When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, watching Star Trek each weeknight at 6:00pm, I used to dream of one day building my own Enterprise bridge. I’d have it on the second floor of my house, in a circular area, with a turbolift elevator that would go up to it, doors whooshing open to shock and impress my friends.
Sadly (at least for me, not sad for my wife), that didn’t happen.
But miraculously, I can still walk onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. I can sit in the captain’s chair, stand in the transporter, walk through the corridors, visit sickbay and engineering, wander into the briefing room and Captain Kirk’s quarters. And I can even do it in two different locations!
The first place I can go is the officially licensed Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY. For $22.50/person (less for seniors, military, and kids), I can walk around meticulous, museum-quality recreations of the original 1960s sets that were used to film Star Trek. The sets in upstate New York were used to make the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2, and now are available throughout the year for personal and group tours.
Further south in Kingsland, GA are the sets that were originally used for the fan series Starship Farragut and Star Trek Continues. A little over a year ago, those sets were sold by VIC MIGNOGNA to RAY TESI, who has opened them up for free filming (just pay the electricity costs) to any fan production that follows the CBS guidelines. Originally called Stage 9 Studios, the sets were recently renamed NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS to avoid confusion with the Virtual 3D walkthrough of the Enterprise-D that was shut down by CBS.
Last October, Ray Tesi opened his Georgia sets to the general public for a FAN APPRECIATION WEEKEND. It featured tours, photo opportunities, some fan film celebrity guests, and even two different fan productions shooting scenes in front of a live, studio audience.
Last week, we began discussing the Survivor trilogy with creator and show-runner MATTHEW BLACKBURN. The fan series got its start back in 2010 with the release of the 10-minute fan film SURVIVOR, produced on a teeny-tiny budget and filmed entirely by just four people.
In 2017, a 15-minute sequel called SURVIVORS was released, this one produced by a team of six fans. Matthew wrote, directed, and starred in both films. This one was lighter and a bit more humorous than the first, although it was still a serious fan film.
And just as 2018 was ending, Matthew released his third fan film, using the same main characters as the previous film. Again with a 15-minute runtime (following the fan film guidelines), LAST SURVIVOR was perhaps Matthew’s most ambitious undertaking thus far…
In part one of our interview, we discussed Matt’s formal education (or lack thereof) in cinematic production, and how he was mainly self-taught and learned by doing. We then took a look back on what went into creating the first two fan films…before shifting our focus to Matthew’s latest release.
And that’s where we pick up…
JONATHAN – Of the three Trek fan films you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
MATTHEW – Last Survivor is definitely my favorite of the three because it best represents more my point of view as a filmmaker. I like Survivors a lot, but I don’t know if it completely represents me as a storyteller. I was probably more open to collaboration on that one, but Last Survivor was my baby. I wanted it to have a certain feel. Score is a big part of that. I believe music should be an essential part of the storytelling process, and I worked a little closer with ROLAND MAIR-GRUBER on this one to make sure it was suitably epic.
JONATHAN – I thought the music was incredibly powerful and effective on Last Survivor.
MATTHEW – Roland is really a fantastic composer with excellent instincts. Ninety percent of the time, his sensibilities lined up with mine perfectly. I cannot say enough good things about his contribution to my last two productions. I did the score for Survivor, but I’m just a guy who doesn’t know how to play piano mashing keys until I think it sounds decent. Roland is a world class musician. I hope to work with him on many future productions.
JONATHAN – I’ll be honest, even though I enjoyed all three of your Trek fan films, I think I liked Last Survivor the best, as well. It felt like a very traditional Star Trek plot line, but with a very ominous ending.
MATTHEW – I wasn’t sure how people would respond to it, especially the rather dark ending, but there’s still places to go. Like I said, making this production was a joy from beginning to end. It has exactly the mood and feeling I wanted and very closely resembles the vision I had when I hatched the story.
Survivors was in a state of flux in terms of tone all during the making of it. We started with a pretty serious script, but injected more humor in as we went.
JONATHAN – The humor in Survivors was definitely fun.
