Jonathan Lane is a guest writer on the Axanar blog.
“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
— Rear Admiral David G. Farragut
Last week on Fan Film Friday: we met John Broughton, U.S. Navy veteran turned starship captain. Broughton played John “Jack” Carter, commanding officer of the USS Farragut NCC-1647, who began his mission during the third year of Captain Kirk’s original five-year mission.
Starting in 2005, John Broughton assembled a dedicated team made up of dozens of family, friends, and family of friends in the Washington, DC area who worked intently on building sets, sewing uniforms, and making props. With help from NEO f/x to do CGI visual effects and James Cawley, who generously allowed John’s team to film scenes on James’ meticulously-constructed New Voyages TOS bridge sets in upstate New York, Starship Farragut managed to film not just one but two full-length episodes and release both during the 2007 calendar year. Their second episode even went on to win the award for Best Fan Film at the Wrath of Con film festival in 2008.
It’s fair to say that Starship Farragut successfully navigated a whole slew of torpedoes that might have sunk a lesser fan production, and they were sailing “warp speed ahead!” into 2008. And that’s where our story picks up…
Starship Farragut had very quickly rocketed to the top tier of Star Trek fan films, taking its place among other “must see” offerings like Starship Exeter, Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2, and Star Trek: Hidden Frontier. Fan reaction was extremely positive, and donations poured in at conventions in exchange for DVDs of the two episodes. And nearly everyone was asking when their next episode would be released.
John Broughton had an ambitious goal: to release two new Starship Farragut offerings each year. New Voyages/Phase II was averaging about one episode a year, and Exeter was still working on their second episode half a decade after releasing their first. Granted, Hidden Frontier – with its green scene virtual sets – was blasting out six to nine episodes a year. But when it came to fan series with real, practical sets, two episodes a year would be pretty impressive… if John and his team could pull it off.
Farragut’s first two episodes had a combined run time of well over two hours. So in order to make things a little more manageable and realistic, John decided to have Farragut’s next two releases be shorter vignettes called “Crew Logs,” each focusing more closely on just one or two of the primary Starship Farragut officers. Mark Hildebrand, who had written and directed Farragut’s second episode, “For Want of a Nail” (and guest starred in it as General George Washington) directed both of these next two episodes, and once again, the music was supplied by the incredibly talented Hetoreyn.
The first of the two, “Just Passing Through,” was a 12-minute vignette co-written by Holly Bednar and Dennis R. Bailey and focused on Holly’s character of Chief Engineer Michelle “Mike” Smithfield… along with Farragut First Officer Robert “RT” Tacket. The majority of the vignette took place five years before the two officers were assigned to the Farragut and showed their first meeting on Starbase 12, a charming and somewhat flirtatious encounter interrupted by the arrival Lt. Commander John Carter of the USS Potemkin. Holly’s theatrical training combined with her natural chemistry with real-life husband Michael Bednar (who played Tacket) made the short episode a pleasure to watch and a wonderful opportunity to develop these two characters. (This vignette would later be almost entirely re-filmed and re-released a couple of years later to correct severe sound issues and also to add a beautiful framing sequence to give the episode a much more uplifting finish.)
The other episode, the 17-minute “Rock and a Hard Place,” was written by Farragut show-runner John Broughton hiself and focused on his character of Captain Jack Carter as both a lover and a fighter. An old flame gets rekindled during a routine survey mission that becomes anything but routine when the Klingons drop in. Although a good portion of the episode was filmed outdoors, the script called for several scenes inside of a shuttlecraft. And thus did Starship Farragut become the first-ever Trek fan series to build a physical shuttlecraft interior. Also, the episode included a number of fight scenes, and those were coordinated by Leslie Hoffman, who had done extensive work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and also on early episodes of New Voyages.
