City Paper is not for tourists
Enter the living room of Jack Marshall’s Gaithersburg apartment and you immediately know he’s a fan of the original Star Trek series. Who else would display action figures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy; a decanter shaped like a bust of Spock; and Hamilton Collector Plates adorned with Starfleet insignia? Even the white, 12-foot-square screen for his front-projection TV calls to mind the viewscreen of the USS Enterprise—especially when Marshall uses it to show you a Klingon battle cruiser or a planet-eating “Doomsday Machine” from the 1967 episode of the same title.
But then Marshall’s viewscreen shows you a shot of the Enterprise bridge, and something seems off. The bridge itself looks just as it did during the show’s 1966–1969 run: There are the simple, bright colors, the low-tech knobs and switches, even the groovy-but-meaningless images on the background monitors. But Spock’s smooth face lacks the lunar texture of Leonard Nimoy’s. Uhura is more beautiful than you remember her—in fact, too beautiful. And most shocking of all, Capt. Kirk sports a shiny black pompadour unlike anything, either natural or manmade, that ever perched atop William Shatner’s head.
Has Marshall opened a portal to an alternate reality where our space-faring heroes have been reborn in new bodies? Well, kind of. Marshall is the executive producer, director, and co-editor of Star Trek New Voyages, a fan-produced series that continues the five-year mission of the original Enterprise, tragically cut short by NBC after only three seasons.
“We think of ourselves as Season 4,” says 38-year-old Marshall, who was born a month before the original series premiered. “We pick up right where the original show left off.” Marshall posts episodes of New Voyages on the Internet at www.newvoyages.com. The second episode premiered Oct. 8.
A fan production, New Voyages receives no financing from Paramount, which controls the franchise and currently produces Star Trek: Enterprise, the fourth spinoff of the original series. And should Marshall try to make any money from his show, Paramount lawyers will descend like Romulan warbirds. Each New Voyages episode costs about $15,000 to produce, most of which is spent on housing, transportation, and food for the cast and crew. Marshall splits this cost with Max Rem, producer and master of visual effects; James Cawley, who plays Kirk; and John Kelley, who plays Dr. McCoy. New Voyages relies on volunteers (except for certain guest stars, who get paid Screen Actors Guild–scale wages).
Marshall currently doesn’t hold a regular job. His wife, Pearl Marshall, supports the two of them by teaching music at a private school. (“Someone’s got to work around here,” she quips.) Marshall hopes to use New Voyages as a “living résumé” and a ticket into movie or TV production.
But Marshall also sees the second coming of the first Trek, which addressed social issues through interstellar allegory, as necessary for our time. “When Star Trek first appeared, the country was divided over an unpopular war, racial issues, and the disintegration of the family,” he says. “All those things are in the news again.”
Marshall doesn’t think the current Trek incarnation carries on the tradition. “[Those in charge of the franchise] have lost sight of what it’s about: telling stories and commenting on the human condition,” says Marshall.
With his close-cropped goatee and shaved head, Marshall could play an old-school Klingon (the ones without the wrinkly foreheads). But he possesses an un-Klingonish good humor and a hard-core Trekker’s geeky evangelism, especially when lauding the symbiosis of Trek’s holy trinity.
“McCoy taught us to question. Kirk taught us how to lead. Spock taught us how to think,” says Marshall. “These characters taught us how to be.”
Marshall’s first Starfleet mission actually began well before New Voyages. The lifelong Trek fan learned video editing while working for the Montgomery County school system’s TV station from 1999 to 2001. In 2002, he decided to use his skills to re-edit the 1989 feature film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Final Frontier, widely acknowledged as the worst of the 10 Trek movies, is an embarrassing mess of lame humor and ego-stroking scenes for William Shatner, who directed and reprised his role as Captain James T. Kirk. But Marshall saw potential in the film’s action sequences and philosophic musings. (The plot centers around an eccentric Vulcan’s quest to locate God.) Marshall chopped about 40 minutes from the 107-minute movie. The result captures the feel of the original series in both pacing and tone.
The story might have ended there. But DVD copies of Marshall’s Final Frontier edit circulated across the country, eventually drawing the attention of Rem and Cawley.
Rem, 52, lives in Los Angeles and works as a visual effects and makeup artist. Using a program called LightWave 3D, he digitally creates starships, “virtual sets,” and the numerous special effects necessary for a New Voyages episode.
Cawley, 37, is a professional Elvis impersonator. When he met Marshall, he already owned a re-creation of the original Enterprise bridge, which is stored in a space rented in the Chamber of Commerce building of his hometown, Ticonderoga, N.Y.
“I had toyed with re-creating Trek for 10 years before I met Jack,” Cawley says from his current gig at Casino Magic in Biloxi, Miss. As owner of the bridge, Cawley naturally got the plum role of Kirk, his childhood hero.
