(Hey, look! I got promoted from Guest Blogger to Blogger!)
As you know from reading this blog, there’s a heck of a lot of Star Trek fan films out there! And thanks to the annual Lucasfilm Star Wars Fan Film Awards (which have been going on since 2002), there’s at least as many (if not more!) Star Wars fan films out there!
But surprisingly, there’s almost no crossover Star Trek/Star Wars fan films on the Internet. And it’s not as though the idea of crossing the franchise streams is completely alien. Fans have edited together scenes from both franchises to create clever mash-ups where the USS Enterprise battles a Star Destroyer or Captain Kirk confronts Darth Vader over the view screen. But try to find a film where fans portray the characters of both realities at the same time, and you’ll be looking for a long while.
Fortunately, you don’t have to look…I found one for you!
In early 2008, a small group of fans in the United Kingdom released the two-part Star Trek/Star Wars crossover “A Tale of Two Galaxies” (you can probably guess which two galaxies) for essentially no budget. No one got paid anything, and their “sets” were mostly cardboard and duct tape. The costumes and make-up were pretty basic, and the acting typically what you would expect from amateur fans. But if you set your expectations to “no-budget fan film shot in a dining room in North Bristol, England,” then this half-hour production is surprisingly good!
For me, though, the best thing about this fan film is the story behind it getting made. It’s truly a lesson on how fans can come up with an idea, figure out how to get it done, and overcome a flood of challenges to complete a finished product in a relatively short amount of time that they can all be proud of. Take careful notes, kids, because the story behind “A Tale of Two Galaxies” is really just Fan Film Making 101…
According to the account on their website, everything started during Christmas of 2006 when Phillip Davis received a large model kit of the movie-refit USS Enterprise from his girlfriend, while at the same time, his friend Rob Owens bought a TIE Advanced x1 fighter (Darth Vader’s ship from Star Wars: A New Hope).
Both of these housemates were eager to improve their 3D CGI skills with Lightwave 3D, a modeling and animation program that had been used to make Emmy-winning visual effects for Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica…along with hours of other sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero movies and TV shows. Lightwave is relatively affordable for the average person, and with enough patience and perseverance, he or she can make some very impressive-looking 3D graphics right at home!
Rob was more adept at Lightwave, having been shown it at university (yeah, those Brits don’t use “the” with “university”), and he quickly began modeling his TIE Advanced fighter in order to work more on his animation skills. Phil was new to Lightwave, and Rob helped him out as Phil slowly began to build a 3D model of a refit Constitution-class starship.
As February of 2007 rolled around, they both had their completed CGI model ships, and they looked pretty cool! So Phil and Rob came up with an idea to co-produce a TIE fighter versus Federation starship space battle animation for their portfolios. But wait! Why stop at just a simple animation sequence? By this point, Phil and Rob have seen many fan films from both franchises, like Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Wars: Broken Alliance. Why not make this crossover a full fan film with actors and costumes and sets?
Most fan films have one guy who steps forward to lead—organizing, planning, wrangling, cheerleading, and keeping track of all the little details. This time, it would be Phillip Davis. Phil decided to put about 600 pounds of his own money (about 900 dollars) into making this film, and he set out to turn this idea into a full script, starting with some major research.
As March rolled around, Phil (still working on the script) began to assemble a team of friends to help make this live-action fan film a reality. He began by asking his girlfriend, Danielle Grenler (a very understanding woman), to play the Vulcan/Betzoid Lt. Salaya. She would also end up doing hair and make-up during shooting, helping with stunts and pyrotechnics, and making tribbles (yes they decided to include tribbles). Two other friends, Rob Lloyd and Alexander Harrison, signed up early to play the Helmsman and a Starfleet Deputy Director. And of course, Phil would play a major role (somewhat reluctantly) along with Rob Owens, who had modeled the TIE fighter in 3D.
By April, the script was nearly done…and Phil began to realize a few things. The first was that he really didn’t have enough experience with cameras and lights. Fortunately, he knew another friend from university, Jim Rathbone, who was quite knowledgeable. And Jim, after agreeing to co-direct, was able to borrow some professional lighting and camera equipment (and a smoke machine!) for the shoot, which allowed the rest of the limited funds to be spent on costumes and sets.
Phil’s second concern, however, was much more problematic. You see, he’d run out of friends who were willing to appear in his film (for free), and he still had roles left to fill. And what made matters worse, these were roles for Klingons, which required elaborate costumes, make-up, and a certain on-screen attitude. Phil decided to put the word out on a local Star Trek Yahoo forum that he was looking for “Konvincing Klingons” for an afternoon of filming in Bristol for a no-budget (meaning no-pay) in-production movie. Up until now, Phil and the gang had kept their project a secret, so few details about the film were shared. Over the next few weeks, though, several Klingons from across Great Britain responded to Phil’s distress call. Ultimately, a fellow by the name of Stu Lucas was chosen, and he offered to bring two additional warrior friends down with him.
Throughout the months of April and May, Phil and Rob’s tiny dining room in their North Bristol home was slowly and steadily turned into a somewhat cramped version of the bridge of the USS Hood. Phil designed all the sets himself. Their neighbors happily donated the remains of an outdoor shed that they’d recently torn down, but Phil had to pay for everything else himself: lights, gels, LEDs and batteries, wood, paint, ink, glossy paper, cardboard, glue, duct and masking tape, fireworks (for a few small explosions), and even scattered car parts and other salvaged bits. Costumes were either purchased or rented, make-up was bought, and for some strange reason, a while bunch of tribbles were made. Rob Owens, meanwhile, was busy developing 2D Flash animations for the readouts on the starship control consoles.
