***POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! WATCH THE FILM FIRST!***
It's pretty much a given that anyone who is so into Star Trek that they'd go to the trouble and expense of making a Star Trek fan film these days probably has a whole bunch of friends (or, at least, knows a whole bunch of people) who would be beyond enthusiastic to spend a few weekends playing Star Trek on camera. However,
But making a solid film and really bringing a script to life takes more than enthusiasm. It takes talent. Creating a believable character takes a combination of talents--the ability to memorize dialog, deliver it in a convincing manner (rather than sounding like they're just parroting what's written on the page), and take direction that shapes scenes and the characters they're embodying without taking it personally. In other words, it takes actors--or, at least, people with some innate ability to act. And I'm willing to wager that's not a group of folks that most amateur filmmakers with zero-budget have on speed dial.
Turns out...I kinda do.
The Main Cast
Of course, since I wrote the script, I had a solid idea of who my characters were in as far as how they would behave, react, and talk. I also had at least an initial concept of their general age and appearance. Here's how the final script describes each character when we first meet them:
LT. COMMANDER TYSON ZAHN, a Starfleet officer in his 40s. He’s inside an escape pod, and looks disheveled as if he’s been in a battle (which he has).
ENSIGN GINA BOYD, looking equally disheveled (and a little panicked) is in her own escape pod. She’s young--in her 20s--and Starfleet protocol is momentarily out the window as relief washes over her.
CHIEF JACK FRAZIER, a man in his early 50s, also in an escape pod. Unlike Zahn and Boyd, he’s cocky, confident, and a little angry. He’s a veteran of the Cardassian War, so he’s seen a lot more battle than the other two. This isn’t his first time in an escape pod.
LT. LAURA WEBBER, a woman a little younger than Frazier.
...the voice of an older woman--MARGARET BERGEN--is heard through the static.
If you've seen the film (or, at least, the picture above), you can see that the descriptions were definitely not set in stone. The casting process for these five parts--which, at first, I thought would be super fast and easy--turned out to be pretty drawn out.
The first part cast--and, I'm talking MONTHS before any of the others, while I was still writing the script--was Ensign Boyd. When I was writing the scene where Boyd breaks into Zahn, Boyd, and Frazier's conversation to happily gush about solving the riddle, I sat back and thought, "This part is PERFECT for Sarah Johnson."
I worked with Sarah for years, and she's one of the most naturally upbeat, happy people I have ever known. When she's super-energized about something, she can literally get breathless with excitement telling you about it--hence the reason I thought of her when I wrote the riddle scene. She thought it was funny: "So...you cast me because I babble?" But what it really is, is that you can't not get caught up in Sarah's vibe. You meet her, and you just instantly like her. And I really wanted people to feel that way about Ensign Boyd.
Turns out, Sarah also has some acting background and is a sci-fi/fantasy/anime nerd to boot (not to mention one of the best cosplayers I've ever met). She said yes right away. So...one down, four to go!
For the rest of the parts, I put out a Facebook blast to drum up interest. At first, I had a LOT of responses, so I started sending out script excerpts asked people send in auditions if they were interested in a part.
In the end, I only got one audition recording, and that was from the second person I cast, Doug Baldwin. When he initially expressed interest, I was thinking of him for Commander Zahn. Doug is a bit younger than I pictured Frazier, plus Doug's a nice guy that I'd never think of as a crusty, Cardassian-hating, war vet. He even read for Zahn...but at some point I pivoted into him being Frazier. Not really sure why I changed my mind, but it could be that, although not in his 50s yet, Doug is one of my older friends. And I knew at some point that most of the rest of the cast would skew younger. Most of my friends are considerably younger than me.
That deserves a moment of explanation, I suppose. The two main industries I've worked in--video games and advertising/marketing--are dominated by younger people. At the marketing agency I worked for, only 3 people (out of over 100 when I first started) were over 50. Only a handful were over 40. Most of the people who became my friends over those six years were in their 30s (a couple were in their 20s). That seems weird to some people, I know. But you make a lot of friends at work.
