Last time, we began chatting with BENNY HALL, who seemed to have come out of nowhere to release a $50,000 Star Trek fan film shot at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, GA, as well as at the iconic Vasquez Rocks in Southern California. That money was NOT crowd-funded, by the way. Benny paid it out of pocket…and thereby was he able to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. And isn’t that what fan films are all about: living our dreams?
Benny was accompanied on his journey—his trek, if you will—by some veterans of the much-loved fan series STAR TREK CONTINUES, including VIC MIGNOGNA, LISA HANSELL, TIM VITTETOE, and ADRIENNE WILKINSON…as well as some friends, volunteers, and a few industry professionals (and one very convincing Mugato!).
The result was an impressive production made even more so by the fact that Benny had not previously been involved with the creation of any Star Trek fan film before…
When the film was completed, and before it was released onto YouTube, Benny held a private screening at a theater in Los Angeles, inviting cast and crew and special guests to view the film on a big screen. (And yes, the fan film guidelines don’t forbid that…as long as no admission fee is charged.) He is already working hard to crowd-fund his second $50,000 Star Trek project (this time he is asking for donations), but more on that later.
When last we left off, Benny was discussing filming the Mugato scenes at Vasquez Rocks. And that led to the following question from me…
JONATHAN – So what was it like shooting at Vasquez Rocks? Did your permit have a time-limit? How hot was it inside that Mugato costume?
BENNY – Shooting there was a dream come true. I got to run around playing Captain Kirk like six-year-old me did on the playground. The permit to shoot at Vasquez was for only one day. We got there at 7am and quickly set up. My only disappointment was that it had been clear blue sky all week, and then it was all clouds for our shoot. I thought about swapping out the sky in post production, but it was way too expensive.
The shoot lasted 12 hours. GEORGE HERAS, our Mugato, deserves a Starfleet Medal of Honor. It was hot in the costume, even with the cooler day. On top of that, it was hard for him to see and hear.
JONATHAN – And what was it like shooting on the TOS sets at Neutral Zone Studios?
BENNY – The shoots were truly some of the best moments in my life. I remember first walking onto the TOS sets in Georgia and feeling goosebumps. The sets are attached to each other, so when you walk down the corridor, you can turn and enter the transporter room or sickbay, and you feel like it’s real.
As an actor, I felt like all the training and plays I did were preparing me for this moment. As the writer, it felt so satisfying to hear the actors say certain lines and see it all play out. Sometimes, we changed lines because we found it flowed better or we had to cut lines for time, but the heart of what I wanted to say about getting older and it not being too late to take the road not taken didn’t change.
JONATHAN – How long did post-production take?
BENNY – We shot in Georgia the first week in October. Post started the minute we got back. It lasted about two months, and we only finished 24 hours before it had to be sent to Landmark Theaters to prep for our premiere.
JONATHAN – I definitely want to talk about that premiere! But first, I’m curious about how involved were you in overseeing editing and VFX and sound-mixing, music, etc.? Some fan filmmakers are very hands-on with every aspect of post-production. Others just hand things off and trust their post-production team to get the final film across the finish line.
BENNY – As the executive producer, I approved everything. Tomy [Durant, the director -Jonathan] would send me edits as each scene was rough cut, and I’d give him my notes. He’s so good at editing that the notes weren’t many.
Once we had a final cut, I sent the film to Vic [Mignogna -Jonathan] for music. Vic is a master musician in his own right, but he also knows TOS music better than anyone. RALPH MILLER, who also worked on STAR TREK CONTINUES, did the sound-mixing and gave the film that authentic TOS sound. MASAN YI headed up my VFX team. I wanted to go outside the borders of TOS visual effects to give the film a more modern feel. That’s why our beaming looks more like Star Trek: Discovery than TOS. Most of the ship shots were done using my Master Replicas Studio Scale model. I know a lot of Trek fan films use CGI, but for my first film, I wanted to go old school and use practical model work like they did back on the original show.
JONATHAN – You’ve stated publicly that you spent upwards of $50,000 of your own money making this fan film. Were you surprised it cost that much?
BENNY – I knew films were expensive to make. I’ve created and worked on budgets as part of my day job. However, for a 15-minute fan film, I thought I could make it for so much less. I had friends donating their time, and that certainly helped. Originally, I was budgeting for $15-20K. That was going to be my max. Then at some point I realized I don’t own a visual effects company. Haha. VFX is very expensive if you don’t know how to make the magic yourself.
I don’t have any regrets on spending my own money on this film. I believe you have to be able to show proof of what you can accomplish using your own money before you can ask others to help pay for your passion. Hopefully, people will watch my film and want to contribute to the next one.
JONATHAN – Absolutely! I’m going to be certain to ask you about your your current crowd-funding campaign at the very end and include a link to it. But first, I want to ask you about your red carpet premiere. That’s certainly unusual in the world of fan films!
