Ticonderoga, New York (CNN)The beginnings of “Star Trek: New Voyages” can be traced to 1985, when James Cawley was a teenager. A big “Star Trek” fan, Cawley wanted an authentic uniform, so he decided to try to get one made by the costume designer from the original 1960’s show.
“One afternoon I called information, dialed the operator, got the Paramount number and asked for the costume designer,” Cawley remembers. “And he answered the phone!”
William Ware Theiss and Cawley hit it off instantly. It was the beginning of a friendship that boldly sent Cawley deeper into the “Star Trek” universe than any fan has gone before. Soon after the call, the men met in Los Angeles, where Theiss gave Cawley patterns and fabric samples to help him make his own authentic “Star Trek” uniform.
“He was a very sweet guy,” Cawley says. “I think he saw in me … a teenager that was very driven, and very interested in what he had created.”
Cawley maintained his friendship with Theiss as he built his life and career. His day job? Elvis impersonator.
“For 26 years I have been on stage,” Cawley says. “I’m not the guy that would marry you in the chapel in Vegas, but I’m the guy that has an orchestra and plays in casinos.”
When Theiss died in 1992 he gave Cawley a special gift: the blueprints to the sets of the original “Star Trek” show.
Rather than hold on to the piece of memorabilia, Cawley decided he would recreate the sets, starting with the famous bridge of the Starship Enterprise. In between his Elvis gigs in the late ’90s, Cawley began building the bridge with his grandfather. They missed no detail, down to the color of buttons and the style of the chair used by Capt. Kirk.
“I always wanted to play Capt. Kirk,” he says.
In the early episodes of “Star Trek: New Voyages,” he led the Starship Enterprise. His friends, who were also big fans, filled in the other roles. They brought in their own cameras to film and wrote original scripts. The first episode was released in 2003, before there was Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook. Cawley and his friends posted the episodes to their website.
“The Internet was in its infancy when we started,” Cawley says. As video sharing sites grew, they “really opened the doors a lot to more people getting involved.”
Today around 200 people volunteer their time to produce each episode of “Star Trek: New Voyages.” The show is filmed in an old dollar store in Ticonderoga, New York. Each show takes about four to six months to produce, and costs about $50,000, all donated by fans. People have come from all 50 states and as far as Germany and Australia to give their time, money and passion to the show.
“Each time we film an episode we get better,” Cawley says.
Almost the entire set of the original show has been recreated and there are 11 episodes of “Star Trek: New Voyages” available online. Professional actors fly in to play Capt. Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise. The most popular episode has 60 million views.
Among the early viewers were some lawyers at Paramount; the show’s success earned Cawley another call with the production studio in 2003.
“‘Let us sort this out’ was the way they said it, and for a week we were unglued,” Cawley remembers. “They called us back and said, ‘We have looked at what you are doing, and we get it. Just don’t make any money. Have a good time, and we are going to look the other way.'”
When Cawley talks about the future of the show, he gets emotional.
“I never thought we would be able to pull it off,” he says. “For me, it’s about ‘How do I maintain it? How do I keep it going?’ I think a big piece of me would die if it were to go away.”
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