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: Between 2005 when they first started production on their pilot episode and the end of 2010, Starship Farragut managed to produce two full-length fan films of about an hour each, two shorter “Crew Logs” vignettes, two animated episodes, and one online comic book. They also moved their production from the Washington, DC area to St. Marys, GA where they began construction of their own TOS sets in a 2,500 square foot facility they called Studio 1.
As plans began to solidify to produce their third (and most ambitious!) full-length feature, Starship Farragut creator and star, John Broughton, announced an unexpected decision of his own: he would be giving up his leading role as Captain Jack Carter and would be stepping back from day-to-day production going forward. Would Starship Farragut be able to continue without its captain? Let’s find out…
As 2010 came to an end, John Broughton was beginning to look for a director for Farragut’s latest episode, “The Price of Anything.” He’d heard some good things about a fellow named Vic Mignogna, who had provided voices for Farragut’s recently-released animated episodes. Vic had previously done a great deal of voice-over work for English-dubbed anime films, various video games, and a number of American-produced cartoons. Vic was also no stranger to Star Trek fan films, having both directed and acted in the Star Trek: Phase 2 episode “Kitumba.”
John talked to his friend (and the screenwriter of the upcoming episode) Paul Sieber about Vic, and Paul had very positive things to say. “He is an actor’s director,” Paul said of Vic. And although John had no idea what that meant, he spoke to Vic about directing. From here, I’m going to let John Broughton tell the story in his own words. I need to trim this a bit, but I sincerely recommend you click this link and read all of what John had to say, as it’s very illuminating and heartfelt.
I explained my frustration on the acting side of this project. I had an idea to remove my character very early on in the teaser and having the plot of estranged and bitter family relationship take place with Smithfield’s brother. After explaining all of this, Vic relayed that since I created the series and that Captain Carter was pivotal to the series, his departure should not just be an afterthought. Whereas any other person may have just accepted what I initially proposed, Vic understood where I was coming from and offered an alternative solution, adding, “If you know your lines and are prepared, I will bring out the best in you, and you can make this film on a high note.” Without sounding like a cliché, I was intrigued by the challenge. If I could leave on a high note and have folks wanting more of my character – why not?!
I’ll come back to more of John’s comments shortly, but first, let’s take a look at how the episode turned out…
In nearly every way possible, “The Price of Anything” was a triumph beyond anything Starship Farragut had previously attained. Farragut Films had, the previous year, become a Screen Actor’s Guild signatory, allowing them to use SAG union talent on their productions. (And let me say that becoming a SAG signatory is no small commitment. Some friends of mine in the entertainment industry have told me how much of a hassle all the additional paperwork can be, along with the onerous guidelines a production must follow. But the trade-off is you get access to some of the best professionals you will find anywhere.) This allowed the episode to feature a mix of the usual amateur fan players along with professionally trained actors with knowledge of and experience with their craft. And the addition of the professionals helped the amateurs provide even better performances.
The directing, pacing, and editing were top notch. Vic Mignogna himself appeared briefly on camera in a cameo playing Captain James T. Kirk, fulfilling a dream Vic had carried with him since he was a young boy watching the original series in the 60s and 70s. Hetoreyn composed and orchestrated yet another magnificent musical score, providing the 38-minute long episode the richness of a major Hollywood motion picture (trust me, just close your eyes and listen to the closing credits).
Michael Struck of NEO f/x took a leap forward in his visual effects with this episode. The USS Farragut itself never looked better, but in addition, there was a pulse-pounding shuttlecraft sequence that is not to be missed. But most impressive were a series of effects involving an “invisible” adversary (kinda like “Predator”) that required the use of a green body suit to allow for Chroma-keying out the actor to make him look not all there. The shots were challenging enough that Michael Struck came down from Portland, Oregon to southern California to supervise during shooting in both Griffith Park in Los Angeles and also in Calico, CA. This was the first time ever that Starship Farragut had filmed in a state that didn’t border the Atlantic Ocean.
