To paraphrase (De)Forrest Gump: “Fan films are like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get.”
That was certainly the case when I sat down to watch the premiere of the new fan series PROJECT: RUNABOUT, created by GARY DAVIS and RANDY WRENN, who are also the co-showrunners behind the veteran fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. I went in completely cold, knowing only that Gary had worked long and hard to build a brand new TOS-era cockpit set in his basement and that British VFX phenom SAMUEL COCKINGS had designed an awesome-looking CGI model of a 23rd century runabout and was really excited about the visual effects that he was creating for this initial release.
I knew this first episode was titled “Pilot,” and I’d heard there was an all-female cast (with one male Klingon thrown in). But the phrase I’d heard bandied about was “girl-power.” Well, alrighty, then! So I was kinda expecting a space battle of some kind, great VFX (because Sam isn’t capable of creating anything else) and an intriguing new “homemade” Star Trek set.
What I was NOTexpecting was…a music video??? And honestly, a really goodmusic video! Here, take a look…
Of course, it’s kinda hard to make a “bad” music video when you’re playing RACHEL PLATTEN’s uplifting Fight Song! But Gary and Randy were also helped along by four newcomers to Star Trek fan films.
Naturally, there was a lot to chat with him about…
Fan films are like weddings. (Ha, got your attention!)
Think about it. Weddings can be as cheap and simple as a trip to City Hall or a few friends in the backyard. Or they can be expensive galas with hundreds of guests and all the trimmings. Or they can be anywhere in between.
And so it is with fan films. We get everything from cardboard sets and scenes shot with cell phones to professional-looking productions with trained actors, meticulous sets and costumes, top-quality recording equipment, and budgets into the five-figure range and sometimes even beyond that.
In general, the larger and more ambitious the wedding, the more critical it is that a team of planners and managers be involved to make sure everything goes smoothly. You get one chance at the actual ceremony, and it’s all that the behind-the-scenes planning that can determine if the wedding is a triumph or a disaster.
The AVALON UNIVERSE fan films aren’t exactly Kardashian weddings (thank goodness!), but they are still pretty impressive, with production quality a few steps above the majority of Star Trek fan films out there. This is not meant to diminish those other fan films. All fan filmmakers deserve support and encouragement. But when you donate to an Avalon Universe crowd-funding campaign, you know your money will be well-spent, and the finished product will look and sound and be amazing.
Oh, and speaking of donating, Avalon has a crowd-funding campaign going on right now, if you’d like to back it…
Like a successful wedding, a well-run fan production requires careful planning and preparation, and that means having the right people in the right jobs…not just during the shoots but in the months and weeks leading up to the director yelling “Action!” for the first time.
As I mentioned last week, I wasn’t initially planning to be part of “Team Avalon,” even though I consider Avalon Universe director/showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN to be a close friend. (Josh was my Director of Photography and Editor on INTERLUDE.) What I did offer to do was to advise Josh and his producer, PIXI NEREID, on strategies for crowd-funding…advice I’ve also offered to other fan filmmakers over the years.
But before I knew it, Pixi had jumped into action, adding me to the production crew’s Facebook chat, giving me access to their Slack productivity app account where the cast and crew keep all of their online resources, and inviting me onto the kick-off production meeting Zoom call. So that’s how I became a part of “Team Avalon,” and it’s given me a fascinating look into who these fine folks are and all that they’re doing to make the wedding…er, fan film extra spectacular and go off without a hitch.
I’m extremely troubled about something that happened last week on Facebook, and I’m not sure what to do about it other than bringing it to the attention of my readers.
As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been putting in a fair bit of effort over the past few weeks trying to help encourage donations to the current GoFundMe campaign for the AVALON UNIVERSE fan series. They’re doing pretty well so far, about 18% ($3.6K) of the way to to their $20K goal. If you’d like to give a little sumthin’, by the way, here’s the link:
Now, helping fan productions get the word out for their campaigns is nothing new for me. Over the past three months, I’ve written multiple blogs about SAMUEL COCKINGS’ TREK SHORTS crowd-funder back in May and GARY DAVIS’ campaign for DREADNOUGHT DOMINION in June. Naturally, I’d also want to help out JOSHUA IRWIN with his Avalon GoFundMe…not only because he’s a Star Trek fan filmmaker but because he did an awesome job as DP and editor on my fan film INTERLUDE and because he’s a good friend.
