Ten Questions with Kevin Hanson of the Trek Prop Zone

Kevin Hanson is too modest to call himself a Star Trek historian, but there is not very many people who know more about Star Trek. Kevin is a coastal native of southern California and he couldn’t help but stumble across various aspects of the entertainment industry throughout his life simply as a matter of proximity. One of his favorite hobbies is to collect screen-used movie and TV memorabilia and high-end replicas of rare Star Trek props.

His passion toward his hobbies led to his acquisition of the TrekPropZone.com website in 2010 and the co-creation of the Star Trek Prop Enthusiasts group on FaceBook which currently boasts over 4,800 members including industry professionals and the occasional Star Trek luminary. He maintains these venues for the research and free sharing of knowledge regarding all aspects of the props from the Star Trek shows and movies that so many of us love.

Kevin’s professional life has seen parallel tracks over the years with entertainment industry work in front of and behind cameras and microphones as well as work in public relations, editing, and dabbling in fields that require the occasional broker. His hobbies and professional life began to overlap when some of his hobby collections became of interest for use in television and film productions – first as loans and later as rental items.

Here are this week’s “Ten Question With” Kevin Hanson of the Trek Prop Zone:

1. How long have you been running The Trek Prop Zone?

I acquired TrekPropZone.com in July of 2010 though I had been on the board staff since early 2009 and first joined in late 2008.  My first action after transferring the ownership of the URL was to confer co-ownership onto Mark Williams (FHC to board members) who co-created the TPZ in March of 2006 and was the very first member.

2. How many members do you currently have?

We have a cozy yet proud membership of 1,319 collectors and builders as of this writing (two memberships were approved within an hour of typing this answer).  The membership has included a number of individuals from the professional prop-making world who supplied props and set pieces to Paramount for all incarnations of Star Trek since The Motion Picture in 1979.

3. What would you say is the main “mission” of The Trek Prop Zone forum?

The primary focus of the TPZ is to foster a congenial environment where collectors and builders may freely share their knowledge and experience regarding the origins and fabrication methods of the screen-used pieces from each live production of Star Trek.  Many are motivated to do this so they may build their own accurate re-creations for their private collections.  This collaboration is archived in various sub-forums and categories for reference by all who join the board.  A side effect of this drive to seek and create the perfect replica has been a collective, crowd-sourced knowledge that has been tapped for authentication purposes by various auction houses who deal in screen-used Star Trek pieces.  After all, other than an original builder, who better to ask if your Phaser is an authentic piece than a group of hobbyists who have studied and researched the originals for many years in order to create the perfect replica?  Of course, we tend to have some of those original builders as well.

4. You have worked with various television shows in consulting and loaning props to those productions. What is your favorite experience relating to that?

My favorite experience loaning a prop to a production, hands down, was the first prop I loaned to The Big Bang Theory for the episode ‘The Apology Insufficiency’.  Through the prop boards I was put in contact with the Property Master of TBBT who said he needed a Universal Translator as seen in the original Star Trek.  I asked if he needed a static one, one that blinks, or one that blinks in unison with a person talking (yes, my collection could accommodate all three).  He explained he needed one for a Gorn to wear as seen in the TOS episode ‘Arena’.  I told him he did not need a Universal Translator but the Gorn Translator as provided by the Metrons in that episode – a rare prop that was seen only that one time.  He seemed dejected that his immediate need was now so obscure and time had been wasted.  He asked how to get one.  I told him I knew of only three replicas and only one on the West Coast of the U.S. – in my collection.  He sent a driver to my house to pick up the prop that day and e-mailed me an invite to the show taping (including a plus one).  I showed and was invited backstage for an after party with the actors and crew.  He introduced me as the source of the Gorn Translator to Executive Producer Bill Prady.  Bill lit up, took me by the arm, and dragged me through the crowd and said there was someone he wanted to introduce to me – it was Star Trek’s very own Dorothy ‘D.C.’ Fontana.  We were standing behind the living room set of TBBT in Sound Stage 25 on the Warner Bros. lot at the time.  Then, in an even more surprising turn of events, Bill Prady asked me about other Star Trek items in my collection and began pitching a story idea that could incorporate some more of my collection in a future episode (I supplied more items for more episodes but that story idea never was produced).  It was quite a memorable evening even after the free flowing beer and wine that went with the catered food at the after-party.

5. Would you consider yourself a Star Trek historian?

For a hobbyist my depth and breadth of Star Trek knowledge is fairly extensive.  I have collected and read many hundreds of Star Trek related books and have actively participated in many online Star Trek boards and forums.  Being considered an historian in a field, though, is usually determined by others and not self-proclaimed by the one holding the knowledge.  A few auction houses have tapped my brain for the Trek content when needing prop authentication or background/context for an item (or several).  Occasionally I have even been recruited as an off-the-books Star Trek consultant in the independent film industry.  It has been my honor and pleasure to meet with and have extensive conversations (even the occasional interview) with some who helped make, act in, or even save Star Trek.  In this regard I consider myself a very lucky fan that is occasionally used as one would use an historian.

