R.I.P. RENÉ AUBERJONOIS (1940 to 2019)

They say celebrity deaths come in threes. I don’t know if that’s true, but last Monday we lost Star Trek writer D.C. FONTANA, and last Thursday saw the passing of “Charlie X” guest star ROBERT WALKER, JR. And now, we have lost Deep Space Nine‘s Constable Odo himself, renown actor RENÉ AUBERJONOIS.

As far as I am concerned, this is actually the fourth untimely Star Trek death, as it hasn’t even been three full months yet since DS9‘s “Nog,” ARON EISENBERG, passed away much too young. René wasn’t exactly “young,” but at the age of 79, we fans certainly weren’t expecting this. But René had advanced lung cancer, and he died earlier today at his home in Los Angeles.

I never knew René Auberjonois as anything other than a fan of his work…and not just his Star Trek role as Odo (and a couple of other characters). While I was not old enough to have seen his first-ever credited role in a major motion picture in the theater (the original Father John Mulcahy in the movie version of MASH), I did see it years later on television.

But for me, René Auberjonois would always be the snooty, arrogant, acerbic Clayton Runnymede Endicott III, a staffer in the governor’s mansion on the 70s television sitcom Benson. Even a few minutes ago when my wife asked me whom I was writing a eulogy for this time—and I said, “René Auberjonois…”—she replied, “Awwwww no…Clayton Endicott.” Nope, she’s not much of a Trekkie, but even 40 years later, she remembers the name of René’s character in this TV series that neither Wendy nor I have seen in decades.

But that’s what René was more than anything else: memorable. I recall seeing René on stage at a convention back in the 1990s, and I remember him explaining to the to entire audience how to pronounce his last name…almost word for word, this is what he said…

It’s a French/Swiss name, and it’s actually not as hard to pronounce as it looks. The first syllable is “Oh”…like you’re surprised. Then it’s “bear”…just like the animal. Then “john”…just like the common male name. And finally, “wah,” which is the sound a crying baby makes…just with an “ah” sound like you’re going to the doctor and he’s sticking a tongue depressor in your mouth.

Let’s all say it together: OH. BEAR. JOHN. WAH. Oh-bear-john-wah. Auberjonois.

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AXACON 2019 happens THIS SUNDAY at NOON eastern time…online!

The first AXACON took place during at the beginning of November in 2018 and “piggybacked” an existing mini-convention in Atlanta called SphinxCon. Fans got to walk around the newly-unveiled USS Ares bridge set on Friday and then attend a series of live convention panels on Saturday and Sunday with folks like GARY GRAHAM, J.G. HERTZLER, DAVID GERROLD, PAUL JENKINS, and of course, ALEC PETERS. Most of those panels are now available for viewing online.

The Axacon 2018 weekend of events and panels ended up costing Alec about $5,000 out of his own pocket. But the goal was always to launch a new wave of crowd-funding…first to cover the monthly rent and expenses to house the bridge set in Ares Studios (through a Patreon campaign), and later to generate excitement and enthusiasm to encourage private donations to help fund the two AXANAR sequels (click here and then follow the instructions if you’d like to contribute…they’ve raised more than $41,000 so far!).

This year, Alec has already fronted the $75,000 cost of the first Axanar shoot at the beginning of October and the second shoot going on this weekend. So funds are tight, all monies are going into production, and holding another Axacon this year would be out of the question, right?

Well, as it turns out…

Axacon 2019 won’t be the same as Axacon 2018. There won’t be a public tour of the studio or a physical convention. But there will be live panels with guests…AND it’ll be free to attend! How is Alec Peters managing this? Simple: it’ll all be live-streaming on YouTube!

Axacon 2019 will take place beginning at noon Eastern Time on Sunday, December 8, lasting for four hours. All of the panels will be hosted live on the Ares Studios bridge set and available for viewing on the Axanar Youtube Channel.

The four-hour online event is capping off a weekend that will also feature the second Axanar film shoot. Significantly smaller in scope than the first 3-day shoot in October, this one will feature two Garth scenes: one a short clip of Garth on the bridge and one in his quarters looking at casualty reports. Sunday will include multiple behind-the-scenes interviews in the morning, leaving ample time for the panels during the afternoon.

