FAN FILM FRIDAY: Tim Smith Talks To Us About The Making Of UFO: 1999

Republibot 3.0
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Good morning, happy Friday, and welcome to another installment of "Fan Film Friday." Today we'll be interviewing Tim Smith, an in-the-trenches, oldschool Fan Filmaker from Florida. Tim is one of the the two principle creators of the "UFO: 1999" Fan Film series that we've been featuring here on the 'Bot. Tim, thank you very much for agreeing to be with us here, today.

 

TIM SMITH:

Thanks so very much. It is indeed a great honor to be asked to speak about this old project.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

First off, thank you. A friend of mine once said that the Fan Film universe consisted of Star Trek, Star Wars, and assorted debris. Thank you for producing something that wasn't yet another "Jedi on patrol" or "The adventures of the starship hoobajoobah." While a lot of those are really good and all, there's a kind of monotony there that gets tiresome after a fashion. I can't tell you how happy I was to see a fan film revolving around something that was kind of obscure. Two somethings that were kind of obscure, actually. So what inspired you to do that?

 

TIM:

I've always been in love with spacecraft and spacecraft design as well as the real space program as well. Where I grew up, and being the youngest in a household of six, I missed the early Gerry Anderson shows. I think I was caught a glimpse of one of the Supermarionation shows in passing, but was way too young to care. About all we had sci fi-wise was Star Trek and I really did not get to see that until its second run in the early 1970's. Trek was fun and intriguing to me, but, let's face it, in the long run it left you longing for more effects shots. I know that is blasphemy to hard core Trekkers, but that is the case. They wanted more of that also, but at the time the cost was too high for more special effects. So I watched them week after week. As time went on I just got tired of some of them.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Amen to that, brother! It’s not that I dislike TOS, it’s just I’ve seen every one so many times that I just can’t stand to even be around them any more. Not bad, but definitely overexposed. So anyway, what changed this for you?

TIM:

One day an ad ran advertising UFO. They simply ran a short version of the theme and added "coming this fall". My jaw hit the floor! Cool spaceships and vehicles galore.

Years later, not realizing at the time that Gerry Anderson had produced both shows, I heard about a show called Space:1999 and saw still shots from it. I was hooked pretty quick, but had to wait until just about everyone else in America had seen it until one of our local stations finally picked it up. Such was the world of Television a long time ago. Today one of a zillion channels might pick it up and run it.

Space:1999 and UFO would continue to stand out as amazing stories that capture my imagination to this day, when effects are possible for all kinds of shows, including the brilliantly remastered TOS Trek. There is just something to me about the hand made quality of spaceships on, especially, Space:1999 that grabs my attention.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

So then wh…

TIM:

Oh yes, there was this film I helped make... I had begun making my own films back in the mid 1970's in High School. Today teens making a film is no big deal. Back then, it was a freaky weird thing to do. I actually began with superhero parodies, as I thought that trying to do something more serious as an amateur film maker would not look serious at all. Comedy is much more forgiving, and back then I had more laughs to share. After a few years of this, I met a younger film maker here in town named Kyle Clark. He was deadly serious in his productions, and was not afraid to allow his imagination to roam freely. If he saw an empty room in his house as the interior of the Spindrift, well so would the audience. Eventually we made some films together, and influenced one another in interesting directions. I eventually decided to do an all effects film called Space:2008, and he introduced humor into his productions.

 

He was very clever and inventive, and eventually moved from his "virtual sets" to simply made but sophisticated looking miniature sets. He once did an amazing front of the Seaview that used a mock-up of her front windows and an aquarium behind the set that was filled with water to simulate diving. Along the way Kyle did what we had spoken of on several occasions, he filmed a UFO with Eagles called UFO:1999. Among the things in the film was a famous Eagle crash with the head rolling across the grass. It was hilarious, but that was not what he was aiming for. Years alter he would laugh about it.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Are any of Kyle Clark's early films on Youtube? What about Space: 2008? Man, I'd love to see that 'Seaview' one you talked about!

