Oh, yeah? Well, who asked YOU…?!?! (editorial)

I don’t usually write blogs about trolls, but I’m not entirely certain that “CHUCK IN TEXAS” knows he’s a troll. It’s possible that he actually believes he’s being helpful in some way. So in an attempt to be “helpful” to this fellow myself—in the same way he was—I am writing this blog with the hope that somehow, some way, Chuck will read it.

Wait, who the heck is Chuck???

Last week, “Chuck in Texas” posted a separate criticizing comment on nearly every fan film on the AVALON UNIVERSE YouTube Channel. I have a screen cap of one of them…

The other comments were of a similar tone, critiquing everything from the quality of the wig worn by the Vulcan nurse T’Prin to the type of lenses that JOSHUA IRWIN was using to the shoot those films. After a few of these comments, Josh responded that he felt that Chuck was being rude. Chuck ignored Josh’s responses and kept right on posting.

“He was addressing me like I was a teenager who had never made a film before,” Josh told me, “saying obvious things like ‘Choreograph your fight scenes!!’ and ‘Invest in a real makeup crew!!’ and telling me to shoot more than one take….like I’m not already doing that.”

Eventually, after being ignored and just seeing more and more belittling posts popping up like mushrooms, Josh blocked “Chuck from Texas”—which effectively removed all of Chuck’s comments from the videos. “I don’t mind constructive criticism,” ” says Josh, “and in fact, if you look at the comments on my fan films, you’ll see a lot of that. But if someone is being rude or nasty, that’s just uncalled for.”

Normally, I’d completely ignore a story like this because such condescending criticism is a fact of life on social media, and Josh dispatched this guy quickly and without incident. But then I thought about it a bit more and realized that this could become a “teachable moment”…possibly for Chuck in Texas if he reads this but at least for others who watch Star Trek fan films and decide to be armchair filmmakers themselves.

Am I saying that no one should ever be allowed to express negative feedback of a fan film? Of course not! The world is full of people, and people have opinions. My issue is with the sanctimonious approach to telling someone how to “fix” their fan film. In short, unless you’ve made a better fan film yourself, you really don’t have a right to tell others how they should have made theirs. And you wanna know something funny? People who have made fan films do NOT offer unsolicited and condescending advice like that. They just don’t.

People who manage to produce fan films of their own realize what it takes to complete a project, and they (typically) offer their respect to other filmmakers. The anonymous “Chuck in Texas” offered no such respect, which leads me to conjecture that he has never completed a film production of his own. And perhaps that’s why he wanted to “help” with advice rather than doing any real work or having to make hard choices.

What kind of hard choices, you ask…?

Well, for most fan films, such choices usually come down to money. For example, one of the things that “Chuck in Texas” complained about was the various uniforms that ALEX REXFORD (Allenby) wore in the newest trailer for the upcoming Avalon releases…

According to Josh, “He kept going off about cheap, untailored costumes!!!” The fact is that few fan productions can afford to purchase and/or create high-quality, tailored costumes. “I looked into having a costume tailor made for Alex,” Josh explained to me. “The quote I got from someone who had a screen accurate pattern was $600. It was that or pay for a plane ticket for Alex to Kingsland, GA. Couldn’t do both.”

That’s one of those hard choices I was talking about. Now, some folks (like “Chuck in Texas”) might respond, “Why does he need to buy a plane ticket for the actress? Why can’t she just drive there with Josh or pay her own way?” Well, first of all, nobody should have to pay for the privilege of volunteering to help with a fan film. It’s bad enough that the fan film guidelines don’t allow fan productions to pay people for their services.

As for flying versus driving, it’s 12+ hours by car EACH WAY from northwestern Arkansas to southeastern Georgia. And while Josh doesn’t mind the long drive and can take some time off or work to make the trip, Alex doesn’t have that luxury. Also, she’s been doing a LOT of filming for these final episodes, including playing at least five different characters in the upcoming CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALIBURS and shooting at two different studios in two states and also on location outdoors. Asking her to provide quality performances as so many characters AFTER also being stuck in a car for half a day isn’t fair or realistic for an actress.

