The STARSHIP VALIANT fan series has just released its latest episode Animals, a fan film that started just over three years ago in 2017. But the history of the Starship Valiant goes way back, starting with a man named Michael L. King. Michael is considered one of the friendliest people in our entire community. He is positive, polite, doesn’t get angry or hold grudges, and is always ready to help other productions. He loves Star Trek fan films and supports anyone who makes them.
But before we get to Michael and the story of Starship Valiant, let’s take a look at the latest production from his team of fans….
Let’s go back in time. Michael enjoyed watching Star Trek fan films and was especially impressed with the quality of films like STAR TREK : NEW VOYAGES and STARSHIP EXETER, both of which are based on sets of SWR. In fact, there is a series of amazing bridges from Exeter that have made their way from Austin, Texas to Michael’s Garden in Oklahoma City (read the full story of the birth of STARBASE STUDIOS here).
A man named JOHN HUGHES found the Exeter Bridge, installed in 2009, rotting in a Texas barn for five years after shooting the second episode of Tressorian Crossing in 2004. John wanted to rebuild the bridge (and other TOS kits) for use in his own Star Trek fan series, STARSHIP AJAX. In 2013, with Richard Wells and Scott Johnson leading the construction crew, the bridge game was ready to roll. So John went looking for volunteers to work on the new production.
photo taken in March 2013 showing the division and crew of the ship Ajax. John Hughes is second from right in the black jacket. Michael L. King stands behind the team chair, dressed in a blue tunic.
That’s where Michael comes in…
I met John Hughes after a special screening of Wrath of Khan at a local cinema, Michael recalls. He approached me and gave me a publicity card for the Starfleet fan film Ajax. He told me that if I wanted to be involved in the film in any way, we would visit the set and go from there.
Since Michael is a big fan of TOS, he accepted John’s offer. I was blown away and I had to be there! I started documenting the development of the film and then co-creator Jim Bray asked me if I wanted to read the part. So we set up an online reading, since Jim lived in Vermont and liked my interpretation of the character…. and the rest, as they say, is history.
Unfortunately, progress on the Ajax project is slow. There were so many obstacles in the development of the Ajax spacecraft, Michael explains, and in the end it became quite frustrating and disappointing because we couldn’t move the production forward. We were shooting the first act of a feature film of Barratis, but due to constraints and a lack of willing participants in the project, it was interrupted. Then I decided to write my own movie with a new cast and a new ship.
Michael had very specific ideas about what he wanted to do with his fan productions. He noticed (at the time) that the plots in fan films tend to focus on what happens (usually battles and space travel) rather than the people these things happen to. Michael wanted to tell stories about the characters and bring them to life for the audience.
Michael’s scenario involves a first officer who feels guilty about the death of his captain (and other crew members) during the battle, and who does not want to take command when he is later offered it. In the scenario, this officer is also seen as a father who is absent from his family’s life due to his service in a spaceship. Finally, there was the assistant chief engineer, who did not get along with the chief engineer. In other words… real people with real problems.
Michael L. King to Starbase Studios.
Michael originally wanted to use the name Pegasus (inspired by the second surviving star from the original Galactica series), but he preferred the heavy cruiser class, and the Starfleet Technical Manual listed Pegasus as an explorer. Richard Wells suggested Valiant, which happens to be the name of the town where Michael grew up! Richard explored this name in Star Trek, and two Valiant were destroyed in episodes of TOS, and a ship with this name appeared in Deep Space Nine….. Bravery should be an honorable name in Starfleet, to be used many times over. At first Michael reluctantly agreed to use Valiant, … but the name really grew on me, he says. It’s just a very heroic name – Italian, and it’s very cool.
Curiously, the very low-budget series began in April 2013 (just before Michael’s team began production on Starship Valiant) under the name STAR TREK, following an unresolved fan name dispute: VALIANT. However, it was a different class of ship, and this other fan series never released more than one episode.
