Last week, I revealed that I’m going to need to raise $18,800 (possibly more if I end up getting production insurance) in order to make my fan film INTERLUDE, which takes place in what I’ve decided to call the “Axanar Universe.” Now, $18.8K is pretty ambitious in the post-guidelines fan film world. So how am I going to get there?
Over the years that I’ve published the Fan Film Factor blog, I’ve seen a LOT of crowd-funding campaigns—some more successful than others—and I’ve noticed some things that work and some that don’t. I’ve shared this “acquired wisdom” with many folks along the way, but now it’s time to see if I can practice what I’ve been preaching!
They say that a magician should never reveal how they do their tricks, but today I am going to do just that. I’m gonna tell you all exactly what I’m planning to try to make this a successful crowd-funding campaign. And hey, if you’ve got any additional ideas that I haven’t thought of (and don’t require me to “break bad”), please feel free to share them in the comments.
Sure, CARLOS PEDRAZA and I have seldom seen eye-to-eye on most things (although we both think the Tardigrade lawsuit is ridiculous and should be thrown out of court…but I digress). However, good advice can come in many sizes, shapes, and packages. And after I published my projected $18,800 budget last week for my fan film INTERLUDE, Carlos posted the following comment:
You, Josh and Victoria appear to have neglected to include production insurance, which you will definitely need, especially if you plan on having minors working as crew. And your liability is likely to be complicated because your cast and crew are all volunteers rather than employees. Insurance could cost you upwards of $2,000.
Now, I’m sure there’s some suspicious minds out there wondering what Carlos’ angle is on posting such a comment here to Fan Film Factor. After all, he’s never mentioned production insurance for any other Star Trek fan project before (not even Axanar). Is Carlos trying to make it harder for me to make it to my goal by driving it up to nearly $21K? Is he trying to make me reconsider inviting locals students to help out on set? Does he not believe I’ll play by the guidelines and pay my crew instead of requiring them to all be unpaid volunteers?
I’ll be honest, many of these cynical thoughts (and others) went through my own head. And unfortunately for me, my directors (JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX) were both shooting their own fan film this past weekend, and I didn’t want to bother them until they returned back home. So I had ample time to fret over this new wrinkle.
While I waited for a chance to talk to Josh and Victoria, I read up on film production insurance on this website, and it doesn’t seem to be the scary boogey man I feared. And hey, they even allow for productions to have volunteers and interns. It’s not “complicated” after all, since many productions do the same thing. So yay!
On Monday, I finally touched base with Josh and Victoria and had a very enlightening conversation with them. Keep in mind that I’m a total novice at this whole filmmaking process. While I’ve worked on a few fan films over the years (decades now), I’ve never been a show-runner. I never had to worry about all of the details and deal with questions like “What is production insurance and do I need it?” Josh and Victoria, on the other hand, do all of this professionally, and they have been wonderfully patient with me. So on Monday, I shared Carlos’ message with them…
It’s the announcement fans have been waiting more than three years to hear!
Production on AXANAR (the sequel to PRELUDE TO AXANAR) had originally been scheduled to begin in early 2016. I had even cleared my schedule to drive to Valencia, CA to visit the set on the morning of February 2 and then drive a contest winner from there for a quick trip to nearby Vasquez Rocks in the afternoon. Fans were so excited to see this highly-anticipated full-length Star Trek fan film finally begin shooting.
You know what happened next.
A copyright infringement lawsuit filed by CBS and Paramount forced ALEC PETERS to suspend production, and a year-long legal battle finally ended in a settlement that allowed Axanar to be made with the same actors and professional crew…but only as two 15-minute short films rather than a full 90-minute feature, and with no public crowd-funding allowed (although private donations are permitted).
The subsequent loss of Industry Studios in mid-2017 resulted in a move from California to Lawrenceville, Georgia, and additional delays…during which time the amazing USS Ares bridge set has been nearly completed.
The delays in the start of production have confounded fans and supporters. Shooting had initially been announced (in an audio interview I did with J.G. Hertzler) to begin late last year, but Alec didn’t officially confirm the dates, and 2018 ended with no cameras rolling and the bridge still unfinished (although very close to completion).
