In Part 1, we began what will likely be our last-ever interview with Australian fan filmmaker extraordinaire AARON VANDERKLEY as he releases his fifth and final NX-era Star Trek fan film. The first four, NEEDS OF THE MANY, THE DERELICT, GOOD MEN, and THE FALL OF STARBASE ONE, came out beginning in early 2016, and none was longer than the 15-minute limit set by the fan film guidelines. In fact, the shortest was only 6 and a half minutes in length and was nevertheless a dramatic masterpiece—beautifully acted, tenderly directed, with amazingly accurate NX-era Starfleet uniforms and very ambitious sets. Aaron was the writer and director on each of these MUST-SEE fan films.
His latest offering LINE OF DUTY, is perhaps his most powerful fan film so far, and certainly the most ambitious. It’s garnered nearly 50K views on Youtube in just two weeks. Check it out…
After the debut of his first Trek fan film, Aaron’s intention was always to produce a total of five and then move on to other challenges. And so this is a bittersweet interview, celebrating his amazing portfolio of work and his latest fan film triumph while acknowledging that, sadly, this is all we’ll get. But we’re so thankful for these five amazing productions.
And now, the conclusion of our interview with Aaron. When we left off, he had just said that everything went perfectly smoothly with his latest project, no hiccups at all…
JONATHAN – Nothing went wrong at all? Nothing???
AAARON – This is a silly story, but the most challenging day for me was our location shooting day because I twisted my ankle. We were filming in a remote area, and people arriving to location got lost. So it delayed shooting for about an hour, and we had a lot to get done that day. I was running down an embankment, my foot slipped in a groove in the mud, and I was pretty much in pain for the rest of the day. It got to the point where I was piggybacked about 3km to and from our next location because I couldn’t walk. So that sucked, however the cast were amazingly supportive and we still got what we needed on-time.
JONATHAN – Yep, I knew something had to have gone wrong. So once everything was shot, how about post-production?
AARON – From there, the film was edited, graded and mixed, with the VFX provided by the amazing Samuel Cockings about a week before it was released.
JONATHAN – Ah, Samuel Cockings…the Kwisatz Haderach of Star Trek fan film visual effects! Truly, is there nothing that bloke can’t do??? (Americans are allowed to say “bloke,” right?)
I’d like to discuss the bat’leth fight in the prison for a moment. That was pretty darn elaborate for a fan film! What went into the preparation for that sequence with your actors and camera crew?
AARON – Because Line of Duty explored the adventures of our hero character over the course of year and the circumstances that led to her resigning from Starfleet, I wanted to incorporate a few “stereotypical” Star Trek setups that served as background for her personal journey. These were a “time travel story” (which also included a little bit of the alternative WWII thing they love so much) and an “alien prison story” (which usually involves a character fighting for their lives and the survival of others).
When writing the script, I had a rough idea of how I wanted the fight sequence to go, so I made sure I allowed for the strikes in the dialogue. Once the bat’leths arrived, my Dad and I choreographed and filmed the sequence, which we then showed to the performers—Juliet and Ron—to practice on one of our rehearsal days.
JONATHAN – So you ordered bat’leths online? That must’ve been expensive. And do you and your dad have experience choreographing fight scenes?
AARON – The bat’leths were the licensed foam ones, but they were conveniently on sale for $100AUD around the time I needed them, so it wasn’t too much of a spend when compared to however much I spent on the rest of the film!
I studied acting, so I’ve been trained in stage combat/sword fighting, and my dad use to do…I think it was karate…so we had a pretty fair understanding of how to choreograph things like that—although never with something as unusual as a bat’leth! We also choreographed the fight scene in The Derelict between Fletcher and the “Rag-and-Bone Man” before he gets electrocuted…and another scene which we had to scrap for timing in The Fall of Starbase One between Mackenzie and a Romulan solider.
JONATHAN – How easy or difficult is it to choreograph a bat’leth fight?
AARON – As beautifully crafted as the bat’leth is, it actually seems quite an impractical weapon to choreograph a extended fight sequence for. There are only a few moves you can do with it and, realistically, it would be so dangerous that someone would probably be bleeding out very quickly within the first few strikes. Here’s a video of our first rehearsal…
JONATHAN – Wow, that was awesome to watch! I’m so glad you recorded that footage of the rehearsal.
AARON – Because we could only fit a partial (half) set in our studio space, we shot one side of the fight and then flipped everyone to shoot the other side. For ease and the nature of the scene, we shot handheld and there was a lot of movement (including the actors swapping sides), so it was a little confusing for us. But I think we managed to pull it off, and it was something different to do. The purpose was to show that however beaten our hero character was, she was still driven and determined. She relied on her limited knowledge of Klingon culture and was able to manipulate her fellow prisoner to save her friend.
JONATHAN – So you’ve now produced five excellent NX-era Star Trek fan films in just three and a half years. As a filmmaker, how have you grown/evolved during this time? What were you able to do in Line of Duty that you couldn’t do back in 2016 or 2017? What did these five films teach you?
