Starbase Studios: A Trekkie’s Ultimate Dream

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Mr. Spock’s science station on the bridge at Starbase Studios. Photo by Timothy Piland

Word of the Nerd’s own Tim Piland recently visited the one and only Starbase Studios in Oaklahoma City, where he was able to explore the Stuido and chat with Richard Wells and Scott Johnson. Here’s a recap of his experience and conversations with Wells and Johnson. 

Hidden away in an industrial area of Oklahoma City is the only complete replica of the bridge of the USS Enterprise in the world. Tucked into what seems to be an unassuming large metal storage building, Starbase Studios is providing a place for everyday Trekkies to create their own fan films. This place where so many have dreamed of being, can now be a reality.

It’s a truly existential experience when you set foot on the Enterprise bridge for the first time. The sounds, the look, the feel, all of it combines for a one of a kind experience. This marvel is the result of thousands of hours of work and restoration by owners Richard Wells and Scott Johnson. Friends for more than a quarter of a century, these two now bond over their love of Trek. Scott says:

This thing [The Bridge] is magical. Walking on to the set takes me right back to my childhood on the floor in front of the television.

Wells, describing their facility says:

We’re the only set like this in the country where people can come and film their fan projects. The only one where school groups bring in children to learn and where the teachers can use these iconic sets as an educational aid.

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Turbolift handle on the original USS Enterprise.

When this writer took a trip to OKC, they took him on the bridge. You actually go in through the turbolift. You grasp the handle just like in the show and the light clicks on. The doors part and you set foot on the bridge.

In front and slightly to the left in the center of the room sets Captain Kirk’s command chair, directly in from of that is the helm. To the left is the engineering station, to the right, Communications, where Lieutenant Uhura’s ear piece sets in its docking station, ready for use. Even further right is Mr. Spock’s science station, where an array of colored disks are ready for use and consoles all lit up. You can almost see and hear the crew. You can hear Scotty complaining about his “poor wee bairns,” and Spock saying, “fascinating.” This feels real.

Here’s a little history behind the Bridge set as described on the Starbase Studios website:

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Something has gone awry for Richard and Scott on the bridge at Starbase Studios. Photo by Timothy Piland.

-“The bridge set was originally built by Starship Exeter who filmed two shows in the early 2000’s. The set was then stored wherever space was available, which wasn’t always out of the elements. Much of the set was lost.”

-What was left was brought back to Oklahoma City and the restoration process began. Some pieces, such as the captain’s chair and helm/nav console, survived quite well while others, such as the consoles -had to be almost completely rebuilt.

-Volunteers, working as time and materials allowed, spent three years restoring and rebuilding the Exeter bridge set. It is now complete and more screen accurate than ever before.”

Wells and Johnson have been adding to the sets in their collection. Not only do they have the truly impressive bridge set, but they also have a two bed sickbay complete with bio-beds and bedside monitors. Nearly complete is the iconic Transporter room.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this place is the fact that these two Trekkie extraordinaires allow fans to come in and film for free, asking only a donation to help cover expenses. Johnson jokes that often they trade out use of the set in exchange for, “A bag of screws and some wood glue.” This project is truly a labor of love, and when asked what their favorite thing about this whole experience is, Wells responds:

Bringing people in to see the bridge for the first time, that’s my favorite part of all of this. Some people cheer, some people stand there in shock at the beauty of it and some people are moved to tears when those doors part, and they see Kirk’s command chair or Mr. Spock’s science station. In that brilliant moment they are instantly transported back. This show [Star Trek] means so much to so many people, and it’s clearly evident in their faces when they see this set that magical first time…

Johnson’s response to the same question:

I have to agree with Richard. The look on some people’s faces is priceless. They are completely stunned. Even after seeing this day in and day out, I am still taken aback almost every time I see this set.

What is next on the horizon for Starbase Studios? They are in the middle of the design process to build the conference room from the original Enterprise. This set is designed to be redressed to become the mess hall as well as the Captains quarters. To make this happen they need your help. A gofundme campaign has been set up to help them complete construction on this set. A donation of as little as one dollar puts them one step closer to completing the conference room.

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Richard Wells and Scott Johnson welcome you aboard the bridge of the USS Enterprise at Starbase Studios. Photo by Timothy PIland.

Johnson and Wells are so nice by opening these sets to anyone wanting to use them. They are true epitome of a Star Trek fan. Let’s help them build more of the final frontier so that more minds can be opened and hearts can be blessed by what they have built in Oklahoma City. Again, you can visit their gofundme campaign here.

Well, what are your thoughts? Please comment, LIKE and share to encourage open and honest discussion! And if you’re ever in OKC, send Richard and Scott a message on the Starbase Studio facebook page!

There are so many fascinating facts about the set. Make sure to visit www.starbasestudios.net for more.

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Word of the Nerd Staff Writer Timothy Piland on the bridge of the USS Enterprise at Starbase Studios.  Photo by Daniel Smith.

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About the author

Tim Piland

Timothy Piland is a classically trained tenor and opera singer. He was born and raised in the Springfield, Mo. Area.

He has performed Roles for Springfield Little Theater, Vandivort Theater, Springfield Regional Opera and Mobile Opera. He has also worked for the Puccini Festival, and the Kansas City Lyric Opera.

In his performing career he has performed roles in: Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Man of La Mancha, Die Fledermouse, La Fanciulla del West, Gianni Schicchi and many other shows.

In 2007, he toured the United Kingdom with the Church of the Incarnation out of Dallas, Texas. This included a week long engagement at Westminster Abbey, as well as a 9 day engagement at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 2009 he originated the role of the Priest in "Frankenstein, Monster" by Le Wlhelm at the Gilloiz Theater.

He appeared onstage as Rupert Giles for, "A Class Act productions," in their ongoing presentation of Buffy The Vampire Slayer: A Reader’s Theatre Parody, from March 2010-July 2013.

In November 2011, he made his directoral debut, directing "Star Trek Live Onstage: The Trouble with Tribbles," also for "A Class Act." He went on to direct 14 of the next 17 episodes of that live stage show.

Each Christmas you can also catch him at the historic Pythian Castle where he performs in a, "Night of the Dueling Santas," a Christmas dinner show of his own writing. He has been the Ghost Tour Guide for the castle since 2010.

He has been featured on The Discovery Channel, SYFY Channel, The History Channel, NPR.

He is the founder of Harvest Moon Productions and oversees events ranging from concerts to straight plays. He is currently writing a book called "Ghostly Tales From Pythian Castle," which hopefully will see production at some point in 2014.

In 2013 he was cast as Dr. Howard Lagrasse in the 5 episode silent Horror web series SHADOW BOUND, for Arcane Productions. Most recently he was cast in a role in the feature film EVERYTHING, for Parallax Studio.

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