When all was said and done, both episodes looked fantastic (even though “Just Passing Through” had sound issues) and were very well received when they premiered to the public during a November 2008 screening at the Hoff Theater at the University of Maryland. By December, both episodes were live on the Internet, and John had kept up Farragut’s perfect record of two new offerings a year. (“Rock and a Hard Place” would even go on to win a second consecutive best fan film award for Starship Farragut in 2009 at the Wrath of Con film festival.)
But in making these two additional episodes, and also in making the two before that, the Farragut production team realized they had another annoying torpedo that was screaming to be dealt with. They had now built several sets, including the awesomely accurate shuttlecraft interior, but each time they finished filming, those great sets had to be taken down and put back into storage. And of course, when the sets needed to be used again, they’d need to be taken out, transported to the filming location, and set up all over again. Quite a hassle! Oh, to have a place where their sets could just be left standing, like New Voyages/Phase 2 did…
The search for permanent studio space actually began in 2008 while the two Crew Logs episodes were being filmed. The problem, however, was location, location, location. Most of the primary production team lived in the Washington, DC area where real estate is extremely expensive. Any space large enough to be practical for Farragut Films wound up being far beyond their ability to afford… at least in DC.
So the team began casting a wider net. An early possibility was Cincinnati, OH, where John’s father, John Broughton, Sr., had a workshop where he constructed many of the Farragut set pieces. It seemed logical to locate the studio close to the production facility, but again, the Cincinnati metro area proved unrealistic.
After looking at another potential location in West Virginia that didn’t work, Holly Bednar reached out to a realtor friend of hers named Kimberly Watson in Georgia, and she in turn put them in touch with the W.H. Gross Construction Company. They had a building that would be perfect for Farragut Film’s needs, located in the lovely coastal town of St. Marys, GA (the second oldest city in America!) just north of the border between Georgia and Florida.
Would it be a schlep to head down there on the weekends 700 miles from Washington, DC? Heck, yeah. But these folks were committed to the cause. And anyway, they had a sort of sign from above that this was the right move to make: it turned out that Jacksonville, FL just 35 miles to the south was the home port of the U.S. Naval Destroyer USS Farragut DDG-99.
Farragut Films announced their new “home port” of St. Marys, GA, and work began almost immediately turning the structure into “Studio One.” Existing sets were moved down to Georgia, and construction began on series of new sets.
On April 17, 2009, Farragut Films hosted its first “Open House” – something that would become a regular event – where members of the general public were welcome to come into Studio One look around at the sets, take photos, and meet the Starship Farragut cast and crew. This first open house even featured a production veteran of TV Star Trek: stunt coordinator Leslie Hoffman.
Four hundred people showed up for that first Open House and got to view not only the shuttlecraft set but also a transporter room, turbolift, captain’s quarters, and a corridor for “walk-and-talk” scenes. There was also a captain’s chair to sit in and take photos, and a helm/navigation console… the first pieces of what would become a recreation of one half of the TOS bridge. The other half would be built later, but they wanted enough to start filming on.
Speaking of filming, what about John Broughton’s goal of releasing two new quality episodes of Starship Farragut each year? How could they film an episode (let alone two!) if they were still building sets? Glad you asked!
The visual effects for Starship Farragut were enthusiastically created by Michael Struck of Portland, OR-based NEO f/x. Michael was so excited about the series that he pitched a story treatment for consideration for being made into an actual episode. While a solid idea, John Broughton felt it was beyond their capabilities at the time to put off properly. But Michael wasn’t giving up so easily!
Michael proposed creating an animated episode, similar to the animated Star Trek episodes produced in the early 1970s. He did extensive research into 2D animation, and he even tracked down Lou Scheimer, the co-founder of Filmation (the company that made the original animated Star Trek episodes ). Michael not only got Lou’s blessing to do a version of the series with Starship Farragut, but he actually convinced Lou himself to lend his voice to one of the characters!