MATTHEW – I credit a lot of that to me and DAN McINTYE just having fun on that one. It was a dark time, and I needed some levity. Last Survivor is everything I wanted it to be and in some ways more (thank you, Roland!). I just hope it gets seen as much as possible, given the ever -crowded Youtube field.
I do watch fan films, particularly Star Trek. Some of them just churn out one after another, and more power to them. I prefer to cook mine a bit, think hard about the story and what I can do with it, but they sure are a blast to make. It’s Roddenberry’s sandbox, but I’m telling my own story within it, using those toys. I’m glad you liked this one.
JONATHAN – Let’s talk about your team a little. Who did what? Any fun stories from the production itself?
MATTHEW – I do pretty much everything, but I can’t do it all. My wife KATIE [BLACKBURN] was really great with calling horse pucky on some of my more whacky ideas, or letting me know if something was running too long in editing. She got the best shot in the movie with the running against the sunset scene. Dan mostly served as actor this time, but there wouldn’t have been a movie without him. TRAVIS [ST. JOHN] played the medical officer, and also turned out to be a pretty decent camera operator. I worked with him on my fresh-out-of-high-school movies years ago, so it was nice to do that again. He started filming a week after I told him about the project.
NICK [CANTRELL] played the Surface Alien, Bajoran, and did some doubling for “Evil Captain” in the western scene. I had an idea early to cast some outside people as Medical Officer and Bajoran. I was looking for a Janeway type for Medical Officer, but the transportation situation didn’t work out for her, so the originally-female medical officer became the more McCoy-like Travis. Nick played the Bajoran more or less as a reward for putting up with the alien suit in 108 degree heat, and he’s a great guy to be around. So when in doubt, just use your friends. Local people tend to show up and not have too much of a travel issue.
I wrote the opening fight a couple days before we shot it because Katie and I agreed there needed to be more action in the beginning, and that opening with the rock climb wasn’t a big enough hook. I called up Nick and Wayne, asked them who wanted to be an alien and who wanted to be a commander, threw costumes at them, and we shot. It went smoothly except for the fact that it was 108 degrees during that first scene, and poor Nick was wearing that rubber alien mask! There’s a shot in there where you can see the sweat spewing out of the mouthpiece. At one point, he said his head felt like it was boiling. A typical day in the desert!
The camera would shut down every 20 minutes with heat warnings, so we’d have to stop, take the camera to the car, and blast it with the air conditioner to get another 20 minutes of shoot time before it would shut down again from the heat.
Another really good shot Katie got was the first climbing shot. That’s actually me climbing the rock, and I had to be right on the edge in order for her to see me. It was fairly high up and pretty scary. At one point I think I said, “I hope you have the shot because I don’t think I can go any farther.” Getting back down took a long time.
JONATHAN – Well, I must admit that it did look impressive. Not quite Kirk on El Capitan, but close!
MATTHEW – Thanks. It’s nice to know I risked my life for a good cause!
JONATHAN – Of course, uniforms in fan films can be hit an miss. But it looks like you had three hits and one miss. You couldn’t get four of the same style?
MATTHEW – New uniforms took forever to arrive, shipping from who-knows-where. I had a uniform for the originally-female medical officer, which was a woman’s small. Try as he may, Travis just couldn’t squeeze into it, but he got into the blue undershirt. The uniform he wears is actually the same one I wore in Survivor. We’ll just say he’s some special order of medical officer who has a different shade of gray for his uniform.
My new uniform split up the arm just by raising my hand. They were really not well made. We had numerous wardrobe malfunctions with the new uniforms. Dan’s zipper broke off and we couldn’t get it back on, so after the energy-alien leaves his body you’ll see his jacket stays open. We just went with it.
JONATHAN – And this is why I love behind-the-scenes interviews—I and my readers get to learn about all the little things that go wrong along the way. In my opinion, Matthew, it just makes the finished production all the more impressive.
So where did you film, and how many days were you out there?
MATTHEW – We filmed in Rosamond, Lake Elizabeth, Tehachapi, Las Vegas, Vasquez Rocks, my backyard, and Crestline. Altogether, there were probably ten or so days where we filmed, but it was off-and-on over the course of six months. I kept waiting for new uniforms to arrive and pushed the scenes involving the Vulcan, Medical Officer and Bajoran (who wasn’t originally Bajoran) until November…a month before I released the movie.
