This blog might be called Fan Film Factor, but POTEMKIN PICTURES is a fan film FACTORY…having produced about 70 different fan films for six active (and one completed) fan series. You can view all of their releases on their website. Show-runner RANDY LANDERS manages to release an average run of twelve episodes each year, although last December he finished with a bang, posting four fan films in four days to bring Potemkin’s 2018 total to FIFTEEN fan films!
Of course, all of the various Potemkin productions are ultra-low budget. The actors are a mix of local community theater folks from Alabama and neighboring southern states, drama school students, and fans who just want a chance to have some fun acting in a Star Trek fan film. The same is true of the production crew, who are about as far from being “Hollywood professionals” as you’re likely to find. They’re just in it for the fun and the love of Trek.
Of course, not everybody “gets” Potemkin Pictures. Compared to the sleek, semi-professional fan series like Star Trek Continues and Renegades, or the ultra-polished looking productions like Horizon and Axanar, Potemkin’s offerings don’t even come close. And they’re not meant to. If you want to watch those top shelf fan productions, then by all means, do so. But don’t judge Potemkin for all they don’t achieve. Look at what they DO achieve.
To provide a better perspective into what I mean, I’m doing something a little unusual with the most recent release from STARSHIP DEIMOS, one of Potemkin’s six ongoing fan series. “Diplomatic Relations” debuted in February, less than 9 minutes in length and attracting a respectable 1,370 views over the past six weeks or so.
Typically with Potemkin Pictures, I post a short blog announcing the latest release, complimenting the creative team, and getting a brief quote from sh0w-runner Randy Landers. But this time, when I asked Randy to say a few words, he wrote back: “Interview LEE DREW about his personal project. “Diplomatic Relations” is his baby. Starred, wrote, directed, choreographed the fight.”
Great idea! So I reached out to Lee to talk about what went into what looks like such a simple fan film to have made. Take a look at the finished production itself and then read about what went into it. I think you’ll be very surprised…
The last time VANCE MAJOR, creator of the MINARD saga and currently producing the upcoming CONSTAR CHRONICLES, asked fans for donations, it was last July. He needed $500 to buy uniforms for his multi-episode Constar project. Just as I was getting ready to post something about the campaign, 72 hours after launching it, Vance shut it down. Why? Because he’d managed to raise the $500 he needed (plus an extra $50 to cover the commission to the crowd-funding service).
That $500 allowed Vance to complete 15 fan films (which will debut later this year), with a bunch more in post-production at the moment. But now he wants to produce some additional stories, but he needs a few more uniforms and certain props to make that happen. So once again, he’s reaching out to the fan community.
This time, it’s only been 48 hours, but Vance is nearly there again! As I write this, he’s at $401…just $99 to go to reach $500. If you’d like to help push him over the top in record time, click the link below:
And hey, if Vance reaches his goal before you can donate, and you still really want to help out a fan film, consider giving a few bucks toDREADNOUGHT DOMINION for their upcoming project “Redemption at Red Medusa.” (Check out the trailer here.) You can donate to their active crowd-funding campaign here:
And finally, if you still feel like you haven’t donated enough today, the folks over at POTEMKIN PICTURES are building a full-size shuttlepod…with a design halfway between Trek movie-era and TNG-era. It’s taking shape nicely, as you can see here on Facebook.
In what I consider to be an interesting experiment, Potemkin opted NOT to use a crowd-funding service and is instead simply taking in donations directly through PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you donate $189, you get to name one of five shuttles they’ll be using (one model, five names).
So far, two of the five shuttles have been named. C.W. THOMPSON named the USS Deimos shuttlecraft “Ernest J. King” and LARRY FLEMING named the USS Endeavour shuttlecraft “Raptor.”
When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, watching Star Trek each weeknight at 6:00pm, I used to dream of one day building my own Enterprise bridge. I’d have it on the second floor of my house, in a circular area, with a turbolift elevator that would go up to it, doors whooshing open to shock and impress my friends.
