Wow, can you believe that it’s been more than 14 MONTHS since my last AXANAR-focused blog? I remember back when I used to publish blogs about Axanar almost weekly! Back in November of 2021, I reported on the first new Axanar shoot since 2019…and the first shoot where new directors TED BRUNETTI and MARK EDWARD LEWIS took over the production.
Of course, the 20-month delay before that blog was due in most part to COVID shutting down not only production on Axanar but across the entire film industry! The next 14-month delay was the result of a move to a smaller (and more affordable) studio space located about five minutes away from the previous ARES STUDIOS location. The move required the dismantling of the USS Ares bridge set and its reassembly inside the new facility. Unfortunately, around this same time, studio manager DANA WAGNER became seriously ill, and his treatment and recovery took more than six months. There is no one else on the planet who could have supervised the reassembly of that complex bridge set…and certainly not for free!
Fortunately, Dana came through his treatment and recovery with flying colors and was able to return to the studio, supervising the reconstruction and even adding a number of improvements like LED lighting under the console panels, better power supply infrastructure, and even a new glowing ship schematic plaque next to the turbolift door. You can see how good the new bridge looks in this video that Dana posted to Facebook…
In addition to all of the construction going on, work had also been progressing on other aspects of pre-production over the previous few months. Mark Edward Lewis, who is handling the technical aspects of directing (while Ted Brunetti works more closely coaching the actors on their performances) has been texting almost daily with cinematographer GEOFF FAGIEN to figure out lighting, camera angles, lenses, and lots of other stuff that is so above my pay grade that I won’t even pretend to understand it!
Indeed, both Mark (traveling from Tennessee) and Geoff (traveling from Florida) arrived in Lawrenceville, GA a few days before the shoot to set up the lighting prior to the two-day shoot, which began last Friday. By getting all of the lights set up on both the bridge and in the green screen area, they saved several hours on the actual shooting days, allowing the actors to get into place and then setting up the cameras properly to give everyone the opportunity to capture all the footage with multiple takes and from multiple angles in the time allotted.
And how much time was allotted?
Call time Friday for the bridge shoot was 6:00 a.m., and the shooting day was a full 12 hours (which included a catered lunch break), ending at 6:00 p.m. Saturday’s call time for the green screen interviews was 7:00 a.m., and that 12-hour day ended at 7:00 p.m. Sunday included a bunch of behind-the-scenes documentary content that was shot for eventual release onto blu-ray.
Here’s a video that Mark posted to Facebook on Thursday, January 26, one day before the first day of shooting…
I joked in a comment: “Been there, done that. Have a FANtastic shoot, Mark!” as I remember capturing hours of similar behind-the-scenes footage of that amazing set when we had our Ares Studios shoot for INTERLUDE back in 2019. For that fan film, Mark was actually our sound designer and wasn’t present for the shoot. Now, Mark was at ground zero for all the action and excitement!
Some of the excitement came in weeks leading up to the shoot as new actors were cast. Because pretty much all of the “mockumentary” interview footage that was shot by the previous Axanar director in 2019 turned out to be unusable (long story, and one I am not going to get into here), all of it needed to be redone. But one of the actors, CARRIE ANNE HUNT (who played the character of Lt. Cmdr. Corax), had to be replaced with a different actress.
So joining the Axanar cast is ADRIENNE WILKINSON as Corax. Fan film fans might find that name familiar, as Adrienne starred in STAR TREK: RENEGADES, playing the lead character Lexxa Singh. (Yes, my friends, Star Trek fan films featured a thin, dark-haired, strong-willed, female descendent of Khan Noonien Singh nearly a decade before STRANGE NEW WORLDS—great minds, and all that!) Adrienne also appeared as Edith Keeler in the fourth episode of the fan series STAR TREK CONTINUES, “The White Iris.”
“She has an uncanny sense of who Corax is,” Geoff Fagien told me. “A superb performance, and an absolute pleasure to work with.” Alec Peters agreed, “Adrienne was the consummate pro and a brilliant actor.”
Another “new” cast member was actually an existing cast member playing a new role. Fans might recognize VINCE CANLAS from the fan film STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER. He’s an Altanta-based actor who has appeared in such TV series as WandaVision and Black Lightning and was recently one of the wizards in the movie Black Adam. He was also wearing a ton of awesome Efrosian make-up in the previous bridge footage shot back in 2019 (that footage is still usable)…
Vince wasn’t even supposed to show up for this shoot, as his Efrosian character wouldn’t be needed. But then actor JAMES LEW (winner of a Primetime Emmy for stunt coordination for the Marvel Netflix series Luke Cage), who is playing Ares first officer Kenji Tanaka, had to cancel his trip to Atlanta in order to go up to Vancouver. His cancelation didn’t necessarily affect this shoot significantly, as there will be another shoot in L.A. in the late spring or early summer, and James could do his Tanaka green screen interviews there. But rather than trying to shoot the Friday bridge battle scenes around Tanaka’s absence, Alec decided to ask Vince Canlas if he wanted stand in for Takana in the bridge sequence and deliver his lines. As you can see from the image below, the two actors do look quite similar…
But then, Alec had a not-so-crazy idea. As long as Vince was going to be on set Friday as Tanaka, why not bring him back on Saturday to do Tanaka’s green screen interview lines, as well? After all, they’d scheduled time for those segments. And in this way, if for some reason James Lew couldn’t make the L.A. shoot, they’d still have Tanaka’s interview “in the can” and usable. And Vince’s interview segments would match the Tanaka bridge footage that was shot Friday…although not the footage from back in 2019. (Oh, well, can’t have everything.)
