Fandemic film “359”was MUCH more challenging to make than you might think! (feature, part 2)

In Part 1, I introduced you to DAVE ELLIS, a video game writer and director for more than two decades. A couple of visits to watch STAR TREK CONTINUES and Dave was bitten by the fan film bug. He wrote a Star Trek fan film script to shoot at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA, but before he could assemble a cast a film crew, the Covid pandemic hit, and Dave had to shelve the idea.

But then he had the idea to create a “Starfleet Zoom call” fan film (what I like to call a fandemic film) where all of the actors could be on screen one at a time, shooting their lines separately at their homes. Titled simply “359,” the story would deal with survivors from the devastating battle with the Borg from TNG‘s “The Best of Both Worlds,” each person in a separate escape pod. But in the time it took to write and finalize the script, the lockdown had begun to lift. So instead, Dave set up a green screen “studio” inside of his garage . Roles were cast, and two shooting weekends were held in September 2021 and again in May 2022, with over a hundred takes recorded for the four actors combined.

Dave Ellis (right) with actors Sarah Johnson and Doug Baldwin in Dave’s “studio”/garage

Dave has created a full “359” website with behind-the-scenes background info, blog entries, and even outtakes and and bonus features. Indeed, most of the information in both parts of this blog feature is sourced from the blogs and photos on Dave’s website, which I strongly recommend that you check out for a much fuller story. I will be covering just the highlights here. Pre-production and shooting were the subject of Part 1. Now we move onto post-production and how something that seems like it was so simple and straightforward to create was actually very, VERY challenging.

First, take a look at the completed fan film…

Now let’s find out all of the steps that went into turning that raw footage into what you just saw above. As they say on Star Trek: “And now, the conclusion…”

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Fandemic film “359”was MUCH more challenging to make than you might think! (feature, part 1)

What I like to call “fandemic” films—fan films where characters are speaking to each other via subspace communications, alternating with one person on the screen at a time—actually predate the global COVID lockdown of 2020. Years earlier, VANCE MAJOR would feature these interstellar “Zoom calls” in his MINARD and CONSTAR saga fan films. In Vance’s case, this was an easy way to have friends and fellow fans (including me!) be able to record segments in our homes and still appear in one of his fan films. It was a lot of fun and relatively easy to do.

But one newbie fan filmmaker, DAVE ELLIS, has taken the fandemic film to a whole other level with “359,” the story of four survivors of the Borg attack from TNG‘s “The Best of Both Worlds,” trapped in escape pods, trying to find other survivors and also just trying to stay alive. Two years in the making, this fan film is very impressive, surprisingly engaging for a story limited simply to “talking heads,” and includes a full website with behind-the-scenes background info, blog entries, and even outtakes and and bonus features. Indeed, most of the information in this blog feature is sourced from the blogs and photos on Dave’s website, which I strongly recommend that you check out for a much fuller story.

But before I go into the background of “359,” take a few minutes to give it a viewing. You’ll be glad you did…

Writer/director Dave Ellis spent over 20 years as a video game writer and director. And indeed, his first assignment was as a lead writer, co-writing the story and writing the script for the 1998 CD-ROM game Star Trek: The Next Generation Klingon Honor Guard from MicroProse. (An an amusing coincidence, my brother’s and my Internet marketing company at the time, 2-Lane Media, had MicroProse as a client and created the marketing website for Klingon Honor Guard—although I’ve never met Dave.

A page from the website that my company built to market Klingon Honor Guard back in 1998

Along with fellow designer ADAM COGAN, Dave actually won the very first Writer’s Guild of America award for video game writing in 2008 for their work on Dead Head Fred. Dave continued working in the video game industry until 2015, writing scripts and directing voice-over sessions. Nowadays, Dave works as a marketing writer, but he also remains a huge Star Trek fan, and therein begins the origin tale of 359

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With PRODIGY abruptly canceled, a fan rushes to release the first LIVE-ACTION Prodigy fan film: FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR! (interview with SAM COCKINGS)

Star Trek fans were shocked this past week when Paramount unexpectedly announced the immediate cancelation of the animated STAR TREK: PRODIGY series prior to the release of any episodes of season 2…and then quickly removed the show entirely from its Paramount+ streaming service.

The announcement included additional details that production of the second season of Prodigy was nearly complete, and that the property would be shopped around by CBS Studios as a 2-season package to other streaming services and networks. And so the reason for taking down the 20 completed episodes from Paramount+ was to make Prodigy a more attractive and valuable commodity for purchase.