Sadly (at least for me, not sad for my wife), that didn’t happen.
But miraculously, I can still walk onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. I can sit in the captain’s chair, stand in the transporter, walk through the corridors, visit sickbay and engineering, wander into the briefing room and Captain Kirk’s quarters. And I can even do it in two different locations!
The first place I can go is the officially licensed Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY. For $22.50/person (less for seniors, military, and kids), I can walk around meticulous, museum-quality recreations of the original 1960s sets that were used to film Star Trek. The sets in upstate New York were used to make the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2, and now are available throughout the year for personal and group tours.
Further south in Kingsland, GA are the sets that were originally used for the fan series Starship Farragut and Star Trek Continues. A little over a year ago, those sets were sold by VIC MIGNOGNA to RAY TESI, who has opened them up for free filming (just pay the electricity costs) to any fan production that follows the CBS guidelines. Originally called Stage 9 Studios, the sets were recently renamed NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS to avoid confusion with the Virtual 3D walkthrough of the Enterprise-D that was shut down by CBS.
Last October, Ray Tesi opened his Georgia sets to the general public for a FAN APPRECIATION WEEKEND. It featured tours, photo opportunities, some fan film celebrity guests, and even two different fan productions shooting scenes in front of a live, studio audience.
The tenth episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second season was called “The Red Angel.” I call it the “Oh, By The Way…” episode. In my opinion, it was the weakest of the second season so far, and not even as good as some of the first season episodes.
Even the positive reviews I’ve read so far have acknowledged that this was a “talky” episode, filled with a lot of quiet scenes where two or three or four people were just chatting with each other—mainly about plot exposition. The first 37 minutes were almost entirely that, with only the final 10 minutes picking up the pace with an exciting and engaging ending.
So what is an “Oh, By The Way…” episode? Glad you asked!
Last week, we began discussing the Survivor trilogy with creator and show-runner MATTHEW BLACKBURN. The fan series got its start back in 2010 with the release of the 10-minute fan film SURVIVOR, produced on a teeny-tiny budget and filmed entirely by just four people.
In 2017, a 15-minute sequel called SURVIVORS was released, this one produced by a team of six fans. Matthew wrote, directed, and starred in both films. This one was lighter and a bit more humorous than the first, although it was still a serious fan film.
And just as 2018 was ending, Matthew released his third fan film, using the same main characters as the previous film. Again with a 15-minute runtime (following the fan film guidelines), LAST SURVIVOR was perhaps Matthew’s most ambitious undertaking thus far…
In part one of our interview, we discussed Matt’s formal education (or lack thereof) in cinematic production, and how he was mainly self-taught and learned by doing. We then took a look back on what went into creating the first two fan films…before shifting our focus to Matthew’s latest release.
And that’s where we pick up…
JONATHAN – Of the three Trek fan films you’ve done, do you have a favorite?
MATTHEW – Last Survivor is definitely my favorite of the three because it best represents more my point of view as a filmmaker. I like Survivors a lot, but I don’t know if it completely represents me as a storyteller. I was probably more open to collaboration on that one, but Last Survivor was my baby. I wanted it to have a certain feel. Score is a big part of that. I believe music should be an essential part of the storytelling process, and I worked a little closer with ROLAND MAIR-GRUBER on this one to make sure it was suitably epic.
JONATHAN – I thought the music was incredibly powerful and effective on Last Survivor.
MATTHEW – Roland is really a fantastic composer with excellent instincts. Ninety percent of the time, his sensibilities lined up with mine perfectly. I cannot say enough good things about his contribution to my last two productions. I did the score for Survivor, but I’m just a guy who doesn’t know how to play piano mashing keys until I think it sounds decent. Roland is a world class musician. I hope to work with him on many future productions.
