BORG HUNTERS films on a 24th Century set that’s really an…OPTOMETRIST’S OFFICE??? (interview with DAVID CHENG, MIKE LONGO, and MARK LUM)

Last year, STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTIONS INTERNATIONAL released their seventh fan film in three years, BORG HUNTERS. Their previous films covered quite a wide variety of themes and locations, mostly during the TOS movie era:

 THE HUMAN ADVENTURE was a very rare Star Trek: The Motion Picture era fan film, shot and released in late 2019. Showrunner DAVID CHENG played Admiral Nogura and MIKE LONGO played Admiral Kirk, with several other cosplayers appearing in the seldom-seen TMP-style uniforms.

LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, released in June 2020, was one of the first “fandemic” films, essentially an interstellar “Zoom call” between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy…who were also separated and looking forward to the day them could reunite.

I AM SPOCK, released a few weeks later, featured JENS DOMBEK, known internationally as “The German Spock.” A very stylized 90-second vignette shot against a stark black canvas background with only Spock and a series Vulcan props, Jens’ monotonal voice-over and minialist music track created a haunting and intimate look at this unique character.

UNREST was yet another “fandemic” film released in October of 2020 and featuring, for the first time, actors in front of green screens with chroma-keyed Star Trek backgrounds. David Cheng again played Nogura and Mike Longo played Kirk, with KEN HAYASHIDA debuting as Captain Hikaru Sulu aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior.

PEACE AND GOODWILL was released that Christmas, a third “Zoom call” style film as the lockdown continued…this time with a cast of six actors, their largest yet.

OUTRAGED, released in June of 2021, was still shot during lockdown but was their most ambitious project yet, with wide-framed green screen shots, a cast of 15 characters, and some scenes compositing two characters together at the same time.

And that leads us to April of 2022, and their first post-quarantine fan film. BORG HUNTERS was shot on a futuristic set with multiple actors on screen at the same time. Set in the 24th century after Voyager‘s return, David and Mike are back in front of the camera again, but this time they are playing different well-known characters: Harry Kim and Chakotay, respectively. As usual, the cosplay-quality Starfleet uniforms are impeccable, as is an amazing Borg outfit.

At this point, I’ll just let you take a look…

David and Mikey were joined by MARK G. H. LUM, who was previously a part of both The Human Adventure and Outraged, returned to roles both in front of and behind the camera, as Mark played Dr. Leland Tam as well as directing, editing, and being director of photography.

I got the three fans to sit down to answer some questions about their latest project, including finding out where this impressive 24th century set was located and how they came to shoot on it…

Mike Longo as Chakotay and David Cheng as Harry Kim

JONATHAN – Tell us a little about this set you filmed on. Where is it located, and who owns it? Is it permanent? Would other fan films/series be able to use it, too?

DAVID – One of our friends, DR. GARRETT WADA, an optometrist, is a hard-core Trekkie, and he designed this as his permanent professional office.  His intent was to make it look like the interior of a Next Generation-era starship.  It includes part of a Borg regeneration chamber from the old Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas and an actual console from Star Trek: Voyager.  The office is located in Orange County, California and has been featured in articles.  It is really an amazing place to see and experience, and I am sure many of Garrett’s patients get a big kick out of it.  As far as I know, he does not make it available for film shooting, so we were fortunate that he allowed us to shoot there as a favor to us because he knows and trusts us. 

JONATHAN – Which came first: discovering that you would be able to use these sets and then writing a script to fit the era, or writing the script first and then looking for a place to shoot the film?

DAVID – I was aware of this Star Trek-themed optometrist office before I met Garrett at a Star Trek Convention.  At that time, he showed me personal photos of the office and I knew, then, that we had to shoot a fan film there.  So, with the expectation that we would be able to do so, I came up with the story of Borg Hunters to be set in a Next Generation-era ship. 

JONATHAN – Tell us a little about the script development/writing process.

DAVID – One of the great injustices of Star Trek is that, over the course of seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Harry Kim was never promoted above the rank of Ensign.  Even after all this time, his character is still the brunt of jokes about this.  Part of the idea of Borg Hunters was to remedy this by making Harry Kim the captain of the ship in the film.  Initially, my idea was that the mission of finding Borg drones was not a desirable assignment, and the crew was going to be a rag-tag group of Starfleet “undesirables” or outcasts.  Eventually this evolved to become a more straightforward film with just Harry Kim, Chaoktay, and Dr. Tam. 

I was influenced somewhat by the Next Generation episode “I, Borg” in coming up with a story about a Borg drone that was disconnected from the Collective.  I thought it would be an interesting film to see what would happen when our crew came across such a Borg drone.  Originally, the crew was going to find the drone on a planet, but eventually we gave up that idea in favor of just beaming Borg Grant over from his ship. 

Although I wrote most of the script, Mark and Mike provided good feedback, and we incorporated some changes to improve it.  I really enjoy the collaboration in working with my friends in coming up with the best product that we can.

JONATHAN – How many days were you shooting for?

