Update: NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS defeats an alien invasion…of MOLD!

It’s a tale as old as time itself…

  • Fans build perfectly nice TOS sets to use to make Star Trek fan films.
  • Egg roll manufacturer moves in next door.
  • A few years later, egg roll manufacturer moves out…leaving mold behind.
  • Mold starts creeping into Engineering.
  • Set owner has to spend his own money fixing the problem.

Yeah, I know; you’ve heard this one a million times at least! But it just happened again at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA.

As many of you know, the building housing the TOS sets is only partially rented by set owner RAY TESI. The other half of the building was, until recently, utilized by a company that manufactures egg rolls…because, well, somebody has to make those yummy, greasy things, right? It was kinda nice, actually, as the smells from the egg roll factory would permeate the entire building, and they smelled amazing.

“Oh, I still remember that amazing smell,” says director JOSHUA IRWIN. “It was like filming in the middle of the most incredible Chinese restaurant. Sometimes, weeks or months later, I would be sitting at home in Arkansas, editing a fan film I’d shot at Neutral Zone, and just seeing that footage on my screen was enough to make me start smelling phantom egg rolls in my brain.”

But alas, all good things must end. And so it came to pass that this egg roll manufacturer grew to be so successful that they needed to move to a larger facility in Jacksonville, FL, leaving the space next to the studio vacant.

Despite the loss of the intoxicating aroma, this actually wasn’t the worst news ever. For a while, Ray actually considered renting the other half of the building to expand the studio, but the price was not feasible. However, while in consideration, Ray walked through the adjacent space after the egg roll equipment had been removed. The space looked like a war zone, and there was grease everywhere.

During the time the factory occupied the building, Ray saw that water would occasionally seep through the walls and into the studio side. Turns out the egg roll people would hose down and pressure clean the floors at the end of the day and push some water into the studio. At Ray’s request, new plastic floor boards were installed by the egg roll folks to restrain the water, but the damage was done.

During his walkthrough of the non-vacant space, Ray noticed the mold.

Continue reading “Update: NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS defeats an alien invasion…of MOLD!”

Jayden and I spent last night with TIM “TUVOK” RUSS in the woods!

What better way to celebrate Star Trek Day (or at least the day AFTER Star Trek day) than to spend part of the evening with one of the cast members of Voyager under the stars discussing astronomy? Unfortunately, nature didn’t quite cooperate on the “under the stars” part, as the remnants of Pacific hurricane were passing overhead, and it was very overcast. Only one star, Vega, was poking through the high-level clouds.

Maybe I should back up a few parsecs and tell you all how I got from there to here—“here” being Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, a few miles away from the Pacific Ocean. My friend and fellow Trekker, KAT CAMPBELL is a docent at the park and is in charge of booking their “campfire” programming in their amphitheater area. September 9th was their annual astronomy program where visitors can learn about the stars and planets and look through a giant telescope in a nice setting without all the city lights.

This year, the free program featured TIM RUSS speaking for 90 minutes beginning at 7:30pm. Now, Tim wasn’t invited because he used to play Tuvok on Voyager (and most recently on STAR TREK: PICARD). Nope, before Tim ever donned the pointed ears, he was a fervent astronomy enthusiast and is still a prominent member of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. He’s spent several thousand dollars on telescopic equipment, and a couple of years ago, he was one of six “citizen astronomers” to help NASA detect what are known as Trojan asteroids. Pretty cool, huh?

I actually went stargazing with Tim once before, at a gathering of the USS Angeles chapter of Starfleet International about 20 years ago. He brought along his daughter Madison to that event (a wee bairn at the time; she’s now a grown-up singer and actress in Hollywood). Tim knows his stuff…I mean seriously knows his stuff! If NEIL deGRASSE TYSON ever needs an understudy, just call Tim Russ!!!

What was one of the most fun aspects of the evening was taking my son Jayden along and NOT telling him who would be there. Jayden and I have been watching Star Trek together since he was five—he’ll be thirteen in just ten more days!—and we’re currently in season two of Voyager. (In fact, the season premiere of LOWER DECKS kinda spoiled the rest of the series for him…D’OH!) So he knows who Tuvok is.

