Icarus On Set (and On Camera)

3/25/20245 min read

We commenced and completed principle photography on "The Icarus Maneuver" in one day in January, 2023. The shoot was placed on the front end of a rigorrous shoot for the two-episode "Axanar" series shooting in the same space the following few days with much of the same crew. But Icarus would pose several challenges that no previous Axanar Cinematic Universe project had dealt with.

Camera Operator, Derrick, Mark and Geoff Faigen our Cinematographer outside the bridge
Camera Operator, Derrick, Mark and Geoff Faigen our Cinematographer outside the bridge

Director Mark Edward Lewis wanted to create the drama found in the opening scene in the JJ-Trek film released in 2009 where the USS Kelvin is destroyed. Naturally, without the Hollywood-sized budget (really, no budget at all), Cinematographer Geoff Fagien and Mark had a tall order to fill. Fortunately, a local Atlanta camera operator Vince DeVries joined the team with his own custom SteadyCam.

The ability to move the camera anywhere on set is a difficult trick when the camera weighs several pounds. Although anyone can "hand hold" a camera, the shakiness of the human adjustments to keep the camera level can lead to a "home video" or "hyper action" oriented feel for the image. Since we wanted to have dramatic smooth movements, we needed specialized equipment to create the visual interest of the camera-always-moving. The SteadyCam is a large rig worn by the camera operator as a harness. It's big and heavy, but creates a beautiful smoothness and flexibility otherwise unavailable to the unaided operator.

The Icarus crew itself was comprised of predominantly volunteers who had arrived to help with the Axanar shoot. We had a grand time trying to figure out how to get everybody on and off the bridge take after take, since there was nowhere that wouldn't be seen. This was especially true for the opening shot where our two main actors are crammed into the turbo lift - with Vince, director and sound boom operator Barry Rathbone. However, Mark had a singular vision for wanting to have an opening shot that, for the first time, showed the entire Ares bridge set - a set that he had witness built over the course of 10 years in both Los Angeles and Atlanta. And although we don't get to see the Ares bridge "rigged for blue" or without alerts, the lighting by the gaffer team and Geoff shows-off the incredible attention to detail of the sets and the unforgettable illumination of Dana Wagner's digital creations on the dozens of screens scattered around the bridge.

Camera Operator Derrick Jones with Mark and Geoff

Vince on the right with his SteadyCam

Now, Vince is a LARGE man. And the bridge of the Ares set has little room for a regular sized person to walk around - and Vince with his Steady rig posed no small amount of problems. The good crew caring for the set had to repaint a few corners from Vince and his rig accidentally scraping set pieces. In fact, due to the multi-level nature of the bridge and extremely complicated shots, we had multiple crew members spotting him as he moved deftly around the studio.

But, Vince was able to capture incredible photography, drama and performances on the bridge of the Ares rigged for both "yellow" and "red" (alert). And since we were shooting on Red Komodo cameras at 6k, Mark had plenty of latitude to perfect the post process.

In the photo above, Alec Peters and Adrienne Wilkinson wait for direction from Mark while Vince, Barry (sound recordist) and Jim Ross (gaffer) try to decide how to best shoot the opening shot in the turbolift. Until one has tried to coordinate all the elements of a long "one-shot" - especially one where there are turbolift doors involved, it's difficult to understand how much coordination and planning must go into such an endeavor. At this moment, the crew is trying to discover a solution for getting Vince, his SteadyCam rig, and Adrienne to not collide with the engineering section of the bridge as they round the corner - all while making sure Barry's boom mic doesn't end up in the shot - BUT is close enough to get her dialog.

In the photo below, Mark works with actress Hayley Leary as Lieutenant Tara Wagner. Several of the cast members had not been a part of the Axanar universe including Adrienne Wilkinson. Although Adrienne, who plays Commander Corax, is no newcomer to sci-fi, it was a pleasure for the entire crew to work with both local and renowned actors for Icarus.

Vince Canlan (not to be confused with our SteadyCam operator) who plays 1st Officer Tanaka was brought in last-minute to play the role when the actor who had previously shot the role was suddenly unavailable. Vince's performance was so riveting that Alec Peters, producer of Axanar, cast him on-the-spot to reshoot all of Tanaka's lines for the Axanar series itself.

When you see Axanar and Vince's hellacious amounts of Star Trek techno babble, you'll see it was no small feat for an actor to execute - having only gotten the lines the night before.

One of the unsung heroes of Icarus (and Axanar) is Dana Wagner. He designed the majority of the visuals seen on the screens on the bridge of the Ares as well as keeping the lighting and electrical in working order (along with Scott Good). We had only scheduled one day to complete ALL photography for Icarus, and with the complexity of the shots, we were dubious about staying to our schedule.

When one of the screens started having issues (and this screen was right in the middle of our shots), Dana went to work. Both he and Scott (pictured below) were able to swap out the screen, change the graphics and get us back to shooting within 45 minutes (which might have taken much longer without their genius). As it was, we finished the day 45 minutes early thanks to the efficiency of the crew and the professionalism of the actors.

Even though there was only one day of photography, a great many weeks went into its planning. Mark spent a good amount of his film career curing productions that had not planned well and which were forced to "fix everything in post." So for him, knowing the issues to solve in post production - while in production - were why the entire production process for Icarus was so smooth and successful.

Mark, being a lover of starships, jumped at the opportunity to direct Icarus. "I love working with narratives where there were so many visually stimulating battle scenes." He is somewhat saddened that he wasn't able to design any of the shots, as all of the shots in Icarus were previously designed for Axanar (but ultimately unable to be used due to the CBS guidelines), but as he reflects, "they're still INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL shots - and I just made up for what I was disallowed to do visually with the sound design." Find out more about the sound design and the music of Icarus at those links.

Mark is pictured here the next day co-directing with Ted Brunetti on the set of Axanar.