Part 1: The Auction
To say that everything came together for me in this experience would be like saying everything came together for Matt Jeffries when he was designing the original drawings of the Enterprise in the 1960s. The entire experience was truly a dream come true and I could not have scripted it any better myself.
It all began in May of 2004 when I noticed an auction was being staged for a walk-on role on Star Trek: Enterprise. It had been a dream of mine since I was kid in the 1970s watching the original series in syndication to somehow be in an episode of Star Trek.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, when The Next Generation crew took over, I can specifically remember thinking how incredible it would be to just spend one day on set and just be one of those guys standing around in the background pushing buttons. It was a dream that would assuredly never be reality.
So when I heard about this charity auction being staged by Robert Duncan McNeil, I was immediately intrigued. I’m a professional who had worked hard to save a little money, so I figured I would track the auction and see what happened.
Early on there was very little action in terms of bids. I figured at some point it would pick up, but as the auction neared its final 72 hours, it was still at a number low enough that I was now officially interested. I knew that if it stayed in that ballpark territory, I could afford it. On the last day of the auction I bunkered down to see if my dream could become reality.
It was a Friday afternoon and the auction was ending at 5:30 p.m. in the evening. With about 30 minutes to go, and my office empty save for one co-worker, I sat down at my computer and submitted my first bid. By this time, the bid numbers had risen a bit (it only made sense), but it was still within my target range.
(And while I’ve never told anyone exactly what the price of my winning bid was, I will say that it basically is what you would pay for a nice two-week, first class vacation somewhere. Guess what?!? This experience was way better and more valuable than a nice two-week vacation to Europe or the Caribbean!)
Anyway, my bid was quickly surpassed by another bidder. With 15 minutes to go, I placed another bid. Boom. It was surpassed again immediately. I now had the feeling there was one other person out there with their eyes set on the same prize. We went back and forth a couple of more times like that, and the bid was creeping up exponentially.
About three minutes before the deadline I made one last bid and decided that if I was passed following that, I would drop out. After hitting submit on that final bid, I watched as the countdown clock ticked toward the deadline. I could barely breathe. And then, the screen flashed and a new image appeared, saying: “You are the winner of this Ultimate Bid auction.”
Wow. I’d won. I was going to be appearing as an extra in Star Trek.
My excitement that night was tempered by my knowledge of the entertainment industry and television production. The truth is that I was basically only guaranteed spending some time on the sets of Star Trek in some kind of uniform or costume (something I fully understood and would be fine with). There was every chance that I would be way in the background of one little scene, where you maybe saw the back of my boot, or worse, you didn’t see me at all.
I knew this going in, so I immediately set my plan in motion in corresponding with my contact at Paramount, to make sure they knew I could fit the part of anything they might have to offer (and that I wasn’t a social misfit lighting up the message boards from my mother’s basement!).
They asked for photos and my available schedule, which I provided in great detail while trying to be as professional as possible in all my correspondence. Eventually, as Season Four of Enterprise began filming, a production assistant called to offer me a role as a background alien in a slave market scene.
Intriguing! Appearing as a Michael Westmore alien had never occurred to me as an option. From the get-go I had prioritized my appearance wish list as follows:
Appear on the Enterprise ship in one of the main sets (the bridge, engineering, etc.).
Appear as a Starfleet officer in uniform.
Have the episode be directed by a former cast member or Star Trek legend (like David Livingston or someone).
I had done enough research to know that the scene they were referencing would take part in a series of episodes featuring Brent Spiner. That was definitely intriguing, but ultimately I told the studio that I was busy traveling for work on those days (which was mostly true). I had made the decision to go for whatever was behind Door Number Two!
A couple of weeks later, the same P.A. called me in my office and said nonchalantly, “So, we need someone this week to appear…uh...yeah, I guess you would be on the bridge at the tactical station firing the phasers?”
WHOOMP. The air rushed out of my office and I literally almost dropped the phone. I’m sure my response was close to inaudible as I grasped for breath and muttered in a high pitch voice: “Uh, huh. Tactical. Sure. Yah-huh, I can do there that. Yep.”
The P.A. relayed the details to me and after hanging up the phone I exploded with joy!!! This just might be happening. (Of course, deep down I also knew that I could show up on set that day and have all those plans changed, and I could be relegated to a background shot of my boot. This was always in the back of my mind. Guess that’s how I roll.)
Ironically, my set day was scheduled for September 24: my wife’s birthday. Fortunately, I knew no one would be happier for me, so we booked our flights from Chicago to Los Angeles to spend the weekend in L.A., where I would somehow, someway be appearing in an episode of Star Trek.