And if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon…

Anyway, Prodigy was always the “great experiment” at Paramount. One of the first and only series to simultaneously debut on a regular broadcast network (Paramount-owned Nickelodeon) as well as streaming on Paramount+, the idea behind Prodigy was to attract a new generation of young Star Trek fans, introducing them to the five-decade-old franchise a little at a time through the eyes of a crew of kids who, themselves, slowly discover what Starfleet is and the fascinating history of the United Federation of Planets.

The plan (hope?) was that these young viewers would get so curious about Star Trek that they would beg their parents to subscribe to Paramount+ so the kids could watch more of the shows. (Someone might have wanted to explain that strategy to everyone who inserted F-bombs into DISCOVERY and PICARD…just sayin’.)

Perhaps ironically, in trying to present a window into Star Trek‘s long history for new viewers, the creators of Prodigy inadvertently created a fan-favorite series that, more than any of the other CBS-produced new series, hewed much more closely to established canon. Older fans (lime me!) loved the new show.

Apparently, however, the numbers weren’t quite as strong when it came to the kids (or else the show wouldn’t have been canceled). And can you blame the younglings for not jumping on board after an airing schedule of five weekly episodes, followed by 2 months of nothing, then another five weekly episodes, then 9 months of nothing, followed by ten weekly episodes? Kids tend to have short attention spans to begin with!

Many fans were frustrated and angry—furious actually!—and moved quickly to set up #SaveStarTrekProdigy. Petitions are circulating, memes are meming, and one fan filmmaker rushed to produce the first-ever Star Trek: Prodigy live-action fan film!

SAMUEL COCKINGS, the Brit with Grit and co-host of the TREKYARDS podcast, has been passionately producing a parade of phenomenal fan films with eye-raisingly accurate CGI-generated digital backgrounds and jaw-dropping VFX animations under the banner TREK SHORTS. (You can view those fan films here on this playlist.) This past Friday, after a week of sleepless nights, Sam released FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR, a love-letter to the show and (hopefully) a salient message to the suits at Paramount that there is more support for this series then they might suspect…

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What IS it with JAMES T. KIRK and TIME TRAVEL??? (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)


“James T. Kirk: seventeen separate temporal violations…the biggest on record.” “The man was a menace.” You might remember those lines from the fifth season DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.” And just to show off my geekiness, here from memory is a list of all the times in TOS and the movies that James T. Kirk traveled in time…

Does that add up to seventeen? Nope. However, one would assume that “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” “Assignment: Earth,” and Star Trek IV each contain multiple violations by Kirk and his crew. So I’m fine with seventeen.

What does this have to do with the third episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS‘ second season, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”? Well, quite a lot, actually! Y’see, there have now been a total of thirteen SNW episodes…and two of them (a whopping 15%) have involved some kind of time travel! The other was the season one finale, “A Quality of Mercy.” Indeed, within the span of the last four SNW episodes, HALF have involved time travel!!! And as fate would have it, both of those time travel episodes have included a significant presence of Captain James T. Kirk—coincidentally from alternate timelines each, uh, time.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s deal with the “yes” part, as I invoke this iconic scene from The Simpsons

Just replace “Klingons” with “time travel” and you can quickly see where my head is at.

Of course, it’s not just SNW that’s doing time travel (and will again in four more episodes when Ensigns Mariner and Boimler arrive from the U.S.S. Cerritos in the future for a crossover with LOWER DECKS). It’s also DISCOVERY and PICARD. Both had second seasons steeped in time travel elements. And indeed, Picard‘s second season spent 8 out of 10 episodes in “our time” here on earth. Just like this latest episode of SNW.

In fact, the plot of Picard season two and “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” were so similar that, well, I kinda HAVE to point out the obvious parallels…

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In the best traditions of Star Trek, STRANGE NEW WORLDS uses metaphor to spotlight TRANSGENDER phobias and prejudices in OUR society… (editorial review)


Star Trek has never shied away from holding a mirror up to the more controversial aspects of modern (20th and 21st century) culture through the “safe lens” of viewing a future, or an alien society, with surprisingly similar challenges. In fact, this was one of the main goals that GENE RODDENBERRY had in mind when he was first pitching his “Wagon Train to the Stars” concept to the networks.

Indeed, as most of us know, the original Star Trek series tackled some of the biggest issues of the 1960s: prejudice and discrimination (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield“), the Vietnam War (“A Private Little War“), overpopulation (“The Mark of Gideon“, women’s struggles for equality with men (“Turnabout Intruder“), and a growing paranoia that computers could replace people (“The Ultimate Computer“)…to name just a few!

