The United Federation of Planets' Saladin class starship, the USS Ajax, is on the same mission as its fellow, but better known starship, the Enterprise.
In a web series soon to start production, “Starship Ajax” will explore galaxies and conduct missions with its own crew on an Enterprise mirror-image bridge sitting snugly in an Oklahoma City warehouse.
They'd like you to come along.
The brainchild of Oklahoma City resident and executive producer John Hughes, the series is a love letter to “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry.
Hughes, director/producer Jim Bray, scriptwriters J.C. England and Tim Welchel, plus numerous others were at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City for a read-through of the pilot script, “Redemption,” plus a vignette that will set up the series, which right now is at least six vignettes and the episodes. The shows will be 40 to 45 minutes long.
The room was buzzing. Against one wall were photos of the Ajax, phaser pistols and the head and hands of a Gorn, an alien popular in an episode of the original “Star Trek” series and seen in Sheldon Cooper's nightmares in “The Big Bang Theory.”
Several people were working out technical glitches on a Skype connection with Jodi Ballenger-Bray from her home in Highgate Falls, Vt. She stars as Commander J.M. Colt.
Oklahoma City native England also stars as Capt. Charles Boone. While his real job is with the Oklahoma City Housing Commission, he wrote a procedural crime drama in 2009 that never made it to film.
When he met Hughes, Welchel and Boyd and heard about what they wanted to do, he asked if he could get involved. Since he had writing experience, he was handed script ideas.
When the finished script was polished and tweaked by all involved, they sent out a casting call and 40 people came to audition for parts in “Starship Ajax.”
Welchel, who has lived in Yukon since he was five, finished high school in South Korea before returning to Oklahoma City. He is studying and working at Oklahoma City Community College, where he met fellow college employee Hughes. They discovered a mutual love of “Star Trek” and Welchel heard about Hughes' dream of making a “Star Trek” fan film.
“I got hooked. I came up with a title, I added a line here and there,” Welchel said. “I'm working on an animation degree now.”
You can see him playing a crew member in the pilot and he is the video and sound supervisor.
Bray found out about the project in a message room on the Internet. He has worked in recreation departments and ran a haunted house for 10 years before moving to Florida, where he worked as a set designer for Disney, Universal Studios and the Smithsonian.
He headed up a theater group, Stage Door Productions, when the economy and his parents' failing health convinced him to move back to Vermont in 2007.
After coming to Oklahoma City in 2010 to see the condition of a starship bridge brought from Austin, Texas, to El Reno, he knew he had found his next project. He was not only instrumental in rebuilding the bridge back to “Star Trek” specifications, he has the background to direct the project.
Though the major characters have been cast for this season of “Starship Ajax,” there are plenty of parts left for starship crew members as well as crew members for the production itself.
“We need people to help build sets. If you can use a screwdriver, we can use you,” Bray said. “We'll ask, ‘What can you bring to the game?' It could be coffee. It could be expertise with social media.”
A perfect example walked into the warehouse the day of this interview and came to the bridge, ready to volunteer.
Shirley Amauric had seen a story about the “Starship Ajax” project and dropped by. After a conversation with Bray, the writer walked out with the title of script supervisor and a job in continuity.
Scott Johnson and Richard Wells have been integral in rebuilding the bridge.
Johnson moved to Oklahoma City in 1973 and graduated from Putnam City High School. He started working backstage at concerts at the Zoo Amphitheater when he discovered he could get into shows free if he helped unload trucks. He became a local roadie and started learning about sound mixing and lighting. One of his good friends is Richard Wells. When Johnson answered an ad about “Starship Ajax” on Craigslist, he brought his friend into the project with him and their expertise has been invaluable.
Johnson is playing a crew member. Wells is content to work behind the scenes.
The group has plans for the set after their production is finished. They hope “Star Trek” fan groups will use the set for their own projects and make Oklahoma City the center for “Trek-based” web series.
“We'll open this up for anyone to make fan films,” Bray said. “We have the stuff. Come bring your stuff and make your film.”
They also hope to use the sets as places where special needs children can come to learn in a fun and interesting environment. Bray is especially interested in opening the set to people who are autistic or have Asperger's syndrome.
“I'd like to use Ajax to expand awareness of both these syndromes. A lot of people with Asperger's lean towards arts and sciences, including science fiction, especially ‘Star Trek,'” Bray said. “The set could be a place to be accepted and comfortable.”
“We've been contacted by the Fraternal Order of the Police about using the set for some Special Olympic events,” Johnson added. “It's all about the kids.”