The following is a schedule of the panels, their topics, and the guests…

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R.I.P. D.C. FONTANA – 1939 to 2019

It’s never easy to lose a veteran of the Star Trek family…and we’ve lost so many already: the Great Bird himself, De, Jimmy, Leonard, Majel, Grace Lee, Aron, and so many other talented people who labored diligently in the late 1960s and beyond to create for all us this amazing thing that we so love.

Yesterday, we lost another—and this one cuts deep, especially to us in the Star Trek fan film community.

DOROTHY CATHERINE FONTANA went by the name “D.C. Fontana” because, back in the 1960s, women weren’t taken very seriously in Hollywood…and certainly not as script writers. In fact, young Dorothy first started working in the typing pool and eventually “graduated” to secretary. She began as an assistant to writer Samuel A. Peeples (who would go on to write the second Star Trek pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) on a couple of TV western series.

Eventually, Dorothy found her way to Gene Roddenberry as his secretary, while he was still producing The Lieutenant. But when Gene discovered that Dorothy wanted to become a writer, he and Star Trek producer Robert Justman encouraged her do some writing for a new series they were developing called Star Trek.

Although not initially a fan of science fiction, Dorothy was learning quickly as the new project gained momentum. So Gene gave her an idea he had pitched titled “The Day Charlie Became God” and asked her to write a full teleplay for it. This would eventually become the episode “Charlie X.”

What followed was an amazing career that helped shape Star Trek for decades to come. “D.C” Fontana became a story editor on the original Star Trek, writing another ten episodes of the series as well as working on rewrites of others (including being one of four writers to rework Harlan Ellison’s controversial “The City on the Edge of Forever”).

In the 1970s, D.C. went on to become an associate producer for the animated Star Trek TV series, writing their most beloved episode “Yesteryear,” where we get a unforgettable glimpse of Spock’s childhood on Vulcan. Later, in 1989, D.C. would write the Star Trek novel “Vulcan’s Glory” following the adventures of a young Ensign Spock, recently posted to the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. (The novel did not feature any show tunes in the turbolift.)

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Why do PATREON donations always “DIP” at the beginning of each month?

Every…single…month…

It’s like clockwork! I call it “PMS”—the Patreon Monthly Slide—although others simply call it “the Dip.” And yeah, it’s a thing. At the beginning of every month, most Patreon campaigns with a decent number of backers suddenly and inexplicably drop by 2%, 3%, or even 5%…only to recover some or most of the loss over the next few days.

It’s happened to both the Ares Studios Patreon as well as the Neutral Zone Studios Patreon (two of the largest current Trek fan film-related campaigns)…over and over again. And when “the dip” hits Ares Studios, you’ll usually see something like this posted over on Axamonitor…

Of course, looking at only a short snapshot of a single month misses the big picture entirely. And if you were to zoom out, you’d see the long-term trend is actually pretty solid (with a noticeable uptick in the weeks since AXANAR successfully completed its first film shoot at the beginning of October)…

So yeah, if you cherry pick a specific short downtick from the nearly year-long graph, you can try to sell the argument that four months of progress have essentially been “erased.” But overall, long-term, Ares Studio is a very strong and steady campaign, consistently taking in more than $2,000/month from over 200 donors, not dropping significantly from that level, and even showing a slight (and later, more pronounced) up-slope. And it’s been providing ALEC PETERS upwards of $25,000 per year to help with the rent and utilities for the studio.

But what’s also obvious from that long-term graph is that, yes, at the start of every month, there’s a mysterious “dip.” It’s there every time. The total number of donors and amount of monthly contributions drops like a brick…only to recover within a few days as though nothing ever happened!

And it got me to wondering…why?

Now, the tempting answer from some out there is to claim that people forgot they were still being charged regularly and, when reminded with a monthly receipt from Patreon showing the charge to their credit card, suddenly “came to their senses” and canceled the automatic renewal.

