AURORA | Andy Grieb’s first foray into the world of Star Trek fan films started by accident.
“I had a major computer failure … I lost everything,” said Grieb, a longtime Aurora resident and avid “Star Trek” fan who had countless bytes worth of Trek audio and video clips on his machine prior to it giving up the ghost. “I was looking for those sound effects again on my new computer and I just happened to do a search for ‘Star Trek sound and video,’ and up pops this project.”
That was in 2004, when Grieb was just another devoted Trekker who idolized Captain James T. Kirk and his starship Enterprise.
Now, 12 years and nearly as many fan-produced episodes later, Grieb’s role in the ever-humming universe of “Star Trek” aficionados has evolved into something much more. He’s become a gatekeeper whose decisions and actions have significant implications for a worldwide fan base that has continued to mushroom in size since the first Star Trek episode debuted in 1966.
“It’s gotten to a point where we have to be careful with what we say because it influences an entire section of ‘Star Trek’ fandom, which is pretty amazing,” Grieb said. “We have millions and millions of downloads.”
Grieb’s sway in the realm of creative cosmic connoisseurs is the result of his role as a senior line producer on “Star Trek: New Voyages,” a web series of new episodes completely written, funded and produced by fans.
The series, which now boasts nearly a dozen 50-minute episodes and several shorts, centers on completing the five-year voyage referenced in the franchise’s original series, which ran for three seasons before being canceled in 1969.
“‘Star Trek’ started 50 years ago with the intent of going for a five-year run, but we didn’t get five years because the first season was received a little coolly, and even though the fans saved it and did a write-in season after the network talked of canceling it, by the end of the third season, NBC chose not to renew it,” Grieb said. “Of course, it got sold into syndication and it boomed with all of the conventions.”
“New Voyages” has received marked recognition from fans, critics and original Trekkies alike in its 14 years of existence. Its accolades include guest appearances by George Takei and Walter Koenig, thousands of dollars of crowd funding, and a nomination for a Hugo Award, an annual honor for top works in science fiction.
Grieb first got involved in the project by emailing one of the original producers after he stumbled upon the inaugural episode. He offered a few paragraphs of constructive criticism to the freshman production team — headed by James Cawley and Jack Marshall — an act that inspired the team to invite him to take part in creating the second episode the following year.
“I looked at my wife and I said, ‘This is crazy, but I want to do it,’” Grieb said. “And she just looked at me and said, ‘Do it.’”
In the years since those initial conversations, Grieb has made annual trips to the project’s headquarters in Ticonderoga, N.Y. He’s worked his way through the chain of command, from boom operator to one of the effort’s head production coordinators.
“I said I’ll do anything from wrangling cables to cleaning toilets,” Grieb said. “I just wanted to be involved in the project.”
Working on the venture has helped fill a vocational void that has existed in Grieb’s life for nearly 30 years. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Grieb is unable to work due to a traumatic brain injury he endured as a staff sergeant in 1983. While returning from a routine patrol at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, a truck Grieb was in hit a pot hole and caused a 93-pound ammunition canister to break free from its restraints in the overhead cargo hold and strike him in the head.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” he said.
Although the blow rendered Grieb unconscious for three days, he continued to serve in the Air Force for six years before being honorably discharged in 1989. Since then, Grieb has lived on VA disability and Social Security payments, and spent significant time volunteering with the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans.
Despite volunteering and working some part-time jobs, Grieb’s inability to work has left him ample opportunity to raise a family and lean into his passion — two pursuits that have blended into a single activity in recent years. His son, Edward, now accompanies him on his yearly pilgrimage to New York to attend the “New Voyages” shoots. Edward is a third-year student studying film at the Community College of Aurora.
“Daddy’s very proud,” Grieb said. “He’s really thrown himself into film.”
However, the vitality of the Grieb’s unusual passion has recently been put in jeopardy due to new evidence that CBS and Paramount, the two controllers of the Star Trek brand, may start putting the kibosh on fan-funded projects like “New Voyages.” For years, the entertainment duo in charge of the multi-billion-dollar franchise have allowed fan-made projects as long as they don’t’ turn a profit and pose a threat to valuable Star Trek dollars.
“They’ve been tolerating us,” Grieb said. “But as long as we’re not garnering hundreds of thousands of dollars, we’re OK. We’re distributing it for free with disclaimers that all trademarks and licenses are from CBS/Paramount and no money is being made form this production. We’re playing in their sandbox — it’s absolutely fair.”
However, he pointed to a recent lawsuit against another Star Trek fan-produced project, “Axanar,” that was filed by Paramount late last year and could suggest the company’s charitable patience may be wearing thin.
“It’s a tough situation for Star Trek fan films right now,” Grieb said. “We’re sitting back and waiting to see what ‘Axanar’ did wrong to tick off CBS and Paramount. They’ve been playing nice for 12-14 years. There has to be a clear delineation of what they did wrong that we don’t want to do.”
According to a report published last year by The Hollywood Reporter, the lawsuit filed by CBS/Paramount calls for an injunction against the “Axanar” production team as well as damages for several instances of copyright infringement.
Regardless of the outcome of any “Trek”-centric litigation, Grieb said that he’s most thankful for what the project has afforded him over the years: A reliable network of like-minded friends.
“We all have a passion for either film or Star Trek and we get together and it’s like ‘old home week’ — we’re truly a family,” he said. “It’s that sense of family that keeps bringing us back.”