The local Star Trek club, Austrek, will soon approach its fiftieth birthday. One of its pioneer members, Paul Murphy, recalls glimpses of its early days when people subscribed to the Star Trek adage that the human adventure is just beginning.
(Interviewed by email)
You became interested in the space program at an early age. Why do you think that was?
Who, alive in 1969, wasn’t caught up in the first manned moon landing?? I’m pretty sure John F. Kennedy didn’t know what he started when he set the USA a national goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth before the end of that decade. For one thing, out of the space program came our modern computer/technology age.
When were you introduced to science fiction?
I recall reading a book at primary school called Peter Graves (not the actor from Mission Impossible and Flying High etc). The story involved a scientist developing a substance that allowed one to defy gravity. This must have been my first Sci Fi-ish book. I think other early influences were books by Arthur C. Clarke (from 2001) then the usual greats: Heinlein, Asimov, and others.
When did you become involved in Star Trek and why do you think it had such a strong attraction to so many people?
Star Trek? It was on black & white television. I must have enjoyed because I watched it. I also watched Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and other shows from that era. One memory I have is my siblings and I agreeing that we liked Trek better when they weren’t “horsing around the ship”.
In hindsight now, I’m glad they did the original cast movies. I like them because they show diversity: Sulu got a command, and Uhura did more than answer the telephone. On the local front, as an example of diversity, you guys let me join in and have some fun!
When did you become involved in Austrek?
I was walking past The Ritz Cinema (the Lithuanian Club) in North Melbourne during the late 1970s, when I noticed toward an A3-sized poster for a ‘Dusk ‘til Dawn Star Trek Marathon’. I think at first I dismissed it, but I was feeling restless and adventurous at age 17, so I decided that because I liked the show, I’d like to attend the Marathon. There, I discovered Austrek through the flyers that were displayed on the theatre counter during intermission. I applied for membership because there was the newsletter, magazine meetings if I wanted to attend, and I corresponded with Geoff by post.
What are your most memorable memories of some of the early Austrek people and/or events?
The first meeting I attended was in a church hall in Fairfield, Melbourne. It was my first train adventure on the Hurstbridge line. I was greeted at the Fairfield station exit by one member wearing an Austrek T Shirt, and realized that it wasn’t just me getting off the train for this. At these meetings and at the local Star Trek Marathons, I ended up meeting amazing people, like Diane Marchant, who was corresponding with Gene Roddenberry [Star Trek creator] before I even knew his name.
I just met so many different people across all kinds of kinds of “divides” – whether ethnicity, social class, sexuality, age or whatever. I even met my first trans friend in Austrek, and it just felt right for him. The thing we all had in common was one television show that showed promise for the future.
Your cartoons (Jim Kirk Show, etc) were creative and memorable. Do you remember any responses from readers?
I recall that artist Mike McGann from Sydney told me he liked my work, and encouraged me to make a little money selling artwork. I politely declined, amazed that anyone liked my stuff at all.
Another memory, and this is deep: some bloke at a meeting asked me, “Where did you learn to do this?” I did the brush off (“just a bit of fun” etc) but that night I sat in the dark and asked myself exactly where did I learn to do it? They don’t teach you at school. I remembered drawing with my brother, copying at first then changing style. Maybe I absorbed one too many Mad magazines in the 1970’s; thanks to Mort Drucker, I was off on my artistic journey!!!
Diane Marchant once told me that Gene Roddenberry praised your cartoons, and suggested that he could find you work if you ever came to Hollywood…
Yes I do remember Diane sent of a copy of Spock to “The Great Bird of the Galaxy”. I think it was the issue with the red cover. I remember someone telling me this and I hope he got a laugh after all the enjoyment he’s given me with the TV show he created. I had also hoped it would give Diane some cred for Gene to know that his show was having an impact half a planet away in Australia. But offering me work in Hollywood?? I never heard that. I very much doubt I’d have jumped on a plane to Burbank… but stranger things have happened.
Why did you create the Starrag fanzine? What can you tell me about it and any responses etc?
Ok, the truth. I suggested it at a Trekcon 2 committee meeting. The idea was if we get it out to a wider audience, we might make money for helping to run the con. The fanzine was a mix of old and new material.