Jayden also has the following photo on his wall…

It’s from a magazine shoot we did with LEVAR BURTON about a decade ago when Levar was rebooting Reading Rainbow and the editor to include some Trekkies in uniform. Jayden was only three at the time, and as he got older and learned who Geordi La Forge was, Jayden felt increasingly frustrated that he had never met a Star Trek actor when he was old enough to really appreciate it.

So this was gonna be a fun surprise for my not-so-little boy…

Continue reading “Jayden and I spent last night with TIM “TUVOK” RUSS in the woods!”

Announcing the 2023 Star Trek Fan Film SHOWRUNNER AWARD WINNERS!

Happy 57th Star Trek Anniversary, everyone! And just as I did exactly one year ago today, I am announcing the winners of this year’s SHOWRUNNER AWARDS!!

But first, I would like to thank the judges (each a showrunner himself) for once again doing an amazing job, watching five hours and 42 minutes of Star Trek fan films, and getting all of their ballots in before the August 15 deadline. We did have one judge reluctantly bow out due to time commitments—MARK LARGENT is working hard to finish the next (and last? I hope not!) STALLED TREK animated puppet parody THE DUMBSDAY MACHINE by later this year. And he wasn’t certain he’d have the time to watch and judge all 21 entries.

The remaining ten judges (in addition to yours truly) were…

  • JOHN ATKIN – YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL
  • SAMUEL COCKINGS – TREK SHORTS and TEMPORAL ANOMALY
  • GARY DAVIS and RANDY WRENN – DREADNOUGHT DOMINION (and more!)
  • JOSHUA IRWIN – THE AVALON UNIVERSE
  • PAUL JACQUES – RAINCROSS
  • GREG LOCK – AMBUSH
  • JEFF NORD – COMMANDERS OF STARFLEET
  • IAN RAMSEY – STAR REKT parody music videos
  • DAN REYNOLDS – THE FEDERATION FILES and WARP 66 STUDIOS

As we did last year, the scoring worked in the following way. For each of the 22 categories (four of them brand new this year), every judge would vote for his top five choices in descending order (his own fan film(s) could NOT be in the top three slots). In the final tally, each top choice would get 10 points. The second choice would get 7 points. The third would get 5 points, then 3, and finally 1 for the last choice. Then I would add up the total number of points in each category, determining a first place (Admiral Award), second place (Captain Award), and third place (Commander Award) winner.

This year’s voting produced some unexpected results. In some categories, the three winners were far, far ahead of the rest of the pack, having banked many of the top two or three spots from a majority of judges. (Those 10 and 7 scores stack up quickly!) In some other categories, things were a bit closer, with only a few points keeping nominees out of the top-level award tiers. And for Best Fan Film, there was only a ONE POINT difference separating the first and second place winners. Exciting!!!

Continue reading “Announcing the 2023 Star Trek Fan Film SHOWRUNNER AWARD WINNERS!”

AVALON UNIVERSE releases their 12th fan film: KNIGHTS OF THE VOID! (video interview with TYLER DUNIVAN and JOSHUA IRWIN)

These guys again??? Well, yeah. AVALON UNIVERSE produces a LOT of high-quality fan films! In fact, they’ve just released their 12th completed production in less than five years…with another major release just a couple of months away. That’s more than two-and-a-half fan films per year, folks! (You can watch them all here on this playlist.) So it’s no wonder I’ve published a ton of blogs focusing on showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN and, more recently, his co-director and one of the stars of Avalon, TYLER DUNIVAN.

Tyler appeared in the first two Avalon releases, GHOST SHIP and AVALON LOST, but then he left the series for a period of time—with his character of Captain Derek Mason being killed off. Mason’s love interest, Engineer Jamie Archer (played by actress VICTORIA ARCHER), was then killed off in the following episode, DEMONS, as that actress also asked to leave the series.

Of course, no death is necessarily permanent in Star Trek (paging Captain Spock!), especially when the actors want to come back to their roles, and so both Tyler and Victoria returned to play resurrected versions of their characters a few episodes later in COSMIC STREAM. Since then, both characters have also appeared in a post-credit sequence in the episode AGENT OF NEW WORLDS.

