Back in 1980, Paramount Pictures released a farcical feature film called Airplane! (exclamation point included). Many thought it to be a parody of the Airport series of flight disaster movies from the 1970s, and there were a few callbacks to some of those films. But Airplane! it was actually nearly a scene-by-scene, tongue-in-cheek recreation of a dramatic film from 1957 called Zero Hour. If you don’t believe me, definitely watch this video and also this video.
Airplane! was released 23 years after Zero Hour. And now, 43 years after Airplane!, the long-running Star Trek fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION has just released one of the first new Trek fan films for 2023, also titled “AIRPLANE!” And like its predecessor, it’s close recreation of the original…at least in terms of dialog and gags.
It’s unusual to see a Star Trek fan film produced almost completely with over-the-top comedy beats. But in the case of Dreadnought Dominion, this isn’t their first bite at the apple of the absurd. Indeed, their previous film “REALITY CHECK” broke the fourth wall repeatedly, “TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES” was filmed live before a studio audience, “A BARREL FULL OF QUINCYS” featured JOHN SIMS’ character of [Q]uincy doing impressions of multiple famous Hollywood movie stars, and “MOM” was a fun romp as Captain Brusseau’s mother gets left in command at just the wrong moment.
So I guess it was time for another Dreadnought Dominion comedy! It looks like I picked a bad dad to give up laughing…
Most Dominion episodes are written by co-showrunner RANDY WRENN. But this time out, co-showrunner GARY DAVIS hijacked the typewriter to pen this production (while Randy directed). So today, the interview spotlight turns to Gary to find out how this project got off the ground (get it?)…
JONATHAN – Well, that was sure off-the-wall! So when and how did you get the idea to do a Star Trek fan film version of Airplane!?
GARY – Off-the-wall is sometimes just FUN to do. Every once in a while, Dominion Media likes to not only do something out-of-the-box, but we take the box, paint it fluorescent purple, put some wild stickers on it, jump up and down on it, then throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.
I got the idea from just wanting to do a short bit with my wife for our next shoot. I wanted her to do the line about, “We are receiving a message from Starfleet Headquarters…” I reply with, “Starfleet Headquarters? What is it?” Then she says, “It’s a big building where all the admirals meet, but that’s not important!”
I believe that I initially saw that as a meme on Facebook with Kirk and Uhura, and I KNEW I wanted to do this! Of course, that was a take-off from the original Airplane! where someone said they needed to get folks to the hospital, and the line was, “A hospital? What is it!?” After I wrote that short bit, I decided that we just needed to go FULL SPEED AHEAD and do a whole story, and do as many gag lines from Airplane! and Airplane II that we could.
Randy is our regular writer, but I went all-in and just powered through a script in just a day. Then I gave it to Randy to go over it and add some other nuances.
JONATHAN -How did you go about deciding which gags to include and which not to? For example, surely the USS Dominion has an Otto Pilot?
GARY – Of course it does, and don’t call me Shirley!
JONATHAN – Nailed it.
GARY – Actually, I SO wanted to do Otto Pilot, but I didn’t know how to do it. I was scouring Amazon and eBay for a blow up pilot that we could use. However, I didn’t know how we would emulate that or even get him to blow up quickly like in the movie. It was only AFTER we got done that I hit myself on the forehead and realized I missed an opportunity by just making Otto a HOLOGRAM! The “E.A.P.”—the Emergency Auto Pilot, Otto! A hologram could have been anyone, and we’d have just filmed an empty chair and then an actor on green screen afterward. Oh, there is nothing more 20/20 than hindsight!
JONATHAN – Oh, well, maybe for the sequel…
GARY – Maybe. Anyway, to answer your question, to write the script, I looked up Airplane! and Airplane II‘s best lines and went to work formatting a coherent story around those lines. I came up with a story of the airplane arriving in our timeline via a vortex that bridged the air to space. Then I threw in that we were having issues with our computer like in Airplane II. I emulated the opening of the original Airplane! exactly reproducing the shot with a model of the Boeing 707 and even drew up the markings from watching the movie. It was important to pay as much respect as possible to the original movies, not only for the laughs, but to just do right by them. I included a thanks to those who made the original Airplane! in our credits for inspiring us to make this.
