In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, we got to know STAN WOO, the fan behind YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL, a Star Trek fan film featuring GEORGE TAKEI as Sulu and JAMES SHIGETA as Admiral Nogura. Star Trek production designer ANDREW PROBERT, who designed both the refit U.S.S. Enterprise and the Enterprise-D, worked on this fan film, as well, providing custom sketches for the refit U.S.S. Yorktown along with other completely new space vessels.
Between 1985 and 1987, Stan and his team shot 160 minutes of footage over a dozen different film shoots both indoors and outdoors. By the summer of 1987, the project was even featured in a two-page article in issue #119 of Starlog Magazine…an article read by a twelve-year-old boy from Ontario, Canada who will be the focus on most of today’s blog: JOHN ATKIN.
Stan and his Yorktown project appeared to be all but unstoppable…until failing college grades in 1987 caused Stan’s father to pull the plug on the entire endeavor. Stan’s education had to come first. And although some minor work (in secret) was done by Stan here and there over the next few years, the project was essentially in suspended animation for more than two decades. Stan had gotten married in 1995, had four children, and didn’t really have the time or resources to complete a full-on fan film…until 2009, that is.
As we learned last time, Stan began thinking about completing Yorktown beginning in 2009 after seeing how prolific Star Trek fan films had become during the past six years. He asked his friend PAUL McCUDDEN, a writer in Hollywood, for help expanding and finishing the script. And a bit of progress was being made.
THE SEARCH FOR STAN
Meanwhile, north of the border in the land of moose and maple, John Atkin was now in his mid-thirties and also a devotee of Star Trek fan films. And in early 2010, he began to wonder: “Whatever happened to that Yorktown project with George Takei from the 1980s?”
He was determined to find out…
“I was a big fan of Starlog magazine as a kid,” recalls John, and I picked up issue #119 in June of 1987. The whole concept of a ‘fan film’ was something completely new to me. Even at that young age, I thought the idea of making a fan film was incredibly ambitious and exciting, and the fact that they got George Takei to be in the film as Sulu was just incredible to me. I remember the costumes that Kathy Pillsbury had created for the film appearing in the magazine, and was very impressed by the designs. I was also impressed by the casting of James Shigeta as Admiral Nogura, who I recognized from his work on Airwolf at the time. To me, it looked like a lost episode of Star Trek, and as I kid, I couldn’t wait to see it.”
Not knowing what became of the film, John was hoping to contact Stan and find out if it had ever been completed and, if so, whether he might be able to see it. The challenge, however, was finding Stan Woo—a fairly common last name in the Asian community, especially in Los Angeles (assuming Stan even still lived in Los Angeles…which it turned out that he did).
Wanting to learn as much about Yorktown as possible, John set up a Facebook group which was quickly joined by the one-and-only Andrew Probert, eager to talk about the old project. It turned out that Andrew was still in touch with Stan, and provided John with Stan’s e-mail address. And on September 8, 2010—the 44th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek—John and Stan communicated for the first time.
It wouldn’t be the last.
Stan explained that Yorktown had never been completed, but it was only missing a few simple scenes and some visual effects shots…nothing too difficult. Well, if it was that close to being finished anyway, John offered to help finish filming the missing scenes. John explains: “I am a graduate of the theatre arts program at Algonquin College in Ottawa and had a number of friends who worked in the film industry. So I offered to lend a hand by putting a team together to help finish the project.”
Of course, it turned out that things weren’t as close to completion as either of them initially thought, but they didn’t know that yet.
THE PARTNERSHIP BEGINS
The two fans began talking and getting acquainted. “I was hesitant at first,” remembers Stan, “but as I got to know John better, I could see his drive and commitment. A year later on September 22, 2011, I met him at the Mexican Village in Los Angeles. It took time to build a rapport with John, as things didn’t just happen overnight. Eventually, John became the show-runner and wore many hats like writer, editor, and director…all under the guise of ‘Executive Producer.’ I felt comfortable enough just to turn over everything to John and let him run with it. I enjoy spending time with him and his family. In the last 10 years, I’ve seen him get married, start a family, and purchase a home. John is like a nephew to me.”
Stan recalls how he initially needed to keep his work with John on Yorktown a secret. “In the early days with John, I was like Walter White and John was like Jesse in Breaking Bad. I had to work on the film without my wife finding out because she has the same mindset about filmmaking as my dad. I remember when my family had dinner with John and his wife Miranda at The Tam O’Shanter Inn—John and I had to sneak out across the street to shoot an insert shot of my prop watch!”
As John and Stan started working together more closely, Yorktown began to take on a new shape. While the “bones” of the fan film continued to be the footage from the 1980s, new scenes were written to flesh out the story. Among the possibilities now open to them was the opportunity to do something that had been all but inconceivable 25 years earlier: film scenes on the bridge of the U.S.S. Yorktown! By 2011, no less than three different TOS bridge sets existed that fan films were using: James Cawley’s STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES bridge in Ticonderoga, NY; the STARSHIP FARRAGUT bridge in Kingsland, GA; and the newly-restored bridge that had been used for STARSHIP EXETER, now relocated to Oklahoma City, OK and about to be used for STARSHIP AJAX (a set that eventually became STARBASE STUDIOS). Ultimately, separate scenes for Yorktown would be filmed BOTH in New York AND in Oklahoma.