So costume or plane ticket? That’s a choice. Now, in the case of FARRAGUT FORWARD, they have opted to put much more time, money, and resources into creating the most amazing costumes and sets…and hooray for that! They also raised two and a half times what Josh raised to fund three fan films while Farragut is only shooting one…plus they have volunteers who know how to sew. Josh knows his way around a camera but not a needle and thread, and volunteer seamstresses aren’t exactly banging down his door!

And speaking of cameras, another of Chuck’s helpful comments was “Back up and use more 85mm and telephoto lenses.” Well, how about that! Looks like Chuck knows a thing or two about camera lenses. Of course, so does Josh, who went to film school and has spent decades working in the entertainment industry in Arkansas. “You don’t really shoot a lot of tight shots with Cinemascope,” Josh mentioned. “You get empty space in the frame. But even if I wanted to, my telephoto lens is broken. Not sure what the hell happened to it. It just started shooting soft one day.” According to Josh, the repair of the lens would be several hundred dollars, or $1500 to replace. Eventually, maybe he’ll be able to do so, but not in the middle of producing three expensive fan films with limited funding. Again, hard choices.

Another issue I had with Chuck’s “advice” was his assumption that Josh is shooting only one take. “Be willing to RE-SHOOT a take and only use the BEST VERSION,” Chuck says. How does Chuck know that Josh isn’t shooting multiple takes and using the best one? I’ve seen Josh in action, and I know for a fact that he shoots multiple takes. Indeed, I even have proof on video:

Now, it’s true that some fan filmmakers shoot minimal takes—and sometimes only one or two when they could really benefit from trying a few more. But there are other considerations in play. Ofttimes, a production crew only has minimal time to film in a specific location, or the studio they’re shooting in is very hot or very cold, or certain cast members are available only for a limited period. In these cases, there might be time enough for only one or two takes of each shot simply in order to “make their day” and get all of the footage they need in the can before time runs out.

And sometimes a production has fan “actors” who aren’t trained or experienced and simply want to appear in a fan film. Occasionally, these folks don’t bother memorizing their lines or, even if they do, they don’t deliver them well or they sound like they’re reciting rather than speaking naturally. In those cases, multiple takes will likely produce the exact same result.

But hey, in the end, the point of these endeavors is to have fun and make a film…of whatever quality. Fans who want “tru-Trek” (as Chuck calls it) are setting the bar far too high for even the most well-funded fan film. TOS cost $190K per episode to produce back in 1966, which would top $1.5 million today! At most, a fan film can raise $50K, and most are made for far, far less than that.

In the meantime, those who choose to complain or criticize or “armchair direct/produce” like “Chuck from Texas” have it SUPER easy. After all, they don’t really have to know anything…or even if they do know, they don’t have to actually accomplish anything. They just sit back and dispense their “wisdom” as if if were some kind of gift rather than the pinnacle of hubris.

That’s the main reason why I refuse to ever criticize or even critique any fan film, regardless of what I might think of it personally. Poking holes in fan films is like shooting fish in a barrel, and it accomplishes nothing. The film is done. It’s not going to get re-made just because someone lists the specific things they think were wrong with it.

And if the goal instead is to somehow “teach” them so they can do better next time, then I must state the question: Who the heck asked you??? I mean, if a producer or director or editor posts in the description of their video, “I/We welcome any advice about how I/we can make a better fan film next time,” then by all means, go to town! But if they don’t, or if they just ask whether or not you liked it, then understand that your advice and wisdom is NOT being sought. And it’s likely not welcome either…especially if you’re an arrogant jerk about it.

I’ll let Josh have the final word…

“There was an interesting comment I saw on a livestream the other night where someone said to another critic on that same stream: ‘I think you’re mistaking someone making a different choice than you would for doing something wrong.’ It’s easy to sit around and talk trash. It’s quite another to actually go do something.”

‘Nuff said.

29 thoughts on “Oh, yeah? Well, who asked YOU…?!?! (editorial)”

  1. I can think of some folks who need to learn similar lessons about their incessant need to dump on professional creators of Star Trek as well. They might make different choices, and they sure think they could do it better, so they feel they have the green light to be hurtful, hateful and just plain mean.

    But nobody asked them, and nobody’s forcing them to watch. And those professionals are just as emotionally invested, passionate and well-intentioned as the fan film creators.