JONATHAN – Only filming for ten days over six months, was that challenging?
MATTHEW – The challenges are the usual stuff with scheduling, weather, availability. The advantages were that I really had the time to find the movie in the edit. Having the time to make each scene as good and trim as it could be was a big plus. There were no deleted scenes, just moments that were longer. I like how it all turned out. Got a lot of mileage out of the energy alien material we shot for Survivors.
JONATHAN – Once all of the footage was “in the can,” what were the next steps involved in post-production?
MATTHEW – No real steps. I’d just edited the footage as soon as it came in. Usually the same night! I voraciously edited and completed sequences as they were shot. I was so happy to have something filmed after the opening sequence that I edited it with nearly finished visual effects the same day we shot it.
JONATHAN – Wow, that’s pretty amazing. So if you edited as scenes were completed, did that “lock in” scenes to a predetermined structure, or was there still some flexibility as the edited scenes were completed?
MATTHEW – The structure of the movie changed a bit when I split the “fantasy sequence” in two, for the better I think. Post production was pretty easy since I’d be editing pretty much all the time, refining each scene well before the next scenes were shot. It gave a good amount of time to ponder how to improve things.
Actually seeing the ship crash in the beginning was a late addition. There were a bunch of those. Lack of a set schedule helped. We just filmed when we could, and I edited and did the effects when time permitted. One effect I like a lot is the mini explosion caused by Dan’s phaser going off when I stop him from vaporizing Travis. I composited that a couple days before the final edit went to the composer. Little things like that make a difference, but the relaxed shooting and editing schedule (or lack thereof) definitely helped with making those sort of creative discoveries.
JONATHAN – You did an excellent job acting. Do you have any training?
MATTHEW – I appreciate the compliment, thank you. Most of the time when I’m acting, my mind is on other things like: “Will this shot come out?” “Is it in focus?” and all the stuff that has nothing to do with acting.
I’ve always acted but never really pursued it hard outside my own projects and a little community theater. I suppose it’s a jack-of-all-trades thing. There were acting related things I definitely wanted to do in this movie…a “bucket list” of sorts. I wanted to go evil at some point, and have a bit more emotional intensity not just from me, but everyone. I’d love to do more acting. I love physical acting. Stunts and fights and so on.
JONATHAN – So now that you have a trilogy, are there any plans for a fourth or fifth installment for this series?
MATTHEW – Making Last Survivor was such a joy on every level for me that I’d really like to keep it going. I have a couple other fan films I’d like to do in the meantime to get the fan film bug out of my system (Terminator, Alien). I work full time, and screenwriting pretty consistently occupies the rest of my time, so it’s just a matter of…budgeting…the time (Shatner pause!).
I made Last Survivor as the intended cap to a trilogy, but it was so much fun to do that I would make more if there was a good story to tell and all the pieces fell into place. If I’m allowed to do so via the guidelines, there’s a 4th that is nearly ready to go, and maybe a 5th. There’s a “Darmok” like story I’d be interested in telling, and I’m fairly excited by the possibilities of Section 31, but that is a big “maybe.”
I’d be open to collaborating with other fan filmmakers, but again, it all depends on the story. Next up is a Terminator fan film for the 35th anniversary that may be the most ambitious thing I’ve made. As for Star Trek, there are always…possibilities.
There’s also a few other crowd-funders that I check in on from time to time. You can find them all listed here on Fan Film Factor under the CROWDFUNDING NOW tab at the top.
Usually, there isn’t much movement on a daily basis for these campaigns…just little increases here and there. For the Avalon Universe Indiegogo, the donation total had been hovering in the low $2K range for the last few days…not unusual for a crowd-funding campaign to slow a bit in its second or third week.
And so I literally did a double-take when I checked the Avalon campaign late yesterday to discover their total at $3.4K (bringing them to over 40% of the way to their $8,500 goal). Huh? I’d checked it earlier in theday, and it was still in the low twos. What the heck happened???
I scrolled down through the perks. One of the perks is a $1,000 “Executive Producer Package” where the donor gets their name listed in both the opening and closing credits as—you guessed it!—Executive Producer. Two of these perks were initially available, and one had just been snatched up!
