STUCK ON AN UNKNOWN PLANET shows how one fan filmmaker can help another (interview with KARL FAULKNER and VANCE MAJOR)

“Let me help.” About 5 years or so from now, a famous novelist from a planet orbiting the far left star in Orion’s belt will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over “I love you.”

A couple of months ago, VANCE MAJOR, one of the most prolific fan filmmakers in Star Trek history, suggested I check out STUCK ON AN UNKNOWN PLANET from fan filmmaker KARL FAULKNER. Karl is from Ely, a cathedral city and civil parish about 14 miles north/northeast of Cambridge and 80 miles north of London in the U.K.

Stuck on an Unknown Planet is 3-part fan series with episodes posted on Vance’s NO BUDGET PRODUCTIONS YouTube Channel. When I went to check them out, I immediately noticed that this was not your typical fan film. It was clearly created from a place of passion for Star Trek at a very grass-roots entry level. And while Stuck on an Unknown Planet is certainly not as polished as some of the higher-end fan films out there, it 100% demonstrates that anyone can make a fan film…and I think that’s absolutely wonderful.

The reason that Stuck on an Unknown Planet appears on Vance’s channel is because Karl asked Vance to assist him in finishing the project…hence, the “Let me help” opening of this blog. Here’s the first episode of the series that was posted on Vance’s YouTube channel after the two fan filmmakers collaborated…

As I said, a very unique fan film! Click here to watch episode two and here to watch episode three. After that, Vance retired from fan films in order to spend more time with his 7-year-old son Royce. But Karl has continued to produce his fan series, and you can watch Karl’s subsequent episode on Karl’s YouTube channel.

Before we talk to Vance about the why’s and how’s of his participation, let’s start off by chatting with Karl…

JONATHAN – Hi there, Karl. Can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself?

KARL – I like spending time with my friends playing my Xbox. I had a girlfriend, but now I’m single. I used to go to college, but now I don’t. And I used to live with mum and dad, but now I just live with Dad because my mum died.

JONATHAN – Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, Karl. How long ago did your mum pass away?

KARL – 1st of May, 2022.

JONATHAN – My sympathies, my friend. Do you have a job right now?

KARL – No.

JONATHAN – So how old were you when you first started watching Star Trek, and which Star Trek series was your first one?

KARL – I am 25 years old, and the first series I watched was the original series with Captain Christopher Pike in “The Cage” and then moved on to Captain Kirk.

Karl Faulkner

JONATHAN – And what did you like most about the original series?

KARL – The Constitution-class starships.

JONATHAN – Did you watch the other Star Trek TV series and movies, as well?

KARL – Yes, I did. Star Trek: Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Picard.

JONATHAN – Do you have a favorite Star Trek fan film or fan series that you really like?

KARL – I watch No Budget Productions fan films.

JONATHAN – Any others or just those?

KARL – Just those ones that I can remember.

JONATHAN – And what made you want to make a fan film of your own?

KARL – Watching Vance Major inspired me to make my own Star Trek fan film.

JONATHAN – What was it about what Vance was doing that made you want to make a fan film?

KARL – He just inspired me that’s all.

JONATHAN – That’s fine. So what aspects of making a Star Trek fan film did you ask Vance for help with?

KARL – I asked him to help me edit my film.

JONATHAN – So then you had already shot the film?

KARL – Yes, I did. I made it with my ex-girlfriend who bought me a camera to make them.

JONATHAN – Did she buy you a camera specifically because she knew you wanted to make a fan film, or did she buy you the camera first and then after getting it, you decided to make a film?

KARL – We both decided to make the fan films, so we got the costume first before we got the camera. But I make them on my own now because she cheated on me.

JONATHAN – I’m really sorry to hear that she cheated on you, Karl.

KARL – Thank you.

JONATHAN – So aside from editing, what is the most challenging part of making a fan film for you?

KARL – Deciding to carry on with the fan films for myself, that’s the most challenging part. I found not having people who know Star Trek to even ask them to be a part of the look was really hard.

JONATHAN – Well, I admire you for hanging in there, Karl…especially now that Vance has retired. Are you still planning to make all twelve of your fan films?

KARL – Yes, and continuing on with the fan films for the foreseeable future.

So that was Karl. The other half of this blog will be dedicated to Vance, who was there to lend Karl a hand when asked….

Vance and Royce Major

JONATHAN – Did you and Karl know each other before he asked you for help, or did his request come straight out of the blue?

VANCE – Karl had been watching my films during a YouTube watch party, and afterwards, he reached out to me via Facebook. I always give out my Facebook contact information during those kinds of events for anyone who wants to follow up with me. If they need help, I’ll try to help them or at least point them in the direction of someone who I think can.

JONATHAN – So what did Karl say when he first contacted you?

VANCE – He asked for advice on making a film, what advice I would give, what I would do. And my advice was just go make some films and not to compare himself to other people. The worst thing you can do is to try to make someone else’s film. Just make your film. And after you’re done making it, if it’s not the way you want it, make another one and make it better.

So he asked me how he should make it, and I told him there were various options. He could use physical sets, which can get pretty expensive, but the best and most cost effective for him would probably be green screen. Then the only thing he’d really have to worry about would be lighting it properly. And if he needed help with that he could give me a call and I’d help talk him through it.