Lou Scheimer wasn’t the only notable voice talent to come on board. Michael went so far as to make NEO f/x a Screen Actors Guild signatory in order to be able to hire SAG actors… specifically Tim Russ (Tuvok from Voyager) and Chase Masterson (Leeta from Deep Space 9) to voice characters from the TOS era. Starship Farragut thus joined New Voyages/Phase 2 and Of Gods and Men in featuring major Star Trek alumni actors. There were several other notable actors, but most significant among them were James Doohan’s son Chris Doohan (voicing both Scotty as well as Thelin, an Andorian he voiced for the TAS episode “Yesteryear”) and Vic Mignogna (more on Vic next week). And of course, the regular Farragut cast members all voiced their characters for the project.
Michael was helped by illustrator Kail Tescar, creator of the VERY impressive Star Trek: The Animated Series website. Kail was and is the undisputed expert on animated Trek, and he served as both illustrator and associate producer the animated Farragut project.
Michael Struck enlisted the aid of DS9 writer (and co-writer of Star Trek: Of Gods and Men) Jack Treviño to turn Michael’s idea into a complete 30-minute script. A second half-hour episode was also written, this one by accomplished writer Thomas J. Scott. Although work for both episodes was done simultaneously (as backgrounds and certain shots could be used for both), work was completed first on the latter episode “Power Source.” After a year in production, it debuted on the Internet in three parts, the first released in July of 2009 and each successive part appearing about a month later.
Part one of the second episode, “The Needs of the Many” just made it out during 2009 (during December 31, no less!)… so Starship Farragut’s record of two quality releases per year was still intact. Part two was released in February of 2010 followed by part three in May. Kail Tescar also spent several months working on an online Starship Farragut comic book which was also released in 2010. All three animated efforts were surprisingly good (at least in my opinion, but fans also were quite impressed). All the stories were original and very engaging… and the comic book story even explains the departure of Security Chief Prescott from the Farragut. Prescott was a great character who had appeared multiple times, but actor Paul R. Sieber was moving on from the series.
And speaking of moving on…
As 2010 came to a close, John Broughton himself was thinking of moving on. Oh, he would still be associated with Starship Farragut on some way or other, but no longer would he play quite so active a role, nor would he continue to play Captain Jack Carter, a character who now seemed as essential to Starship Farragut as Captain Kirk was to the Starship Enterprise. But all good things must come to an end, I suppose. John himself put it this way in his “Captain’s Blog”:
I plan to step down as “actor Captain” and focus more on the creative direction of Starship Farragut. When I conceived this project, I had no idea the amount of work and effort required to be an effective actor. My background/education is not in the fine arts of drama – an area that I underestimated when this project began almost six years ago. Having gone through the process though, I have a better understanding and a foundation for the craft.
The Starship Farragut project is one that is stabilized. In the next few months, I will be working with Mike Bednar to see about transitioning day-to-day operations and oversight over to him. We’ll be examining and assessing how this will actually work and better define areas of responsibility. My thinking here is and if I can make an analogy, just as Rick Berman handled the daily oversight of Star Trek: The Next Generation initially, Gene Roddenberry was more involved in the creative direction of the series and characters. Working with the respective actors, I will lend my thoughts and vision for the series. In other words, I’ll still be involved, but in a lesser role than before.
Oh, say it ain’t so! How could a sci-fi series possibly survive the loss of its commanding officer and main character? (Okay, I just heard someone say Babylon 5. Shut up.) But seriously, would Starship Farragut ever be the same without Captain Carter in the center seat?
The story is far from over, my friends…
Next week on Fan Film Friday: in the exciting conclusion of this three-part novella, John Broughton prepares for his final appearance as Captain Carter, and it’s an episode that is destined to become Starship Farragut’s greatest triumph to date. But will it really be John’s swan song, or does something change his mind? Also, what happens when a self-described sci-fi geek with deep pockets and a love of your project decides to open his wallet? (Here’s a hint: Starship Farragut Continues.) And looking forward, what’s in store for Farragut Films in the future? And hmmmm, there’s an admiral who looks a LOT like Marvel Comic’s Stan Lee—that can’t be right…can it?