    So all of these keyboard warriors just need to step back and be nice!

      1. Not sure I can agree with you entirely there, Jon. As someone who wrote literally hundreds of episode reviews in the ’90s, I think there’s a place for criticism even if you’re not in a position where you can “do better yourself.”

        Tone is huge, of course — there’s a big difference between saying “here’s what worked for me and here’s what didn’t” and saying the sort of things Chuck in Texas said. But saying “if you can’t do better, don’t criticize” is a blanket statement that could be used to pronounce virtually all criticism invalid, and I think there’s very much a place for it, as you’ve shown in your own reviews of Picard!

        1. Keep in mind, Tim, that I did state the following in the blog: “Am I saying that no one should ever be allowed to express negative feedback of a fan film? Of course not! The world is full of people, and people have opinions. My issue is with the sanctimonious approach to telling someone how to ‘fix’ their fan film.”

          Fans criticize and critique movies and shows all the time–with varying levels of civility. And in many of those cases, the criticism is well-deserved. But how many fans will walk up to a director or writer or producer on one of the new CBS Star Treks and start pontificating on exactly what they need to do differently?

          And the problem with doing the same thing with holier-than-thou pedantry to a FAN filmmaker is not only that it is the height of hubris but also that it does not respect the challenges of filmmaking on a shoestring budget with non-professionals. When a studio is giving you $5-to-8 million per episode, there’s a certain level of quality to be expected. When your budget is 1/1000 of that, there really needs to be an allowance for “not perfection.” As I’ve said before, if you go to watch an elementary school play that your kid is performing in, you shouldn’t set the bar at “Hamilton” on Broadway or even off-off-Broadway. Sure, the occasional sixth grade class at a performing arts school could blow your mind, but most of the time, it doesn’t happen that way.

          1. Okay, fair point; I read the comments a while after I’d read your original piece, so had forgotten that statement, and without that context your “unless you can do better yourself” sentence felt a little too broadly condemnatory for my taste. I totally agree with the original statement, and it’s way too easy, as others have noted, to fall into the trap of saying “this is not how I’d have done it” as “this is Wrong with a capital Ong.”

        2. I think you hit the nail on the head, Tim – Tone is a big part of it, and the need to make criticism constructive and thoughtful. Taking into account the nature of the production, and simply being a civil and decent human go a long way. Where I take issue with a lot of self-appointed Star Trek arbiters is when they result to denigrating writers, actors and creators. (And professional experience doesn’t excuse being a jerk.)

          In my book, personal insults should have no place in fandom – Star Trek or otherwise. Sadly, it sometimes feels like I’m in the minority with that opinion.

          1. I strongly believe in criticizing the action, not the person. Those who accuse Alex Kurtzman of “trying to destroy old Star Trek” are demonizing the man. Those who say that it’s a mistake for the writers to have Michael Burnham cry so much are criticizing the action, not the writers themselves.

            That said, Chuck’s was criticizing BOTH the person and the action. By telling Josh he needed to shoot more takes, he was assuming that Josh did not do so, criticizing the man for being an inadequate director. Telling Josh to make his editing tighter tells him he’s not a good editor. Had Chuck said, “I think the fighting sequence moves too slowly” would be criticizing the action (or lack thereof). That said, Josh was going for a different kind of fight sequence. Doing “Walker, Texas Ranger” with a small woman and big man would stretch credulity. So instead, he had his actors, both accomplished martial artists, stage an actual fight using real-world moves to demonstrate that, yes, a smaller woman COULD outmaneuver and overpower a larger, stronger man.

          2. Thanks, Charlie. I’d like to think that even my harshest reviews (of “official” Trek; never reviewed a fan film) were focused on choices and the viewer’s experience, not lobbing insults at the Powers That Be. (Okay, *maybe* when I reviewed “Threshold”…) I agree that it’s a matter of focusing on one’s own perceptions, not taking those perceptions as absolute truth.

  2. As someone who has been involved with fan films for almost a decade, I’ve seen a number of people like “Chuck in Texas” come and go. When a comment like his shows up, I like to look at the commenter’s YouTube page to see what they’ve done to show their filmmaking ability. Without fail, the one thing I am never able to find from these commenters is a video of their own to view. At most, they’ll have created a playlist of videos they like. But never a video.