Also...I'm still young at heart (although my cardiologist might disagree). But, I digress.
Sarah and Doug were my only two cast members for quite a while--so their parts were shot and in the can before I cast the rest of the parts. Adam Zammiello (another former co-worker of mine and of Sarah Johnson's) eventually agreed to play the part of Zahn. He was younger than I had pictured Zahn, but had the bearing to pull it off. I asked him if he knew of anyone who would want to play Webber--at that point, it was clear that nobody was volunteering. He talked to his wife, Sarah (another Sarah) who had some acting background. She agreed to come aboard.
That left Margaret Bergen. As mentioned in my script blog, Bergen is a character mentioned in Voyager--the mother of a Starfleet officer who is killed at Wolf 359. Given the age of most Starfleet personnel, Bergen would logically be in her 40s or 50s. Luckily, we never see her on camera, so my options were wide open. I asked my friend Kira Wayman, yet another fellow sci-fi/fantasy nerd, if she was interested and she jumped at the chance. Bergen's part was the last of the main cast to be recorded.
The Voice Cast
Originally, there were only the five main cast parts. I had no plans for anything else, other than a Borg "...resistance is futile..." line at the end which I was thinking I'd just...ahem...borrow from Star Trek: First Contact because that was a super clean take of the line with no music background sound effects.
However, when I went to the video to grab the line, I found myself watching the whole scene from the film. Picard and the bridge crew listen quietly while the battle communications from the fleet crowd their way through the bridge speakers. It conveyed a huge battle without showing a lot of the actual battle (until the Enterprise arrives). It immediately clicked in my head that this was my opening title sequence. So, I grabbed all the audio and put together a proof-of-concept.
But I wasn't about to lift ALL of the voices. Plus, savvy Trek fans would know this wasn't the Battle of Wolf 359. Hence, the need for a voice cast was born.
I cast a pretty wide net for this one. Andy Mazurek and Darcy Nair are veterans of Ellis Studios. Both appeared in my college tour-de-farce comedy slasher film "Nature Trail to Hell." Andy (who I've know since 8th grade) goes back to the very first college film. He played Kent Clark in "The Adventures of Admiral Awesome."
Dan Cage is a long-time friend who, after seeing my college films, said he wished he'd known me then so he could be a part of the fun. He's now part of the Ellis Studios family.
Kavita Maharaj and her husband, Daniel Peters, are friends I met at a Neutral Zone studios fan weekend in Kingsland, Georgia back in 2019. Kavita is an amazing artist. Check out her work at Retrospect Studios. Thanks to her amazing prints, my basement is running out of wall space.
Adam Pranica and Ben Harrison are my two favorite podcasters--or, as they like to put it, "Two guys who are just a little bit embarrassed to have a Star Trek podcast." They've actually got two: Greatest Generation and Greatest Trek. They are seriously hilarious, lots of fun, and you should totally check them out. Ben and Adam have constantly said over the years that their greatest desire is to be blown out an airlock in a Star Trek show or film. Although I couldn't do that in an official Trek capacity or on camera, I knew there was an opportunity to do it on subspace radio during a famous battle.
When I contacted their social media guru, Bill Tilley, about the possibility he passed it along to them and they enthusiastically said yes--as did Bill himself. Since most of the podcast family was going to be a part of the fun, I also asked Bill to extend an invitation to Wynde Priddy, the shows' producer and editor (who has an AMAZING radio voice!) to round out the voice cast. Although Ben couldn't make it, Adam, Bill, and Wynde joined the rest of the cast for the online premiere of 359! Fun was had by all!
I had all my voice actors record their own, specially-written series of battle communications for the unseen Wolf 359 fight as well as the Borg lines which I mixed myself. Everyone you hear in the final film is part of the cast. None of the voices are pulled from Star Trek episodes or films.
Next up...shooting the film!