Michael began writing a screenplay called LEGACY, which began with an attack on the American Valiant that resulted in the death of the captain. But rather than spend too much time on the battle itself, the film focuses on the emotional aftermath as the first officer, haunted by his failure and as a Starfleet officer and father, struggles to take command of the Valiant when it is offered.
With the writing of the first draft, BRADY FOSTER’s arrival on the production team was swift. Brady had to come in Saturday morning to watch the bridge being built, Michael recalls. We (me, Scott, Richard and John Hughes) met at a local restaurant to have breakfast with Brady before we went to see the set. John already knew Brady and had considered asking him to help film Starship Ajax, but for some reason he had not asked him to participate in the production, either at breakfast or on set. Brady and I started talking about Trek and there was a real chemistry between us and our love for the original series. He showed me the opening CGI of a classic 60s title he directed and his desire to shoot it on set. At that point I told him that I had a script ready to film (Legacy) and that I would really like him to help me film it. He immediately agreed, and Legacy began production.
From left to right: Michael King with Brady Foster and Ben Richardson.
Brady will continue to oversee the project and help refine the script and handle editing and effects in post-production (while Pittsburgh’s CRAIG FREY, JR. will handle outside effects). I have to give 100% credit to my dear friend Brady Foster, Michael admits, he has fully agreed to help in any way he can to make Valiant a reality. We had such a great time at Legacy and a very good friendship developed, and to this day he has helped with every Valiant project. I couldn’t have asked for a more down-to-earth person to help me realize my vision for Trek. But in those days, we all came from the same family, and it was not only Trek’s love, but also that of others that made these productions so joyful.
After Brady was brought in and he and Michael finished the script, it was time to choose the actors. Some roles were small, others large, but Brady was convinced that the production would benefit greatly from the involvement of an experienced acting coach. Because if the budget was tight (the total cost of Legacy was about $400, according to Michael), the actors had to carry the film.
Brady called on his friend and colleague Ben RICHARDSON as an acting coach, who would later go on to work as a director. So what exactly does an acting coach do? Luckily for us fans, Michael was determined to document as much of the shooting as possible. In a video, Ben and Brady are in action with Michael and Shirley Amaurick, who plays Admiral Parker (a close, almost surrogate mother figure for Michael’s character as Commander Bishop)…..
With the script completed, the actors selected and the bridge ready to shoot, it was finally time to shoot Valiant! With such a reduced budget, John Hughes’ crew also had to borrow uniforms to use at Ajax. Due to delays at Ajax, Starship Valiant will in fact be the first Star Trek fan film to be produced at starbase studios. As such, they were the first production to discover that the weather outside can be a very important factor when shooting, as the warehouse housing the set has no air conditioning or heating (and no toilets!). But at least the rent was free.
The first day of shooting, in the thirties, was feverish. The crew had to keep the heaters close to the actors so their breath would not be filmed! You can see one of these heaters on actress April Chamberlain’s feet in this video of her training on the set by Ben Richardson and director Brady Foster.
Production began in September 2013 and was completed in June 2013, just prior to the local SoonerCon in Midwest City, central Oklahoma City. And when I say direct, I mean simple! Brady Foster had a last-minute assignment to edit the film, and he arrived at the convention just 15 minutes before the screening! Brady was up all night with all kinds of computer problems. But he did, and the congressmen were the first fans to see the Starship Valiant on Friday night.
It was the first version of the con, presented to a very positive (albeit small, it’s true) audience. Shortly thereafter, it was posted on YouTube…. posted.
Early the next year, 2015, Michael contacted AISLINN BURROWS, the organizer of SoonerCon, and asked if he would like to present the Legacy again at the next convention in late June. Michael jumped at the chance, but almost immediately had an exciting idea. At this point, many fans have already seen Starship Valiant: Last year’s legacy on SoonerCon or on YouTube… so they know what to expect.
But what if Michael could insert new footage that no one has seen yet?
Next time, in part two, we will look at the creation of Legacy in 2015: Special Edition and why Michael King felt it was so important to have an ethnically diverse distribution.
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