That sentence has become a true Hollywood cliche, spoken by actors, writers, producers, editors, gaffers, grips, VFX guys, sound FX guys, accountants, caterers, Uber drivers, and Starbaucks baristas. In this town, it seems like everybody “really wants to direct.”
Not me, though.
I don’t know the first thing about directing—not even when to shout “Action!” and “Cut!” And I don’t pretend to know. Of course, I applaud those countless fan filmmakers who have taught themselves to direct through creating their own fan productions. More power to ’em! But I know my limits…and I don’t want my fan film to suffer just because I haven’t got the slightest idea what the frack I’m doing.
Fortunately, the fan film community is full of folks who DO know what they’re doing…including directors. Now, you might be thinking that I first decided to make my fan film and then went out to find a director. In fact, the exact opposite happened—and not only did I find one director, I found TWO!
A little over a year ago, a Star Trek fan named LUKAS KENDALL set out to do something that some folks out there have suggested: crowd-fund something NEW that isn’t Star Trek so there’s no questions of rights or ownership. Of course, the big question was (at the time) whether people would donate to a fan-funded project that wasn’t part of an existing franchise like Star Trek or Star Wars or superhero, etc.
The crowd-funding campaign was atypical in a couple of ways. In addition to taking a very tongue-in-cheek approach in the pitch to donors and offering music CDs as perks (Lukas sells ’em as a business), Lukas included the full 12-page script for the short film for potential backers to read and evaluate.
The unusual approach worked, and Lukas was able to blast past his $25K goal on Indiegogo and reach $31K to produce what was intended to be a short segment of a longer, full-length movie that Lukas wanted to direct himself. The short segment was called SKY FIGHTER and was a self-contained story. But it also fit into the larger full-length feature, and the plan was (is) to use the 16-minute Sky Fighter to try to sell the larger project to production studios.
Coming on board to work on the project were two names VERY familiar to the Trek fan film community: ROBERT MEYER BURNETT to edit and TOBIAS RICHTER and the Light Works to do the visual effects.
Last week, the completed Sky Fighter premiered exclusively to backers, and it is masterful…a top quality production in every way. Rob outdid himself on the editing and Tobias, well, when has he ever failed to impress? And Lukas himself did an extremely strong job directing.
In order to keep Sky Fighter eligible to be entered into film festivals, the completed production cannot be posted publicly to the Internet yet. However, if you want to see it now, a new Indiegogo campaign has been set up to cover cost overruns and the production of Blu-ray discs and CDs (the music is incredible!). For as little as $5, you can get an exclusive link to the finished film. Click below to donate…
Good news, everyone! THE HOLY CORE will make its debut this Sunday. Last year, this fan project failed to reach its $12,000 Kickstarter goal but was later funded with a private donation from a single backer. Work has continued in earnest since then, and I’m preparing a fun interview with director and co-writer GARY O’BRIEN, who also directed and co-wrote the wonderfulCHANCE ENCOUNTER (a must-see TNG-era fan film with over 108K views on Youtube).
Unlike Gary’s previous effort, The Holy Core required the construction of multiple TNG-era sets, including a captain’s ready room, the engineering station on the bridge, the three command chairs in the “crescent” on a Nebula-class starship, and a deflector control room. Everything looks FANtastic, and you can read more about the construction of these amazing sets in this blog.
I’ll have more on The Holy Core next week—along with the full half-hour (in two parts, of course!) fan film itself. In the meantime, take a look at this sneak peek announcement from Gary…
As many fans know, beloved Star Trek TOS actress NICHELLE NICHOLS is embarking on a year-long farewell convention tour…culminating next May in Burbank, CA. Although Nichelle had a minor stroke back in 2015, and she’s 86 years old, she’s still going strong enough to appear in nearly a half dozen cons around the country.
