Writer/Director/Actor/Wrestler BILLY SWANSON discusses “A Voice in the Dark” from STARSHIP WEBSTER…

One of my favorite aspects of Star Trek fan films (and fan films in general) is the sheer variety you get from all of the different fan productions. Even from the same group—such as the uber-prolific folks at POTEMKIN PICTURES who have released upwards of seven dozen individual fan films (you can view them all here)—there are still surprises to be had. As DeForest Gump once said, “Fan films are like a box of Spican flame gems…you never know what you’re gonna get.” (Okay, I just made that up.)

Anyway, I had one of those very pleasant surprises when I watched the recently-released second fan film from Potemkin Pictures‘ newest film Creative Group, STARSHIP WEBSTER, under the watchful eye of show-runner RANDY LANDERS, now living in Lexington, Kentucky. The 7-minute vignette is titled “A Voice in the Dark” and features a character alone in his quarters recording a series of log journal entries. That might not seem overly impressive but for one notable thing: the entire fan film, all of the monologue, is delivered in a single take! And the performance is surprisingly solid for a fan film, suggesting a fair amount of acting experience.

Take a look…

Randy explained to me that the script was written by BILLY SWANSON, one of the members of the new Starship Webster Creative Group, and the actor playing the main role of Commander Robert Hawkins. Initially, the producers in the group came up with the idea of doing a series of shorts to introduce the crew, ultimately intended for no-contact filming during the pandemic. Billy created a one-person character-study, wrote an outline of what he wanted to do, practiced it, and recorded it into his phone.

Randy took a watch and loved the vignette; it was a great look at his character’s backstory. The only problem was that it seemed like it was filmed on a cell phone in someone’s bedroom. So Randy asked Billy to come to the studio to film it using Randy’s lighting, green screens, camera, and sound equipment. Randy set up the green screen and a table for the bed, a chair from the bridge set, and a uniform. He set up the camera and the mics, lined Billy up, and turned the equipment on. Then Randy walked 10 feet across the room, sat in their remaining captain’s chair, and watched Billy do his thing.

So Billy was literally the actor, writer, and director. It was one single continuous shot, so there really wasn’t much for Randy to do except adjust the lighting, add the VFX for the officer’s quarters, and make sure it looked good in post. Randy provided the following comment…

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If you ignore the stupid and annoying stuff, DISCOVERY’s sixth episode was PRETTY GOOD! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE JUST A REVIEWER’S WAY OF SAYING: “I LOVE YOU”

Before anyone thinks that I didn’t like STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s sixth episode of the season, “Scavengers,” I did very much enjoy it. I simply had to get past the stupid stuff that really annoyed me. So let’s get that out of the way first…

Okay, I just need to say it: DETACHED NACELLES ARE RIDICULOUS!!! Seriously, who thought of that? I want to see some fan with VFX skills take a CGI model of Discovery, cut to Saru ordering the ship to warp, and then have both nacelles whoosh forward and out of sight while the rest of the ship just sits there motionless. (You reading this, SAMUEL COCKINGS???)

Likewise, the NCC-1031-A was completely unnecessary…and wrong. When the U.S.S. Enterprise was refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it remained NCC-1701. The “A” came later on a different ship because its predecessor had been destroyed over the Genesis planet. Same with the bloody B, C, D, and E…and any other letters that came later.

Those personal site-to-site transporter badges might not be stupid, but they’re annoying as anything…just ask anyone who is trying to make out in a turbolift just as Linus shows up and announces, “This isn’t the science lab!” just before disappearing again. Yeah, hooray for the comedy relief, but the gag got old really fast and brought up a lot of very disturbing questions:

  1. Does everyone on the Discovery suddenly have the superpower of teleportation? (Suddenly, Nightcrawler of the X-Men isn’t particularly impressive anymore.)
  2. What about privacy on board? Can you materialize inside someone’s bathroom and go, “Oops”? I actually might not feel particularly safe on a ship full of people who can suddenly appear anywhere at anytime.
  3. Isn’t there a danger of materializing inside of someone else…or something else? One would hope there’s a “shove” function built into the beam, but what if two people transport simultaneously into the same spot?
  4. How do people doing delicate tasks requiring steady nerves and concentration guard against the sudden, unexpected pop-ins that now happen regularly?

All three examples come under the heading of “just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD do that thing.” The writers decided that the future has some amazing stuff. But perhaps they went a little too amazing with things like personal transporters and “programmable” matter and detached nacelles. When technology becomes more like “magic,” you might have jumped a shark or two.

