Save the bridge! A behind the scenes look at the project to restore the Enterprise D bridge

Cross-post of an article I wrote for http://trekmovie.com:

“Imagine being a Star Wars fan driving past Lucasfilm, and seeing the Millennium Falcon in a dumpster.”

Would never happen, right? Well, it did. Only it wasn’t Star Wars, and it wasn’t that infamous Corellian freighter found in a trash heap, it was the bridge of the finest ship in the galaxy, the USS Enterprise-D. And the Star Trek fan that found it is named Huston Huddleston, and he’s currently working to restore the bridge set to its former glory.

I talked at length with Huston about how he was able to acquire the Bridge, the details of how he started his project to restore the set, how the project is going, and the support he has gotten from fans and Star Trek professionals alike.

“Sir… it’s the Enterprise!”

It all started on a day Huston will never forget. “I was working at a company with a man who worked at Paramount. During lunch breaks we would talk, he’d show me blueprints and photos from Star Trek and tell me upcoming plans. It was a lot of fun, because he knew he was a Trek fan. One day he told me he was leaving the company and I said ‘Oh darn, now I’ll never get turn my living room into the bridge of the Enterprise’ and he said ‘Be careful what you wish for’. Huh? What? He took me to this warehouse in Long Beach and the entire bridge of the Enterprise D was sitting outside.”

“It was in despicable condition. It had been sitting outside for 5 years, had been rained on, cigarette butts, cat poop… everything. I got over the initial shock and thought ‘OK, what can I do with this?’ Which is not the sanest thought but you had to go with it.”

Huston did some research and found out that it was authentic, just not a set that was actually used on the show. “When I called CBS about it (before I even bought it) I wanted to make sure it was legitimate. I found out this set was built by Paramount in the late 90s for display and touring (the original Enterprise-D set was destroyed during the filming of Generations) and then management at Paramount changed. People forget, and this was forgotten about. Nobody cared about it.”

“Then quite a few months of negotiations with the warehouse owners went by. Someone had not paid their bill and they were left with this set, but they didn’t own it. All this time I was trying to figure out what to do with it, where to store it, etc.”

“They (the warehouse owners) finally called at the end of 2011 and said ‘Look, we are throwing this away, if you don’t do something with it. We are taking it to a landfill; we are using the medal for scrap. We know you want it.’ I said I can’t afford to pay whatever you want it, and they said just pay for the shipping and it’ll be a deal.”

But it wasn’t that easy. “It was still in the thousands of dollars just to pay to move it. It was three guys, and a moving van and a half. When I talk to people, I have to explain to them that it’s not just the chairs… It’s EVERYTHING, the whole ceiling, the walls, the framework, the molding, all the huge computers and everything just like you see it on TV.”

A look at the just some of bridge set components. Image from Newstarship.com.

“You have to do something with this.”

Then… nothing much happened. “So a year passed and all the rich cats I knew were like ‘That’s nice’ and all the fans were like ‘Sure, you own the bridge. Right.’ I went to the Star Trek con in Vegas this past August and met with Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore and John DeLancie and told them what I had. The most excited person was Ron. He wanted to see pictures and he was like a kid in the candy store, a geeky teenager. He told me ‘You have to do something with this.’ I cannot understate how generous he was with his time.” (Ron Moore appears in the Kickstarter project video and also autographed several items that has been offered as rewards for donations.)

“So the next morning I had a ‘eureka’ moment and I decided I was going to do a Kickstarter and on that Sunday I posted a page on Facebook saying ‘I’m restoring the Bridge.’ Two days later SyFy Channel did a story on their Blastr site and it exploded. Mike Okuda (Production Designer for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Trek historian) then told me ‘You need to change this’ and gave me some advice on the site. People were assuming it was the original set, and I made the text more specific based on Mike’s suggestions.”

One of the two t-shirts that is being sold to help raise money for the bridge restoration. The shirt is also being given away as a reward on Kickstarter to anyone who pledges $20 or more.

The sudden media attention made Huston “kickstart” his efforts. “I had to rush to pull everything together, and in that first two weeks I was completely overwhelmed, didn’t know what I was doing. I’m a writer, but I’m a writer who doesn’t get interviewed a lot. And most of the articles didn’t even talk to me, they just copied other articles, and some of them were wrong, and the fans were like ‘you lied!’ No we didn’t lie, they never talked to us!”

“Luckily quite a few people came onboard to help me who were Star Trek fans, there were technical people who came forward… it took two different people to do the website (New Starship)… there was a brilliant guy who helped wrangle our Kickstarter page, David Raiklin, who also did the extremely successful Space Command fundraiser. My main guy, Brian Uiga, he’s doing most of the restoration and he’s also the one who helped restore the real TARDIS from the 1995 Doctor Who TV movie, in addition to a couple of the Herbie cars from the Love Bug and KITT from Knight Rider. I’ve surrounded myself with a bunch of pros. My biggest skill on this is as Producer, in coordinating people and making decisions. I think the biggest thing is I know what I want, which is the role of the Producer.”