The gags had to fit in with the story of investigating the appearance of the mystery “ship” that is really the airplane. I then threw in the computer error gags from Airplane I I. Our ship’s computer got in on the fun with being a smart aleck and throwing a bit of attitude at the science officer. Then I HAD to include as many lines from the crazy Airplane! air traffic controller…such as “pulling the plug” on the bridge and plunging us into darkness at a key moment in the story. Randy pulled off that bit FLAWLESSLY, and his “Just kidding!” line just makes me ROLL in laughter when I watch that.
JONATHAN – What was the reaction of the cast and crew when they read this script?
GARY – Cheers and laughter. When I pitched the idea to everyone, they were ALL IN 100%! When they read the script, they thought it was one of our best things that we were doing. Fan films are supposed to be fun, and this was not only fun to film, but fun to EDIT, and FUN to show! I could show this to NON-Star Trek fans and they’d enjoy it, since the source material was something many were so familiar with.
The one BIG question a lot of folks asked me was WHY are we being so silly, and was this a “Q” episode? There has to be an explanation as to why we’re acting like we did. I did NOT want it to be a “Q” episode, as we have shown that our resident “Q” is more of an observer and doesn’t interfere “much” with what goes on aboard Dominion. So the answer: Captain Brousseau was watching the movie Airplane! on his monitor, and thanks to a few glasses of Saurian brandy at his desk watching it, he fell asleep, and it was all a DREAM!
GARY – Aside from “Just kidding…” it has to be when Brousseau hands the chief engineer the data disk on the “alien ship” and asks him what he can make of it. “I can make an eyepatch…or a lovely broach! If I had more of them, and some adhesive, I could decorate my station!” AGAIN, flawlessly delivered by Randy! Another part I was very pleased with was the computer error bit—we threw in our “IT Guy,” and thanks to ART PARSELLS, that bit came off GREAT! I got to use my real-life line when folks ask me for help fixing their computer: “Did you try turning it off and on again?!”
JONATHAN – Dreadnought Dominion is gaining a reputation for doing comedic and light-hearted episodes along with more serious ones. Granted, you guys are a dreadnought-class, and one would expect more serious fare. Do you find yourself drawn to one kind of script more than another? Would you like to do more dramatic stories, more comedy, or do you like the balance the way it is now?
GARY – Yes, we’re a dreadnought, and yes, we’re full of older folks…as some detractors LOVE to point out again and again and again. We embrace being different, however, and highlight that difference in the stories that we tell. We’re not the folks who fly into battle, phasers blasting. We’re the even-tempered “wise” folks who have puzzles to figure out and mysteries to solve. Brousseau and his crew are not the ones who do “flying kicks” but ones who are there, showing the flag, solving those mysteries, and being a different kind of crew, and just having a bit of fun while they are at it.
When it comes to those stories, we like doing a bit of everything. We will do “A Barrel Full of Quincys” to show off some comedy chops, but then we love doing stories like “We Are Many” where we had some deep drama and some high emotions. It’s the balance of the two extremes that just keeps us doing more. Even when we are doing something serious, we attempt to throw in some comedy to make it lighthearted. That just feeds into the FUN of what we are doing. We try to tell a story that is engaging, has the feel of real classic TOS, but sprinkled in with some moments of lighthearted fun that allows actors to smile for a moment to break the tension.
JONATHAN – Speaking of a balance between comedy and seriousness, the episode starts out with a dedication to the recently-passed STEVE LACKEY, who worked on a good number of different productions at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA. Would you care to say a few words about Steve?
GARY – Yes, thank you, Jonathan. We dedicated this episode to our dear friend who was tragically killed mid-December. It was a shock not only to his family but to his extended family from Dreadnought Dominion and the fan film community in general. Steve’s son, John, is also a cast member of Dreadnought Dominion, and we all felt for his loss when we heard the news.
Steve was our electrician, and all around set man for Dreadnought Dominion. He was also our premier “slate clapper” who would snap the slate and start a great many scenes we shot over the years. He was always there with a smile, a helpful hand, and was just one of those “rocks” that was always there for everyone when filming. He was also one of the original folks at the studio. He helped build the studio when it was Farragut Studios and assisted in many capacities for productions such as STARSHIP FARRAGUT, STAR TREK CONTINUES, EXETER TREK, TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE, and of course Dreadnought Dominion.
There will never be another Steve in this world. He spent time in the Navy as an electrician, and worked for the city of Jacksonville working on their traffic lights until his retirement. He was a kind and giving soul who never sought out attention or even acknowledgement for all that he did. He did it simply to be STEVE, as well as to make life easier for all of those around him. I had just messaged Steve a week before his passing, telling him how much we missed him at the studio and filming and hoped to see him again soon. It won’t be the same without him.