AARON – Oh my goodness—where to begin. I’ve always believed that the best way to learn is by actually doing something. I learned more about filmmaking by being on-set than I ever did studying three years of university, so for me it has always been about developing skills. I have fostered my love for producing and directing. I realised that I actually enjoy putting projects together, so the fact that these five films managed to come together, I think, proved to me that I have a passion to make things happen. I found that I had a real interest in set building, which is something I never really considered valuable until Needs of the Many set it all in motion.
I certainly learned a great deal about scheduling and to pace myself. I always worry about wasting people’s time, but no one is ever going to enjoy themselves, least of all me, if we always have to rush about getting things done. I’ve become more aware of how to be a better director—how to balance the technical side and the acting side of things to make sure that everyone is given the attention they deserve.
I’ve gained a team of people who I’ve managed to work with on professional, paid work as well as these fun, side projects. I’ve also worked with so many wonderful actors and made so many friends along the way.
JONATHAN Speaking of your actors, they always put in such amazing performances. How much of that comes from them…and how much of it is your direction?
AARON – Well, I certainly think its helpful that I was an actor because I understand how actors think and the kind of nudge in the right direction that they sometimes need.
Someone like Will Leach auditioned for a music video. We didn’t cast him, but I remembered his face, and I wrote the role of Charlie with him in mind and asked him to submit an audition for it. He did a great job…wasn’t a hundred percent how I wanted it, but I could tell he was a good actor and with the right notes, would play the role exactly how I wanted it.
You have to admire the ability of screen actors. They often get little to no rehearsal time (we had two nights before shooting), and when they arrive on-set, the clock is ticking, and the technical side of things is given priority over blocking out their performance before the camera rolls. I think Juliet did a brilliant job in this role because we shot this story quite out of sequence. Uplifting scenes were often filmed before intense/serious scenes and vice versa. It’s a tough gig, but she did it well.
I have to say, I was pretty proud of the paring of Juliet and Will because they had a natural chemistry on-screen, and I really enjoyed watching them perform.
JONATHAN – Looking back at your body of Trek fan film work, is there anything that you regret doing or would go back and change if you could?
AARON – Not really. I mean, you always wish that you had more time to shoot or rehearse things because I (and, in some cases, I alone) can tell what was a bit of a rush job on screen.
I don’t think people quite got Good Men, which is a shame because we worked really hard on that script. It doesn’t paint Starfleet in the best light and focuses on the lives of ordinary people, which I thought would make it different, but it just didn’t seem to resonate. Most people were too caught up as to whether the main character was Bajoran or not and, if he was, why he was appearing outside of Deep Space Nine. They seem to have missed the point about Bajorans being one of the oldest space-faring species in the galaxy. Never mind.
JONATHAN – What will happen to your set pieces and costumes now that you’re moving on?
AARON – One of the big pushes to get this last film done was because I needed the storage space back, so most of the set pieces have ended up in the bin. A small number of items were disassembled and may be recycled for future non Star Trek work. As for the costumes, they are in storage. As you can imagine, I have developed quite a collection over the past few years, so I’ve created a little archive file to draw on for future reference.
JONATHAN – Darn, it’s such a shame that those wonderful set pieces wound up in the dumpster…you worked so hard! But I understand the need for clearing up space…space is the final frontier, after all. But at least you’re keeping those amazing NX-era uniforms.
So any second-thoughts about ending your Trek fan films here, or do you feel you’ve accomplished all you set out to do?
AARON – I feel very accomplished. I only set out to do one, and then the overwhelmingly positive reception to that encouraged me to plan another four, so I am very pleased that I stuck to my goal and produced five fan films. I like to think of it as my little contribution to Star Trek…how I see it and what it means to me.
There is always the temptation to do more, but then I think I would never do anything else. As I mentioned in a previous interview, I did consider looking into the Phase II era because it meant I would get to craft a specific look and design style. That’s what interests me. More recently, I was looking into what an Enterprise prequel would look like based on the episode “First Flight.”Again, the NASA-esque version of Starfleet in all its “Right Stuff, flight suit, and tennis shoes” glory is what interests to me.
JONATHAN – And finally, what does the future look like for Aaron Vanderkley?
AARON – At the moment, working as a content producer for a robotics company is what keeps me busy. I am always looking for freelance gigs or passion projects I can do in my spare time. I’ve been thinking about a retro 60’s inspired Dalek series for a while, so we’ll see where that goes. I guess I will go…where my heart will take me!
I also wanted to say a big thank you for your support over the past few years and for featuring these projects on your blog. It has certainly boosted their profile and shared them further, so that is much appreciated.
JONATHAN – Well, it’s been a pleasure here on my side of the globe, Aaron, watching your fan films and getting to discuss them with you. I wish you all the best in any future…er…enterprise your passions choose to pursue.
And now as a special bonus, and because most of these amazing set pieces are (sadly!) no longer with us, I present these photos of the various sets that were used for Line of Duty…