JONATHAN – I’ll be honest, even though I enjoyed all three of your Trek fan films, I think I liked Last Survivor the best, as well. It felt like a very traditional Star Trek plot line, but with a very ominous ending.
MATTHEW – I wasn’t sure how people would respond to it, especially the rather dark ending, but there’s still places to go. Like I said, making this production was a joy from beginning to end. It has exactly the mood and feeling I wanted and very closely resembles the vision I had when I hatched the story.
Survivors was in a state of flux in terms of tone all during the making of it. We started with a pretty serious script, but injected more humor in as we went.
JONATHAN – The humor in Survivors was definitely fun.
MATTHEW – I credit a lot of that to me and DAN McINTYE just having fun on that one. It was a dark time, and I needed some levity. Last Survivor is everything I wanted it to be and in some ways more (thank you, Roland!). I just hope it gets seen as much as possible, given the ever -crowded Youtube field.
I do watch fan films, particularly Star Trek. Some of them just churn out one after another, and more power to them. I prefer to cook mine a bit, think hard about the story and what I can do with it, but they sure are a blast to make. It’s Roddenberry’s sandbox, but I’m telling my own story within it, using those toys. I’m glad you liked this one.
JONATHAN – Let’s talk about your team a little. Who did what? Any fun stories from the production itself?
MATTHEW – I do pretty much everything, but I can’t do it all. My wife KATIE [BLACKBURN] was really great with calling horse pucky on some of my more whacky ideas, or letting me know if something was running too long in editing. She got the best shot in the movie with the running against the sunset scene. Dan mostly served as actor this time, but there wouldn’t have been a movie without him. TRAVIS [ST. JOHN] played the medical officer, and also turned out to be a pretty decent camera operator. I worked with him on my fresh-out-of-high-school movies years ago, so it was nice to do that again. He started filming a week after I told him about the project.
NICK [CANTRELL] played the Surface Alien, Bajoran, and did some doubling for “Evil Captain” in the western scene. I had an idea early to cast some outside people as Medical Officer and Bajoran. I was looking for a Janeway type for Medical Officer, but the transportation situation didn’t work out for her, so the originally-female medical officer became the more McCoy-like Travis. Nick played the Bajoran more or less as a reward for putting up with the alien suit in 108 degree heat, and he’s a great guy to be around. So when in doubt, just use your friends. Local people tend to show up and not have too much of a travel issue.
I wrote the opening fight a couple days before we shot it because Katie and I agreed there needed to be more action in the beginning, and that opening with the rock climb wasn’t a big enough hook. I called up Nick and Wayne, asked them who wanted to be an alien and who wanted to be a commander, threw costumes at them, and we shot. It went smoothly except for the fact that it was 108 degrees during that first scene, and poor Nick was wearing that rubber alien mask! There’s a shot in there where you can see the sweat spewing out of the mouthpiece. At one point, he said his head felt like it was boiling. A typical day in the desert!
The camera would shut down every 20 minutes with heat warnings, so we’d have to stop, take the camera to the car, and blast it with the air conditioner to get another 20 minutes of shoot time before it would shut down again from the heat.
Another really good shot Katie got was the first climbing shot. That’s actually me climbing the rock, and I had to be right on the edge in order for her to see me. It was fairly high up and pretty scary. At one point I think I said, “I hope you have the shot because I don’t think I can go any farther.” Getting back down took a long time.
JONATHAN – Well, I must admit that it did look impressive. Not quite Kirk on El Capitan, but close!
MATTHEW – Thanks. It’s nice to know I risked my life for a good cause!
JONATHAN – Of course, uniforms in fan films can be hit an miss. But it looks like you had three hits and one miss. You couldn’t get four of the same style?
MATTHEW – New uniforms took forever to arrive, shipping from who-knows-where. I had a uniform for the originally-female medical officer, which was a woman’s small. Try as he may, Travis just couldn’t squeeze into it, but he got into the blue undershirt. The uniform he wears is actually the same one I wore in Survivor. We’ll just say he’s some special order of medical officer who has a different shade of gray for his uniform.
