NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 1)

There are certain people in the fan film community whom I call the NICEST people. Not only are they warm and friendly, but they are generous, willing to help others, and enthusiastically support the filmmakers who work so hard to create these Star Trek fan films that we all love so much.

Perched at the top of the “NICE” list is RAY TESI, who purchased the TOS sets in Kingsland, GA that were used for both STARSHIP FARRAGUT and later STAR TREK CONTINUES in 2018 from previous owner VIC MIGNOGNA. This was no small thing! The purchase price was reportedly well into the five-figure range, and the monthly rent for the building housing those sets is $3,000! But since Vic wasn’t able to keep paying to store unused sets for a fan series that had wrapped production, the alternative would have been seeing those incredible TOS sets tossed into the dumpster by the landlord.

Ray couldn’t bear to have that happen, and so this resident of Boca Raton, FL dipped into his retirement savings to not only buy the sets but also take on the responsibility for $36,000/year in rent…for what has been half a decade so far!

Ray renamed the studio to THE NEUTRAL ZONE and opened the sets to any fan filmmaker for a very reasonable rental fee. So far, MANY fan films and series have taken Ray up on the offer, including AVALON UNIVERSE, DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, and Ray’s own fanthology series TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE…along with many one-offs like TO HAVE BOLDLY GONE and LET OLD WRINKLES COME. NICHELLE NICHOLS (Uhura) even used the sets herself to film a documentary called “Breaking Barriers” about her experiences as a black actress on Star Trek.

Over the years, Ray has received financial support from fans through a Patreon campaign with hundreds of monthly contributors…with Ray making up the difference out of his pocket. As a gesture of thanks, Ray hosts Fan Appreciation Weekends during the cooler months of the year (September-May) where he opens the sets up to the general public. This has been going on almost as long as Ray has owned the sets.

Last month, Ray kicked off a 30-day Indiegogo campaign with a $36,000 goal…an eyebrow-raising number! But as of last week, Ray was able to reach a total of just short of $20,000! Today in part 1 of an interview with Ray, I’m going to ask where that money will be spent and if fans should be concerned that the crowd-funder still fell 45% short of its goal.

Then in part 2, I’m going to ask him about some rather outlandish rumors that began to circulate while the campaign was going on. Spread by people on the opposite side of the spectrum from “nice,” it almost seemed like they were trying to sabotage Ray’s crowd-funder and shut down Neutral Zone Studios. I know…crazy, right? I mean, who would do something like that? It’d be like firebombing Santa’s workshop just before Christmas!

Okay, let’s start talking to Ray…

Continue reading “NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 1)”


SAMUEL COCKINGS is certainly the Speedy Gonzales of Star Trek fan films…assuming Speedy Gonzales is from Great Britain. Sam produces fan films so quickly that I barley cover one release when another two take its place!

Actually, this time it’s three, but this blog deals with only two of them, which I’ll explain shortly. But first, a little background on Sam and his TREK SHORTS fanthology series…

Unlike some fan filmmakers, Sam doesn’t have access to practical (physical) Star Trek sets—which is actually a GOOD thing! Without being locked into a specific era of Star Trek like TOS or TNG/DS9 or Voyager or PRODIGY or PICARD, Sam ends up having access to ALL of them!


Well, Sam is an accomplished CGI master, specializing in animation but also knowing a bit about 3D modeling and having access to a number of skilled 3D modelers. Together, they have managed to create countless digital backgrounds of bridges, transporter rooms, mess halls, shuttles and runabouts, you name it(!) from two centuries of Starfleet history. And all of this along with starships and enemy vessels for spectacular outer space VFX. Watching Sam’s CGI animations is truly like watching fine art!

So all that’s really left for Sam to do is write scripts and film actors against green screens, right? Actually, there’s SO much more that he does, including properly lighting the green screen shots (not easy!), making digital adjustments during post production to levels for both the actors and the digital backgrounds to look seamless and realistic, equalize sound, add music, edit, and a ton of other little things…and still get these fan films out faster than I can cover ’em! Oh, and there’s one other thing that Sam does, and that’s direct. Sam has aligned himself with a number of very skilled actors, adding a wonderful depth and quality to already-high-quality productions.

If you’d like to watch any or all of Sam’s Trek Shorts fan films, you can access them from this YouTube playlist. One of Sam’s most recent projects was the quickly-written-then-filmed-then-edited-then-released FLIGHT OF THE PROTOSTAR, the first-ever Prodigy-era fan film That one I managed to cover, as it was just after Prodigy had been canceled. But three other of Sam’s films haven’t gotten their own blogs yet. I am now going to remedy that for two of them.