John explains, “I worked with Stan on writing new scenes for the film that included a separate bridge crew, and fleshing out those new characters. This allowed for a few characters who were discussed ‘off-screen’ in the original footage to now appear on screen.”
YOU HAVE NOT EXPERIENCED YORKTOWN UNTIL YOU HAVE READ IT IN THE ORIGINAL KLINGON!
Also new to the script were multiple scenes with Klingons. What made these scenes unique at the time (and perhaps even today) is that those lines would be spoken entirely in the Klingon language! “A Canadian actor named CHARLES EDWARD BAE is a huge Klingon fan,” says John, “and is fluent in Klingon. I asked him to be a consultant on the film, and he assisted us with translating the dialogue for all of the Klingon scenes. Charles also has a cameo as a Klingon named Colonel Qumeq in the film.
In May of 2011, the first new footage for Yorktown in nearly 25 years was filmed at the home of MARK “LIAM” COLLINS in front of a green screen. Mark played the Klingon Captain Ma’k, providing multiple takes of his lines delivered exclusively in Klingon. Liam put together his Klingon costume, and he made the forehead ridges himself. (Liam had worked on the Klingon costuming in the mega-fan film STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN in 2006.)
BRING ON THE VFX
At the same time, work was finally progressing—for the first time!—on the visual effects for Yorktown. John had been very impressed with the work that ROLAND BARON had done on that same Of Gods and Men fan film a half decade earlier (Roland would later work on RENEGADES and STAR TREK CONTINUES), and John asked Roland he’d like to work on Yorktown. He jumped at the chance, coordinating with Andrew Probert to flesh out the CGI models, and Andy ultimately giving his blessing to the final designs.
The first CGI model to be completed by Roland was the U.S.S. Yorktown itself, given the designation NCC-1704 to match the number in the Franz Joseph Starfleet Technical Manual…rather than NCC-1717 to match the number in the Eaglemoss collection and later in Michael Okuda’s Star Trek Encyclopedia. For anyone having trouble reconciling that seeming paradox, John Atkin recommends recalling that the fan film’s Yorktown was severely damaged. So perhaps Starfleet christened a new U.S.S. Yorktown heavy cruiser with NCC-1717 while the original was looking at possible decommission…and then it ultimately got a second chance at life by being refit to test new technology.
Whatever the explanation, the models for both the pre- and post-refit Yorktown were completed in the first half of 2011, and in June, Roland released a truly breathtaking (even by today’s standards) CGI animation of both ships…
Interestingly, this trailer ends with the optimistic promise that Yorktown: A Time to Heal was coming in 2012. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but work was progressing steadily. Roland next tackled the Klingon K-fighter (which looked like a miniature bird-of-prey) and finished that up by the end of the year. The VFX would also feature a Klingon D-7 K’T’inga-class battlecruiser as well as a third ship designed by Andrew: the terrorist S.H.A.R.K. vessel called the Nagaer (which was “Reagan” spelled backward because, back in 1985, Stan thought Reagan was “good” so reversing the name was “bad”). Roland finished modeling the Nagaer in February of 2012.
In January of 2012, filming wrapped on the next Klingon footage, this time shooting the Klingon K-fighter pilot in front of a green screen in San Francisco. The pilot was played by BRIAN RIVERA. The previous year, Charles Bae had introduced John to the short fan vignette KLINGON HAMLET, starring Brian. This led John to reach out to Brian, who obviously had both expertise in Klingon make-up as well as an ability to speak impeccable Klingon, as you can see below…
THE BIG MOVE TO DIGITAL
On June 27, 2012, another major milestone was reached: the 3/4″ Umatic SP video tapes containing the original 1980s footage of Yorktown were restored and digitized at DC Video of Burbank, CA. DC Video was known for restoring the Apollo Lunar Landing tapes for NASA. The Yorktown tapes underwent an extensive 12-day restoration process that involved baking the master tapes at 130 degrees Fahrenheit to re-adhere the magnetic particles to the base. The result was a sparkling 10-bit uncompressed master that, according to John, looked even better than the original tapes.
John returned to Los Angeles in September 2012 for a two-week visit—a year after his first meeting with Stan—to pick up the digital files. These were the days before you could simply upload such large files to cloud server. John would take the drive back with him to Toronto in order to start editing a new official trailer for Yorktown…and the first that would ever show the original scenes with George Takei and James Shigeta.
The pieces were beginning to fall into place. New footage was being filmed, and new visual effects were being created. It was 2012, and Yorktown seemed to be moving at warp speed toward finally being completed after nearly three decades.
Oh course, it’s now 2020 as I type this, and Yorktown still isn’t finished. So what the heck happened between then and now?
Next time in Part 5 – Our saga continues with more Klingon footage, some new Yorktown footage, and it’s finally time for a crowd-funder. Also, a shoot in Oklahoma City turns into “the big chill.”
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the latest trailer for Yorktown: A Time to Heal, coming this Christmas…