But that doesn’t explain the rapid recovery that nearly always follows the “dip.” Are all of these disillusioned donors just as quickly and inexplicably replaced in the days immediately following? Do they all suddenly change their minds back? And why do only a tiny few donors go through this “epiphany” each month—and then always seem to quickly get over it?

But something happened to me last month that solved the mystery…

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The latest AXANAR news! (audio interview with ALEC PETERS)

Despite all of the major AXANAR-related events lately—including the exciting October film shoot at Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, GA and the launch of the Ares Digital fundraiser—I haven’t actually sat down for an ALEC PETERS interview for more than two months. This week, I decided to remedy that…and fortunately, this time, no dogs needed to be rescued, so the call happened right on time.

Before we jump into the interview itself, just a quick reminder that Axanar IS currently crowd-funding…it’s just not doing so publicly using Kickstarter or Indiegogo. But if you want to donate, you can! Just click here, sign into your Ares Digital account (or create one if you don’t already have one), and then click “Donate Now!” to log in again.

Wait a second…you have to log in AGAIN???

Yeah, it’s kind of a feature, not a bug. Ares Digital is behind a firewall, but the donation widget requires logging into WordPress, as well. But in this way, donors’ payment information is processed without anyone at Axanar ever seeing it…an extra layer of identity protection. And it’s a pretty easy extra strep, as you can log in the second time with one click using your Facebook or Google account…or your e-mail you you’d prefer.

And then, once you’re in, you’ll see this…

Axanar is currently knocking on the door of $40,000—two-thirds of the way to the $60,000 goal to fund the first two film shoots.

But hasn’t the first shoot already happened? And isn’t the second shoot coming up in a couple of weeks? What if Alec doesn’t make the $60K goal in time? Does the second shoot have to be canceled or postponed? And what about the third shoot and beyond (aren’t there supposed to be five total)? When is that shoot getting funded…and what happens if Alec can’t raise enough in time? Will Axanar itself have to be delayed and the summer 2020 deadline missed?

So many questions!

Looks like Alec and I have a LOT to talk about this time out. Take a listen…

PREAMBLE TO WAR – the Romulans are coming!

Now, you might think I’m talking about the new Star Trek: Picard series (which features Romulans quite prominently), but I’m not. Instead of looking forward into Star Trek‘s future, I’m referring to an eagerly-anticipated fan film that looks BACK into Star Trek‘s past.

It’s a past that we frustratingly did NOT get to see when Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled after only four seasons. Fans were deprived of what promised to be an exciting season five that would have shown the preamble to the Romulan War with Earth and the Coalition of Planets…a war that would inevitably lead to the founding of the United Federation of Planets.

But now, thanks to fan filmmaker MARK NACCARATO, fans will finally get to see one Trekker’s vision of how that interplanetary war transpired. Sure, it’s not canon (no fan film ever is), but his production THE ROMULAN WAR will still be lovingly and meticulously crafted, with trained actors and jaw-dropping CGI effects by the “star witness of the stars,” SAMUEL COCKINGS.

Already, Mark has released a series of “enhanced” audio dramas where voice-over recordings of personal logs and correspondences, read aloud by accomplished actors (and also by yours truly), are augmented by images and animations. This series of poignant vignettes, titled WAR STORIES, recount emotional experiences during The Romulan War from the point of view of an admiral, a foot soldier, an engineer test pilot (me!), and a freighter jockey. If you haven’t listened to them yet, click here. They are a MUST SEE (well a MUST HEAR)!

In the meantime, as we await the big premiere of The Romulan War fan film (told in the same “mockumentary” style as Prelude to Axanar), Mark has given fans one last tantalizing peek at the upcoming story. Titled PREAMBLE TO WAR, this vignette is also told in that same mock documentary format and features two of the characters who will appear in the final fan film…along with some awesome VFX, wonderful editing, and a really cool original music soundtrack composed by ANDREW CURRIER.

