Monday, 11 August 2014

In the Middle of an Ambush: Trek Lives in the UK

There's a UK-made fan film? Seriously???

I couldn't have been more excited - I nearly fell out of my hand-forged captain's chair at SKoST Towers.

For as long as I can remember (which limits it somewhat due to my shocking memory) all of the major fan films and web-series have been born out of the States. I won't insult your intelligence but already you've come up with a list of at least six that are still in production now. Having one made on the shores of this Fair Isle is a real turn up for the books and we just had to find out more.

Already in production, Star Trek: Ambush is the brainchild of Greg Lock and sets a new crew right amongst the events of The Original Series or more specifically, just after the incident featured in Balance of Terror.

Now you're already wanting to know what makes this unique in the ever expanding library of Star Trek films and I think it has some great points which do stand it out from the field aside from being made in the UK (hurrah!). Already the Kickstarter fundraiser has amassed over $4000 which hit target (four times over) which means they aren't looking for the millions you might have seen elsewhere or expected. 

The crew of the USS Ambush seem to be be much more of an elite "damage limitation" team than the explorers we find on Kirk's Enterprise. Explained Greg: "There's a scene in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that only appears on some versions of the film. It's really weird, it's on my two-disc DVD of it, but not on my Blu-ray of it. Anyways, the scene is just after Kirk and McCoy have been sentenced to prison on Ruthe Penthe set in the UFP President's Office.

Major West (played by Rene Auberjonois) comes with a flip chart and proposes a military operation to extract Kirk and McCoy from Ruthe Penthe, from the heart of the Klingon Empire. The President refuses to sanction the operation, and of course Kirk and McCoy got out anyway. But that scene always got me thinking, who would Major West have sent if such a dangerous and risky plan was authorised? The USS Ambush maybe?"

Running at just 20 minutes this production points a tight spotlight on a single mission to rescue a captured Starfleet commander from the newly rediscovered Romulans but while that might not pique your interest it's how they're doing this that really intrigues.

"An awful lot of work is involved in making any decent film and even a film that's only 20 minutes is no different. So as everyone is working in their free time, making a film that's 20 minutes long is a more realistic target." said Greg.

"The general saying with short films that we've come to appreciate is that there's two types of short films. Ones that are too long and ones that are way to long! In the past we've found that 15 to 20 minutes is an ideal run time for a short film; that way we can get right to the core of our material, without it being saturated with filler and we don't outstay our welcome with the audience."

It's certainly a clearly thought out project with the time constraint there to assist rather than hinder the creation of this short film. But is that all we're ever going to get? We asked Greg if there were any plans to take Ambush beyond this initial foray.

"The main purpose of Star Trek: Ambush is to introduce the audience to our new crew, to give you an idea of what they represent and let you see them in action. We hope that 20 minutes will be enough to get that covered.

It is something different and in my opinion hasn't been properly shown in Star Trek before. So even though I have plenty of ideas, I'd like to see how audiences take to Star Trek: Ambush first. Making a Star Trek film is something that I didn't think would be possible for me, so I'm focusing on getting this film done first.

But to tease you with a couple of ideas, I do have ideas in my head for a direct sequel. I also have ideas for a prequel that is set exactly 50 years after Enterprise and 50 years before The Original Series. That is when the assignment USS Ambush was created, so I'm really keen to explore the story and why such a offensive assignment was created in the first place. But for now, I'm trying not to get ahead of myself and get this film done first.

I'm also open to the idea of others taking the characters we give them in Star Trek: Ambush and incorporating them into their own original pieces of fiction. If someone likes the crew so much and wants to put them into their own stories, I'd probably be pretty cool with that (if they asked me). That's something I really like about Star Trek is how people take these great established characters and events, then do their own thing with them. It's like taking the ingredients and making your own unique dish."

For one it looks as though Ambush is going to be set largely on location rather than relying on standing starship interiors which will certainly mark it out against some of the more popular and well-known US productions. At the time we talked to Greg those location shoots were in the can and the next step of the project - building and filming interiors was the focus of his time.

"We have filmed approximately 50% of Star Trek: Ambush, which consists of mainly all our exterior scenes. It was important to us to get those scenes filmed just before the summer as an overcast day is in our opinion the best to film on. We get a nice soft natural lighting on the action and no harsh lighting that a clear summer's day can give us. Also as filming outside poses risks such as public interference and weather problems, we felt those scenes would be the better ones to get wrapped first.

Now our main task is to get the sets built and our plan is to work our team around the clock and build our 2 main sets together simultaneously. This way we can bring all our actors and crew down for the second part of the shoot and wrap them all in a solid block shoot like we did for the first part of production."

