Last week, we met AARON VANDERKLEY, the Australian filmmaker behind the two excellent Trek fan films, NEEDS OF THE MANY and THE DERELICT. After graduating with a Bachelor of Media degree, majoring in Screen Production, with minors in both Scriptwriting and Screen Acting, the 24-year-old Aaron went on to do film production professionally in Western Australia.
As I did in Part 1 of this interview—to avoid you folks inadvertently reading any spoilers—I heartily recommend that you watch the two fan films first (last week, about a thousand people did so) and then read the interview:
And now, let’s conclude an awesome interview with Aaron Vanderkley…
JONATHAN – Once you completed and posted The Needs of the Many, what kind of reaction did you get from fans?
AARON – To say I was “very nervous” posting Needs of the Many would be a huge understatement. Having followed and enjoyed the Star Trek fan film community for years, I was also aware just how critical fandom could be. I joined a forum where people’s work was often ripped to shreds by viewers and other productions alike. So when I hit “Post Thread,” I shut down my computer so fast and said a little prayer. Having seen the likes of Star Trek Continues, which I love, I was absolutely feeling the pressure. I had no budget, no special effects, no crowdfunding—just two characters and a story about how unfair life can be.
Surprisingly enough, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback…and I mean OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE! Fans seemed so impressed that I was able to tell a powerful story with limited production elements and within a limited space of time. And at a time when the fan film community was on shaky grounds, Needs of the Many was being seen and recognised as the type of production one could do within the new fan film guidelines, which were made available months after the film was released.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Matt Miller of Trekzone.org about Needs of the Many, which was awesome and really made me feel proud that I had produced something which had a far greater appeal than I had originally expected.
JONATHAN – Needs of the Many won TWO Independent Star Trek Film Awards (now called the “Bjos”) at Treklanta last May: Best Lead Actor and Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. In those two categories, you actually beat out such notable competition as Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: Horizon. Did you expect to do that well when you entered?
AARON – I wasn’t the one who entered! It was the day after I started drafting The Derelict that I received an email saying that we had won two awards at the Independent Star Trek Fan Film Awards at Treklanta, which a) I didn’t even know we were nominated for, and b) didn’t even know existed before that moment. I called Harriet [Harriet Fettis won for Best Lead Actor -Jonathan] straight away, and we had a good old laugh about just how absolutely barmy life sometimes is. I’m still extremely proud about Needs of the Many and I’m so pleased that people enjoyed it.
JONATHAN – You just mentioned that you got the e-mail about winning the award the day after you started drafting The Derelict. So what led to your decision to write a second Trek fan film?
AARON – After Needs of the Many, I really had no intention of doing another Star Trek film—and if I did, it certainly would not have been any sort of sequel or continuation of that story…guidelines or otherwise.
There were a number of factors that actually led to The Derelict. Firstly, I was working on a pirate script for a very talented actor friend of mine. She was supposed to be this pirate queen who was pillaging ships at sea, and would meet her fate at the hands of a very disturbed stowaway—sound familiar? [I hope you all watched both fan films before reading this! -Jonathan] But every time I wrote it, it kept veering back to this Star Trek style story which was ironic because Needs of the Many was the complete opposite. So I scrapped it.
Next, I was working on a Doctor Who spin-off web series called Sarah Jane Investigates. We intended to launch a Kickstarter campaign for $5,000 to help produce six 20-minute stories set in the 1980s and following Doctor Who’s most popular companion, Sarah Jane Smith.
JONATHAN – She was my first companion: “The Brain of Morbius.” Excellent choice!
AARON – Despite positive reception, as soon as the Kickstarter was launched, the trolls came out and tried to cause me a little grief with the BBC.
JONATHAN – There are fan film trolls for DOCTOR WHO, too??? I thought it was just Axanar! Go figure…
AARON – Unluckily for them, though, I had a good relationship with BBC Worldwide from a previous venture, so that was cleared up extremely quickly. But it left me with a sour taste in my mouth, so I decided to pull the Kickstarter and put the entire project on a shelf.
JONATHAN – Aw, that’s really too bad. So what brought you back to wanting to make fan films again?
AARON – Well, working as a freelance filmmaker on the west coast of Australia means that the work you often get is client-based promotional content or event videography. And I increasingly found that clients were completely oblivious to the work and effort that goes into producing media based content, and they certainly weren’t interested in paying on time! As someone who is running a small business, whether I eat or not at night is dependent on being paid for the work I do, and that is very frustrating. So I wanted to turn filmmaking back into a hobby rather than a job.
JONATHAN – Gotcha. So tell us a little about your creative process in writing The Derelict. It’s a VERY dark and, some would say, un-Trek-like Star Trek fan film. How did you go about conceiving and polishing the eerie story?
AARON – My original intention was to produce a full-on horror story, but that aspiration only survived up until the first draft of The Derelict. It was quickly pointed out to me during the initial script edit that, beyond the horror tropes—like darkness, suspense, blood & gore, and violence—that there was very little substance within the story. So it became very clear to me that I could either write a horror story or a Star Trek story with an actual point to it, but not both within the space of about ten minutes.
