Another triumph from AUSTRALIA’s finest Trekkers…OUTBREAK! (interview with AARON VANDERKLEY)

Star Trek fan films remain alive and well “Down Under” thanks to the glorious efforts of Australian fan filmmaker AARON VANDERKLEY and his team. Aaron has recently released his seventh Star Trek fan film, the entirety of which are now collected under the umbrella THESE ARE THE VOYAGES

A professional freelance filmmaker, Aaron began his fan film “trek” back in January of 2016 with the release of the amazingly powerful 6-minute NX-era fan film NEEDS OF THE MANY.  Strong acting, impressive sets, and spot-on uniforms marked his debut.

Then in mid 2017, Aaron released the 12-minute THE DERELICT, an intensely dark and haunting NX-era horror/thriller (very unique for a Star Trek fan film). Again, the acting was top-notch, the uniforms amazing, and now there was even action, suspense, and a few stunts thrown in. It really felt like part of an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

By the beginning of 2018, Aaron treated fans to a third superbly-crafted NX-era film, GOOD MEN, this one only 9 minutes long. Six months later, Aaron released his most ambitious fan film so far, the 14-minute THE FALL OF STARBASE ONE. And in the summer of 2019, Aaron completed what turned out to be a 5-film NX-era story arc with the 20-minute LINE OF DUTY, blowing away fans with a touching and emotional story marked yet again by a top-notch level of acting, production quality, lighting, make-up, sets, costumes, props, sound…the works. In fact, Line of Duty won SEVEN of the categories in the 2020 BJO AWARDS!

Aaron told me in a 2-part interview that he had only ever intended to make five NX-era fan films, and he had no plans to produce anything further in the genre. One of our community’s most impressive fan filmmakers was moving on…the bittersweet end of a short but truly impressive run.

But then, in May of 2021, Aaron surprised the community (in a very good way) by releasing a sixth Star Trek fan film titled BEYOND THE SUN…perhaps his strongest effort thus far! No longer content to linger in the 22nd century or even the 23rd, Aaron leapfrogged into the 24th century with Voyager-style uniforms and a Nova-class starship. It was shortly after this that he branded his releases with the These Are the Voyages… monicker and promised to make more Star Trek fan films.

And Aaron kept his promise with the release in April of OUTBREAK, a brand new Voyager-era story featuring the same ship and crew as his previous production. Once again, the result was a cinematic masterpiece of fan filmmaking. Take a look…

Aaron is always fascinating to chat with because he approaches his productions in a very organized, methodical, and even professional way. For those out there wanting to make fan films of their own, I would consider interviews with Aaron “required reading.”

And here is today’s lesson…

JONATHAN – Outbreak has a very Doctor Who feel to it.  I’m not certain if that was what you were going for or not, but I felt as though I were watching a Tom Baker or Peter Davison era episode.  Anyway, the story seemed to be inspired, at least in part, by the COVID pandemic…albeit with an interesting twist.  How and when did you come up with the idea for the story?

Aaron Vanderkley

AARON – Funnily enough, you’re not the first person to suggest that. Maybe it does have a certain ‘base under siege’ type format that is typical of Doctor Who, but no, that wasn’t the intention.

It also may shock you to learn that the COVID pandemic was not the inspiration for Outbreak. In fact, Outbreak is based on a story written by Fred Love for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game from 2019. The frightening part, and also the reason why we decided to adapt it into a short film, was how similar it was to what was happening in real-life. As with Beyond the Sun, I think the best kind of Star Trek is one which presents current-day social/political/economic topics in a futuristic context, and this was a perfect opportunity to reflect on COVID.

After reaching out to the author, the great thing about the role-playing format was that it offered essentially a very detailed story breakdown which I was then able to do a page one re-write script on, while still hitting the plot points and story beats from the original text. It was then that I was able to add in a few touches of COVID—rather than facemasks (as they proved impractical to film in), we created the futuristic alternative of ‘bio-monitors’ that everyone had to wear. Similarly, the Governor’s character running late for a press conference and facing off a ravenous media is a reference to the West Australian Premier.

I will say that we did have initial hesitation that the audience might perhaps be feeling COVID fatigue and would not particularly enjoy watching something for pleasure based on what they were/are currently going through, but the feedback seems to say otherwise.

JONATHAN – This was first time that one of your fan films featured no Starfleet sets.  Was that more of a challenge for you in having to design and build something completely original with no established look and feel to follow, or was the creative freedom liberating?

AARON – Well spotted! Having no need for Starfleet sets meant that we were able to repurpose everything generic leftover from Beyond the Sun into a basis for the ImmuniCorp sets—quite like how they would have done for the actual show. From there, we basically had the freedom to create the look and feel of this setting from scratch. The starting point, like Beyond the Sun, was a shape, and that shape was an elongated hexagon as adorned on many surfaces in The Original Series. That shape informed everything from doors to windows, hospital beds to wall panels. Being a research centre, we obviously wanted it to look very clinical, so our colours were basically white and a deep blue.

One of the important aspects of the world presented in Outbreak was branding. The fictional pharmaceutical company ‘ImmuniCorp’ influences all facets of life for the civilization in the story and we had to design their logo and reproduce it on every available surface—from uniforms to bottled water.

JONATHAN – How long did it take to design and build the sets, and how many people were involved in the construction?