So last week when I posted to Facebook a “progress” graphic like the one at the top of this blog, I shared it with the usual collection of Star Trek and fan film groups on Facebook that I’m a member of. I do this with all Fan Film Factor and related posts to increase visibility, and invariably, I either see an immediate “Your post has been shared with your group” message or, within a few minutes to a few hours, “An admin has approved your post.”
What I don’t usually see is a DECLINE notice like this one…
Now, two things immediately struck me as odd about the note from the admin at the bottom. The first was that a Facebook group called “Star Trek Fan Films & Audio Dramas” was restricting anything related to JJ Trek. There’s almost no Star Trek fan films set in that universe anyway, but why exclude the few that are? I mean, even if you loathe J.J. ABRAMS and the motorcycle he rode in on, why should the “sins of the producer” also be an albatross worn around the neck of a fan filmmaker? (What a wonderful mix of metaphors!)
So I looked at the rules of the group, just to be sure. And lo and behold…
7) No Kelvin universe fan films will be permitted. Nor will discovery based fan films
The AVALON UNIVERSE isn’t the Prime Star Trek universe, and it’s not the Kelvin timeline either. It’s not the Mirror universe or the Axanar universe or any other Star Trek or Marvel or DC or sci-fi universe you’ve ever seen before…unless, of course, you’ve watched the previous six Avalon fan films releases.
Instead, the Avalon Universe is simply a place where show-runner JOSHUA IRWIN (from Fayetteville, Arkansas) can play around with Star Trek stories without worrying about tripping over existing canon or angering this or that Trekkie because such-and-such never happened or this-or-that did happen so what you’ve just shown us doesn’t work. It works in the Avalon Universe, and that’s all you need to know.
The Avalon fan series got its start on Halloween 2018 with the release of the creepily comedic (or was that comedically creepy?) GHOST SHIP, which can best be described as “Star Trek meets The Walking Dead.” It was fun and surprisingly professional-looking. The reason for the latter is because Josh and many members of his team do actually work in the film industry and know how to shoot a proper film…fan or otherwise.
Ghost Ship introduced the new crew of the recently-repaired U.S.S. Excalibur, including VICTORIA FOX as First Officer Amanda Beck, VICTORIA ARCHER as Engineer Jamie Archer (yep, same last name as the character), and TYLER DUNIVAN as Captain Derek Mason. But no sooner had Mason been introduced than we saw the character die a noble death in the second Avalon episode AVALON LOST.
The third Avalon episode, DEMONS, released a year after Ghost Ship and eight months after Avalon Lost, showed fans how Commander Beck and new commanding officer, Captain Lance Ramirez (played by CHUCK MERÉ) dealt with the loss of their close friend and colleague. LEGACY and NEW ORDERS were both short vignettes, while AIR AND DARKNESS was an ambitious full-length episode with night shots, stunts, great VFX, and lots of Klingons!
Earlier this month, “Team Avalon” launched a brand new GoFundMe campaign trying to raise $20K to continue their saga, hoping to finance as much of their next multi-episode chapter “Crisis on Infinite Excaliburs” as possible. Barely a week and a half in, the campaign is doing strongly with 55 backers and nearly $3K in donations so far—about 15% of the way to their goal. But more support is sorely needed to generate the remaining 85%, so please consider making a donation, even if it’s a small one, by clicking here…
While the team waits for more backers, they have been doing anything BUT resting on their laurels! In fact, Josh has already released a number of interviews with the team and other special features, and today they’ve just premiered their seventh fan film, COSMIS STREAM. Take a look…
Is that Tyler Dunivan’s character of Derek Mason, back from the dead??? Or is he in heaven, purgatory, another universe, another dimension, or is it just a dream? Fortunately, I was able to interview both Tyler and Josh and discover the answer.
