Now, THIS is something really cool!
On Saturday, November 6, a truly unique (and busy!) event happened at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA. Star Trek fans from around the world, sitting at their computers or watching from their smart devices, got to experience the amazing TOS sets while cosplayers played the roles of crewmen in what was a combination guided walk-though plus live performance.
Originally constructed for the fan series STARSHIP FARRAGUT and later STAR TREK CONTINUES, the contents of what is now known as Neutral Zone Studios were sold by VIC MIGNOGNA to Florida resident RAY TESI in 2018. Since then, Ray has opened up the sets to any fan filmmaker who wants to shoot there, and they’ve been used by DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, AVALON UNIVERSE, as well as others, including a series of fan films from Ray himself under the banner of TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE.
Because JAMES CAWLEY in Ticonderoga, NY has the license from CBS to host the exclusive STAR TREK Original Series Set Tour, Ray has to limit himself to fan film productions and free fan appreciation weekend events. And if Ray does provide a guided walk-through, then it must be completely free of charge to not compete directly with James’ commercial license.
The fan appreciation weekends have been a blast for visitors…or so I’m told, as I haven’t been able to make the trip yet (to either Kingsland or Ticonderoga). And indeed, that has been a reason for many a Trekker to feel frustrated. But what about getting a set walk-through without ever leaving your house? It’s now possible thanks to a relatively new website called Heygo.com.
Heygo was founded in May 2020 by LIAM GARRISON and JOHN TERTAN, two world travelers who met at Oxford University about ten years ago. As the global pandemic wore on and tourist travel became a distant memory, Liam and John realized how much not only they but the world as a whole was losing by no longer being able to connect with people in exotic lands with fascinating cultures. So they started a website—originally called VirtualTrips.io—to offer live virtual tours, 24/7, to destinations all over the planet. Tour guides would be English-speaking locals who knew the landmarks and histories and other fascinating aspects of the people and their customs. Their guided tours would be livestreamed to small groups of people who could sign up for free through the website.
Wait…free? Why would anyone spend their time giving tours to virtual strangers for no money??? The answer in that the site runs on “tips,” which are optional. But giving $5 to a tour guide in Slovenia or Egypt or Vietnam could help someone feed their family for a week. Indeed, one formerly homeless man in Edinburgh, Scotland has been using the Heygo service to help other homeless people get off the streets by training them to give virtual tours for tips!
So what does any of this have to do with Star Trek???
Ray Tesi was told about Heygo by “RED” ROMINA, who came to the very first fan appreciation back in 2018. “She wrote me about this new Heygo platform,” says Ray, “I thought it might be good for the studio, and so I set up an online meeting with them. I really thought they would have no interest because their tours are all based on worldwide landmarks, and I’m just some guy with Star Trek sets in a warehouse in southeastern Georgia. But I met with them, and they got back to me the following day saying they wanted me to do three events!”
The Heygo tours are always live, never recorded. For this reason, the site doesn’t feature any archives, only tours going on right now and ones scheduled for the near future. Here, you can check it out right now if you’d like. So Ray scheduled his first tour for Saturday morning, November 6. But it wasn’t going to be just any tour—Ray wanted ACTORS!
Y’see, as awesome as the sets are, they look even better with Starfleet crew members walking around. And while some might suggest doing the walk-through while an actual production was being filmed, fan films only shoot in one room at a time—sickbay, transporter, engineering, corridor, bridge, etc.—so most of the sets would still be deserted. And having to interrupt filming for a 45-minute livestream walkthrough would be disruptive and remove a good chuck of production time from the shoot.
So instead, Ray decided to invite many dozens of local (and not-so-local) cosplayer friends to come to Neutral Zone Studios for a live performance during the Heygo walk-through. He’d reached out to these folks several weeks earlier, but Ray hadn’t counted on the weather gods tossing a HUGE winter Nor-easter at them overnight just before the big day. “Bitter cold, heavy winds, extreme flooding,” describes Ray, “I was afraid we wouldn’t get off the ground, but the show had to go on.” Despite the storm, only two people canceled, and twenty cosplayers showed up in costume. THAT, my friends, is dedication!
