INTERLUDE Confidential #10 – I’ve got a peaceful, easy feeling…

You can’t please all the Trekkies all the time.

I wrote that sentence at the beginning of yesterday’s blog featuring the new YouTube music video from GARY DAVIS of DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. In it, Gary featured a compilation of many of the viewer comments that have come in through social media over the past five years both praising and scorching their fan film efforts.

The video—set to the popular song “I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again” (the actual title is “Tubthumping” by the band Chumbawamba)—reflects Gary and his team’s positive and “bring it on” attitude about their hobby. They know they aren’t the giants of fan films, but they’re having FUN…and that’s really all that matters.

After writing that blog yesterday, I began thinking about the fan reaction to the trailer I released last Wednesday for my own fan film INTERLUDE. Man, did that one light a match! And it all came from a fun and silly little idea I had to do an homage to the opening credits of one of my favorite sci-fi series from the mid-1970s, Space: 1999. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, or you’d like to check it out again, here it is…

Actually, lots of people liked it. It’s had about 2.1K views so far on YouTube, with 85% of the reactions being thumbs up. Of the 15% that were thumbs down, the main complaint seemed to be my choice of music—likened by some to 70’s porn, and called by one Facebook poster “ear-raping” (whatever that means…although I’m guessing it’s not a good thing).

Others didn’t like the quick cuts, the over-use of the CGI shots, and one fellow thought I had too many clips of people spinning around in their chairs! ALEC PETERS said he liked the trailer but added that it’s not what he would have done. One of my oldest friends, ADAM “MOJO” LEBOWITZ, took time from his busy schedule to write on my Facebook post: “That’s the kind of trailer a fan makes after the movie came out. A mash up. It was cute and cool but I know nothing about your movie other than battle CGI.” Heck, even one of the members of my Interlude production team told me didn’t like the trailer. (Hey, at least he was honest.)

Such a fuss over a 1-minute trailer that I threw together in iMovie on a lark! Honestly, folks, I didn’t make the trailer for Alec or Mojo or for ear-raping guy. I made it for me…as a way to provide a sneak peek to supporters and friends and family members of what this fan film that they’ve been hearing about for a year was going to look like. It was fun to edit together, and I like the way it came out. Sure some people didn’t like it. So what? The world didn’t end (at least, not because of one Star Trek fan trailer).

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DREADNOUGHT DOMINION honors viewer comments (good and bad!) in “I Get Knocked Down”…

You can’t please all the Trekkies all the time.

Whether you’re talking about Star Trek on television, in the movie theaters, or fan made projects on YouTube, you’re ultimately gonna see somebody complain about sumthin’…often a LOT of somebodies!

That’s one of the main reasons why I refuse to ever criticize any Star Trek fan film. It’s way too easy to do so because no fan film is perfect, and many of them fall far short. But at least they TRY.

Creating anything from nothing takes effort, determination, persistence, and—to be honest—a fair amount of courage. Whether you create just for yourself, for friends and loved ones, or for total strangers, you put a part of yourself out there for judgment.

And as hard as it is to create something from nothing just by yourself, doing it with an entire team of people is even more difficult. In a recent interview, actor J.G. HERTZLER said that there’s nothing harder than making a movie. Now that I’ve produced one—even a short 10-minute one—I know exactly what J.G. means…and he’s not that far off.

Hopefully, people will like what you’ve created and will shower you with praise. But there’s no guarantee of that (except maybe making a clay ash-tray at summer camp for your mom even though she doesn’t smoke…moms tend to be very generous art critics).

But Trekkies, man, some of them will cut you down to the quick if you let them…and even if you don’t let them! I never want to be that guy. So I praise all fan efforts because I feel that their determination and bravery should be respected and acknowledged. You made a frickin’ fan film…good for you!!!

And that’s why I cheered when I saw the latest offering from GARY DAVIS, show-runner of the fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. Over the past half-decade of releasing fan films, Dominion has produced everything from the serious (like the recent  “Redemption at Red Medusa”) to light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek romps (like “Reality Check”—which broke the 4th wall—“Technical Difficulties” and the just-released “A Barrel Full of Qunicys.”

