightly, nor one for the mildly interested or faint of heart. It takes a village to make a Star Trek episode now, or more precisely, an instant, close-knit family. No one here does just one--or even just one dozen jobs. While Im probably going to be credited with wardrobe, makeup, hairstylist and continuity, what ends up in the credits pales to the true effort everyone puts in to make a New Voyages episode happen. It isnt glamorous but bathrooms, the break room and sets need to be constantly picked up and scrubbed; store runs need to be made; food orders taken, picked up and delivered; sets and lights hauled around; props handed out, maintained and inventoried; people carted back and forth; and even the costumes have to be cleaned daily. In addition to their work, people donated chairs, magazines, snacks, fruit, the use of cars and internet-connected laptops, vacuums, pantyhose, makeup, tables, coolers and the literal truckload of bottled water that it took to keep cast and crew alive during this blazing summer shoot.
Even the credited jobs are not as glamorous as the title might imply. Being wardrobe manager often involved kneeling on a set mending a hem or seam while actors rehearsed around me. There was no stopping--even important things had to get taken care of in the midst of everything else that was going on. You simply did what needed to be done without getting in the way of others that were doing the same. There wasnt time to stop. There wasnt time to breathe.
During the "Blood and Fire" shoot, we accomplished the impossible: we filmed two episodes in the course of twelve days. Thats the equivalent of a feature film, folks. It did not happen with ease. We had to be at the set starting at 7 or 8 in the morning and filming stretched beyond midnightoften until 2 or beyond. Time became an endless blur of work, meals, and intense conversations, interrupted by just enough sleep to allow yourself to stand upright in the shower briefly before going back to the set. Someone donated an atomic clock--not so we could check the meaningless time, but so that wed know what DAY is was. Exhaustion never became a reality. Everyone was simply driven by the task at hand and by the family around them that became more intensely important the closer we drew to having to part from each other.
Yes, of course such a schedule had its visible effects eventually. There was the moment they called "Quiet on the set!" and the only sound man at the studio that day-sitting in the break room-pried open his eyes to wonder aloud: "Are they talking in this scene?" (They were-or they thought they were.) Or the inevitable warning delivered by Spock on film: "The situation is more difficult than we thought. I do not know the rest of my lines." It became a familiar, and comforting sight, to pass by the darkened sickbay and see its beds filled with sleeping Starfleet personnel.
The non-air conditioned sets are in a building with a metal roof. While we filmed, the temperature outside climbed into the 90's with an oppressive 95% humidity level. The sets became an easy-bake oven, and the studio lights the actors stood under made us legitimately worry about heat stroke. When the cameras werent rolling, the garage doors of this car dealership were opened, and multiple fans turned on, but it only made it endurable and still drove hordes of Starfleet personnel outside between takes. Which, surprisingly, caused not a ripple in the small town the studio is located in.
How small is the town that Star Trek: New Voyages is filmed in? Its small, folks. The town is so small that if you told me there were more people at the shoot than the entire population of the town I would believe you. Its so small that I bought all the pantyhose in all the stores in the course of ten minutes; so small that one restaurant was open for breakfast and another for lunch so the owners didnt compete with their friends; so small that the only bar in town is only open a few hours a day; and so small that when more than six people ordered steak at the local restaurant, they had to wait for someone to finish so they could wash one of the steak knives to give to someone else. Its small.
These people are used to the Star Trek: New Voyages people being in town occasionally, however, and they embrace them as only small town folk could. During this shoot, one of the restaurants installed wireless internet and left it open 24 hours a day simply so people at the shoot would have access. The regular population bought the newcomers drinks at the bar--they even offered to call the local doctor for an extra who was effectively made up as seriously injured. They remain nonplused, however, at the Starfleet crewmen walking down the street, and at a location shoot in one of the neighborhoods, a barbeque went on unfazed by the twenty-something Starfleet personnel loitering in a group nearby on the street.
The local townspeople do long to see the secret sets the same as the rest of us, however, and like the rest of us, they have to actually be working on the production to get into the studio. For those of you who have dreamed of going to space on the Enterprise (come now: admit it) heres fair warning: our ship is small. Even smaller than the town. The sets can seem downright claustrophobic compared to what you expect.
The Star Trek: New Voyages sets are so painfully accurate that Classic Star Trek actors have called them "indistinguishable from the originals" and Paramount themselves borrowed them to film parts of the Enterprise episode "Through the Mirror Darkly." These sets are built in exact replica, and yet our bridge only measures approximately 25 feet from the edge of one computer console directly to the edge of the other on the opposite side. In that 25 feet are two chairs, two walkways, two railings and their supports, two sets of steps down to the quarter deck, as well as the command chair, the helm console and the platform they rest on.