One of those attendees flew all the way in from Fayetteville, Arkansas: TYLER DUNIVAN, who had previously been to Neutral Zone back in February to film the Avalon Universe fan film, COSMIC STREAM. Tyler would be playing the “captain” for the walk-through performance…although there wouldn’t be many lines to memorize. Indeed, most of the actors wouldn’t be speaking at all, simply mouthing words quietly so as to look like they were talking to each other in the background without interrupting Ray’s guided walkthrough.
“I’ve appeared in many fan films,” comments Tyler, “but in almost every way, this felt more like a stage play. We rehearsed from 9 to 10am and then did the livestream from 10 to 11am. We all had to know who was doing what where and when. For example, we had only red shirted actors in engineering and blue in sickbay. Certain people were corridor crew members while others waited inside rooms. And a few, like me, had to move from set to set.”
Tylers describes the careful choreography: “I started out in the transporter room, on the platform, having just ‘beamed in’ with three other landing party members. I then headed for the briefing room in order to be seated when Ray entered four minutes later. He’s in there for about three minutes before moving back into the corridor. And what happened next was really hilarious: the six actors who were still in the briefing when Ray left, including me, all had to carry our chairs to the bridge because there’s not enough chairs in the studio to have them set up in both places at the same time. So we’re walking through the corridor, all carrying our chair, trying to stay out of frame. Unfortunately, DAN SCANLAN, who was the camera man, showed just enough corridor in the close-up shot on Sulu’s name plate outside his quarters that you can see the six of us all carrying our chairs to the bridge!”
Tyler’s mad dashes weren’t over yet, however. “I couldn’t stay on the bridge, though, because I needed to quickly rush into the captain’s quarters in order to be there after Ray left auxiliary control. Then, just before Ray finishes up in the captain’s quarters, the bosun’s whistle sounds, and I need to say, ‘Mason here.’ Then I wait a couple of seconds and say, ‘I’m on my way…’ leaving my quarters to get to the bridge. Ray arrives there six minutes later, having taken the viewers through the corridor, turbolift, Jeffries tube, and the brig in the meantime. Then, while we’re on the bridge, there’s a red alert and a message from Starfleet on the view screen. It was all a really awesome performance by about 20 people.”
Although Heygo doesn’t archive their live streams, Ray was still able to get a copy, which you can watch below…
But the day was still only barely getting started!
With so many cosplayers in attendance, Ray figured: why waste an opportunity to make some quality fan film content? And that’s exactly what they did!
Ray is planning to crowd-fund three Tales from the Neutral Zone fan films soon, and so he set up shoots for promotional teasers for each of those projects. The first is called THE TEST OF TIME. The second is a redo of the 2017 fan film project STARSHIP REPUBLIC: “Serpent of Yesterday.” (That project deserves its own blog, as three different fan filmmaking teams are working on their own separate versions of the redo. More on that at some point in the future.) The Neutral Zone Studios version will star Tyler Dunivan as the captain of the Republic. And finally, there will be a short film titled CAPTAIN SCOTT starring Scotty-lookalike CHARLES GORDON.
In fact, with a Scotty impersonator present along with Tyler Dunivan, who has played Marty McFly from Back to the Future many, many times (including this 2015 fan film as well as this fun outtake from INTERLUDE), Ray decided to add in a little comical promotion for the studio by teaming “Scotty” and “Marty” in a fun vignette that will be released soon.
“It was a jam packed day to say the least,” says Ray. “We got a lot filmed, despite a couple of people not being able to make it because of the storm. And the Heygo walk-through was really great and went as flawlessly as I could have hoped. Heygo told me that we had 195 viewers—which is a whole lot better than the 10 to 20 I normally get!”
The next scheduled Heygo walk-through will take place on Saturday, December 11, 2021 at 9am Eastern Time. It won’t have all of the cosplayers, but it will still have lots of behind-the-scenes information and stories from the sets. You can sign up for the livecast by clicking here.
And finally, here’s a little special bonus. Right after the Heygo presentation, Tyler did his own short livecast from the set. Check it out…