Through it all, Dominion has always kept a positive and healthy attitude, acknowledging what they are and aren’t. Gary’s latest upload to YouTube sums up that outlook perfectly…

A fun look at some of the comments Dreadnought Dominion has had over the years… Scenes from our shows set against the song “I Get Knocked Down.” This song has always been a favorite of mine. It meant no matter who hard you get knocked down, GET BACK UP and move forward. I love the comments we get on our shows…even the bad ones! It just makes us strive to do better. WE KNOW we aren’t up to the same level as “giants” of fan films, but we don’t pretend to be, and don’t aspire to be. We are just a group of folks—some older and some of us “not slim”—having fun telling a story.

Bravo, Dominion…!

INTERLUDE Confidential #8 – lights, camera, acting!

When our Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE is released in a few months and the credits roll, two names will appear prominently: JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX. And it’s because of them that Interlude will not only be an awesome Star Trek fan film but also a visual work of art.

A year and a half ago, when I first suggested to Josh the idea of shooting a fan film on the Ares bridge set, I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations other than, “It’ll be SOOOOO cool!” Y’see, the Ares Studios bridge set is just so darn awesome-looking that I figured any fan film shot on it would have to look amazing. And when Josh started talking about all of the ways he planned to light it, the angles he’d shoot it from, types of lenses he’d use, etc.—it all just zoomed completely over my head. I simply figured that my fan film was in good hands, and it was gonna be such a blast flying to Georgia and getting to watch someone shoot on those sets.

A couple of months later when I discovered that Victoria usually collaborated with Josh on their amazing AVALON UNIVERSE fan films, I invited her to come on board the project, as well…and after some discussion, she accepted. At the time, I naively thought I understood how things worked with the two of them: Josh would set up the lights and cameras (cinematography) while Victoria would work with the actors. The perfect team, splitting the tasks right down the middle.

Man, was I wrong…!

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Pandemic gives fans a rare glimpse into a FAIR USE courtroom hearing!

In the summer of 2016 when the AXANAR infringement lawsuit was still in full swing, I drove to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to attend a hearing of the Ninth Circuit in that case. I was the only guest in the “audience” and the only person in the courtroom other than the clerk who didn’t have a law degree!

Nearly all legal proceedings in America are open to the general public, but few citizens avail themselves of this right because—for non-lawyers and non-participants—most of these proceedings are nigh incomprehensible and boring.

But I was personally invested in the Axanar case and found the hearing absolutely fascinating! In fact, I suspect that, had more Axanar supporters lived close to downtown L.A. and didn’t have work commitments, they would have flocked to watch the trial…had the case not settled.

Now the COVID-19 pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to watch Federal Court hearings remotely. The judges and lawyers are all working from separate locations and dialing into a video conference, and those proceedings are being broadcast live to YouTube so the public can observe. The conference videos are also being recorded and kept available on YouTube. Nothing like this has ever happened before! [CORRECTION – Oops, got that one wrong. Then Ninth Circuit (and possibly some other courts) has been streaming oral arguments since 2014.]

As many of you know, I’ve been closely following the infringement lawsuit where DR. SEUSS ENTERPRISES (DSE) has sued COMICMIX and author DAVID GERROLD, artist TY TEMPLETON, and publisher GLENN HAUMAN for violating DSE’s copyright in trying to publish Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! mashing up Star Trek and Dr. Seuss.

Long story short: DSE lost. (Long story long: read this.)

With a pre-trial summary judgment, Judge JANIS SAMMARTINO ruled that “Boldly” (as it was shortened) qualified for First Amendment protection on the doctrine of Fair Use. That was in March of 2019. In August, DSE filed an appeal of that decision. (And here’s a blog explaining that in detail.)

The thing about an appeal is that you can’t just say, “Hey, we didn’t like that verdict, so we want a do-over with a new judge!” Nope, you can only appeal if you feel the first judge made a mistake in interpreting or applying the law in some way (other than just deciding against you.)

In DSE’s case, the biggest mistake they felt was made by Judge Sammartino was in determining that they (DSE) had to prove that they would suffer financial harm if Boldly were to be published and sold. DSE felt that ComicMix should have had to prove that DSE would not be injured by the mash-up. But because the district judge reversed the direction of burden of proof, and DSE failed to meet that burden, they lost and Boldly was ruled Fair Use. (DSE also felt that Boldly wasn’t transformative and also used too much of the original Dr. Seuss source material, which they contend should overturn any Fair Use ruling.)