That's a fair chunk completed already however there is a lot more to come - interior filming and then the probably longer task, post-production to get all that phaser fire and those transport beam-outs looking just right.

"Shooting films on location is something that I'm used to and have done many times." continued Greg Lock. "From the start I wanted Star Trek: Ambush to take place over an away mission and I didn't want that away mission to look like it was taking place in a studio. The UK has loads of great natural locations and I really wanted to be able to take advantage of that and show the world that the UK can hold it's own in the world of Sci-Fi. We've even managed to film in a location that was used for Doctor Who back in the Tom Baker era.

Although most independent Star Trek films are mainly ship based, they're either filmed on a large set that stays up for months or they use blue/green screen. I didn't want to be restricted with a green screen, I want my actors to feel like they're there in the action and in turn I want my audience to feel that. 

Also I'm very keen to show that some of the more traditional methods of making films still have a lot going for them. Which is why we're also using models for the majority of our ships. Then onto large sets, if I was to build a set of a starship I would want it to be as grand as the sets of the Enterprise. The truth is making films is an expensive trade and getting the space to build these sets and have them up for the whole duration is a very expensive enterprise, pun intended! Particularly in the UK and in the aftermath of a national recession.

You just have to look at projects like Axanar, Phase II and Continues, they have the majority of their Kickstarters going towards renting warehouse units to keep their sets up there. It is an expensive thing to do and their very successful Kickstarter's reflect the money thats involved in that. I have nothing but the upmost respect for those projects, the sets for Phase II and Continues are flawless and very very impressive. The concept for the Axanar sets looks amazing and I can't wait to see them. As this is my first Star Trek film, I didn't want to get into that league just yet, particularly by myself. We're starting small and realistic, then we'll see where we can go from there."

And what of the cast - it's all good us talking about locations, spaceships and effects but Star Trek has always relied on a good set of characters and people to play them onscreen. Greg's been all over that factor too so there's no concerns here: "Our cast consists of 11 main characters, who are played by a number of professionals that myself and friends have befriended over the years. Also a lot of them have done other work within the film industry so when they're not acting, they're doing another job on the shoot. No one sits around waiting on our sets, this way we were able to save a considerable amount by having actors moonlight as crew.

Since my time at film school I've been very privileged to be included in a great entourage of actors and crew, and between us we have near enough every job covered, we're always helping each other out on various independent projects.

As for the characters, well we like to think that we're keeping Roddenberry's vision of a utopian future in mind. We only get to meet 5 crew members of the USS Ambush, but those 5 do cover a range of different cultures and personalities. We've got them covered from the number cruncher to the shoot first ask questions later type. When we're a bit closer to being able to release the trailer for Ambush, I'm hoping to be able to launch the Ambush website, which will have a very insightful interactive feature profiling the crew members.

The main challenge is getting everyone involved free at the same time. We all have full time jobs, some in the film industry, some not. But these full time jobs is how we pay our bills so that always takes priority. All our cast and crew and volunteering their free time to work on Ambush, so we can only work in that free time. Roughly half of us work weekdays the other half work weekends. We're based all over South England, covering over 200 miles roughly, so being able to get everyone together for a decent film shoot is a very big challenge in itself.

This does have an impact on the finished product in the sense that we can't have scenes right now involving hundreds of extras. The story was written with this small scale in mind though, so that can be said to influence the finished project."

Excellent news I'm sure you'll agree and we had to ask - when will we get to see some more of Ambush aside from the few shots and bits that are out on the Kickstarter page and social media sites?

"Concept art for the shuttle's will be coming soon, as for the ship, that's different." declared Greg, keeping his cards close; "I want a big reveal for the USS Ambush in the finished film, so that's going to be the first glimpse of the ship."

Dropping over to their Kickstarter page there's a wealth of info on what they have within the Ambush arsenal to make the movie a reality including studio space to build a shuttlecraft (looking forward to seeing that!), workshop space to build props as well as up to date camera and sound equipment to get the action on film.

Greg continued with news of how we, the fans, will get to see this new chapter in fan films; "As soon as we've finished our second part of the shoot, we're going to be working on a trailer. After that we'll still have many VFX shots to composite, models to build and then to shoot. We're still hoping for sometime around December for the finished film.

Star Trek: Ambush will initially be released online, exclusively to our Kickstarter backers. It will be eventually released online with public access, more than likely after all the perks have been received by our backers. Everyone will in the end get to see it somehow."

Though still in early days, there is a possibility of Star Trek: Ambush being shown as part of a Star Trek Fan Film Festival that Alec Peters of Axanar and Phase II is putting together. But I'm not going to get into that just yet, I need to finish the film first!"

You can follow Star Trek: Ambush on Twitter as well as getting up to date and seeing their promo trailer on the Kickstarter page.

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