    If the comment isn’t too bad, I’ll leave it and let others make their own decision as to how correct the comment is. If I find it offensive, I’ll remove it.

    One comment I received on a video I released 8 years ago (Starship Rendezvous: The Inquest) really made my day and was very encouraging. And the best part is, it doesn’t apply to just my little fan film, it applies to every fan film out there. Here’s what he said.

    “To the Cast & Crew of “Star Trek: Rendezvous… The Inquiry” — BRAVO-!

    DO BE PROUD of your efforts completed. DO CONTINUE CREATING these stories or any damn thing you choose.

    You need not take the sour critiques from them’s who’s idea of creating — is to write a few snide comments. Remember this: It was you folks did the work — you had the dream, that lead to writing it, pre-production, shooting, and then the myriad of details it took to complete the effects, the editing, the scoring, the release.

    And for anyone from the cheap seats who’ll dare to write a snide reply to me, this is what I do for a living and have been in the Movie & TV industry for 41 years now and a ton of awards for my work as a commercial director & a produced screenwriter of a cult film.

    So — Cast & Crew of “Star Trek: Rendezvous… The Inquiry” ……….. DO STICK WITH IT — DO DARE TO DREAM IT — and best yet, DO MAKE THEM. The best way to learn filmmaking is to make films. In short, BRAVO-! Your efforts are light-years above and beyond anything the armchair detractors could ever achieve.”
    MeBeTheDA (Dana Augustine)

    1. As I said in the blog, actual filmmakers who know what they’re doing also know enough to publicly praise and not criticize the work of others. So yes, the simple fact of Chuck’s multiple comments of criticism led me to conclude he is not someone who has actually made films.

      Good to hear from you, Ross. You are truly one of the pioneers of our little niche of a niche of a niche community!

  3. Great blog Jon! I hate the wanna bee’s that think they are experts when they’ve never attempted an endeavor much less done it. My hats’s off to all fan film makers for putting themselves out there for the love of their craft and story telling! dm me on best way to send Josh contribution to fix his telephoto lens or buy plane tickets.

    1. Yeah, that’s what Josh did. I was the one who decided to make this a “teachable moment.”

      Usually, I ignore the trolls, too. But every so often, it’s nice to shoot back at one and keep myself in practice. 😉

  4. Criticising other people’s work is something that’s always really easy to do, doing something good yourself takes serious effort.

    Just a note: I’m very hesitant in saying a fan film (or, in fact, any film or any work of art) is better than another. Sure: I have my favourites and I can say I liked some and didn’t like others, but art is in itself something extremely subjective and can’t be ranked in my opinion.

    Also, shooting a fan film is something really intensive and hard to do, anyone who managed to do one deserves a lot of respect.

  5. To Charlie who wrote: “So all of these keyboard warriors just need to step back and be nice! ” Thanks, I sprayed my screen with coffee when I read that! It was a wide pattern atomization, it was. LOL

    Jonathan, when I first discovered the world of Fan Films, I was very excited. That people would spend so much time to bring us these stories, and at such cost to themselves & others, is a gift. And I’m sure most people appreciate this self-sacrifice. I know I do! Especially knowing how much effort goes into these, from all your coverage on your first fan film. From the crowd funding, to actually filming, to post production, and the million things in-between. To all who venture out, and dare to go where few have before, I commend you all.

  6. One of my first encounters with a Hollywood producer gave the most insightful comment about how a film is SUPPOSED to be shot. He gave the example of handing a script to 50 seperate directors and asking them how they would set up the first scene including camera placement, lighting choices, blocking actors, etc. He said that there would 50 different directors cxhoosing 50 different ways of completing that one scene. Josh is one of the premium fan film producers in our fan film family of producers and directors who has completed not one but many fanfilms. And even though I understand where Chuck in Texas’ sentiments are coming from (arm chair), it is a massive undertaking to complete even the shortest length or zero budget fan film. And to be that one person who has to oversee every element of the production can become a complete blur at times. Even an extention cord that gets unnoticed during the entire editing process can end up as the first thing people see while watching. Sure, we all can improve. And I think all of us who produce fan films learn new lessons with every film. But in order to do that we would need a much larger crew, heftier budgets, more seasoned actors, better wigs and at least one 85mm lens.