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Why I loved…and hated…the finale of STAR TREK: PICARD! (editorial review)

SPOILERS…SHINING ON ME—
NOTHING BUT SPOILERS…DO I SEE!

As usual, I’m probably going to piss off the folks who love STAR TREK: PICARD if I say anything negative about the season finale…and piss off the folks who hate the series if I gush about the last episode.

So let’s just piss off everyone this time, shall we?

To properly convey my reaction(s) to “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2,” I need to walk you though the following sequence of events that affected the way I thought about this episode…

It began last week when I was underwhelmed (for the first time this season) with the ninth episode, which I detailed in my previous editorial review. I realized that, being a part one, the penultimate episode was setting things up for the ultimate episode. But I wasn’t certain that I liked everything that was being set up. The tail was beginning to wag the dog as the writing was getting somewhat sloppy and lazy, trying to check boxes in order to move the pieces where they needed to be for the “big finish.”

Then, a day before the finale aired, I read this really great interview from Variety with Picard co-creator and show-runner MICHAEL CHABON (a MUST read, folks!). It provides some fascinating insight into what sculpted the writing of this series, but one passage stood out for me in particular:

I think a useful metaphor for thinking about it is an Etch A Sketch. If you remember, there are two dials on the Etch A Sketch, one is plot and one is character. What you’re trying to do, and it’s really hard, is to turn them exactly the same amount so that you’re getting a perfect 45 degree angle. But as soon as you commit to a plotted story, which we committed to from the opening scene of Episode 1, you’ve strapped yourself to a plot-driven engine that you’re going to have to push back against really hard to try to hold it into that 45 degree angle.

I realized as I read that part of the interview that the first eight episodes were much more front-loaded with character development. There might not always be enough time to develop every character as much as we (or the writers) might want, but what the show lacked in action and speed of storytelling was more than made up for in series after series of deep, character-defining scenes. And I was getting kinda used to that.

But eventually, you have to not only get on with the plot but you actually have to finish the darn story already. And that’s when I felt the show had finally delivered a mediocre episode. Would the trend continue into the finale? Would finally giving us some action “ruin” the last episode for me, as well?

And so Thursday came and a finally hit play

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FLOWER-POWER doesn’t energize this week’s weakest episode of STAR TREK: PICARD… (editorial review)

A FISTFUL OF SPOILERS!

By now, you guys know that I love the new STAR TREK: PICARD series. I’ve raved about every episode so far. And even things I didn’t like (such as the swearing or Narek’s inability to act convincingly or his incestuous sister Narissa or Commodore Oh’s unfortunate name choice) I was still able to overlook because I was enjoying everything else so much.

Not this time, folks.

Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t “hate” this episode or even really dislike it. I was simply rather underwhelmed. And I found myself annoyed by enough plot contrivances and missed opportunities that, this time, the bad outweighed the good.

Granted, my hat is completely off to ISA BRIONES, who plays her sister Sutra with a subtle, sinister sleekness signaling significant sophistication and a solid skillset. (Sorry, sometimes alliteration frantically flows through my fingers.) And of course, the rest of the cast does a solid job…but at least for this one episode, not a really great job.

And yes, I do blame director AKIVA GOLDSMAN for that. He’s just not a great director yet. Over the past ten years, he’s directed less than a dozen hours of television, and four of those were episodes of Fringe in the first two seasons. And for the next four years, he directed nothing. He directed two episodes of Discovery‘s lackluster first season (including the disappointing finale), and now he gets to direct both parts of the season finale of Picard…which is unfortunate and doesn’t bode well for next week. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Of course, if a director is given a weak script, that can also be a problem. And “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1” wasn’t the best script of the season. Even though the excellent MICAEL CHABON had a hand in writing it, so too did AYELET WALDMAND and Akiva himself. Sometimes multiple writers on the same script is a boon. But sometimes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

So what went wrong this episode? Well, to be fair, it was a “part 1” episode, setting up the pins so that the conclusion next week can knock them all down with a strike. This means we can expect a lot of plot contrivances making sure characters are properly placed for the finale (Seven and Elnor on the Cube, Narek escaped, etc.). But there were also some “unforced errors,” as they say in baseball.