As such, the first draft is worlds apart from the completed film. For example, Fletcher would have been tied up AND gagged for the second half of The Derelict. This meant that her entire conversation with Rag & Bone Man was a monologue, with really tight close-ups on her eyes for reaction. When Rag & Bone Man walked into the room for the first time to see Fletcher, he would’ve stuck the severed head of O’Dell on a pipe for her to panic at the sight of. But this was simply was gore for the sake of gore.
So the focus shifted more to the exploration of Fletcher’s handling of the Rag & Bone Man, and actually, the direction we wanted to take this only became clear to me when I was working one-on-one with Jess during the audition workshop. We have a character who is so determined to rescue someone, and she encounters an individual who doesn’t want to be saved.
Flecther’s handing of that situation was the most tricky thing about The Derelict because the Rag & Bone Man is not a traditional villain. He’s not a crazy killer for the sake of it. He’s someone who is mentally ill. He’s a man who lost his entire life and is really angry about it. He’s damaged and unreasonable, and to have Fletcher yell at him or shoot him would have sent the wrong message about dealing with mental illness. Fletcher never raises her voice, she is always calm and reasonable, and she always listens to what the Rag & Bone Man has to say. She is always hanging out for an opportunity to end this situation peacefully, and the Rag & Bone Man is aware of this and, in turn, finds it more frustrating.
Fletcher only makes the drastic choice to take him out when she is made aware of his plans to kill more people, and she just happens to be the first in line to do that.
JONATHAN – Your second episode was also twice as long as your first…and with more camera movement and action. What new challenges presented themselves with The Derelict that you didn’t run into with Needs of the Many?
AARON – Time was the biggest factor working against us with The Derelict because we were shooting the same amount of days as the previous one and the script was about 3 or 4 pages longer. Having not done a drama film in a while, I completely underestimated the scheduling, and there are instances which I am aware of, and hopefully no one else is, where this is visible on screen.
But filmmaking is a high pressure industry, whether the clock is ticking and the money is running out or you’re concerned about inconveniencing others who have kindly donated their time. You need to be smart as a director to be able to get enough coverage you need to make the scene work in the edit.
JONATHAN – How long did The Derelict take to produce, including pre- and post-production?
AARON – From first draft to release date, The Derelict took four months to produce. The pre-production period was from May to July of 2017, with auditions taking place in June. Two days of shooting were scheduled for the end of July, and the post-production phase lasted all the way through August to the early September release.
JONATHAN – How did you fund these two fan films? Did you take in donations or pay out of pocket?
AARON – Both Needs of the Many and The Derelict were funded entirely out of my own pocket. I haven’t actually done a final costing yet, but I would say that together both films cost just under $5,000 AUD to produce. [That’s about $3,800 in US dollars. – Jonathan]
I think it’s important to note however, especially when it comes to fan films, that when someone says “no budget,” it doesn’t always mean “cheap.” If anything, having no budget teaches you to be resourceful… in storytelling and in production design.
JONATHAN – The one thing noticeably missing from both of your fan films was any kind of establishing VFX shot of the space vessels on which the action was happening. Was that a conscious decision to leave those kinds of shots completely out, or did you simply not have access to a willing CGI artist?
AARON – Certainly the reason why there are no establishing VFX shots in either of the films was because I didn’t have the resources available to me to achieve them in an acceptable manner. For Needs of the Many, it never crossed my mind. For The Derelict, it did, but my feelings were that I’d either have a very poor VFX shot OR an extremely high quality VFX shot didn’t match the quality of the live-action material…however they would turn out. Either way, the lack of resources meant I had to be creative about establishing setting. That led to the transmission on the monitor screen at the start, and the docking sequence sound effects over the title card.
That said, however, if there are any amazing VFX artists who would be willing to donate their time and talents to produce some establishing visuals for future productions, please contact me at: www.facebook.com/avfilmmaker as we would love to have you on board.
JONATHAN – Hopefully, someone reading this will contact you and offer to produce some quality VFX shots for you. I’d love to see them added to your films!
AARON – Me, too!
JONATHAN – And that brings us to my final question: what’s next? Do you plan to do more Trek fan films? If so, will they continue to be in the same time period? And when do you expect to have your next production completed for us fans to enjoy?
AARON – I don’t want to say too much, especially if it doesn’t happen, but the plan is to do another three Enterprise-era short films as part of an anthology series, currently titled “Star Trek: These Are the Voyages.” Each story will still be entirely separate from the previous one, but there is an overarching element present in each short film (including the ones already released) that hopefully no one has picked up on yet.
So, for the moment, expect at least one more short film, Good Men, to be released hopefully by the end of 2017…and then we will see what happens after that.
JONATHAN – Awesome! I can’t wait! Good luck, and thanks for a great interview.
AARON – Thank you so much for featuring our project on your site.