AVALON UNIVERSE’s crazy and dangerous cave adventure…WHY THE HECK did they do it??? (interview with Joshua Irwin and Pixi Nereid)

You might say that fan filmmakers need to be at least a little crazy at times to do what we do. But this…this was a LOT crazy!

On Monday, August 1, at 5:30 a.m., JOSHUA IRWIN, PIXI NEREID, and NEAL BILBE got into Josh’s SUV at Neal’s home in Farmington, Arkansas, and drove for five hours straight to the middle of nowhere in southwestern Oklahoma.

Then they hiked a mile and a half, gaining more than 200 feet in elevation (the height of a 25-story building) and free-climbing the final portion over sheer boulders with steep drops—all in order to get to this cave…

They spent about 30 minutes filming there, shooting footage that will last LESS THAN 15 SECONDS(!!!) in the final fan film. Then they hiked 1.5 miles back to their car, and drove 350 miles back to Farmington, arriving at Neal’s house about 11:00 p.m. Josh lives close by in Fayetteville, but Pixi lives 3 hours away in Little Rock. She got home around 3 a.m.

WHO DOES THIS??? And for a FAN film???

This was from the PREVIOUS trip to the middle of nowhere!

Now, you might remember how I already wrote about Josh’s 1,800-mile drive (each way) from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Phoenix, Arizona in May for a professional shoot. In that blog, I also described the subsequent 270-mile drive (each way) done by a production crew of a dozen people to shoot two actresses at Gloss Mountain State Park in western Oklahoma on July 23.

This blog isn’t either of those trips. This was a THIRD trip!

I realize that I’ve been blogging quite a bit lately about the folks over in the AVALON UNIVERSE as they try reach their goal of $20K in their current GoFundMe campaign (currently just over 1/4 of the way there). And if you’d like to donate, please-please-please click the link below…


But even if I weren’t trying to help with their crowd-funding, I would still write about this adventure because it just astounds me how committed these folks are making to a “little” Star Trek fan film. Of course, when it comes to filmmaking, Josh Irwin doesn’t know the meaning of the word “little”!

But seriously, who does this???

It’s not like there aren’t caves in Arkansas. There are some very nice caves, thank you very much. But their entrances are lush and forest-like. Josh’s other footage was shot in desolate desert terrain, so anything filmed in Arkansas would yield footage that wouldn’t match what had already been shot.

A typical cave entrances in Arkansas

So why not just film Pixi against a green screen and composite her against a photo of some desert cave that Josh could grab off the Internet? Why the 10-hour round-trip drive, 3-mile round-trip hike, and 200-foot dangerous climb?

Obviously, it’s time to talk to Josh and Pixi! (Neal wasn’t available.)

Pixi Nereid and Josh Irwin

JONATHAN – For those people who aren’t familiar with this latest fan film project you’re working on, why do you need all this desert wilderness footage?

JOSH – AGENT OF NEW WORLDS focuses primarily on two characters. The first is a young ensign, Ahyoka, just out of Starfleet Academy, who is descended from Native American ancestry like Chakotay, and she’s crashed on an arid and rocky alien planet. Pixi’s character of Lt. Commander Allenby takes a shuttlecraft to go find her. There’s a lot of wandering around as Allenby searches for this ensign on foot.

PXI – After walking for days, I finally find Ahyoka taking shelter from the heat inside of a cave.

JOSH – So we’ve got a lot of beautiful footage shot in the deserts of both Arizona and Oklahoma. In terms of natural cinematography, I don’t think there’s ever been another fan film that looks as beautiful as this one is going to.

JONATHAN – Granted, it’s not all outdoors. You’re shooting a bunch of stuff inside, as well, and you guys just finished filming many of those interior scenes at the end of July at WARP 66 STUDIOS, right?

PIXI – Yep, it was a blast.

JOSH – Glen Wolfe built us a brand new “cave” set at the studio, kind of like the “planet hell” set they had on Next Generation.

JONATHAN – So now Glen really does have a “man cave”!

PIXI – Love it!

JONATHAN – Now, JENNIFER RADER, whom you just cast as Ahyoka, drove all the way from Oklahoma City to Flippin, Arkansas for this shoot?

On the left, Pixi works on the make-up for Jennifer Rader. On the right, Team Avalon assembles in Glen Wolfe’s “man cave.”

JOSH – Yes, and we can’t thank her enough! She and Pixi both did an amazing job filming those cave scenes on Saturday. On Sunday morning, we shot on Glen’s transporter set and in the ship’s corridor, and then we shot green screen footage in the afternoon. Then Jennifer headed back home to OKC, and everyone else headed home, as well…except for Pixi, who drove back to Farmington, where Neal lives, and she stayed over at a local Air B&B, so we could all drive together the next morning to the cave.

JONATHAN – Man, you guys do a LOT of driving! So how did you even find this “perfect cave”?

JOSH – I found it by looking through lots of photos of caves on Google. Nothing nearby matched any of the terrain that we had been shooting on in Oklahoma at Gloss Mountain State Park. But this one jumped out because it looked like a desert cave.

JONATHAN – Where is this cave located?

JOSH – It’s called “Spanish Cave,” and it’s located in the Wichita Nature Preserve just outside of Indiahoma, OK.

JONATHAN – So you left from Farmington, Arkansas at 5:30 a.m. and got there when?

JOSH – We arrived at abut 10:30 or so, and we really struggled to find the cave. The map displayed in the park didn’t tell us the location of the cave. The description on Google said it was a .9 mile hike from a trail. But none of the trails seemed to lead to it.