I showed a copy to Merv Binns at Space Age Bookshop, and he agreed to put a couple on display. It wasn’t exactly a shelf clearer. I worked down the road and would sometimes wander up to Space Age Books to check its progress. The fanzine wasn’t moving. I felt disappointed. Oh well, I tried!
What preparation did you have for the fan film, City on the Edge of the Yarra ?
I made a Super 8 film called ‘Apollo 19’, which I started in 1975 (‘Sack Kerr’ was written in graffiti on the side of the rocket) and finished in 1976 (which is why the Enterprise makes an appearance). It included every film trick I knew: rear projection, animation, miniatures, even pyrotechnics. I was lucky I didn’t blow myself up! So when Stephen came up with City, I was really good to go – especially using someone else’s money (I think Russell [club treasurer] let Stephen have a budget of around $100, which we spent mostly on purchasing film stock.)
What do you recall of the making of City?
Stephen asked me to play Spock in his proposed movie. I said yes. I’d already been asked to play McCoy in someone else’s film, but I said yes straight away to Steve. I recall playing Spock when I insisted on having a moustache. This required spirit gum, latex, toilet paper, and heaps of makeup. Taking it off afterwards? OUCH! I shaved. We filmed in the city, and received comments like: “Whatch s’possed to be, Dr Spock?” I remember driving out to Nunawading (Steve didn’t have a car) to get the film hot off the AGFA presses so we could see the “rushes”. I suggested a couple of cheap joke cutaways, and Steve kept them in. Re-doing the tiles by myself in Canberra coz all this new video editing software and I still had the end credit cards. Apart from that, I don’t remember a lot now. Just fun.
City was probably one of the earliest Star Trek fan films ever made. What do you think is its legacy?
Super 8 film movie cameras and young chaps are a dangerous mix. Stephen is a talented fellow and I’m glad I got to collaborate.
Paul recalls some ‘City on the Edge of the Yarra’ tech details:
Shot using AGFA Super 8 film.
100 ASA (an American standard that indicated the film sensitivity to light).
18 Frames Per Second (fps) which is standard for silent film.
Super 8 millimeter film came in cartridges that ran from start to finish.
I read that something plastic could be broken by a screwdriver or similar to allow the film to be rewound a short bit to enable double exposures. I never tried this but Stephen did and succeeded.
Cartridges held 50 feet of film (25 meters) which at 18 fps lasted just under 3 minutes. If you looked around they could be bought for about $5.00.
Stephen had the finished film (approx 400 ft) soundstriped. This means a strip of magnetic tape was glued to each side of the film. Between the sprocket holes one side and the edge on the other. It is on this track that music,sound and dialogue was recorded after editing.
Stephen allowed me custody of the only copy of the completed film reel (I’m amazed he did) to give to an audio/visual lab to have it copied onto video tape – which was a new thing on the home market in 1980.
I assume that because of the sound stripes on the film, the lab assumed it was sound film, so ran it at 24 fps. This is why Stephen sounds like a cross between Maxwell Smart and a chipmunk.
I also assume their equipment used automatic exposure, which took a while to catch up to the picture. Hence dark bits with sound and the bridge scene where Stephen and I appear to be combusting.
This was put on a Fuji L500 Betamax video cassette, and was later captured to computer.
I still had the title cards from 1979 so I scanned these to JPG files and with the original soundtrack replaced the start and end credits.
The emulsion (light sensitive coating on the plastic strip) was visible as grain on the image if overly projected. This is comparable to seeing individual pixels today.
I really can’t get over what’s available today. If we had access to those resources back then, we could have had so much more fun.
Austrek will soon celebrate its fiftieth birthday. What are your thoughts about that?
I feel so old!!! I’m glad it’s ongoing. Austrek is a place for people with a common interest to meet, communicate, interact. Even if it’s just TV and movies guess what guys? You grow up and learn other people’s story too. Not what you signed up for but I see it as a bonus. I’d just like to thank Geoff, Joan and Russell [foundation members] for making this even possible. Austrek was an offshoot of the Melbourne Amateur Science Club (M.A.S.C.) that took off on a life of its own! Who would have guessed?
(Updated on 16 April 2023 to add paragraph about his preparation for the making of the film, and on 20 April 2023 to add Paul’s recollection of ‘City’ technical details.)
©2023 Geoff Allshorn