STARSHIP CALIBORN launches with WAR TARG! (interview with BILLY SWANSON)

POTEMKIN PICTURES has been a fan film “nursery” ever since 2015 when it launched a second fan series STARSHIP TRISTAN, to join its flagship series PROJECT: POTEMKIN, which began back in 2010. Tristan was followed by STARSHIP DEIMOS, then BATTLECRUISER KUPOK, STARSHIP TRITON, STARSHIP ENDEAVOUR, HOSPITAL SHIP MARIE CURIE, and STARSHIP ALEXANDER. Some lasted longer than others. While Tristan and Deimos have released about 20 fan films each, Kupok has released only six, Triton and Marie Curie both had four, Endeavour three, and Alexander only one.

Part of the reason some of these groups folded was due to the move of Potemkin Pictures showrunner RANDY LANDERS (and his homemade sets) from Pelham, Alabama to Lexington, Kentucky in 2019. While some actors and filmmakers are still willing to make the longer drive, others have moved on.

But just because you move the chicken, that doesn’t mean she stops laying eggs. (If that isn’t an idiom, it should be!) Not that I’m suggesting Potemkin Pictures is laying any eggs, mind you!!! But Randy is birthing a whole new crop of creative groups, each with their own starship…or warship. The first out of the Lexington launch bay was the crew of the STARSHIP WEBSTER, and they’ve already completed and released EIGHT fan films less than two years! And in May of 2022, Potemkin Pictures teamed up with NATURE’S HUNGER and RELIC FILMS to release FIREHAWK. And gearing up for its debut in the near future is the new Klingon-based IMPERIAL SCOUT QAB’ELTH team.

Wow, just listing all that is nearly an entire blog just by itself! (You can access all 100-plus Potemkin Pictures films from their website.)

But there’s one group I’ve left out: STARSHIP CALIBORN—and they’ve just premiered their first fan film, WAR TARG. Caliborn spun off from Webster thanks to one the latter’s lead actor, BILLY SWANSON, wanting to become a showrunner himself…along with a captain! Webster‘s second release, A VOICE IN THE DARK, filmed at the height of the pandemic as a one-man show, highlighted Billy’s strong acting abilities. He’s gone on to appear in four of the five subsequent Webster releases, playing executive officer Commander Robert Hawkins.

But now it’s time to Hawkins to get a command of his own, and you can watch his first mission here…

As you can see, Captain Hawkins isn’t your typical starship captain (as if any captain is “typical”)! And Billy Swanson isn’t your typical showrunner. Or maybe he is. There’s only one way to find out…

Let’s interview him!

JONATHAN – I heard you just got married a couple of weeks ago, Billy. Congratulations. How did the wedding go?

Billy Swanson (right) with new wife Robin Kunkel

BILLY – It went well! Thank you! We got engaged in spite of the pandemic with hopes that life around us would cool out in time for a ceremony…that was 2 years ago. So we finally pushed forward with a lovely and intimate ceremony. We’re gonna be happy as an objection to these historical times!

JONATHAN – Historical or hysterical?

BILLY – Yes.

JONATHAN – Indeed! So you started off as part of the Webster team. What prompted the creation/spin-off of a completely new creative group?

BILLY – Well, with the pandemic, we had to change up how we were approaching shooting. So that led to a lot of away team/creature feature episodes that we could shoot outdoors with precautions intact. From that, Randy chose to run with the character of Robert Hawkins a little more once Kentucky started to open back up. I jumped at the chance to take the character to another level. So really, he knew I would be down with shooting projects anyway, since he had some projects that were about to expire with no crew to fill them.

JONATHAN – What do you mean “about to expire”?

BILLY – Losing the rights to a story. Some of Randy’s writers were feeling the drag on things not being produced, and that’s fair, so he needed a way to shoot some things to support our supporters as it were. These stories had been on the burner for long enough, so we decided to make hay.

JONATHAN – How did you go about finding a crew for Starship Caliborn?

