R.I.P. RENÉ AUBERJONOIS (1940 to 2019)

They say celebrity deaths come in threes. I don’t know if that’s true, but last Monday we lost Star Trek writer D.C. FONTANA, and last Thursday saw the passing of “Charlie X” guest star ROBERT WALKER, JR. And now, we have lost Deep Space Nine‘s Constable Odo himself, renown actor RENÉ AUBERJONOIS.

As far as I am concerned, this is actually the fourth untimely Star Trek death, as it hasn’t even been three full months yet since DS9‘s “Nog,” ARON EISENBERG, passed away much too young. René wasn’t exactly “young,” but at the age of 79, we fans certainly weren’t expecting this. But René had advanced lung cancer, and he died earlier today at his home in Los Angeles.

I never knew René Auberjonois as anything other than a fan of his work…and not just his Star Trek role as Odo (and a couple of other characters). While I was not old enough to have seen his first-ever credited role in a major motion picture in the theater (the original Father John Mulcahy in the movie version of MASH), I did see it years later on television.

But for me, René Auberjonois would always be the snooty, arrogant, acerbic Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, a staffer in the governor’s mansion on the 70s television sitcom Benson. Even a few minutes ago when my wife asked me whom I was writing a eulogy for this time—and I said, “René Auberjonois…”—she replied, “Awwwww no…Clayton Endicott.” Nope, she’s not much of a Trekkie, but even 40 years later, she remembers the name of René’s character in this TV series that neither Wendy nor I have seen in decades.

But that’s what René was more than anything else: memorable. I recall seeing René on stage at a convention back in the 1990s, and I remember him explaining to the to entire audience how to pronounce his last name…almost word for word, this is what he said…

It’s a French/Swiss name, and it’s actually not as hard to pronounce as it looks. The first syllable is “Oh”…like you’re surprised. Then it’s “bear”…just like the animal. Then “john”…just like the common male name. And finally, “wah,” which is the sound a crying baby makes…just with an “ah” sound like you’re going to the doctor and he’s sticking a tongue depressor in your mouth.

Let’s all say it together: OH. BEAR. JOHN. WAH. Oh-bear-john-wah. Auberjonois.

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AXACON 2019 happens THIS SUNDAY at NOON eastern time…online!

The first AXACON took place during at the beginning of November in 2018 and “piggybacked” an existing mini-convention in Atlanta called SphinxCon. Fans got to walk around the newly-unveiled USS Ares bridge set on Friday and then attend a series of live convention panels on Saturday and Sunday with folks like GARY GRAHAM, J.G. HERTZLER, DAVID GERROLD, PAUL JENKINS, and of course, ALEC PETERS. Most of those panels are now available for viewing online.

The Axacon 2018 weekend of events and panels ended up costing Alec about $5,000 out of his own pocket. But the goal was always to launch a new wave of crowd-funding…first to cover the monthly rent and expenses to house the bridge set in Ares Studios (through a Patreon campaign), and later to generate excitement and enthusiasm to encourage private donations to help fund the two AXANAR sequels (click here and then follow the instructions if you’d like to contribute…they’ve raised more than $41,000 so far!).

This year, Alec has already fronted the $75,000 cost of the first Axanar shoot at the beginning of October and the second shoot going on this weekend. So funds are tight, all monies are going into production, and holding another Axacon this year would be out of the question, right?

Well, as it turns out…

Axacon 2019 won’t be the same as Axacon 2018. There won’t be a public tour of the studio or a physical convention. But there will be live panels with guests…AND it’ll be free to attend! How is Alec Peters managing this? Simple: it’ll all be live-streaming on YouTube!

Axacon 2019 will take place beginning at noon Eastern Time on Sunday, December 8, lasting for four hours. All of the panels will be hosted live on the Ares Studios bridge set and available for viewing on the Axanar Youtube Channel.

