It’s not the big studios that who are responsible for keeping Star Trek alive these days – it’s the efforts of dedicated storytellers and fans. And that’s what Battlestar Galactica veteran Richard Hatch thinks so.
Fans haven’t seen a continuation of Gene Roddenberry’s Trek since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005. Regardless of its success or reception, J.J. Abrams’ sundered that continuum and replaced it with his own in the 2009 re-imagining of the franchise. That started a totally new universe that wasn’t Gene Roddenberry’s. For ten years, fans have not seen a version of Star Trek that supports the original conception of Roddenberry’s universe.
But fan-funded projects like Star Trek: Axanar not only support the original Star Trek expanded universe, they also allows Trek-lovers to be involved with their creation. Fans are determining their own stories.
Star Trek: Axanar is the story of one of the Federation’s darkest hours – and its greatest triumph. Fans will remember the original Star Trek series episode, “Whom the Gods Destroy” in which we met one of Captain Kirk’s greatest heroes, Garth of Izar, victor of the Battle of Axanar.
Star Trek: Axanar delves into the backstory of this character and in Prelude to Axanar, we are shown a fictional historical documentary that illustrates a battle the Federation needed to win in order to save the Federation ideals, dedication and its ability to overcome, adapt and remain united in the face of even Klingon adversity. Not only is it a really cool story in its own right, but it brings back that original Trek flavor and reminds us why this was such a great series in the first place. This is Gene Roddenberry’s Trek and is completely true to that original vision.
But it needs the support of its fans and experienced, quality people. Richard Hatch, a long-time sci-fi fan and lover of Star Trek, is lending his talent and support by playing Klingon Supreme Commander Kharn in both Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar and Star Trek: Axanar. He acknowledges this to be the new way that franchises will survive and succeed and he wants to be a part of this by lending his talent, encouragement and motivating people to realize their vison.
Luckily, I was able to sit down and chat with Richard about Axanar and his role in its success.
PM: Thanks for your time, Richard. A veteran of Battlestar Galactica in both its incarnations.
RH: It was a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of that show. A truly wonderful experience.
And currently playing the role of Supreme Commander of the Klingon Imperial forces, Kharn, in the fan-funded phenomenon, Prelude to Axanar and the upcoming Star Trek: Axanar. Can we talk a little about that?
RH: I always have to tell people that Axanar is unlike any other fan-funded production in history. It’s being made on a level and a scope that truly is studio quality and it’s all well-known professionals – actors in front of the camera and behind the camera. It’s literally changing the landscape of what’s possible.
Let’s talk fan involvement. Are you a fan?
RH: Of course! I’m a huge fan of high-quality, visionary sci-fi/fantasy. I don’t see enough of it. Babylon 5, Firefly – we’re in an era of some extraordinary theatrical style series that couldn’t be done ten years ago.
And these stories are still being told.
RH: But we can’t wait to see more of these productions. There’s still an audience for these shows and fans want to see them.
How would you characterize your involvement with fans?
RH: I am a fan! So, I grew up reading every sci-fi novel I could get my hands on! I loved Swamp Thing, you know, and end of the world stuff – every movie I could get. Prophetic, visionary – it’s kind of amazing that science fiction and fantasy have become mainstream. It’s not weird and strange anymore. It’s iconic and the audiences will come from all over the world to see it. I just came from Comic-Con (San Diego) and 150,000 people from all over the world – every kind of workshop, panel, conceivable type of show you can think of. Actors, producers, directors are all there. In fact, I’m going to teach there next year.
Tell us more about your teaching work.
RH: It’s my passion to help motivate and encourage people to realize their success. In between acting, I’ve been teaching for the last thirty years. I love teaching at colleges, universities, cons, whatever. But acting classes, drama – it’s the mathematics, the equation of success and that’s something that I had to learn the hard way. So I get a great deal of joy in teaching that. And I get to do it. I have to DO what I’m teaching. I’m developing properties and am a part of so many ventures like Axanar. I’ve never seen, honestly, what they’ve done with fan-funding: the way they approach it, the way they’ve raised the money. The way they’ve built their sets, they’re not rushing it. The way they’ve orchestrated their sets, the amazingly talented cast – they’ve got all their ducks in a row.