JONATHAN – Did he call you?

VANCE – No, he just sorta did it. A couple of months later, he reached out to me again and said that he’d made a film and released it on his YouTube channel. But now he wanted help making it.

JONATHAN – Wait a second. He released it and then he wanted help making it?

VANCE – Yeah, I don’t think he realized that that isn’t really how things go. I mean, if you’ve already released it, then what do you need my help for?

JONATHAN – So what did you tell him?

VANCE – Well, first I should briefly discuss another friend of mine, Noah, who is helping me edit the autobiography that I’m writing. Noah doesn’t know anything about Star Trek, and he’s only watched a couple of my fan films.

JONATHAN – He’s an copy editor, not a Trekkie, dammit!

VANCE – Haha. Yes. But frankly, he totally supports my passion even though he doesn’t care about the films. But he’s one of my closest friends, and I shared one of Karl’s films because I just happened to be working on it when he came over. I said, “Hey, man, take a look at this…” And he loved it! He said, “This is great. I would watch something like this all the time.”

JONATHAN – Did he say why?

VANCE – Well, for one thing, it’s not long. Noah doesn’t want to watch a 50-minute Star Trek fan film. He doesn’t want to watch something that takes itself too seriously. We both work a lot of hours, and our job is pretty stressful most of the time. So anything that makes us laugh, and anything that’s just a good time…I mean, you watch Karl’s films, and I challenge you not to smile. Just try not to laugh. And I’m not talking about laughing in a make-fun-of-it sort of way; I’m taking about the charm. And then Noah showed it to one our our co-workers, and he laughed at it…again, not to make fun of it but simply because it was such a good time.

Does it have its imperfections? Sure it does. Every movie does. But once you get over your own ego, it’s just charming. Some people just want to go into a movie, turn their brain off, have a good time, and leave. And that’s what Karl brings to it.

JONATHAN – So if the film was already completed and released, what did you do to make it better?

VANCE – When I saw it, I realized that I knew how we could maybe put a little “shine” on this. And honestly, most of the work was done by my editor. Anyway, I told Karl that we could put credits on it, a title card on it, we could have some intro music, and we could do some stuff to the green screen to make it seem a little more like a film.

I mean, I knew there were challenges. For example, they’re not in frame half the time, and you can’t always understand the story. So I realized that I couldn’t put a high-quality J.J. Abrams-looking ship interior in there or a highly-detailed CGI planet background. So instead, I thought, “Let’s camp this up.” I remembered how you used to say, Jonathan, that some fan films were like watching fourth grade plays. And I know you didn’t mean that as an insult but rather to say that fans were putting their heart and soul into their projects and just didn’t have the skills or resources to produce Broadway-quality productions.

And I realized that was the case with Karl. It reminded me of a school play, and I thought, “Let’s take that approach.” So the green screen backgrounds wouldn’t be super-fancy because we’d already broken that illusion. So instead, I decided to really “Adam West” this thing. And that way, anyone who watches it will know that we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. So the planet background has cartoon tomato babies. Why? Why not! It’s no weirder than some of the artwork for the old 1970’s Mego toys or Gold Key comics.

And that was my approach each time Karl brought me another fan film. Let’s embrace the fun of filmmaking with someone who’s just happy to be here at the table…someone who’s just wanting to make a film. And it was always a pleasure to help him in what little capacity that I could. I don’t think I or my team made the films better, per se, just more accessible to people who were scratching their heads thinking, “I don’t understand what’s going on.” We just helped Karl tell his story.

JONATHAN – And there’s the word that I really want to discuss: help. I’m sure it was pretty obvious to you when Karl contacted you that there might be certain challenges if you got involved. But it sounds like you didn’t even hesitate before deciding to give him your time, knowledge, experience, and even lend him resources like your editor and CGI team. That’s a major commitment (no pun intended!).

VANCE – It’s easy to brush off any fan who is new to fan films. So it would have been easy to brush off Karl in the same way and lump him in with everybody else. But I never wanted to do that because I was that newbie fan when I started. Nobody wanted to see a fat guy in a Star Trek outfit. Nobody wanted me in their films. So that’s why I made a career out of being the go-to guy who, if you wanted to be in his films, I’d find a way to put you in it. It didn’t matter if you wanted a big role or a cameo or just to be in the background. It didn’t matter whether or not you owned a Star Trek uniform. I knew they just wanted to be there…just like me. And I could relate to Karl in that regard.

So yeah, with Karl, it would have been easy to just blow him off. But one of the best things about fan films is that we do help each other out. And yeah, I know that there’s this really small percentage of the fan film community that looks down on us teaming up and sharing our skills and resources. But that’s one of the most positive things about this community. We don’t take our ball and go home. We help each other. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing.

So if someone like Karl comes to you with his hat in his hand and says, “Hey, can you help me out?” how could I turn him away? And especially once you talk to Karl—sure there’s some challenges there in communication and the such—but he’s a great guy. I love the guy to death, I really do. He’s got a huge heart, he’s got passion, and it was really the least I could do to help him out.

It was a pleasure to work on those few films that I was able to before I retired to spend more time with my son Royce. And I really do wish Karl luck in the future.

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