PROJECT: RUNABOUT boldly goes where no fan film has gone before: the Aircraft Carrier YORKTOWN! (video interview with GARY DAVIS and RANDY WRENN)

Up until last month, when most fan film Trekkers thought of YORKTOWN, they pictured the long-awaited production A TIME TO HEAL, starring GEROGE TAKEI as Sulu and the late JAMES SHIGETA as Admiral Nogura.

But as of July 17, 2022, YORKTOWN now ALSO means the latest episode of PROJECT: RUNABOUT, a relatively new fan series spun off from the long-running DREADNOUGHT DOMINION fan series. Last year, Project: Runabout debuted with their pilot episode, the 5-minute vignette PILOT, featuring the pilot of a small TOS-era runabout-class shuttlecraft getting ambushed by a Klingon warship. And it was all a music video! But what really got fans’ attention was that showrunner GARY DAVIS constructed the elaborate runabout cockpit set in his basement. Talk about a man-cave, er, cockpit!

This year, Gary and Dominion/Runabout co-showrunner RANDY WRENN tackled a much more ambitious half-hour fan film. But it was even more ambitious than that! For the first time that I’m aware of, a fan production filmed nearly a third of its scenes on board an actual American aircraft carrier from World War II.

That aircraft carrier was the U.S.S. Yorktown (hence, the name of this second episode), which is a proud part of a naval and maritime museum located on Patriots Point in the Charlestown Harbor in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. And it wasn’t just a short scene or two. Gary and Randy shot in nearly a dozen different locations throughout the naval ship, including the engine room, mess hall, briefing room, and even up on the flight deck!

It was quite an undertaking with very impressive results. Take a look…

Obviously, there’s a lot of questions to ask about the making of this fan film…both the scenes on board the Yorktown as well as those in Gary’s basement and the expansion of his sets into an even more elaborate cockpit along with a brand new briefing room and transporter.

So I roped Gary and Randy into a Zoom call, and then the fun started…

AVALON UNIVERSE takes on Pon Farr in THE NEEDS OF THE ONE… (part 1: video interview with ALEXANDRA REXFORD)

THE AVALON UNIVERSE first emerged onto the Star Trek fan film scene back in 2018 with the release of GHOST SHIP, one of the only fan films to ever infest a starship with zombies! This new fan series featured both TOS Prime and Kelvin-timeline uniforms shot on TOS sets (originally at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Georgia and later at WARP 66 STUDIOS in Arkansas). Having their own alternate universe to “play” in allowed showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN and his team tell stories with a distinct Star Trek “feel” while not locking themselves into five decades of existing canon.

Since that premiere less than four years ago, Avalon Universe has been a veritable fan production machine, releasing what has now reached ten completed films (you can view them all on this play list)—seven major projects ranging from 15 to just over 30 minutes each plus three shorter vignettes. That’s two and a half fan films per year, folks…with more on the way!

Speaking of which, this latest release includes a bumper at the beginning announcing the launch of a new Indiegogo campaign, attempting to raise $8K to crowd-fund their most ambitious production to date, CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALIBURS. If you’re able to donate, there’s some really nice perks (some of which I designed for the team). Here’s the link…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/crisis-on-infinite-excaliburs-a-star-trek-fan-film

One of the things that sets Avalon apart from many other fan series is the level of quality of the lighting, sound, music, overall cinematography, VFX, make-up, editing, and of course, the acting in each new release. Much of this can be traced back to Josh Irwin himself and the fans he manages to get on his team. Josh works professionally in the film industry in Arkansas, as do many of his cast and crew. This allows Avalon fan films to achieve a polished look and feel beyond what your typical Star Trek fan film.

Their latest release, THE NEEDS OF THE ONE, has a runtime of just under a half-hour and tells the story of a female Vulcan crew member undergoing pon farr while on board. And while we’ve certainly seen that before in both TOS and Enterprise, this tale tackles the concept in a new and unique way (not easy to do with nearly 1,000 hours of filmed Star Trek episodes and movies out there!). Along the way, The Needs of the One introduces fans to a bunch of fascinating and engaging new characters along with recasting the role of first officer Mikaela Allenby, played in the previous release, AGENT OF NEW WORLDS, by ILLIA “PIXI” NEREID and in this new film by ALEXANDRA REXFORD.