Now, once again, Mason and Archer get an episode all to themselves…well, themselves, a Starfleet crew, and an unexpected visitor. KNIGHTS OF THE VOID is the latest release from the Avalon Universe

Sadly, there will only be two more Avalon Universe fan films before the series reaches its always-planned conclusion. The first of the two releases will be CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALIBURS, due out in just a couple of months with an incredible multiverse crossover that is, I predict, going to be talked about throughout many genres of fan films for a LONG time! And then the series will conclude with THE ONCE AND FUTURE CAPTAIN, coming at some point in 2024.

What is particularly interesting (and impressive!) about these final three fan films is that they were shot simultaneously! I don’t mean back-to-back over a single long weekend. There were actually five separate shoots during which scenes for multiple productions were filmed during the same set of shooting days. In fact, according to Josh, there are still two or three shooting days left for the remaining two films in order to get some pick-up shots.

With such a demanding production schedule, Josh determined that there was simply too much for him to coordinate during the shoots all by himself. So Tyler stepped up and offered to direct the actors and their performances while Josh focused more on the technical aspects of the scenes, although Josh still did some directing of the actors, as well.

How did this tag-teaming work and work out? Discover the answer to this question and many others as Tyler and Josh return to their Zoom screens for a lively discussion of Knights of the Void, the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Excaliburs, and other enlightening stuff…

Funny video: Star Trek Technobabble

I suppose it was inevitable that Star Trek fan films would work their way to TikTok, and geek / nerd / English major / singer / songwriter / poet / genius ELLE CORDOVA has been using the new format to make some AMAZING short videos. In fact, I just spent an hour watching everything on this playlist and more by this unbelievably talented and gifted young woman. So start your journey with the video below and then follow Elle down the rabbit hole…

NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 2)

In Part 1, I began chatting with RAY TESI, the owner of NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA, home of a complete collection of TOS sets that are used by countless fan films and series. Ray recently completed a 30-day Indiegogo campaign that took in a remarkable $19,617 from 218 donors. But it still fell well short of its $36,000 goal.

It’s possible that some of that shortfall was due to a series of scandalous rumors and attacks on social media which seemingly came out of nowhere days after the crowd-funding campaign was launched. It’ not entirely clear what set these people off or what their game plan was, other than what is colloquially known as MANUFACTURED OUTRAGE. But for nearly a month, it seemed their goal was to sabotage this Indiegogo campaign, and through depriving Neutral Zone Studios of much-needed fan donations, to potentially force the closure of this incredible fan film resource, possibly forever.

Normally, I’d include links to the comments themselves or even just a screen cap or two, but these posts were so ridiculous that I’d rather not give them any coverage at all. Instead, I’m going to let Ray speak about what can only be called baseless and unfounded attacks by total strangers agains him and his studio as we conclude our two-part interview…

Continue reading “NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 2)”

NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 1)

There are certain people in the fan film community whom I call the NICEST people. Not only are they warm and friendly, but they are generous, willing to help others, and enthusiastically support the filmmakers who work so hard to create these Star Trek fan films that we all love so much.

Perched at the top of the “NICE” list is RAY TESI, who purchased the TOS sets in Kingsland, GA that were used for both STARSHIP FARRAGUT and later STAR TREK CONTINUES in 2018 from previous owner VIC MIGNOGNA. This was no small thing! The purchase price was reportedly well into the five-figure range, and the monthly rent for the building housing those sets is $3,000! But since Vic wasn’t able to keep paying to store unused sets for a fan series that had wrapped production, the alternative would have been seeing those incredible TOS sets tossed into the dumpster by the landlord.

Ray couldn’t bear to have that happen, and so this resident of Boca Raton, FL dipped into his retirement savings to not only buy the sets but also take on the responsibility for $36,000/year in rent…for what has been half a decade so far!

Ray renamed the studio to THE NEUTRAL ZONE and opened the sets to any fan filmmaker for a very reasonable rental fee. So far, MANY fan films and series have taken Ray up on the offer, including AVALON UNIVERSE, DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, and Ray’s own fanthology series TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE…along with many one-offs like TO HAVE BOLDLY GONE and LET OLD WRINKLES COME. NICHELLE NICHOLS (Uhura) even used the sets herself to film a documentary called “Breaking Barriers” about her experiences as a black actress on Star Trek.