My new uniform split up the arm just by raising my hand. They were really not well made. We had numerous wardrobe malfunctions with the new uniforms. Dan’s zipper broke off and we couldn’t get it back on, so after the energy-alien leaves his body you’ll see his jacket stays open. We just went with it.
JONATHAN – And this is why I love behind-the-scenes interviews—I and my readers get to learn about all the little things that go wrong along the way. In my opinion, Matthew, it just makes the finished production all the more impressive.
So where did you film, and how many days were you out there?
MATTHEW – We filmed in Rosamond, Lake Elizabeth, Tehachapi, Las Vegas, Vasquez Rocks, my backyard, and Crestline. Altogether, there were probably ten or so days where we filmed, but it was off-and-on over the course of six months. I kept waiting for new uniforms to arrive and pushed the scenes involving the Vulcan, Medical Officer and Bajoran (who wasn’t originally Bajoran) until November…a month before I released the movie.
JONATHAN – Only filming for ten days over six months, was that challenging?
MATTHEW – The challenges are the usual stuff with scheduling, weather, availability. The advantages were that I really had the time to find the movie in the edit. Having the time to make each scene as good and trim as it could be was a big plus. There were no deleted scenes, just moments that were longer. I like how it all turned out. Got a lot of mileage out of the energy alien material we shot for Survivors.
JONATHAN – Once all of the footage was “in the can,” what were the next steps involved in post-production?
MATTHEW – No real steps. I’d just edited the footage as soon as it came in. Usually the same night! I voraciously edited and completed sequences as they were shot. I was so happy to have something filmed after the opening sequence that I edited it with nearly finished visual effects the same day we shot it.
JONATHAN – Wow, that’s pretty amazing. So if you edited as scenes were completed, did that “lock in” scenes to a predetermined structure, or was there still some flexibility as the edited scenes were completed?
MATTHEW – The structure of the movie changed a bit when I split the “fantasy sequence” in two, for the better I think. Post production was pretty easy since I’d be editing pretty much all the time, refining each scene well before the next scenes were shot. It gave a good amount of time to ponder how to improve things.
Actually seeing the ship crash in the beginning was a late addition. There were a bunch of those. Lack of a set schedule helped. We just filmed when we could, and I edited and did the effects when time permitted. One effect I like a lot is the mini explosion caused by Dan’s phaser going off when I stop him from vaporizing Travis. I composited that a couple days before the final edit went to the composer. Little things like that make a difference, but the relaxed shooting and editing schedule (or lack thereof) definitely helped with making those sort of creative discoveries.
JONATHAN – You did an excellent job acting. Do you have any training?
MATTHEW – I appreciate the compliment, thank you. Most of the time when I’m acting, my mind is on other things like: “Will this shot come out?” “Is it in focus?” and all the stuff that has nothing to do with acting.
I’ve always acted but never really pursued it hard outside my own projects and a little community theater. I suppose it’s a jack-of-all-trades thing. There were acting related things I definitely wanted to do in this movie…a “bucket list” of sorts. I wanted to go evil at some point, and have a bit more emotional intensity not just from me, but everyone. I’d love to do more acting. I love physical acting. Stunts and fights and so on.
JONATHAN – So now that you have a trilogy, are there any plans for a fourth or fifth installment for this series?
MATTHEW – Making Last Survivor was such a joy on every level for me that I’d really like to keep it going. I have a couple other fan films I’d like to do in the meantime to get the fan film bug out of my system (Terminator, Alien). I work full time, and screenwriting pretty consistently occupies the rest of my time, so it’s just a matter of…budgeting…the time (Shatner pause!).