Let me tell you what bothered me the most…

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How will CORONAVIRUS affect STAR TREK FAN FILMS?

Last Friday night on AXANAR CONFIDENTIAL #52, ALEC PETERS announced that the fourth shoot for AXANAR, originally scheduled for April in Los Angeles, will need to be delayed at least until May and possibly longer because of the coronavirus pandemic. (The good news is that he now has a little longer to raise $30K in the fundraiser on Ares Digital.) The planned premiere of “The Gathering Storm”—the first of the two Axanar sequels—might no longer happen during San Diego Comic Con or even at Creation’s Las Vegas Star Trek convention because there’s a chance that one or both events will be postponed or canceled.

Whether or not you personally feel that the media is making too much out of all this, the fact remains that folks across the United States and the world are taking this new virus very seriously. Sporting events, concerts, offices, schools, theaters, restaurants, fitness clubs—all are being temporarily closed to prevent people from inadvertently sharing this very infectious new virus while congregating in close quarters. All of these measures are intended to slow the spread of the disease until such time (hopefully soon) when a vaccine can be developed, tested, and deployed to the general population.

And this also includes film production. CBS, ABC, Netflix, Apple, and Disney are all suspending shooting on series including Young Sheldon, Grey’s Anatomy, Supergirl, Batwoman, Claws, All Rise, Lucifer,  Stranger ThingsGrace and Frankie, The Morning Show, Foundation, For All Mankind, and NCIS…to name but a few! (Get the whole current list here.) Disney has halted production on nearly all pilots, including the new Falcon and the Winter Soldier planned for release on Disney+. So this is going to cost the studios some big bucks and major lost revenue in advertising and subscriptions.

But the logic is sound. Production crews can often number in the hundreds, and they work in very close quarters as make-up and costume people, lighting and camera people, actors, directors, sound engineers, and countless others are constantly near or touching each other and the same items to adjust mics, wardrobe, make-up, hold up light meters, etc. And production teams can’t afford for even small numbers of their crew to be out sick at the same time.

And of course, even though survival rates are in the 98%-plus range, the elderly are most susceptible…and most younger folks in sets have parents and grandparents (plus some of the actors themselves are older). It would be irresponsible on the part of the studios (and possibly trigger some legal liability) to put so many people at risk just to make a TV program, Indeed, I suspect even more shows will announce they are suspending production soon.

So what does all of this mean for Star Trek fan films? After all, Axanar‘s production and release might very well be delayed by months due to COVID-19—what about other productions? I decided to ask around…

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STAR TREK: PICARD’s “Broken Pieces” has a little something for EVERYONE…even the complainers! (editorial review)

HOUSTON, WE HAVE SPOILERS!

At this point, if you’re not liking (or loving) STAR TREK: PICARD, then I really just don’t get it. Not to say you’re not entitled to your opinion, but it’s just beyond my ken trying to figure out if we’re even watching the same show!

I enjoy this series as a Trek fan, as a sci-fi fan, and simply as a television viewer. I love the story, the characters, the acting, the writing, the VFX (just enough lens flare not to drive ya nuts!), the costumes, the make-up, the sets, and even (especially!) the music.

This eighth episode had a little something for everyone…even the complainers. So if you’ve been criticizing the show on social media, did you at least like any of the following…?

YOU WANTED ACTION? YOU GOT ACTION!

Okay, I’ll admit that a good portion of this eighth episode featured the crew members of the La Sirena just sitting around and talking to each other. The ship wasn’t getting shot at, Elnor wasn’t cutting off people’s heads, and no one was being murdered.

But meanwhile, back on the Borg Cube Artifact, it was Fast and Furious 7-of-9! (Let’s all pause a moment to appreciate that pun.) For those viewers complaining that episodes of Picard are “too” slow, these cutaways to Seven-of-Nine and Elnor must certainly have felt like a welcome pick-me-up! The stakes were high, the tension palpable, the urgency immediate, and the action thrilling. The bad guys were nefariously plotting and preparing, the good guys were struggling to come up with a workable defense, and our “hero” Seven was forced by circumstance into making an impossible choice.