Over the years, Ray has received financial support from fans through a Patreon campaign with hundreds of monthly contributors…with Ray making up the difference out of his pocket. As a gesture of thanks, Ray hosts Fan Appreciation Weekends during the cooler months of the year (September-May) where he opens the sets up to the general public. This has been going on almost as long as Ray has owned the sets.

Last month, Ray kicked off a 30-day Indiegogo campaign with a $36,000 goal…an eyebrow-raising number! But as of last week, Ray was able to reach a total of just short of $20,000! Today in part 1 of an interview with Ray, I’m going to ask where that money will be spent and if fans should be concerned that the crowd-funder still fell 45% short of its goal.

Then in part 2, I’m going to ask him about some rather outlandish rumors that began to circulate while the campaign was going on. Spread by people on the opposite side of the spectrum from “nice,” it almost seemed like they were trying to sabotage Ray’s crowd-funder and shut down Neutral Zone Studios. I know…crazy, right? I mean, who would do something like that? It’d be like firebombing Santa’s workshop just before Christmas!

Okay, let’s start talking to Ray…

Continue reading “NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 1)”

Two new TREK SHORTS: “FALLEN HEROES” and “LEGACY OF THE ENTERPRISE B” (video interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS and MARCUS CHURCHILL)

SAMUEL COCKINGS is certainly the Speedy Gonzales of Star Trek fan films…assuming Speedy Gonzales is from Great Britain. Sam produces fan films so quickly that I barley cover one release when another two take its place!

Actually, this time it’s three, but this blog deals with only two of them, which I’ll explain shortly. But first, a little background on Sam and his TREK SHORTS fanthology series…

Unlike some fan filmmakers, Sam doesn’t have access to practical (physical) Star Trek sets—which is actually a GOOD thing! Without being locked into a specific era of Star Trek like TOS or TNG/DS9 or Voyager or PRODIGY or PICARD, Sam ends up having access to ALL of them!

How?

Well, Sam is an accomplished CGI master, specializing in animation but also knowing a bit about 3D modeling and having access to a number of skilled 3D modelers. Together, they have managed to create countless digital backgrounds of bridges, transporter rooms, mess halls, shuttles and runabouts, you name it(!) from two centuries of Starfleet history. And all of this along with starships and enemy vessels for spectacular outer space VFX. Watching Sam’s CGI animations is truly like watching fine art!

So all that’s really left for Sam to do is write scripts and film actors against green screens, right? Actually, there’s SO much more that he does, including properly lighting the green screen shots (not easy!), making digital adjustments during post production to levels for both the actors and the digital backgrounds to look seamless and realistic, equalize sound, add music, edit, and a ton of other little things…and still get these fan films out faster than I can cover ’em! Oh, and there’s one other thing that Sam does, and that’s direct. Sam has aligned himself with a number of very skilled actors, adding a wonderful depth and quality to already-high-quality productions.

If you’d like to watch any or all of Sam’s Trek Shorts fan films, you can access them from this YouTube playlist. One of Sam’s most recent projects was the quickly-written-then-filmed-then-edited-then-released FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR, the first-ever Prodigy-era fan film That one I managed to cover, as it was just after Prodigy had been canceled. But three other of Sam’s films haven’t gotten their own blogs yet. I am now going to remedy that for two of them.

The two Trek Shorts in the spotlight today both star MARCUS CHURCHILL, also of Great Britain, who has been appearing in Sam’s Star Trek fan films ever since the 2013 shooting of the green screen footage for TEMPORAL ANOMALY, which was finally completed and released in 2019. Since then, Marcus has reprised his role of Sam Harriman (at different ranks during the character’s career) in a number of other projects for Sam. One of the most recent was FALLEN HEROES, a retelling of the film Star Trek Generations from a “lower decks” perspective. Take a look…

Continue reading “Two new TREK SHORTS: “FALLEN HEROES” and “LEGACY OF THE ENTERPRISE B” (video interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS and MARCUS CHURCHILL)”

STRANGE NEW WORLDS wraps up the best character-driven season of ANY new-era streaming TREK series with “HEGEMONY”… (editorial review)

IF IT’S NOT SPOILERS, IT’S CRAP!