The Needs of the One had already generated over 1,100 views on YouTube in the first six hours. Check it out here…

Pretty impressive, huh?

Continue reading “AVALON UNIVERSE takes on Pon Farr in THE NEEDS OF THE ONE… (part 1: video interview with ALEXANDRA REXFORD)”

Production assistant on THE FEDERATION FILES makes an awesome BEHIND-THE-SCENES video about the experience!

CHALEN (pronounced SHAY-len) EVERTS was taking community college classes at North Arkansas College in Harrison when she heard from one of her friends about someone nearby looking for people to help out on, of all things, a Star Trek fan film!

“I’d never seen Star Trek all the way through,” says Chalen. “I still haven’t. Actually I am a Star Wars fan…lol. But I was very interested in acting in film, and it was the closest opportunity to me.” So she decided to take up the offer to help out. The only problem was that she had no idea how to get in touch with showrunner GLEN WOLFE!

“At the time, I didn’t have Facebook,” Chalen continues, “so I created an account just to get in contact with someone I didn’t know. So now it’s a running joke that I got on Facebook just to talk to Glen Wolfe.”

Glen has nothing but praise for Chalen: “She’s been with us since VOICES FROM THE PAST and fit in perfectly from day one. She volunteered to do ‘anything we needed,’ and we took her up on it. She has helped me in every facet of producing all of the subsequent episodes.”

Even though it’s over an hour’s drive each way for her to get to the TOS sets at WARP 66 STUDIOS, Chalen has become an essential part of THE FEDERATION FILES fanthology series…on both sides of the camera! She played one of the three Vulcans on the moon base in NO GOOD DEED. And for their latest episode, MUDD’S MISSION (premiering next month), Chalen actually brought four of her friends (all the way from Wisconsin, where she’s originally from) to be extras!

She also worked with JOSHUA IRWIN on the AVALON UNIVERSE fan film AGENT OF NEW WORLDS. According to Josh, Chalen came through for him in creating the cave interior set when Glen was sick and couldn’t do the build. “She saved our shoot!” recalls Josh. “Normally, I call Glen the superhero of the fan film world. But Chalen was the superhero for us that day.”

“From my point of view,” says Glen’s filmmaking partner DAN REYNOLDS, “Chalen has been a steady rock as a production assistant for several Federation Files episodes. She shirks at no menial tasks that we ask of her and is ready at a moment’s notice to help with anything we need.”

Bright and cheery, Chalen posted a video last week of footage she shot behind-the-scenes during two of the filming days for Mudd’s Mission. I already reported on one of those shooting days, as a late June heat-wave turned one of the non-air-conditioned WARP 66 studio buildings into a veritable oven baking both cast and crew. Chalen was there, doing her usual production assistant tasks, but also shooting a bit of her own footage of what was going on both on set and off (and even in her car!).

Continue reading “Production assistant on THE FEDERATION FILES makes an awesome BEHIND-THE-SCENES video about the experience!”

AVALON UNIVERSE releases a trailer for THE NEEDS OF THE ONE…just THREE DAYS before the premiere!

The AVALON UNIVERSE is a very unique Star Trek fan series. Some viewers see the uniforms and mistakenly think these stories take place in the Kelvin timeline. They don’t. But they don’t take place in the Prime timeline either. The Avalon Universe has its own continuity and mythos. Yes, many (not all) of the uniforms are from JJ Trek, but the sets are all straight TOS (shot at both WARP 66 STUDIOS in northern Arkansas and NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA). And the U.S.S. Excalibur looks mostly like TOS but with some intriguing upgrades and refinements.

Having your own alternate universe to play around in has given showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN intriguing opportunities to tell stories that retain the heart of Star Trek without being “trapped” by 56 years of canon. It’s led to the release of nine superb fan films since 2018 (you can view them all here) with a tenth, THE NEEDS OF THE ONE, debuting this Thursday at 7pm Central Time.