To exit from the turbolift, walk around the railing and step down next to the captains chair without stumbling for footing requires the grace and skill of an Olympic gymnast. Believe me: I am not one, and I have the bruises to prove it. Striding from the turbolift, past Uhura and over to Spock is the equivalent of negotiating a wide balance beam. I now hold a whole new level of respect for Shatner and Kelly who did both of these moves often. I decided immediately that if I ever went to space I would destined to be the Dick Van Dyke of the crew. I clearly saw that anytime I tried to move around the Enterprise bridge, I would trip over the rail supports, flip over the rail and somersault right into the captains lap. I never did, fortunately, but there are more bruises to attest to the effort it took to avoid this ever-looming prat fall.
The Enterprise bridge is also a full circle set. The only way in and out of our beloved command center is through the turbolift or the viewscreen when the greenscreen is removed. Consider that deeply when you think of the crew responsible for moving massive lighting and camera equipment onto, off of, and around this particular set. Its a daunting task, and they did it in record time the hundreds of times it was required.
The rest of the sets are smaller than you imagined as well and being on them had an eerie similarity to being a rat in a scientists experiment. More than once I made my way to the bridge along familiar corridors, only to find myself confronted with new dead ends, walls and a completely new deck plan when I tried to leave. One set being filmed on did not stop the activity of the crew responsible for getting the rest of the sets ready for future scenes. The work was non-stop.
I dont know why people always ask me this--yes, it was an incredible thrill to actually stand in the bridge, transporter, briefing room and sickbay of the Enterprise. (Come now, what did you expect for an answer?) I also have to be honest. The awesome sets that everyone wants to see are impressive, but not so magical as one imagines. While many of the readouts on the bridge are actual computer screensavers in this modern version and many of the controls work, these versions have greenscreens on them: you are always aware of being on a set. The first time I walked into the corridor set, however, I stopped dead in my tracks. The corridors contain no "to be inserted later" panels, and there were no lights or cameras yet, no monitors for the director or chairs for the makeup people-there were just corridors in every direction that I looked. It was freaky. I was actually standing ON the Enterprise. I repeat...it was FREAKY. Tears sprang into my eyes, and I would have actually started crying if David Gerrold had not been standing next to me at the time.
As for David Gerrold (of "The Trouble With Tribbles" fame), the writer/director of "Blood and Fire" who I hoped to be able to watch from afar, at least, well...that turned out to be as unlikely as my other expectations. The first time, he saw me he walked up and asked my name. He never forgot it, nor anyone elses. David never once called for a department, he called people by name. He also immediately learned who on the set would have real Pepsi and chocolate he could steal, and they became his indelible friends. I found myself sitting next to him in the break room chatting with him as easily as if he were there as a mere fan, which he clearly was.
As for the rest of the main cast, they are exactly as youd hope theyd be. "Spock" is an intense person who cares deeply about the quality of his work and asks for input from anyone else who might care as much. "Uhura" is smart, spiritual and sassy. "Chekov" is funny, witty and always quick to ease tension with his entertaining personality. "Scotty" is a sublime presence who appears to work technological miracles when all hope is lost. "Doctor McCoy" is, well, a doctor.
As for our commanding officer, Captain Kirk" is charming, warm, friendly, tireless, and breathtakingly in command of the knowledge of everything going on in this ship of his. James Cawley is involved with the production on a grass-roots level in every way. He makes and cleans the costumes; helps build and paint the sets; negotiates with lawyers and landlords; oversees the lighting and camera angles to match the original series; and yet, unlike Kirk, he is apparently free of ego and is so self-depreciating that it is astounding. James Cawley does not takes credit for the success of this production; he credits instead everyone else around him, and he cares deeply about every single person who has come to join him on this project. Whenever he heard that someone at the studio was upset during this shoot, he instantly shut down filming and went personally to see what was wrong-and made it right. He could have just said no one was forcing anyone to be there, but he didnt.
James Cawley cares so deeply about these people and this production that the people around him cant help but care just as deeply. No one would dare bring food or drinks onto the beloved bridge-nor would they allow anyone else to; not one of these people would allow anyone to tarnish the uniform they wear with either lack of care or behavior that reflects badly on the Starfleet they love; and no one would ever take for granted the smallest contribution of the shyest person there because Cawley would not. His type of tireless leadership is the kind that inspires peoples actions and inspires devotion among people. James Cawley does not understand his place and importance in this production; he doesnt know that people are still there because it is impossible to be tired or waver in your belief of what you are doing if your commanding officer does not. If there is any doubt of this, it is erased when James Cawley signals an end to the production and permission to be tired with a single line at the end of the final scene to be filmed...
James T. Kirk stands up from his command chair and declares plaintively: "But Im tired, Mom; I dont wanna play Star Trek anymore!"
And everyones eyes fill with tears because it means they must now part from each other and the intense world theyve created together...until next time, when the family will gather again to share their dreams and welcome more new people into their fold to play Star Trek with them.
Ill be there. Will you? Check the Star Trek: New Voyages discussion forum "Announcements" for the call for cast and crew.
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