Fans of Community might have been delighted to see Danny Pudi in Star Trek Beyond; they may also be forgiven if they missed him. Pudi was playing an alien and was unrecognizable. The role was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and just 3-4 hours in a makeup chair transformed him into a creature only a mother could love.
He learned fight choreography and studied the alien language alongside Kim Kold and Sofia Boutella. Despite the fact that sweat pooled under his prosthetics and his character gets beaten by Boutella, Pudi sounds ecstatic.
There are lots of famous Trekkies: Mila Kunis, Daniel Craig, Angelina Jolie and Ben Stiller are all confessed die- hards. Whoopi Goldberg of course. Tom Hanks was such a fan that he went snooping on the Paramount lot where he was shooting Bosom Buddies at the time – it just so happened that The Wrath of Khan was shot there also, and he seized the opportunity to board the Starship Enterprise. He sadly turned down a role in First Contact due to his first directing job, That Thing You Do! Eddie Murphy nearly snagged a role in The Voyage Home and is probably a little heartbroken that it was re-written. I totally avoided the show growing up, relegating The Next Generation to ‘Boring Dad Stuff’ and not giving it a second thought until JJ Abrams decided to make my life a little more complicated by rebooting the franchise and obligating all the men in my life to insist that I watch. I have. I’ve even had my own Star Trek transformation. But only recently did I experience a Star Trek fan film – a story that exists within the Star Trek framework\universe, lovingly created by talented film making fans.
Paul Laight, a gentleman kind enough to have been visiting us here for some time, just so happens to be a writer and producer on the film, and he and director Gary O’ Brien generously granted us answers to some of our most burning questions. But first, please watch the film, Chance Encounter.
This is a bit rude, but I was frankly surprised by how good it is. We are sent all kinds of movies to review, and lots of them are amateur jobs that make us cringe with their bad writing or terrible acting. This little piece, however, is well polished. It isn’t just made with good intentions, but with talent and professionalism. Thematically it’s an excellent fit for the Star Trek family, but the story could and would hold up without it.
Without further ado, an interview with the filmmakers.
ASSHOLES: What came first, did you decide to make a Star Trek movie, or did the story just seem like a natural fit in the ST universe?
PAUL: The latter. Myself and Gary have made some very dramatic war and horror short films, plus comedies, in the past as Fix Films so when he came to me with the idea of something more gentle and romantic I thought that would make a great change of pace and genre. Gary suggested a short involving an older man and a younger woman. Now, usually this idea can lend itself to something more sleazy but we did not want that. We wanted something emotional which would resonate rather than titillate. So, I had a think about it and eventually came up with the idea you kind of see in Chance Encounter. Originally it was set on a rooftop and it was just two people meeting and having an impact on each other’s lives despite only meeting briefly. Then Gary suggested we could make it as a Star Trek fan film and I agreed it would a fascinating project to attempt.
GARY: Yes exactly, once Paul introduced a Sci-fi element to one of his story outlines it suddenly opened up a new area to us that I could see was very much Star Trek shaped!
ASSHOLES: What level of fandom do you have to achieve before attempting fan fiction? Do you worry about upsetting other fans?
PAUL: I guess Gary may be able to answer this question better than me as he is a proper Star Trek fan. My feeling was that as a writer I wanted to do my utmost to tell a compelling story with intriguing characters which connects with everyone. I wrote the screenplay not just for Star Trek fans but for those who enjoy good stories. I was very confident no one would be upset by the story as the characters are intrinsically positive and at no time are we parodying Star Trek or the franchise in general. What was always great about Star Trek is that the characters and concepts were always compelling, so while open to satire, I was not interested in that. If someone is upset at Chance Encounter then they probably have anger issues.
GARY: I think you have to just tell your story first and then fit the expected “fan” elements in around it, which is how the staff writers across all the series approached things too I suspect. “Star Trek” evokes certain things that one might assume you have to include – aliens, transporters, warp drive, photon torpedoes, etc, all of which are absent from our film, and so maybe if there is a level of fandom you need to reach before writing fan fiction, it’s knowing the franchise well enough to strip out all the surface elements like those and yet still feel true to the source material.
ASSHOLES: What was it like making a film with so many visual effects on a limited budget?
PAUL: Gary is the tech genius and it is a testament to his years of training that he was able to produce such great results on a limited budget. Kudos to him.
