DCSIMG

Beam me up

IN THE Angus Glens, a small boy flees a hotel bunkhouse after clapping eyes on a man with pointed ears and alarming eyebrows. In Texas, a small-town police chief, dressed up as a silver-skinned alien, delivers a message to camera. In Dundee, a traditional tenement conceals what looks like part of a spaceship... If you think these events, however improbable, are linked, you'd be right. And the answer lies aboard the US Starship Intrepid. For, yes, this is Star Trek - but not as we know it, Jim.

To meet the crew, indeed the creators, of the Starship Intrepid, you don't beam up, but climb up - four flights of stairs - to the top flat of a Dundee tenement, home of Nick Cook, a 36-year-old anaesthetics nurse in everyday life but, in his spare time, first officer of the Starship Intrepid. He is one of a bunch of Dundonians who have spent the past four years making a 50-minute episode of Star Trek, which should become downloadable on the internet before the end of this year.

At a time when the new Superman Returns film has cost something in the region of $250 million to make, much of that going on state-of-the-art computer generated imagery (CGI), the concept of home-made sci-fi movies may sound a non-starter. Yet Cook, his wife Lucy and more than a dozen fellow enthusiasts have scripted, filmed and edited Star Trek Intrepid: Heavy Lies the Crown, almost certainly the first Star Trek "fan film" to be made in Britain. Costing an estimated 5,000, Heavy Lies the Crown owes almost as much to MFI as it does to CGI.

At one end of the Cooks' kitchen, a series of large grey-and-white-painted hardboard panels from B&Q serve as adjustable backdrops for the Intrepid's interior. The white trim is bath sealant, explains Cook, before pointing to the all-important green screen, the curtain against which characters are filmed before computer-generated imagery fills in the green areas with the required backdrop. "Remnant Kings," says Cook. "Not ideal, but it did the job."

He sorts through a heap of costumes on a chair - mostly designed by himself - an intergalactic merchant service uniform and a series of Star Fleet uniforms, including an exotic-looking Star Fleet admiral's garb, lavishly trimmed in gold braid. A legacy from Cook's occasional past experience in panto in Kirriemuir? "Oh no it's not!" he retorts, cheerfully.

Assembled in his front room are some of the Intrepid's crew: Cook's wife, Lucy, a resource analyst, plays the starship's operations officer; Steve Hammond, a programmer who worked for a while in a local computer-games firm, is the film's director, as well as playing a merchant service captain from the planet Izar; David Reid, a housekeeping manager, dons extravagant ears and eyebrows as the Intrepid's half-Romulan security chief, Lieutenant S'Ceris; while Gordon Dickson, a postal worker, becomes Lieutenant-Commander Joseph Garren.

The unlikely business started back when the local Star Trek fan club, Sector 001, which Cook had run since his student days, started to wind down. "We were looking for something else to do," he says. "We'd seen a couple of American Star Trek fan films, Hidden Frontier and Starship X. There's a bit of that kind of thing in Europe, but most of it goes on in America."

"We were thinking initially about perhaps doing an audio novel," says Hammond, then folk said, 'Could we do a movie?' and I said, 'Oh, I've got a camcorder,' and that's how I came aboard."

He had no idea what he was letting himself in for, he agrees. "We thought it would take a year or so..."

He taps his laptop, calling up a few sample scenes. Computer-generated spacecraft streak across the screen; one exploding in a suitably impressive blast. Uniformed figures run across Angus moorland... sorry, a distant planet, phaser beams flashing. Home movies, it seems, ain't what they used to be.

They shot some 30 hours of footage, currently being edited down to 50 minutes, while the all-important computer-generated material is inserted. Much of the computer graphics are being done by a London-based enthusiast called Lee Andrew, while the score is being written by another London-based volunteer, David Beukes (who, on another planet, works for a housing agency).

The pan-global nature of Star Trek fandom, allied with internet communications, has enabled the Dundee project to enlist help from some unexpected quarters.

Hence the intriguing cameo role from Jeff Hayes, a police chief and fellow Trekkie in Cedar Park, Texas, who had been helping the Dundonians with their website graphics (see www.ussintrepid.org.uk and who ended up filming himself at his desk, made up by his wife as an alien admiral delivering a vital message to the Intrepid's crew.

