When the global pandemic hit and the world began sheltering in place (at least in many countries), I wondered what effect the quarantining would have on Star Trek fan films. After all, most fan films involve multiple people interacting closely together. Even the distance between an actor and a camera person can’t always be six feet…and who wants to film a bridge crew who are all wearing masks? I mean, I suppose you could do a fan film that takes place entirely on board a Breen or Gorn vessel, but most races in Star Trek show their mouths and noses.
When I finally saw how one group of Trekkers from France solved that problem, their answer seemed so elegant (leave it to the French!) and so obvious that I just had to stand up and clap for their ingenuity and inspiration. At first, you don’t even realize it’s a Star Trek story, but then—well, rather than spoil it, just watch the short film first, and then read on. It’s only 7 minutes and entirely subtitled if you click on the “cc” button on the lower right corner…
The four fans were eager to talk about their efforts, and I was eager to interview my first fan filmmakers from the future homeland of Jean-Luc Picard! They’ve requested to use only their first names rather than their full names (is that a French thing, too?), and I’m fine with that. An interview’s an interview, I always say!
So e-mailed a bunch of questions to their show-runner, known as “THIERRY,” and he invited the other three friends—PAULINE, LÉONIE, and RÉMI—to respond to each question, as well, in a sort of round-robin. The result is a very fun and informative conversation that I think you’ll really enjoy.
JONATHAN – Tell us a little about yourselves. Where do you all live? What do you do for a living? How did you meet? And what did you do as fans before the quarantine hit?
THIERRY – I live in Lyon, and I’m a web developper. I met Rémi on a French Star Trek forum, and we were speaking with each other for quite a time. Then he asked for help on his podcast project, Star Trek pour les Nuls (“Star Trek for Dummies”). That’s how I began to know him on a more personal level.
I met Pauline on the web, too, and Léonie is a friend of Pauline whom I met when Pauline, I, and a few friends went to the pub l’Antre II Mondes (a Heavy Metal and Heroïc Fantasy themed pub in Dijon).
Before the quarantine hit, we never worked on a Star Trek project all together before. Rémi, Pauline, and I were participating in the aforementioned podcast. Pauline and I were in the Star Trek French Club doing cosplay at French cons and displaying our common Star Trek collectibles with other fan club members. And outside of Star Trek fandom, we were playing Elina and Rith, characters in the independent fantasy comedy French web series Zero Quest Burgundia. So this is the first time we’ve worked with Léonie on a Star Trek project (besides roleplaying on tabletop rpg).
As for myself, I was on the finish line of two fan-projects: A Klingon webcomic in the Kingon language and a Klingon fan fiction in both text and audio (in French).
LÉONIE – The pub! (Best pub in Dijon, if you ask me. You can meet cool people there) As a fan, I didn’t do much, but I wisely used the quarantine time to finish watching Voyager!
RÉMI – For my part, I am one of the rare Trekkies of the southwest of France. No kidding, there must be 10 of us. I’m a shoe salesman in a small paradisiacal village, and when I’m not selling shoes, I do podcasts in which my friends and I talk about a lot of things, including Star Trek (we even had the chance to interview Rich Handley!).
PAULINE – I live in Dijon (which is in the same region as the Picard family’s domain). I met Léonie during my college studies. I am a civil servant.
JONATHAN – When did you decide you wanted to make a fan film, and what inspired you?
THIERRY – First of all, I need to say that the idea of making a fan film would never have come to my mind if I wasn’t a fan film fan (it’s weird saying it like that). I often read your blog, Jonathan, you do a great work here. Watching fan films like Prelude to Axanar, Renegades, Horizon, Aurora, Starship Farragut, etc.—and following development of awesome projects like Squadron, Pacific 201, Axanar, Interlude and so on—it’s heavily motivating. I love everything. I love this diversity, these pure expressions of love for Star Trek.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, it made me want to be a small, modest part of this, and it made its way to my consciousness that night. I remember it quite well. It was in the night between the 4th and 5th of April, and I was suffering from insomnia. You know this kind of mindset: your brain can’t stop thinking, you’re being harassed by your own thoughts. I was pretty worried about my job and the financial crisis due to the pandemic and self-isolation measures.
Well, I don’t remember exactly what hour it was, but way past midnight. I did something stupid. Well, most of the time it is, in this kind of context: going to check social media on my phone. D’uh, you can’t sleep because your brain is stuck in a thought-loop, and so you go adding stuff into that already-too-big loop. Well, it’s not rational. *laugh*
But then I saw it: There were all of these “First Contact Day” greetings.
It gave me the idea of this fan film, a blur idea at the beginning, but it became the new loop, bringing insomnia to a whole new level! *laugh* After an hour or two, the idea was more precise, and I told myself: “If you don’t write this, you’re never gonna sleep.” So I did, I wrote the whole script and was finally able to fall asleep.
The next morning, I remembered writing it. I was kinda, “Oh, it was a stupid idea. I can’t believe it was looping like that in my head.” And I opened the file to read it again, just to make fun of myself. And it turned out that it wasn’t that bad. That’s when I decided to try to make it as a fan film.
LÉONIE – Don’t be so modest, it was a nice script!
RÉMI – +1
JONATHAN – So once you decided to create a Star Trek fan film, what happened next?
THIERRY – I sent the script to some of my Trekkie friends to ask them their thoughts about it and if they were interested in the project. And Pauline, Rémi, and Léonie where really enthusiastic about it. So during the afternoon, we set uip an online meeting, I explained to them in detail my vision of the project, asked them what characters they wanted to do, and discussed the script…renaming some characters, changing details, etc.