If you’ve never been part of the making of a fan film, it’s kinda hard to explain. But there’s a bug that bites ya, and then there’s an itch that you just need to scratch. It’s difficult to say when exactly that fan film bug bites—I guess it’s different for everyone; like the moment someone realizes they’re a Trekkie/Trekker—but when it does, everything can change in a heartbeat.
Or not. Some people make a fan film or participate in a production or two and they’re done. And that’s fine. But for many others, fan films get into your blood—sometimes into your very DNA—and then there’s just no stoppin’ it!
Which brings us to PIXI NEREID.
That’s actually her stage name. Pixi’s real name is ILIA McNEIL…and yes, the “Ilia” is actually inspired by the bald Deltan navigation officer from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as her parents were TOS fans. And Ilia is a hardcore fan herself. But all of her friends call her Pixi, and so do I because Pixi has (almost overnight!) become a friend.
And honestly, it’s hard not to absorb all of the positivity, fun, and optimism that radiates from her—so much so that you almost need to call her Pixi. And if you’re wondering where that name comes from, Pixi has a side gig (along with a small number of other women in the Fayetteville, Arkansas area) performing as a mermaid at children’s parties. So I suppose that Pixi Nereid isn’t her “stage” name so much as her “pool” name, but whatever you call it, she’s totally a Pixi!
JOSHUA IRWIN, who will be directing the new AVALON UNIVERSE fan films that are crowd-funding now (click here to donate), first met Pixi on the set of the soon-to-be-released COSMIC STREAM while filming at WARP 66 STUDIOS in northeastern Arkansas. Pixi was told about the shoot by one of her fellow mermaids, who had a role in the fan film. But Pixi didn’t come to appear on camera, she just wanted to help out. In fact, she arrived and immediately told Josh that she’d be happy to be a grip for the day (a grip is someone someone who moves the lights around…not very glamorous but super-important).
It’s a 108-mile drive each way from Fayetteville to the studio, so the people who volunteer for these fan film shoots at WARP 66 have to be pretty committed. After the shoot in mid-March, Josh posted the following photo and comment to Facebook…
Over the next 21 days, I’m planning to provide one excellent reason each week to donate to the just-launched GoFundMe for the AVALON UNIVERSE‘s new series of Star Trek fan films, a multi-episode saga that will be titled “Crisis on Infinite Excaliburs.” The campaign had a soft launch last week and has already taken in over $1,200 in donations before most fans even knew it was happening! But today marks the official kick-off, and with it, my series of blogs.
Of course, if you don’t want to wait for me to convince you, feel free to click on over and donate something right now (and watch the “ask” video; it’s awesome!)…
I know, I know. It seems like lately there’s been a new Star Trek fan film crowd-funding campaign every month. And yep, there has! Back in May, CGI sensei SAMUEL COCKINGS raised more than $13K for his series of six (or is it seven?) anthology fan films under the canopy title of TREK SHORTS. Then in June, it was DREADNOUGHT DOMINION‘s turn, as GARY DAVIS successfully topped their $5K goal for two Dominion episodes plus the debut episode of their new PROJECT RUNABOUT fan series.
And as July begins, we go for the “hat trick” as JOSHUA IRWIN has just launched the most ambitious of these back-to-back-to-back campaigns, endeavoring to raise $20K for a new series of fan films set in the Avalon Universe.
There have already been six Avalon Universe fan films: GHOST SHIP, AVALON LOST, DEMONS, LEGACY, AIR AND DARKNESS, and NEW ORDERS…nearly two hours of super-high quality Star Trek fan films with a combined hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. And a seventh film, COSMIC STREAM, is set to premiere later this month…with an eighth film, AGENT OF NEW WORLDS, already in production!
Believe it or not, Josh has only ever held ONE Avalon crowd-funding campaign before now…back in early 2019, he raised $6,500. All the rest of the production costs for Avalon—literally tens of thousands of dollars—have been paid for out of Josh’s pocket…and this guy ain’t exactly living the lifestyle of the rich and famous!
