As Willy Wonka’s great glass Wonkavator soared over the countryside, the candy-maker looked into the face of the boy who would be inheriting his amazing factory. “But Charlie,” he said with great seriousness, “don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted…”
“What happened?” Charlie asked.
Willy smiled, “He lived happily ever after.”
That scene played out in my mind as I read over the answers that brand new Star Trek fan filmmaker BENNY HALL sent back to me. When everything else is stripped away, fan films are the chance we adults get to live out the fantasies we had as children. We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams. And Benny Hall is the very epitome of what fan films are all about. You’ll discover that as you read the heartfelt and uplifting interview below.
But first, a little about LET OLD WRINKLES COME, a 16-minute fan film shot both at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, GA as well as at the iconic Vasquez Rocks Park north of Los Angeles where Kirk fought the Gorn and Vulcan was destroyed by Nero. But this time, Kirk isn’t fighting a Gorn—he’s fighting a Mugato! Take a look…
The fan film has a real flavor of the 1960s TOS Star Trek, right down to Kirk putting the moves on a female crew member. I mention this because, what seemed totally normal five decades ago as Kirk regularly hit on crew women like Yeoman Rand, Dr. Helen Noel, and Lt. Marlena Moreau has been supplanted by the #MeToo movement. And while Let Old Wrinkles Comes has generally been getting very positive feedback, Kirk’s romantic overtures toward a female crew member in this fan film are stirring up a bit of controversy.
Another notable item is that Let Old Wrinkles Come marks the return of VIC MIGNOGNA to the credits of a Trek fan film for the first time since STAR TREK CONTINUES ended its 11-episode run in late 2017. And it wasn’t only Vic who returned. STC alumni LISA HANSELL and TIM VITTETOE (make-up) and Ralph Miller (sound-mixing) signed aboard, as well. So did ADRIENNE WILKINSON, who played Lexxa Singh in STAR TREK: RENEGADES as well as Edith Keeler in the fourth episode of STC, “The White Iris.”
Just before being posted to YouTube, Benny hosted a red carpet premiere of the film at a Los Angeles theater for the cast and crew and selected guests. And yes, there’s nothing in the fan film guidelines preventing that (as long as it’s a free screening). However, that’s still rare treatment for a Star Trek fan film, so I made certain to ask Benny about that later in the interview.
One last thing, Benny is currently crowd-funding his second fan film, TEARS OF J’KAH. His goal is an ambitious $50,000, but he’s already near $6,000. If you’d like to donate, please click below…
And now, let’s chat with Benny Hall…
JONATHAN – Welcome to Fan Film Factor, Benny!
BENNY – Thanks for this opportunity.
JONATHAN – So tell us little about yourself. Where were you born and raised? Where do you live now, and what do you do for a living?
BENNY – I was born in Portland, Oregon. I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon and Honolulu, Hawaii. I currently live in Los Angeles and have been here for the past 12 years. When I’m not playing Captain Kirk, I am the Chief Financial Officer for a TV production company. I have worked on many reality TV shows such as Wahlburgers, Lockup, Pitbulls & Parolees and Million Dollar Matchmaker.
JONATHAN – Ah, you’re an industry guy! So do you have any experience on the production side of things?
BENNY – I worked on the 2015 History Channel mini-series Texas Rising. That was my first experience in film production. Last year, the company I currently work for made its first film. I really enjoyed working on this project, as I got to see it from beginning to the end. It’s a revenge comedy. We just completed it, so hopefully you’ll see it sometime next year. It’s called F.U. Guys.
JONATHAN – I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it. So, Benny, you kinda came out of nowhere. What I mean by that is that I haven’t seen you listed in any Star Trek fan film credits before Let Old Wrinkles Come…and suddenly you’re swinging for the bleachers! How did you suddenly decide to get involved in producing Star Trek fan films?
BENNY – Yeah, I know, right? Haha. It has been my dream to play Captain Kirk since I first found Star Trek when I was six years old. My parents divorced when I was a baby, and I didn’t have a male role model as a child. So I would watch Star Trek each night and think of Captain Kirk as my dad. He taught me loyalty, friendship, bravery, and so much more.
Star Trek got me interested in acting. I did my first play when I was eight years old and ended up doing over 30 plays and musicals by the time I graduated from college. I always wanted to move to L.A. and become an actor. My family wanted me to get a degree and have a backup plan. Over time, that backup plan became the plan, and my dream of acting got sidelined for a long time.
When I finally moved to L.A. in 2007, I started acting again. I trained in the Meisner method at the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio. This training was intense, and it made me a better actor. Workwise, I started working at TV production companies. As I took on more responsibilities at work, I found I didn’t have time to continue acting and going to auditions. So I haven’t been acting for the past 10 years.
