Top 10 Things Regarding Star Trek Fan Films
Reflecting back more than six years on the Starship Farragut film project – - - after four live action films and two animated episodes, I came up with 10 items about Star Trek fan films worth sharing. These 10 items are in no particular order and I’ll make the disclaimer that they’re my own statements not directed to slight anyone or any film project in particular.
- You will not make any money. In fact, be prepared to have money drained. Since CBS Television holds the rights to the Star Trek show, you cannot generate any sales revenue from your film efforts due to copyright infringement. Unless you’re planning to leverage your fan film project to be a stepping stone in other film projects, you will not get a financial return on investment. Fans and supporters of your project will likely encourage you to proceed and volunteer their time, but in terms of monetary donations, do not have an expectation that you can ‘bank’ on their support long term.
- Get real actors for your cast. I totally underestimated the acting craft when I started this film project. I have since boned up and seen self-improvement in our episodes; however, I do recommend getting folks with professional acting CREDS – nothing creates more disbelief than folks not being prepared acting-wise or having out-of-shape, physically unfit people wearing Starfleet uniforms.
- Star Trek has baggage! If you’re doing a Star Trek fan film there is an expectation that your sets, costumes and props will look EXACTLY like what was seen on TV. If not, your audience will criticize you hard —- harder than how badly Kirk’s death was handled in STAR TREK GENERATIONS. Adding to this, working to get vintage, rare parts for sets and working with a manufacturers to dye fabric to screen-used swatches is both time consuming and expensive.
- Everyone thinks their project is (or will be) the best ever. This can create rivalry and competitiveness. If you’re a viable film group consistently producing film product, you will receive both adulation from fans and “hate bashing” from insecure people who are envious of your success. Always take the high road and never let their pettiness override the positive and professional harmony you’ve worked hard to achieve. Collaboration is possible with other film groups, as Farragut Films has demonstrated with other TREK and non-TREK film groups; however, some folks are best to not work with- period.
- Drama. Yeah, there will be some. When you get creative types together, coupled with anal Star Trek fans, there will be some drama; however, I’m proud to say that on the Farragut Films’ side, we’ve been able to handle differences respectfully and minimize drama. In the six years of our existence, we’ve only had to discontinue working with one person and one other left for his own agenda. With numerous volunteers supporting our project nationwide in the various areas of pre-production, production and post production – I consider those EXCELLENT retention rates.
- Family and Friends. To launch off our Starship Farragut film project, I leveraged the skills, talents and support from those closest to me, as well as a network of good business contacts to make our films. As you increase awareness to your film project, other volunteers will want to come aboard. Be sure to have a vetting process in place for bringing in new folks (both cast & crew). Do your due diligence and always treat them well. For Farragut Films, we have key differentiators regarding appreciation: 1) You will receive a DVD of the completed film, 2) You will be fed during times of filming, and 3)As an actor you will receive a uniform/costume tailor-fitted to you to keep or as a crew person you will receive a Starship Farragut or Farragut Films embroidered attire (polos, T-shirts, ball caps, etc.). As far as I know, we’re the only TREK film outfit doing this. Getting back to the point of family and friends – it will be an enormous time management juggling act to spend quality time with your spouse, children and friends as this type of project can require so much of your time. Be sure to balance time with them too if you want their continued support!
- Be able to wear multiple hats. A lot of folks that start out on doing their own project are ignorant in all the complexities of doing a high-quality film production. They’ll likely take 10 years or so just to get off the ground. You’ve got to have surplus cash (or access to folks with disposable income), be business savvy; a motivator; an organizer – the list goes on. If you’re seriously committed, you’ll be involved in several areas (costuming, project managment, acting, propmaking, etc.) and you’ll need to effective with your time management – juggling career, family and your film project. For those late nights – bring on the Five-Hour Energy Drinks!
- Sets. Yes, people are fascinated by the sets! I’ve seen some groups, and yes more than one, that seem fixated on building sets with no clear vision of using them. For us, we’ve only built the sets needed per script requirements. In other words, unless you’re well off financially and have ample storage space —– only build the sets you need to tell the story.
- Wardrobe – In order to do a Star Trek series, you got to have Starfleet uniforms. I had no ambition to sew, but when I was unable to get a tailor or seamstress to make the uniforms from scratch, I had to learn how to make them myself. I’ll never forget the look I got when I brought the Classic STAR TREK shirt pattern and fabric to my trusted tailor for many years, – after I explained what I was trying to do, he gave me the raised Spock eyebrow and said, “You want me do to what?”
- Original Characters or the Iconic Legends? Personally, I believe that only William Shatner can play James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy can play Spock, DeForest Kelley can play Leonard McCoy – etc. However, some folks want new stories of our beloved crew. It’s much easier to ‘buy-in’ a group of new characters on a new ship part of the same fleet than comparing with folks onboard the Enterprise. However, if you must do your film series on the iconic legends, please cast correctly. For example, don’t get a Hispanic to play a clearly established Asian role. Also, if you are considering doing a follow-up to an existing TOS episode, please consider otherwise. There are exceptions to this, but it’s been my experience from what I’ve seen on the live action fan film side that they’re not executed well and merely come off as “fan-boy”. Remember, SPACE IS VAST – there are infinitely more planets to explore and more aliens to encounter.
I’m sure that there are many more “lessons learned” to share, but these are the only ones I can think of at this point in time. Again, this is my commentary and not a slight to anyone or any group. In addition to liking Starship Farragut – I’m also a big Starship Exeter fan, and was inspired by the works of that particular film project.