In anticipation of that premiere, earlier today Josh posted a 60-second trailer for the new episode…

I asked Josh what fans can expect from this latest film (beyond what’s shown in the trailer)…

“We’re going to get to know more characters on the Excalibur, all while following Commander Allenby’s journey. She’s just become first officer, and Commodore Jakande is giving her a chance to prove herself under really difficult circumstances. But that’s what commanding a starship is all about, right? How she handles the challenges in this film will take her out of her comfort zone. ALEXANDRA REXFORD, who just joined our cast, has added so many incredible layers to this wonderful character. Fans are definitely going to want to see more of Alex in future films.”

Josh also discussed another new addition to the cast, CORA WILSON…

“Speaking of characters fans are going to want to see again, Cora just knocks it out of the park as Nurse T’Prin! She was originally going to be just a one-off character for this specific story of a Vulcan female going through pon farr and watching what it does to her both physically and emotionally. Playing a Vulcan is challenging enough, but playing one trying to maintain control and failing is really hard. LEONARD NIMOY did it the best, of course, but Cora’s performance is amazing. I can’t wait for people to see it!

“Anyway, now that this episode is completed, I can’t imagine not revisiting this character in a future story or two, and I suspect the fans will want to see her again, as well.”

Continue reading “AVALON UNIVERSE releases a trailer for THE NEEDS OF THE ONE…just THREE DAYS before the premiere!”

Star Trek in the 1930s??? Take a look at COMMANDERS OF STARFLEET! (video interview with JEFF NORD)

One of the reasons that I love Star Trek fan films so much is because there are literally no rules! Okay, there are guidelines, but within those guidelines, there are no limits beyond the imagination and capabilities of the fan filmmakers themselves.

One of those filmmakers is a fellow by the name of JEFF NORD, who lives in Los Angeles and dabbles in amateur filmmaking. And he got a crazy idea: Star Trek done as a 1930s-style Flash Gordon serial episode! Those old black-and-white adventures used to premiere each week, shown at movie matinees before the main feature. They were cheap, cheesy, a bit childish, but oh-so-charming when we look back at them now. And in their own way, they pushed the limits of what Hollywood could imagine and inexpensively produce in that emerging genre known as “science fiction.”

In many ways, the original Star Trek stood on the shoulders of those 1930s and 1940s serials (GENE RODDENBERRY himself was a 15-year-old when Flash Gordon premiered in theaters during 1936) as much as it did the sci-fi “blockbuster” classics of the 1950s like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Forbidden Planet (1956). So indeed, honoring those early sci-fi pioneers with a campy, black-and-white Star Trek fan film seems most appropriate!

Released back in April, COMMANDERS OF STARFLEET has generated a fairly impressive 6.4K+ views on YouTube so far, and it’s definitely worth checking out…

What’s particularly intriguing is how much this short fan film FEELS like one of those 1930s serial episodes. And while classics like Flash Gordon did, at the time, push the limits of what Hollywood could accomplish with limited technology and relatively small budgets, 2022 offers opportunities for the average Joe or Josephine to easily surpass what Hollywood could only dream of 86 years ago.

But what if you’re NOT trying to surpass those efforts? What if you’re simply trying to reproduce them really closely? How challenging is it to make a modern film that looks like something from nine decades ago?

In a fun and informative interview, I chatted with Jeff Nord about his very creative and unique new Star Trek fan film…

Neutral Zone Studios’ THE TEST OF TIME Indiegogo gets over ONE-THIRD of the way to its goal in just SIX DAYS!

Granted, as they say in stock investing, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” And I could well be jinxing the whole endeavor just by writing this blog! But there’s many ways for a new crowd-funding campaign to launch, ranging from very strong down to don’t-get-your-hopes-up. And the new Indiegogo for THE TEST OF TIME from NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS is definitely on the “good” side of that bell curve with $2,295 of their $6,000 goal raised in less than a week from 18 backers.