In January of 2019, a new Patreon campaign was started to help fund the monthly rent for Ares Studios in Lawrenceville, renamed after the 18-month sponsorship of the studio by OWC Digital ended. Four months later, the Patreon is 55% of the way to its $4,000/month goal and still growing…currently at an impressive 229 backers contributing $2,184 each month.
For most of 2019 so far, Alec had been hinting at an unnamed fan production, in addition to Axanar, that would be filming on the USS Ares bridge set. Then earlier this month, I announced that the mystery project was my fan film, INTERLUDE, and would take place in the Axanar Universe…separate from Alec’s sequels and intended to fit in between them and Prelude (hence my title). But still no official word on when Axanar itself would begin filming.
This past weekend, the word was finally given. Production on the first of four shoots for Axanar will kick off during the first weekend of October, 2019…one week after I complete my two-day shoot at Ares Studios (plus one day at Neutral Zone Studios in nearby Kingsland, GA). The timing is not entirely coincidental, but I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming blog.
Right now, however, I turn the spotlight over to Alec Peters himself and a video update from Saturday that’s already garnered several thousand views…
It’s kinda mind-blowing, I know, considering that my fan film, INTERLUDE, is shooting on two existing sets (Ares Studios and Neutral Zone Studios), the guidelines don’t allow me to pay people, and we’re only planning to film for three days. On the other hand, my goal is to do a top-quality fan film…a worthy sequel to Prelude to Axanar. And apparently, even keeping things really tight budget-wise, doing this thing right is gonna cost some bucks.
At the risk of invoking 1980s rock-and-roll wisdom, I may ask myself: “Well, how did I get here?” (And more to the point: “My God, what have I done???”) Let me take you through it.
Now, before I get started diving into the nitty gritty, let me warn you that this is going to be a looooooong blog. If you don’t care, then by all means, please skip it. I won’t take it personally. And some people (including one with the initials A.P.) told me not to even bother explaining that high number. “It’s gotta be Axanar quality,” he said. “It costs what it costs. People will accept that.”
Maybe. But if even I was shocked by that high number, then I just know others are gonna wonder if I’m just trying come up with some sushi and tire money…and believe me, nothing could be farther from the truth! So I want to be as forthcoming and up front with all of you as I can be. And when someone says to me later, “Hey, I know you don’t need that much money for such-and-such,” I’ll just answer, “Yes, I do—check out paragraph 27 of my blog!”
Also, as a blogger who devotes his waking moments to bringing fans closer to fan filmmakers and their processes, discussing my budget in detail provides a unique opportunity for a deep-dive into what I consider to be one of the most fascinating aspects of production: figuring out what everything is gonna cost.
So if you haven’t bailed on the blog yet, let’s all boldly go into Jonathan’s budget for Interlude…
If you haven’t signed up to be a backer of the ARES STUDIOS Patreon campaign yet, to quote Chekov: “Now vould be a good time!”
Patrons at all levels (even as low as $2/month) get access to a monthly PRIVATE livestream YouTube Question & Answer session with ALEC PETERS. The link isn’t posted publicly but rather is emailed directly to anyone who is part of the Patreon.
Tonight (Thursday, May 16) at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, I will be joining Alec to discuss BOTH of our upcoming fan films…and there’s a lot of news about each! You can be among the first to learn what the budget will be for my fan film Interlude, who will be working on it, and when we expect to film. As for Axanar, well, I’ll let Alec share his big news himself…and trust me, it’s BIG news!
There’s another perk to being part of the Ares Studios Patreon—which is already over halfway to its $4,000/month goal, having now reached an all-time high of $2,164 from 225 patrons. In addition to the private YouTube chats with Alec, each month backers at the $5 level and above get early access to exclusive videos from last November’s AXACON.
Although only 30-40 people were in attendance at the 3-day event, Alec hired a professional camera crew to record pretty much every panel and guest. So far, seven interviews have been released exclusively to patrons. The general public has only gotten to see two of these videos so far. The first, an interview with ALBERT MARTINEZ—a fan filmmaker guest at the con who created Chasing the Infinite Skyand will be part of the upcoming Axanar VFX team—was released publicly three months ago. It included a special HD remastered version of Albert’s breathtakingly beautiful fan film.