So it’s a total example of a success story?
RH: I think you’re going to see something incredible. It’ll be amazing to see what Paramount’s reaction is to this. You’ve got something that’s moving from fan-funded to total indy project, on such a level that should be seen in theatres. It’ll open up the doors for things like Battlestar and Firefly. Studios can build on these relationships, draw on certain level of expertise and really create something special that the studio can be proud of.
Could this be a teaching tool for aspiring actors or creators?
RH: I think it’ll be great. You could get film students from film schools who all want to learn by participating. They get to be part of these types of productions, learn the ropes and create an alternate pathway to distribution of a something that’s, I believe, as good as any network or studio production. You’ll have a lot of talented, gifted people out there who normally couldn’t get through the pipeline previously unable to get into the industry past the “gatekeepers” who determines what’s get through and doesn’t. The indy pathway will be a way for the new, risk-takers to get ideas and stories out. Then the studios might want to come in and collaborate, and the people who develop these things may or may not want to sell, but it’s still a new and viable way of getting it out to the audience.
How did you get involved with Axanar?
RH: Well, I’ve known Alec [Alec Peters], the writer, executive producer of Axanar, for about twenty years. He came to my acting classes many, many, MANY years ago (chuckle). He was always curious and interested in the acting process. He was an Olympic, NCAA championship volleyball coach; he created Propworks – to market and sell props and sets from sci-fi shows like Battlestar.He’s a success. Now he’s moved into producing and bringing the same level of excellence to this venture and when he came to me, I wasn’t too sure, when he talked to me about Kharn. I was a little… I didn’t quite know if this would work until we talked about it some more. So we started discussing the role and how I would see the role and it turned out that we were on the same page.
What did you see in Kharn that attracted you to the role?
RH: I didn’t want to play the wild, crazy Klingon. I wanted to play more of Katsumoto from The Last Samurai – a wiser, smoother, more pragmatic leader. Still a Klingon, still a warrior, but a race as technologically advanced as the Klingons just means that these people aren’t stupid, they’re sophisticated. They still have the warrior spirit, very much like the 300, the last of the samurai culture. There’s a code of the warrior to those films that fans will understand. I was able to start evolving a character. I kinda took it out of the old cliché. There are many interpretations of Klingons: Worf was wonderful, Christopher Plummer did his version – much more subtle, but I’m finding my own way into it. It’s almost Shakespearean to me because of the complexities of the character. I normally don’t go for prosthetics and have to sit in the make-up seat for four hours [laughs] but I must say – it’s been an extraordinary experience to step into Kharn, to step into a Klingon and honestly, now I understand why people cosplay at conventions!
Yes… I think you’d have a lot of people agreeing with you on that one!
RH: When you find a character that really connects to a deeper part of you, you really love dressing and roleplaying as that character. As an actor I get to actually live it in a more rendered way so but I gotta tell you, playing Kharn has been an extraordinary experience and I really am looking forward to the movie. They are going to start filming really soon. They’ve raised the money for the last elements of the production and start filming in January.
Can you share your process for getting into the character of Kharn?
RH: Poet warriors, like Braveheart. It’s the battle against the impossible challenge. The warrior spirit is the part that brings out the best and the worst in people and that’s who Kharn is. That’s a part of me. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to run faster, jump higher than the other kids. [Laughs] I used to get other kids to punch me as hard as they could, to show that I could take it and that nothing could ever keep me down. I always wanted to find that invincible part of myself and that’s really what the warrior spirit is and so that really resonates with me. I loved Katsumoto in The Last Samurai – kind of a role model for me. As an actor, you find those elements inside of you and then you build a relationship with them and let your intuition unveil them as you go. That’s Kharn.
What do you think it’ll be like working on Star Trek: Axanar, given your experience with working on the Prelude? You have such an amazing array of people to work with – any anecdotes that come to mind?