In the 1980s and 1990s, Star Trek continued to advance a mostly left-leaning political message with movies and episodes spotlighting homophobia (TNG‘s “The Outcast“), environmentalism (TNG‘s “Force of Nature” and of course, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home), labor rights (Voyager‘s “Workforce“), government-sponsored torture (TNG‘s “Chain of Command“), homelessness (DS9’s “Past Tense“), white supremacism (Enterprise‘s “Terra Prime“/”Demons“), and even the prophetic dangers of overreaction to a foreign terrorist attack on our own soil (DS9‘s “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” which eerily predicted the September 11 attacks and subsequent curtailment of freedoms half a decade before 2001!). And again, the list could go on and on.

Star Trek has also charted its course by embracing all variety of dramatic presentation: action/adventure, mystery, romance, suspense, comedy, tragedy, etc. And one of those many genres was the legal procedural, usually with the message being delivered most effectively and dramatically within some kind of courtroom. In TOS’ “Court Martial,” the message was to beware of computers presenting false-but-believable information (a concern rearing its head right now in 2023 rather than 2267!). In TNG‘s “The Drumhead,” a trial quickly turned into a witch hunt, demonstrating how paranoia could quickly spread fear in the name of righteousness. TNG‘s “The Measure of a Man” and Voyager‘s “Author, Author” deal with rights being taken away from certain individuals for very arbitrary reasons. Lest you think this applies only to androids and holograms, consider that several states permanently remove the right to vote from any convicted felon, even after they have served their time in prison. And DS9‘s “Tribunal” showed how the government can turn a trial into political theater in order to advance state propaganda.

And so we finally come to the second episode of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS season 2: “Ad Astra per Aspera” (“To the Stars Through Hardship”), a courtroom drama with a definite message. And it’s that message that I plan to discuss in today’s blog. So if you have fear and hatred in your heart for transgender people, you probably want to stop reading now—although I really hope you won’t…

Continue reading “In the best traditions of Star Trek, STRANGE NEW WORLDS uses metaphor to spotlight TRANSGENDER phobias and prejudices in OUR society… (editorial review)”

STARSHIP CALIBORN releases their third fan film: “RECIPROCITY” (interview with BILLY SWANSON)

Certain states have become nexuses of fan film production: Arkansas, Georgia, and now Kentucky. Of course, it helps when those states contain studios with permanent sets like WARP 66 STUDIOS (Arkansas), NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS (Georgia), and POTEMKIN PICTURES (Kentucky). In the case of the latter, three different creative groups are now in active production of Star Trek fan films: STARSHIP WEBSTER, KLINGON SCOUT SHIP QAB’ELTH, and STARSHIP CALIBORN. All three rely on the talents and hard work of fans and friends mostly living in the areas in and around Lexington, KY, coordinated by the efforts of Potemkin Pictures Poobah RANDY LANDERS. (You can view all of Potemkin‘s many dozens of releases from a dozen different creative groups on their website.)

So when I saw a new release from the Caliborn folks, “RECIPROCITY,” I reached out to Randy, as I typically do, for some background on this latest effort. And that’s when Randy recommended that I speak with episode writer and lead actor BILLY SWANSON, as he is the “voice” of Caliborn.

Well, far be it from me not to speak directly with the “voice”! So I reached out to Billy for a quick interview, which appears below. But first, let’s take a look at “Reciprocity”…

And now, here’s Billy…

JONATHAN – Randy said that you are now the “voice” of Caliborn. Does that mean you are officially the showrunner?

BILLY – Yeah, I saw that!  I am indeed the showrunner for Caliborn.

JONATHAN – So what does being a showrunner entail for you specifically, Billy?

Billy Swanson as Captain Hawk

BILLY – As showrunner, I work with Randy to arrange the chapters (films) accordingly and set up the space to shoot (ha!). Being the showrunner puts me in the position to guide the tone of the overall “volume” (of chapters) that the various films fit into.

When Randy and I decide on a script, I then run it past ROBIN KUNKEL and ANDREW ORTWEIN for their ideas regarding shot composition and what other unique ways we can film.  Andrew has a great mind for storyboarding and lighting, as well as ways to accomplish more unique shots!  Robin is also a hell of a photographer and broaches the script with a different perspective I enjoy in terms of reasonably scheduling the order of the shots we need, the shots we would like, and the nice-to-have-but-not-a-priority shots, so that we can fit all of that into a reasonable day’s shoot for the actors.

The feedback from this team also helps with initial rewrites to help with narrative and vocal flow for us to present to the actor, to mitigate day-of troubleshooting.  It is a lot like Randy’s shot lists, but with more technology and fun pictures! I also facilitate the shoot crew and work with the production team to prepare for the next chapter (storyboarding, lighting, costume, and directing).

