Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The Making of Steam Trek

Steam Trek was made in 1994 by the Ad Hoc Film Society, an offshoot of the 'Endeavour' Star Trek fan club founded by, among others, writer Jim Swallow and future president of the UK Mars Society, Bo Maxwell.
The idea for what became Steam Trek was first pitched at a meeting at the National Film Theatre by Ashley Levy, who read out a story outline entitled 'Star Trek - The Silent Generation'. The group loved the idea - I liked it so much I asked to direct it - and I joined forces with Ashley to complete the script. After much discussion we agreed to shoot the film on Super-8 rather than video. Although this would be more expensive, we hoped there would be few out-takes, since there would be no lines to fluff!
Cinematographer Liz Tuckett suggested Billaricay Common as a location - it was suitably wild-looking but conveniently close to London.
Each of the cast managed their own costumes, while I constructed the props and painted the backdrops. The coal sack came from the London Underground mail room where I was working at the time.
We converged on the Quaker Meeting House at Billaricay Common on Friday July 2nd, and dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags at 6am to begin filming. The weather was hot and sunny all weekend, and the recent dry weather had yellowed the grass on the common, which made it read well on film.
Filming went smoothly despite the sun taking its toll on one or two people, and we were finished by 3pm on Sunday. Only two shots needed a second take, and many of the visual gags were thought up by the cast and crew on the spot.
I spent the next few days shooting the titles and the scenes of the "USS Isambard" on an improvised rostrum at my flat.
A few weeks later, Tom Paterson and I took the video transfer to Karen McCreedy's flat in Crystal Palace, where we spent the weekend on the music. Both our technical equipment and musical skills were very limited (Karen could play the piano but ideally needed rehearsal time we didn't have) - to compensate, we managed to get some acceptable tunes by having Karen play the melody while Tom or I played the bass line at the same time.
We premiered the film at Archon, the biggest Star Trek convention of the year, which took place at a hotel at Heathrow Airport in August 1994. (A memorable line-up of guests included Dave prowse, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Stewart and Arthur C Clarke), and it did the rounds of conventions for a while afterwards.
This version was 17 minutes long - 7 minutes longer than the YouTube version - partly because the video transfer had mistakenly been done at 18 frames per second instead of 24, thus losing the silent-movie-style speeding-up effect.
We recouped the production costs (about £100) by selling VHS copies of the film.
For years since then, I planned to make a tightened up edit of the film, at the correct speed, using computer editing technology that wasn't available in 1994, but life gets in the way of such things and I didn't get around to it until April of this year.

The Cast

Back: Ashley Levy, Pete Dummer, Jon Chapman, Dave Seymour, Liz Sanders. Front: Tom Paterson, Glenn Maloney

Dennis Sisterson with the bridge backdrop

Steam Trek: The Moving Picture Cast and Crew