The last time I saw her in person was in late 2016, when my then six-year-old son Jayden photo-bombed a picture she was taking with WALTER KOENIG on a partial TNG bridge recreation at a convention in Los Angeles. I told Jayden to get out of Riker’s seat, but Nichelle insisted that he stay for a photo—and it’s one that I’ll always treasure…
I love Nichelle. I think it’s fair to say that all fans love Nichelle! I can’t recall ever hearing a single negative thing said about this warm, gracious, talented, and elegant actress who gave women of color in the 1960s and beyond a precedent-setting character to admire and aspire to someday be like themselves. And indeed, starting in the 1970s, Nichelle was recruited by NASA to encourage promising women and ethnic minorities to become astronauts—among them was Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and Charles Bolden, the NASA administrator until last year.
Nichelle has always loved her fans right back, and has been one of the major Star Trek actors to agree to portray her character in multiple fan films (along with GEORGE TAKEI, WALTER KOENIG, GRACE LEE WHITNEY, TIM RUSS, ROBERT PICARDO, GARY GRAHAM, and a few others). Nichelle appeared as Uhura in both STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN and later as simply “The Admiral” in the de-Trekified RENEGADES two-part episode “The Requiem.” She will also be adding her voice talents to another upcoming Star Trek fan film.
So imagine my excitement and jubilation when I discovered that SKY CONWAY, Nichelle’s long-time friend and business partner (and the producer of Renegades and Of Gods and Men), is pitching the idea for a documentary on Nichelle’s life and ground-breaking career. After the success of Adam Nimoy’s tribute to his father, FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK, a similar spotlight on Nichelle Nichols seems like a no-brainer!
Sky has set up an Indiegogo campaign seeking to raise $25,000 (in just 16 days!) to create a “sizzle reel” to help pitch the full project to investors. This sizzle reel will include a two-day shoot on the Neutral Zone Studios TOS sets in Kingsland, GA. Just imagine Uhura back on the bridge of the USS Enterprise!
The brief crowd-funder got off to an explosive start, raising $10,000 in just three days. And it’s now nearly 60% of the way to its goal with just six days left. I’ve already listed it here on Fan Film Factor, but when I reached out to Sky Conway to get a quick quote from him or Nichelle, he invited me to write up some questions and do an actual interview.
I thought about keeping this little nugget of information secret for a few weeks longer, doing a “big reveal” just before launching my crowd-funding campaign next month. But I just can’t help myself! I want you all to know about INTERLUDE: A Star Trek Fan Film set in the AXANAR Universe.
Wait, Jonathan’s doing what now?
Okay, set your Guardian of Forever or Burnham-built Time-Suit to June of 2017 when ALEC PETERS sent me a script to review and provide him feedback. It was his first attempt to shorten the 90-minute Axanar feature film into two 15-minute episodes of “The Four Years War” (in a similar mockumentary style to PRELUDE TO AXANAR).
I was kind of a “unique” reader for Alec, as I’d purposefully avoided reading his full-length script up until that point. So I had no idea what Alec was taking out and keeping in. But when I finished reading it, I was left feeling a little confused. Despite some very exciting sequences in and around the epic Battle of Axanar, I noticed that there were no scenes that took place on that incredible USS Ares bridge! WTF???
I figured that Alec was worried that he didn’t have enough screen time available with just 30 minutes to include dramatic sequences on the bridge. But I felt that, if handled carefully, a few parts could be trimmed here and there to make room for some cool (albeit short) bridge scenes. To illustrate what I was trying to explain, I wrote out one of these scenes, taking a quick line of Garth’s dialogue that explained why Admiral Ramirez wouldn’t be in these next two movies (actor TONY TODD isn’t returning for the sequels) and turned it into a brief sequence set on the bridges of two Ares-class starships.
I ended up “catching a muse” and just kept writing…and writing…and writing. By 5 a.m., I’d created a full 15-minute Axanar script similar to Alec’s but littered with exciting bridge scenes. After a few hours of sleep, I began working on the other 15-minute script, finishing that one by 3 p.m. With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I shared my new script versions with Alec…
As you might remember from my recent blog, NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingland, GA (where Star Trek Continues and Starship Farragut) has a Patreon campaign currently trying to raise $3,500/month to cover rent, utilities, insurance, and maintenance. Right now, those expenses are being paid primarily by RAY TESI, the super-fan who purchased the iconic TOS set recreations from STC show-runner VIC MIGNOGNA. Ray has generously opened up his sets to fan filmmakers and also to the general public during periodic Fan Appreciation Weekends (the next of which is coming up on May 24-26).