JONATHAN – Did you have any second thoughts about starting a comedy parody with a subdued posthumous tribute to a departed team member?
GARY – There was some discussion wondering if this lighthearted short would be appropriate for remembering Steve. We only doubted ourselves for a moment. I KNEW Steve would have loved our version of Airplane! and having his memory associated with it would give him a big smile and that “aw, shucks” look that he’d give us when he solved an issue for us. Steve was never one for accolades; he was just being STEVE, and that is how he rolled. He knew why we did what we did, for the FUN and camaraderie we all felt when making our fan films. This WAS the right production to remember Steve with. In fact, every episode forward, we’ll remember Steve with every line spoken, and every slate clapper snapped…
JONATHAN – Beautifully said, Gary. Getting back to the fan film itself, when did you shoot it, and did you film any other Dominion episodes that weekend? If so, what can we expect next…and when?
GARY – We filmed this in November of 2022 along with the pilot for our second spin-off series, WARBIRD VALDORE. We filmed “Airplane!” on a Friday then Valdore on Saturday and Sunday. We still have an outside “planet” shoot to do when it gets warmer this spring. We will be shooting in the Charlotte, NC area since we don’t need the sets. We’ll pit our Romulans against the Vancians who were introduced in our last Dominion episode “THE REPLACEMENTS.” We expect Warbird Valdore to be released mid 2023. We’re also headed BACK to the studio in February to shoot another Dominion production, and that one will be released in the latter part of 2023.
GARY – You mean you want spoilers? Well, Captain Brousseau is getting promoted, and we’re getting a new captain of the USS Dominion. Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere. I have always enjoyed more being behind the camera and doing the editing of the episodes than actually being the captain. Oh, I LOVED taking the center seat, but being a showrunner—doing the costumes, props, directing, and producing—takes a toll. ALL of this can be very stressful trying to give a good performance while keeping track of everything else is very challenging. By stepping away from being the captain, I can focus on all the other roles that have to come first to make a good product.
Our February episode will be a “turnover” where most of the old guard will be leaving and new folks coming aboard or being shifted up with promotion. I am REALLY enthused by the folks that will be stepping into our Dominion universe to take the reins from us “old dogs.”
JONATHAN – Speaking of which, I noticed that your wife, Tracey, who plays your communications officer, wasn’t in this episode…even though you said this whole idea began with you and her doing a short bit together. What happened?
GARY – Tracey was further south in Ft. Lauderdale, FL visiting family. But her absence led to something really cool happening. RAY TESI, the owner of Neutral Zone Studios, contacted me and said he’d been approached by a documentary crew who were doing a bit on Star Trek fans and the making of fan films. They asked Ray if they could watch a fan film being produced. When he asked me if I’d mind if they shadowed, I was like, “SOUNDS GREAT!” We had the crew there watching us all day Friday, and they interviewed the cast and crew about who they were in the show, what we do in our real lives, and our experiences as Star Trek fans and making fan films.
The documentary crew had told me beforehand that they had watched some of our episodes and especially wanted to interview TRACEY! They said they were very moved and impressed that we had disability inclusion in our productions. I had to tell them that she would not be there, but then I hit on an idea. The studio has a 55-inch TV which is mobile. We wheeled it onto the bridge, set up a laptop with a webcam, and the documentary crew did an interview with Tracey REMOTELY via Facebook Chat. It was fantastic! The interviewer had a slight English accent, being that his father was from Great Britain. I had to translate his English for Tracey with sign language. She can understand me pretty well, but accents really throw her off. We got his questions across, and she was able to answer them. They filmed her on the screen, and a little of me communicating with her via sign. It was SUCH a great experience, and the documentary crew said we all did great!
JONATHAN – That is cool! Any other interesting stories from the shoot?
GARY – I tried to talk one of the co-directors of the documentary into being IN the show, but she said she was VERY shy and always stayed behind the camera. However, we’d had a last minute cancellation of the actress who would bring me my PADD to sign, then the typewriter, then the scroll, and finally the stone slab. We needed a replacement! Fortunately, we had JENNIFER DYE, the daughter of KEVIN DYE, one of Dominion‘s great supporters on and off screen, there to fill in. She had NEVER done anything like this before. She needed very little coaching, and she not only filled in great but she pulled off being the yeoman in a spectacular fashion!
JONATHAN – And on that note, Gary, I’ll let you get back to making FANtastic fan films!
GARY – Thanks for covering us!