The two Trek Shorts in the spotlight today both star MARCUS CHURCHILL, also of Great Britain, who has been appearing in Sam’s Star Trek fan films ever since the 2013 shooting of the green screen footage for TEMPORAL ANOMALY, which was finally completed and released in 2019. Since then, Marcus has reprised his role of Sam Harriman (at different ranks during the character’s career) in a number of other projects for Sam. One of the most recent was FALLEN HEROES, a retelling of the film Star Trek Generations from a “lower decks” perspective. Take a look…


STRANGE NEW WORLDS wraps up the best character-driven season of ANY new-era streaming TREK series with “HEGEMONY”… (editorial review)


Whether you like/love the new-era CBS Studios-produced Star Trek series, can’t stand them, or just feel ambivalent, I have to believe that most fans will agree that what has aired on Paramount+ within the last 12 months is a vast improvement over anything that was released in the five years prior. The final season of PICARD was a triumph…certainly better than its first two seasons or anything DISCOVERY has managed to produce yet. And even PRODIGY‘s second ten episodes of season one (when it became a true Voyager sequel) had many fans suddenly liking a children’s cartoon as much or more than most of the Star Trek premiering on Paramount+.

And then there’s STRANGE NEW WORLDS, which debuted last among the five CBS-produced series and, perhaps, learned the best lessons from each. Knowing that they were limited to only ten episodes per season, the SNW showrunners opted not to create a “10-hour movie” like Picard and Discovery and instead be more episodic (one story per episode).

But even though no main storyline would run through the entire season, the SNW creators decided to have character arcs continue across episodes, allowing fans to really get to know Captain Pike and his crew. Granted, season one was more about introducing all of the officers and establishing their basic personality traits and backstories. We learned of M’Benga’s sick daughter, saw the first hints of a romance between Spock and Chapel, and of course, there was Pike’s knowledge of his ill-fated future. But during that initial season, story was more in the driver’s seat than character development, although characters were still allowed to evolve a little.

But then came season two. And with all those character foundations in place, it was time to dive more into the personalities and interrelationships of these people and, beyond that, give them each a little more room to develop and grow over the course of the season.

Let’s take a look back at the arcs of the main characters during season two…

Continue reading “STRANGE NEW WORLDS wraps up the best character-driven season of ANY new-era streaming TREK series with “HEGEMONY”… (editorial review)”

Let’s get a taste of NATURE’S HUNGER… (video interview with JOSE CEPEDA and his crew)

Back in 2015 when I first began covering Star Trek fan films, there were quite a few fan series that had already been churning out new releases for over a half a decade. Now, only a handful of those productions are still around, although new ones have sprung up to take their place, and the world of Star Trek fan films is currently thriving.

One of those fan series that was around back in 2015 actually got its start way back in 2010, and it’s STILL churning out new fan films thirteen years later! I am referring, of course, to NATURE’S HUNGER, which was originally STAR TREK: NATURES HUNGER (and no, the lack of apostrophe in the original title is not a typo on my part). Showrunner JOSE “JOE” CEPEDA lives just south of Atlanta, GA and writes, directs, edits, does many of the VFX, supplies costumes and props, and stars as Captain Ramses of the U.S.S. Crusader.

When I launched Fan Film Factor in 2016, Nature’s Hunger remained on my list of fan series to cover. But as I do with all the fan productions that I feature, I wanted to first watch every film that they had released. This was easier said than done, however!

As you can see from their YouTube video page, even as early as 2016, they had already posted nearly a HUNDRED separate fan films and videos. Many were quite short and experimental—sometimes only a minute to a few minutes in length. But a small number were 15 and even 20 minutes long, and their most recent offerings are 45 minutes and over an hour long!

I began watching through each one, noticing the this series was the purest form of fan film where the love of the genre and desire to create their own Star Trek far surpassed their budget and resources. In other words, these weren’t slick and polished “top tier” fan films but rather very grass-roots, guerrilla-level green screen productions with lots of heart and whimsy.

Oh, and speaking of gorillas, Nature’s Hunger often threw caution and canon to the wind as they crossed over with such other “realities” as Planet of the Apes, The Silence of the Lambs, and even The Wizard of Oz. Indeed, young Dorothy Gale, after being rescued from Oz by the crew, decides to join Starfleet! So, yeah, this is a very unique fan series and perhaps not for everyone. But if you can appreciate sincere effort and respect the obvious adoration they have for Star Trek, there is a LOT to enjoy about this fan series.