  7. I got into fan films with the first season of Hidden Frontier. Not a polished production at that stage by any means. But the fact that they could and did do it made it immensely enjoyable for me. It was amazing watching them grow.

    Working on Intrepid, Dreadnought Dominion, Warbird Valdore and Hidden Frontier is the gift that keeps on giving and I find myself feeling fortunate. It all for the fun of it and playing in the Trek sandbox. The people are amazing. And there’s nothing more satisfying than releasing something.

    If people enjoy it then great. If not, maybe they’ll like the next thing.

    The trolls are easy to ignore for the most part.

    Keep on creating folks.

    1. Troll are both easy and hard to ignore. You can read their comments and DO nothing. But it is much more challenging to read their comments and FEEL nothing.

  8. I’ve commented on a couple of posts about fan films. I may have given unsolicited advice (hopefully, I didn’t. Can’t remember). If anyone sees this and remembers me doing that, I apologize. And If I did, it was probably concerning green screen. I’ve edited a few short films and green screen would drive me nuts! Keep on making movies! You’ve done more than me.

  9. Y’know, I’ve been watching fan films for about 25 years now. Some are to my taste, and some aren’t. I’ve written a couple, taken part in the making of a couple, had some small roles, even done some fan audios. And I’ve got more rejected pitches, half-finished stories and failed projects to my name than I care to think about. So this is kind of an open letter to the Chucks in Texas of the world.

    Fan films are really no different from any other media. Some people like Strange New Worlds. Some like Discovery. Some hate anything called Star Trek that doesn’t have William Shatner in. Some of them want to erase the Kelvin Timeline from existence. It’s all a matter of taste. That’s point number one.

    Point number two is that resourcing plays into people’s tastes. The big A-list stuff like Star Trek Continues or Farragut Forward is the fan film equivalent of a big budget streaming series. Then you’ve got your Interludes, Dreadnought Dominions, and so on… right down to the low- or no-budget stuff. The Tales of the Fourth Fleets, the Hidden Frontiers, the Potemkin Productions. They are (and no offence intended to the makers of those series) the movie-of-the-week equivalent.

    TotFF and HF both look pretty primitive these days, in the same way that (say) Blake’s 7 looks primitive, because they are limited by the tech of their time – but when they were made, they were cutting-edge, and the folks who wrote and produced and acted all brought their “A” game. George Kayaian has a bridge made out of sheets of metallic card; Randy Landers has one that’s slightly more robust, but not anywhere near the quality that James Cawley’s crew built. Do I rag on them? Nope. They’re bringing their “A” game too, doing the best they can with what they have available. And they’re having fun.

    The difference between fan film makers and professionals is this: unless you’re a James Cameron or a Tom Cruise, professionals don’t just do things for passion or for fun. Most professionals do it to pay the bills, and are sometimes lucky enough to land a gig they love, or to be able to kick off a project they are passionate about. Fan film makers do it for the love. Professionals get reviewed and have to grow a thick skin, though the rise of social media means that more people are happy to go on the attack against them and roll out the ad hominems – and that’s really not great, but that’s not what I’m getting at.

    Long and short of things… you want to dip in your pocket and put $10 in a crowdfunder to support a small series you love, that’s great. You want to give constructive feedback? That’s great too. But this is someone’s hobby, someone’s evenings and weekends – so if you feel the need to go on social media and piss on their Wheaties, think about this. How would you feel if you had a passion – your garden, your Estes rockets or Revell kits, your classic muscle car – that you shared online and someone did it to you?

    My rule of thumb is this: if it’s not for you, walk away and say nothing. Just because you can engage with someone on social media, doesn’t mean you should; being a mature adult is knowing the difference, and learning to punch up, not down. And in a world where you can be anything online, why would anyone choose to be another dipshit from Chicago? (Sorry, Liam…)

    1. Well said, Larry. And my apologies for the delay in approving this comment from you. As you can see from today’s (Sunday’s) blog, things have been busy with Jayden’s graduation, the grandparents visiting, and end-of-elementary-school parties.

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