It may be jarring to see Kirk with a Presley pompadour, but Cawley thinks the King and the captain have things in common. “Both are larger-than-life characters,” he says. “And I’ve yet to find a woman who doesn’t want either one of them.”
Marshall wrote the script for the first episode, “Come What May,” in April 2003. The story finds Kirk confronting a playful but powerful alien and trying to determine her role in a series of attacks on Federation outposts.
Shooting took place in Ticonderoga over three weeks in August 2003. Marshall directed and cast himself as Scotty, the ship’s engineer. Jeffery Quinn, the 21-year-old Manassas resident who played Spock, says, “People in that small town got used to seeing Star Trek people running around.”
Marshall had about 20 volunteers helping with all aspects of production. Many took vacation time from their jobs, and some traveled from as far as California. Marshall rented an entire hotel and ended up using the lobby as the makeup room. “People would come in wanting to rent a room,” he says, “and Jeff would be there getting his ears attached.”
Not a Trek fan before meeting her husband, Pearl Marshall was astonished at the commitment shown by the volunteers. “Those people are crazy,” she says. “It’s a huge amount of time. The people who built the sets spent months. The actors took it very seriously.” She credits her husband with holding the whole operation together. “People won’t follow a leader who doesn’t have charisma,” she says.
In January, “Come What May” premiered on the Internet to mixed reviews. Posting to www.subspacebbs.com, one fan wrote, “The sets look absolutely authentic, as do the costumes….I was seriously impressed with the whole production.”
But even those who liked it found the plot somewhat thin. The same fan wrote, “I wish I could tell you what it was about, [but] it seems to have been a secret kept even from the audience.”
Marshall admits his script was flawed. “There isn’t any commentary,” he says. “It was more like a romp through the candy store.” Also, the show offended some Trek purists. “There are fans out there that think nobody should play Kirk but Shatner,” says Marshall. “We got flamed on the ’Net.”
Cawley says that’s the worst part about his role. “A lot of them want to know, ‘Why aren’t you playing it more like Shatner?’” He says he sometimes tries to evoke Shatner with “a hand gesture or something like that. But anything more turns into a Saturday Night Live parody.”
From January to March, Rem collaborated with aspiring scriptwriter Erik Korngold to produce the more technically ambitious and action-packed second episode. The plot has Kirk & Co. chasing a time-traveling Doomsday Machine 14 years in the past, where it attacks the Enterprise, then under the command of another captain.
“I call this the ‘kitchen-sink episode,’” says Marshall. Indeed, “In Harm’s Way” pulls together elements from several of the original series’ most popular episodes and from the Trek feature films. And with its themes of self-sacrifice and “going the extra mile,” it has the kind of content Marshall believes a Trek story should.
The cast and crew reunited in Ticonderoga for another three-week shoot in May. This time, Marshall estimates, he had 50 volunteers—the buzz around New Voyages was spreading. Marshall had to recast Scotty—the script kept him busy enough as director.
Fans writing on Internet bulletin boards give “In Harm’s Way” high marks, as does Carlos Pedraza, a writer for another Internet fan series called Star Trek: Hidden Frontier. “Their first episode was a great technical accomplishment but lacking in story,” says Pedraza. “This one is a great improvement. And they’ve put together awesome special effects.”
Willi Wiegand concurs. Wiegand plays Spock in Star Trek: Das Vermä#chtnis (Star Trek: The Legacy), a fan film currently in production in Germany. “It’s amazing!” he says of New Voyages via e-mail.
However, not everyone is taken with New Voyages. “Their editing looks clunky and their [computer-generated images] look like a cartoon,” says Jimm Johnson of Austin, Texas. But Johnson admits that he’s prejudiced. He dislikes Marshall and Cawley more than tribbles dislike Klingons.
Jimm Johnson and brother Joshua Johnson produce Starship Exeter, an Internet fan series about one of the Enterprise’s sister ships. For a time, the Johnson brothers discussed collaborating with Marshall and Cawley. According to Jimm Johnson, they spent hundreds of hours planning and thousands of dollars flying out to New York to visit Cawley’s set. Then Cawley pulled the plug, citing artistic differences.
At the mention of the Johnsons, Marshall gets a weary look. “Those guys have followed us on the Internet slamming us,” he says. “I don’t want to say they’re bitter or jealous, but we don’t sit around talking about other people.”
He has been sitting around, though, taking it easy after the flurry of activity needed to finish “In Harm’s Way.” Pearl Marshall has even removed “the Telosian Head”—a bust of a bulbous-headed alien from the 1966 episode “The Menagerie”—from their den. “I hope to keep one room Star Trek–free,” she says.
Her husband concurs. Even though he’s kicking around ideas for New Voyages’ third episode, he’s also looking forward to other projects. “Star Trek,” he says, “is not our life.”CP