TIM:

No they are not. Kyle has moved on to more model building these days. After all, all day long he fools with video at work. At one point he went back and eliminated the old footage, including the Seaview sequence in favor of new digital effects. I'd love to see them on Youtube, including the part of the giant I played in his Land of the Giants (A ground level camera reveals me in bell bottoms!), or the Ton Turtle sequence created for his Empire film (Live box turtle with action figure taped to her shell). For a while he did action figure episodes parodies of Star Trek that aired on a cable access channel. But to my knowledge none of it has ever been posted.

I hope one day to get my stuff transferred, but the Space:2008 film was badly damaged (Torn sprocket holes) and I don't know if it will play well. But a lot of the techniques there later would be used again in UFO:1999. The biggest change was that in Space:2008 there was a Hawk pad, which used an Eagle framework to keep the Hawk off the ground. My biggest problem is no real good way to do transfers and doctor up a few of the glitches.

We saw each other on and off for the next 10 years or so, but it was not until the late 1990s that I would get a call form him to play a part in a production as a submarine Captain in one of his films. When I arrived on set (his small garage) I was amazed. He had real cameras, a director, great lighting, and a pretty good looking set. I think about a year later we talked about doing a new UFO:1999 and bounced around ideas. Once I heard about the Breakaway convention, I mentioned to Kyle that no one else out there was going to do what we both wanted to do anyway, and away we went, and on September 13, 1999 we were there (in spirit only, sadly) at the convention. I was almost right, and we were almost the stars of the show, as far as fan produced material, until "Message From Moonbase Alpha" was shown. Oh well, Silver is good , too!

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

It kills me that that date slid by without notice. A couple months prior to 9/13/99, our own R2 actually contacted the Sci-Fi channel to ask them what they had planned for it. They had no clue what he was talking about, nor why anyone would care, and they were actually running the show at the time. I think that was our first indication that the Syfy folks weren’t…uhm…they weren’t into the product they were peddling. And of course it shows.

So anyway, not to diss anyone, because like I said, a lot of the Trek/Wars fan films are really good, but does the lack of, say, "Seaquest" and "Homeboys From Outer Space" fan films ever strike you as sort of a failure of the imagination on the part of the community?

 

TIM:

I think that was one of my driving forces, as it seems that all that was out there is Star Trek and Star Wars, but venues like Youtube are bringing out a lot of film makers who are fans of a lot of different shows. I do wish there were a lot more variety, as the crop of Trek spin offs is staggering. Don't get me wrong, I like a variety of sci fi shows, including the various Trek shows, but sometimes fatigue sets in. That said, I really love the Star Trek New Voyages episode "In Harm's Way."

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Yeah, I really like the ‘Phase 2’ stuff. We’ve approached them several times for an interview, but thus far they haven’t replied…

TIM:

And I have run across some cool Space:1999 and UFO series, shorts, re edits and parodies out there on the Internet and I think I have seen them all. I hope we inspire some film makers to do their own productions. More, please!

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Yes, definitely! So tell us a bit about yourself. What's your day job? What kind of music do you like? What are your hobbies?

 

TIM:

I grew up here in Birmingham and my Dad was a chemist for one of the larger pipe plants for many years, retiring from the same company he began with in college. I, on the other hand, joined the ranks of the unemployed a few weeks ago and am looking for work. So much for companies being loyal to their employees. I was working in a copy shop to pay a few bills.

REPUBLIOT 3.0:

I’m so sorry…

TIM:

My Hobbies are varied but the older I get the less time I have for them. I've had pet turtles since the age of 7, and they are still going strong, especially in the spring, if you know what I mean. I am a railfan, and used to chase the steam locomotives of the old Southern Railway excursion program with movie cameras and such (the steam shop was just over the mountain from where I grew up).

And then there is a life long love of space exploration and science fiction, which spills over into model building and occasionally a video. I began scratch building or kit bashing spacecraft when I found that in 1973 the old space kits were no longer easily availabe in local hobby shops.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Yeah! I did all that stuff too, even had a subscription to Cinemagic, but I gave it up when I realized how horribly bad I was at model building…

TIM:

Now that there are a bumper crop of spaceship kits out there, both real and sci fi, I find I'd still much rather just let my imagination take over and scratch build my own creations, usually inspired by Space:1999.