We eventually decided to see if we could go back to civilization to get more info. So we drove to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to eat lunch and see if someone local could tell us how to find it.

JONATHAN – All that driving plus hiking only to turn around and go back for directions???

PIXI – We literally went the extra mile!

JOSH – Once we were back in an area with cell coverage, Pixi downloaded a map that showed us where the cave was. Reviews attached to the map app she used said that the trail was overgrown but passible.

PIXI – They call it a “bushwhacker” trail.

JOSH – We got back to the park about 1:30 p.m., and we used the map to find the poorly marked trail. We soon realized that the term “trail” was used rather loosely, as there was no actual trail…just a marked path with ribbons and rock cairns that was essentially the path of least resistance through the elements.

JONATHAN – For non-desert hikers reading this, “cairns” are small piles of rocks about a foot high used to mark a trail on rocky terrain when there isn’t an obvious worn path on the ground. From one cairn, you’re supposed to be able to see the next cairn, but that isn’t always the case.

JOSH – It culminated in a freestyle rock climb over lots of boulders on the side of the mountain. We thought we would get lost and never find it. But somehow the warrior’s spirit came over us and we pushed on. The hard part about this was that we were scaling boulders. There wasn’t really a “trail” anymore; it was just taking the path of least resistance through nature.

PIXI – It was inTENSE. Just when we thought we were lost, I saw the “trail” marker (one rock with two little ones on it), and we hopped two more boulders like a video game jumping challenge, and there she was!

JOSH – Yep. Just when we were about to give up, we crested the boulders and immediately saw the cave.

At long last…their first glimpse of the Spanish Cave!

JONATHAN – So how late was it when you finally arrived?

JOSH – We got to the cave about 3:30 or so.

PIXI – According to the trail app info, it was a 200 ft scale and 1.5 mile hike to get there. The steepest grade was 58% for about 80 feet.

JONATHAN – Wow…that’s a challenging climb!

PIXI – But it was so epic! Seriously, the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done this year was that hike to the perfect cave!

JONATHAN – So once the three of you were there, what came next?

PIXI – Well, first of all, I had to change into my uniform because I obviously wasn’t wearing it for the hike!

JONATHAN – I would imagine not! I’m assuming you were able to go off somewhere and change in private?

PIXI – Oh, I just threw the blue tunic on over my normal clothes.

JONATHAN – What shots did you end up filming?

JOSH – We took five shots: exterior establishing shots of the cave with Pixi in the foreground walking up to it, a shot of her entering it, which I took from inside, and background plates for chroma-key shots.

JONATHAN – What kind(s) of camera(s) did you use for filming? I’m guessing you didn’t take the most expensive stuff.

JOSH – The hike was too difficult to bring any real gear, and fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about sound, which is why only Neal, our Director of Photography, came along and not our audiographers.

We took the shots at the cave with my smaller Mirrorless B-Cam that we carried in a backpack. For the shots inside the actual cave entrance, I pulled a VANCE MAJOR and shot with my phone.

JONATHAN – Why not use the more professional camera for shooting from the inside looking out?

JOSH – I was able to get a wider shot with the phone. But I have an iPhone 12 Promax that can shoot 4K at 24 FPS and has 3 lenses.

Sadly, most of the original Native American cave paintings have been replaced by more contemporary and less respectful graffiti.

JONATHAN – How was the lighting at that time of the day? I know the cave isn’t very deep.

JOSH – The lighting was pretty good. We had the cave entrance in direct sunlight. The footage came out really great.

JONATHAN – In the final film, how long will this footage that you drove and hiked and climbed and risked your lives for actually be on screen.

JOSH – Maybe about 15 seconds…if that. We see Allenby finding the cave and then going in, then we cut to the footage we shot on the set.

JONATHAN – All that for 15 seconds of footage…sheesh! Was it easier going back down?

JOSH – No, going back was a LOT harder than getting there. I slipped twice and sprained my ankle. And finding the path on the way back was more difficult. We had to backtrack several times, and as it got darker, I started getting worried. If we lost our light, I have no idea how we would ever have found our way back to the road! As it was, it took us over an hour to hike a mile and a half.

We finally got back to the truck around 5 p.m. and made it back to Farmington around 11 p.m. And from there, Pixi drove back to Little Rock and didn’t get home till about 3 a.m.!

JONATHAN – Pixi, you win the “Fan Most Traveled” award—at least for this fan film—since Josh and Neal didn’t have to cover the extra distance to and from Little Rock.

So much travel for ONE film film!!!

JOSH – Yeah, but Neal didn’t go to Phoenix, and Pixi got to fly there and back. I was the one who drove it all!

JONATHAN – Okay, then Josh wins the frequent-driver miles! But that brings us to the most important and obvious question of them all: WHY??? There were other, easier ways to get footage of Pixi’s character finding and entering a cave. You (Josh) had already driven—by my estimates according to the map above—more than 4,500 miles before doing this 700-mile drive to the Spanish Cave and back!

Good heavens, man, what were you thinking????

JOSH – Honestly, I did it for the adventure. For me, the whole point of making films is to do things I normally don’t get to do. And frankly, I thought it would make the film better. When you love your film, you go the extra mile, and as Pixi said, we did that, in this case, quite literally.

Days like that one are the reason we do films. It’s the chance to have a fun adventure with your friends that you’ll never forget.

JONATHAN – Let’s take a look at some of this amazing footage in your latest, just-released trailer:

And this is where I remind folks once again to consider supporting the Avalon Universe crowd-funding campaign. Three fan films for the price of, well, three fan films (or one, back when we did INTERLUDE).

But if it’s commitment you want from a fan film team, then Avalon is the place to donate…!