Big studios have competition in delivering Star Trek to the fans — and it’s from the fans themselves.
It takes vision and funding to get a film project off the ground. Usually, that was the domain of Hollywood — a meeting place for artists and financiers who could see profit in the creative vision of writers and actors. But today, with the advance of crowdfunding, if ideas have merit then people with a similar affiliation to the project can make it happen.
There are a number of fan-initiated projects out there these days. These projects are a testament to the love these people have for this 49-year-old franchise. They want the stories that Gene Roddenberry started to continue with the same vision, the same ideals and the same universe that he created.
There is still an audience that has the spirit and desire to see the expansion of this universe in new ways, but sadly, this is limited by the amount of revenue a project of this kind can generate. Why haven’t we seen a new Star Trek incarnation in Roddenberry’s universe in over 10 years?
Luckily, there’s a new development that might change what’s happening with Star Trek these days, and veteran sci-fi actor Richard Hatch has his finger on the pulse of this exciting new venture. He’s involved with a dynamic example of this trend called "Star Trek: Axanar," and he thinks it will have implications on the way the Star Trek franchise and other sci-fi shows are delivered to their eager and hungry audiences.
Catching up with Hatch on his way to Dallas Comic-Con, we were able to get Richard to share his ideas on this new shift in sci-fi production. After the con, Hatch remarked that he was going to appear in an episode of another Fan production — the "Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II" episode “Torment of Destiny” in addition to "Star Trek: Axanar."
“My good buddy (James Cawley) is directing this fan Trek film, 'New Voyages' … these fan films have really grown in their writing, the quality of the acting and everything else," Hatch said. "Normally, I do anything where it’s a good role or where something that’s going to be interesting for me. My good friend is directing this … and it’s one that really has substance to it.”
Hatch knows what he’s talking about. A veteran sci-fi fan and performer who fans will fondly remember from both versions of "Battlestar Galactica," Hatch has over 30 years of working with Hollywood studios in acting, directing and writing roles. A novelist and writer in addition to his acting work, Hatch is a deeply committed advocate of science fiction and delivering it to audiences in a way that is innovative and meaningful for fans in the 21st century.
Hatch sees Star Trek among a realm of properties that can benefit from this approach. In addition to "New Voyages," Hatch recently played the role of the Klingon high commander, Gen. Kharn, in "Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar," and he will be reprising the role in a full-length, feature-film production titled "Star Trek: Axanar."
If you’re not familiar with the concept, Axanar is a battle set 21 years before the time of Capt. Kirk in the original Roddenberry universe. An epic battle between the Klingons and Starfleet, it was this event that decided the fate of the Federation. What is notable is the presence of one of Kirk’s greatest heroes, Garth of Izar, who played a pivotal role in the battle. Trek fans will remember Garth from the original series episode “Whom Gods Destroy.”
By reaching back to the original Trek roots, this project immediately establishes its legitimacy and a return to Roddenberry’s original universe. Its professional quality and excellence also demonstrate what is possible. It's also important to point out that it's the fans who are making this happen and not Hollywood.
“'Axanar' is unlike any other fan-funded film in history," Hatch explained. "It’s literally changing the landscape of what is possible. We normally think what it takes to do a studio-quality film is like $50 million, $100 million, and for a really small amount of that, they're producing a studio-quality production. I think this type of production is going to inspire a lot of other people to realize that there is a whole audience out there that the studios, networks are not serving.”
It’s the networks that really have to pay attention to projects like these. Fans have been so desperate for a new Trek show to succeed "Star Trek: Enterprise" that fan-turned-producer Alec Peters took it upon himself to gather veteran sci-fi actors like Hatch, J.G. Hertzler, Tony Todd, Kate Vernon and Gary Graham to film a 20-odd minute short feature: "Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar." From this fan’s vision comes a new media format, something that will revolutionize the way Star Trek can be packaged to its viewers.
Hatch thinks so, too.
“I think you’re going to see something incredible," he said. "It’ll be amazing to see what Paramount’s reaction is to this. You’ve got something that’s moving from fan-funded to total indy project, on such a level that it should be seen in theaters. It’ll open up the doors for things like 'Battlestar' and 'Firefly.' Studios can build on these relationships, draw on a certain level of expertise and really create something special that the studio can be proud of.”
The funding for "Prelude to Axanar" was raised via a Kickstarter campaign in 2014. Originally asking for $10,000, the successful campaign shockingly raised 10 times as much, with an astounding final total of $101,171. If that in itself isn’t an indication of the fans’ mutual desire to see a new production, then it’s hard to imagine what is.
But there is another angle to this this as well. Along with satisfying a hungry audience’s desire to see quality Star Trek and other sci-fi shows, Hatch thinks that these endeavors will serve as proving grounds for new talented professionals to emerge and gain experience in the industry.
