UNREST is the newest FANdemic film! (interview with DAVID CHENG, MIKE LONGO, and KEN HAYASHIDA)

It’s now the age of the pandemic fan films—or fandemic films, as I like to call them—at least for the time being. And like the coronavirus itself, Star Trek fan films are proving to be quite tenacious and hard to get of…which is a GOOD thing if you like Star Trek fan films (and I certainly do)!

Over the past five months, these fandemic films have been filmed and released totally virtually with the actors who appear in them never actually being together in the same scene at the same time:

The last of these was made by DAVID CHENG and MIKE LONGO (along with FRANK JENKS and JENS DOMBEK) as a “Zoom call” between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy during a difficult period when they could not be with each other…a reflection of the world of 2020 seen through the lens of the 23rd century.

Now, David and Mike have teamed up once again, this time with KEN HAYASHIDA, to present a brand new “Zoom call” adventure…this time featuring Captain Kirk, Captain Sulu, and Admiral Nogura (along with a forth “Away Team Officer”). The 7-minute vignette is from STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTIONS INTERNATIONAL and is very nicely done (especially since all of the actors are cosplayers and have impeccable monster maroon uniforms). Check it out…

I had originally planned to ask show-runner David Cheng for a few words to include with the blog announcement of this new fandemic film. But within a few hours, I’d collected a rather robust 3-way interview with David, Ken Hayashida, and Mike Longo. So let’s jump right in, shall we…?

JONATHAN – After getting Look Forward to the Day done, I guess you guys have become quite the experts at doing socially distant fan films! Is this all pretty easy now?

DAVID – It’s certainly challenging to make these “fandemic” fan films. The main challenge was making an engaging and believable story that integrated our characters acting and communicating from separate locations due to social and physical distancing. Another challenge was coordinating our different shots so that that the lighting and other factors were fairly consistent. Because the pandemic makes it difficult to gather together to film, it limits the types of stories we can presently do and forces us to be more creative with the resources that are available to us.

JONATHAN – So Ken is the “new guy.” Was he always going to be your Sulu, or did you cast around for actors to play the role?

Ken Hayashida as Captain Sulu

DAVID – I tried George Takei, but he was too expensive, haha. Ken and I cosplayed last year at a convention as Sulu and Nogura. He is also playing Sulu in another film we are doing that is, unfortunately, on hold because of Covid-19. So, of course, Ken was my first and only choice to play Sulu.

MIKE – Yeah, this is actually our second film with Ken, although this film has come out first. We are two-thirds of the way done with another David Cheng production, but the pandemic put a hold on things. We will continue it when things finally clear up.

JONATHAN – All three of you are listed as the writers. How did that that work in developing the script?

KEN – The scripting and concept were originally David Cheng’s. David, Mike, and I traded electronic emails and messages to build on that script without ever meeting in one place.

It was a pleasure to assemble this vignette with other fans. The concept originated from our desire to see contemporary social commentary despite the COVID pandemic.

JONATHAN – Yeah, it definitely felt like the script was inspired by recent events here in America with social unrest and protests. Message, Spock?

David Cheng as Admiral Nogura

DAVID – We leave it up to the viewer to decide whether or not there is a message and what that message may be. There are different layers at which viewers can enjoy or interpret the film.

KEN – The original work of Roddenberry, Coon, and Justman was centered around the role of scripts and television to reflect current events and issues. Our vignette is intended to do the same with the limited resources we have.

JONATHAN – It was certainly an original choice (in terms of fan films) to focus on the combination of Captain Sulu, Captain Kirk, and Admiral Nogura.

MIKE – I love the idea of a Sulu-based fan film and am first to jump in line to support one. I think a Captain Sulu series back in the 90s would’ve been great for the fans. It’s just wishful thinking on my part, but how awesome would it have been to have had a couple of seasons of that? We got a glimpse of that with that Voyager episode “Flashback,” but we have still have the fan films to explore and have fun with in the Trek universe.

KEN- We wanted to produce a vignette consistent with the history of Star Trek and were focused on the needs of the story and character development. Admiral Nogura’s character is alluded to and even written in several versions of the original scripts of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Kirk and Sulu are both captains in the last classic film that we saw produced. The vignette was an attempt to respond to both the absence of production in Hollywood and to do a story that reflected the history of Star Trek‘s themes in the original series and films.

JONATHAN – I’m not sure how many people noticed, but in terms of the cast, Unrest is 50% Asian-American, 25% Caucasian, and 25% African-American. To my knowledge, it’s the first Star Trek fan film to feature more actors of color than white actors. Obviously, the characters of Sulu and Nogura were best served if played by Asian actors. And Kirk was always gonna be a white guy. But did you cast the Away Team Officer purposely with a black actor to ensure a racially diverse cast?

Johnny J. Martin, Jr. as the Away Team Officer

DAVID – Diversity was a factor in casting but the emphasis was on story first. The story centered around Nogura, Sulu, and Kirk working together to solve a problem, and it just so happened that two of those characters were Asian. When it came to casting an Away Team Officer, we did intentionally seek someone other than Asian and white in order to diversify the cast.

KEN – The ethnic composition of the actors was a secondary effect of just who was in our circle of friends as Star Trek fans. VFX were done by people across North America and Europe. One of the best things about Star Trek fandom is that it is truly global.

JONATHAN – I agree! And I did notice more VFX this time out, especially the starship shots and the green screen compositing for Kirk and Sulu.

MIKE – The CGI provides a more interesting setting. For Unrest, I drew up some TOS movie-era walls and wall panels. Meanwhile, in the U.K., WAYNE HARDING has been modeling and animating 3D starships for us to fly in. Wayne and I collaborated on the Unrest poster. In our previous poster art, I was hesitant to put in a ship because we didn’t show any in the movies. Now we have the ability. The tech has really sparked our imaginations for future projects.

KEN – There was a significant amount of post VFX in every shot. We had the benefit of fans in the 3D modeling space and who were familiar with industry level rendering and compositing software. Those insights were critical contributions for all of the establishing shots.

JONATHAN – Speaking of technology, what kinds of cameras and sound equipment did each of you use to film your “talking head” scenes?

KEN – The vignette was done during the peak of the pandemic using common consumer grade cameras and equipment. We wanted to see what could be done with modern tools of communication despite the pandemic.

JONATHAN – And was there any central direction given to you three as actors for your performances, or were you just recording into your respective cameras on your own?

DAVID – The actors pretty much directed themselves in accordance with the dialog and minimal directions in the script.

JONATHAN – So what’s next for you guys?

Mike Longo as Captain Kirk

MIKE – Since this Covid thing has been going on, more than any other group, I have been in almost daily contact with my Trekkie fan film friends. And that group is expanding as we try new things—new storylines and implementing more technology. For instance, we are testing the waters with green screen and CGI. This allows us to be in scenes together. This time we have Kenneth in the role of Sulu, and I am looking forward to him doing more of that.

It’s always a pleasure to join in one of David Cheng’s ventures into Federation space. If I may, Jonathan, I’d like to make a shout out to David Cheng for asking me to act as Kirk in his first film. He got me involved with fan films, and it is a real joy to see them come together. I’ve now been approached by other fan filmmakers to portray Kirk. I owe all this fun to David.

JONATHAN – Well, on that happy note, I’d like to thank all three of you for talking about Unrest. I think I speak for many fans when I tell you that we appreciate you keeping Star Trek fan films alive and kicking, and we’re looking forward to seeing what you release next!