6. What is your favorite prop or costume from Star Trek?

My favorite prop from Star Trek is the hero Communicator (there were two of them) in the original Star Trek – the ones with the stop watch inside that made the moiré spin.  A boring answer from a life-long fan but there it is.  As a side note I have been collecting exacting replicas of the various Starfleet Communicators used by William Shatner as Kirk from every relevant incarnation of Trek.  One of those props, which is still in kit form in my collection, was partially re-designed at William Shatner’s request – the Communicator from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  The other Communicators in this sub-collection are the classic flip-open comms from TOS, the similar comm from The Animated Series, the white wrist comm from The Motion Picture, the clunky aluminum box comm from The Wrath of Khan, the black wrist comm from The Wrath of Khan, and the sleek redesigned flip comm from The Search for Spock.

Among my favorite screen-used props that are in my collection are four Tribbles from the TOS episode ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’.

7. What is in your opinion the best Trek movie to-date and which is the best television, aside from The Original Series?

‘Best’ can be such a loaded word.  Even the Academy Awards has a ‘best’ for so many varying aspects of a movie.  For Star Trek my first inclination is to substitute the word ‘authentic’ when asked to name a best.  In my opinion the most authentic feature film from the franchise is Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The movie likely has as many or more flaws as those that came after but the vision behind the film and the realization of that vision is (again, in my opinion) the truest-to-Star-Trek story telling that has ever reached the silver screen.

My pick for best/authentic Star Trek television series, aside from TOS, is another left-field choice according to many in the core fandom – Star Trek: Voyager.  The premise of the show, more so than the casting, writing, acting, etc., is what hooked me.  The mettle of a lone Starfleet Captain and ship’s crew is tested year after year while out of contact with their command support after having been flung tens of thousands of light years away from home and family.  Keeping true to the optimistic future of the original Trek this crew maintains their values and collective honor and dignity (along with the occasional slip for dramatic and action purposes) and do not devolve into a post-apocalyptic band of rogues and mercenaries as seen in so many science fiction incarnations.  They keep the faith and mission even when there is no one around to police their actions.

8. What do you think of the Trek film franchise reboot, or a.k.a. the alternate timeline?

As mentioned in an earlier answer each of the Trek films have their flaws, some more than others.  The reboot in the alternate timeline has a number of changes to Star Trek canon that exist before the time-altering events in the story.  Additionally, the reboot films have, in my opinion, many glaring problems with the stories themselves.  In terms of Trek I prefer to think of these films taking place not just in an alternate Trek timeline but in an alternate Trek universe.  I can enjoy those films as shoot-em-up action sci-fi/fantasy but not as true Star Trek.  A few of the props, however, are a different story.  The curvy, white, Medical Tricorder that appeared in the first reboot film was so impressive to me that I acquired the one and only screen-used example of it to come to auction, via J.J. Abrams, during the Roddenberry sale through Julien’s Auctions.  Fortunately the reboot films are bringing a whole new generation of fans to Star Trek and some have developed a love for the original timeline Trek incarnations.

9. Are you looking forward to Star Trek: Discovery?

I am looking forward to seeing how Star Trek: Discovery pans out as a series.  It is a given that production values will be high with great cinematography, quality writing, and good or better acting.

The series is set in the original Star Trek timeline/universe which is what the core Trek fans wanted.  However, the series is a prequel to TOS not unlike the series Star Trek: Enterprise.  This presents a slew of challenges that are not present in a sequel series.  How do you make the sets and costumes appeal to a contemporary audience and still seem as though they exist prior to the 1960’s Star Trek?  How do you tell exciting and new stories, with new characters and races, and current sensibilities, without stumbling over the plethora of canonical details scattered in the path of a prequel setting?

Did the studio bite off more Star Trek than they can chew?  I have no idea, but I look forward to… discovering how they handle it.

10. Who is your favorite Trek character? And why?

It would be easier to answer a favorite Trek character question if the parameters excluded The Original Series.  With no such parameters I have two answers.

In TOS it is the character of Spock that is my favorite character.  My earliest memories of television (other than Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and The Electric Company) were watching re-runs of Star Trek.  Growing up with the Star Trek: TOS characters led to reading Star Trek novels at a young age.  By the time I was a teen I knew our beloved Trek characters as well or better than the people I knew in the solid world.  Spock’s struggle to control his emotional nature and live up to the Vulcan and logical side of his heritage was a powerful example to a six foot, baritone-voiced, 13 year old boy in junior high school.  Yes, I am one of those fans who identified strongly with a Trek character during his crucial formative years.

As an adult, though, a new ‘favorite’ character emerged for me in a later incarnation of Trek – the holographic Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager.  The Doctor’s story arc and character development is, to me, one of the best to watch in all of Star Trek canon.  His take on humanity, his desire to become a part of it, and his inexplicable growth beyond the sum of his programming makes for exceptional Trek viewing.  As an actor, Robert Picardo knocked it out of the park with his portrayal of the Doctor.  At the risk of alienating other Star Trek fans I will go so far as stating that the journey of the Doctor further perfects and surpasses a similar journey taken by Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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