William Shatner Vs. Canada: How The Government Delayed Funding His Documentary

William Shatner had an easier time battling Klingons than getting money for his film, The Captains. Now that he’s got a hit documentary on his hands, he’s game to make more.

The Captains


Even Starfleet captains have to queue up for documentary funding.

The Canadian government kept William Shatner waiting two years before filmmaking grants came through for The Captains–his original documentary now streaming at Epix, an on-demand distributor from Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, and MGM Studios. In it, Shatner interviews fellow Star Trek captains–Patrick Stewart, James Avery, Scott Bakula, Kate Mulgrew, and Chris Pine–about their drive to act, ways they approached their roles, and how the iconic franchise impacted their lives.

“The making of The Captains was both a business and artistic venture,” Shatner tells Fast Company. “We tried to do this as reasonably as possible and the Canadian government made it very difficult. So grants should be very carefully examined by future filmmakers.”

Shatner and his business partner, Dave Zappone, plunked down their own money towards the million-plus budget in anticipation of Canadian investors and government grants kicking in. “Both were enormously slow, so that we were scrambling at all times for enough cash to pay our bills,” he adds. “It’s taken two years for the Canadian government to finally give us the grants they promised us in six months. Now that we’ve sold it to Canada and the U.S., we finally have our own money back. But it doesn’t bode well for someone who doesn’t have the cash to make their film.”

They were saved by Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier, which lent them a plane to shuttle them between three countries in exchange for Shatner making appearances on their behalf. “They gave it to us, because the CEO of Bombardier was an aeronautical engineer, because of Star Trek,” says Shatner. Sometimes being a Starfleet captain helps a little bit.

The Captains kicked off its promotional push at a boisterous panel at Comic-con, with a little help from Brooks, Bakula, and irreverent moderator Kevin Smith, and followed that with a nighttime screening at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Epix is also streaming another Shatner doc, the 2009 multi-award-winning William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet, an inside look at the making of a ballet set to the music of Shatner and Ben Folds from their 2004 album Has Been. “I financed it myself and it’s taken me three or four years to recoup, so you can see it’s an arduous business,” he says.


Shatner is hoping that worldwide sales of The Captains will generate enough funds to subsidize future documentaries, unrelated to Star Trek, through his production offices: Lovelake Productions in Los Angeles and the Marcil Gang Escapades in Toronto.

“We have a lot of ideas that we’re in the process of pitching and selling,” he says. “I’m intrigued by the making of documentaries, because of the nature of the storytelling. Because this has given me the benefits of ‘what would you like to do next?’, I want to be careful what to do next.”


About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.