DEEPFAKE Star Trek fan films – cool, scary, or BOTH???

Do you remember that scene in the TOS episode “The Menagerie, Part 1” where Spock sends a message to the Enterprise from Starbase 11 and uses the computer to recreate Captain Kirk’s voice? Seemed pretty cool back then, didn’t it? And it was VERY futuristic…just like when Ben Finney was able to alter the ship’s visual logs in the episode “Court Martial” to show Kirk jettisoning the pod when he actually didn’t. SO futuristic!

Picture a galaxy where anyone can alter voices or recordings to make it look like someone is saying or doing something they never did or said—pretty cool, huh? Well, actually, it’s kinda SCARY to think about! Fortunately, we folks on Earth won’t need to worry about such things for at least two and a half more centuries, right?

Well, maybe not that long…

Like so much of Star Trek‘s “futuristic” technology, computer-reconstructed faces and voices seem to have arrived about 250 years earlier than anyone expected back in the 1960s…or even the 1980s or 1990s! And “deepfake” technology promises (or is that threatens?) to make the world an even more troubling place than it already is…and that’s saying something! Imagine being able to make it look and sound like a celebrity or a politician said something controversial when they never did any such thing.

On the other hand, that same kind of “troubling” technology allowed Disney to bring actor PETER CUSHING “back to life” (with arguably mixed results) in Star Wars: Rogue One…along with providing fans a young Princess Leia at the very end, digitally altered to look “almost” exactly like a young CARRIE FISHER. Fans have debated how much the film’s creators succeeded, but the fact is that the technology is only getting better and better.

And indeed, one of the most recent deepfake videos to hit YouTube on September 6, 2o2o showed how far the technology has come, as the faces of WILLIAM SHATNER, LEONARD NIMOY, DeFOREST KELLEY, and RICARDO MONTALBAN were swapped into scenes from the three J.J. ABRAMS Star Trek reboot movies to make this mind-blowing fan film (at least, I’m calling it a fan film) titled STAR TREK: THE FIRST GENERATION

The creator of this deepfake film, FUTURING MACHINE, has used the ever-improving technology to create a whole series of deepfake videos, including other Star Trek ones along with this inspired reinterpretation of a recent (pre-pandemic) Saturday Night Live sketch…

So just how does this new technology work? It involves a sort of artificial intelligence (A.I.) known as machine learning that, in the case of these new deepfake videos, can turn your home computer into a digital plastic surgeon! Here’s a brief overview of the process (feel free to skip if you don’t care about the technical stuff)…

Continue reading “DEEPFAKE Star Trek fan films – cool, scary, or BOTH???”

AXANAR test vignette “THE DECOMMISSIONING” premieres!

Last Tuesday, fans of AXANAR got a pleasant little surprise when a new short fan film, set in the “Axaverse,” was released by GEOFF FAGIEN, who is the Director of Photography on the two upcoming Axanar sequels.

Geoff’s two-minute vignette, titled “The Decommissioning,” is not part of the official Axanar trilogy (PRELUDE TO AXANAR plus the two sequels). Instead, created by a a separate production company, REACH FILMS, it stands alone as an adjunct to the overall Axanar storyline . Axanar, of course, is a project from AXANAR PRODUCTIONS.

So why a sudden, unexpected Axanar vignette?

It turns out that this little exercise is a “test film” trying out a brand new camera, called the RED Komodo, that hasn’t even been released to the general public yet. Geoff is one of a small number of beta-testers of the new product. They each still have to buy the camera (about $6K-$7K…a fraction of the cost of higher-end cameras), but the company, RED, is looking to actual users to provide them with feedback to help improve and perfect this newest offering. And filmmakers like Geoff are happy to help, since the results they relay back to RED will only serve to make the firmware of the camera that they just bought even better.