From memory, we hit the ground running as soon as the casting call went out in early July 2021. That gave us roughly two months to get all the production design sorted before filming began in September. As I mentioned before, we started the process by taking stock of what pieces were left from Beyond the Sun and took the opportunity to block out each set using those existing flats. From there, we created new elements, like the hexagonal windows, which we could reuse across different sets as well as plugging the gaps to become control panels or vents. We took advantage of collapsible tables to act as hospital beds and desks but created surrounds that they could slip into to camouflage their metal legs whilst still providing support.

To alter the hard corners of the lab set, we created right angle plugs with mounted screens to add background. After that, it was just a matter of dressing and incorporating many set pieces and props which we had collected over the years, a majority from the Sickbay set from Line of Duty. We also built a Voyager-inspired centrifuge from scratch to sit on the lab bench.

Set construction is a two-man job, between myself and my partner/co-production designer/co-producer AARON CHAPPELL. He has the same level of creativity I do and has been a real powerhouse in getting things done across this series of short films, sometimes down to the wire. He also appears as an Infected Patient and the Andorian Starfleet character in Outbreak.

Aaron Chappell

JONATHAN – How did you go about casting your actors, and what led to HARRIET FETTIS returning?

We put out a casting call, which is how we picked up KAITLIN OKELY, who we thought really captured the energy of the Science Officer character. PAUL DAVEY (First Officer) had auditioned for a number of previous projects, and we were looking forward to working with him eventually. We previously worked with LIAM LONGLEY (Young Scientist) on a short film project called Walk and were super keen to get him involved in our Star Trek universe, originally having him in mind for the son character in Beyond the Sun. KAT LUDLEY (CEO) responded to a casting call for Beyond the Sun just shy of the deadline, but we remembered her and made sure we asked her to read for the role of the CEO for Outbreak, and she delivered!

Left-to-right: Kaitlin Okely, Kat Ludley, Harriet Fettis, Liam Longley, and Paul Davey

Harriet Fettis appeared in our very first fan film Needs of the Many back in 2015, and she was always keen to return, but I felt we needed a little bit of distance before we started welcoming back past actors. Of course, the new Voyager-era means new characters, and Harriet auditioned, just like everyone else, for the Science Officer role. But we thought it might be fun to put her in a completely different kind of character as the Governor and, out of the final three auditionees, Harriet was the one who tested best for the role.

JONATHAN – When was this film shot, and over how many days?

Outbreak was shot in September 2021 across three days. Day 1 covered all of the scenes inside the laboratory set. For Day 2, we actually built the Vaccination Tent set inside the Reception hall set and had to stop halfway through to strike it to reveal our next shooting location. Day 3 comprised of green screen shots of KATE ELDER returning from Beyond the Sun in a cameo as the Captain, the CEO’s office, and a number of pick-ups from the previous days.

Top-to-bottom: cast and crew for Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3

JONATHAN – So you shot in September of last year and released in April. That’s about a six-month turnaround for post-production.  Is that fairy typical for you?

AARON – Not typically, no. Outbreak was edited, sound design complete, and original score composed probably within three months of filming being completed.

The delay to release was just down to some original modelling being done by SAM COCKING’s VFX team, and that was running behind. I think the audience sometimes isn’t aware that this isn’t a full-time job for some people, and we all have other things going on in our lives. One little delay can just completely snowball, and Outbreak just got caught in that. Even though we were probably several months ahead of the game in our brief with Sam, where we ended up was in a backlog alongside everyone else, and that’s just how life works out sometimes.

The good news is that we have a great, original model for the ImmuniCorp Ring that met the brief for the story we wanted to tell. Working with Sam is great because he always has ideas and wants you to pack your CG shots so you get bang for your buck as well as doing something unique.

JONATHAN – Are there any other members of the cast and/or production crew whom you’d like to talk about?

AARON – We can never look past the contribution of CLAYTON ORGLES, our director of photography since The Derelict. Clayton again very kindly donated his time, expertise, and equipment to light, film and colour-correct Outbreak.

BLAKE THOMSON (Gaffer) and STEVEN CLARKE (1st AD) not only made sure our shoot days ran smoothly, but also had cameo roles in a couple of scenes when we weren’t able to secure extras.

My amazing costume designer (and mother!) created Harriet’s (Governor’s) jacket, keeping up the Star Trek tradition of assembling garments from exotic upholstery fabric, as well as embroidering the ImmuniCorp logos on the lab smocks. In addition to helping us rig the monitor screens and other electronic props, my ever-supportive Dad also appeared as an ImmuniCorp scientist. MAXIMILIANO LAFFONT, who played the Engineer in Beyond the Sun, also provided the voice of Fighter Pilot, while he was away on the other side of the country.

JONATHAN – And finally, Aaron, will we be getting more These Are the Voyages… and if so, how many more do you have planned?

AARON – We’ve got our third and final story for this series coming out later in the year. We actually finished shooting it back in March. Usually, we would wait until one film is released before starting on the next one, but because we knew Outbreak would be delayed and also that Western Australia was opening back up to the rest of the world, we wanted to get it done while we had the chance.

We shot RESISTANCE across seven days, which was probably the longest shoot we’d done so far and certainly the most stressful. Returning is Kate Elder, the Captain from Beyond the Sun, and we have the chance to explore her character a little more.

Beyond that, who knows? I’m about to start building a house, so that is where all my time, money and attention is going now. W e’ll take a little break, like we did between the ENT and VOY series, and then hopefully return with three new stories taking place somewhere else in the Star Trek Universe.

But before that happens, an archaeological expedition uncovers forgotten technology from the past, and the crew of the U.S.S. Explorer are forced to face their worst fears to save the future of the galaxy…in Resistance!