DECEPTION III technologically goes where no fan film has gone before! (interview with LEO TIERNEY)


“Yer a wizard, ‘arry.” I realize that’s a totally different franchise than Star Trek, but when Hagrid says those words to Harry Potter, he might as well be talking to fellow Brit LEO TIERNEY, as well. Y’see, when it comes to making Star Trek fan films, Leo is totally a wizard…a cutting-edge innovator.

A still from the first Deception fan film

Fans got their first look at what Leo was capable of back in 2013 with his release of STAR TREK: DECEPTION. Clicking that link will take you to my full blog about that fan film, which I hardily suggest you click on and check out, as it includes some awesome “making of” videos along with the production itself. At a time when nearly all 24th century fan films and series were either using green screen and static backgrounds or very simplified sets, Leo constructed a near-perfect and very believable runabout cockpit. And along with some standout performances, top-notch VFX, great camera work, and very tight editing, Deception was a gem of a fan film that made many viewers’ jaws drop with its professional quality.

The amazing Starfleet bridge set from the second Deception fan film

Leo returned five years later with DECEPTION II— if anything even MORE jaw-dropping than its predecessor! Indeed, Leo’s construction of a duo of sets (one a Klingon bridge and the other a Federation starship bridge) in what was an emptied out one-car garage in a quiet English village south of Manchester became interesting enough to merit its own two-part blog. And that blog is worth checking out for the construction photos alone!

It’s been six additional years, but Leo the Wizard is back with DECEPTION III, yet another jaw-dropper. The opening shot alone is enough to make fans go, “How the heck did he do that????” But Leo also did something else truly revolutionary for a Star Trek fan film. However, before I tell you what it was, why not take a look for yourself…

Could you tell what it was? Often, the most game-changing innovations are barely even noticeable at first. And indeed, you might have to look more carefully in this case. Obviously, virtual 3D backgrounds were used for the starship interiors, as is common for many fan films trying to save money on set-building by shooting against green screen and then compositing the backgrounds. And when that happens, even the best chroma-keying has trouble with things like stray hairs, which can either disappear or get pixely unless the actor has a very short, clean haircut.

But with Deception III, all stray hairs are 100% visible! The outer contours of the actors are perfect, showing no hint of aliasing or cropping. As I said, it’s almost unnoticeable beyond something in the back of your head thinking, “Wow, this looks amazingly clear and realistic for a fan film with virtual backgrounds!” So how did Leo manage this? I’ll let him explain in this short-but-fascinating “making of” documentary…

Yep, he bought an 86″ television and filmed the actors in front of it! And he also used some green screen…whatever was needed to make another groundbreaking fan film!

While that documentary shares a lot of secrets, I still wanted to ask Leo a few more questions. And he was happy to provide me some great answers…

JONATHAN – I just realized that, despite multiple blogs, I still don’t know exactly where you live or work, Leo.

Leo Tierney

LEO – I’m in Middlewich, which is a small village south of Manchester with a long history of canals and narrowboats, which is nice. I work at TT Games, the video game studio that created all the LEGO games. I’ve been there for about 12 years now.

JONATHAN – And now we know! Thanks, Leo. Great interview.

LEO – Haha.

JONATHAN – It’s been six years since Deception II. When did you first get the idea to make Deception III, and what convinced you that it was time to make a third fan film in your series?

LEO – I had a few ideas of what to do for Deception III after we finished Deception II. However, to be honest, I never really had any interest in doing another sequel, as Deception II was a very large amount of work, and I didn’t want to put myself through that again. But in the end, it was the actors that convinced me to do another film, and we all got together and started throwing around all manner of ideas which eventually became the story for Deception III, as I didn’t want to make another fan film unless the story was good enough.

JONATHAN – Speaking of your actors, I noticed that, yes, there were many who returned from previous productions. Where did you find your new actors, and were they actual trained actors or just fans…or a combination?