Equally impressive were the new sets. In addition to utilizing their brand new bridge set and transporter room, Farragut Films once again used their one-of-a-kind shuttlecraft interior. But most dazzling and eye-catching was another first-of-its-kind recreation of a TOS set: the bridge of a Romulan bird-of-prey (along with some great TOS Romulan uniforms). This episode had it all.
It also had an engaging and emotional story. Captain Carter is forced to interact with his estranged father amidst a situation fraught with peril. The role of Carter in this episode would have been demanding for even an experienced actor. So how did John Broughton do? Let’s return to John’s reflections from his blog…
Vic validated a belief I’ve had for some time that knowing lines and having done rehearsals is simply not enough — you also need a director that provides clear “direction” and communicates to the actor in a way that he or she understands what is being asked; is able to change lines without changing the intent of the screenplay; and understands all the dynamics of that which is “film-making.”
Whereas I had my own thoughts of what the character was thinking and doing, Vic would throw in something else that would enhance the performance. I think that if you asked any actor involved in this production, they’d say the exact same thing. In fact, I’d challenge you to find someone who didn’t agree with me. I felt like a true actor ready to go and best of all, I WAS HAVING FUN in the process.
Another epiphany came when Vic told me to just “think it” and not to react. I would do just that and after a take was done and I was questioning about how it went because I wasn’t feeling it – Vic had me come back to the monitor and had the footage replayed for me. After I saw it first hand, I was blown away.
And thus did John Broughton change his mind and decide to both continue playing Captain Carter and also to remain an active part of the day-to-day production of the series. He announced his decision a few months later on his blog in May of 2012:
The last time I blogged, I shared how I was stepping down – filming at the October film shoot was bittersweet as I was finally able to enjoy the acting aspect but had already committed to stepping down. While formulating ideas how the Carter character could reprise a role in the next Farragut adventure outside of being the Captain, Mike and Holly Bednar conferred with me about staying on and “keeping things the way they were.” I don’t think that they will truly know how much that meant to me. I’m optimistic that when folks see THE PRICE OF ANYTHING, they will finally see the Carter character as I envisioned him.
“The Price of Anything” would spend a year in postproduction, finally debuting in December of 2012. But things were anything but quiet at Farragut Films during that time!
At the very end of 2011, Starship Farragut made some huge announcements. The first was the addition of Vic Mignogna to the key management role of Director of TREK Films, where he would be responsible for creative direction and film crew operations. The second announcement was that Vic would be overseeing not just one fan film series but TWO. The new addition would be titled Star Trek Continues and would feature a recreation of the original series set on board the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, with Vic Mignogna reprising his role of Captain Kirk. (Yes, Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2 was doing the same sort of thing, but Vic wanted to take his own crack at TOS.) Fortunately, the existing Farragut sets could easily double as the USS Enterprise.
While the addition of Vic Mignogna wasn’t much of a surprise to folks, the announcement of new executive producer Steven Dengler had some Farragut fans scratching their heads and going, “Who?” Anyone looking up Steven would discover he was founder and CEO of a successful Toronto-based Internet company called XE.com, one of the top 500 most visited sites on the Web (they do international currency exchanges). But what would a successful Internet entrepreneur want with a Star Trek fan series that, no matter how successful it ever got, would never be allowed to make a profit? Well, as it turned out, Steven wanted to be a red shirt!
Years earlier in 2006, Steven had taken a portion of his fortune to create Dracogen Inc, a unique strategic investment firm. Not only did Steven reach out to support charitable organizations, he also went on to become an angel investor to help out young tech companies, small video game developers, and other fun endeavors that wouldn’t normally merit the attention of a big financial backer. But Steven is a self-professed geek, and he likes the same kind of stuff all of us do… including Star Trek. So when he became friends with Vic Mignogna and discovered he could help create new TOS content online, Steven jumped at the chance. In return, he was given a role as security chief on board the USS Enterprise… along with a seat on the board of directors of Farragut Films.