Just one more kvetch before I get to the good stuff: while I’m more of a dog person, I like cats, too…and fat-shaming a feline is not cool (unless it’s Garfield). The jokes about Grudge’s size bother me—perhaps because I have a weight problem myself. It wouldn’t be appropriate to make those snarky comments about Tilly’s shape, so why is it okay to mock the cat?

Okay, I’m done complaining. Let’s start saying some nice things…

Continue reading “If you ignore the stupid and annoying stuff, DISCOVERY’s sixth episode was PRETTY GOOD! (editorial review)”

DREADNOUGHT DOMINION’s “We Are Many” features awesome landing party jackets! (interview with GARY DAVIS)

Over the last half-decade, the cast and crew of the fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION have served up a steady and consistent meal of ten fan films ranging in length from short vignettes up to full episodes 22 minutes in length. This is particularly impressive considering that the two show-runners, GARY DAVIS and RANDY WRENN, live in Ohio and North Carolina, respectively, and they film at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, Georgia with many cast and crew members from out of state, as well.

Last month, Dreadnought Dominion released their longest production yet, taking the full half-hour allowed by the fan film guidelines. Titled “We Are Many,” their latest fan film was written by Randy and co-directed by Randy and Gary together. The episode has a very “classic” TOS Star Trek feel to it, complete with red-shirted crew members you’ve never seen before playing a major part in the storyline. But before I spoil it, why don’t you just take a look for yourself…

There’s much to like there, and some definite things I wanted to ask Gary Davis about…specifically those really cool-looking landing party jackets. I totally want one now!

Anyway, I reached out to Gary, and he had a lot to say—and not only about the jackets. Let’s go to the chat…


JONATHAN – Okay, Gary, how can I get one of those amazing landing party jackets???

GARY – Haha! Okay, I’ll share. We’ve got nothing to hide. I actually wracked my brain trying to design a landing party jacket that was functional, looked good, and didn’t break the bank! I made them myself with jackets from Amazon in the colors I needed. Here’s links for those…

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CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)

FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWERS RECOMMEND SPOILERS FOR THEIR PATIENTS WHO CHEW GUM

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fifth episode of the season, “Die Trying,” was pretty strong. There were, of course, a couple of annoying aspects of absurd writing, like a 1,000-year-old “seed ship” floating defenseless in space with no protection and a crew of four (two of whom were children)—why not build more than one seed ship, or locate the seeds safely on a planet, or use a ship that isn’t a millennium old?—and Empress Georgiou knowing how to “blink-off” 32nd century holograms. That would be like a 10th century Viking showing up today and somehow knowing that he could clap his hands twice to turn off a light when he shouldn’t even know what a light is!

But hey, nobody’s perfect…and Discovery‘s writers aren’t the first in Star Trek history to come up with unrealistic and absurd ideas. “Spock’s Brain,” anyone? How about “The Royale” or “Threshold”?

What I’d really like to talk about in this blog, however, is an aspect of this episode that elevated to a much higher level—and that was the handling of the various characters, both old and new. The strength of “Die Trying” wasn’t an amazing story (’cause, frankly, the plot itself was pretty predictable: Discovery‘s homecoming wasn’t what they expected, future Starfleet was suspicious, and the crew had to prove themselves by completing a mission that only they could accomplish).

No, what made this episode such an effective success was that viewers got introduced to new, intriguing characters while also being treated to wonderful scenes featuring the characters we already know getting to strut their stuff. Let’s discuss…

Continue reading “CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)”

After five years, PACIFIC 201—Part I finally premieres! (audio interview with ERIC HENRY and MARGARET HERBENER)

It’s been an awesome three months for long-awaited Star Trek fan films! Back in September, the hour-long STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER premiered after being in production and post-production for five years. In October, it was time for THE ROMULAN WAR, which started production back in 2017, to finally release the first of its two-part documentary-style fan film.

And now, on November 13, one of the most eagerly-awaited of all Trek fan films (right up there with AXANAR and YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL…the latter of which is scheduled to debut next month), PACIFIC 201 launched the first half of its two-part fan film. Originally crowd-funded with a $26K Kickstarter way back in September of 2015 and a$32K Indiegogo campaign the following year, Pacific 201 was the brainchild of Harrisburg, PA-based showrunner ERIC HENRY.

What makes Pacific 201 so unique and exciting is the time period it covers in Federation history. The year is 2200. It’s four decades after the end of the Romulan War and the founding of the United Federation of Planets, and still more than six decades before the time of Kirk’s five-year-mission. Earth and the Federation are at a crossroads. Those who remember the horrors of the Romulan attacks fear a return to deep space exploration and the risk of provoking new enemies. But a new generation born after the war dreams of returning to a renaissance of exploration and discovery.