BENNY – Well, if I was going to completely fulfill my dream, that meant seeing the film on the big screen! Once I knew we had something special, I wanted to thank my cast and crew for all their hard work. It was an amazing night! If you go to our Facebook page for Let Old Wrinkles Come, you can see all the photos from the night. Everyone dressed like they were attending the Oscars, and for me, it truly felt like it. I will never forget sitting in the audience and hearing the crowd laugh and cheer at the right moments during the film. I was very grateful people enjoyed it. It was the finale of a process I had started with only an idea 14 months prior.
JONATHAN – So let’s say some fan filmmaker out there wants to do a red carpet premiere for their production. How did you set it up, and how much did it cost you?
BENNY – First piece of advice if a filmmaker wants to rent a theater: don’t use AMC. I spent 8 weeks getting bumped around from theater to theater. It almost cost me the premiere!
Our premiere was at Landmark Theaters at the Westside Pavilion. A real movie theater! They were so accommodating and made the process easy and stress free. You start by going to their website and filling out the form to rent a venue. You tell them your preferred date, seats needed, length of film, etc. The price depends on the day, time, and size you need. I paid $2500, and that got me 3 hours prime time on a Monday. You need to provide Landmark with your film in a DCP file format at least 48 hours before the event. That gives them time to make sure there are no problems with ingesting the film into their system.
The theater seated 100. We had 70 people show. It was of course free for people to come. I invited cast and crew and any guests they wanted first. I then opened it up to followers of our FB fan page, so it’s good to like the page for my next project, TEARS OF J’KAH, to get it on the action for next time.
For the red carpet services, I hired Red Carpet Connections here in LA. I paid $350, which included an 8’ x 10’ step-and-repeat banner customized with our two production companies, Greater Earth Media and Hallographic Pictures, on it as well as our film title. It also included the red carpet, lighting and set up. I also hired a professional photographer for all photos.
Landmark also provided director chairs and microphones so we could have a panel after the screening. Vic, Lisa, and Cinthya joined me for that. The audience had great questions, and it felt so good connecting with them. Afterwards, we screened the film again.
JONATHAN – Although fan reaction to your film has been very positive, an intriguing criticism seems to be popping up about Kirk hitting on a female member of his crew. While I don’t want to minimize the #MeToo movement, I have to acknowledge that TOS had its fair share of HR disasters-waiting-to-happen with Kirk and his female underlings—including Yeoman Rand (“No beach to walk on…”), Helen Noel (“I’ve always loved you, Helen…”), and Marlena Moreau (“I think we could become…friends”), to name but a few! But the 1960s were a different time with different values and different cultural sensitivities than present day. What’s your take on this criticism by some fans to your story?
BENNY – You know, I totally get that, and I respect that. I was very aware of that being an issue when I wrote the script. Part of that plot point was 1960’s homage, and part of it was trying to convey that, even though Kirk is the captain, he sees Almeida as his equal. She’s a very strong woman. She’s intelligent. She’s not defined by her beauty. That’s why I gave her such a strong part to play in saving the ship. CINTHYA BRASIL did a fantastic job playing Almeida. She’s such a talented actor and one of my best friends.
JONATHAN – Okay, let’s wrap up by discussing your next fan film: Tears of J’Kah. Now, I have to admit that I raised one Vulcan eyebrow when I saw that your Indiegogo goal was $50,000 (although it’s “flexible,” meaning you get to keep what you raise regardless of whether or not you reach that goal). And you’re already (as I type this) more than 20% of the way there. However, even the most successful Star Trek fan film crowd-funders of the past four years haven’t managed to get even halfway to that final amount. Is that a concern for you?
BENNY – Luckily, we shoot the next film in March and then in May. So we have some time to raise money. It’s my first time crowd funding, so I’m learning as I go. I know $50K is very ambitious. I will continue to spend my own money, but anything helps. In the Indiegogo campaign, we have some different tiers for people that contribute…including some props from Let Old Wrinkles Come. No matter what happens with the crowd funding, this film will get made. The studio is booked, and my actors and crew are already onboard.
JONATHAN -Well, that’s good to hear! So give us the “pitch”—what will Tears of J’Kah be about, and why should fans donate to see it made?
BENNY – Tears of J’Kah is a new story, not a direct sequel to LOWC. It promises to raise the bar on what we accomplished on the last film. Like Star Trek has done many times, this story echoes our current times. It deals with diversity and what some will do to prevent diversity from happening.
We have a new alien planet that will be shot on the Oregon Coast. We will get to see a Starfleet shuttlecraft in action. Lt. Almeida will be back, and we just booked our Mr.Spock! And…what else? Oh…ROMULANS! So our make-up effects will need a bigger part of the budget. Hopefully, people will contribute at Indiegogo and join us on this new adventure:
JONATHAN – Best of luck with Tears of J’Kah, Benny. And congratulations on a very impressive arrival into the world of Star Trek fan film-making!