Understandably, most fan filmmakers can only self-fund for so long before they need to ask for a little help from their friends…which is why many Star Trek fan productions seek support through crowd-funding. And indeed, that’s why I’m writing this blog (and the three weekly blogs that will follow): because Josh is my friend—along with being my Director of Photography and Editor on INTERLUDE. I’m also writing these blogs because I love the quality of Josh’s work, I love the Avalon Universe, and oh…
…BECAUSE JOSH IS BRINGING BACK CAPTAIN JAKANDE!!!
Yep, that’s the big Reason #1 to donate to this campaign!
Star Trek fan films get made all over the world—from coast to coast in America, across Europe, in Japan, and even Australia. In fact, the Land Down Under has given our community five of the best NX-era fan films out there (STAR TREK: HORIZON from TOMMY KRAFT remains probably THE best NX-era fan film, in my opinion)…all from the same fellow, AARON VANDERKLEY.
A professional freelance filmmaker, Aaron began his fan film “trek” back in January of 2016 with the amazingly powerful 6-minute fan film called NEEDS OF THE MANY. Strong acting, impressive sets, and spot-on uniforms marked his debut. In mid 2017, Aaron released the 12-minute THE DERELICT, an intensely dark and haunting horror/thriller (very unique for a StarTrek fan film). Again, the acting was top-notch, the uniforms amazing, and now there was even action, suspense, and a few stunts thrown in. It really felt like part of an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
By the beginning of 2018, Aaron treated fans to a third superbly-crafted NX-era film, GOOD MEN, this one only 9 minutes long. Six months later, Aaron release his most ambitious release so far, the 14-minute THE FALL OF STARBASE ONE. And finally, in the summer of 2019, Aaron completed what turned out to be a 5-film story arc with the 20-minute LINE OF DUTY, blowing away fans with a touching and emotional story marked yet again by a top-notch level of acting, production quality, lighting, make-up, sets, costumes, props, sound…the works.
And then he was done. Aaron told me in a 2-part interview that he had only ever intended to make five NX-era fan films, and he had no plans to produce anything further in the genre. One of our community’s most impressive fan filmmakers was moving on…the bittersweet end of a short but truly impressive run.
Then, smack dab in the middle of May 2021, without fanfare, Aaron reemerged with a brand new fan film titled BEYOND THE SUN. Once again, the production quality was stunningly excellent, with practical sets, quality costumes and props, and high-end VFX from British animator emiritus SAMUEL COCKINGS. But Aaron had decided to jump forward a couple of centuries to the Voyager-era and set his newest fan production on board a Nova-class science vessel. And indeed, the powerful story felt remarkably like it could easily have been an episode of Voyager. Take a look…
Pretty awesome, right? Well, the clock on the wall says it’s time for another interview with Mr. Vanderkley, and this one is really worth a read, folks…
It was Sunday afternoon, and I was having a call with JOSHUA IRWIN of the AVALON UNIVERSE fan series (Josh was also my director of photography and editor on INTERLUDE). Josh has been deep in planning for his next crowd-funding campaign for not one but TWO new Avalon fan films, both of which will feature the return WARREN HAWK as the Captain Jakande of the Avalon Universe…along with introducing two other really interesting new characters.
Josh and I were discussing strategies and timing, since there’s been a lot of “traffic” in the crowd-funding highway of late. Last month, SAMUEL COCKINGS raised a very impressive $13.7K for his six-film project TREK SHORTSIndiegogo campaign. And although I didn’t cover it, MARC SCOTT ZICREE just took in $86K in the Kickstarter for the conclusion of the “Forgiveness” 2-parter of SPACE COMMAND. That’s a LOT of funds raised during a month that included the delayed Tax Day for those of us in the United States!
This month, it’s GARY DAVIS and DREADNOUGHT DOMINION‘s turn to try to reach $5K in their latest Indiegogo campaign to fund three fan films (two episodes of Dominion plus one of the new fan series PROJECT RUNABOUT).
Now, you folks probably don’t know about what I’m about to tell you, but these three show-runners—Sam Cockings, Gary Davis, and Josh Irwin—have been trying very hard not to step on each other’s toes when it comes to their campaigns. When it looked like Samuel might not make it to his goal for Trek Shorts within the 30-day deadline, I suggested he might take advantage of Indiegogo’s “extension” option to give him an extra 30 days to meet his goal. But Sam was adamant that his campaign had to be over by the time Dominion‘s began on June 1st, as Sam didn’t want to compete for donor dollars (or pounds, in Sam’s case).
