The instant message came in about 7:00 pm a week ago Sunday night. VANCE MAJOR, currently planning an early December release of about FORTY fan films running over ten hours total(!!!), needed a favor from me.
He first asked if I had an early DS9/Voyager-era Starfleet uniform. Of course I do! What kind of a nerdy Trekkie does he think I am??? Then he asked if I had a black turtleneck that I could wear under it instead of the usual blue-gray shirt. A little trickier, of course, but it turns out I also own a TNG 5th season Picard jacket with the shirt he wears under it…and that shirt has a high black turtleneck collar. So yes, I had exactly what Vance wanted.
Turns out Vance needed a quick scene for one of his upcoming CONSTAR CHRONICLES episodes. A friend of his had offered to film himself for the scene and send it to Vance a few weeks ago, but the friend didn’t come through, and Vance was running out of time. In fact, he asked if I could record the scene in the next day or two.
There wasn’t much dialog. Vance IM’d me the full scene…
(Camera is very shakey cam and in your face) Captain! Hiding all the quadlithium in the Romulan star had the exact effect you said it would. Multiple spacial rifts opening everywhere.... the chain reaction....This will be a Galactic extinction level event. The shockwaves are destroying everything in their path. Nothing will survive. (Puts his free hand over heart like mirror universe does) For the Phantom.
The idea was to have me dressed as a Mirror Universe commander, sending my final message to the evil Erick Minard (in the Mirror Universe, they pronounce it “MY-nard”) about his evil plan. In Vance’s films, the low-budget way to do 24th century Mirror Universe is to wear black turtlenecks under Voyager-era uniforms.
Wait a sec…did Vance say “shakey cam”?
I actually appeared previously in one of Vance’s Minard saga fan films. But that was using a camera set on a tripod. How was I going to do a camera SHAKE? I asked Vance if it was imperative that the camera move, and Vance said no. I could leave it on a tripod. He just needed to get the footage as soon as I could film it.
Vance also said that I could divide the lines into two separate segments, and he’d just insert some static in between. This was a relief, as I’m not really an actor, and there’s a lot of lines to deliver in one take without flubbing.
But I really wanted to find a way to do the camera shake. Maybe I could tie a string around one of the legs of my tripod and pull it back and forth as I delivered my lines. Then my mind imagined the tripod falling over and my expensive Panasonic Lumix camera shattering on the floor. So that wouldn’t work.
As I fed my son Jayden his dinner that night, an idea popped into my head. “Hey, Jayden,” I asked. “How would you like to help me film a scene for my friend’s fan film?” He quickly and enthusiastically said “yes.” Now, to be honest, the idea of a nine-year-old holding my expensive camera was only marginally less disquieting than pulling the string attached to the tripod leg. But Jayden promised to be extra careful, and he is getting more independent and capable lately. So I decided to go for it.
While Jayden took his shower, I looked for a place to film the scene. Now, Vance doesn’t demand a lot from his “sets.” Countless scenes for his fan films are shot in living rooms and dining rooms, on street corners, or in a yard of someone’s house. But think for a moment about your own home. Where could you film a scene where the background might look futuristic rather than something mundane?
In the end, I chose a spot in the master bedroom just outside the bathroom. I closed the door and sat in chair chair right in front of it. Not exactly 24th century, but not not too distractingly 21st century either.
In an attempt to make it look just a little less “ordinary,” I decided to change the lighting somewhat. Granted, my resources were limited, but our bedroom does have a dimmer switch. So I turned the lights down fairly low and placed a bedside table lamp on the floor next to Jayden. This lit me from below, which is unusual enough to give the scene a less “ordinary” feeling.
I changed into my uniform while Jayden got into his pajamas. When he came in, I set him up fairly close to me and (cringe!) gave him my camera.
For the next few minutes, we took some test videos, trying to figure out the best place for Jayden to stand and how much to zoom in. Then we went over how to shake the camera. You can’t shake it like a Polaroid picture or a bottle of ketchup. Even shaking the camera just a little can be too much. The shake had to be very, very subtle, and we spent a couple of minutes getting Jayden’s camera shake to be as gentle and subtle as possible.
Then came the moment for lights down, lamp on, and…action. Jayden held the camera, shaking it on the right cue, while I delivered the first half of my lines. We looked at the first take together–not bad. The shake was a little too much, the camera too low (cutting off the top of my head a bit) and perhaps just a smidgen too close. We tried again.
Better this time, but I’d flubbed a line. I said “temporal” instead of “spatial.” Okay, take three. Flubbed a line again. “Keep rolling Jayden, I’ll just try it again a few times.” Kudos to Jayden, he held that camera as long as his little arms could. But then it started getting too heavy, and we had to cut. He put the camera down and shook his arms to get the blood flowing again.
I was thinking of just getting the tripod, but no, Jayden said he wanted us to get it right, and he knew I could do it. (Bless his optimism!). And he said he was having fun. It took a few more tries, and a couple more breaks to rest his arms, but eventually I nailed the first half. We even had a couple of different good takes to choose from.
I was able to get through the second half more quickly and competently. Our challenge there was how to film the Mirror Universe salute at the end. We experimented with starting on a close-up and having Jayden take a step back just before I saluted. But after trying that a few times, it just wasn’t working. Jayden couldn’t take the step without tilting the camera or moving me slightly out of frame for a moment. I was asking too much from him, and I quickly realized that. I also realized it was nearly Jayden’s bedtime, and he was being such a trooper (a starship trooper?).
In the end, we just filmed the second segment as we had the first, with Jayden stationary and shaking the camera slightly…this time at the beginning instead of the middle and end. Less shaking was easier on his poor arms, which were getting tired. I delivered the lines as quickly and carefully as I could—way fewer flubs and retakes this time.
And then we were done…and JAYDEN LANE totally earned his name in the credits for this episode of The Constar Chronicles when it comes out in another six weeks. And at 9-years-old, unless there’s some other fan filmmaker out there who put his kid to work, I believe that Jayden now holds the record as youngest cameraman…er, camera BOY in the history of Star Trek fan films. Welcome to the community, Jayden!
Vance was very pleased with the footage I uploaded later that night. He’ll be adding in music and sound effects (rumbling for the shaking bits) and some static between the two segments for the finished fan film. With his permission, I’m including the full scene below so you can see what a FANtastic job my son did on his first gig. Way to go, Jayden…!