This push/pull of paranoia vs. positivity was put on display in one of my all-time favorite fan vignettes, DOWN TO EARTH, which Eric released back in late 2016. In this short film, the first officer of the USS Pacific is grilled by a talk show host who is anything but fair and balanced when it comes to restarting the exploration of space. The following summer, another Pacific 201 short vignette was released, featuring the new captain. (You can watch that here.)

Over the years, Pacific 201 seemed always on the cusp of debuting. Back in 2018, a series of images were released along with a promised premiere date of spring 2019. That didn’t happen. But then earlier this year, a new trailer with some amazing footage promised a release date of August 2020.

Missed it by that much!

But who cares? Part one of Pacific 201 is finally out, and it was totally worth the wait. Take a look…

Pretty awesome, huh?

I set up a phone interview with Eric Henry for a couple of days before the premiere (after getting just a sneak peek of a short 2-minute scene). But when I called, producer and star MARGARET HERBENER was there, as well, finishing up some last minute editing with Eric. She was just about to head out, but I invited her to stay for the interview if she and Eric wanted—and they were both up for it. So two for the price of one, folks!

Take a listen to a FANtastic interview with the writer/director and also with the producer/star of Pacific 201

Funny Video: Election 2158

So, the election is finally over (even if we’re still counting votes). But at least all those political ads are behind us for the next 2-4 years, right? Well, maybe here in America they’re over (although not in Georgia!). But on Romulus, the campaign for Praetor is still going strong—at least according to this fun vignette “commercial” from MARK NACCARATO, who recently released Part I of THE ROMULAN WAR fan film. While we wait for Part II, please consider re-electing D’Deridex as Praetor. “Keep Romulus Great”…

A surprise trailer for A LONG WAY FROM HOME blows away fans! (interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS)

I bet you didn’t see this coming! Well, at least I certainly didn’t. But most fans were taken completely by surprise last week to see a 90-second sneak peek at a fan film that seemingly no one knew about: A LONG WAY FROM HOME. Well, that’s not entirely true. Show-runner SAMUEL COCKINGS, the CGI wind beneath many fan filmmakers’ wings, knew about the project (because it’s his project!) as did the actors from the fan film community who will appear in it. This includes NICK COOK from the long-running fan series INTREPID, as well as NIMRAN SAUND from Samuel’s previous fan film masterpiece TEMPORAL ANOMALY.

Nick and Nimran are also both slated to appear in Samuel’s next “mega” fan production, the five-way fan film crossover event CONVERGENCE. But delays due to various issues (including COVID) have caused the release date to be pushed back quite a bit. So we weren’t really expecting to see anything from Samuel for a while…well, if you don’t count all of the other fan films he’s been working on lately like: STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER, DREADNOUGHT DOMINION: “We Are Many,”THE ROMULAN WAR: Part 1, the AVALON UNIVERSE, YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL, TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE: “Endosymbiosis,” and lord knows what else at this point! Oh, TREKYARDS…don’t forget those podcasts!

So, yeah, we weren’t really expecting a brand new, unannounced project from Samuel, let alone one with an actual completed trailer that looked and sounded amazing! See for yourself…

With nearly 2,000 views in the first week, there with 165 likes and only one dislike on YouTube! When have you ever known only a single Trekkie out of thousands to have any complaint with something Star Trek related? (And who the heck is this person???)

Anyway, I had a lot of questions for the British Boy Wonder of CGI. So let’s hear what Samuel had to say…

Continue reading “A surprise trailer for A LONG WAY FROM HOME blows away fans! (interview with SAMUEL COCKINGS)”

Why I loved the M*A*S*H episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)

SPOILERS! GET YER SPOILERS HERE!

I was going to title this blog “Now, THAT’S a Star Trek!” But I wasn’t certain that most of my readers would get the reference to the “Spocko/Lost Episode” skit from Saturday Night Live from 2017. And also, the more that I thought about it, the latest episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, “Forget Me Not,” wasn’t just Star Trek. In many ways, it was also very much like the 1970’s TV series M*A*S*H, and it was just what I’ve been wanting—praying!—to see out of this show.

Okay, a LOT to unpack there…

Let’s first talk about what “today’s” Star Trek is and isn’t, and what it can and cannot be. Gone are the good ol’ days of TOS and TNG where Kirk could talk a computer into committing suicide and everyone always got along swimmingly. In fact, the days of perfect people and perfect relationships had already disappeared by the time Deep Space 9 started airing. And that’s fine. I like seeing folks with frictions and problems and then watching how they deal with themselves and each other. I certainly don’t want to follow a completely dysfunctional cast or crew each week, but I’m happy to see realistic people with realistic issues.