The five-and-a-half-minute mini-fan film does feature about 90 seconds of ultra-short clips and stills from various Star Trek: Enterprise episodes, which is a fan film guideline “no-no.” However, with only 1,170 views so far, and with the new Star Trek Picard series premiering in less than two months, will the newly-merged ViacomCBS even bother with such a minor infraction and risk the fan backlash? Probably not…at least, I hope not, as this is a very nice addition to the hundreds (thousands, actually!) of Star Trek fan films out there.

Take a look…

INTERLUDE Confidential #1: Jonathan, the Executive Producer…

It was the best of times, it was…aw, heck! IT WAS FRICKIN’ AWESOME!!!

I’m referring, of course, to the main shoot of my Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE that took place about a week ago as I write this. It’s taken me this long just to process the amazing, kaleidoscopic experience I had.

With so much to tell you all about what happened, I wondered how best to do it. A single blog about the weekend would read like War and Peace and still barely scratch the surface. So instead, I’m going to break it down into smaller chunks, and each will end with a series of on-set photos. (I’m still editing through everything…and there’s gonna be at least a few hundred pictures!)

I’ve decided to call this blog series Interlude Confidential. (Not quite sure what made me think of that title…maybe ALEC PETERS can tell me.) Anyway, if you don’t want to read that much, then feel free just to look at the photos and enjoy the captions. But if you’re curious what the experience of being a first-time Executive Producer on a Star Trek fan film felt like, then these blogs will be my “Vulcan mind-meld” with you.

And speaking of executive producing, that’s a really good topic for the first blog about this fan film production. What exactly did Jonathan do?

Many months ago when I first kicked off the Interlude GoFundMe campaign (still accepting donations, by the way!), a few folks in a certain Facebook group complained that I was doing little to make my own fan film besides simply raising money for it (which is quite a chore in and of itself, y’know!). And truth to tell, I initially thought that was the extent of it.

Sure, I also wrote the script, was designing the insignia, and getting uniforms and patches made. But my Directors VICTORIA FOX and JOSHUA IRWIN are the experienced industry professionals. I’m just a guy who likes fan films and blogs about them obsessively. So I figured that, once I raised the money, I’d hand the steering wheel over to them, climb into the back seat, and take a well-deserved nap for the rest of the trip.

Yeah…that totally did NOT happen!!!

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DREADNOUGHT DOMINION’s latest release: “THE HEIST”

Last week on Halloween day, two brand new Star Trek fan films debuted on YouTube. I haven’t had a chance yet to cover either because I was overseeing a Halloween carnival at my son’s school last Thursday and then flying to Georgia over the weekend to make a fan film. But during this past week, one of those two fan films, the Avalon Universe episode DEMONS (Segment One) has already attracted over 26K views on YouTube as I write this. (And Segment Two has over a thousand views in just seven hours.)

The other Halloween release last week was the latest episode of the long-running DREADNOUGHT DOMINION: “The Heist.” Since debuting, the Youtube view count for this fan film is currently a whopping…356. And that, my friends, is the main reason why I am covering Dominion first here on Fan Film Factor…well, that and the fact that I still need to interview the Demons directors—who are also MY fan film’s directors—and they are both VERY sleep deprived from an incredible weekend of fan filming along with two 12-hour one-way drives between Arkansas and Georgia!

There’s really no direct comparison between these two productions beyond the fact that some of the flashbacks in Demons were filmed at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, GA…which is also where Dominion films. (Avalon now shoots at WARP 66 Studios in Arkansas.) But in terms of acting, lighting, sound, and a slew of other technical elements, Demons is clearly the superior production. However, if that is the only reason you’re watching Star Trek fan films, you’re missing a big part of what this community is all about!

Both of these projects have HEART. In fact, Dreadnought Dominion is one of those fan series that, I believe, epitomizes the very core of what makes fan films so special: FANS. They don’t do this necessarily to dazzle you with their acting or filmmaking prowess. They’re not looking to win awards or get millions of views on Youtube. Folks like Dreadnought Dominion, Potemkin Pictures, VANCE MAJOR’s Minard and Constar Chronicles—plus a host of others—do this because it’s an itch they have to scratch. They want to tell their Star Trek stories, and they want to have fun along the way. They’re not afraid or embarrassed to put themselves out there for all to see…nor should they be!