“You could get film students from film schools who all want to learn by participating," he said. "They get to be part of these types of productions, learn the ropes and create an alternate pathway to distribution of a something that’s, I believe, as good as any network or studio production. You’ll have a lot of talented, gifted people out there who normally couldn’t get ... into the industry past the “gatekeepers” who determine what get through and doesn’t.
"The indie pathway will be a way for the new risk-takers to get ideas and stories out. Then the studios might want to come in and collaborate, and the people who develop these things may or may not want to sell, but it’s still a new and viable way of getting it out to the audience.”
Just because a show finishes its run, it doesn’t mean that it’s over. Star Trek is a perfect example of this. Despite having only an initial three seasons back in the '60s, Star Trek has survived through re-runs, motion pictures and then finally a new series of television incarnations from the late 1980s to 2005.
But that is where it has stopped. The only new Star Trek we have is the J.J. Abrams re-imagining that changes the characters by altering the timeline. This is no longer Roddenberry’s Star Trek anymore, and that has left a void fans are eager to fill.
“Star Trek, 'Farscape,' 'Babylon 5,' 'Firefly' — all these shows have gone off the air and there’s a whole audience that is hungry for these shows, and the studios don’t seem interested in producing them," Hatch said. "And I think this whole alternative network of creating programming — you’re building a new relationship with the fans, monetizing it, creating a new business model — this is going to grow and I’m sure the studios and networks are going to … at some point, they’re going to want to participate, revenue share and license some of their known titles, and there will be whole new projects that are owned by creators.
"We’re entering into a whole new entertainment paradigm that’s shifting very dramatically, and this fan-funding has allowed a lot of very talented people to get projects off the ground.”
Speaking of getting projects off the ground, the most current funding figures for the feature film "Star Trek: Axanar," show that it's well on its way to production. In 18 days, this campaign managed to raise $319,874, which means that the first goal has been reached and the stretch goal of $330,000 is a mere $10,000 or so away from complete. Visit SaveTheFederation.com or KlingonVictory.com to check out the campaign’s most recent status. Clearly, the fans have made their wishes known.
In terms of delivery models, Hatch believes that films, television shows, Internet and on-demand productions are the way of the future.
“They’re moving to the next stage, where they’ll be able to create ongoing shows that are just as high quality as any network, either fan-funded or, you know, supported by the fans in some way or another," he said. "They'll be put online; they’ll be able to be downloaded into any device and again, we’re moving into a whole new world where anything is possible. But the nice thing is you can produce quality programs for a lot less than the studios produce. This is the way that, what I call hyper-niche markets, will be served.”
It’s a more direct relationship between fan and film company than what has been traditionally served in the past. Clearly, Hatch does not discount his own 30-plus years of experience in the industry but rather draws upon it as a base to make his point. This way, the shows continue, fans get to see what they love and the whole process happens very quickly. Hatch also takes into consideration his own fan nature.
“Oh, I’m a huge fan of great, visionary intelligent sci-fi," he said. "I don’t get to see enough of it. We’re in an era of some extraordinary, theatrical-style series that 10 years ago could not have been done.”
Hatch applies his intelligent, visionary perspective to playing the Klingon supreme commander, Kharn, in 'Axanar.' Using his fan enthusiasm, in addition to his collaboration with executive producer Alec Peters, Hatch portrays a chilling rendition of a Klingon warrior set on leading his people to victory over the Federation. Kharn is a truly intelligent warrior — a cunning strategist, eager to vanquish the enemies of the Klingon Empire.
“The warrior spirit is the part that brings out the best and the worst in people, and that’s who Kharn is," Hatch explained. "That’s a part of me. Ever since I was a child I wanted to run faster, jump higher than the other kids. (Laughs) I used to get other kids to punch me as hard as they could to show that I could take it and that nothing could ever keep me down. I always wanted to find that invincible part of myself, and that’s really what the warrior spirit is, and so that really resonates with me.
"I loved Katsumoto in 'The Last Samurai' — kind of a role model for me. As an actor, you find those elements inside of you and then you build a relationship with them and let your intuition unveil them as you go. That’s Kharn.”
In "Prelude to Axanar," we see the type of quality performance that he will deliver in the full-length film and the high standards of a project that is clearly destined to succeed. Of course, that will depend upon the dedication of the cast, crew and, of course, the fans who are clearly hungry to see this production take wing. If you haven’t seen "Prelude to Axanar" yet, check it out at StarTrekAxanar.com and get a sense of what this project promises.
What’s really significant about this project is that this is homage to Roddenberry’s Trek history. There is a significant degree of vision in this project and, of course, over $300,000 of faith already invested in it. Fans will bypass studios and networks and directly fund someone with vision to make a quality project work — and that just proves Hatch’s point.
Richard Hatch is a veteran sci-fi fan and performer who starred in both versions of "Battlestar Galactica."