Music wise I really love great instrumental soundtracks. John Williams is a favorite, and I have a small collection of his stuff, plus Babylon 5 soundtracks and even the awesome Sky Captain score. I also love the old "Contemporary" Christian music from my era, the late 70's and early 80's. The groups there mostly would be unknown to many, but a few of the greats there were the Imperials, the Second Chapter of Acts, and Leon Patillo. Great stuff!

I've been married for nearly 25 years, I have one son who is part of a newly born company that has aspirations of being part of the emerging private space industry, and a daughter who just got engaged. Did I mention I really need a new job?

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

If any of our readers know of anyone who’s hiring, please contact us, and I’ll be sure to forward the info on to Tim. Seriously. We all need to help each other out if we can.

TIM:

Anybody hiring spaceship builders??

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

What is one kind of fan film that you'd like to see more than any other? For me, personally, it'd be something set in the Babylon 5 universe, but what would you love to see?

 

TIM:

I don't know of one answer to that. Had I time and equipment and money, I'd love to do more of our franchise with some less dated jokes and new spaceships. A lot of what is out there are re edits right now, and one of the most interesting I've seen is Galactica:1999. Strange and funky, but a lot of fun.

I hope eventually to see the Adventures of Sammy Squirrel completed, as I got a short gig doing models for that production. A good B5 story would be awesome. And I can't wait to see if Space:2099 ever gets finished. Whatever comes, more creativity, a lot more variety, and less Trek, please! Dadgumit, I want my free entertainment now!

That being said, I do admire all the work that goes into a fan film, I know first hand how much has to happen for things to go right and to complete a final project.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

You were making these things in the absolute infancy of Fan Filmdom a decade ago, really before what you were trying to do even had a name, really. Was it difficult to explain your concept to people, and put together a crew? I can only imagine the problems you'd have starting up a project like that back in the day would be completely different - and vastly more daunting - than the problems folks face today.

 

TIM:

In some ways doing a fan film today is not unlike doing one in the early days, except I don't have to ask mom for a ride. The basic stuff, sets, actors, models, and puny budgets are things that are as easy to step back into as a nice pair of Homer Simpson house shoes.

The biggest change is the technology. In the old days I had everything I needed to do my own productions except a sound movie camera (yes, this was a long time ago) and today I have only a few bits a pieces of what I need to actually produced the final product you see. So I mostly handled the new models and scripts (countless rewrites) while Kyle did the actual filming and editing. He did some fantastic editing, I might add.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Yes, it’s very nice.

TIM:

One thing that has not changed is actors not wanting to show up the day of shooting. Talk to anyone who does not use stuffed animals of puppets instead of real people and you will find the problem is universal. On the day of the shoot, when everyone and everything come together, and one person decides they don't feel like playing their part it stops everything….or they are quickly recast. We solved a small part of the problem by making the scripts heavy Keonig and Straker, and we played those roles to minimize this issue.

Kyle was hilarious as Straker, and I, on the other hand, stumbled my way through Koenig.

One other big change is the age issue. Kyle once said he'd plan many things after work and get home and just sit, because in his mind he was still 17 with boundless teenage energy. There's also work, family, and those kind of important obligations to attend to, and they'd better be up there in front or you will hear about it.

The actual concept of the show was easy for Kyle and I, we had had it for years. We had even filmed our own versions many years earlier. Some of our cast got it, and some still don't. In the end, though, our target audience was the Anderson fans out there, and most of them got it.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

That’s got to be gratifying. You made use of an early version of what we'd call 'virtual sets' today. How did that work out for you technically, and was that difficult on your cast, with them not having the normal visual references and all?

 

TIM:

There were three versions of sets we used. Sets are the real expense in most shows and with very little money on hand we were crammed into Kyle's garage, my basement, or in front of a green screen. Once in a while we got to use bigger areas and walk around, but we pretty much had to be guided to our spots by Kyle who could only see where we were on a monitor. It is not as daunting as it seems, but it really cramps up action scenes. Virtual sets really made possible the show, though, despite the short comings. I do not think my living room would have made a good Main Mission.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Well, it’s not like you’ve ever invited me over, so I can’t really say. <G> You made the film in 1999, right? How long did production take?