JONATHAN – Are you writing all of the scripts entirely by yourself, or is that task shared among several writers?

Continue reading “STARSHIP CALIBORN releases their third fan film: “RECIPROCITY” (interview with BILLY SWANSON)”

STRANGE NEW WORLDS avoids nearly every OUTDATED COMPLAINT in its SEASON 2 debut! (editorial review)

Pick a complaint…any complaint! A complaint about what? About any of the new CBS Studios-produced Star Treks. Goodness knows, there have been many—complaints that is, although there have been five series. Granted, LOWER DECKS and PRODIGY have been generally well-received, but DISCOVERY and PICARD have certainly struggled.

And while most fans would argue that Picard’s third and final season was the best and strongest Trek effort thus far of the “new era” (I will forgo using the term “Nu-Trek,” as it has taken on a negative connotation in certain circles), even Picard‘s latest masterpiece drew a few complaints along the way (cough, too dark).

So pick a complaint. And let’s see how the season two debut of STRANGE NEW WORLDS, “The Broken Circle,” measured up…


Oh, why not give me something harder to start with! While SNW isn’t as brightly lit as TNG was, it’s by far brighter than either Discovery or Picard. The amount of care and detail that went into building those beautiful SNW sets and wonderfully colorful costumes is never hidden from view. And honestly, Star Trek has always had very strong lighting—perhaps a little too strong on TNG from time to time—and even the later “darker” series like DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise still showed wonderful detail and vibrance….harkening back to the days of TOS when color television was just emerging and bright lights and color saturation the cinematographers’ prime directive.

Discovery was too dark from the moment we first saw that bridge, and Picard certainly didn’t help alleviate the problem. But SNW checks (or Treks) the light box perfectly. Next!

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Here are the 2023 Star Trek Fan Film SHOWRUNNER AWARD entries for BEST SHORT SCENEā€¦

While all of the fan film award competitions feature categories that are common to every contest—like best fan film, best director, best actor, best music, etc.—what makes life extra interesting are categories that are unique to each competition. For example, the DIRECTORS CHOICE AWARDS have categories for Best Ensemble Cast and Best Portrayal of an Existing Character…categories that other fan film contests don’t offer.

In the case of the SHOWRUNNER AWARDS, we just added four new categories this year for Best Props, Best Original Set Design, Funniest Fan Film, and Most Clever Easter Egg. But returning from last year is one of our most unique categories—and one of my personal favorites!—Best Short Scene. This award is for a single sequence from a fan film that is two minutes or shorter, a sequence that is particularly exciting or gripping or dramatic or memorable. The standout elements can be the acting, writing, directing, editing, VFX, music, or any combination. The question is: which short scene does a judge find to be most impactful?

Last year, we had ten fan films that entered submissions into this category. This year, only five submissions came in for Best Scene, but they are each excellent! And best of all, each has a 60% chance of winning an award because we present an Admiral Award, Captain Award, and Commander Award in each category. (Remember that for next year, fan filmmakers: enter a short scene for a good chance at winning!)

I’ve just started creating the online ballot for the judges to record their votes in each of our 22 categories (that is a lot of work for both me to make the form and them to watch everything and fill it out!). And I need a convenient place for them to access all the short scenes in one place. What could be more convenient than a blog page, right?

If you’d like to view all of this year’s 23 fan film entries in their entirety, click here. But now net’s take a look at the five submissions for this year’s Best Short Scene, in alphabetical order by fan film…






My son JAYDEN just graduated from SIXTH GRADE!

Wait a second…isn’t this a blog about Star Trek fan films??? What does Jonathan’s kid have to do with that?

Nothing at all whatsoever! So if you’re not interested in what I have to say as a proud father, feel free to skip this one. Most likely, it’ll just get views from family members and a few friends, and I’m fine with that. Y’see, Jayden knows I spend a lot of time blogging about fan films. But today I am going to blog about him.

Wednesday night, after his final day at Echo Horizon School after seven years, Jayden came into the kitchen as I was finishing making his dinner. As he walked to the refrigerator to get his milk, he said, “I’m sorry for growing up.”


On the one hand, yes, the last twelve and a half years have flown by at warp speed, and that tiny premie newborn that we brought home to Los Angeles from Shreveport, LA has grown nearly as tall as his old man and is already towering over his Mommy! But apologizing for growing up? No way!

I told Jayden that he never needed to apologize for growing up because he’s becoming such an incredible person…and Mommy and I get to be a part of it all. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to both of us.