The challenge for Ray is that these monthly expenses are ongoing…which is not the case for his retirement savings, which is what is funding the dream at the moment. So Ray has asked the fan community to chip in in the form of small monthly contributions made via Patreon.
The campaign kicked off last July and kinda went nowhere for seven months. By February, Ray was up to only 17 patrons donating $176/month (of which Patreon takes a small percentage), leaving Ray with annual expenses that were still topping $40,000…YIKES!!!
But then things began to look up, as a renewed outreach effort on social media saw totals nearly triple by the end of February to 41 patrons and $566/month. Ray was down to having to cover “only” $35,000/year. Sure, still a long way to go…but definitely headed in the right direction.
The following two months saw reliably steady growth, reaching 74 patrons and $872/month by the time I checked the campaign before heading to bed on April 22. Ray was now taking in about $10,000/year, covering about 25% of his expenses.
When I sat down at my computer the next morning, Ray’s Patreon page was still on the screen, so I did a refresh just out of curiosity. I didn’t expect the total to change, but ya never know. That said, it took me a few moments to fully process what I was seeing…
At some point while I slept, Ray’s Patreon total had jumped from $872/month to $1,696/month—almost DOUBLING overnight! Surely this was some kind of glitch at Patreon. No one donates $824/month…do they????
In my previous two blogs, I featured an interview with PASHA SOUVORIN, the Video Pathway Lead Teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools and a teacher at Phoenix High School in Lawrenceville, GA. Over the past 18 months, his video students have filmed multiple productions on the amazing 36-degree bridge set at ARES STUDIOS.
Initially constructed to be used in filming the sequel(s) to PRELUDE TO AXANAR—and still planned for that project—the bridge set and (recently added) captain’s quarters have been made available to the entire Gwinnett school district free of charge by ALEC PETERS. Now that we’ve heard from a video teacher, it’s now time to hear from some of the students.
I met two of them last November at Axacon. ALLISON FALCH (who is married to DANA WAGNER, the man in charge of completing the finishing touches on the USS Ares bridge set) teaches video at South Gwinnett Public High School, and she brought along these two charming young students on Friday afternoon when Ares Studios was opened up to Axacon attendees. As we were shooting various video interviews with the con guests and the bridge itself, we devoted a few minutes to a chat with Allison and her students…
And then last week, as I was assembling my two-part blog interview with Pasha Souvorin and was complimenting his students’ films, Pasha asked if I’d like to interview two of his student directors. Sure! So I wrote up some questions for EMILIA HOPE and VENESSA CHELLO. Both provided wonderful and articulate answers that showed how significant an impact being able to film on the Ares Studios bridge set has had for them.
Before I get to these two interviews, I’d like to point out that all four of the student directors featured in this blog entry are WOMEN! And in a male-dominated industry, I am both proud and encouraged to see that the female filmmakers of tomorrow are getting a head start, too. Also, of these four women, one is African American and two are Latina…so let’s hear it for ethnic diversity!
Last time, I began chatting with PASHA SOUVORIN, the Video Pathway Lead Teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools. Pasha is one of the teachers whose students have been coming to ARES STUDIOS in Lawrenceville, GA to film on the amazing bridge set that was built using funds raised from fan donations. The bridge is now nearly complete, and soon the two Axanar sequel fan films will begin shooting. But in the meantime, this impressive bridge set has been giving local students the opportunity to create scenes and short videos, the likes of which they would never get to do anywhere else.
And these aren’t simply kids with camera phones filming each other playing around. This short time-lapse video posted by the students on their Facebook page shows the amount of care and effort that goes into setting up even a single scene…
In part one, Pasha shared four videos that students had completed so far, each of them impressive considering that these are high schoolers learning the basics of the craft:
When last we left off, Pasha and I were discussing how the state of Georgia is encouraging its students to take elective classes in video production. After three years of classes, state enrolled students can earn a special seal on their diploma indicating that they specialized in video production. Georgia will also pay for those students who complete the technical video path to take the Adobe Certified Associate test in Premiere Pro.