One of the things that Geoff wanted to test was the camera’s ability to record video in low light. Lower-end cameras often cannot differentiate among the color values of very dark colors—many times interpreting them as solid blacks. Higher end cameras do a better job. Geoff was interested in seeing what the RED Komodo could do in a low-light production environment…and what better place to test it than on the bridge of the U.S.S. Ares in Lawrenceville, GA (just a short 9-10 drive from Boca Raton, FL where Geoff lives). Geoff has made multiple trips to Ares Studios for the previous shoots for Axanar, most recently back in March just before the pandemic lockdowns started.

In August, Geoff made the trip yet again, wanting to put the RED Komodo through its paces for potential future, non-Axanar projects at Ares Studios. And even though Geoff did a few straight-on tests comparing the Komodo to a Blackmagic pocket 6K camera with the same shots in the same lighting (you can see the surprising differences in this video), he really wanted to see how the Komodo would work in an actual production environment. So in addition to a couple of simple comparison tests, Geoff decided to also shoot a short film.

The idea for the film was simple enough: it’s 10 years after the end of the Four Years War, Memory Alpha is shooting their documentary (including Prelude to Axanar), and the U.S.S. Ares is being decommissioned to be turned into a starship museum. With the lights turned down low, Fleet Captain Garth is taking one final stroll around the bridge, lost in thought…

Continue reading “AXANAR test vignette “THE DECOMMISSIONING” premieres!”

ARES STUDIOS offers the complete set of AXANAR Master Systems Display posters in a new KICKSTARTER!

It’s the third Kickstarter in the last five months from ARES STUDIOS offering exclusive poster prints from the AXANAR universe!

The first Kickstarter ran during the final two weeks in May and brought in $9.7K to help pay expenses for Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, GA. That Kickstarter offered a super-size (36″ x 24″) Master Systems Display cutaway poster of the U.S.S. Ares plus a smaller schematic poster featuring top, bottom, side, front and rear views of the Ares. And because that campaign blew past two stretch goals, two additional 11″ x 17″ posters were included for all donors: a MSD cutaway poster for the U.S.S. Geronimo class and a Klingon tactical display poster.

The second Kickstarter raised nearly $11K after being active for two weeks in early July. This time, the campaign was for an amazingly detailed 9-sheet set of deck-by-deck blueprints crafted meticulously by ALEXANDER RICHARDSON of Great Britain. Alexander also created the MSD cutaway posters. The stretch goal for the second Kickstarter was a smaller 11″ x 17″ version of the U.S.S. Ares MSD poster from the first Kickstarter…the idea being that, while the larger poster was suitable to put up on the wall, the smaller poster could be stored alongside the same-sized blueprint pages in this Portfolio Presentation folder (available on Amazon).

Now it’s time to complete the set of 11″ x 17″ Master Systems Display posters with the remaining three starship classes from Axanar: the U.S.S. Triton, U.S.S. Magellan, and U.S.S. Korolev. And because the Korelev has the secondary hull BETWEEN the two nacelles, there will be an additional MSD poster of that starship class showing the cutaway view from the top.

But wait, there’s more!

The MSD poster set will also include the two previous starship classes that were stretch goals in the previous two campaigns (since not everyone donated to those and might not have them). So in total, there will be six 11″ x 17″ posters featuring all five Federation starship classes from PRELUDE TO AXANAR and the Axanar sequels.

But wait, there’s even MORE!!

You can get the six MSD posters for a $25 donation (plus shipping), but for an extra $10, you can add on two U.S.S. Ares Monitor Graphics posters (also 11″ x 17″ and designed by DANA WAGENR and ALEXANDER RICHARDSON)…replicas of the graphics used on the incredible bridge set at Ares Studios.

The Kickstarter quickly passed its $2K goal in its first 24 hours, so there’s no chance that this won’t fund. And all of the orders from the first two Kickstarters have already been shipped, so there’s a pretty quick turnaround. In fact, I’ve been meticulously studying my Ares blueprints deck-by-deck for the last week and a half!

Right now, the Kickstarter stands at about $3K after 4 days, with 16 days to go. And if donations top $6K, there’s a special stretch goal for this campaign, as well: a U.S.S. Ares Bridge graphic 11″ x 17″ poster, based on the panel that hangs to the left of the turbo lift opposite the dedication plaque…for FREE.

