“The audio has been re-mastered nicely, too. The film has never sounded this good, even when it was originally released.” – Cinema Shadows
In part one, we looked at the history of PARAGON, the first major Star Trek fan film to… That was in 1974. This is not Trek’s first fan film; similar films were made when TOS was still in its infancy (e.g., THE THING IN THE CAVE in 1967). But writer/director/producer JOHN COSTENTINO, a rug enthusiast from Warren, Michigan, spent $2,000 of his own money (the equivalent of $11,000 to $15,000 today) to build many elaborate sets that replicated the bridge, transport compartment, turbine lift and other parts of the Starship Enterprise (or, as he renamed it, U.S.S. Paragon).
John based his story on James Blish’s novel, Star Trek Spock Must Die! published by Bantam Books in 1970. His characters were the same, just with different names, like Captain Richard Kirk and Mr. Selleck. The finished film was 100 minutes long and was shown at various Star Trek conventions over the years. But over time, this staple of Star Trek fan history has been slowly forgotten. John wrote a few articles about the backgrounds with some black and white photos, but for a long time that was all you could do to see anything of Paragon.
In 2012, a fan uploaded about 8 minutes of Paragon to YouTube, but the spoken dialogue disappeared and was replaced with a soundtrack consisting of simple Trek background music. That was enough to get an idea of what the Paragon looks like, but not what it is like.
The following year, John Costentino himself posted a low-resolution video of Paragon bloopers on his blog. They are presented below…
But for fans who wanted to get a real feel for this fan film, there was just nothing there. But then, in April 2021, the same fan who posted these 8-minute clips, ROBERT LONG II, unexpectedly posted a new, longer version….. This time with restored sound! It’s not a full 100-minute fan film yet, but the two 15-minute episodes show the first 25 minutes plus 5 minutes next week at the Paragon. You can watch two videos here ….
Intrigued by this mysterious fan, I contacted him through his YouTube channel 1966tvbatman. Robert was happy to talk, and this is what he told us…..
JONATHAN – Welcome, Robert. Where are you from, what do you do for a living, and how did you gain the skills for sound restoration at Paragon?
Robert Long II
I’m originally from the Midwest – Davenport, Iowa. As a child, in the 70s, I became a graphic designer and designed book covers. After all, I’ve been in this business for over 30 years. I’ve been working part time in independent film since the late 80s. In 2006, I moved from Hollywood, California to Baltimore on the east coast. It was so I could work for Don Doler and Timewarp Films. I think my strongest points in this field are directing and writing, although I’ve done everything from storyboarding to prop making to acting.
JONATHAN – And there’s a bit of sound mixing involved in that, I assume?
ROBERT – A little here and there.
JONATHAN – How did you get your copy of Paragon?
ROBERT – John Cosentino wrote several articles for Don Dohler’s Cinematic Magazine in the 1970s, and Don began his first major film project, Alien Factor, in 1976. He asked John to take an active role in the production. This included making two costumes for the creatures, making action figures, including additional scenes and playing as one of the creatures. In total, John worked on three of Don’s films.
tape copy of the Paragon VHS convention.
At one point, John gave Don a copy of the movie Paragon on VHS. This meant that Don had a shortened version of the film (25 minutes plus 13 minutes of footage) to show at various science fiction conventions in Baltimore. In the early 2000s, Don was making movies again, and he and I had become good friends. He knew that I was a big fan of the articles John had written about Paragon, and decided to give me the original convention tape on the condition that I not make copies for other people. None of us wanted it to go anywhere.
JONATHAN – You’ve been a big fan of this movie for a long time.
ROBERT – Absolutely. John Cosentino didn’t make the first fan film based on the series, but he did make the first BIG film based on the series. He had no VHS tapes to work with, no CGI, no internet. I don’t even know if there were manuals and plans for Starfleet in 1974. Everything had to be physical. The optical effects were mounted for Super 8mm on a homemade optical printer. This latest achievement is a miracle, so view it with a warm smile and an indulgent nod.
Speaking of forgiveness, a white person in a black suit is demeaning to African-Americans. But then again, that was 1974, not as enlightened and racially sensitive as it is today. What do you think of John’s decision to invent the character of Lieutenant Uhura in blackface instead of casting a black actress for the role?