I checked with Avalon showrunners JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX, and they confirmed this is a legitimate donor and someone who has supported fan films in the past (although we won’t find out who until the fan film is released and we check the credits).
I don’t usually report on single donations to crowd-funders, and $1K donations certainly aren’t unheard of. But they are indeed rare…and almost non-existent for “smaller” campaigns with goals under $10K. So for me, this is news worth sharing—and a good reminder for folks to consider donating, if they haven’t already (even if it’s just $10 and not $1,000).
I also allows me to address a recent semi-controversy that has cropped up involving me supporting this and other crowd-funding campaigns…
In any list of the top 10 Star Trek fan films of all time, I will always include CHANCE ENCOUNTER, from British writer/director GARY O’BRIEN and co-writer PAUL LAIGHT. It doesn’t have dazzling VFX or edge-of-your seat action. In fact, it’s a “quiet” story that treats viewers to some top-level acting, emotionally engaging characters, and lovely music…all wrapped in a skillfully directed and edited package that I consider to be a MUST-SEE fan film.
So naturally, I and others have been most eager to see what Gary and Paul do for an encore! A year ago, Gary launched a Kickstarter for what was, at the time, about $12,000 (American). But it failed to get even half-way to its goal, and so Gary received nothing…since Kickstarter requires a project to fully fund before awarding pledged donations.
However, a single “angel donor” came forward in May with an offer to fund the entire production, and Gary was now set up to create THE HOLY CORE, a TNG-era fan film with more action and VFX than his previous release…but the promise of the same great level of acting, directing, engaging characters, and quality of presentation.
This project also called for the construction of some ambitious TNG-era sets for a Nebula-class starship…including the captain’s ready room, deflector control room, and even the engineering station on the bridge! Could Gary and his team pull it off? A series of production updates teased us with quick glimpses into how good these sets were looking. I posted a blog back in Decembercollecting all of these updates in one place. It’s worth checking out.
In the meantime, Gary has just released his first official trailer for The Holy Core, and it looks really impressive (especially all of those amazing sets)…!
Back in 2010, a short 10-minute 24th century-era Trek fan film made its debut. Despite being ultra-low budget, it was actually quite ambitious, being shot in multiple outdoor locations by a team of just four people…two of whom appeared on screen. It was called SURVIVOR and was written, produced, and directed by MATTHEW BLACKBURN, who also starred in the leading role. The finished product was very well done and quite interesting.
Most fans thought Survivor was just a one-and-done effort, but seven years later in the summer of 2017, Matthew released a sequel: SURVIVORS. Still low-budget, this time six people had produced the fan film, and it was 15 minutes long and a bit more ambitious. It even had some very decent visual FX and strong performances for a fan film. Matthew and I chatted about both projects in one of my very first audio interviews here on Fan Film Factor.
At the very end of 2018 (two days before the new year), Matthew released what seems to be—at least from the title—the final installment of the Survivor trilogy: LAST SURVIVOR. It’s my favorite of the three, although they are each very enjoyable. Check it out…
I reached out to Matthew for another interview, wanting to know about the making of this latest production and whether any more fan films would be coming our way in the future. Matthew was happy to oblige, although this time the interview will be in text format…
Sometimes it pays off to get backlogged on blogging! On March 1st, I received a donor update from IRA STEVEN BEHR on the current status of the crowd-funded Star Trek: Deep Space Nine documentary WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND. Although they held three theatrical screenings late last year in New York, Los Angeles, and London—where select donors and supporters got to see an early “final” cut of the film—things weren’t quite finished yet. In fact, they weren’t even close!