And earlier this week, the second Axacon video was released. It’s a lively discussion I had with STEVE JEPSON, one of my favorite people on the planet and the man who became of the face of Prelude to Axanar‘s ill-fated commander: Admiral Conrad Slater. But was Slater really ineffectual, or was he just a Starfleet scapegoat? And what happened to Slater after he was replaced by Admiral Ramirez? It’s a fascinating conversation that you’re now able to check out for yourself…
And remember that there’s still five other exclusive Axacon videos that the public hasn’t seen yet…with more being added each month. So if you haven’t yet signed up to help fund Ares Studios, now you’ve got two great reasons to do so: exclusive videos plus a chance to ask Alec and me questions LIVE about our two upcoming projects (and get inside info before anyone else in the fan community).
That sentence has become a true Hollywood cliche, spoken by actors, writers, producers, editors, gaffers, grips, VFX guys, sound FX guys, accountants, caterers, Uber drivers, and Starbaucks baristas. In this town, it seems like everybody “really wants to direct.”
Not me, though.
I don’t know the first thing about directing—not even when to shout “Action!” and “Cut!” And I don’t pretend to know. Of course, I applaud those countless fan filmmakers who have taught themselves to direct through creating their own fan productions. More power to ’em! But I know my limits…and I don’t want my fan film to suffer just because I haven’t got the slightest idea what the frack I’m doing.
Fortunately, the fan film community is full of folks who DO know what they’re doing…including directors. Now, you might be thinking that I first decided to make my fan film and then went out to find a director. In fact, the exact opposite happened—and not only did I find one director, I found TWO!
I thought about keeping this little nugget of information secret for a few weeks longer, doing a “big reveal” just before launching my crowd-funding campaign next month. But I just can’t help myself! I want you all to know about INTERLUDE: A Star Trek Fan Film set in the AXANAR Universe.
Wait, Jonathan’s doing what now?
Okay, set your Guardian of Forever or Burnham-built Time-Suit to June of 2017 when ALEC PETERS sent me a script to review and provide him feedback. It was his first attempt to shorten the 90-minute Axanar feature film into two 15-minute episodes of “The Four Years War” (in a similar mockumentary style to PRELUDE TO AXANAR).
I was kind of a “unique” reader for Alec, as I’d purposefully avoided reading his full-length script up until that point. So I had no idea what Alec was taking out and keeping in. But when I finished reading it, I was left feeling a little confused. Despite some very exciting sequences in and around the epic Battle of Axanar, I noticed that there were no scenes that took place on that incredible USS Ares bridge! WTF???
I figured that Alec was worried that he didn’t have enough screen time available with just 30 minutes to include dramatic sequences on the bridge. But I felt that, if handled carefully, a few parts could be trimmed here and there to make room for some cool (albeit short) bridge scenes. To illustrate what I was trying to explain, I wrote out one of these scenes, taking a quick line of Garth’s dialogue that explained why Admiral Ramirez wouldn’t be in these next two movies (actor TONY TODD isn’t returning for the sequels) and turned it into a brief sequence set on the bridges of two Ares-class starships.
I ended up “catching a muse” and just kept writing…and writing…and writing. By 5 a.m., I’d created a full 15-minute Axanar script similar to Alec’s but littered with exciting bridge scenes. After a few hours of sleep, I began working on the other 15-minute script, finishing that one by 3 p.m. With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I shared my new script versions with Alec…
In my previous two blogs, I featured an interview with PASHA SOUVORIN, the Video Pathway Lead Teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools and a teacher at Phoenix High School in Lawrenceville, GA. Over the past 18 months, his video students have filmed multiple productions on the amazing 36-degree bridge set at ARES STUDIOS.
Initially constructed to be used in filming the sequel(s) to PRELUDE TO AXANAR—and still planned for that project—the bridge set and (recently added) captain’s quarters have been made available to the entire Gwinnett school district free of charge by ALEC PETERS. Now that we’ve heard from a video teacher, it’s now time to hear from some of the students.