LEO – The actors from the previous Deception films are lifelong friends that I’ve known since the college days. Newcomers MAIRI-CLARE MacLEAN (Captain Castillo) and LIZZIE SCHENK (Ambassador Staavok) were both acting friends of JAYMES SYGROVE (Commander Stoven), who had recommended them for the roles—which was great, as they’re terrific actors, and having them bring their skills to the film really lifted it.

Mairi-Clare MacLean as Captain Castillo

JONATHAN – How much time was needed to complete all of your principal photography for this film?

LEO – The shooting was done on three separate days, which were separated by a few months each. First it was the two Klingons, and then it was the Captain and Ambassador, and then finally it was Stoven, Miller, and the Doctor.

I kinda wish that I had split some of the days into two as they were very exhausting, and it did feel like we were rushing through scenes that I would have liked to have spent a bit more time on. However, everyone is so extremely busy these days that it was hard enough to get people available for just those three days!

JONATHAN – What was different when you switched from shooting actors against a green screen wall to using a big-screen TV?

LEO – I believe the actors embraced the big screen TV, as they had previously worked on green screen shoots before, and it can be quite difficult to imagine exactly the same thing that the director is imagining for a scene. However, with a TV, I can literally show the actor what the set looks like on screen, and there isn’t any guess work or miscommunication of what the scene looks like, which means it’s one less thing to think about on the day when directing the scene.

Rick Huggins as Lt. Miller taking a 24th century selfie

JONATHAN – What advice would you give to other fan filmmakers who wanted to use your big screen TV approach to virtual backgrounds?

LEO – Watch out for reflections! Most TVs have reflective glass protecting the screen which can pick out every single bright highlight in the room, so blackout curtains and blockers for your lights is a must. Also, if you can afford it, then use an OLED TV, they tend to be brighter than LCD TVs, apparently, although I haven’t tested them. I would really be interested in seeing other people’s tests of shooting against TV backgrounds though, as it’s such a simple technique that I’m surprised it isn’t used more and can generate some truly impressive results! And the cost of TVs these doesn’t destroy the bank either.

JONATHAN – What was the most difficult aspect of creating this fan film for you personally?

LEO – The most difficult aspect of this film was probably the long hours of rotoscope and keying cleanup, as there was quite a lot, and it can be very mentally tiring when you are the only person working on a movie—plus finishing your day job—only to start up doing more work in the evening and over the weekends. That can be very draining, as you can only hope that people enjoy the final result in the end.

Leo also used green screen shots when the scene called for it.

JONATHAN – And finally, you left us with a bit of a cliff-hanger ending. Does that mean that a fourth Deception is in the works?

LEO – That would be a solid no. This third film has been a real rough experience to get it made, and unfortunately, there seems to have been a real drop-off of interest in Star Trek fan films over the last few years as people have grown older, started having kids, and have much more important matters to deal with…which is completely understandable, as that’s how life goes. So it looks like the Deception films are going to stay as a trilogy. However, I still enjoy making films, so I’m going to try and branch out to other genres and hopefully find something that gets me excited and inspired.

JONATHAN – But…but…but… You ended on a cliffhanger! What should fans do about that? How do we deal with never knowing what happens next?

LEO – Ohh yes, that was always a part of the original script—to end on a cliffhanger with the Borg, as I thought that would be a cool jumping off point with the battle of Wolf 359 or something. But yeah, maybe somebody else will be able to use that if they decide to helm Deception 4, but it’s unlikely it will be me.

JONATHAN – Oh, well. As we say on Earth, “C’est la vie.” You definitely did your part for king and country, Leo. Your Deception trilogy was truly groundbreaking…each one!

LEO – Thank you so much for saying so. I’m glad you enjoyed them.

3 thoughts on “DECEPTION III technologically goes where no fan film has gone before! (interview with LEO TIERNEY)”

  1. So a 86″ television with the actors in front of it – basically a fan-film equivolent of the AR Wall used up in Canada! Brilliant! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this BEFORE?

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