The delays in completion stemmed from a noble cause, however. Additional crowd-funding (over and above their initial $650K from fans) was generated to pay for remastering all of the 20 minutes of footage from the seven seasons of DS9 into digital HD quality to be shown in the documentary. Since CBS has no plans to remaster DS9 or Voyager or Enterprise (as they did TOS and TNG), this could be fans’ only opportunity to see any of DS9 in high definition. Here’s an example of the difference in quality…
The digital transfer process began with massive amounts of time in the CBS vault sorting through seemingly endless rolls of 35mm film reels looking for the footage they needed. Then a request was sent out to deliver 400 of those reels to CBS Digital, who would then digitally scan in the film into high definition for Ira and his team to color adjust, enhance, and edit into the final cut. At the time Ira posted the following video on March 1, about three-quarters of the requested film reels had been sent to CBS Digital for logging in and scanning…
I’d planned to share that update here, but in the last 13 days, I’ve published 9 other blogs (and two of those days were spent at Disneyland). So the DS9 news was pushed to the bottom of my “to do” list until this week. No big deal—updates about the DS9 documentary are not very frequent anyway. The news could certainly wait a week or two, right?
A week and a half ago, I reported that MARK NACCARATO, who is completing the fan film THE ROMULAN WAR (due out in the next few months), was about to release the fourth of his WAR STORIES vignettes: “The Fighting Fourth.” That happened for the general public this past weekend, and I have to say that this was my favorite War Story so far! (And since I starred in the third one, you know I’m being sincere.)
Before continuing, I just want to remind everyone to please donate a few bucks to their Indiegogo campaign. Although they surpassed their original goal, additional footage for the main film was shot by AARON VANDERKLEY in Australia, and Mark needs to reach $14,000 to cover Aaron’s additional expenses. He’s $980 short…can you help him out?
Anyway, this latest release is another “enhanced” audio drama, although I think I’d call this a full-on fan film! The difference is that “The Fighting Fourth” actually features a video recording of the main character, not simply the audio recording of log entries “enhanced” with display readouts and various animations. The footage features actor CHEWE NKOLE playing crewman Evander Littlejohn, and the African actor (now living in western Australia) turns in a very strong performance.
Also worth mentioning is sensational CGI effects done by everyone’s favorite British invader, SAMUEL COCKINGS of Trekyards. So we’ve got what I believe is the first-ever Star Trek fan film produced on three different continents (North America, Australia, and Europe), and a really fun and well-crafted 5-minute look at yet another intriguing aspect of The Romulan War…
It’s here! The first new 2019 Indiegogo campaign for a Star Trek fan film is now live and taking donations. Why should YOU donate? Lemme tellya…
THE AVALON UNIVERSE kicked off its debut last Halloween with a complete surprise for most fans: the 2-part GHOST SHIP, a sort of “Star Trek meets The Walking Dead” hybrid fan film that quickly went viral and now has a combined 280K views on YouTube!
Filmed both in Kingsland, GA on the old Star Trek Continues TOS sets and also in the new WARP 66 Studios in Arkansas, Ghost Ship looked amazing. Lighting, make-up, directing, editing, music, VFX, acting…everything came together flawlessly to present fans with one of the most polished-looking set-based fan films in a long time.
The only thing fans found a little odd were the uniforms worn by the Starfleet crew: a mix of the first two Kelvin-verse styles with Star Trek Beyond and TOS uniforms, all in a classic TOS setting. Even the USS Excalibur looked somewhat strange with a blue glow on the nacelles.
But then fans discovered that this was yet another alternate universe, the Avalon Universe, where things are a little different. (Avalon was the island on which King Arthur’s sword Excalibur was forged.) Fair enough; Trekkers are used to alternate universes by now.
Then, on February 2, the second Avalon Universe fan film, AVALON LOST, premiered., and it’s already up to nearly 35K views! This time, it was a one-parter with a very unexpected ending. Before you listen to my audio interview with the two Avalon show-runners at the end of this blog, I invite you to watch their most recent offering because there WILL BE SPOILERS in there interview…
Pretty awesome, right? I love that shuttlecraft! Anyway, I chatted with Josh and Victoria about their latest fan film, their new Indiegogo campaign, and their plans for future episodes from the Avalon Universe. Enjoy…
Some folks ask why I give so much coverage to ALEC PETERS and AXANAR. The answer is simple: because there’s so much to cover! And trust me, if there were any news out of other major “in development” fan projects like Pacific 201 or Starship Farragut, I’d be covering them, too! In fact, last week I had a FANtastic interview with the production designers helping to put the finishing touches on the soon-to-be-released First Frontier.
