INTERVIEW WITH EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, WRITER AND DIRECTOR MICHAEL L. KING
BY HENRY HOWELL
As the release date for the newest Starship Valiant vignette has come and gone, (December 10th, 2016) creator of the series as well as executive producer, writer and now director, Michael L. King, graciously sat down with me as I picked his brains about Valiant and the pop cultural phenomenon that is Gene Roddenberry’s pinnacle creation, Star Trek. I’ve narrowed down all his thoughts into ten questions and answers, so let’s get to it.
1. December 10th was the release date of your newest vignette, yet this is a total surprise as last we heard, the next episode would be “The Ties That Bind.” So what happened?
“You are correct and it’s a little complicated but here goes. We actually shot the first act of TIES in June of this year and it was viewed in rough form at the Soonercon Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention and while we planned on further shoots soon after to complete the film, the trek fan film guidelines hit and we were all left a little shell-shocked on how to proceed next. When we decided to trek on, our director Brady Foster picked up work that was out of the country so production was halted until he completed that work and a date was officially set to resume in November but then the news came that Starbase Studios had lost the lease to their building and had to be out by end of December so shooting there at a scale that we had planned was just out of the question. The studio is in the process of moving to Arkansas and once that is done, we will work with them to reschedule our shoot and get the film completed. We are 100% dedicated to finishing the sequel to Legacy and I am sure that we will.”
2. The CBS/Paramount Fan Film Guidelines dropped like a load of tribbles onto the heads of many fan film producers and even halted production on many of those productions. Though Valiant has elected to respect those guidelines, what are your personal feelings on them?
“You know it’s one of those things where you say, hey, the people that legally own the IP have a right to hand down any mandate that they wish regarding them. In that regard, you know, if I have a pool and the neighbors just decide to jump in and invite anyone that they want to join them without my permission then, I know that I wouldn’t be happy about it. So, I do respect their ownership of the franchise and at the same time, I am very appreciative, guidelines or not that we are still allowed to produce these films even if they are limited by time constraints and other things that can stifle creativity. When Valiant is concerned, the guidelines will be the driving force behind them.”
3. You had mentioned earlier in our discussion that act one of The Ties That Bind had been filmed in June and more than that, it was shown at Soonercon 2016. What was the reaction to it?
“The reaction was great. People were riveted to the screen and not to seem overzealous but we actually received overwhelming applause at the end of the screening with everyone asking when it would be completed? I think once we finish the picture, a lot of fans will be quite surprised by what we were able to do in terms of storytelling. I wanted TIES to be a “big” fan film and do things that had not been done before and I certainly think in this act alone that we accomplished that. My imagination is on over drive on this one and I have what I believe to be a meaningful story that with a sizable amount of action and adventure. I can’t wait to get back to it.”
4. So now comes Crosses to Bear. Given that Starbase Studios was in the midst of moving and as you said, halted production on TIES, how did you find the time to schedule and shoot a film there?
“Well, Valiant holds a special place in the heart of the studio. We were actually the first fan film to be released from there and the studio holds a certain amount of pride in Valiant. Seeing as it was shutting down and moving, I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to approach Richard Wells and Scott Johnson about a short story in celebration of what the studio ultimately stood for and that was the supporting of the imaginations of the fans that had loved trek all these years and wanted to express their passion in the franchise. Seeing as we were the first in Oklahoma, I wanted us to be the last. So I wrote a 14 page treatment, in regards to the guidelines and it was approved immediately. That draft would go through two more rewrites, with Craig Frey, our CGI guide adding some insight into the theme of the film. Once the script was solid, I set out to cast the talent to bring the story to life. I knew immediately who I wanted for certain roles, although I didn’t get everyone that I had in mind but ultimately, the cast that was chosen was the best. After casting, I turned to Glen Wolfe, who had produced several fan films, including his own, The Federation Files, and as always he was willing to help and share his vast knowledge so he became my assistant director. Next, Dan Reynolds signed on as photographer and of course my good friend Craig Frey took charge of the visual effects. It all came together like clock-work and since producing Legacy, I had learned quite a great deal on how to get things done. Although I was under quite a great deal of pressure to get the shoot done quickly as to not impede the studio break-down, I managed to get in two rehearsals with the cast. I had some very good people in terms of acting and everyone knew their lines. So much so that we managed to shoot the film and get done a day early. I owe a great deal of thanks to everyone involved and a special thanks to my good friend Scott Johnson who has always stood behind the Valiant productions and given his all to help them succeed.”
