How much money does it take to make a Star Trek fan film?
Well, it depends on who you ask. But if it’s Tommy Kraft you’re posing the question to, you might get a shock.
Kraft, a 24-year-old music major out of Jackson, Michigan, is about to release his first — and only — feature-length Star Trek film. It uses cutting edge special effects, including completely virtual sets. Music he’s composed himself. Costumes he sewn himself. And even a script he wrote himself.
And when “Star Trek: Horizon” premieres online after three years of hard work, Kraft will have done it all for less than $50,000.
“Honestly, it might not even be that much,” Kraft told 1701News. “I haven’t tallied it all up.”
Yet, Kraft’s first trailer for the film received more than 3 million views on YouTube. And a crowdfunding campaign used to help finish the film raised more than double the $10,000 he had sought. While another unofficial Star Trek production says it needs $2 million to complete its project, Kraft hired the best crew he could afford: himself.
“I don’t have a whole crew of people that I am paying, and you know, I don’t have a whole bunch of Hollywood actors that I’m paying either,” Kraft said. “It’s a one-man-band kind of movie, where it’s largely been me doing everything. And you can save a lot of money doing just that.”
It’s not that Kraft has necessarily been doing everything himself. The official “Star Trek: Horizon” website features a small crew that includes a special effects team, as well as other important filming positions like gaffers and sound operators. The actors, including Paul Lang as Capt. Hawke and Callie Bussell as the Romulan defector Lt. T’mar, are primarily stage and on-screen character actors out of the Detroit area.
Each day, those actors would make the trek to Jackson, film their scenes in front of green screen, and literally had to wait a couple of years before they saw the world Kraft created around them. And Kraft hopes when the cast sees the final product during their own special premiere at a theater he rented out near Jackson, they’ll be impressed.
“For me, it wasn’t just about making a good Star Trek movie,” Kraft said. “I just wanted to make a good movie. Movies and music have been the women in my life for a long time, and you know, that’s what’s important to me. I want to be a good filmmaker.”
Although he studied music in college, Kraft always had a desire to make movies. And after seeing what people like James Cawley could do inside the Star Trek universe, he also knew he wanted to do his own fan film, except he didn’t want to focus on the original “Star Trek.” Instead, he went to what was Star Trek for him as a teenager, Scott Bakula’s “Star Trek: Enterprise.”
“‘Enterprise’ is a show that is very inspiring for me, both personally and professionally,” Kraft said. “That gave me a passion that I wouldn’t have had otherwise to make a fan film.”
When he finally decided he would just do it, he’d make a Star Trek film, Kraft knew almost immediately what he wanted to tackle: the fabled Romulan War that takes place after “Enterprise,” but before the original “Star Trek.” It’s actually the same war Emmy-winning writer Erik Jendresen was hoping to make the next franchise film about after “Star Trek: Nemesis” in the mid-2000s, but his script didn’t survive an executive level change at Paramount Pictures.
Kraft wasn’t even aware of Jendresen’s attempt at the Romulan War, and had a much different approach anyway. He knew that even a pre-Federation alliance of planets could put up a solid defense against the war-hungry Romulans. But what if Kraft shook things up a little? You know, add the discovery of an ancient weapon so powerful, it can destroy entire civilizations?
That weapon’s power was actually featured in a six-minute teaser released in 2014 that’s actually the first scene in the finished movie. Kraft finished that scene in time for the launch of his crowdfunding campaign in which he looked to raise a little money to help finish filming and get “Horizon” through what ended up being a lengthy post-production process.
And by a little, he means $10,000 … a far cry from the more than $1 million raised by another Trek production, “Axanar,” that is now being sued by CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures Corp. for copyright infringement.
Kraft, like many fan film producers, is well aware of that lawsuit, and is even aware of “Axanar.” In fact, he did green screen work for a short related to that production, “Prelude to Axanar,” which also is the subject of a lawsuit.
In an interview earlier this week with 1701News, “Axanar” executive producer Alec Peters claimed CBS and Paramount targeted his production because of its quality.
“They’ve got a movie coming out,” Peters said at the time about “Star Trek: Beyond” from Paramount. “The trailer came out and bombed so badly that everyone I know hated. Then there’s ‘Axanar,’ which everybody loves. That’s threatening to Paramount.”
Yet, one could argue that if it’s about quality, “Star Trek: Horizon” should be at the very top of the CBS and Paramount hit-list. Yet it isn’t.
“I can’t really speak for them,” Kraft said of the “Axanar” production. “But it feels much more business-driven than it does with any of the other fan projects out there. And I think that’s where the lines start to get blurred.”
Kraft hasn’t had much communication with “Axanar” since finishing his work on “Prelude,” although Peters did give the “Horizon” crowdfunding project two years ago his endorsement. But since learning of the details of the infringement complaint filed by CBS and Paramount, Kraft does understand where the two studios are coming from.
“They are billing themselves as the only professional independent Star Trek production, and you have to ask yourself, could anyone else get away with saying the same thing?” he asked. “Could Twentieth Century Fox come out and say they, too, are going to make an independent Star Trek product? No. They’d be sued faster than ‘Axanar’ was sued.”
Although “Horizon” fulfills Kraft’s dream of making and releasing a Star Trek fan film, he’s happy being just a one-hit wonder. His focus now is on more commercial projects, hoping that “Horizon” not only serves to entertain Star Trek fans everywhere, but showcase his talents when it comes time to building his career.
But down the road when he looks back at his work on “Star Trek: Horizon,” he’ll remember how he enjoyed every minute of doing it.
“It certainly probably would’ve been smarter to do something more traditional as my first feature length film,” Kraft admitted. “But you know, the benefits of being so well-versed in how everything is done because of my work on this, that when I make a movie in the future, I know exactly what each department has to do. I know, I’ve done it. And it really was a great learning experience.”