Steven’s investment allowed Starship Farragut to make the biggest of their four announcements: the relocation of their TOS sets from Studio 1 in St. Marys, GA into a new facility in nearby Kingsland, GA that was four times larger (nearly 10,000 square feet) called Studio 2. With Dracogen purchasing the materials and supplies for building, the Starship Farragut construction team would have enough space to recreate almost the entire set structure created back in the 1960s at Desilu Studios to film the original Star Trek. You can see some photos of the amazing sets below, but I urge you to take four minutes out of your busy day and watch this breathtaking video walkthrough of all the completed sets at the new facility. Every time I see the video, it gives me goose bumps.
John Broughton’s original goal was to release two new offerings from Farragut Films each year, a goal they reached every year between 2007 and 2010. But 2011 saw only the release of a completely re-shot version of their first-ever Crew Logs vignette “Just Passing Through” (to correct sound issues and provide a more uplifting final framing sequence). And as mentioned, “The Price of Anything” premiered at the end of 2012. So while Farragut didn’t hit their two-per-year goal in 2011 and 2012, they still managed to release at least one episode per year for what was now six years in a row. (And if you count the three short vignettes released by Star Trek Continues during the second half of 2012, then only 2011 broke the two-fer streak.)
February of 2013 saw the release of a new Starship Farragut short vignette, the 18-minute third Crew Logs episode “Night Shift.” As promised, John Broughton once again played Captain Carter, although his camera time was minimal, allowing others in his crew a chance to shine. Star Trek Continues also released their first full-length episode, “Pilgrim of Eternity,” in May of 2013, and thus did two films once again come out the same year from the same Georgia-based studio.
Production continued in 2013-2014 on Starship Farragut’s fourth full-length episode, the 37-minute “Conspiracy of Innocence,” which was released on to the web in August of 2014. Another strong effort, Captain Carter once again played a major role, as did the other two members of the “big three” (Tacket and Smithfield). Meanwhile, Star Trek Continues released two full-length episodes of its own, including one of the best fan film efforts to date, “Fairest of Them All.” (Don’t worry, people, Star Trek Continues will get its own Fan Film Friday blog in the next month or two.)
In September and October of 2014, Starship Farragut launched its first-ever Kickstarter, attempting to raise $15,000 to film their next effort, another full-length film titled “The Crossing” and dealing with a story involving the Mirror Universe (although a new take on the concept). Their Kickstarter exceeded their goal, raising more than $20,000 from 320 fan donors. Filming went on during most of this past year, and Farragut’s latest episode is currently in post-production with an expected release date sometime in February (crossing fingers… get it?). UPDATE: “The Crossing” was completed and released in March of 2016, another strong episode!
So, what else is in store for Starship Farragut? Well, the future of the future looks pretty bright. Next year (2016), Starship Farragut will launch it’s first ever spin-off fan series. Star Trek Continues was not so much a spinoff as a sister series, but Trek: Isolation will spring from events in Farragut and follow some of its characters into a new and darker mission. In fact, Trek: Isolation has already released two short vignettes to introduce itself and a few of its main characters. The first vignette, “Change in Command,” was released in December of 2014 and shows the Farragut’s chief of security getting a promotion and transfer to the USS Babylon. Six months later, another 4-minute vignette, “A Great Responsibility,” featured none other than Marvel Comics legend STAN LEE as a Starfleet admiral assigning a new commanding officer to the USS Babylon. Seeing Stan in a TOS uniform, I must admit, is pretty darn cool!
As for Starship Farragut itself, they are planning one last episode, “Homecoming,” to film on the Georgia sets and end the series. But that ending is also only the beginning! At the end of 2014, Farragut Films made a decision to transition themselves to become the first full-budget (as opposed to shoestring), set-based regular fan series to be set in the Trek movie era (specifically Star Trek II-VI with the cool monster maroon uniforms). After all, the actors have aged a decade since the earliest episodes of Starship Farragut, so jumping the series ahead ten or twelve years will go a long way to explaining away the gray hairs.
In preparation for this, at the beginning of 2015, Farragut Films sold their share of the Studio 2 sets to Star Trek Continues and will be using the money to help jump-start their new series, Farragut Forward. The events of the upcoming final episode “Homecoming” will lead directly into the new environment of Farragut Forward. Damn the torpedoes, indeed! Farragut is boldly going WARP SPEED AHEAD!