Things certainly have changed a lot since I was going to high school! And that’s where we pick up our enlightening conversation, already in progress…
Although no Star Trek fan films have shot on the ARES STUDIOS sets yet, that doesn’t mean the USS Ares bridge hasn’t been getting some serious screen time! It’s simply that the filmmakers are mainly teenagers, students in the local Gwinnett County Public Schools District located just northeast of Atlanta, GA.
The primary force behind most of the student films that have been filmed there is PASHA SOUVORIN, the Video Pathway Lead Teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools and a video production teacher at Phoenix High School, which is near the Ares Studio facility. Pasha met ALEC PETERS through a mutual friend, Sherry Fowler, who works with Alec and is also a teacher at Pasha’s school.
These students are getting an amazing opportunity as they write, direct, light, score, edit, and produce their own films using a full 360-degree custom sci-fi set. They don’t necessarily see it as Star Trek (most of them were born AFTER Enterprise premiered!—don’t you feel old now???) but rather as whatever their young minds imagine this bridge to be.
Here’s a short snippet of what a student film shoot looks like…
Pretty professional-looking, right? Granted, these aren’t Academy Award level productions, but remember that these students are only just getting started, learning about the craft of filmmaking. These early efforts are invaluable educations experiences for what may very well be the cutting-edge filmmakers of the future!
Currently, Ares Studios is being funded through monthly Patreon donations from fans like you and me (click here to sign up as a backer). The crowd-funding campaign is just over half-way to covering the $4,000/month rent and utilities. The remainder is being paid out-of-pocket by Alec Peters himself. At present, there is no money coming in from the school district, and the schools are not being charged anything to use the facility or the sets.
Recently, I had a very lively and enlightening discussion with Pasha Souvorin about his teaching background, his students, the history of the school district’s video program, and what Ares Studios has meant to him and the kids who get to film there…
Did you know that I’ve now been involved with Star Trek fan films for TWENTY YEARS??? It seems amazing to me!
Although I’ve only been blogging about fan productions since 2015, I appeared in my first Star Trek fan film way back in 1999 when I made out in the turbolift with my then real-life girlfriend in VOYAGES OF THE USS ANGELES: “The Price of Duty.” That short-lived fan series that grew out of our local Star Trek fan group evolved into STAR TREK: HIDDEN FRONTIER, and I’d drop by the occasional shoot in Pasadena every now and then to help out behind-the-scenes. If you don’t blink, you can see me as an extra (an Elosian guard) in the fifth episode of the HF spin-off series STAR TREK: ODYSSEY, “Keepers of the Wind” (2008).
Since I began blogging about Trek fan films four years ago, I’ve dabbled a bit in a few more of them. In 2016, during the early days of the CBS/Paramount lawsuit against Axanar, I co-wrote and co-produced with MARK LARGENT a hilarious parody of both the AXANAR fan film and the lawsuit called STALLED TREK: PRELUDE TO AX’D-WE ARE. I also provided the voices for four of the animated puppet characters, including the fan-favorite Vulcanine Ambassador Snowball (“My ears are still bleeding…”).
I did voice-over again in the recent ROMULAN WAR: WAR STORIES vignette “Final Flight,” portraying the character of Lt. Geoffrey Christopher, the engineer/test pilot responsible for developing the Warp 7 engine that helped Starfleet defeat the Romulans. I was also featured in a brief cameo during Vance Major‘s Minard saga episode “Change” as one of Erick Minard’s “network” (which also included other prominent members of the real-world fan film community who were friends of Vance).
But in all of this time, the fan films I was involved with were always somebody else’s (even Ax’d-We-Are, which was part of Mark Largent’s Stalled Trek puppet parody series).
Now, however, I’m finally doing a fan film that comes from my head, where I am the show-runner (executive producer), and if it falls off a cliff, I’m the one responsible!