Click below to visit the Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aresstudios/axanar-msd-poster-collection

After 5 years, FIRST FRONTIER premieres on the 54th ANNIVERSARY of Star Trek! (audio interview with KENNY SMITH and ZEKE FLATTEN)

September 8, 2020 is the 54th anniversary of the first airing of STAR TREK back in 1966. It is also the five-year anniversary of the beginning of production on STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER, the long-awaited fan film from show-runner KENNY SMITH.

Kenny had a dream to create a fan film focussing on the very first captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701, Robert April, and his first mission commanding that legendary starship. Kenny’s dream was BIG! He wanted real sets and real professional actors and even visual effects with a real, custom-built 11-foot model of the U.S.S. Enterprise…none of this CGI nonsense. Go real or go home!

With a goal of $130K, Kenny launched a Kickstarter in early 2015…and it failed. He closed it down after six weeks with only $30K pledged (which meant he got nothing). But rather than giving up, Kenny simply financed the entire project himself!

The result has literally been a five-year mission in and of itself. Although all of the footage was shot—with Kenny directing—before the fan film guidelines were ever announced in June of 2016, the film has still taken years more to finish. In fact, I first interviewed Kenny back in early 2017 (it’s a FANtastic 3-part interview that you can start reading here), and he planned to have the project completed before the end of the year. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Then in January of 2019, a new trailer promised a release later that year. Kenny actually showed me the nearly-completed fan film, and I suggested that he aim for an April 1st release (because Robert APRIL was the 1st captain of the Enterprise…clever, right?) Kenny loved the idea, and the premiere date was unofficially set.

In preparation for that debut of this major fan production, I did a special audio interview with SCOTT LYTTLE and MATT GREEN, who built both the 11-foot Enterprise, a giant hangar bay, and all of the sets. The interview includes a photo montage with more than 200 pictures of the sets and starship model being constructed, and is itself a must-see. Check it out here.

But unfortunately, the film did not premiere on April 1, 2019. The visual effects were not yet complete. But that’s when “the miracle worker” of CGI, British animator SAMUEL COCKINGS, beamed in like Mary Poppins with a phaser and managed to produce an insane amount of VFX shots at warp speed (still took him months!) and help bring the project to completion. Yes, there are still physical model effects shots in the film, but Sam’s CGI completes the package in a most delightful way!

Continue reading “After 5 years, FIRST FRONTIER premieres on the 54th ANNIVERSARY of Star Trek! (audio interview with KENNY SMITH and ZEKE FLATTEN)”

More FANdemic films: CONSTAR’s “MUCH AFRAID” and “SINKING” (audio interview with VANCE MAJOR)!

At least temporarily, most fan film production has entered a new phase following social distancing. New releases have not been quite so prolific, and most that have been produced since the beginning of the global pandemic have reflected the need to keep actors mainly isolated from each and from camera crews. For fan films, the show must go on…even if the show must be produced in careful and creative ways.

I’ve coined the phrase “FANdemic” film to categorize these releases. Some recent examples include:

  • HORREUR POST ATOMIQUE from France, told the story of three survivors of World War III living in bunkers, just before first contact with the Vulcans.
  • LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY showed a socially distancing Kirk, Spock, and McCoy having a futuristic Zoom call.
  • I AM SPOCK featured JENS DOMBEK, “The German Spock,” doing a somber and introspective one-man (well, one-Vulcan) short fan film.
  • “THE GREEN MANIFESTO” from THE FEDERATION FILES showed the nefarious Colonel Green from the TOS episode “The Savage Curtain” (still with the rank of major) engineering a global super-virus that threatened to wipe out millions worldwide.