JONATHAN – How did you all prepare to record your parts? Did you work together first, or just record yourselves separately without any guidance from a director?
LÉONIE – We all recorded our part individually. For me, it was on my crappy phone in my basement with old ripped clothes and some leather stuff and seeds containers sewn on it. You can’t see at all on the video, and of course, my *beautiful* hair and make-up (I’m not THAT ugly, it took work)! *laugh*
We got to interpret freely how we saw our character and the way she lived in these dreadful times. I think that’s why each character has a different vibe. Mine is clearly depressed and very sensitive, whereas Pauline’s has been hardened by this world and has grown quite cold (which, I think now, makes more sense: you don’t survive in this kind of post-apocalytpic mess while crying your heart out all the time!)
I used to see Piquant as the main character (probably because he was Thierry’s character, and Thierry was the instigator of the project), but seeing the finished film, I don’t think it is that obvious. All of them have their own story, struggles, and personality. They are all important.
THIERRY – Since we all are LARP or Tabletop RPGs role-players, I was pretty confident in everyone’s ability to get into character and make it their own. So besides some stage directions written in the script (you know, we have a word for that in french: “didascalies”), I let them free. I explained to them what kind of background and costumes they needed to use, sending them some examples from my own costumes and some screen captures of First Contact and “Encounter at Farpoint.”
I’m very happy with the result. It’s better than my expectations. Léonie is hard with herself; her interpretation of the character made total sense to me. Nobody is strong all the time. Crinière is caught on a bad mood day, the accumulation of events worse than the usual horror (her brother’s dying, rats eating her food…). Plus, crying is in the script’s stage directions. So if it’s a bad idea, it’s mine.
I’m happy about what you’re saying about Piquant, Léonie. Even if he was meant to be played by myself from the beginning, I never wanted him to be a main character…nor any other character to be main. But I feared being biased about it.
PAULINE – I struggled to record my part because of the anxiety of the lockdown, so it took me a long time to do it. I used my smartphone, too (I don’t have any filming equipment) and sat behind my fridge in a little corner with my phone laying on a pile of books and a cardboard box.
JONATHAN – Once you had the footage of each other, who edited it together? Did you all discuss which takes were the best ones to use, or was that decision simply made by the director and/or editor?
LÉONIE – We especially discussed together the intro and the outro parts, but we left it to Thierry to take care of the filmed parts. (For me, I didn’t give him much anyway. I filmed it all in one go and didn’t make different interpretations for my part.)
THIERRY – Once I got all the footage, I did the editing. I made every choice myself at the beginning. But the actors and actresses helped me a lot in a way. You see, in their takes, they did most of lines several times and stopped when they were happy with themselves. And most of the time, I agreed with them that the last take was the best. The more difficult choices were my own lines. *laugh* After that, I sent a first draft to everyone asking their opinion. That’s when we discussed a lot about the intro and outro, and a lot of changes were made. At first, the intro was meant to be only a black screen.
RÉMI – I suggested to Thierry to rework the sound, since my second biggest passion after Star Trek is podcasting. Before editing, he sent me the rushes on which I smoothed and boosted the sound. By the way, if you listen carefully, you can hear birds at Thierry’s place! It’s good news, the birds have survived the apocalypse!
JONATHAN – How long in total did it take for this production to go from idea to completed video on YouTube?
THIERRY – The script being written on April the 5th and the video being published on May the 10th…I’ll say thirty-five days. But not thirty-five full days of work, since all of us had work to do for a living and/or our own separate projects. You know that saying in the film industry, “Hurry up and wait”? Well, it’s true. *laugh*
PAULINE – And there is at least 30 days of waiting for my part!
JONATHAN – Are you all still self-isolating, or is France lifting restrictions? How badly has France been hit by the pandemic?
LÉONIE – It’s difficult to answer since we lack tests and reliable information. It seems right now that we avoided “the worst,” but the situation is still a bit scary. Personally, I’m not going back to work (I’m a teacher) because it would put me at risk (health problems), and I try to be cautious with the people I meet (basically my lovers, some of my friends, and my mother, always in small groups), and I don’t see them every day. I’d say I’m semi-self-isolating now.
THIERRY – There are no more self-isolation restrictions since May the 11th, but there are limits: we can’t move to more than a hundred kilometers of our home (there are a few exceptions). Wearing a mask is mandatory on public transport. Restaurants and pubs are still closed. My boss chose to keep us working at home for the rest of the month, but he could ask us to go back to work in the company office if he wanted to.
PAULINE – I went back partially at work last Monday (May 23), and I’m still waiting for proper teleworking equipment to do full-time work. I’m still away from a lot of people I care about because of the moving restriction.
JONATHAN – And finally, now that you’ve created your first fan film, are you planning to do more? If so, when do you think the world might see your next one?
LÉONIE – I liked the experience, so I’m down with it if Thierry wants do to another one!
THIERRY – Since it was a very spontaneous idea, I have no more fan film projects in mind. But if anyone wants me in their own fan film, I would be happy to work with them if I can. And who knows what a good night of insomnia can bring to the future? *wink*
RÉMI – I must confess that every time I see a notification from Thierry on my phone, I hope he offers me a new fan fiction to work on!
PAULINE – I’d like to, as well, and maybe this experience will help me to write mine.
JONATHAN – Merci beaucoup mes amis. Great job on your fan production!