Even folks who say that The Orville is what Star Trek should be right now need to remember that Bortus is having marital problems, Ed Mercer has been struggling with his feelings about Kelly Grayson, and Isaac’s people are a threat to the entire galaxy. The Orville ain’t your daddy’s Star Trek either. (“Oh, I am my daddy. Wait…huh?”)

So the Star Trek of today cannot be the Star Trek of yesterday. The world has changed too much. Audience’s tastes have changed too much. Television has changed too much. But that doesn’t mean that any piece of crappola can be thrown at fans and still be considered Star Trek. Yes, Star Trek needs to evolve to suit the ever-changing viewer landscape. But the question remains: has Star Trek been evolving in the right way?

Continue reading “Why I loved the M*A*S*H episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)”

Watch POTEMKIN PICTURES’ new STARSHIP WEBSTER “Launch”… (interview with RANDY LANDERS)

Look out, pardner, ’cause there’s a new Trek fan series in town! But don’t you dare call it a “series”—’cause those pesky guidelines don’t like us doing series. So instead, let’s call it what POTEMKIN PICTURES calls it: the STARSHIP WEBSTER Creative Group.

This newest gang of fan filmmakers takes its place beside the other seven current Potemkin creative groups—including DEIMOS, ALEXANDER, TRISTAN, MARIE CURIE, BATTLECRUISER KUPOK, TRITON, and ENDEAVOUR…releasing (prior to the pandemic) an average of a dozen combined fan films each year going back more than half a decade! (You can access all of the previous Potemkin Pictures releases by clicking here.)

The various Potemkin Pictures productions have seen three bases of operations over the past ten-plus years. Things began in Albany, GA with their first fan series (back when you were allowed to call it that), PROJECT: POTEMKIN. When show-runner RANDY LANDERS moved to Alabama, some of the production team stayed in Georgia while others migrated to Alabama and various new creative groups formed.

Then, last year, Randy and his wife moved again, this time to Lexington, KY. This has allowed a whole new assemblage of fan filmmakers—writers, directors, producers, actors, make-up and costuming people, set builders, etc.—to join in on the fun in a brand new location. But there were certain unanswered questions.

  • Would Randy be able to find enough local fans and actors to support a full creative croup?
  • Would all the sets survive the 425-mile “trek” from Alabama to Kentucky and then be able to be properly rebuilt/reassembled?
  • How long would it take to get their first fan film completed, and what would the new starship be called?
  • What effect would the pandemic have on production?
  • With the sets all located in a new state—6 and a half hours’ drive away from the previous location—would the other creative groups be willing or able to continue making their fan films?

Obviously, it’s time to talk to Randy Landers again! First, though, take a look at the premiere episode from the Starship Webster Creative Group, “Launch”…

Continue reading “Watch POTEMKIN PICTURES’ new STARSHIP WEBSTER “Launch”… (interview with RANDY LANDERS)”

From the creator of the SURVIVOR trilogy – someone is LEFT BEHIND! (interview with MATTHEW BLACKBURN, part 2)

Last week, we started chatting with fan filmmaker MATTHEW BLACKBURN about his latest offering, LEFT BEHIND. Previously, Matthew had produced and released three other Star Trek fan films:

Each of these films focused on a single Starfleet officer or small group of officers down on a planet, facing an alien adversary, and without the help of a starship in orbit. Of course, on a practical level, this allowed Matthew to film at scenic locations near his home in the Mojave Desert near Los Angeles while not having to work with sets or interior locations that would need to look futuristic.

One notable quality to Matthew’s three previous films was his use of physical stunts like fights, falls, climbing, running, and other strenuous activities not typically seen in most fan films, as they are challenging to shoot properly.

Matthew’s latest release, LEFT BEHIND, again focuses on a single Starfleet officer trapped on the surface of a strange (and scenic!) planet, facing off against what appears to be a belligerent adversary. But this time, looks might be deceiving, as you will see…

When we last left off with Matthew, our interview had transitioned into what it was like shooting outdoors and the stunts that were involved…

JONATHAN – What was your most dangerous stunt?

MATTHEW – The most dangerous thing we did was on account of how windy it was. We’re talking 50-60 mph. I had the idea for me and Travis to tumble down a MUCH smaller hill after the first graboid attack, but as we were walking around the location, Travis saw a much larger hill in the distance. We both kind of knew without saying anything. He talked me into it. Katie had to prop herself up on top of another hill to get the shot as Travis and I hiked the mountain. She nearly got toppled over a couple times due to high winds, but she got it, and a few bits we used for the travelogue shots.

The stunt was nothing fancy. We just threw ourselves down the mountain and hoped it came out well. Hopefully it did.

Continue reading “From the creator of the SURVIVOR trilogy – someone is LEFT BEHIND! (interview with MATTHEW BLACKBURN, part 2)”