In the winter of 1992, a group of 14 & 15 year old kids got together to work on an epic Christmas vacation project. This story chronicles the results of their efforts.
Over the weeks leading up to the Christmas break, we had been keeping busy. The seeds had been planted months earlier: an idea for a fun project for a group of school friends – let’s make our own Star Trek movie! Marc wrote out a script, Jean-Marc would be directing, obvious to us all. We worked on building the set in a vacant loft apartment at Jean-Marc’s house. His parents’ tenant had moved out and we knew we would have the space to ourselves for some time. We pulled together costumes – some made by moms, some official Star Trek: The Next Generation licensed (that was mine, a purchase from an unplanned trip to a Star Trek convention in Ottawa a year or so prior). We started fleshing out who would be playing which role. It was all coming together as the holidays approached.
I was participating, but figured I’d be an extra in the background while helping Jean-Marc with his directing. Jean-Marc, however, had other plans. It was only a week or so out when we had a team meeting on a Sunday afternoon in December. That’s when Jean-Marc dropped the bombshell: “Chris, you’re going to play Picard. You’re the only one who can do a British accent.”
This was partly true. I was one of the only in our group who didn’t have a French accent when they spoke English (a fact of which I am proud, having learned to speak both French and English prior to going to school). And while I could do a passable (if even) British accent, anyone who has seen this fan film knows that it ain’t Shakespeare. But cave in to the group’s pressure I did.
Over the course of our Christmas break, we gathered dutifully at Jean-Marc’s house to put our epic masterpiece to film. Our dear director tried desperately to keep this motley crew on task and get things done to match his vision. I remember the growing frustration and irritation that would creep up in him when things didn’t go to plan. Like when it took us multiple tries to film a very short scene in the Ready Room with three characters. Keen-eyed viewers will notice that I needed to avert my gaze and not look directly at our racially non-conforming Geordi La Forge (we weren’t exactly a diverse bunch at the time). The reason being – he would get flustered and not be able to get through his lines if we made eye contact. So, I just kinda loosely stare at the table in front of me. But we got it, by George! (I suppose I should have said “by Geordi!”)
Our production values were off the chart. Well, maybe not, but we did have scenes of the Enterprise flying through space, people using the transporter as well as phasers being fired. One lesson we did learn through the making of this film came with the major set piece of the third act (spoiler alert) – the explosion on the alien vessel. What lesson did we learn? Not to burn Styrofoam in a closed basement. Wow. Did that get smoky and smelly!
We completed our movie and everyone was pleased with the outcome. Not a bad job for a bunch of young teens with minimal equipment, no training or formalized knowledge, and in 1992! I was so pleased with the movie that I dubbed a copy of the VHS tape (Google it, Millennials!) and sent it off to Patrick Stewart, care of Paramount Studios. It came as a big surprise to me some weeks (or maybe months) later when an envelope came to my attention from said Paramount Studios. Inside the envelope – an autographed headshot of Patrick Stewart. He’s seen it! I was sure!
Not much happened on this front for the next few years. We had intended to film a sequel the following Christmas break. Jean-Marc had written out a new script for us (better than the original!). He and I spent a few weekends building a brand new set in my basement. It looked much more authentic than the original. We used large cardboard sheets hung from ceiling to floor and painted them to look like the science stations at the back of the bridge of the Enterprise. We built Worf’s tactical station. It looked fantastic. But then the inevitable happened. The previously 14 & 15 year olds were now 15 and 16, and a few had gotten girlfriends. Hmph. Priorities! Alas, the sequel would never come to see the light of day. My brother and I, along with a few of his friends, did film a Star Trek spoof that we had written, but I think that one’s been lost to the ages. I’d want to see it just to get a view of the set we’d built to see if it really was as good as I thought.
Then, in 1995, came the premiere of a new Star Trek television series – Voyager. After watching the show, it quickly dawned on me that the premise behind this new TV series was strikingly familiar to our fan film. In ours, the Enterprise is catapulted to the farthest reaches of space, needing some 25 years at top warp speed to return to our own galaxy. In Voyager, the namesake ship was propelled some 70,000 light years away from Earth, and it would take them 75 years to return home. Hmmm…. fishy… I send a copy of our movie to the studio and a couple of years later, they make Voyager? Good thing I’m not litigious!
While I can’t recall the actual timing of this, some years back, my dear old friend Jean-Marc, decided it was time to do a special edition of our now classic movie. A few of us got together and recorded some audio commentary tracks. He digitized the movie and had a full DVD menu designed and made copies of the DVD for each of the cast members. We even have some previously unseen behind-the-scenes videos and the like as special features. Very professional looking!
For any of you who have been piqued by curiosity at this story, I can confirm that one of our cast members did post a copy of the video, ripped from the DVD, and posted it to torrent sites many years ago (thanks, Kevin!). While I’m not sure if it’s still floating around on torrent sites, I did happen to find a post from 2016 on a Star Trek bulletin board that is still up and running that has the video embedded. Any intrepid individuals can probably find it if they really wanted.
As I sit here recalling the movie, it strikes me that 2022 will mark the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: Expulsion. Maybe it’s time to organize an activity of some sort. Or maybe it’s time to just mark the anniversary with a nice cup of tea. Earl Grey. Hot.