And then there’s CONSTAR CONTINUES…from that fan filmmaking machine VANCE MAJOR! Vance’s many, many, many fan films—which cover the Minard Saga, Constar Chronicles, and the latest Constar Continues series—are actually tailor-made for the pandemic…at least some of them. Although the scores of episodes that he’s done have included scenes with multiple characters on the screen at the same time, Vance has also made a good number of episodes featuring two-person “calls” via subspace. These are easy enough to shoot and edit together during a global quarantine, and so, as one might expect, a fandemic Constar production was bound to show up sooner or later.

Continue reading “More FANdemic films: CONSTAR’s “MUCH AFRAID” and “SINKING” (audio interview with VANCE MAJOR)!”

Despite fan confusion with the NICHELLE NICHOLS elder abuse GoFund Me, the Kickstarter for RENEGADES: OMINARA passes $43K…

In a cosmic case of bad timing, a brand new Kickstarter debuted two weeks ago for the new RENEGADES: OMINARA fan-produced film starring NICHELLE NICHOLS…at the same time a GoFundMe campaign launched to cover the cost of a lawsuit involving elder-abuse of the beloved Star Trek TOS actress.

First things first: the two campaigns are COMPLETELY unrelated. RENEGADES is a fan-run project from SKY CONWAY, who got involved with Star Trek licensing shortly before GENE RODDENBERRY passed away in 1991. Sky became close friends with Gene and his wife Majel and eventually went on to become a manager for various Star Trek alumni actors, including Nichelle Nichols.

In 2006, Sky wrote and produced—along with TIM “Tuvok” RUSS, who directed —the first “mega” Star Trek fan film to feature multiple big-name veteran actors from the franchise…including Nichelle, WALTER KOENIG, GARRETT WANG, J.G. HERTZLER, GARY GRAHAM, CHASE MASTERSON, ALAN RUCK, and others. He would later go on to produce STAR TREK: RENEGADES and the sequel “THE REQUIEM.”

Walter Koenig, Alan Ruck, and Nichelle Nichols in STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN, filmed in 2006

Meantime, there is a tragic and highly disturbing story (read more about it in this Newsweek article) about a man named GILBERT BELL who entered Nichelle’s life in 2010 (years and years after Sky Conway did) and presented her with a feature film idea. Nichelle would be the co-star, and profits would be split evenly between her and Bell. But the project never happened…if such a thing ever existed at all.

But Bell nevertheless took over as Nichelle’s new “talent manager,” collecting fees from her many convention appearances (usually about $10K per appearance and paid in cash). Meanwhile, Bell convinced Nichelle to allow him to move into the second house on her property (where he still lives), locking in a ridiculously low rent in perpetuity while Nichelle paid all of his utilities. Had it stopped there, things would have been bad enough. But the story gets MUCH worse.

In 2013, Nichelle was in a very weakened state following a hospitalization for pancreatitis. She was later transferred to a Los Angeles area rehabilitation center and nursing home. Diagnosed later with dementia, Nichelle was (according to the Newsweek article) surreptitiously removed from the facility against medical advice by Bell. That same day, Bell convinced Nichelle to sign both a directive naming Bell as her primary agent for health care decisions as well as documents handing General Power of Attorney to him. The next day, Bell also allegedly arranged for new bank accounts to be opened at Wells Fargo, granting him direct access to Nichelle’s assets.

But wait, it gets even worse…

Continue reading “Despite fan confusion with the NICHELLE NICHOLS elder abuse GoFund Me, the Kickstarter for RENEGADES: OMINARA passes $43K…”

COMING THIS WEEK – The complete 35-year history of YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL!

You guys are in for a real treat. Assuming you enjoy reading about the rich histories of Star Trek fan film projects (why else would you be here??), then you are going to LOVE what I have coming later on this week!

If you think AXANAR, PACIFIC 201, FIRST FRONTIER or STARSHIP FARRAGUT “Homecoming” are taking forever to come out, those are just wee bairnes compared to YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL! Those other projects have been in development for maybe five years at most. But Yorktown began production way back in 1985!!! That’s 35 years, folks. And while there was a lull in production and post-production which lasted nearly two decades, work started up again in earnest in 2010. But it’s now 2020…and still no Yorktown in sight.