Huston gives a lot of credit to both the fans and the people who has worked on the original show for their support and ideas. “This would not be what it has been withoutall the fans and the pros, the real cast and crew. We have gotten great feedback from the fans, and great ideas. One example, we have T-shirts that we are selling to raise money that said “Captain I saved the Bridge” and this fan Otto Vondonk suggested we put ‘Shut up, Wesley!’ on the back, which was a brilliant idea! We have feedback on the designs for the isolinear chips we are going to be giving away as part of the Kickstarter. As Communistic as this sounds, this whole thing is by fans for fans.”

The blueprints of the bridge they will be using to restore the set. Image from Newstarship.com.

“Engage!”

One big concern Huston had once the restoration plans were set was how Paramount would respond to this project. “Dealing with CBS was very scary to me, even though they were very cool. The first time I contacted them about our plans I heard nothing back for over two weeks…. It was nerve wracking. They finally got back to me and they said, ‘Change this and this.’ and that was all. They have been great about all this. They have been very honest with me, as long as I’m not making money and as long as I’m not hurting the franchise.” Huston has formed a non-profit corporation to cover all the costs and legal obligations of the restoration effort.

Huston and crew are attending many different conventions over the next few months to promote and gather support for his project. “We are doing the conventions to show off the chairs, so people can sit in them and take pictures. We are selling shirts to help raise money. And the entire Next Gen cast is going to be at the Wizard World shows in Austin Texas and New Orleans. My first panic attack was when Sir Patrick Stewart’s people said ‘Sir Patrick wants to see pictures of the chair he will be sitting in’ – and it wasn’t ready yet!”

Two of the bridge chairs. Image from Newstarship.com.

Besides finishing the Captain’s chair for Sir Patrick, the next big restoration milestone is the restoration of Worf’s tactical station, which should be fixed by February. The most immediate focus, however, is on the current Kickstarter campaign. “We are asking for $20,000 and that is the bare minimum to keep the stuff housed. To be honest, it’ll be $100,000 to $200,000 to get it housed and fixed. This ain’t gonna be cheap. It cost $600,000 to build the original set in the 90s, and we’re trying to make it interactive. We’re doing a multimillion project for the cost of a storage bin.”

One of the most interesting things about the restoration is that planned interactive element. “We’re in the early days, we’re still trying to figure the tech out. The idea is if we have the person in the captain’s chair hit the red alert button it will change the lighting, change the screen, make the sounds. There are lots of computers. Troi and Riker’s computers are small, but the ones in the back behind Worf’s station are quite large, and Worf’s is curved which is quite tricky. Conn and Ops are also extremely large, and you can’t buy that kind of stuff at a Best Buy. We know we need those and we will also need speakers… a lot of speakers. We need a projector, lots of lighting, lots of effects, and some kind of networking station to get these things together…”

“Right now we are just trying to concentrate on the money getting out of debt for the initial thousands of dollars I’ve already put out. That’s our initial focus. Our next step is to then concentrate on the technology.”

Huston is planning to unveil the restored bridge in late 2013. “We will be taking parts of the set to the conventions for the next year, and then when we finally get everything together, we will do our grand unveiling in LA in a Hollywood soundstage, and all of those incentives that you will find on Kickstarter will be done… and we have to do all those back to back, because it’s such a massive structure it takes a day to put it together and a day to strike the set.”

“Make it so!”

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I want to share this – which is why we’re opening it up to the public! I don’t want people to be jealous. I don’t want it to just be in my living room and I go ‘Tee Hee! It’s mine, all mine!’ If I were sitting there and hoarding all this, I would be the biggest jerk in the world. I want to make people happy and make this thing work. I’ve gotten these generous stories from people who went to the (now closed) Star Trek Experience in Vegas. One person talked about going to it with his father, who since passed away, and how they want his name on the Bridge in memory of him… It’s really touching. And I just got word from CBS that they have no problem with our performing weddings on the bridge, which is a huge thing, and will bring many people happiness, any sex, any religion, any alien species.”

An Isolinear chip with your name engraved on it can be placed on the bridge set as a Kickstarter reward.

“My ultimate vision is to continue to take as much of the set to conventions and then to find a permanent home for it… and we don’t know where yet. It’s going to take a lot of help and support from some city or private individual to do it right. We have gotten a couple of offers, so we’ll see.”

Support the Bridge Restoration project by donating to the Kickstarter. Huston is working on getting even more incentives and rewards for donations, so keep checking back! For pictures and even more details visit New Starship.