A year ago, I turned 50. I realized I was the same age William Shatner was when he made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I suddenly felt the urge to make that childhood dream come true before I was too old to play Kirk. I had never made my own film. The idea was exciting and terrifying at the same time.
I first went to my friend CINTHYA BRASIL with my idea to make a Trek fan film. She loved the idea and was in. So I wrote an original character for her: Lt. Adrianna Almeida. I have never written anything before, but I knew the Star Trek universe so well that the words and ideas came easily to me.
Producing was much harder. Usually at the large companies I’ve worked for, there is someone else who arranges for costumes to be made, props to be created, locations to be scouted, etc. For this film, I was the one wearing all those hats. It was very challenging at times, but I learned so much and loved every minute of it.
JONATHAN – It’s notable that, in addition to filming on the sets formerly used by Star Trek Continues, you also lured Vic Mignogna back to Trek fan films…along with other STC veterans like Lisa Hansell and Tim Vittetoe. How did you manage that? And how did you put your team together in general? Were they all friends, acquaintances, or did you have to look for people to do certain jobs…or all of the above?
BENNY – I truly believe that things happen for a reason. I met Vic and Lisa last May at a fan appreciation weekend hosted by Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, Georgia. They have recreated the original Trek sets there, and it is amazing! I encourage everyone to visit them. At the event, I got Lisa’s contact info because I wanted to hire her to create the look of one of the aliens in my film. We met up in L.A. and she introduced me to Tim, who is Lisa’s husband. They did an amazing job creating the prosthetics for our alien.
Then one day, Lisa emailed me that Vic heard I was going to be shooting on the Star Trek Continues sets, and that he was jealous. I already felt this film would be something special, but if I could get Vic involved, even more so. So we met up at the huge Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in August. I asked for him to join me on his adventure, and he graciously accepted.
With my work in production, I already knew many talented people in the industry. My director, TOMY DURANT, is an Emmy-winning editor and a good friend. Lisa introduced me to ADRIENNE WILKINSON, our actor that plays Lt. Olesya Volkov. Adrienne is an amazing actor and also worked on STC. The entire cast and crew became a family. Everyone brought their A-game, and I couldn’t have been happier with the work we did.
JONATHAN – How long did you spend in pre-production, and what did you and your team have to do to prepare for the shoot(s) on both coasts?
BENNY – Pre-production was five months before we shot at Vasquez Rocks last June. As many Star Trek fans know, that location has been used for myriad different planets in the Original Series as well as all the Trek productions since. It was difficult to get permission to shoot there, but it was worth it. Our film is one of the only Star Trek fan films to be shot at Vasquez Rocks. We then had more pre-production to get ready for the Georgia shoot. For both shoots, I hired a fight coordinator to choreograph the fights. We had long rehearsals for those fights. Cinthya and Adreinne worked tirelessly on the fight in Engineering.
JONATHAN – Did it cost you anything to film at Vasquez Rocks, or do they let anyone shoot there for free?
BENNY – Yes, it cost about $2,000 to film at Vasquez Rocks. You have to get permission from the park itself as well as the L.A. County Sheriff’s department. I rented an RV for our wardrobe, hair, and makeup trailer. I can’t thank Debbie at Vasquez Rocks enough for all her help.
JONATHAN – Okay, let’s talk about that amazing Mugato. I think you’re the first Trek fan film to ever feature one. And that costume was awesome! Did you have it custom-made for the shoot, or did you know someone who already had one and was willing to let you use it for stunts?
BENNY – The Mugato was a must! Everyone who heard we were filming at Vasquez asked if the Gorn would be in the film. While I love the Gorn, I wanted to do something more unexpected and exciting. The head was created by Immortal Masks. The face is silicone, which allows for facial movement. The body was a high-end yeti costume. I brought my friend ELIANA MULLINS onboard to create the head horn, tail, and spikes down the back. The hands that came with the yeti costume weren’t working, so Eliana found some Yoda hands and customized them.
JONATHAN – I love it! Long live the Mugato with the Yoda hands! So what was it like shooting at Vasquez Rocks? Did your permit have a time-limit? How hot was it inside that Mugato costume?
Next time, we conclude our interview with Benny as we shift our focus from Southern California to Southern Georgia to discuss what it’s like filming at Neutral Zone Studios. Then it’s back to Los Angeles for the big theatrical premiere. Just how does one go about setting up a red carpet screening for a Star Trek fan film? And finally, what’s next for Benny now that he’s completed his first fan production?