So I ask you all who are reading this blog today to give this latest episode of Dominion a watch. Let’s up their view count a bit. Fans with heart, who love Star Trek just as much as you do, deserve our support and encouragement. Then, after you watch, take a minute or two to read the following short interview with show-runner GARY DAVIS further down this blog page…

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The TWO missions of the INTERLUDE fan project…

We all know the primary mission of the USS Enterprise: to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man/one has gone before.

But if you think about it, any decent science vessel could do that job just as easily. The Enterprise was different, though. While its primary mission was one of exploration and discovery, the crew had many, many more responsibilities: peacekeeper, diplomacy, war ship, search and rescue, medical transport, resupply, and even (in a couple of cases) espionage.

The starship Enterprise carried out many kinds of missions, and in the same way, so will my Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE. Unquestionably, the primary mission (aside from having fun…always a must for fan productions!) is to make a slick, kick-ass fan film for you all to enjoy. But like our favorite TOS and TNG starship, Interlude had some additional tasks to accomplish…among them showing how Ares Studios is a viable resource for other fan films beyond just AXANAR (Vance Major gets his chance in a few more months) and demonstrating that it’s still possible to crowd-fund a Star Trek fan film into the five-figure range even post-guidelines…while dutifully following those guidelines.

But there’s one other mission for Interlude which, to me at least, is the most important: I did it for the blog.

More specifically, I did it for the majority of my readers who might never have an actual opportunity to walk onto a fan film set or be a show-runner. Perhaps a few of you want to be an executive producer or director yourself someday. Or maybe you just want to get a ringside seat on all the action.

Either way, I’ve done (and will continue to do) something with Interlude that I’m pretty sure has never been done before with any other fan film. I’m documenting nearly everything that’s gone into making it—from budgeting to building the team to all of the strategies I’ve used to crowd-fund to pre-production design to casting and costuming details. (No Land’s End shirts!) Thanks to these many blogs, my readers are getting to “look over my shoulder” at nearly every detail…assuming they’re interested in such things. To me, that’s actually one of the most exciting aspects of this whole process: not only do I get to watch and be a part of it all, but I can SHARE the experience with all of you!

And this past weekend’s shoot was no exception.

Continue reading “The TWO missions of the INTERLUDE fan project…”

And that’s a WRAP for the first (main) shoot of INTERLUDE!

I don’t have much time to blog this morning ’cause it’s still going to be a very busy day! But I did just send the following update to the donors for my GoFundMe campaign who made all of this possible. And I wanted to share the message here, as well…


Oh, man!

I am still processing what I can only describe as a kaleidoscopic weekend of amazingness shooting the main scenes of INTERLUDE at Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, Georgia. It’s gonna take a LOT of blogs to fully convey the experience of the past 3 days. But first, I need to record some lines on audio this morning, get to the airport, and fly back to Los Angeles.

All I have time to tell you right now is that your donations were not only well-spent, they were MASTERFULLY spent by a team whose talent and ability astounded me. I think we came pretty close to NOT going over budget, but I’ll need to crunch the numbers when I get home. I might need to beg for a few hundred dollars more. Maybe not. At one point, there was so much happening on set that I just handed my credit card over to someone (I don’t even remember who!) along with a laundry list of everything we needed locally and where to get it–from gaffer’s tape to extra snacks and Gatorade. It was a little surreal. (Thank heavens I got my credit card back!)

But let me assure you folks: this fan film will not only be awesome, it will be a visual work of art. Josh Irwin’s mastery of lighting and color gave his shots a cinematic feel reminiscent of the stunning palette of first season TOS on a bridge so similar yet uniquely different. And Victoria drew out some amazing on-screen performances from both trained actors and a few untrained fans (’cause we’re still a FAN film, folks!).

Anyway, more fun and fantastic details, videos, pictures (SO many photos!), interviews, and stories to come…as soon as I have time to go through more than 900 photos and about 10 hours of behind-the-scenes footage. Stay tuned…and THANK YOU ALL again for making this dream possible.