The same was true when I spoke to Gary, asking if he’d be willing to extend his deadline if it looked like he’d be coming up short by the end of June. Again, no…Gary did not want to compete with Josh, whose Avalon Universe crowd-funder would be up next.
But as I discussed things with Josh on Sunday, there emerged a small wrinkle. Y’see, one of the first pieces of advice I give to fan filmmakers when they set up a crowd-funder is: “Your campaign launch should NEVER be a surprise!” Always tease the kick-off of the new campaign with at least a few weeks of lead-up—posts on social media, videos, interviews, etc.—building excitement and anticipation.
In case you didn’t know, the long-running (since 2014!) fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION has a new Indiegogo campaign trying to raise $5,000 to fund the production costs of three upcoming fan films—two Dominion episodes plus one episode of Gary’s new spin-off series PROJECT RUNABOUT, which will utilize this brand new set that Gary is nearly finished with…
If you haven’t donated yet, there’s still three weeks left, and they’re off to a solid start, having gotten nearly a third of the way to their goal. But every little bit helps, so here’s the link if you’d like to become a backer (and you totally should!)…
Heck, just look at this trailer they released last weekend for their next episode “The More Things Change”…
They’ve also done a number of serious stories. In fact, Dreadnought Dominion is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get!
And speaking of boxes, I raised an eyebrow when I saw one of the perks being offered in their latest Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. For supporters who donate $750 or more, show-runner GARY DAVIS will create a personalized action figure of the backer him or herself (or themselves, as we should remember to include non-binary folks)! Granted, $750 isn’t exactly chump change, but then again, only two of these unique perks are being offered.
I was curious about these personalized action figures, so I reached out to Gary with some questions…
One of the most unique and intriguing aspects of the fan series THE FEDERATION FILES is that it is a true anthology series. Each new episode features entirely different characters and settings and even eras. We’ve seen Star Trek episodes in the present, the not-too-distant future, the 23rd century, the 24th century, and even a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Essentially, these folks can tell any Star Trek or Star Trekkish story that they want to.
And by “these folks,” I mean GLEN WOLFE and his partner DAN REYNOLDS, the co-owners of WARP 66 STUDIOS in northeastern Arkansas. They have a growing collection of TOS set recreations, allowing them to create fan films from that era, but they’ve gone far beyond that both in terms of space and time.
Recently, Glen Wolfe “rescued” (my word) a fan film from several years ago that was partially filmed at Retro Studios in Ticonderoga, NY (before it became the official TOS Set Tour) but never completed. That fan film was STAR TREK: EQUINOX, written by CAMREN T. BURTON and starring GARY LOCKWOOD reprising his role of Gary Mitchell from the TOS episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and JOHN SAVAGE reprising his role of Captain Rudy Ransom from the Star Trek: Voyager “Equinox” two-parter. Glen came in, created a new 24th framing sequence, and finished the ill-fated fan film half a decade later. You can read more about that project here.
Late last year, Glen decided to do an encore with another uncompleted fan film from 2006-2007 called STAR TREK: ORIGINS – “The Wounds of War.” Once again, Glen produced a framing sequence and incorporated filmed elements of the the original footage to create an entirely original production—a new episode of the The Federation Files that he chose to call “FRIENDS AND FOES.” Let’s take a look…
This two-part blog interview was actually a somewhat challenging to put together. Obviously, I had some questions for Glen, as The Federation Files‘ show-runner as well as writer/director of this latest episode. But there was also the writer of the original uncompleted episode (again, the aforementioned Camren T. Burton) plus the executive producer and star of the original fan film, MICHAEL DEMPSEY.
What’s so difficult about interviewing three people? Well, I usually try to interview people together, but this time, it was three separate interviews that I’ve needed to merge into one that flows smoothly. (In other words, I need to make you guys think they were all in the same room or zoom call or email chain together when they really weren’t.) But the other challenge was that Michael’s portion of the interview needed to wait several months because he actually contracted a rather serious case of COVID-19 before I could interview him!