I made Last Survivor as the intended cap to a trilogy, but it was so much fun to do that I would make more if there was a good story to tell and all the pieces fell into place. If I’m allowed to do so via the guidelines, there’s a 4th that is nearly ready to go, and maybe a 5th. There’s a “Darmok” like story I’d be interested in telling, and I’m fairly excited by the possibilities of Section 31, but that is a big “maybe.”
I’d be open to collaborating with other fan filmmakers, but again, it all depends on the story. Next up is a Terminator fan film for the 35th anniversary that may be the most ambitious thing I’ve made. As for Star Trek, there are always…possibilities.
There’s also a few other crowd-funders that I check in on from time to time. You can find them all listed here on Fan Film Factor under the CROWDFUNDING NOW tab at the top.
Usually, there isn’t much movement on a daily basis for these campaigns…just little increases here and there. For the Avalon Universe Indiegogo, the donation total had been hovering in the low $2K range for the last few days…not unusual for a crowd-funding campaign to slow a bit in its second or third week.
And so I literally did a double-take when I checked the Avalon campaign late yesterday to discover their total at $3.4K (bringing them to over 40% of the way to their $8,500 goal). Huh? I’d checked it earlier in theday, and it was still in the low twos. What the heck happened???
I scrolled down through the perks. One of the perks is a $1,000 “Executive Producer Package” where the donor gets their name listed in both the opening and closing credits as—you guessed it!—Executive Producer. Two of these perks were initially available, and one had just been snatched up!
I checked with Avalon showrunners JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX, and they confirmed this is a legitimate donor and someone who has supported fan films in the past (although we won’t find out who until the fan film is released and we check the credits).
I don’t usually report on single donations to crowd-funders, and $1K donations certainly aren’t unheard of. But they are indeed rare…and almost non-existent for “smaller” campaigns with goals under $10K. So for me, this is news worth sharing—and a good reminder for folks to consider donating, if they haven’t already (even if it’s just $10 and not $1,000).
I also allows me to address a recent semi-controversy that has cropped up involving me supporting this and other crowd-funding campaigns…
In any list of the top 10 Star Trek fan films of all time, I will always include CHANCE ENCOUNTER, from British writer/director GARY O’BRIEN and co-writer PAUL LAIGHT. It doesn’t have dazzling VFX or edge-of-your seat action. In fact, it’s a “quiet” story that treats viewers to some top-level acting, emotionally engaging characters, and lovely music…all wrapped in a skillfully directed and edited package that I consider to be a MUST-SEE fan film.
So naturally, I and others have been most eager to see what Gary and Paul do for an encore! A year ago, Gary launched a Kickstarter for what was, at the time, about $12,000 (American). But it failed to get even half-way to its goal, and so Gary received nothing…since Kickstarter requires a project to fully fund before awarding pledged donations.
However, a single “angel donor” came forward in May with an offer to fund the entire production, and Gary was now set up to create THE HOLY CORE, a TNG-era fan film with more action and VFX than his previous release…but the promise of the same great level of acting, directing, engaging characters, and quality of presentation.
This project also called for the construction of some ambitious TNG-era sets for a Nebula-class starship…including the captain’s ready room, deflector control room, and even the engineering station on the bridge! Could Gary and his team pull it off? A series of production updates teased us with quick glimpses into how good these sets were looking. I posted a blog back in Decembercollecting all of these updates in one place. It’s worth checking out.
In the meantime, Gary has just released his first official trailer for The Holy Core, and it looks really impressive (especially all of those amazing sets)…!
Remember last week when I said the eighth episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY season two was the best one yet? Well, the ninth episode, “Project Daedalus” just blew the eighth one away! I mean…WOW!
After the announcement last June of the firing of Discovery‘s previous showrunners, GRETCHEN BERG and AARON HARBERTS, fans were nervously awaiting the sixth episode of season two, the first to be produced entirely under the stewardship of new showrunner ALEX KURTZMAN, who was also officially named the Tsar ofTrek (actually, only I named him that). Would Kurtzman save Discovery or ruin it? And once the sixth episode (which took Saru back to his home planet) showed a return to Star Trek values of hope and optimism, the next question became: was this one episode just a fluke, or is this the new normal for Discovery?
