Another PANDEMIC fan film: LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY… (interview with MIKE LONGO)

Stop me if you’ve heard this: two Americans and a German walk into a fan film…

No, wait, that’s not it.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are all on a Zoom call…

Well, any way you want to introduce this blog, the fact remains that the world is just a little topsy-turvy at the moment. Social distancing is affecting nearly all aspects of life. And for us Trekkers, that includes our fan films!

Last week, I reported on a fan film from France, HORREUR POST ATOMIQUE, that was produced entirely post-pandemic during the global quarantine. Three fans dressed in grungy clothes played previously-unknown characters from the Star Trek universe during the post-atomic horror following World War III just prior to first contact with the Vulcans.

Now another short fan film has been released, also produced entirely during the weeks of shelter-in-place orders. However, this fan film, LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, features three very familiar characters to fans: James T. Kirk, Mr. Mr. Spock, and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy…having the future equivalent of a three-way Skype call or Zoom meeting. Our new normal, apparently, is also the new normal in the late 23rd century—at least temporarily for our three heroes.

What makes this new fan film extra fun is that the three actors portraying Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are not only cosplayers, but two of them are impersonators of these characters who appear at many conventions…

Pictured above are JENS DOMBEK, known as “The German Spock ,” photos of whom can be found all over the Internet, and FRANK JENKS, whose uncanny resemblance to the chief medical officer of the USS Enterprise got him roles in several fan films including the award-winning “Walking Bear, Running Wolf” from THE FEDERATION FILES.

Leading the cast as Kirk was MIKE LONGO, who recently played the same role (just wearing a different uniform) in the recently-released THE HUMAN ADVENTURE. Mike also wrote, produced, and directed Look Forward to the Day.

Many fans have already watched and enjoyed this little vignette. If you aren’t one of them (or even if you are), please have a look…

I reached out to Mike to find out a little more about this project and how it came together. Here’s what he told me…

JONATHAN – Welcome to Fan Film Factor, Mike. Before we get into all the Star Trek stuff, I’m just curious what you do when you’re not being James T. Kirk.

Mike Longo

MIKE – I’m a photographer, and I also crew for productions in L.A. doing grip and lighting.

JONATHAN – What got you interested in cosplaying, and when did you start doing it?

MIKE – My fandom for Star Trek goes way back to when I was a kid. I am in my mid-fifties and only began cosplaying about 5 years ago. When I first attended conventions, I noticed that the cosplayers seemed to be experiencing the conventions at a whole ‘nother level. After getting to know them, one day they invited me to join a Star Trek: Voyager cosplay. So, by the next con, I joined them as Chakotay. Since then, I have gotten involved with both Star Trek and Star Wars costume clubs, and have had some remarkable experiences as a result.

Jens Dombek and Mike Longo

With each convention, my cosplay group of friends gets larger. I met Jens Dombek at the Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. I was already a fan of his posts in social media. While there, we kept running into each other at the same places and became fast friends by the end of the con. Jens reveres Leonard Nimoy and Star Trek. On a daily basis he is promoting the goodwill and humor of Star Trek online with his German Spock cosplay.

JONATHAN – What about Frank Jenks…how did you meet him?

MIKE – Frank has portrayed McCoy in some fan films before, so I knew of him through his work on those and from his convention photos. Funny thing is, I still have yet to meet Frank in person! We have many mutual friends in social media. He lives in another state, so as with Jens, the only way I have would the opportunity to visit with them is during a large convention.

This is the great thing about comic conventions and Star Trek in particular, is that we all have an affinity for the same things and when put in the same room, we can have conversations and develop friendships. This short film of ours is the perfect example of what Star Trek is: we can all contribute to make something positive together. Even if we live in different parts of the world and are from different cultures, we can still fill a role and achieve a goal.

JONATHAN – And indeed you did! So how did the idea for this fan film first come about?

MIKE – During a conversation with Jens, I was musing about making this video about friends missing each other during a lockdown like the one we were having here in the U.S. Jens encouraged me to proceed with the idea. So I wrote the first draft the next day and emailed to him for his feedback.

I believed using the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic would be an effective way to convey what people are feeling in today’s world because the fans already know the history of these three and how they relate to each other. So when we begin our story, they bring all that backstory with them as we see what happens next.