The four-hour online event is capping off a weekend that will also feature the second Axanar film shoot. Significantly smaller in scope than the first 3-day shoot in October, this one will feature two Garth scenes: one a short clip of Garth on the bridge and one in his quarters looking at casualty reports. Sunday will include multiple behind-the-scenes interviews in the morning, leaving ample time for the panels during the afternoon.

The following is a schedule of the panels, their topics, and the guests…

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The history of STAR TREK: INTREPID (interview with NICK COOK, part 1)

If you hear the words “Star Trek” and “Scotland,” chances are you’ll immediately think of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott.  But do you think of NICK COOK and the cast and crew of the STAR TREK: INTREPID fan series?  You should…because Intrepid is currently the longest-running Star Trek fan series still in active production (and there’s no end in sight).

Even though their first episode didn’t premiere until 2007, production actually began way back in 2003—before there was YouTube!—and you could count the total number of Trek fan series on one hand (well, maybe you’d need a couple of fingers from your second hand, too).

Since then, Intrepid has released twelve fan films PLUS an additional three crossover fan films with STAR TREK: HIDDEN FRONTIER…and has also had its characters make cameos in three (soon to be four) additional fan series.

A resident of the city of Dundee on the eastern coast of Scotland, Nick Cook is the unstoppable force behind Star Trek: Intrepid (now simply “Intrepid,” as the fan film guidelines no longer allow the use of the words “Star Trek” in a fan film’s title).   Nick is well known in the fan film community and generally considered one of the nicest guys out there…and I heartily agree!

I recently shared a trip down Memory Lane (no relation to yours truly) with Nick to look back at the full 15-plus-year history of this much-respected fan series from his perspective.  We started with the very early years…

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R.I.P. D.C. FONTANA – 1939 to 2019

It’s never easy to lose a veteran of the Star Trek family…and we’ve lost so many already: the Great Bird himself, De, Jimmy, Leonard, Majel, Grace Lee, Aron, and so many other talented people who labored diligently in the late 1960s and beyond to create for all us this amazing thing that we so love.

Yesterday, we lost another—and this one cuts deep, especially to us in the Star Trek fan film community.

DOROTHY CATHERINE FONTANA went by the name “D.C. Fontana” because, back in the 1960s, women weren’t taken very seriously in Hollywood…and certainly not as script writers. In fact, young Dorothy first started working in the typing pool and eventually “graduated” to secretary. She began as an assistant to writer Samuel A. Peeples (who would go on to write the second Star Trek pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) on a couple of TV western series.

Eventually, Dorothy found her way to Gene Roddenberry as his secretary, while he was still producing The Lieutenant. But when Gene discovered that Dorothy wanted to become a writer, he and Star Trek producer Robert Justman encouraged her do some writing for a new series they were developing called Star Trek.

Although not initially a fan of science fiction, Dorothy was learning quickly as the new project gained momentum. So Gene gave her an idea he had pitched titled “The Day Charlie Became God” and asked her to write a full teleplay for it. This would eventually become the episode “Charlie X.”

What followed was an amazing career that helped shape Star Trek for decades to come. “D.C” Fontana became a story editor on the original Star Trek, writing another ten episodes of the series as well as working on rewrites of others (including being one of four writers to rework Harlan Ellison’s controversial “The City on the Edge of Forever”).

In the 1970s, D.C. went on to become an associate producer for the animated Star Trek TV series, writing their most beloved episode “Yesteryear,” where we get a unforgettable glimpse of Spock’s childhood on Vulcan. Later, in 1989, D.C. would write the Star Trek novel “Vulcan’s Glory” following the adventures of a young Ensign Spock, recently posted to the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. (The novel did not feature any show tunes in the turbolift.)

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DEMONS – The latest AVALON UNIVERSE fan film triumph! (audio interview with VICTORIA FOX and JOSHUA IRWIN)

The AVALON UNIVERSE made its unexpected debut in our universe on Halloween of 2018…which was somewhat appropriate, considering the storyline of the debut episode (the 2-part GHOST SHIP) was kinda a “Star-Trek-meets-The Walking Dead” mash-up. Exactly one year later, on Halloween 2019, the latest Avalon Universe fan film, DEMONS (the third story so far), premiered the first of its two segments, with part 2 coming out a week later. In between was the one-part AVALON LOST, which came out in February of 2019.