It pisses me off when people ask about a female lieutenant who wore makeup to look African-American. John tried to be as faithful as possible to the show. This has NOTHING to do with a racist takeover – or whatever modern society calls it. John did not do any outside casting; he recruited the cast and crew from his circle of family and friends. He didn’t know anyone of Asian or African descent at the time, it was as simple as that. Although the crew had other names, they tried to keep them as close to TOS as possible.
It seems to me that if you look into John’s heart, you will see no malice. He didn’t use blackface to ridicule, marginalize, devalue or demean black people. In fact, just the opposite is true. He wasn’t going to replace a major black character with a white character just because he didn’t know any black people and had no idea how to find someone willing to spend free days under hot lights in a white basement….. to shoot a Star Trek fan film. John wanted to do this to honor NICHELLE NICHOLS and her legacy. When you think of all the real racists in our country – then and now – and you compare them to John’s well-intentioned (albeit politically incorrect) attempt to pay tribute to Nichelle, I think people need to decide for themselves who really deserves their scorn and anger. (Hint: it’s probably not the guy who shot the fan film in his basement 47 years ago).
Okay, I’m going to get off my soapbox ….
In 2012 you posted about 8 minutes of Paragon clips without the original audio. What was the story behind it?
ROBERT – A comic book. In 2012, I worked for a video company and was able to transfer the fan film footage on VHS to an mp4 file on DVD. The interruption was really good, considering everything else. I didn’t want to release the film without John’s permission (I only spoke to him once on the phone at the time), and I couldn’t have done it anyway. The sound was terrible. So I posted some of the best parts with watermarks (which people hate, but it’s complicated) and the music from the original series. That’s why there’s no dialogue in the video. I wanted to give people a taste of the film without breaking my promise to Don.
A few months later, John himself uploaded about three minutes of his dialogue that he could understand to YouTube.
JONATHAN – Well, your latest version certainly sounds better than the one John released in 2012. How did you record the sound? Why did the performance deteriorate so much and how did you solve the problem?
One of John Costentino’s original sketches for the construction of the set.
ROBERT – John admits he turned on the music and sound effects too hot.
JONATHAN – By hot, you mean the level of everything was too high, right?
ROBERT: Yes. I’m not an audio genius, so I did some manipulations in Adobe Premiere to restore the sound. For the voice audio channel I set the volume control to the maximum value. In the audio effects section, I used three different filters, including a decrawler, a dechammer and a denoiser. I also moved the audio to a single channel (I was getting complaints about this) and duplicated the audio channel with all these settings, which makes the sound richer.
So it’s not perfect, but you can hear the dialogue better without the music and sound effects drowning it out. I haven’t touched one in years, but I recently found a decent one. I adjusted and re-rendered the sound in a week. John saw it and gave me permission to post it. That’s why we have it now.
JONATHAN – Can you do the same magic for the rest of the film? How many minutes are left?
ROBERT: I have a copy of the film. I believe John Cosentino once transferred the entire film to VHS tape and then sent Don Dohler an abbreviated copy to show at conventions: 25 minutes of story plus 13 minutes of footage. The entire original film is 100 minutes long. I know some conventions have time limits on fan films and such, at least these days, so maybe that’s why the convention copy didn’t include the full film.
I spoke to John a few years ago. He still had Super 8mm film, but it had become brittle. I mean, maybe he has a VHS tape that can be fully translated and the audio from there. For himself, it may not be worthwhile to transfer the tape or cassette. It cannot be shown for profit, and it will certainly appear on convention tables. I’m sure there are many of us who would like to do this for him, but it’s up to John. I’m grateful that after 47 years we at least have that to look forward to. I am grateful to John and Don for that.
Another of John’s original sketches.
I should add that part of the preview of next week’s episode at the end was compiled by me from images, bloopers and clips posted by John himself. This at least gives fans and viewers a taste of the other 75 minutes that are not available online.
Any chance you can persuade John to restore the remaining minutes of the original film?
ROBERT – John is mostly retired and enjoys playing golf. I haven’t spoken to him on the phone in years, but we recently emailed. He’s not a big fan of email – more of the old school. If anyone else can get the full film and poster from him, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
JONATHAN – Well, hmmm, that sounds like a job for a fan film obsessed blogger! I’ll see if I can…