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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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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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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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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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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And that’s a WRAP for the first (main) shoot of INTERLUDE!

I don’t have much time to blog this morning ’cause it’s still going to be a very busy day! But I did just send the following update to the donors for my GoFundMe campaign who made all of this possible. And I wanted to share the message here, as well…


Oh, man!

I am still processing what I can only describe as a kaleidoscopic weekend of amazingness shooting the main scenes of INTERLUDE at Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, Georgia. It’s gonna take a LOT of blogs to fully convey the experience of the past 3 days. But first, I need to record some lines on audio this morning, get to the airport, and fly back to Los Angeles.

All I have time to tell you right now is that your donations were not only well-spent, they were MASTERFULLY spent by a team whose talent and ability astounded me. I think we came pretty close to NOT going over budget, but I’ll need to crunch the numbers when I get home. I might need to beg for a few hundred dollars more. Maybe not. At one point, there was so much happening on set that I just handed my credit card over to someone (I don’t even remember who!) along with a laundry list of everything we needed locally and where to get it–from gaffer’s tape to extra snacks and Gatorade. It was a little surreal. (Thank heavens I got my credit card back!)

But let me assure you folks: this fan film will not only be awesome, it will be a visual work of art. Josh Irwin’s mastery of lighting and color gave his shots a cinematic feel reminiscent of the stunning palette of first season TOS on a bridge so similar yet uniquely different. And Victoria drew out some amazing on-screen performances from both trained actors and a few untrained fans (’cause we’re still a FAN film, folks!).

Anyway, more fun and fantastic details, videos, pictures (SO many photos!), interviews, and stories to come…as soon as I have time to go through more than 900 photos and about 10 hours of behind-the-scenes footage. Stay tuned…and THANK YOU ALL again for making this dream possible.

TEAM INTERLUDE expands – we film THIS SATURDAY!!! (part 1)

Holy temporal distortion!

Back when I started the GoFundMe for my Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE back in early June, it felt like November 2-3 was a million months away. Now I’ll be getting on a plane for Atlanta this Friday, and I’m feeling a dozen different emotions all at once: excitement, anticipation, dread, abject terror…it runs the gamut, folks!

Y’see, I watched all of those livecasts from the first AXANAR shoot four weeks ago, saw all of those moving parts—the 80-plus volunteers, the costumes, the sound and computer-monitoring equipment, the lights, the cameras, the action, the caterers—and I got totally overwhelmed. That’s a tough act to follow!

Granted, Interlude isn’t nearly that big of a shoot—we’re expecting about 30 people a day, not 80-plus. But make no mistake: there are still a LOT of moving parts to my project, too…and I’m smack in the middle of most of them!

I naively thought that, after the crowd-funder reached its $19.5K goal, that I’d just be able to slide into the proverbial back seat and let my Directors, VICTORIA FOX and JOSHUA IRWIN do the driving the rest of the way. Oh, sure, as Executive Producer, I’d pay the bills for things like patches, plaques, equipment rental, wardrobe, travel expenses, catering, etc. And I’d be supervising my friend LEWIS ANDERSON on the CGI effects. But aside from that and showing up at the shoot, running a few errands, and taking lots of photos and videos for the blog, I figured that I was essentially done.

Boy, was I wrong!

You might have noticed a slowdown in my blog coverage of fan films over the past several weeks. This is mainly because I’ve been doing a boatload of work on Interlude! This doesn’t mean that Victoria and Josh have’t been working their butts off, too. But they haven’t let me sneak into the back seat yet. I am still VERY much in the thick of things!

If you’re a fan filmmaker or, more precisely, are thinking of becoming one, then this blog is for you. I’d like to share my journey, my “trek,” with folks who might be curious to see all of the things a complete novice like me is doing and learning along the way…

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TEAM INTERLUDE expands – we film THIS SATURDAY!!! (part 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1, these two blogs are intended primarily for those folks interested in fan filmmaking, whether they’re already making fan films or if they’re thinking of taking the plunge for the first time…as I’m doing right now.

Granted, fan films range from super-cheap where there’s only a handful of people (or even as few as two or one) to the super-large productions like STAR TREK CONTINUES and AXANAR where 50 to 100 people might end up being a part of the production. If I had to place our INTERLUDE project on this sliding scale from, let’s call it, one to ten, I’d say we’re a solid seven.