All three stories were something quite different than most other fan films…and I don’t mean just the unusual meshing of Kelvin-verse uniforms with TOS-style sets…along with nacelles and shuttlecraft which looked slightly different than the familiar Prime Universe technology. No, what fans noticed almost immediately was a quality level—of acting, directing, lighting, camera angles and lens selection, sound mixing, film editing, pacing—that was a step or three above the vast majority of other Star Trek fan films.

This is by no means meant to diminish the achievements of those other fan filmmakers…some of whom have used the same TOS sets (initially the former Starship Farragut and Star Trek Continues sets in Kingsland, GA and—later—the TOS sets at WARP 66 Studios in Arkansas). But when it came to the Avalon Universe, fans just knew this was something extra special.

That quality came primarily from the two show-runners: VICTORIA FOX and JOSHUA IRWIN, two die-hard Trekkers who work professionally in the film industry in Arkansas. With training in acting and film production, Victoria and Josh brought a level of craft not typically seen in most fan films…and fans watched these releases on YouTube in the tens and even hundreds of thousands.

Demons was the first of the three Avalon Universe fan films to be crowd-funded, raising just over $6,500 from 102 backers (including $45 from me!) on Indiegogo back in March of this year. And even though that was 25% short of their $8,500 goal, the completed fan film still looks mighty impressive.

I present below the two parts of Demons (there are links in the first paragraph of this blog to features on the earlier Avalon releases—along with additional audio interviews with Victoria and Josh). When you watch Demons, look for cameo appearances from two well-known Trek fan filmmakers: VANCE MAJOR and GLEN WOLFE. After that, I invite you all to share my latest fascinating interview with Victoria and Josh. But first, take a look at this

and this

Pretty impressive, huh? Wanna learn more about how a project like this came together? Have a listen as I interview director/co-writer/lead actor/producer Victoria Fox and co-writer/DP/production designer/executive producer/lots-of-other-things Joshua Irwin about their latest fan film masterpiece…

Why do PATREON donations always “DIP” at the beginning of each month?

Every…single…month…

It’s like clockwork! I call it “PMS”—the Patreon Monthly Slide—although others simply call it “the Dip.” And yeah, it’s a thing. At the beginning of every month, most Patreon campaigns with a decent number of backers suddenly and inexplicably drop by 2%, 3%, or even 5%…only to recover some or most of the loss over the next few days.

It’s happened to both the Ares Studios Patreon as well as the Neutral Zone Studios Patreon (two of the largest current Trek fan film-related campaigns)…over and over again. And when “the dip” hits Ares Studios, you’ll usually see something like this posted over on Axamonitor…

Of course, looking at only a short snapshot of a single month misses the big picture entirely. And if you were to zoom out, you’d see the long-term trend is actually pretty solid (with a noticeable uptick in the weeks since AXANAR successfully completed its first film shoot at the beginning of October)…

So yeah, if you cherry pick a specific short downtick from the nearly year-long graph, you can try to sell the argument that four months of progress have essentially been “erased.” But overall, long-term, Ares Studio is a very strong and steady campaign, consistently taking in more than $2,000/month from over 200 donors, not dropping significantly from that level, and even showing a slight (and later, more pronounced) up-slope. And it’s been providing ALEC PETERS upwards of $25,000 per year to help with the rent and utilities for the studio.

But what’s also obvious from that long-term graph is that, yes, at the start of every month, there’s a mysterious “dip.” It’s there every time. The total number of donors and amount of monthly contributions drops like a brick…only to recover within a few days as though nothing ever happened!

And it got me to wondering…why?