And let’s hear it for the “head fake” of leading us to the edge of having Seven release the Borg hounds and then—SWOOSH!!!—having Narissa space them all in five seconds. So much for that idea! Granted, in retrospect, that “plot twist” saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in make-up and wardrobe costs that would have been required to turn the end of the episode into Borg War V (or whatever we’re up to…”Descent,” First Contact, “Dark Frontier,” “Unimatrix Zero,” feel free to add any Borg-heavy episodes to that list). But even knowing that the decision was as much cost-savings as anything, the moment was still unexpected (for me, at least), and it definitely left Seven in a very scary place.

Let’s see what other goodies were on the menu this episode…

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For STAR TREK: PICARD, don’t allow the PERFECT to be the enemy of the REALLY REALLY GOOD! (editorial review)

THE SPOILERS’ BACK IN TOWN…SPOILERS’ BACK IN TOWN

I really don’t understand the folks out there who are trying so hard to convince others (or maybe just themselves) that STAR TREK: PICARD isn’t a good show. I mean, the critics certainly love it (and by those I mean the trusted sci-fi critics who provide reviews—rather than just recpas—at places like DenOfGeek, IndieWire, IGN, Space.com, TrekMovie, Escapist, and many others). And numerous fans on Facebook certainly love the show, too. Granted, not everyone is giving it perfect 10’s each time out, but the general consensus seems to be extremely positive as people are enjoying what they see.

And then there are the detractors. There always seem to be detractors.

I’ve personally written more than fifteen thousand words over the last month and a half very specifically explaining why the show is so good (minus the blog about the swearing). So that’s quite the wall to climb in trying to convince me that I, the critics, and an endless parade of fans on Facebook and elsewhere have been wrong all this time. But that doesn’t stop these negative nellies from making such keen and thought-provoking arguments as the following…

Deep thinkers, I know.

I also tried watching Nerdrotic’s latest video podcast bashing the show (as he always does). However, it’s hard for me to give a critic any real credence when he can’t even pronounce the name of the episode…despite living a few hours drive from a famous restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur with the same name. Nepenthe (neh-PEN-they) has been around since 1949 overlooking the cliffs of the majestic California coastline and serving the world’s best hamburger (the ambrosiaburger) along with other culinary delights. For a person who lives in San Francisco to not have heard of Nepenthe…well, that’s just wrong. Take a drive down the coast, dude; it’s lovely!

Anyway, as I watched Gary Buechler skewer the episode on his podcast, all I could think were 1) he’s using juvenile name-calling to make a lot of his points, and 2) he’s getting donations from people while doing the skewering. If people paid me money to bash a show each week, I’d probably find a way to do it. I’m just not sure I’d trust what I had to say as objective or fair-minded. But enough about that.

I’m really trying to understand the folks who don’t think this show is good. A teensy few have written thoughtful, reasonable comments that I’ve published on previous blogs. And while I don’t agree with them, I respect their efforts to convey their thoughts clearly and civilly. But by far, most people who criticize this show just seem to fall into the following five categories…

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Is there a “RIGHT” way to watch STAR TREK: PICARD? (more editorial than review)

100% CERTIFIED SPOILER FREE!

I was there at the dawn of the third age of TV science fiction…

I was actually there at the dawn of the second age, too, but I was still in diapers. The first age was completely before my time, and the fourth age…well, the fourth age is happening right now! And what the flying flark am I talking about????

I find it interesting to read the comments of the folks who don’t like STAR TREK: PICARD. A few anti-CBS fans out there, I believe, had convinced themselves to hate the show before the series ever started. Others, I suspect, saw how slowly the first few episodes were going and decided right then the show was “garbage.” Still others can’t forgive Picard for not being the second coming of The Next Generation the way The Orville has been. Some don’t like the “dystopian future” or the damaged characters or the swearing (I raise my hand for that one) or the mustache-twirling, sunglasses-wearing, way-too-over-sexual villains.

And as Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say on Saturday Night Live, “It’s always sumthin’. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” And I think that’s true of much of recent sci-fi—and especially Star Trek…and especially lately. But as we crossed the midpoint of the 10-episode run of the first season of Picard, I wondered something…

Are the fans who DON’T like the show—for whatever reason—are they just not watching Picard the “right” way? And for that matter, is there, in fact, a “right” way to watch Picard? I actually think there is!

But to truly appreciate what I’m going to tell you in this blog, we need to take a slight detour through the 70-plus year history of science fiction on television…

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