 

TIM:

“Breakified” took about 4 to 6 months to complete. The next episode, SID's Return and bits of two other episodes took a year to get in a mostly completed form, though it took about 4 to 5 years before it was finally reedited in a more compact and better flowing form. New effects were eventually filmed to fill in some of the gaps and replace older smudgy ones. I do wish all of the effects could have been replaced, but that was not to happen.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Did the follow-up take longer in production, as it's a bit more ambitious, or was it shorter now that you had more experience?

 

TIM:

The SID episode was a bigger production, and originally ran some 40 minutes. I had to work through someone else to get it done, and events in his life would slow things down. Presenting some 4 new scripts at a time did not help. It's always easier to look at one job and bet it done than to look at a bunch and get started. That was the case, but we did get one more complete story done.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0

I've heard allusions to it, but I've never actually heard the whole story. What is "The Missing Tape Incident?"

 

TIM:

Oh, dear. The Missing Tape. Sounds like an episode we need to do or something Nixon related. I did address this on Ellen's fan fiction site, and a longer version is there of my account.

It's a sad soap opera of many things going wrong. Essentially it was a sad tale of procrastination at our end and Fed Ex absolutely, positively not getting the tape to the convention when promised, or it being lost at the hotel or vanishing by someone's sticky fingers, take your pick. It simply was not there at the hotel to be shown. Kyle inquired about it privately in an email, and it got posted publicly and a guy who'd been friendly to us and even had advertised us got offended and accused us on his web site of never having sent it. It really was ugly. The real pity was never being able to attend in person and having to wait breathlessly to see if people liked what they saw. That also would have prevented a lot of this from occurring.

But year later, despite Kyle having lost about 95% of his enthusiasm for the project as a result, we managed to get it to Tampa for Spacecon 2001 and premiered it there to as audience that included Nick Tate and Barry Morse. After that, our friend Ellen was elevated to our "Fan Club President" for her kindness and help. On her website are early scripts and even the making of story, up to 2001.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

That’s so cool about Victor and Alan getting to see it! Now, as I understand it, you'd scripted out an additional three episodes for your series, and you'd filmed most of one of them, and a few scenes for another. How far was "Games O' War" away from completion when it was shelved? How far did you get in the other two uncompleted episodes?

 

TIM:

The long answer is complicated. Our filming style was built around the long hours of Kyle’s employer and as such the filing many times was one actor at a time. For those episodes mostly the effects were done, but little of the acting made it to final form. Somewhere I have a raw footage tape of Koenig's speech on the alien planet that I thought was really funny. So today they exist as coming attraction footage. Unless one day we get back into production, that is probably it for those episodes. Had Youtube existed back then, we would have done shorted episodes, maybe 10 minutes in length, and thus been able to finish them.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Can I ask what happened to halt the project?

TIM:

"Life. Don't talk to me about life" UFO:1999 took a lot of time and effort and it did cut into other things we needed to do. you try for that not to happen, but it does. In about 2004 or 2005 Kyle began to come over and we began shooting new digital effects. I had hoped that eventually we'd add actors and get things done, but I found out later that things had fallen apart at home for him, and a few months after we started back up, he found himself divorced and in serious financial trouble. I'm sure, too, that that did not attach good memories to the project, and so things stopped, until a few years later when I got a group together to film a the alien city portion of Game's O' War. After that, that was pretty much it. Also, along the way, we lost a cast member and a good friend of Kyle's, when Robert Hamilton died of natural causes in his home. That put a big damper on the show as well. He was a big part of what we did.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Oh, I’m so sorry. What part did he play?

TIM:

Robert played Professor Bergman, who in our version was snatched away to the recreated SHADO base by Straker. I'll always love that line "She says there's too much sex and not enough story." I did not know him as well as Kyle, who worked along side him for years. He seemed like a great guy.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Do you have any plans to complete the unfinished episodes, or maybe launch a new "U'99" series?

TIM:

We have discussed a way to bring things back, in a new format, but I do not know if that will happen. If we can pull it off I think the productions would be completed more quickly as it would not be as live actor reliant. But I'm not holding my breath. We did after all accomplish our goal of a fan film to honor Space:1999 and UFO on 9/13/99. One segment of the old material still needs to be edited and released to Youtube, but the hold up on that is still that I don't have the equipment to complete it. Eventually, I plan to get it on Youtube, though, and I hope it will be a nice surprise to our fans.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Apart from the ones you've helmed yourself, have you been involved in any other fan films?