I reported on the launch of this Indiegogo last Friday, mentioning that for a donation of $150, you can get a decent quality TOS-era tunic (any standard size) as a perk. As I write this, 6 of the original 10 available at that donation level are gone, while 11 others are still available at higher donation levels. T-shirts are available at the $75 level, and a set of TOS data disks and console button prop replicas happen at $50. Even at $25 and lower, there are decent digital perks available.

Situated in Kinglsand, GA, Neutral Zone Studios was, of course, the shooting location for the fan series STARSHIP FARRAGUT and, later on, STAR TREK CONTINUES. Sold by VIC MIGNOGNA to Florida resident RAY TESI in 2018, Ray opened up the expansive TOS sets to many other fan productions, including DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, CONSTAR CHRONICLES, and the AVALON UNIVERSE…among others.

The sets have also been used for TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE, a “fanthology” series focusing on different TOS-era starships and their various crews.  THE LOOKING GLASS (released in June of 2019) and ENDOSYMBIOSIS (February 2021) were recently joined by their third release, the very successful DOOMSDAY, which is currently nearing 90K views on YouTube after just two months.

JOSHUA IRWIN directed Doomsday and also provided his services as director of photography for The Test of Time, most of which has already been filmed, with only a few pick-up shots remaining. The majority of the funds raised from this Indiegogo, in addition to covering expenses that have already been paid for things like food, travel and lodging, wardrobe, etc., will be applied to what are certain to be jaw-dropping CGI effects that will include what I believe will be the first Federation timeship ever seen in a fan film.

In addition to the timeship, VFX starchild SAMUEL COCKINGS has also created a variant of the U.S.S. Stargazer bridge seen in the second season of STAR TREK: PICARD to be used as a virtual background behind green screen actors.

All in all, this looks like a very exciting fan project with a fairly reasonable price tag, considering what’s in it. And while still $3.7K short of their goal, nothing succeeds like success, and this campaign is off to a very encouraging start in its first week!

If you’d like to toss a few shekels into the collection plate, here’s the link:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-test-of-time-a-star-trek-fan-film-production

STARSHIP CALIBORN launches with WAR TARG! (interview with BILLY SWANSON)

POTEMKIN PICTURES has been a fan film “nursery” ever since 2015 when it launched a second fan series STARSHIP TRISTAN, to join its flagship series PROJECT: POTEMKIN, which began back in 2010. Tristan was followed by STARSHIP DEIMOS, then BATTLECRUISER KUPOK, STARSHIP TRITON, STARSHIP ENDEAVOUR, HOSPITAL SHIP MARIE CURIE, and STARSHIP ALEXANDER. Some lasted longer than others. While Tristan and Deimos have released about 20 fan films each, Kupok has released only six, Triton and Marie Curie both had four, Endeavour three, and Alexander only one.

Part of the reason some of these groups folded was due to the move of Potemkin Pictures showrunner RANDY LANDERS (and his homemade sets) from Pelham, Alabama to Lexington, Kentucky in 2019. While some actors and filmmakers are still willing to make the longer drive, others have moved on.

But just because you move the chicken, that doesn’t mean she stops laying eggs. (If that isn’t an idiom, it should be!) Not that I’m suggesting Potemkin Pictures is laying any eggs, mind you!!! But Randy is birthing a whole new crop of creative groups, each with their own starship…or warship. The first out of the Lexington launch bay was the crew of the STARSHIP WEBSTER, and they’ve already completed and released EIGHT fan films less than two years! And in May of 2022, Potemkin Pictures teamed up with NATURE’S HUNGER and RELIC FILMS to release FIREHAWK. And gearing up for its debut in the near future is the new Klingon-based IMPERIAL SCOUT QAB’ELTH team.

Wow, just listing all that is nearly an entire blog just by itself! (You can access all 100-plus Potemkin Pictures films from their website.)

But there’s one group I’ve left out: STARSHIP CALIBORN—and they’ve just premiered their first fan film, WAR TARG. Caliborn spun off from Webster thanks to one the latter’s lead actor, BILLY SWANSON, wanting to become a showrunner himself…along with a captain! Webster‘s second release, A VOICE IN THE DARK, filmed at the height of the pandemic as a one-man show, highlighted Billy’s strong acting abilities. He’s gone on to appear in four of the five subsequent Webster releases, playing executive officer Commander Robert Hawkins.

