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Interview - Rob Caves on Star Trek: Hidden Frontier

Reported by Jack Quan - 2008.12.23

Star Trek: Hidden Frontier is the longest running fan-made series, running 7 full seasons (over 60 episodes) and spawning 3 spin off series' Hidden Frontier is free to download at www.hiddenfrontier.com. The filmmakers continue their efforts for the joy of making films. Currently the website receives over a million hits a month with downloads in the tens of thousands. Executive Producer, Rob Caves studied Film Production at Loyola Marymount University where he graduated in 2000. Recently ENI's PK Eiskelt was able to sit down and talk to Caves, about the past and future of fanfilms, "Trek", as well as the upcoming JJ Abrams relaunch!

ENI: Tell me about Hidden Frontier. How did it get started? How long have you been doing this? What's your background?

Rob: Hidden Frontier started when I was in college. I joined a local Trek fan club called the USS Angeles and we began making short episodes. After a while we started to take it more seriously and myself and some of the other club members went off to start Hidden Frontier. Several of us had education or background in film production so it made sense to make it the best we possibly could.

This was back in the late 1990's and Hidden Frontier proper started in the summer of 2000. My own background is that of a film education from Loyola Marymount University, and years of "playing" with the video camera as a kid and throughout high school. Much of it is self taught, and I encourage anyone wanting to make films not to spend the money or time on a formal education, but to get out there and start doing it. But there is also something to be said about the film theory that you get from a curriculum that provides added layers to the experience.

ENI: What do you think that Hidden Frontier has been able to accomplish for fans. What void does it fill that Paramount either can't or won't?

Rob: Hidden Frontier was one of the first fan films and really showed what could be done on no budget. It allowed fans to play in the sandbox which I think is every fans dream. Look no further than the myriad of fan films that have sprung up in response to people seeing what could be done with some of the first productions out there including HF.

Hidden Frontier told stories and addressed topics that Paramount cannot or will not. Simply put, Star Trek is a business. And Hidden Frontier is not, so it went places the business could not take a chance on going. Gay characters for example, or clinical depression, or perspectives on the world that aren't mainstream. That's one of the more important contributions I think the show has made. But it's a tradeoff, because it also reaches only a tiny fraction of the people that the business Trek reaches.

ENI: Internet Productions are a hot topic right now. And it could be argued that ongoing fan projects like HF are the true innovators. Where do you see yourself in the changing landscape of Internet productions? Where do you see yourself 5, 10 years from now?

Rob: I don't know that we really innovated anything. It might be nice to think that, but really we just took an opportunity with the resources available, a camera, a green screen, some friends and went where it lead us. It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun. That so many productions have sprung up is possibly one effect we had, but I think that speaks more to Trek's general ability to be inclusive and encourage participation in it's positive view of the future. All we did was show it could be done.

As for the future, I definitely want to break away from Trek. We still have a number of Trek projects going, but with tough economic times, we're definitely look at ways to use some of our time as less of a hobby, and more of an investment. And that means getting away from the copyrighted Trek content. We'll still be doing free fan-made Trek, but we have a few sci-fi and non-Trek projects in the pipeline to help pay the costs of keeping the shows going. The most prominent of those is Frontier Guard, a web series that started out as aa retro 50's remake of popcorn flick that has been updated for our times. It's evolved into a complex plot with some great characters and a story that I like a lot. It's reminiscent of Trek in many ways, but also very different. I find myself increasingly attracted to the concept of a clean slate, a new universe and a chance to put my name on something different.

ENI: Where do you see the future of Internet distribution?

Rob: There are a lot of new productions releasing webisodes out there. And some are attracting pretty big names and talent. I think this market will continue to grow. The business model is still in its infancy and this is the difficult area. People are still financing these things as a labor of love. And the most successful ones are getting paid for only when they get picked up by mainstream outlets. So to make an internet production work *as* an internet-only prodution is still unclear. But that's not going to deter us from making a labor of love AND seeing if we can't make it self-sustaining too.

ENI: What equipment do you use?

Rob: For the Trek shows we use a green screen, a live keyer, and a Sony Pro camera. We also use Final Cut Pro on a Mac for editing, and Lightwave on a PC for CGI as well as Max for virtual sets. Some of that will hopefully be upgraded for Frontier Guard.

ENI: What's the biggest challenge of producing and self financing a series?

Rob: Money and human resources is the biggest challenge. We have so much we want to do with Frontier Guard, but finding the money for it is very difficult. And finding the people willing to donate their time and expertise is also very hard. When you say, "let's make a Trek fan film" fifty people stand up and say "I wanna be a part of that!". When it's something new and unknown, they kinda look at you funny, or say "maybe" and then disappear for a really long time. lol

ENI: And of course what do you think of Abrahms-Trek? Do you keep up with the gossip and spoilers? Are you excited for it? Fearful?

Rob: Aside from the occasional update posted on our forums, I haven't kept up with it. I can't say I'm really excited about it. I just don't care that much for the TOS era of Star Trek, and right now I'm focused on moving away from Star Trek. I'm sure it'll be a fun film, maybe even special, but I may just wait for it on DVD. *shrug*

ENI: Does the franchise reboot have any trickle down effect on your projects? Added Visibility to all things Trek? Added scrutiny from the studio? Have you been able to contribute anything to the new direction the franchise is going?

Rob: I'm not sure it has much of an effect one way or another. I have been told that when there is no Trek out there, people turn to fan films. I'm sure some do, and I'm sure some wouldn't bother with fan-films. The studio has so far said virtually nothing to the fan film community since their "don't make any money" comment several years ago. I doubt a new movie would cause them to change their stance, but we've always operated without their blessing. I don't think legally there is a whole lot to be had by going after fan films (especially not ours). If they told us to stop, I'd probably finish out the season first, or plan a truncated wrap up of the story, and then switch gears over to original content as requested.

ENI: What's next? Tell me about Frontier Guard? (this topic probably can expand quite a bit once I know more I can ask more)

Rob: As mentioned, our flagship project going forward is an original sci-fi series called Frontier Guard. The exact release format is still in question, but it will initially be a free offering *to get it out there*. The initial production will also be all volunteer.

The show begins in 1957 when the lead character, Conner Blake is abducted at the age of 12. We catch up to him in the far future when he's been found aboard an ancient Ark. Only a few years has passed for him and he enrolls in the future version of West Point, called Frontier Guard Academy. There he is immediately assigned to the worst training ship, the Polaris along with a bunch of other colorful cadets that aren't too happy about their assignment either. Rather than being a 90210 in space, most of the series takes place aboard the Polaris as the cadets train under real world conditions and the show will focus on action/adventure stories as much as interpersonal stories. Conner is a special kid and the mystery of why he's there is a major part of the show.

We're still in pre-production, but moving along steadily. We hope to begin filming later this year, or early 2009. A couple of trailers are available and more info will be added to HiddenFrontier.com as it becomes available.

Thanks for the interview!


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