Also joining the cast for this latest shoot was TINA ARI. Tina was a classmate of Alec’s from back when he lived in Los Angeles and took classes at the Howard Fine Acting Studio. Tina had recently moved to Atlanta, and Alec had reached out to her, finally connecting with Tina about a week before the shoot. He invited her to come to the set and play one of the background extras on the bridge. But as the two of them chatted, Alec had a thought. They still needed to cast the Vulcan captain, Arev, and were eventually going to do just that for the upcoming Los Angeles green screen shoot (currently scheduled for late spring or early summer). Tina already has a very good “look” and knows how to act. Why not cast Arev in Atlanta instead of Los Angeles?
Alec reached out to Mark, and Tina submitted a series of audition recordings, each incorporating feedback notes and consistently improving. (It’s not easy playing a Vulcan, y’know!) Eventually, Tina nailed the character, and Mark was totally on board with adding her to the cast. With less than a week left, Alec had to get their L.A. make-up artist MIKE SPATOLA to FedEx the ears to Lawrenceville and then made sure that their local make-up artist, RONONDA MUA, could handle special FX make-up (not all make-up artists know how to put on prosthetics). Rononda also found a great wig, and voila! Axanar now had Captain Arev cast. Alec commented that her performance was so good that Arev is destined to become the new breakout favorite character in Axanar…much like actress KATE VERNON did for Captain Sonya Alexander in PRELUDE TO AXANAR.
Interestingly, this decision to cast Arev in Georgia will end up saving the production some money in the long run, and here’s why. Ultimately, there are 17 actors with green screen interview segments that need to be shot for the two Axanar sequels. Six of those actors—including J.G. HERTZLER (who plays Sam Travis), ROBERT HAYES (who plays helm officer Deville), and RAJ KALA (an Indian Sikh who plays Commodore Singh)—were previously recorded. This past weekend’s shoot was set to record another four characters: ROBERT PRALGO as Captain Robert April, Corax and Tanaka, and Alec as Garth. That would have left seven characters remaining to shoot in Los Angeles: two Andorians, two Vulcans (including Arev), one Klingon, and two humans.
The reason for doing the shoot in Los Angeles is because that’s where the alien make-up specialist is located…along with a couple of key actors. But seven actors in heavy make-up is way too much to film completely in just two days. The L.A. shoot would need to be done over three days. However, now that the Arev footage is done, that drops the L.A. total to six, and three actors per day over two days is quite doable. (And if James Lew isn’t available, that drops the total to five actors over two days.) The cost to rent an L.A. green screen studio, equipment, and pay for a production crew and food would then drop by a full day, which would translate into a savings of about $12,000!
There was only one wrinkle with adding Arev to the Saturday shoot schedule in Lawrenceville. That would bring the total number of actors on Saturday to five, which would not be doable no matter how optimistic your estimates…unless you went REALLY late (like long after midnight), and that’s not the way to get good performances from your actors. And unfortunately, Ted Brunetti was only available for Saturday (not Sunday) to coach the actors.
In the end, the decision was made to postpone Alec’s interview segments as Garth…meaning there will still need to be one additional shoot in Atlanta, although Alec’s scenes can be filmed at any time and just require a few key people on set. So Axanar is still two shoots away from completion of principal photography. However, 10 out of the 17 actor interview segments have now been shot and, I’m told, look awesome. Ted Brunetti has apparently done an amazing job coaching the actors, and they all loved working with him. (The guy has coached GEORGE C. SCOTT, JACK LEMMON, and JAMES GANDOLFINI, among others…so what’s not to love?)
You can see some of that actor preparation in this second video that Mark posted on Saturday morning…
The Friday shoot was bursting with people. Actors joined extras to fill up the bridge, with Mark directing solo. Ted Brunetti wouldn’t arrive until the following day, as there were relatively few lines that needed to be delivered during the battle sequence on the bridge.
Once Ted got there on Saturday, he and Mark worked very closely to coordinate the best way to convey the characters’ motivations and personalities contained in the script…as doing straight-on interviews doesn’t typically leave an actor much to play off of. But that’s where Ted shines as an accomplished acting coach. While both Ted and Mark are Star Trek fans and both have thoroughly studied the script in close coordination with Alec (who wrote it), Mark was an integral part of the making of Prelude to Axanar and can offer Ted certain insights to help him bring out subtle nuances in the actors’ performances. It was a very synergistic partnership.