But now it’s time to Hawkins to get a command of his own, and you can watch his first mission here…

As you can see, Captain Hawkins isn’t your typical starship captain (as if any captain is “typical”)! And Billy Swanson isn’t your typical showrunner. Or maybe he is. There’s only one way to find out…

Let’s interview him!

Continue reading “STARSHIP CALIBORN launches with WAR TARG! (interview with BILLY SWANSON)”

Neutral Zone’s THE TEST OF TIME Indiegogo launches…offering over 20 TOS UNIFORMS for donors!

These days, it’ll cost you $50-100 just to get a decent TOS tunic from the Internet. But now you can get one (with chest patch and rank braids included…any size) and feel good about donating to the latest crowd-funder from NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS—all for as little as $150.

Or if you don’t have that kind of cash available, maybe you’d like a T-shirt for $75…or maybe a set of TOS data disks and console button replicas. Still too much? $25 gets you two digital prints and a 1080p digital download of the final film. And heck, even $10 gets you your name in the credits! (Actually, any donation of $10 or more gets your name into the credits.)

Here’s the link to the campaign…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-test-of-time-a-star-trek-fan-film-production

Neutral Zone Studios scored a major hit on April 5 of this year with the release of the TOS-era fan film DOOMSDAY, which is currently nearing 90K views on YouTube after just two months. That production was directed by JOSHUA IRWIN (of AVALON UNIVERSE fame, who will be launching an Avalon crowd-funder of his own in a few weeks) and looked amazing! Josh has returned for this new fan film, THE TEST OF TIME, as director of photography, so you can be certain it will look just as good.

Actually, a majority of this new project has already been filmed, with some pick-up shots still needing to be filmed. Most of the work remaining is VFX by the Q of the CGI Continuum, the omnipotent SAMUEL COCKINGS, who will be rendering starships from multiple centuries plus incorporating green screen actor footage against a modified virtual background inspired by the U.S.S. Stargazer from season two of STAR TREK: PICARD

Plus there’s post-production editing, music, and sound still to do. Indeed, the funds raised from the current Indiegogo will be going to a mix of covering the upcoming post-production costs as well as offsetting expenses that were already paid upfront by showrunner and Neutral Zone Studios owner RAY TESI, who uses his own money to pay most of the rent on the studio.

The $6,000 goal of the campaign isn’t particularly ambitious, and already five donors (including me) have taken the total up to 19% of the money needed. Granted, four of those TOS tunics are now gone, but nearly twenty still remain for the fleet of finger!

Meanwhile, speaking of Ray Tesi, I asked him why he’s willing to risk his own money shooting The Test of Time BEFORE successfully crowd-funding it? After all, if they fall short of their goal, Ray’s on the hook for potentially thousands of dollars.

“I believe in the fans, and I believe in what we’re doing,” he answered. “Star Trek enables creative people to express themselves, to tel their stories. And that’s how I feel…that we have become a benefit to the fan film community. Right now, I’m confident that our fans and supporters will come through for us.”

And again, if you’d like to be one of those supporters, here’s the link to donate…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-test-of-time-a-star-trek-fan-film-production

A ONE-OF-KIND documentary celebrates VANCE MAJOR and his 9-YEAR mission in FAN FILMMAKING!

My first reaction was, “FOUR HOURS???? Vance, are you kidding me?” He wasn’t kidding.

And as I began watching a courtesy viewing copy of the documentary CONSTAR: BOLDLY GOING, I began to understand why. I’d sat through over an hour before taking my first break and finished it off in its entirety over the next few days. The behind-the-scenes film is surprisingly watchable, but more importantly, it represents the very heart of what makes our “little” fan film community so unique and special.