Another American contribution comes from Roy McPhail, an ex-pat Scot who provides a voice-only role as the ship's engineer. Thus Heavy Lies the Crown neatly inverts the celebrated accent-bias of the original Starship Enterprise, whose entire crew, regardless of galactic origin, spoke with American accents - bar, of course, its chief engineer, Scotty, played with a cod brogue by the late James Doohan ("The engines cannae take it, Cap'n"). "Roy has actually got quite an American accent now," says Cook, "so we've got a ship full of Scots, with an American engineer."

"The Americans wanted us to add subtitles," adds Dickson, grinning.

For location shooting, they spent time in Glen Doll, in the Angus Glens. Perhaps fortuitously, they didn't often meet people while filming. The odd hillwalker might appear in the distance, stop, and, after regarding the spectacle of strangely clad figures leaping across the moorland, move on hastily. The local countryside ranger, made of sterner stuff, remained remarkably unfazed (or should that be unphased?), simply suggesting a more atmospheric location nearby and offering to run them there in his car.

Filming a sci-fi movie in Angus, not California, clearly had its down side. Sheep had a habit of spoiling the extraterrestrial ambience, while the weather did its worst. "We had a shoot there last October, and, if you watch the footage, the water is just dripping off us," recalls Hammond, who found himself trying for a long shot on a hill top, brandishing a metal tripod, just as a thunderstorm was starting. "I remember being so cold that I couldn't even fasten a zip," says Cook.

Sometimes they stayed in the walkers' bunkhouse of a local hotel, and it was there that Lucy Cook was putting the finishing touches to Dave Reid's Romulan ears when a small boy poked his head round the door, took one look, then vanished. The ears, by the way, are pre-made, and Reid has gone through several pairs - those he used during early stages of filming were actually Lord of the Rings movie merchandising. "None of us were experts in any of these things," recalls Reid of his tribulations with make-up. "It took us months to develop my make-up properly. In some of the early scenes I looked more like a ghost or a zombie until we got the colour right."

The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, quit this Earth in 1991- quite literally, his ashes being dispatched into space on a rocket six years later. However, as the Intrepid website diligently points out in a disclaimer, the copyright is held by the Paramount entertainment empire. Might its corporate lawyers have anything to say about the current enthusiastic rash of unauthorised tribute films (Hidden Frontier, for instance, has produced dozens of half-hour episodes)? "They could contact us tomorrow and say: 'Please desist'," says Cook. "But Paramount has been notably very quiet about the whole thing and everybody's quite grateful for that."

Possibly, he agrees, the movie moguls appreciate that such activities maintain interest in the brand. "There are no new Star Trek TV shows being filmed, although there is another movie in the early stages of pre-production, so, perhaps, the 'fan films' are beneficial in that they keep things in the public consciousness."

But, it has to be asked: grown men and women rushing about waving pretend phasers, a spaceship in the kitchen - a recipe, surely, for attracting ridicule, for being dismissed as a bunch or anoraks, or Trekkies? The question prompts a brief discussion about the differences between "Trekkies" and "Trekkers", as some fans prefer to call themselves. "Let's not get into that debate," declares Cook firmly [we won't, either: it's a convoluted business].

Frankly, though, they are unperturbed by whatever people might call them. "As long as it's nothing nasty, I don't care," Cook says. It is only recently that many of his colleagues at Ninewells Hospital have become aware of what he does in his spare time. "The response has been more positive than I expected," he says. "I was expecting a lot of abuse, which I didn't get, although it may still be coming.

"None of us are under any misapprehension that we are anything other than amateurs," adds Cook, "although we are trying to approach it as professionally as we can."

Their retort to mockers is that it's all been great fun and has also enabled them to acquire skills as diverse as film-editing, script-writing and costume-making, not to mention how to convert your kitchen into a starship interior - something home TV make-over shows haven't covered.

"As a social thing it's been fantastic," Cook argues, pointing out that they get a hell of a lot more out of their weekends than any bar-stool detractors.

And, while aficionados can judge Star Trek Intrepid: Heavy Lies the Crown for themselves once the film goes online, its makers are already planning other projects, including a local history documentary. One is tempted to suggest the Tay Bridge disaster: local interest, plenty of scope for spectacular effects and, of course, a script by William Topaz McGonagal. After all, Scotland's most famous bad poet would surely have appreciated the world's most famous split infinitive - "to boldly go".

 
 
 

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