5. Legacy was very much a film about the human condition and in keeping with the…legacy, so to speak of Gene Roddenberry’s original series. The film had a great deal of heart and soul and spoke on themes that many of us are familiar with. Matter of fact, you have gone in great lengths several times about how you tried very hard to make it relate-able to people. Even those who might not be so inclined a fan of star trek. Now while it true that Brady Foster had a certain amount of input in the script and is indeed responsible for its success as well, he is not directing this vignette-you are. Will you follow the same mold that Legacy started and continue the focus on characterization and the human condition?
“Legacy was always intended to focus on humanity through the life of Jackson Bishop. You know-be it black, white, yellow or green, we all experience the same pains, frustrations, hurts and angers. WE ARE ALL HUMAN! Legacy isn’t just about Bishop; it’s about all of us. I love star trek but trek without substance is pretty boring to me. So when I wrote CROSSES, the focus was always on humanity and as a matter of fact, any trek that I write will always focus on humanity because in its current state, humanity is troubled, hurting and in need of healing. We aren’t very nice to each other in many cases and if I can write something that positively touches one person than its all the more worth it. So yes, CROSSES will indeed focus on the human condition.”
6. The production has been posting many pictures from the making of the film but I fail to see the Bishop character in any capacity in those pictures. Is Bishop in the film?
“No, no he isn’t. He is the star of TIES and will feature prominently in that but in this film, which takes place many years before the events in Legacy, he will not be seen. What you will see briefly is the former captain of the Valiant, Jeffrey Clark but more than that we will see the Valiant’s Chief Medical Officer Roger Floyd, (David Cox), Floyd was featured in the opening of the special edition of Legacy and in this one he is not only the focus but the star of the picture.”
7. How did it come about that the doctor character would be the star of the vignette?
“I like fleshing characters out. I like making people real and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that so I chose the doctor, who was excellently played by David Cox in Legacy. More than that though, we only had a certain amount of time to film the story and Cox was already here in Oklahoma. I knew that he had the acting chops and presence to carry the story so he was the perfect choice. Watching the film now, I am amazed at just how natural and commanding he is. He goes through a wide range of emotions in the picture and I think fans will be not only impressed by his performance but empathize with his dilemma. I sure did.“
8. What can you tell us about the story?
“It’s about dignity. Dignity in death and keeping those that move on to the other side dignified in our minds and souls. Honoring those that we care about and healing those wounds that cut deep inside of us. It’s about forgiveness and how no matter the circumstances sometimes we need each other to forgive ourselves. It’s about humans caring for one another and helping one another to heal.”
9. Sounds very interesting. Sounds deep. Actually, it sounds like a Valiant film, in keeping with the first. Are you satisfied with the end results of Crosses to Bear?
“I am overall. I mean as a filmmaker, there are always things that you might have done differently when you look back but there’s a lot of things in the film that I wanted a specific way and it was for a reason. Many folks might look at the picture and wonder why a certain thing was done a certain way? Well it’s that way for a reason and it’s my vision for the film. There’s an awful lot of dread in the vignette and my personal feelings are all over the subject matter like a fingerprint on the wall. It’s a confined, subdued story that really hasn’t been touched on in a fan film in this manner. I chose to limit the amount of light, the spatial shots are dark and quiet but at the same time to counter the dread, we see people who genuinely care and are touched by the situation so there’s always a shadow of hope. One thing to remember? There is always room for hope.”
10. In closing, is there anything that you would like to add?
“Thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it. Live long and prosper.”