RH: Well, so far, I’ve only worked one day on the Prelude! They’re busy putting together sets for the filming in January, so I’ve done one scene, sequenced with Gary Graham. All we had was one day, and that one day was amazing, because we had such an amazingly talented crew! Chris Gossett was the director on that and he would sit and talk to the actors. This was one of his first directing assignments and he was just very, very calm and low-key. He was very collaborative with the actors and produced such a comfortable ambience for us that we could do some really interesting work. No chaos, no drama – like I said, just a very professional crew. I’ve never been on such a grounded, well-organized shoot. Going through four hours of make-up isn’t always fun, but I must say that I’ve never had so much fun stepping into a character as I have with stepping into General Kharn. So I think as we get more into production, there’ll be more anecdotes to share!
When I spoke to Edward James Olmos, he remarked to me that the cast of BSG was a very close-knit cast and that he continued to stay in touch with them all. Do you get that sense of closeness on Axanar?
RH: Well, it’s different only because I’ve known these people for years. Alec Peters used to come to my classes over the past twenty years. Even though he’s an entrepreneur he was always curious about the acting deal. He started putting us together. I was watching this from the very beginning, though he had this set up in his mind for quite some time. Then, when he started developing it in a visible way, I was able to see it for its scope and for its magnitude. Every actor wants to be a part of something meaningful, something different, and something groundbreaking and this project has grown into that kind of a show. I’ve known them – like Rob Burnett, the crew, the special effects guys – so it wasn’t like coming together with a bunch of new guys. I’ve already known them.
So it’s like working with a bunch of old workmates you keep working with over and over again.
RH: We see movies! Alec has his got his movie gang and everybody gets together and hangs out to go see films. I’d say even more so than Battlestar, we hang out a lot because we’ve been friends through the years. We’ve become a kind of an entourage.
That’s really cool!
RH: Battlestar still gets together – the writers, cast – we hang out at the steak house every other month, but we haven’t done that in a while. People have new shows, busy lives, you know.
Tying in relationships to your teaching, it seems to me that building relationships is integral to your enjoyment of teaching. It’s an interactive and engaging way of encouraging others’ successes.
RH: I do that with everybody, everywhere I go. Film schools, colleges, universities, I always like to inspire artists to become proactive, business oriented. Learn the business agenda – even if it’s something they don’t like doing, in order to build their own pathways to success, in order to avoid being at the mercy of the marketplace, and artists are so often at the mercy and they don’t get paid what they deserve and they get beaten up. The people who come up with the great ideas aren’t the people who make all the money sometimes. So I want to help inspire people to get out there, to learn how to put things together, learn the artform of business because it’s very creative and it takes a lot of imagination, but it takes a lot of courage. As you learn it, you start to feel like you’re a more of a part of the world. This way you don’t feel like you’re at the end of the food chain like so many artists do in this world.
The Star Trek: Axanar Indiegogo campaign (www.savethefederation.com) is robustly active. Though it has reached and surpassed its initial goal of $240,000, Axanar will be broken up into four episodes with an expense ticket of about $330,000 each. At the time of this article’s writing, current funding is at about $305,000. If the demonstrated level of support isn’t a sign of how viable this project is, then it’s hard to imagine what would be.
Hatch isn’t just a fan; he’s one of the visionaries who can see the success of this project. He also sees it as more than just a good film idea, it’s a way that storytellers will be able to bypass studios and other traditional entertainment and reach audiences in their own ways. It’s a new testing ground for this medium, trail blazed by experienced professionals with the savvy to show neophyte creators how to do it. Hatch is more than ready to lend his knowledge and experience and be a part of it.
Moreover, Hatch is of a generation that remembers the exotic allure of science fiction shows and brings that to Axanar. It’s something that fans of the original series can appreciate as he brings his talent to bear on the role of General Kharn: the original values that Gene Roddenberry instilled into that three season television show that would go on to inspire generations after its run had ended.
This is a film that has to succeed. There are two campaign pages available to fans: savethefederation.com has already been mentioned, but if you are a Klingon supporter, then klingonvictory.com will also take donors to the campaign page. Either way, there are legions of fans like Richard Hatch who believe in this project and are keen to see it completed. Why not be one of them?
Connect with Richard Hatch