However, that all changed when the first new trailer for Yorktown since 2013 was released on July 5th, 2020…

No, you’re not seeing things. That is indeed GEROGE TAKEI, and he is playing Hikaru Sulu. That’s also actor JAMES SHIGETA from Die Hard, Midway, and Mulan (and a hundred other things you’ve seen) playing Admiral Nogura.

If you’re a hard-core follower of Star Trek fan films, you probably know at least something about Yorktown. But do you know EVERYTHING??? There are so many stories and interviews out there, scattered across the Internet. Finding them all is like a scavenger hunt, and even when you do, many of the stories sound almost unbelievable. A few even seem to contradict each other. What’s true, what’s myth, and what’s legend?

I decided to find out!

I’d actually been wanting to cover Yorktown for many years…the “lost” fan film. But was it really lost? From the time I first began covering Star Trek fan films back in 2015, I’d heard rumors that work was still being done on this fabled project. Eventually, I discovered a Facebook group and joined it, but I’ll admit I didn’t check it all that often. And truth to tell, there were so many other fan films and news and interviews and articles to write that Yorktown kinda fell off my radar more than a few times over the years.

But then that trailer come out, and I had the perfect excuse to do a deep-dive. Little did I realize how deep I was about to go…!

Continue reading “COMING THIS WEEK – The complete 35-year history of YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL!”

“HUNTING GROUNDS: The Battle of Terra Nova” – The latest enhanced audio drama from THE ROMULAN WAR: WAR STORIES!

Considering that THE ROMULAN WAR fan film project began production three years ago and hasn’t yet been released, show-runner MARK NACCARATO has certainly released a ton of original content for it!

Along with a series of really amazing trailers (all of which can be viewed here), behind-the-scenes production briefs (available here) and the online comic book short stories “Holocaust” and “Intruders,” Mark had also previously released five extraordinary “enhanced” audio dramas called WAR STORIES. These short vignettes would normally be considered pure audio dramas (something which, regrettably, I don’t have the time nor resources to cover here on Fan Film Factor), except for the fact that they each also include an animated visual component.

Most of these War Stories vignettes feature photos along with brief computer animations, while others contain short video clips or even VFX shots. The final effect is to create a series of “personal log” voice-overs from various characters who experienced the Romulan War from a diverse series of perspectives. In fact, one of those characters was voiced by yours truly! You can view and listen to all of them on this YouTube playlist.

With production finished and post-production nearing completion, Mark has just released a sixth War Stories installment called “HUNTING GROUNDS: The Battle of Terra Nova.” It features the earth colony visited by the NX-01 crew in the sixth episode of Enterprise, along with some video clips and a few new VFX scenes. Let’s check it out…

Not too shabby, huh? I reached out to Mark for a little more background on this newest release, along with asking for the latest updates on The Romulan War fan film and when Mark expects to finally have it ready for viewing. Here’s what he said…

Continue reading ““HUNTING GROUNDS: The Battle of Terra Nova” – The latest enhanced audio drama from THE ROMULAN WAR: WAR STORIES!”

RENEGADES: OMINARA Kickstarter reaches $29.5K with one week left!

On Monday, I reported on how the second part of the one-hour RENEGADES series premiere, “The Requiem,” would be available for free via YouTube for the first time ever…but only through August 28, 2020. This unusual move is intended to promote the current 15-day Kickstarter for the newest Renegades project, OMINARA, starring NICHELLE NICHOLS and WALTER KOENIG in what is likely to be Nichelle’s final performance in a film (the actress is 87 years old).

Ominara will be the first new Renegades project since “The Requiem” debuted back in 2017. This latest short film is intended to reboot the series by introducing a new character, Ominara, who is the queen of the galactic underworld. Nichelle will play the character in her twilight years, as she recalls her past and the path she chose to become the woman she became. From the Kickstarter description of the storyline…

As the first test subject of the “link,” Ominara (Nichelle Nichols) was exposed to myriad experiments that could be construed as torture. All for the advancement of technology and the “betterment” of mankind. Anton Steiner (Walter Koenig) knew that Ominara’s escape would cause problems for both himself and his company in the future, but he had no idea how much. 