Now, the tempting answer from some out there is to claim that people forgot they were still being charged regularly and, when reminded with a monthly receipt from Patreon showing the charge to their credit card, suddenly “came to their senses” and canceled the automatic renewal.

But that doesn’t explain the rapid recovery that nearly always follows the “dip.” Are all of these disillusioned donors just as quickly and inexplicably replaced in the days immediately following? Do they all suddenly change their minds back? And why do only a tiny few donors go through this “epiphany” each month—and then always seem to quickly get over it?

But something happened to me last month that solved the mystery…

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The latest AXANAR news! (audio interview with ALEC PETERS)

Despite all of the major AXANAR-related events lately—including the exciting October film shoot at Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, GA and the launch of the Ares Digital fundraiser—I haven’t actually sat down for an ALEC PETERS interview for more than two months. This week, I decided to remedy that…and fortunately, this time, no dogs needed to be rescued, so the call happened right on time.

Before we jump into the interview itself, just a quick reminder that Axanar IS currently crowd-funding…it’s just not doing so publicly using Kickstarter or Indiegogo. But if you want to donate, you can! Just click here, sign into your Ares Digital account (or create one if you don’t already have one), and then click “Donate Now!” to log in again.

Wait a second…you have to log in AGAIN???

Yeah, it’s kind of a feature, not a bug. Ares Digital is behind a firewall, but the donation widget requires logging into WordPress, as well. But in this way, donors’ payment information is processed without anyone at Axanar ever seeing it…an extra layer of identity protection. And it’s a pretty easy extra strep, as you can log in the second time with one click using your Facebook or Google account…or your e-mail you you’d prefer.

And then, once you’re in, you’ll see this…

Axanar is currently knocking on the door of $40,000—two-thirds of the way to the $60,000 goal to fund the first two film shoots.

But hasn’t the first shoot already happened? And isn’t the second shoot coming up in a couple of weeks? What if Alec doesn’t make the $60K goal in time? Does the second shoot have to be canceled or postponed? And what about the third shoot and beyond (aren’t there supposed to be five total)? When is that shoot getting funded…and what happens if Alec can’t raise enough in time? Will Axanar itself have to be delayed and the summer 2020 deadline missed?

So many questions!

Looks like Alec and I have a LOT to talk about this time out. Take a listen…

Why the new SHORT TREKS “Ask Not” shows why there needs to be a CAPTAIN PIKE series! (editorial review)

WARNING! The reading of this blog WITHOUT first watching “Ask Not” WILL ruin an amazing experience for you!

It only took seven minutes and forty-five seconds.

Actually, it took even less time than that. Without the traditional SHORT TREKS opening title sequence, this latest offering of CBS’s series of mini-episodes dropped me immediately into the action. What followed was a whirlwind of masterfully delivered, impactful lines between two very strong characters. One was Captain Christopher Pike, and ANSON MOUNT could be taking a nap in a hammock and I’d still be mesmerized. So imagine what this amazing actor can do when the dialog is flying fast and furious…and lives are at stake.

The other is a brand new character, Cadet Thira Sidhu (played perfectly by Amrit Kaur), a young engineering cadet facing an impossible decision: does she follow Starfleet protocol or trust Pike? The answer is surprising, to say the least! It’s also the culmination of a tense, non-stop five-minute sequence that doesn’t leave the viewer any time or opportunity to ask “Hey, what’s really going on here?” And that was a very, very good thing!

This is where I start spoiling the episode, folks. Seriously, if you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now, subscribe to All Access for 10 minutes, and watch “Ask Not.” Or if you’re in a country that hasn’t gotten the second series of Short Treks yet, bookmark this blog and come back to it in January. It’s not time-sensitive.

Okay, I warned ya. If you read further, the irreparable damage is all on you…

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PREAMBLE TO WAR – the Romulans are coming!

Now, you might think I’m talking about the new Star Trek: Picard series (which features Romulans quite prominently), but I’m not. Instead of looking forward into Star Trek‘s future, I’m referring to an eagerly-anticipated fan film that looks BACK into Star Trek‘s past.