 

TIM:

Oh yes, whenever I can help out, I show up. It has been a while and the last big production was never really finished and who knows if my parts will ever show up in the final form. The show was Biff Mercury, and some clips were used in our Stingray ads.

My other recent contribution to fan films are my models. I built three new ships for the Adventures of Sammy Squirrel, which is (I hope) in production. One has already appeared on Youtube (the Sidon Dreadnaught) in one of the ads for the show. That's one mean ship. I have been asked to build another for another project, but I think it is on hold. A pity you don't get paid to do this stuff full time! I could get used to that.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

Is there much of a Fan Film community in Alabama? I haven't noticed much coming out of there, which strikes me as odd since there's so many amazing, unique locations to shoot in…

 

TIM:

Birmingham does have some amazing places to film, some still undiscovered. A favorite is the Sloss Furnaces National Site. Many local film makers have shot there, and often these films show up at the annual Side Walk Film Festival. It truly is surprising how many talented people are out there. I'd love to shoot something at the abandoned mine sites, which are abundant. More likely, though, my next projects will be railroad history reacted for a new museum here.

 

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

I have to say, for me, personally, my favorite part of your films was seeing the old model kits again. All those Eagles and Hawks, and your scratchbuilds are pretty amazing, too. I really loved the "Ultracool Probe." The 'Sargasso Sea of Space" shots from "Lizard's Lathe" just dropjawed me, there were so many models in there I had as a kid that I'd completely forgotten about, like that "Spacecruiser" model that wasn't from any show, and the Seaview, and the Tardis zipping about. That was hilarious. Do you feel like actual physical miniaturework and modelbuilding is kind of a lost art?

 

TIM:

Thanks, and that was my favorite part also. Another was the Deep Space:1999 clip, made possible by a rotating Christmas tree stand. Building and in some cases rebuilding those models was a blast and a nice challenge. The graveyard shots used both my ships and some of Kyle's. His tended to be more real sci fi ships and mine more kitbashed. His editing and lighting I cannot say enough good things about. They guy has talent. It was amazing watching the old probeship we used in Lizard's Lathe come to life and fly for the first time. I’d built it back in the 1980's for just such a purpose.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

I don't know if you knew it or not, but the scene you were homageing from "Dragon's Domain" was actually supposed to have the Enterprise and the Tardis in it, but the producers were concerned about the rights, and clipped them out of the scene at the last minute.

 

TIM:

Oh yes, I know that and lobbied hard to get the Enterprise in there, too, along with the Tardis. I wish those shots for the real show had survived.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

What's your absolute favorite Fan Film of all time?

TIM:

An oldie but a goodie, "Hardware Wars". I love both versions, so many great jokes that I still quote. "Uh oh, Imperial Steam Troopers" A classic! This was before the market was flooded with many other fan films.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

That was the first one I ever say. What's your favorite SF show of all time, and why?

 

TIM:

Old shows Space:1999 and UFO still are in the running, but Babylon 5 is simply my all time favorite. It had it all, ships, battles, romance, political intrigue, mystery, and a wonderful 5 year long story that made my wife and I keep up with it through numerous channel and (awful) timeslot changes. We watched then all first run right up through the tear inducing "Sleeping in the Light". I wish Crusade had had the chance to blossom as well. I like that style and mood of storytelling.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

The sad fate of Crusade is still a big sore spot with me. So what's next for you?

 

TIM:

Once I get my feet back on the ground and into a normal routine, I really do not know. My next projects may be for the rail museum, but you never know. Before 1999 I thought I was through with it all. Film making is some of the hardest work I've ever loved.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

And that's all the time we have, I think. Again, Tim, thank you for being with us today, and answering a lot of questions I, personally, have been wondering about for a long time.

 

TIM:

It's been an honor, and with any luck no one was hurt when their heads hit the keyboard as they fell fast asleep! Thanks for the chance to get some publicity over a fan film project. I hope those who've not seen our work will get a chance to do so.

God Bless!

 

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:

You too!

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