INTERVIEW: FAN FILMS: Mark Hildebrand discusses making “Starship Farragut.”

Republibot 3.0
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With us today is Mark Hildebrand, one of the producers with the Starship Farragut Fan Film Series. Mark directed “For Want of a Nail,” one of their two full-length episodes, and he also directed “A Rock and a Hard Place,” one of their two mini-episodes, and he’s written several of their episodes. Mark, thank you very much for agreeing to be with us today!

MARK HILDEBRAND:
My pleasure, Republibot! I’m so glad that you are interested in us.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0
Please, please, we’re friends here. Call me “R3.“ So first of all, congratulations on your success with the series! In four years, you’ve become one of the big players in the Fan Film community, and you’re very high up on the short list people think of when the subject comes up. That’s got to be pretty gratifying, I imagine. What has fan response been like?

HILDEBRAND:
Thanks! The fan response has been very positive on internet forums and YouTube. We also get feedback directly from the fans at conventions and media events. Several sites have reviewed our episodes, including The Orion Press and SciFi.com. Many people comment that Starship Farragut really captures the style and vision of Classic TOS, and that is our goal. So much has changed in Trek over the years, and we feel there are wonderful stories to tell in the Classic Era. With original characters, we can continue to explore the galaxy and have new adventures. Our most recent full-length episode “For Want of a Nail” won Best Fan Film at the Wrath of Con Film Festival in 2008.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Wow, Congratulations! You just got back from Fedcon in Germany, where I believe “Farragut” made its European Debut. How did that go down? Any differences between European fans and American ones? Is there any kind of European Fan Film community that you came in to contact with?

HILDEBRAND:
This was our first time at FEDCON, and it was a wonderful experience. At the closing ceremonies on Sunday, all of the celebrity guests commented on how friendly and respectful the FEDCON fans were. I agree completely! Quite a few people stopped by our table during the convention to thank us for our work and to let us know that we have fans in Europe. Several German fan films were being promoted at the convention. Trekdinner Aachen (www.trekdinner-aachen.de) had a console on display that they will use in their fan film. It is set 25 years in the future from when Star Trek Nemesis was set, and will be released in the summer of 2010. Stargate Combination (www.sg-combination.de) was showing trailers and displaying props and costumes for their film which will release this summer. It was filmed in central Germany. We had lots of requests for German subtitles for Starship Farragut, and two offers to do the translation for us!

REPUBLIBOT 3.0
We hear a lot about the emerging “Fanfilm Subculture,” so it’s just assumed that everyone doing this kind of thing knows everyone else doing this kind of thing, but it was still kind of surprising when James Cawley made a cameo as Captain Kirk in your first episode. So exactly how much contact is there between the different groups doing these things? Is there a lot of interaction between, say your group and the Starship Exeter people and the Phase II crew, or are you all essentially independent islands that have little interaction?

HILDEBRAND:
We are a completely independent film group, but have interacted with Starship Exeter and Star Trek Phase II. We have provided numerous props, costume fabric, and some monetary funds to Phase II, and they have let us film on their bridge, sickbay and transporter room sets. The phaser rifle we created for our pilot “The Captaincy” was used in Phase II’s “Blood and Fire” episode. NEO f/x does all of our CGI, and they have also contributed to Exeter. Hetoreyn, our composer, recently did the music for the Tobias Richter Trek XI Tribute that debuted at FEDCON. There is plenty of interaction and communication, but we plan to remain independent.
REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
On that note, the Cawley cameo in “The Captaincy” strongly implies that your show and theirs share a continuity and a timeline and all. Are you guys trying to build a fairly coherent shared-universe for your episodes, or is that not really much of a concern?

HILDEBRAND:
It’s not really a concern for us. We are firmly planted in the Trek Universe around Season Three of TOS.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
You’re actually working on doing an homage to the Filmation Animated Trek from the early 70s. That was a really clever idea I didn’t see coming. What led to that, and how is it going?

HILDEBRAND:
I showed the trailer at FEDCON, and the response was terrific! Michael Struck at NEO f/x (www.neo-fx.com) has spearheaded this effort, and we are working in affiliation with him. He’s managed to bring in some real Hollywood talent, and we are very excited about the upcoming release of “Power Source” later this month. Michael has all the details, and would be happy to provide you with an interview.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
How many episodes have you written for the series?

HILDEBRAND:
I wrote “For Want of a Nail” based on a story idea from John Broughton. It was my first screenplay and I had a wonderful time with it. I completed “Hair of the Dog” last year. It will be a Crew Log or mini-episode, running about 30 minutes. We intended to begin filming early this year, but pushed it back when we acquired the location for our permanent sets. I’m also writing the screenplay for “Damn the Torpedoes” – our next full-length live-action episode. Mike Steen and Jim Rockwell (two of the Colonial actors from “For Want of a Nail”) have written the story outline and some of the dialogue. Both will begin filming the end of this year or early next year. In addition, we have a Parody Project in the works, and I have written several skits.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
I’ve got a whole bunch of ‘process’-related questions for you here, if you don’t mind. First of all, your sets look really good. How many standing sets do you have for the production, and what are they?