As for Friday, many Starfleet crew members were needed to populate the bridge, and that meant lots of extras…including a bunch of teenagers! Among these was LAUREN OSBORNE (daughter of long-time Axanar volunteer PAUL OSBORNE), who had also been cast as an extra in Interlude back in 2019—her character being killed when the USS Artemis self-destructed. Now three years older, I’m guessing Lauren is playing her “older sister” serving on board the USS Ares! Also on the bridge were two students of Dana’s wife ALLISON, who teaches the Gwinnett County high school video production curriculum. Dana told me that both students loved every minute of the experience.
A final young’un on set was MISAKO, the daughter of gaffer JIM ROSS. Misako is herself training to be a gaffer, and she did the slate (the clapper that clicks in front of the camera just after the director calls “Action!”). Misako was also on set for the previous shoot, but she’s more than a year older now and quite an impressive young lady!
Here’s a shot of everyone who was wearing a uniform on Friday (including Tina Ari, who served as an extra as well as playing Captain Arev on Saturday)…
And here’s a shot of everyone else who had something to do on set…
While Dana Wagner was “The Miracle Worker” keeping everything o the bridge working all day Friday (and most of the days leading up to Friday), he wasn’t needed there on Saturday, as action shifted off the bridge and into the green screen alcove.
But Dana doesn’t believe in taking the day off, and so on Saturday he supervised the continuing work laying down voice tracks for the Axanar audio drama, an adaptation of the entire Axanar script that was originally intended for the full-length feature film before the legal settlement with CBS and Paramount limited the film version of Axanar to two 15-minute segments. (The settlement didn’t address audio dramas.) Three of the voice actors—Adrienne Wilkinson as Corax, Tina Ari as Arev, and HALEY O’BRIEN as Lt. Wagner—recorded their dialog for the audio drama in Dana’s sound studio located in the basement of his very impressive house!
“The performances during audio drama sessions were amazing. Twice I had to pause the session to wipe tears out my eyes. No kidding! That good, that powerful…at least in person. And my sincere hope is that we can maintain—and elevate, if possible—that beautiful energy when translating these performances into to the finished product.”
And speaking of basements—or more precisely, unused garages—FRANK PARKER, JR., showrunner of the current fan series CROSSROADS: PROJECT GEMINI, was there at the Axanar shoot as a specially-invited guest and volunteer. Frank recently finished construction on a home-made bridge set of his own—built in his mother-in-law’s garage!—to use in his own fan series…
Frank has actually been involved in the Star Trek fan film community for over ten years, helping to build some of the Kingsland, GA sets that were used for STARSHIP FARRAGUT and STAR TREK CONTINUES and then creating the fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION (which is still around today, even though Frank moved on from it back in 2016). Frank and his wife Donna live in Gastonia, North Carolina, a scant 200 miles from Lawrenceville and a straight shot down I-85 to Ares Studios. So Alec invited them both to come for the shoot, as Frank and Donna had never seen the Ares bridge set.
“I was very impressed with the organization, teamwork, and the friendly and welcoming attitude by all,” Frank told me. I am also impressed with Alec as a human being. He is very a friendly and giving person…not the monster the haters make him out to be. I am proud to know Alec and to call him friend, and I have volunteered to help him in the future.”
Frank’s sentiments were shared by many who were at the shoot who subsequently posted to their Facebook pages and elsewhere. Geoff Fagien commented, “This is one of the best teams I have ever been a part of. This past weekend, all cylinders were hitting, and what we got was in line with the quality fans have come to expect from Axanar.”
Dana agreed, “During the bits of downtime I was permitted by the technology gods (who were apparently quite irate with me on Friday), I was afforded brief opportunities to observe the monitors in ‘Dgital Village’ and was admiring the gorgeous tapestry of light, composition, and performance that Geoff, Mark, and the actors were orchestrating in real time. What I saw on the replays looked amazing, and I cannot wait to see this awesome scene all cut together! The bridge was stunning through the camera lens and provided our talented actors a brilliant backdrop for their equally brilliant performances. SUPERB WEEKEND! So proud of our team!”
Alec also praised the team, particularly the directors. “Part of the reason the shoot was so successful is because we had two great directors, both of which were doing amazing work. And it’s the perfect division of labor. Mark Edward Lewis focuses on the camera team and getting the look we want for Axanar while Ted Brunetti focuses on the actors and performance. Both of those things were lacking in the 2019 shoot.”
Mark simply added, “We came. We saw. We kicked its ass!”
And finally, actor CHRIS HATCH (no relation to the dearly departed RICHARD HATCH), who plays a red-haired, red-shirted commander sitting at the engineering console on the USS Ares, summed up what many people were thinking: “It’s all come together with absolute love, attention, care, and everyone basically pulling this thing up by its bootstraps…and loving it into complete existence. And it’s been freaking phenomenal working with these people who have such a great passion for this project.”
Here are a whole bunch of awesome pictures from Friday and Saturday (click to enlarge any of them) taken by set photographer BRIAN BATES…