Whether you like/love the new-era CBS Studios-produced Star Trek series, can’t stand them, or just feel ambivalent, I have to believe that most fans will agree that what has aired on Paramount+ within the last 12 months is a vast improvement over anything that was released in the five years prior. The final season of PICARD was a triumph…certainly better than its first two seasons or anything DISCOVERY has managed to produce yet. And even PRODIGY‘s second ten episodes of season one (when it became a true Voyager sequel) had many fans suddenly liking a children’s cartoon as much or more than most of the Star Trek premiering on Paramount+.

And then there’s STRANGE NEW WORLDS, which debuted last among the five CBS-produced series and, perhaps, learned the best lessons from each. Knowing that they were limited to only ten episodes per season, the SNW showrunners opted not to create a “10-hour movie” like Picard and Discovery and instead be more episodic (one story per episode).

But even though no main storyline would run through the entire season, the SNW creators decided to have character arcs continue across episodes, allowing fans to really get to know Captain Pike and his crew. Granted, season one was more about introducing all of the officers and establishing their basic personality traits and backstories. We learned of M’Benga’s sick daughter, saw the first hints of a romance between Spock and Chapel, and of course, there was Pike’s knowledge of his ill-fated future. But during that initial season, story was more in the driver’s seat than character development, although characters were still allowed to evolve a little.

But then came season two. And with all those character foundations in place, it was time to dive more into the personalities and interrelationships of these people and, beyond that, give them each a little more room to develop and grow over the course of the season.

Let’s take a look back at the arcs of the main characters during season two…

Continue reading “STRANGE NEW WORLDS wraps up the best character-driven season of ANY new-era streaming TREK series with “HEGEMONY”… (editorial review)”

Let’s get a taste of NATURE’S HUNGER… (video interview with JOSE CEPEDA and his crew)

Back in 2015 when I first began covering Star Trek fan films, there were quite a few fan series that had already been churning out new releases for over a half a decade. Now, only a handful of those productions are still around, although new ones have sprung up to take their place, and the world of Star Trek fan films is currently thriving.

One of those fan series that was around back in 2015 actually got its start way back in 2010, and it’s STILL churning out new fan films thirteen years later! I am referring, of course, to NATURE’S HUNGER, which was originally STAR TREK: NATURES HUNGER (and no, the lack of apostrophe in the original title is not a typo on my part). Showrunner JOSE “JOE” CEPEDA lives just south of Atlanta, GA and writes, directs, edits, does many of the VFX, supplies costumes and props, and stars as Captain Ramses of the U.S.S. Crusader.

When I launched Fan Film Factor in 2016, Nature’s Hunger remained on my list of fan series to cover. But as I do with all the fan productions that I feature, I wanted to first watch every film that they had released. This was easier said than done, however!

As you can see from their YouTube video page, even as early as 2016, they had already posted nearly a HUNDRED separate fan films and videos. Many were quite short and experimental—sometimes only a minute to a few minutes in length. But a small number were 15 and even 20 minutes long, and their most recent offerings are 45 minutes and over an hour long!

I began watching through each one, noticing the this series was the purest form of fan film where the love of the genre and desire to create their own Star Trek far surpassed their budget and resources. In other words, these weren’t slick and polished “top tier” fan films but rather very grass-roots, guerrilla-level green screen productions with lots of heart and whimsy.

Oh, and speaking of gorillas, Nature’s Hunger often threw caution and canon to the wind as they crossed over with such other “realities” as Planet of the Apes, The Silence of the Lambs, and even The Wizard of Oz. Indeed, young Dorothy Gale, after being rescued from Oz by the crew, decides to join Starfleet! So, yeah, this is a very unique fan series and perhaps not for everyone. But if you can appreciate sincere effort and respect the obvious adoration they have for Star Trek, there is a LOT to enjoy about this fan series.

Granted, it took me quite a while to make it through everything that they had released. Along the way, I saw multiple versions of the crew finding and rescuing Dorothy, along with seeing the starship shift (without explanation) from everyone serving on board the U.S.S. Enterprise to being on the U.S.S. Crusader. (Hey, it’s a fan series, folks!) I also learned what the title Nature’s Hunger refers to…

Continue reading “Let’s get a taste of NATURE’S HUNGER… (video interview with JOSE CEPEDA and his crew)”