So this blog might not apply directly to every fan project. But if you’re smaller, it might help with a step up to a more ambitious level. And if you’re bigger, then you’d probably just be amused at all the stuff the “newbie” is going through. I’ll simply say that I wish I’d been able to read a blog like this before I started tackling Interlude!

Okay, let’s get back to discussing our rapidly-expanding team who will all be descending on Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, GA this coming weekend. (EEEEP!)

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TEAM MASH-UP answers DR. SEUSS’s brief appealing judge’s FAIR USE ruling…

When I blog about Seuss, I start off with a rhyme. But I think I’ll try something different this time. (Darn it…I can’t!)

Appeal! Appeal! Lately, the Star Trek fan community has been seeing more than its share of appeals. Anas Abdin is appealing the recent dismissal of his lawsuit against CBS for allegedly stealing his “Tardigrades” game idea. And Nick Rekieta reports (at the 8:40 mark of this video) that he was told that Vic Mignogna will appeal all of the nearly-twenty counts of his lawsuit that were recently dismissed by a judge in Texas.

And of course, back in August, DR. SEUSS ENTERPRISES (DSE) filed an opening brief with the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court in California appealing the dismissal of their their copyright and trademark infringement complaints against COMICMIX, DAVID GERROLD, and TY TEMPLETON.

The latter three had attempted to raise $30,000 via Kickstarter to publish a “mash-up” of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek titled Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! DSE sued in federal court, and after a roller-coaster nearly-two year legal battle, the judge in the case ruled (prior to trial) that the mash-up book did, in fact, qualify for Fair Use protections under the First Amendment and dismissed all causes of action.

DSE was not happy.

After requesting an extension to give them more time to prepare their opening brief (which clocked in at an impressive 81 pages and was very well written), they filed in early August…along with four amicus curiae briefs, which are opinions submitted to the court by non-litigants who, even though they aren’t part of the lawsuit, still have a vested interest in the outcome of the case.

In this instance, DSE got help from two professors from the Berkeley School of Lawthree members of The Copyright Alliancethe Motion Picture Association of America, and The Sesame Workshop (yep, Big Bird is buddies with The Cat in the Hat!). That’s another 140 pages to add to your reading list. They all mostly say the same thing…essentially that the judge got it wrong and here’s why they think so (and why the law backs up their belief).

Fast forward two months, and now its Team Mash-up’s turn to have their say. Let’s take a look at the latest goings-on…

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AXANAR completes its first shoot – WHY IT MATTERS…!

It's nothing to do with what we got today.  That's great.  It's the next piece...and the piece after that...until we finish the work.  And at that point, we can be judged on our finished piece of work.  That's how it works.  So we had a great time; we did some really great stuff.  The trick is to finish it, not to start it.

- PAUL JENKINS, Axanar Director

For the past almost-four years, I’ve been asked the same question over and over again: “Why do you stick with ALEC PETERS?” The reasons they give for me turning my back on him are numerous: he’s a con-man, he’s incompetent, he’s not a nice person, no one will work with him, he’ll stab you in the back, he’ll never make AXANAR, you’re wasting your time on this loser…the list goes on and on.

Earlier this summer, someone even offered me actual money to walk away from Alec (and pretty decent money at that!) in the form of an “investment” to help take Fan Film Factor to the next level. All I had to do was stop defending Alec Peters, make Interlude without him, and stop providing coverage of Axanar on my blog. It was a serious offer from someone with the funds to make good on it, and sincerely proffered. I refused. (And no, I won’t tell you who made the offer, so don’t ask.)

When you believe in something—a person, a thing, a dream—and someone else doesn’t, it’s hard to connect with them to convey just how important it is to you…how deeply you love it and are committed to it. It happens all the time with religion and politics…and with me, it happened with Star Trek, with fan films, and most deeply with Axanar.

I fell in love with Axanar, with the pocket universe within Star Trek that it created. It didn’t matter whether or not it was “canon”; it was canon to me. And I wanted to see more. CBS and Paramount almost took that away from me and from other Axanar supporters, but we never lost hope. We believed—we KNEW—this weekend would someday arrive. And now that it did, everything has changed.

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