Star Trek and Persistence: The Making of a Short Film

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A director learns the art of perseverance while making a Star Trek fan film.

During his junior year in high school, Jose Guzman was told by a best friend that he was making a parody of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What was really cool about this short project was that Jose would play a version of Khan and do his Ricardo Montalban impersonation. But much to his excitement, the material never happened, as those involved later graduated, as would Jose a year later.

Space Cadets, Jose's short film, would never die, as wouldn't Captain James Kirk, if he and his crew were caught in a same situation on a reality show. After high school, Jose pretty much bummed around taking odd jobs before he finally enrolled in a small (but expensive) college as a Communications Major. "Since I was raised in a Catholic home, my mom encouraged me to attend a religious youth group that met every Sunday," Jose said. "The members that preached the word of God also acted in skits, and before I knew it, I was acting in those skits as well."

It took a year before Jose introduced the members a skit he had written based on the original Star Trek series, but with a Holy-twist: Jesus vs. Khan. They liked it, but the skit, some felt, was too long, and to design the bridge of the Enterprise would have been too costly for a church budget. Again, Jose's dream of playing a villain from a popular series was closed out.

One day Jose was channel flipping on his television when he saw what was a home made, video spoof of James Bond. He thought this was the coolest thing since cable was invented. When the program was over, a screen appeared with a number for anyone who wanted to do his or her own program. The way it works is that anyone would take a class in learning to run a camera, shoot a scene, and then edit their own program, all for free. What excited Jose more was that any program he created would appear on this particular channel, public access television. Well, Jose called that number, but it took about two to three months before he took his first class. He graduated and directed subjects for other producers and acted in several spoofs. In 1995, Jose felt the time was ripe to make Space Cadets. He had created his first screenplay and showed it to Scott John, a volunteer for the public access studio. After looking over the script, he phoned Jose and said, "Jose, this is too long."

The script was about 50 pages. "John told me to consider how difficult it was to make any video based on sci-fi, especially when it came to designing the props, the costumes, etc.," Jose remembers. And John would know: he did a version of Doctor Who that took months and labor. He recommended to Jose that he trimmed the script down, maybe to twenty pages, but Jose felt that every page could be done. He later wished he had listened to John.

What begin as a spoof of Star Trek turned into a version of Kevin Costner's Waterworld, which had premiered in theaters that summer. In fact, this was the nickname Jose gave his short film. And soon all the volunteers of the cable station would peak in the editing room and ask, "So Jose, how's Waterworld coming out?" They mocked and laughed as his production took from spring to the end of the Christmas holidays to make.

During a fight scene between two actors, one of them accidentally hit his head against a wall when he was thrown against a stack of chairs. When he got off the floor after Jose yelled, "Cut," he had lost some of his memory. Jose soon rushed this guy, who had done stunts for other films, to the hospital. The following day he recovered, thank goodness, and he repeated the same stunt the following week! As months passed, Jose was burning grudges with the Director of Program at the cable station, and the volunteers were upset with him for using up the editing room. Everyone was soon advising Jose to put Space Cadets in the can. They wanted Jose to quit. "But whenever I had faced discouragement, I pictured myself having a conversation with William Shatner and telling him my nightmare on filming this parody," Jose admitted. "And I fantasized that he had encouraged me by saying, “Finish Space Cadets!”

In 1996, Jose had moved far away to attend (a bigger and less expensive) college, leaving Space Cadets halfway done. He actually didn't finish the film until he returned for Spring Break of that year. When it was over, Space Cadets premiered on public access television on April 1st, Jose's birthday! And what was also special about that year was that Star Trek was celebrating its 30th anniversary. Ironically, in the ST episode Space Seed, 1996 was also the year that Kirk had discovered Khan and his people frozen in a space ship. Go figure on this one!

Space Cadets can be downloaded at: http://www.shortfilmfanatic.com

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