It’s a past that we frustratingly did NOT get to see when Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled after only four seasons. Fans were deprived of what promised to be an exciting season five that would have shown the preamble to the Romulan War with Earth and the Coalition of Planets…a war that would inevitably lead to the founding of the United Federation of Planets.

But now, thanks to fan filmmaker MARK NACCARATO, fans will finally get to see one Trekker’s vision of how that interplanetary war transpired. Sure, it’s not canon (no fan film ever is), but his production THE ROMULAN WAR will still be lovingly and meticulously crafted, with trained actors and jaw-dropping CGI effects by the “star witness of the stars,” SAMUEL COCKINGS.

Already, Mark has released a series of “enhanced” audio dramas where voice-over recordings of personal logs and correspondences, read aloud by accomplished actors (and also by yours truly), are augmented by images and animations. This series of poignant vignettes, titled WAR STORIES, recount emotional experiences during The Romulan War from the point of view of an admiral, a foot soldier, an engineer test pilot (me!), and a freighter jockey. If you haven’t listened to them yet, click here. They are a MUST SEE (well a MUST HEAR)!

In the meantime, as we await the big premiere of The Romulan War fan film (told in the same “mockumentary” style as Prelude to Axanar), Mark has given fans one last tantalizing peek at the upcoming story. Titled PREAMBLE TO WAR, this vignette is also told in that same mock documentary format and features two of the characters who will appear in the final fan film…along with some awesome VFX, wonderful editing, and a really cool original music soundtrack composed by ANDREW CURRIER.

The five-and-a-half-minute mini-fan film does feature about 90 seconds of ultra-short clips and stills from various Star Trek: Enterprise episodes, which is a fan film guideline “no-no.” However, with only 1,170 views so far, and with the new Star Trek Picard series premiering in less than two months, will the newly-merged ViacomCBS even bother with such a minor infraction and risk the fan backlash? Probably not…at least, I hope not, as this is a very nice addition to the hundreds (thousands, actually!) of Star Trek fan films out there.

Take a look…

INTERLUDE Confidential #1: Jonathan, the Executive Producer…

It was the best of times, it was…aw, heck! IT WAS FRICKIN’ AWESOME!!!

I’m referring, of course, to the main shoot of my Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE that took place about a week ago as I write this. It’s taken me this long just to process the amazing, kaleidoscopic experience I had.

With so much to tell you all about what happened, I wondered how best to do it. A single blog about the weekend would read like War and Peace and still barely scratch the surface. So instead, I’m going to break it down into smaller chunks, and each will end with a series of on-set photos. (I’m still editing through everything…and there’s gonna be at least a few hundred pictures!)

I’ve decided to call this blog series Interlude Confidential. (Not quite sure what made me think of that title…maybe ALEC PETERS can tell me.) Anyway, if you don’t want to read that much, then feel free just to look at the photos and enjoy the captions. But if you’re curious what the experience of being a first-time Executive Producer on a Star Trek fan film felt like, then these blogs will be my “Vulcan mind-meld” with you.

And speaking of executive producing, that’s a really good topic for the first blog about this fan film production. What exactly did Jonathan do?

Many months ago when I first kicked off the Interlude GoFundMe campaign (still accepting donations, by the way!), a few folks in a certain Facebook group complained that I was doing little to make my own fan film besides simply raising money for it (which is quite a chore in and of itself, y’know!). And truth to tell, I initially thought that was the extent of it.

Sure, I also wrote the script, was designing the insignia, and getting uniforms and patches made. But my Directors VICTORIA FOX and JOSHUA IRWIN are the experienced industry professionals. I’m just a guy who likes fan films and blogs about them obsessively. So I figured that, once I raised the money, I’d hand the steering wheel over to them, climb into the back seat, and take a well-deserved nap for the rest of the trip.

Yeah…that totally did NOT happen!!!

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