Well, it wasn’t the new Discovery normal; it was the starting point of a turbolift that has been ascending ever higher with each successive episode—with a trip home to Vulcan for Burnham (where she finds Spock), a trip to Talos IV (where we find Vina, and Spock finds himself), and now a trip to the very heart of Section 31 where we find…um, I did mention there would be spoilers, right?
Anyway, for a third week in a row, I watched the episode all the way through without stopping. I couldn’t look away! And with four episodes in a row that have each been, in succession, the best of the series, I feel that I can finally feel confidence in Alex Kurtzman. YAY!
Of course, a show-runner doesn’t work alone. But he does determine which people to hire and who does what. This episode was written by MICHELLE PARADISE (yes, she was born with that name) and directed by JONATHAN FRAKES. I don’t need to tell you about Frakes, as he’s done a little work in Hollywood before. But Paradise was just named as co-showrunner for Discovery in season three…and fans were again worried that this newcomer Paradise not be up for making Star Trek. Well, after this episode, as with Kurtzman—I’m not really worried anymore!
Back in 2010, a short 10-minute 24th century-era Trek fan film made its debut. Despite being ultra-low budget, it was actually quite ambitious, being shot in multiple outdoor locations by a team of just four people…two of whom appeared on screen. It was called SURVIVOR and was written, produced, and directed by MATTHEW BLACKBURN, who also starred in the leading role. The finished product was very well done and quite interesting.
Most fans thought Survivor was just a one-and-done effort, but seven years later in the summer of 2017, Matthew released a sequel: SURVIVORS. Still low-budget, this time six people had produced the fan film, and it was 15 minutes long and a bit more ambitious. It even had some very decent visual FX and strong performances for a fan film. Matthew and I chatted about both projects in one of my very first audio interviews here on Fan Film Factor.
At the very end of 2018 (two days before the new year), Matthew released what seems to be—at least from the title—the final installment of the Survivor trilogy: LAST SURVIVOR. It’s my favorite of the three, although they are each very enjoyable. Check it out…
I reached out to Matthew for another interview, wanting to know about the making of this latest production and whether any more fan films would be coming our way in the future. Matthew was happy to oblige, although this time the interview will be in text format…
Sometimes it pays off to get backlogged on blogging! On March 1st, I received a donor update from IRA STEVEN BEHR on the current status of the crowd-funded Star Trek: Deep Space Nine documentary WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND. Although they held three theatrical screenings late last year in New York, Los Angeles, and London—where select donors and supporters got to see an early “final” cut of the film—things weren’t quite finished yet. In fact, they weren’t even close!
The delays in completion stemmed from a noble cause, however. Additional crowd-funding (over and above their initial $650K from fans) was generated to pay for remastering all of the 20 minutes of footage from the seven seasons of DS9 into digital HD quality to be shown in the documentary. Since CBS has no plans to remaster DS9 or Voyager or Enterprise (as they did TOS and TNG), this could be fans’ only opportunity to see any of DS9 in high definition. Here’s an example of the difference in quality…
The digital transfer process began with massive amounts of time in the CBS vault sorting through seemingly endless rolls of 35mm film reels looking for the footage they needed. Then a request was sent out to deliver 400 of those reels to CBS Digital, who would then digitally scan in the film into high definition for Ira and his team to color adjust, enhance, and edit into the final cut. At the time Ira posted the following video on March 1, about three-quarters of the requested film reels had been sent to CBS Digital for logging in and scanning…
I’d planned to share that update here, but in the last 13 days, I’ve published 9 other blogs (and two of those days were spent at Disneyland). So the DS9 news was pushed to the bottom of my “to do” list until this week. No big deal—updates about the DS9 documentary are not very frequent anyway. The news could certainly wait a week or two, right?