DAVID – Because the optometrist office is open six days a week, including Saturday, the only day available for shooting was Sunday.  In order for us to shoot at the office, Garrett would have to be there on his day off.  We wanted to be respectful of his time, so we originally aimed to shoot everything in one day.  Unfortunately, after viewing the clips, we realized that we needed to reshoot some dialogue between Kim and Chakotay and had to shoot some pickup shots.  So Garrett graciously relented and allowed us to film an additional day, which helped a lot. 

We did not face the time constraints, of course, for the shots involving the Anika Hansen (7 of 9) and Admiral Janeway characters.  The actors playing those characters live in other states and shot their scenes against green screens for us to incorporate into the story.

Mark Lum as Dr. Tam

JONATHAN – What were the most challenging aspects of filming?

MARK – We had a time constraint with the set provider and were trying to complete the project in two days. So the pressure of trying to complete 11+ pages of script was overwhelming, if not just impossible…considering that industry film shoots probably do 2-3 pages at the most in a day for “quality” productions.

We had to cut back on the number of takes (sometimes only one take for a scene) for the sake of time! This required a lot of creative editing. We only shot with one camera (Camera A), and this limited the time of doing different angled shots. You get the idea that TIME was the biggest challenge.

Fortunately, we got to go back to the set for another day to complete the missed scenes and for correcting some of the technical problems that we saw on review. Not all of the scenes were shot on set. We had scenes remotely shot by phone at some of the actors’ homes, and the files were uploaded for editing.

JONATHAN – I’m assuming you found a cosplayer with his own Borg outfit? If so, was this someone you already knew and wanted to work with, or did you just put out feelers among the cosplay community looking for a Borg?

DAVID – I had known JERRY POWELL for many years, having first met him at a Star Trek convention, and I knew that he had a fabulous Borg armor suit.  Fortunately, he also lived locally, so it made sense to ask him to play the part of the Borg in the film.  He also had some previous acting experience and was very enthusiastic about doing it, so we were really thankful to have him. I also knew that Jerry had designed and created his own prop rifle that he called the “Borg Blaster,” and I decided to incorporate that into the storyline.  Jerry also designed and made the Borg forehead appliance that Mark wore at the very end of the film.  He is a very talented individual who has made a Bat Borg armor suit, an Iron Man suit, and a Robocop suit.  Jerry continues to come up with new ideas for suits! 

JONATHAN – Were there any specific challenges for you and/or Mike Longo trying to play the established roles of Kim and Chakotay, respectively?

DAVID – The film is set twenty years after the beginning of the Voyager series, so I was playing Harry Kim as an older man.  Hence, I did not need to try emulate the way GARRETT WANG portrayed him, but I did try to capture a bit of the essence of the character in my voice and inflections.  I recall the young Harry Kim trying to learn how to be a Starfleet officer, not always self-assured and, at times, struggling.  I tried to capture a bit of that in how he dealt with his first command as captain of a ship, which is why he needed a more experienced Captain Chakotay on the vessel to help him along the way.  From an acting standpoint, because I was used to playing Admiral Nogura in our other films, it was a bit of a challenge to try to get away from that character so I could play Kim.  There was at least one time when Mark, as director, had to tell me that I was sounding more like Nogura than Kim when I was speaking!

MIKE – Borg Hunters was a lot of fun to shoot. First of all it was the first time since Covid that we all got to be together again in the same room. It’s easier to act when you have someone in front of you who you can react off of. It helps shape the tone of your performance. Being non-actors, it’s a real benefit to be on a physical set. Borg Hunters had great sets. It helps the play mode to be able to press buttons and look at screens that are actually displaying something.

I enjoyed playing a different role than my usual one in our fan films. I always felt that in Voyager, Chakotay was never fully realized as a character. In this film, he plays somewhat of a big brother role. We give Harry Kim some fan service, and that was satisfying to me. It was also satisfying to see what these characters were up to after Voyager returned home. We had great fun filming an action sequence, which is something we haven’t done in any of our fan films really. The final shot of Borg Hunters was a bit of a risk because I wasn’t sure how smoothly I could make the camera movement and tilt as we pushed into Mark Lum’s face—the camera was handheld on a wide lens.  We used some software to smooth it out, and it makes the whole final sequence very effective.

JONATHAN – Are you guys working on any new fan films? If so, what should we expect to see next?

DAVID – We started shooting a film, TIME AND TIME AGAIN, in 2019.  It was meant to be the next film involving the characters of Nogura, Kirk, and Curry that were introduced in The Human Adventure, but it is set in the Undiscovered Country era.  The film was interrupted by COVID, which, as you know, led us to film a few “fandemic” films, as you call them. We are finally attempting to complete this project, which may be the next one we release.

We still have other film projects in various stages of development, including a follow-up to Borg Hunters.  The main challenge that we face is trying to coordinate our schedules so we can shoot the films.  In this regard, it was somewhat easier to do the fandemic films because we could shoot our own scenes on our own time.  Ultimately, though, the in-person films are more fun and satisfying, so those are the types of films we are aiming to make for the foreseeable future.