GARY: Thanks mate! I think on such a low budget, part of getting the visual effects “right” is knowing when not to do them. It’s tempting to think that once you’ve got the computer and the software the sky’s the limit and so why not go crazy. But that’s not how the shows were made. Why green-screen and motion track stars outside the spaceship windows when we can do it just as effectively in-camera with a black fabric and bits of tin foil? Less is more was our philosophy!
ASSHOLES: What was the casting process like? Had you worked with any of the actors before?
PAUL: Having made over ten short films and various promos over the years our casting process is very organised now. We use online casting websites such as Shooting People and Casting Call Pro and have also built up an ensemble of actors we have used in the past. There are SO many talented people out there and when we post on the sites you will get a hell of a lot of responses. We then sieved the actors down to a shortlist and then we either meet in person (where the leads are concerned most definitely) or Skype first contact before meeting them. We had only worked with Phil Delancy before (Captain Janssen) so this was a whole new cast generally on this one.
GARY: Yes the casting went pretty smoothly and we feel blessed that we found such good people for all the roles. Everyone was very professional and did a great job – a pleasure to work with them all.
ASSHOLES: What are the challenges of making a short film rather than feature length?
PAUL: Well, I haven’t made a feature film but I have worked on them as crew and obviously everything is bigger on a feature; even a low budget one. Personally, though I think the amount of hard work you need to put in is commensurate for both. Most importantly in any production is you must have a good story and screenplay as your basis, then you can get talented people to commit to the project. Of course, a short film for me is a microcosmic feature but the biggest challenge is me and Gary pretty much did EVERYTHING from start to finish. I guess it would be difficult to do that on a feature, but maybe not impossible – as Robert Rodriguez has demonstrated.
GARY: My only experiences on features were as a tiny cog in a very large machine, but as director on numerous shorts you have to do everything. I guess film-making always boils down to being incredibly hard work though, just different kinds of work.
ASSHOLES:How do you run a successful crowdfunding campaign?
PAUL: Gary was the brains behind our campaign and I chipped in with a little clip. I think the most important thing is not ask for too much money! Be realistic and HAVE A GOOD STORY or IDEA you feel passionate about. We believed in our story and the angle of making a Star Trek fan film really helped us too. I mean, if you’re asking for $1,000,000 to make a film about paint drying you could struggle!
GARY: Exactly – we didn’t want to ask for any more money than we thought was needed. Also, it’s our first, and so far only campaign so I don’t know if our success was a fluke or not! We were just open, honest and did what we said we’d do – the rest is just left to fate I guess.
ASSHOLES: What feedback have you received from your backers?
PAUL: Amazing! One guy has even done a fan review on YouTube. All the feedback so far for Chance Encounter has been SO positive. People love the story and characters and effects, so nothing but good stuff so far. No nasty Star-Trek-Klingon-Trolling on YouTube comments either. Well, not YET!
GARY: Yes at this point people have been overwhelmingly positive about the film. With so much content out there we’re really flattered that people have even taken the time to watch it – that they like it too is just wonderful. Also, many of the comments say how true to Star Trek it felt, so that is a huge compliment in itself of course.
ASSHOLES: You’ve (Paul) described various roles as “caterer, florist, dead body” – what has surprised you most as a producer on a low budget indie?
PAUL: Oh yes, that was an attempt at humour on my part on my blog article. Basically, with Fix Films me and Gary have taken on various duties in the filmmaking process over the years and we love that aspect of it. But the most surprising thing is that film is ultimately a collaborative process and the amount of assistance and support we have had with our projects has been amazing. I’ve had friends and family and people I’ve never met before helping us on productions; and Chance Encounter is a case in point. Being a bit of a cynic I kind of thought that raising even £2000 for a Star Trek fan film would be tough but people came through for us and helped us make a wonderful story. I thank you all.
GARY: Yes, both the effort and money from so many people that made Chance Encounter happen was a thing to behold – we’re incredibly grateful.
ASSHOLES: Any plans to revisit these characters?
PAUL: I wouldn’t rule it out at all. It depends on writing a script that would work and of course getting finance on another production. But we spent a lot of time working on the characters, creating their back stories and biographies, so there is a great foundation with which to work from.
GARY: Well these characters were created for this specific story, so as Paul says – if they do return would depend on if they fit into a future story or not. I suspect that there is another Star Trek film lurking somewhere within us, with or without these characters – but at the end of the day it would have to depend on whether future fund raising efforts were successful or not. Watch this space!