Granted, it took me quite a while to make it through everything that they had released. Along the way, I saw multiple versions of the crew finding and rescuing Dorothy, along with seeing the starship shift (without explanation) from everyone serving on board the U.S.S. Enterprise to being on the U.S.S. Crusader. (Hey, it’s a fan series, folks!) I also learned what the title Nature’s Hunger refers to…

Continue reading “Let’s get a taste of NATURE’S HUNGER… (video interview with JOSE CEPEDA and his crew)”

A few NOTES on Strange New Worlds’ “SUBSPACE RHAPSODY”… (editorial review)


Some people just don’t like musicals…but I am NOT one of them!

I LOVE live theater, and I love singing show tunes! (Yes, straight men can admit that, too!) I saw Annie on Broadway when I was 8, My Fair Lady a year later, and The King and I with Yul Brynner a couple of years after that. I saw The Wiz, Oklahoma, Cats, A Chorus Line, Grease, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Phantom, 42nd Street, Chess, Gypsy, South Pacific, Rent and countless others both on and off Broadway all before moving from New York City to Los Angeles in the 1990s. And I’ve seen a whole slew of musicals since I’ve been out here, as well.

Back in high school, I was in Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Cabaret, and I even got a standing ovation after singing “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” as Nicely Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls.

Meanwhile, my 12-year-old son Jayden, who is a Trekkie and watches and enjoys each new episode of STRANGE NEW WORLDS with me, announced that he would be skipping “Subspace Rhapsody” because, according to him, he HATES musicals. “I cringe when people start singing for no reason, Daddy!” he told me. Of course, his mom and dad sing for no reason, but Jayden doesn’t exactly cheer that tendency, either!

Eventually, I did convince him to watch the episode with me. I explained that, if ever there was a musical he might like, it would be one set on the starship Enterprise. And while he did have his fair share of complaints during the episode—“Why would she be saying this???”—he admitted to me at the end that, “Well, this was probably the best musical I’ll ever see…but I don’t plan to see many musicals, Daddy.”

And now that I’ve finished the overture, let’s take the true measure of this episode to see if it cleared the bar (yes, I have many musical puns planned—brace yourselves)…

Continue reading “A few NOTES on Strange New Worlds’ “SUBSPACE RHAPSODY”… (editorial review)”

STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS presents some morally challenging questions in “UNDER THE CLOAK OF WAR”… (editorial review)


I think this latest episode just gave me whiplash! After two of the last three STRANGE NEW WORLDS episodes being lighthearted comedies, and the one in between (“Lost in Translation”) having comedic moments like Uhura slugging Jim Kirk and Number One and Pelia playing Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, I really wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition. (No one ever does, y’know.)

But seriously, the eighth episode of season two, “Under the Cloak of War,” was damn serious…deadly serious, in fact! There was almost no comedy relief at all…nor should there have been. War is hell. That said, television has certainly featured its fair share of sitcoms set during wartime—including McHale’s Navy, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Hogan’s Heroes, and of course, M*A*S*H. Indeed, this latest episode featured flashbacks to the Starfleet equivalent of a mobile army surgical hospital that evoked thoughts of the long-running, multiple Emmy-winning CBS series set during the Korean War. But with the exception of actor CLINT HOWARD’s character of Commander Buck Martinez, there was nothing even remotely funny about this episode.

Oh, quick interruption for trivia! I am pretty sure that Clint Howard (younger brother of Emmy and Academy Award winning actor/director RON HOWARD) is now the only actor to appear visually in both TOS and one of the CBS Studios-produced new-era Star Trek series. WALTER KOENIG did a voice-over for the series finale of STAR TREK: PICARD as a descendent of Pavel Chekov, and the voices of late TOS actorsLEONARD NIMOY, NICHELLE NICHOLS, and JAMES DOOHAN were used for the “Kobayashi” episode of PRODIGY. But in terms of being seen and heard, Clint Howard holds the sole distinction. Clint, of course, played the “real” Balok in “The Corbomite Maneuver” at the age of seven. And this isn’t his only role in new-era Trek. Clint played a creepy Orion in the first season DISCOVERY episode “Will You Take My Hand?” He was also Grady in the DS9 episode “Past Tense, Part II” and the Ferengi Muk in the first season  Enterprise episode “Acquisition.” The man gets around!

