By Guest Contributer Amy Ulen
My trek to the stars began with a radio contest on KZOK-FM in Seattle. The contest ran for three weeks with two finalists picked each week. Unfortunately, I didn't hear about the contest until the second week, so I only had two shots at qualifying. My first attempt was a miserable failure when I tried calling in on my cell phone from school. Although I knew the answers to the trivia contest, I couldn't get through the phone lines. I made a decision that morning that I was going to take the following Thursday morning off work so that I could use my landline at home to qualify. Wednesday night rolled around and I sat poised with a notepad and watched "Hatchery.” Four pages of notes later, I was ready for the contest. Again, I called and couldn't get through. The question was "What was the Starfleet regulation that allowed Phlox to relieve Archer of command?” The answer was Regulation 104, Section C, but the line was busy. While I frantically hit redial, at least six callers gave the wrong answer. When I finally made it through, I had to wait for two more people to attempt the answer. I was in agony as one woman said "104, section … 3,” and the next caller said "section 5.” Finally, my line was selected and I shouted the answer. At that moment, my incredible journey began.
Those of us who qualified had to submit a photo and brief essay to KZOK. My essay read, "As a high school English teacher, I have my students compose a list of 50 things they want to do, see, or accomplish before they die as a journal entry. I always share my list with the kids, and they laugh when they see 'Be on an episode of Star Trek' as one of my goals. They don't believe that my goal is attainable therefore shouldn't be on the list. I want to prove to them that as outrageous as a dream may seem, anything is possible! You can help me teach this valuable life lesson by voting for me.” After submitting my contest entries, I went to school and straight to my principal. As I was one of the last qualifiers, the final web voting was opening that afternoon. I told my principal all about the contest and asked him if I could make an announcement over the intercom. He agreed! As soon as voting opened, students all over the school logged on and voted for me. After being announced the winner the following morning, I instantly earned celebrity status at school. As I walked across the commons toward the Performing Arts Center to teach my acting classes, kids were hanging out the windows yelling their congratulations and that they had voted for me. Over a month later, the kids are still talking about it and eagerly anticipating the episode.
One of the most common questions I've received since my day on the set of Enterprise is "Was it all you had hoped it would be?” My answer is a resounding "yes” and a surprising "no!” What shocked me most was that I wasn't more star struck and nervous on the set. In fact, when the cameras started to roll for my first scene, I was relaxed and the situation felt incredibly natural. I believe my comfort level was due in part to the fact that I'm a drama teacher and amateur actor at home, but it was primarily due to the fact that everyone on the set made me feel welcome and important! I honestly did not expect such star treatment. From the moment I arrived on the Paramount lot at 10:00 a.m. until leaving at 10:00 p.m., someone attended to my every need. I've written nearly 20 pages about this experience in my journal, so I'll try to condense the general highlights here.
David Gardner from UPN escorted me, along with Bob Rivers (KZOK DJ) and Brian D'Arcy (charity auction winner), around the lot all day. He made sure we were where we needed to be, always had comfortable seating (in Guest Actor chairs, no less!), kept us well hydrated and fed all day, and acted as our official photographer. He made sure that everyone on the set knew that we were the contest winners. Again, I was amazed to learn that almost everyone knew we were coming and seemed genuinely excited to meet us!
Our first stop of the day was in the costume shop for our fittings. This was the only moment I had been dreading. In the real world I'm an average size 12, on the set of a television show I'm obese! It was obvious that I was not going to fit into any of the female costumes, yet the male costumes didn't work either. An hour later, after taking a few measurements and the clever placement of some stick pins, my uniform was ready. I was already impressed with everyone in the costume shop after our tour, but I realized that they are miracle workers after trying on my uniform!
I was probably most excited to meet Scott Bakula, because I'm also a huge Quantum Leap fan. After our adventures in costuming, we ran into Scott on a break from filming. He was very friendly and took some time to talk and joke around with us. Later in the day after he was done filming, he waited for me to come down from makeup so that I could get a photo with him before he went home. I was so impressed with this generous act and am very grateful that he cares so much about his fans!
While in makeup, I was mesmerized by the rows and rows of alien masks lining the walls. I was even given a demonstration of the painting techniques used to create a Reptilian Xindi. The artistry that goes into each mask is so amazing. After the demonstration, I was taken into the storage room where I got to see Data's head and the Gorn suit; as a long-time Trek fan, that was so exciting! I also got to see the Sphere-Builder makeup being applied. Again, the talent of all the makeup artists simply blew me away.
Throughout the day we were given tours of all of the sets and had the opportunity to take photographs. Bob and Brian humored me by posing for "action” shots on the bridge. It was interesting to see the ship in the various stages of damage caused by the beating it took in "Azati Prime” and the subsequent repairs completed since the attack. As a drama teacher, I also had fun capturing photos of the set from behind to show my students how the magic is created. I was particularly impressed with the wall that opens like the doors on a Delorian to reveal the officer's quarters.
After our tour, we went to engineering to watch an amazing stuntman in action. It was at this point in the day when I met Josette DiCarlo, the Sphere-Builder first introduced in "Damage.” Josette was absolutely hilarious! I was so disappointed that I didn't get my photo taken with her, because she had such a positive attitude and it was so much fun to watch her work. When it finally came time to film our scene, I received some individual advice from director Allan Kroeker; it was great to be treated like I really belonged! I also spent a lot of time talking with Cecelia Specht who has been working as an extra on the show for the past few months. She gave me the inside scoop as to what life is really like as an extra to share with my students.
Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock were filming in engineering, so we had the opportunity to meet and get photographed with them. Like Scott, Connor was very gracious. He stopped and talked to us a couple of different times, and even joked around about the number of times he messed up his lines. I didn't want to appear to be as much of a nerd as I am, so I didn't tell him that I loved the fact that we kept doing the scene over, because I was operating the engine at the time! At most the camera probably caught the back of my feet, but I was intensely acting like I was making all of the adjustments that Trip was telling T'Pol about. As an actor, a small part of me wished my face would have been in that scene but the rest of me was in Trekkie heaven!
So, one of the most frequently asked questions I have received is what am I going to place on my list of 50 things now that I can cross off an appearance on Star Trek. While on the set, I formulated my new goal as I watched the crew work. I was in awe of their energy and dedication. Around 10 p.m. — after having been on set 12 hours — I was feeling tired. Yet, there was the crew, who had been working hours before we arrived filming the final scene and who continued to work after we left, intensely setting up each shot and making sure everything was perfect. I didn't get a chance to talk to many of them, because they were constantly working! I briefly caught this photo for my tech crew (they all buy rolls of gaff tape to attach to their backpacks as a symbol of tech power), but it is slightly blurry because he was running off to complete another job! My new goal is to work as an intern while I'm on summer break from school; I would love to spend a month seeing a single episode through filming to post-production.
Alas, my trek to the stars had to come to an end. As I was leaving the costume shop, a couple of the production crew were talking about the uncertainty of renewal, and I was deeply saddened. I got the uncomfortable feeling I get each year as I say good-bye to the graduating seniors. I thought about all the amazing people who work on this show and felt devastated by the idea they may be out of work, so I choose to have "faith of the heart” that Enterprise will be back next year. I mean, hey, my journey isn't over yet … I still have an internship to complete, so go out and tell all your friends to watch. And be sure to look for my feet in engineering during "Zero Hour”!