And the reason for that is that VANCE MAJOR also represents the heart of our fan film community. At a time when Star Trek fan films were getting bigger, bolder, and much more expensive—so much so that CBS and Paramount instituted a set of guidelines to curtail the “space race,” as they called it—Vance came out just as boldly and went both small and cheap! He wasn’t trying to compete with the big guys or even to send some kind of message to them to spend less on their productions.

No, instead Vance was simply saying, “Hey, I’d like to show you my stories, too, but I don’t have any money. So I’m just going to do my best, and if you like what I make, great. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too. I’m doing it for me.”

And that was about 150 fan films ago!

In the years since Vance first portrayed the character of Erick Minard, Chief Engineer of the STARSHIP VALIANT, he’s worked with nearly every fan filmmaker in the community, having inspired many of them to “just go for it.” If Vance didn’t care if there was a cord visible in the doorway in the background of a shot, or if half the lights on the bridge were out, or the sound was bad or the uniforms didn’t quite fit the actors, why should anyone else be bothered by it? These are FAN films, and they’re made for FUN.

Now, as Vance prepares to pull the U.S.S. Constar into space dock one final time and complete his career creating Star Trek fan films, he’s decided to once again go where no fan has gone before and produce a documentary about not just one or two fan films but an entire MAGNUM OPUS of work…viewed not solely through Vance’s own eyes but through the thoughts, memories, and experiences of those he has worked with over the years…including me and dozens of others.

I thought about interviewing Vance as he brings this epoch of his life in for a landing. But anything we discuss would only pall in comparison to the release of his 4-hour documentary, which will premiere on Sunday, July 3rd at noon central time. Here is the link…

Continue reading “A ONE-OF-KIND documentary celebrates VANCE MAJOR and his 9-YEAR mission in FAN FILMMAKING!”

Let’s look inside the SHOWRUNNER Awards and other fan film competitions (Part 2)

In Part 1, we took a look “under the hood” at the engines running three of the most significant and well-known of the annual awards competitions for Star Trek fan films: the BJO AWARDS, the DIRECTORS CHOICE AWARDS, and the SHOWRUNNER AWARDS. Of course, only one of these three is technically “annual” at this point, as the latter two competitions only got their start in January of this year while the Bjos have been running each year since 2015.

Why this deep-dive into the inner workings of three different awards shows? Why not? Most fans see only the end results of these competitions…who were the finalists, who were the runners up, and which films and filmmakers ultimately won. But what happens behind the scenes?

Last time, we looked first at the challenge of finding judges, and how ERIC L. WATTS of the Bjo Awards sets himself the Herculean task each year of finding people “…who have a professional credit in the Star Trek franchise or are Star Trek fans working in the television and film industry, are not in any way personally associated with any past or present Star Trek fan film.” Add to that these people must be willing to watch hours and hours of Star Trek fan films for no money and little more than a thank you for their efforts.

DAN REYNOLDS and GLEN WOLFE went in a different direction for the Directors Choice Awards, opting to require the directors of the films entered to cast ballots for the winners in all categories in order for their own films to quality (and of course, a director could not vote for their own fan film). And finally, I assembled a panel of twelve Star Trek fan film and fan series showrunners (including myself) to judge the Showrunner Awards.

In all three cases, the judging panel was made up up ten or more judges, all publicly identified for the contest. This is, of course, by no means a requirement when holding a fan film contest, although it does inspire more confidence in the results knowing the the people judging the entries have a practical and experiential knowledge of the categories they are judging.

The next thing we looked at was the method each awards show used to gather and organize information on the entries. Eric would determine the submissions based on the Star Trek fan films released in a calendar year that met the eligibility requirements and then type in all of the names of the nominees himself.

Dan and Glen and I, instead, allowed the filmmakers themselves to fill out online forms, changing a nominal $10 entry fee for each fan film entered. The Showrunners then tacked on an extra $1 per each category entered, while the Directors Choice simply limited the number of categories per entry to no more than five. And in the end, all three contests rely heavily on Excel spreadsheets to record the immense amount of submission information.

So what’s left…?

Continue reading “Let’s look inside the SHOWRUNNER Awards and other fan film competitions (Part 2)”