Finally, a date was set in early June to film all the USS Hood scenes. Coordinating people’s schedules was challenging, with work and school commitments, plus many of them had to travel fair distances to Bristol. So when all was said and done, they had only ONE WEEKEND to film everything on the ship! They started early one hot Saturday morning and worked feverishly right through Sunday night at about 3am…with only a few hours of sleep along the way. One significant snag hit when the woman who was supposed to play the role of Lt. Hooper canceled at the last minute. There was literally only one person on the set who wasn’t already cast as a character. Poor Lisa Everett had showed up simply to help with hair and make-up. Now she had just a few short hours to learn her lines and carry an entire scene all by herself…which she managed to do admirably.
With all the USS Hood footage “in the can” (except for a few quick scenes in what would be a very simple turbolift), the elaborate cardboard and duct taped sets were quickly taken down (likely forever) in order to make room for the next and final major set: the bridge of a Klingon bird-of-prey, which needed to be completed within just two short weeks.
Several trips to the IKEA scrap pile and dozens of broken down cardboard boxes later, the set was ready for the arrival of the three Klingons. But Phil was worried. He had been keeping details of the production confidential to just his friends, and all the three Klingon actors had been told thus far was that there was no budget to pay them and the film was already in production. They had been sent their characters’ pages of the script, but they knew nothing about the quality of the sets (or lack thereof). Would these three serious Klingon fans take one look at the duct-taped cardboard “set” and head back home in disgust?
Fortunately, the answer was no, they wouldn’t. In fact, Stu Lucas and his two friends were some of the nicest people Phil had ever met. They arrived promptly at 10:00 am on Saturday morning and began discussing the script and looking at some of the already-completed CGI sequences. When Jim and Lisa arrived a little while later from Birmingham, it was time for Stu and crew to go in for make-up while the lights and camera were set up.
The three Klingons emerged from make-up entirely in character, fearsome-looking warriors ready for battle and, more importantly, ready to deliver their lines. And with relatively little time to prepare, this trio came through in a big way, providing Phil with some incredible footage. In fact, Stu’s performance as General Karloth (along with his two Klingon crew buddies) was one of the highlights of the entire half-hour film.
After the Klingons finished up and departed (there were considerably fewer scenes to film on the bird-of-prey bridge than on the bridge of the USS Hood), Phil set up the much simpler turbolift background, and they filmed those few sequences and a few other brief shots they’d missed two weeks earlier. And now that all the live footage was shot, Jim returned to Birmingham to work on ordering the video and adjusting sound levels in preparation for final editing.
In the meantime, Phil and Rob pretty much locked themselves in their CGI studio (a converted extra bedroom of their shared house), and worked on nothing other than 3D models and rendered animations for the rest of the summer. They pretty much made their jobs infinitely more difficult when they decided early on to make all of their ships and VFX from scratch rather than using models built by others. Whatever they didn’t already know about using Lightwave, they learned while doing.
Perhaps most challenging, though, was creating an Imperator class star destroyer to take on the Federation and Klingon adversaries. Rob drew the short straw on constructing this ultra-complex vessel, and it ended up taking him six weeks just to model that one ship! Making matters worse was the fact that Phil and Rob only had three working PCs between them, and rendering complicated CGI models with proper lighting is a daunting task for an underpowered computer. Fortunately, Rob Lloyd and Alexander Harrison (two of the actors from the USS Hood shoot) lent their laptops to Phil and Rob to help speed up rendering…a most welcome gesture!
The production trio—Phil, Rob, and Jim who was doing the editing, sound, and music—met once in August and again in September as they assembled the first half of the film. With the star destroyer finally modeled, Rob was able to focus more on the animations. And as post production wrapped up on part 1, work was already well underway on part 2.
Part 1 – “Long Live the Empire” was released in late October of 2007 by Straitjacket Productions (the name they’d decided to call themselves). It definitely has a “Trekkish” feel in both the music as well as the scenes taking place almost entirely within Federation space. But the TIE fighters and Darth Vader were very much in evidence, letting viewers know that this was, indeed, a crossover. Fans eagerly awaited part 2!
Everything with postproduction seemed to be going smoothly until early November when Rob experienced a catastrophic computer outage, slowing his output of visual effects. Fortunately, Rob and Phil had already completed enough animations to give Jim ample shots to piece together. Jim continued to work diligently while Rob dealt with a sick PC.
In the end, things didn’t end up getting delayed all that much. Part 2 – “Revenge Is A Sith Best Served Cold” was released onto the Internet in late January of 2008. This time, the episode felt more “Star Warsy”—complete with a scrolling yellow-text intro fading into the distance and Star Wars music rather than Star Trek music. A portion of part 2 takes place inside the Star Wars galaxy, and we even get to see a Jedi Knight and a droid (plus a nicely rendered X-wing).
As I said, it’s not the greatest fan film ever. But especially this weekend as most of the world enjoys the first Star Wars film of the new Disney era (and then we start counting down to the 50th anniversary of Star Trek), it’s nice to take a moment and remember that these two epic franchises are actually quite symbiotic. Star Trek made Star Wars possible (according to George Lucas). And the success of Star Wars in 1977 helped revive Star Trek as a movie franchise after its television cancellation in 1969.
So this week, if you’re looking for a fan film to watch while waiting in line to see The Force Awakens, consider A Tale of Two Galaxies. It’s a fun romp through our two favorite sci-fi realities.
And for some extra fun, check out their behind-the-scenes “Making Of” video. It’s a little PG-13 on the language in the bloopers, but it’s a fascinating glimpse into how the actors dealt with cramped quarters and cardboard sets. (Watch the segment at 37:45 for a really good laugh.)
Fan Film Friday will be taking a short hiatus for the holidays, my friends. But I’ll be back in January with more of fandom’s finest (and not-so-finest) to seek out and explore. In the meantime, live long and prosper…and may the force be with you!