I met two of them last November at Axacon. ALLISON FALCH (who is married to DANA WAGNER, the man in charge of completing the finishing touches on the USS Ares bridge set) teaches video at South Gwinnett Public High School, and she brought along these two charming young students on Friday afternoon when Ares Studios was opened up to Axacon attendees. As we were shooting various video interviews with the con guests and the bridge itself, we devoted a few minutes to a chat with Allison and her students…
And then last week, as I was assembling my two-part blog interview with Pasha Souvorin and was complimenting his students’ films, Pasha asked if I’d like to interview two of his student directors. Sure! So I wrote up some questions for EMILIA HOPE and VENESSA CHELLO. Both provided wonderful and articulate answers that showed how significant an impact being able to film on the Ares Studios bridge set has had for them.
Before I get to these two interviews, I’d like to point out that all four of the student directors featured in this blog entry are WOMEN! And in a male-dominated industry, I am both proud and encouraged to see that the female filmmakers of tomorrow are getting a head start, too. Also, of these four women, one is African American and two are Latina…so let’s hear it for ethnic diversity!
Last time, I began chatting with PASHA SOUVORIN, the Video Pathway Lead Teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools. Pasha is one of the teachers whose students have been coming to ARES STUDIOS in Lawrenceville, GA to film on the amazing bridge set that was built using funds raised from fan donations. The bridge is now nearly complete, and soon the two Axanar sequel fan films will begin shooting. But in the meantime, this impressive bridge set has been giving local students the opportunity to create scenes and short videos, the likes of which they would never get to do anywhere else.
And these aren’t simply kids with camera phones filming each other playing around. This short time-lapse video posted by the students on their Facebook page shows the amount of care and effort that goes into setting up even a single scene…
In part one, Pasha shared four videos that students had completed so far, each of them impressive considering that these are high schoolers learning the basics of the craft:
When last we left off, Pasha and I were discussing how the state of Georgia is encouraging its students to take elective classes in video production. After three years of classes, state enrolled students can earn a special seal on their diploma indicating that they specialized in video production. Georgia will also pay for those students who complete the technical video path to take the Adobe Certified Associate test in Premiere Pro.
Things certainly have changed a lot since I was going to high school! And that’s where we pick up our enlightening conversation, already in progress…
Although no Star Trek fan films have shot on the ARES STUDIOS sets yet, that doesn’t mean the USS Ares bridge hasn’t been getting some serious screen time! It’s simply that the filmmakers are mainly teenagers, students in the local Gwinnett County Public Schools District located just northeast of Atlanta, GA.
The primary force behind most of the student films that have been filmed there is PASHA SOUVORIN, the Video Pathway Lead Teacher for Gwinnett County Public Schools and a video production teacher at Phoenix High School, which is near the Ares Studio facility. Pasha met ALEC PETERS through a mutual friend, Sherry Fowler, who works with Alec and is also a teacher at Pasha’s school.
These students are getting an amazing opportunity as they write, direct, light, score, edit, and produce their own films using a full 360-degree custom sci-fi set. They don’t necessarily see it as Star Trek (most of them were born AFTER Enterprise premiered!—don’t you feel old now???) but rather as whatever their young minds imagine this bridge to be.
Here’s a short snippet of what a student film shoot looks like…
Pretty professional-looking, right? Granted, these aren’t Academy Award level productions, but remember that these students are only just getting started, learning about the craft of filmmaking. These early efforts are invaluable educations experiences for what may very well be the cutting-edge filmmakers of the future!
Currently, Ares Studios is being funded through monthly Patreon donations from fans like you and me (click here to sign up as a backer). The crowd-funding campaign is just over half-way to covering the $4,000/month rent and utilities. The remainder is being paid out-of-pocket by Alec Peters himself. At present, there is no money coming in from the school district, and the schools are not being charged anything to use the facility or the sets.
Recently, I had a very lively and enlightening discussion with Pasha Souvorin about his teaching background, his students, the history of the school district’s video program, and what Ares Studios has meant to him and the kids who get to film there…