One of Star Trek’s messages has always been to problem-solve and keep some optimism even in the darkest times. With all of our lives turned upside down by COVID-19, I hope that people will retain their optimism and hang in there.

JONATHAN – After you wrote the script and Jens gave you feedback, what happened next? When did Frank enter the picture?

MIKE – By the fourth draft, we felt pretty good about the script. At that point, Jens told Frank about our project. I followed up and emailed Frank the script. He read it and was game.

I was always open to any ideas that might improve the story. For instance, Jens thought it would be effective to set up the meeting by adding the voiceover and Internet-style connection sound at the beginning. It was a good idea, and easy to add. Frank gave me editing options by providing me with multiple takes where he tried something a little different.

JONATHAN – Once you decided to make the vignette, what did you do to prepare? 

MIKE – My initial thought was that this would be a pretty easy production because we were going to have three talking heads and cut back between them. I had already planned each step of production like a list and worked down that list.

JONATHAN – Did you guys just shoot your scenes in three vacuums, or did you actively direct the other two actors?

MIKE – Each of us recorded our performances into our phones as if we were having a zoom meeting. Jens and Frank know these characters inside out, so I did not need to direct their performances. The words dictate the tone and that was their starting point. I gave them the freedom to alter the dialogue if they thought it worked better for the characters.

For myself, trying to act like Captain Kirk was a challenge. It’s one thing to do a parody of a character, but this was to be more serious and sentimental. I believe the fans look for familiar elements in fan films, so I began by trying to perform some of the mannerisms that they associate with Captain Kirk, especially in the TOS years. Then after they recognize who I am supposed to be, I backed off a bit and became more subtle during the second half.  I’m not an actor and probably should’ve got someone else to do it. (laughs)

JONATHAN – Oh, pshaw! You did great! And it’s not like you’re trying to win an Oscar or an Emmy. Just making the effort and putting yourself out there is laudable, my friend!

So how long did it take to put together this fan film from inception to completion?

MIKE – Everyone spent a few hours filming their own scenes. Once I had everyone’s footage, I assembled the video in about five and a half days. We refined the cut a few times before we called it finished. So it was approximately a week’s worth of actual production days.

I used the one week free-trial option for Adobe Premiere to edit it together. Being familiar with Premiere, I was able to jump in and get it done and cancel the subscription before I had to pay for a regular subscription fee.  Roger Corman would be proud!

JONATHAN – The art of doing more with less! Looking back, what was easiest aspect of this production, and what was the most challenging?

MIKE – The easiest part of production was putting on the German subtitles. Jens translated the script for me, and I was fascinated to see what my words look like in another language.

An interesting challenge was that I wanted to include music at the end of the movie. However, I no longer had my musical keyboard, so I couldn’t produce the tune I had in my head. So I reached out to my friend MARK LUM, and I described to him what I wanted to do. I sent him some musical notes for the melody and some basic chords for the harmony. I play by ear and don’t read music, so I had to sound out the cords in software that I downloaded online. Luckily for me, Mark is well-trained musically and was able to flesh out my melody. His efforts really add soul and production value to this movie.

Left-to-right: David Cheng, Jens Dombek, Mike Longo, and Mark Lum

JONATHAN – Now that it’s completed, are you happy with the result, or is there more you would have liked to include…or maybe something you would have done differently?

MIKE – I am pretty happy with the final product. It is very close to what I imagined in my head. I’m very fortunate to have had these talented friends trust me and do such good work on my project. 

The only thing I would’ve changed is that, had I more foresight, I would’ve shot four minutes of each actor doing only reactions for the little windows in the corners. Because I didn’t have much of that, I had to scrounge up anything that might match the action in the foreground. That included playing footage backwards and looping it.

JONATHAN – Very resourceful, my friend! And finally, what does the future hold for you and your team? Will there be any more subspace-distancing fan films from you guys…or perhaps in-person fan films once the world returns to normal (whenever that happens)?

MIKE – I would love to work on another fan film with Jens and Frank. Unfortunately, a big convention is likely the only way I ever get to see them. So an in-person production would be difficult because we three are so spread out. We could always try to fit in a cameo with a character talking over the comm system.

Jens and I are tossing around a few ideas for some other fun small projects. We both have green screens that we can utilize since we are on opposite sides of the globe. He put his trust in me on this project, and I trust his instincts. If you have seen his posts, you’d see he is full of ideas.  So, I’m in.