BILLY – That was a challenge because most of my immediate friends were already aboard the Webster. That said, thanks to the work with Webster, we had HILDA HELLACIOUS on-call. I had met the actor that plays Lune [Chief Engineer Luneieschek -Jonathan] at Lexington Comic & Toy Con with their sister who is the cadet, so that was fairly easy. Then we cast the “big net” online once again—but with the help of having filmed locally for a few years—so we had more demonstrative proof that we were for real than we did back when we were cold-casting Webster. So all of that, plus the networking of people we had worked with before, and we wound up with Jerry, Danielle, Sarah and Andrew to fill it out.

Billy with co-star Hilda Hellacious as Security Chief Vuli Azani

JONATHAN – What did you do, as director and showrunner, to prepare everyone and everything to shoot the Caliborn pilot and, further on, the series itself?

BILLY – Well, we established our healthy on-set protocols, which by then was fairly easy as the vaccines had dropped by then, and we had had so much time to get it together. Beyond that, we got the new displays together, agreed on the new uniforms, and lucked out on the availability of our cast so we could nail that first day.

Seeing the chemistry with the cast helped lay a roadmap with where we could go from there, and we tweaked it a bit for the things we didn’t expect to have. My character of Hawk had a trajectory in my mind as a writer, and with this sudden raise in the stakes, it helped inform how to move forward with the crew we have. I lucked into being the Caliborn showrunner, so we’re taking more of a season approach with things.

JONATHAN – You speak like an experienced writer and filmmaker…are you?

BILLY – You’re too kind. I have written and made films, this is true! The size of these, however, may be the subject of debate. Yeah, I’ve been typing at it and making little films since high school. My first full fan script was actually a feature length treatment for the Enterprise-C. Star Trek: Nemesis had just come out, and I had felt Trek had strayed from some of the core elements I enjoy, so I typed it up based on info from the TNG episode and the files found in the old Sega TNG game.

JONATHAN – I also saw on Facebook that you studied theater.

BILLY – Yep, twice! Graduated University of Kentucky for performing theatre AND teaching theatre. I have wanted to be an actor since I was three and saw Star Trek V and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and figured out that those were jobs people did.

JONATHAN – Do you still teach theater?

BILLY – No, I had to leave the teaching Masters program due to time and money. Our then-governor was beginning to cut programs down, and I had a kid to take care of.

JONATHAN – What do you do as director to bring out the performances you want from the actors?

BILLY – I think that depends on the actors themselves. Everyone is unique, and I like to revel in that to bring what they have to the show. So sometimes it involves emphasizing the feelings of the situation, other times it’s about what that moment means for them. And still other times, it’s best to simply have them doing the action and having Randy hit ’em with the repetition bat until they’re familiar enough that it’s natural.

Acting is an ongoing process for everyone, so I always treat it more holistically. A prime example in War Targ is getting the Cadet, Cochran, to have that sense of awe and youthful trepidation of both getting what you wanted and being in the deep water. Naturally, part of that was easy to get due to their experience level, and the other side was to remind them that the world is watching, and now is the time to execute the action because we cast them and knew they could do it. And then there’s me getting pissed at Hilda, which comes naturally for me. Ha, ha!

Miriam Hall as Navigator Cadet Reya Cochran

JONATHAN – Are you satisfied with how your debut episode came out, or are there places where you say, “Hmmm, I/we could have done that better…we’ll work on it more next time”?

BILLY – I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out! Always open to the surprises that come along that you don’t expect when making fan films and tweaking along the way. Naturally, with technical things, you evolve as more opportunities come your way to do things stronger, but I would say, by the first rough cut, we know how to get it done.

JONATHAN – How many Caliborn episodes are you planning to release each year?

BILLY – No specific number per year, but we’re looking to have filming on chapter 5 wrapped by the end of the year. As far as viewable, I’m confident we can have 3-4 out for ’22.

JONATHAN – That’s a decent amount! What’s the next episode going to be called?


JONATHAN – Well, THAT sounds ominous!

BILLY – Good! It just needs a small reshoot and should be dropping fairly soon thereafter.

JONATHAN – Looking forward to it!