Anyway, even though full production on the two remaining Axanar fan films hasn’t begun yet, Alec and the team are doing anything BUT resting resting on their laurels. Those who claim Axanar will never be made obviously haven’t been paying attention to how much time and effort are going into getting everything ready to launch this project. If the fan film is never going to be made, someone needs to tell all those hard-working folks in Lawrenceville, GA!
And Alec himself continues to be one of the hardest workers, now doing two regular livecasts on YouTube each week to generate donations to Ares Studios. Along with the Patreon (which is currently up to 198 donors giving $1,811/month…or nearly $22,000/year) the YouTube channel, with over 77K subscribers, is upping the total to more than $3,000 a month in contributions and revenue to help pay rent and utilities on the studio.
Alec posted his latest Production Update late Tuesday night, and it’s already been watched by more than 4,000 people. Among the items covered are how the Ares bridge is nearing completion and now will DEFINITELY appear in the Axanar films, how Ares Digital 3.0 is nearly complete (I’m one of the beta testers) and patch perks will ship soon, and plans now call for shooting to begin this summer. Alec’s and his team’s enthusiasm are clearly evident on the update video. Check it out…
Also, if you haven’t visited the Axanar YouTube Channel, now vould be a good time (as Chekov would say)! It’s up to more than 40 videos in categories including trailers, VFX sequences, donor updates, studio updates, production updates, convention appearances, and of course the weekly REEL TREK and AXANAR CONFIDENTIAL podcasts which usually have really interesting guests (including me at one point!).
There’s also a new playlist called “Fan Film Focus” which includes some exclusive behind-the-scenes content about other Trek fan productions. Like the rest of the channel, content for that section will expand over time.
Late last year, writer/director MARC SCOTT ZICREE traveled to London where he met with NETFLIX to see if he could interest them in buying his independent, fan-funded sci-fi series SPACE COMMAND. Of course, there’s no guarantee of anything yet, but according to Marc in a recent mailing to donors:
Netflix is now actively considering Space Command! And if they buy it, they minimally would order an entire season – twelve hour-long episodes!
But we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re now actively working to set meetings with Amazon, Apple and many other networks and VOD platforms that might give Space Command a good home.
This news came right on the heels of the public release of the second half hour of the two hour pilot episode, “Redemption,” starring (among others) DOUG JONES (yep, that Doug Jones); ROBERT PICARDO (from Voyager) ; and MIRA FURLAN, BRUCE BOXLEITNER, and BILL MUMY (from Babylon 5). Each turns in amazing performances. And in upcoming episodes, we will see even more famous faces.
Space Command got its start waaaaaaay back in 2012 with an early Kickstarter that brought in a staggering $212,000 from more than 2,000 donors. It then took five years for the project to reach post-production, where a second Kickstarter raised an additional $108,000 that would help complete the first hour of the 2-hour pilot episode “Redemption.”
The first half-hour segment of the pilot premiered last summer at San Diego Comic cons and debuted on YouTube for fans in August. Then a third Kickstarter raised $102,000 more for post-production on the second hour of the pilot. Marc is also selling individual $7,500 shares in the venture for supporters looking for a return on investment if/when the series sells.
A fourth Kickstarter is on its way soon, funding production on the second hour-long episode, “Forgiveness” (40 minutes of which has already been filmed). There is also now a VERY impressive first issue of the Space Command Comic Magazineposted online…check it out!
In the meantime, Marc released the completed first hour in January. It’s REALLY worth watching—especially for the captivating performances of Doug Jones, Robert Picardo, and Mira Furlan…truly some of their best work! It includes bookend commentary updates from Marc along with scenes (at the end) from upcoming episodes. Take a look…
And as an added bonus, below is the first half-hour that was released last August. I’m including it here for comparison/contrast. Y’see, Space Command is a work-in-progress, and VFX and color correction are an ongoing process. For example, after the release of the first half-hour, some folks noticed that in the scene where two characters are driving in a convertible (originally shot against a green screen), neither actor’s hair is moving in the wind! So that was fixed in the second release…along with many other little and not-so-little tweaks. So if you want to test your “eagle eye,” here’s your chance…