Okay, back to SNW and how I felt about the episode, and, well, it’s complicated…

On a very surface level, I enjoyed “Under the Cloak of War” as a finely-crafted and deftly-produced piece of television. It was very well-acted, tightly written and edited (the second shortest episode of the season), looked fantastic (as usual, but it’s really challenging for a “quiet” sci-fi show like this to make the viewer think they’re in a middle of a chaotic war), had great make-up, costumes, lighting, VFX, music…the whole magilla. Indeed, it was another truly strong, impactful, character-driven, and enjoyable episode in a season that has, in my opinion, gone 8-and-0.

On the other hand, I was quite troubled by what I saw, and not only because of the horrific Klingon War flashbacks. Let’s dive in, shall we…?

Continue reading “STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS presents some morally challenging questions in “UNDER THE CLOAK OF WAR”… (editorial review)”

Time for some ANIMATED discussion of STAR TREK! (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)


“Risk! Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her!”

Captain James T. Kirk spoke those words for the first time on national television on February 9, 1968, during the airing of the Star Trek TOS episode “Return to Tomorrow.” And ever since then, fans have embraced this as a core component of what Star Trek is all about. Exploration and discovery can be wondrous but also perilous. However, if you don’t push further, hope, grow, and try to exceed yourself, you stagnate and wallow in mediocrity.

Welcome to new-era Star Trek, my friends…where risk is their business! And I don’t mean the crews of the Enterprise, Discovery, La Sirena, Titan, Cerritos, and Protostar. No, I’m talking about the CREATORS of the new streaming series and the studio executives who back them financially.

Oh, wait. You wanted a review of “Those Old Scientists” (TOS), the seventh episode of STRANGE NEW WORLDS‘ second season? I loved it. And I’ll get around to discussing it in more detail shortly. But first, let’s talk about what just happened this past weekend.

As you probably know, last week featured San Diego ComicCon…minus nearly all of the celebrities who would otherwise have hyped their latest and upcoming projects because both actors and writers are currently on strike and aren’t allowed to promote work for the studios they’re striking against. This created both a frustration and a somewhat unique opportunity for Paramount+. On the one hand, they wouldn’t be able to promote the upcoming Strange New Worlds episode(s) nor DISCOVERY‘s final season nor LOWER DECK‘s soon-to-drop fourth season in the hallowed Hall “H.” One the other hand, there would be a lot less hype all around. In fact, with the exception of “Barbenheimer,” not much else in the sci-fi world is being talked about at the moment.

But risk is our business, right?

In a bold move, Paramount decided to move up the streaming debut date of “Those Old Scientists” by five days to happen on the Saturday of ComicCon. Usually, that weekend is avoided, as no one is paying attention to any other genre goings-on other than the big reveals from San Diego (unless they’re watching a blockbuster movie for 2-3 hours). But Paramount+ knew what they had. This episode seventh episode crossover had become one of the most anticipated of the season…if for no other reason than fans wanted to see how the creators would tackle bringing animated characters into a live-action show.

But let’s take a step back to look at all of the risks CBS/Paramount took to get to this moment…

Continue reading “Time for some ANIMATED discussion of STAR TREK! (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)”

Star Trek is NOT dead, but it IS evolving! (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)


Five of my friends were in the audience at San Diego ComicCon on Thursday watching he panel of the Inglorious Treksperts. Apparently, ROBERT MEYER BURNETT, one of the panelists, had already watched the sixth episode of STRANGE NEW WORLDS and commented, “Trek is dead after last night.”

So I sat down to watch “Lost in Translation,” this past week’s episode, expecting the first real clunker of the season. I braced myself and warned my family about Rob’s comment (as I watch this series with both my wife and my almost 13-year-old son Jayden.) And let’s face it, the series was probably due for a stumble after five very strong, very enjoyable episodes in a row so far this season. Maybe this would indeed be my first negative review of the season?

Spoiler alert: this is NOT going to be a negative review, folks.

In fact, Rob’s comment left not only me scratching my head but also my friends at ComicCon (who watched the episode later on that night) scratching their heads. And when the episode ended, my son Jayden jumped up and shouted, “How could that guy in San Diego not have liked this episode??? It was so good!” And even my wife, who has never been a Trekkie, said she enjoyed it and is generally enjoying the series…although she liked last week’s human Spock better than “normal” Spock.

I wasn’t at the ComicCon panel, so I don’t know the specifics behind Rob’s statement. But I’ve noticed other fans—albeit an observable minority on social media—espousing similar lamentations about the demise of Star Trek as they complain about the shortcomings of this show (and often the other new-era streaming Trek series from CBS Studios). I’ve read and heard many of their complaints. And it got me wondering…

Why aren’t I complaining, too?