And to inject a little Star Trek into this indulgently non-Trek blog, I see Jayden right now as my own little Deep Space Nine. What does that mean? Starting at the age of four, Jayden and I began watching Star Trek together…and one of my greatest blessings has been that he LOVES it. It’s one of our “things.” We watched TOS, TAS, TOS again (because he was too young when we first watched it to remember), TNG, the TOS and Generations movies in chronological order, and now we’re into season four of DS9 and about to start season two of Voyager.

3-year-old Cadet Jayden with Daddy at Starfleet Academy.
Jayden at age 5 sitting on the U.S.S. Ares bridge…still under construction.

Jayden absolutely ADORES Deep Space 9, although he’s lukewarm at best on Voyager (I’m kinda the same way, but we’re trudging on through the series). We just watched “The Way of the Warrior” and “The Visitor,” and as most fans of DS9 know, season four was the beginning of the four-season Dominion War arc. Therefore, I know what’s coming, and I am so looking forward to sharing those next 100-or-so episodes with him. And yes, we’ll need to get through Voyager‘s “Threshold” and debate whether “Tuvix” should have been separated, but Jayden will also get to meet Seven-of-Nine before too long and see other decent Voyager episodes that bring back Barclay and Troi. Jayden will ask me if Harry Kim will ever get promoted, and I’ll say, “Watch and find out!” (BWHAHAHHAHAH!) He’ll watch Sisko toast to his own tainted moral compass “In the Pale Moonlight,” discover Vic Fontaine, Weyoun, and see Gul Dukat’s descent into madness.

In other words, we’ve shared so much together, but so much more is coming our way! And that’s how I feel about Jayden himself. So let me tell you a little about this incredible person…

Continue reading “My son JAYDEN just graduated from SIXTH GRADE!”

At long last, STALLED TREK: “THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FORECLOSURE” is released onto YouTube!

Putting the “stall” into STALLED TREK, showrunner/writer/animator/voice-actor/comedic genius MARK LARGENT finished creating his second puppet parody adaptation of a classic TOS episode, “THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FORECLOSURE” way back in June of 2021. But with the exception of those hundred-plus donors who contributed to his Kickstarter in mid-2018 and his follow-up Indiegogo campaign in early 2021 and received DVD/Blu-ray versions of the new fan film, no other fan(s) saw it…unless they attended one of 28 film festivals where “City” was an official selection.

And indeed, that is why Mark has held out releasing the film onto YouTube for so long. Many of those film festivals required submissions to NOT be available on YouTube. And so, Mark kept “COTEF” (his abbreviation) off of the Internet for nearly two years! The restraint and self-control paid off, however, as COTEF has gone on to earn a total of FIFTEEN awards. Take a look…

Wow, right?

Anyway, with one last hurrah as COTEF won BEST ANIMATED COMEDY SHORT at the MIAMI INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION FILM FESTIVAL, Mark finally decided to, without much fanfare, to post the hilarious puppet parody with the time-displacing rock donut onto the Internet. And you can watch it here…

Mark’s first foray into the 3D animation odyssey that is Star Trek puppet parodies came back in 2012 with the release of the first Stalled Trek, an adaptation of fan favorite TOS episode “Amok Time” titled “AMUTT TIME” (read my interview with Mark about that fan film here.) The gag in the title was that Mr. Spott was a Vulcanine and was going into heat, needing to return home to his betrothed T’Pomerian. If you loved what you just saw above, you’ll love what’s below just as much…

But wait, that’s not all!

After doing the aforementioned interview with Mark back in early 2016, we began talking about AXANAR and the CBS/Paramount lawsuit. This led to an idea for a parody of both PRELUDE TO AXANAR and the lawsuit itself. Mark and I quickly came up with a script, I supplied a few of the voices, and Mark did his usual lion’s share of the 3D modeling, animating, and render to create a Stalled Trek parody not of a TOS episode but of a fan film being sued for copyright infringement! You can check that one out here…

But wait, there’s even more Stalled Trek!

After raising over $4K in the 2018 Kickstarter, Mark learned that his go-to 3D application, Animation:Master, would no longer be supported for Macintosh, and Mark didn’t have the funds nor desire to purchase and transition to a Windows PC. Instead, Mark switched over to the open-source (i.e. free!) Blender 3D allowing him to remain on a Mac AND, as it happened, render his animated footage about 30 times faster!

The only problem was that he now needed to learn the new software as well as to import and/or recreate all of his characters and settings into the new 3D platform…

Continue reading “At long last, STALLED TREK: “THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FORECLOSURE” is released onto YouTube!”