HILDEBRAND:
On April 17 (a few weeks ago) we held an Open House at our new location in St. Mary’s, Georgia. An estimated 400 people toured the facility and standing sets. Up until now, we have had no standing sets (unless you count the turbo lift I had in my laundry room for 3 months!), but have had to set up for filming, and then disassemble and store the set pieces we build. Now we have our shuttlecraft interior, transporter room, captain’s quarters and turbo lift in the new facility. We also have completed the captain’s chair and helm/navigation console, and will be building a bridge set around them over the next several months. That will be occupying most of our time the rest of this year, when we are not at film festivals or conventions.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
How many episodes do you have in progress at any given time? Are you finishing one and starting another, or do you have a few in the pipeline at any given moment?

HILDEBRAND:
From the beginning, John Broughton’s goal was to produce two quality film efforts per year. We’ve done that successfully and now our focus is to complete set construction of the full bridge set. With the two animated episodes released this year, we will also keep the goal of two film efforts a year. So, we’re definitely where we need to be!

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Presently, your production is in Georgia, but as I understand it, you kind of wandered around the country for a while before settling there. How did the whole process of ‘finding a home’ for your team evolve, and how did it affect your storytelling?

HILDEBRAND:
I wouldn’t say we have done much wandering. Our first two full-length episodes and our first Crew Log were filmed in the Washington, DC area, with some filming on the New Voyages / Phase II sets in New York. Although it would have been nice to have a large indoor space for our own sets, we were able to construct what we needed for filming and then put the set pieces in storage. This worked well for our first three projects and fit in perfectly with our storytelling.

During this time, we were doing an extensive search for a building in the Greater Washington, DC area; however, the size requirements and accompanying leasing options made it cost prohibitive for a non-profit project like us. Other locations outside the Greater Washington, DC area were considered and we recently found a solution in Georgia. Realtor Kimberly Watson identified the W.H. Gross Construction Company (www.whgross.com), which was able to work with Farragut’s requirements and provide a building conducive to its filming needs. Holly Bednar, Farragut Producer and Casting/HR Director, led the effort to obtain the building.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Since you’re working around people’s real-life work schedules and family obligations and stuff like that, I can only imagine it must be a bear to work out a shooting schedule. How long does it generally take to film all the live-action stuff for an episode, from start to finish?

HILDEBRAND:
Our last full-length episode (83 minutes) began filming in November of 2006 and wrapped in July of 2007. Our most recent Crew Log had a final run time of 17 minutes and we filmed from May to July of 2008. Because we all have day jobs, filming is done on weekends – some of them can be long weekends!! Vacation time gets used up, and scheduling can be difficult, but we love making these episodes and have a great time.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0
Forgive me if this is a taboo question, but what’s your average budget per-episode?

HILDEBRAND:
It’s really hard to say. We had a lot of start-up costs with camera, lights, costumes, props and sets. Ongoing costs include catering film shoots, hotel, gas, truck rental, etc. Now we have ongoing utilities for the St. Mary’s warehouse. I’m sure that each episode ends up costing us several thousand dollars, but I can’t be exact.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
What kind of camera and editing equipment are you using? And who does your CGI?

HILDEBRAND:
We use a Canon XL2 camera. Video editing is done on Adobe Premiere Pro. NEO f/x (www.neo-fx.com) does our CGI, visual effects and compositing. Ralph Miller provides sound effects and Foley. Dave Cebrowski of Stony View Sound (www.stonyviewsound.com) also provides post production sound.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
How difficult is it lighting the studio scenes? Back when I used to do TV in the 90s, we’d basically have to shut down production while the Lighting Guy came in and did his thing, it took forever, and it seldom worked right the first time, so I’m always kind of fascinated by that, even though I know it’s less of a concern with digital equipment.

HILDEBRAND
Lighting is always a challenge. Sometimes it can be just as you described, and we have run way over our schedule. We are still learning important lessons in lighting and camera settings, and are getting better as we go.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Of all your work on the show, what’s the aspect that you yourself are proudest of? Brag about yourself a little!

HILDEBRAND:
Well, if I have to brag… Actually, I will tell anyone that will listen that “For Want of a Nail” is my pride and joy. It was my first time directing (other than music directing for community theater) and I loved it. Most of all, I am proud of the story. I wanted it to be a “thinking person’s” episode that had a moral at the end – like all good Trek did in the 1960’s. I am a history buff, and was active in battle reenactments during the bicentennial of the American Revolution (which for me was late junior high and high school). So with this story, I was able to combine history with Trek! The end result was an adventure that both holds the audience’s interest and truly entertains.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Do you guys have any non-Trek film projects you’re toying with on the side? Originals, or maybe Fanfilms set in other universes?

HILDEBRAND:
Yes. We have several original projects in development and will be releasing them through Farragut Films.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Finally, where do you see all this going? Obviously you’re going to continue to make Farragut stories, but do you have a long range plan for the series, and how long do you forsee it continuing? The whole “Fan Film” concept is so new and open-ended that most people don’t seem to have an idea where it’s headed. If you had your druthers, where would you like the Farragut series to go?

HILDEBRAND:
I see us getting better and better, and building our fan base. With the internet, we can distribute our work world-wide and tell the stories we want to tell. How long will it continue? As long as we have an audience and the ability to go on. It would be nice to have a steady stream of money, of course. Because Starship Farragut is a charitable non-profit organization, individuals and business can donate money and goods and get a tax deduction. Regardless, we do this because we love it!

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Well, thank you very much for being with us today and being so candid, and thank you for all the good work! We can’t wait to see what you all have in store for your audience in the future! Good luck!

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