The new Kickstarter has one week left (they started with two), but they have already exceeded their goal of $20,000…in fact, they did so on only the second day of the campaign! Right now, the total donated stands at $29,590…which includes a $5,000 donation, seven $500 donations, plus another 255 individual donations including $33 from yours truly.

Part of the reason for the large number donors is that the finished film will only be shared with backers who contribute $25 or more. Eventually, Renegades will be one of the tentpole pieces of content in the new AtomicTV lineup.

According to the campaign page, money raised in this Kickstarter will go toward the following…

1. Pre-Production – Getting the script written, the sets designed and built, the budgets finalized, securing the permits, the rental of the studio space, the costumes designed and fabricated as well as the props, such as tricorders, phasers, computer screens, etc.

2. Production – Paying the Cast and Crew, the cost of the Lights, Cameras, Grip equipment, Monitors, Food/Meals, Makeup/Prosthetics and Sound Equipment, etc.

3. Post Production – Paying the Editing Team as well as the cost of the CGI Effects, Color Correction, Sound Mixing, and Musical Score. (For this Campaign, the CGI Effects will be marked as a Stretch Goal.)

Plans call for production to begin “immediately” upon funding, likely in the third quarter of 2020. No details have been included about safety measures due to COVID-19 due to the advanced ages of Nichelle and Walter, but I am certain that all appropriate precautions will be taken when filming. The team plans to supply donors with updates and photos as production progresses.

To donate,, please click on the link below…

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/atomicstudios/renegades-prequel-nichelle-nichols-final-performance

RENEGADES: “THE REQUIEM, Part 2” available on YouTube until AUGUST 28!

Back in June of 2016, on the second day of filming the first hour-long episode of STAR TREK: RENEGADES, “The Requiem,” the production team received a nasty and potentially catastrophic surprise. CBS and Paramount had just released a new set of guidelines for Star Trek fan films that would essentially stop Renegades in its tracks.

The timing of the release might not have been entirely coincidental.

Six months earlier, CBS and Paramount had “stopped” the fan film AXANAR with a huge, multi-million dollar copyright infringement lawsuit. But there were still many other fan productions out there using the Star Trek name and intellectual property. And while Axanar had been the first to cross the million-dollar threshold by raising $1.2 million in donations from thousands of fans, Renegades was hot on Axanar‘s heels with (at the time) over $850K in crowd-funding, also from thousands of fans.

And while Axanar featured one veteran Star Trek actor reprising his role from canon (GARY GRAHAM as Soval), Renegades would feature TIM RUSS as Tuvok, WALTER KOENIG as Chekov, NICHELLE NICHOLS as Uhura, CIRROC LOFTON as Jake Sisko, TERRY FARREL as “Jadzia” (minus the Dax symbiont), ROBERT BELTRAN as Chakotay, ARON EISENBERG as Nog, and even HANA HATAE as a grown-up Molly O’Brien.

The previous year, Star Trek: Renegades had premiered a 90-minute fan film with a red carpet premiere at the historic Crest Theatre in Westwood, Los Angeles, calling the project a “backdoor pilot”or “spec pilot” for CBS to consider. Late in 2015, CBS requested (politely) that the Renegades team stop referring to their fan film as a pilot, a request they quickly compiled with. So instead they announced plans to release 12 half-hour webisodes per year (or “season”) oftheir spinoff Star Trek series, with “The Requiem” being the kickoff full-hour episode.

But the guidelines put the kibosh on all of that. No longer permitted to use Star Trek veteran actors or crew people, no longer allowed to pay professions, and constrained to no more than two 15-minute episodes and no sequels or seasons or ongoing series, Renegades had been effectively castrated as a Star Trek fan production before production come even get up to speed.

Continue reading “RENEGADES: “THE REQUIEM, Part 2” available on YouTube until AUGUST 28!”