For those of you who’ve read my many, many editorial reviews over the past half-decade, I’ve been both positive AND negative about the various new series, depending on the quality of the episode. I’ve certainly had my issues with the writing and continuity breaches on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. But there are continuity breaches on SNW, as well, and yet they aren’t bothering me nearly as much. Why?

And while I’ve certainly been more positive about PICARD than Discovery, I’ve had my issues with that series, as well…mainly the first two seasons. SHORT TREKS didn’t thrill me at all. I’ve pretty much loved LOWER DECKS since it debuted, and although it took me four or five episodes to get into PRODIGY, I grew to really like that series, too. But I do complain when I feel it’s merited.

And I certainly thought that the revamping of the Gorn on SNW is problematic, and killing off Hemmer pissed me off. But aside from that, it’s steady as she goes when it comes to SNW.

But again…why? Why are others complaining and I’m not?

Continue reading “Star Trek is NOT dead, but it IS evolving! (STRANGE NEW WORLDS editorial review)”

STARSHIP TRISTAN relaunches as a green screen production with “SEEING IN THE DARK” (guest blog by RANDY LANDERS)

A quick introductory note from Jonathan…

Usually, I write the blog entries ’round these parts. But every so often, a fan filmmaker writes something up that essentially does my work for me! This time, it was POTEMKIN PICTURES showrunner RANDY LANDERS, who just posted the latest release from the STARSHIP TRISTAN creative group: “Seeing in the Dark.”

Although this was the 22nd Tristan fan film (you can view them all here on the Potemkin website), I’d begun to wonder if they were still active. It had been more than two years since their previous release, “36 Hours,” and a full year since the one before that, “Reclamation.” And unlike their sister production team, STARSHIP DEIMOS, the Tristan folks didn’t seem willing to make the long drive from Birmingham, Alabama up to Lexington, Kentucky to use the Potemkin sets that Randy took with him (and expended) when he and his wife relocated to the bluegrass state in late 2019.

Three new creative groups sprang up in Lexington—STARSHIPS WEBSTER and CALIBORN and SCOUTSHIP QAB’ELTH—and as I said, Deimos cast members were making the drive up to shoot there. But what of Tristan?

In a comment posted on the new video release on YouTube, Randy explained everything that was going on with Tristan both then and now. So with his permission, I’m just going to let Randy tell his own tale this time. But first, let’s watch the latest Starship Tristan release…

And now, here’s Randy…

Continue reading “STARSHIP TRISTAN relaunches as a green screen production with “SEEING IN THE DARK” (guest blog by RANDY LANDERS)”

LIGHT-YEARS BEYOND “just” a fan film, FARRAGUT FORWARD still needs YOUR help to hit $50K!

You’d think $37,745 would be enough money to make a single Star Trek fan film, right? And in most cases, you’d be 100% correct. But when it comes to FARRAGUT FORWARD, well, there’s Star Trek fan films and then there’s BLOW-YOUR-FRIGGIN’-MIND Star Trek fan films!!! And Farragut Forward certainly falls into the latter category.

With one shoot still to go scheduled for this fall, the team just wrapped filming on one of the most ambitious bridge sets ever constructed for a Star Trek fan film. This followed other major shoots in starship corridors, sickbay, and a Klingon bird-of-prey…each with equally amazing sets and costumes of the highest caliber. Beyond just impeccable monster maroons and Klingon outfits, they also recreated the most detailed cadet jumpsuits, command jackets, white medical uniforms, and even the engineering radiation suits from the 80s and 90s Star Trek feature films!

Back in February of 2022, showrunner JOHN BROUGHTON and director JOHNNY K. launched an Indiegogo campaign with a goal of $30K. They ultimately exceeded that goal, meaning the campaign shifted to “InDemand” status and could continue raising donations indefinitely. And since then, they’ve added a few thousand dollars more. But they’re currently trying to take their total up to the $50K level…the maximum allowed by the fan film guidelines.

With all of the sets built, costumes created, and 80% of the footage shot, why are they looking for even MORE money now? The short answer is that they’ve spent way more of their own money than they ever expected to…well into the many thousands of dollars. And it shows! Don’t worry, if they don’t hit their $50K stretch goal, Farragut Forward will still be completed and released. But with this kind of quality, I’m hopeful that fans can help pitch in just a little bit more to ease the burden on the Farragut Films team’s wallets.

If you’d like to donate (or donate again), here is the link:

And remember, even if you can’t afford to give anything more yourself, simply posting, sharing, and helping to spread the link to your friends and fellow fans can go a long way.

If you haven’t had a chance yet to see some of the indescribable footage they’ve shot so far, here are their three latest behind-the-scenes videos that will make your jaw drop…