My son JAYDEN just graduated from SIXTH GRADE!

Wait a second…isn’t this a blog about Star Trek fan films??? What does Jonathan’s kid have to do with that?

Nothing at all whatsoever! So if you’re not interested in what I have to say as a proud father, feel free to skip this one. Most likely, it’ll just get views from family members and a few friends, and I’m fine with that. Y’see, Jayden knows I spend a lot of time blogging about fan films. But today I am going to blog about him.


Wednesday night, after his final day at Echo Horizon School after seven years, Jayden came into the kitchen as I was finishing making his dinner. As he walked to the refrigerator to get his milk, he said, “I’m sorry for growing up.”

Whoa.

On the one hand, yes, the last twelve and a half years have flown by at warp speed, and that tiny premie newborn that we brought home to Los Angeles from Shreveport, LA has grown nearly as tall as his old man and is already towering over his Mommy! But apologizing for growing up? No way!

I told Jayden that he never needed to apologize for growing up because he’s becoming such an incredible person…and Mommy and I get to be a part of it all. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to both of us.

And to inject a little Star Trek into this indulgently non-Trek blog, I see Jayden right now as my own little Deep Space Nine. What does that mean? Starting at the age of four, Jayden and I began watching Star Trek together…and one of my greatest blessings has been that he LOVES it. It’s one of our “things.” We watched TOS, TAS, TOS again (because he was too young when we first watched it to remember), TNG, the TOS and Generations movies in chronological order, and now we’re into season four of DS9 and about to start season two of Voyager.

3-year-old Cadet Jayden with Daddy at Starfleet Academy.
Jayden at age 5 sitting on the U.S.S. Ares bridge…still under construction.

Jayden absolutely ADORES Deep Space 9, although he’s lukewarm at best on Voyager (I’m kinda the same way, but we’re trudging on through the series). We just watched “The Way of the Warrior” and “The Visitor,” and as most fans of DS9 know, season four was the beginning of the four-season Dominion War arc. Therefore, I know what’s coming, and I am so looking forward to sharing those next 100-or-so episodes with him. And yes, we’ll need to get through Voyager‘s “Threshold” and debate whether “Tuvix” should have been separated, but Jayden will also get to meet Seven-of-Nine before too long and see other decent Voyager episodes that bring back Barclay and Troi. Jayden will ask me if Harry Kim will ever get promoted, and I’ll say, “Watch and find out!” (BWHAHAHHAHAH!) He’ll watch Sisko toast to his own tainted moral compass “In the Pale Moonlight,” discover Vic Fontaine, Weyoun, and see Gul Dukat’s descent into madness.

In other words, we’ve shared so much together, but so much more is coming our way! And that’s how I feel about Jayden himself. So let me tell you a little about this incredible person…

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Unexpected fan filmmaking happens among the California wildflower SUPERBLOOM!

Wildflower season in Southern California usually peaks during a short window from mid-March through late-April, but it isn’t always a dazzling display. Many factors can affect the bloom, the amount of winter rain being the most obvious, but there’s also temperature (too much heat will dry up the flowers quickly), highs winds (too much blows away the petals), ongoing drought conditions, too many little critters chowing down, and even whether the previous year “used up” most of the dormant seeds under the ground.

This past winter, as you probably saw on the news, was a record-breaker for most of the West Coast and especially California…and MUCH needed! And despite the flooding and mudslides and people in the mountains having to climb out their their second story windows just to escape their homes under 25 feet of snow, all that water is precious after half a decade of way-below-average rainfall and severe drought.

And obviously, the wildflowers LOVE all that water!

As such, many folks in and around Southern California were crossing our fingers, hoping for a decent bloom and perhaps even one of those rare treats: a SUPERbloom. The last one of those we had was back in 2019, and it was a doozy! I myself got photos that year that looked like this…

Oh, did I mention I’m a nature photographer in addition to being a Trekkie? And I’m just as obsessed with both! During some superbloom years, I’ve driven literally thousands of miles in a matter of a few weeks, criss-crossing the map of Southern California going to all sorts of secret and not-so-secret places to photograph these beauties. All of the above images were taken in the Antelope Valley, part of the Mojave Desert near the town of Lancaster.

As it happens, a fan filmmaker named MATTHEW BLACKBURN, the creator the SURVIVOR series of Trek fan films, lives in the Antelope Valley. And back in 2019 while I was taking the above photos, he and his wife Katie were driving along Highway 138 when they saw the most magnificent field of orange poppies and another field of yellow coreopsis carpeting a grove of Joshua trees. Always thinking like a filmmaker, Matt stopped the car and changed into a Deep Space Nine jacket and tunic that was in his trunk (’cause we all have a Starfleet uniform in our trunk, right?). Katie was used to being Matt’s camera person, and they shot footage of him walking through the two fields, looking around, and falling backwards into the wildflowers. At the time, Matt had no idea what the footage would be used for, but at least he’d have it.

Ultimately, those clips made their way into LOST AND FOUND, a Star Trek fan film that Matt released two and a half years later in late 2021. The wildflower scenes appear during a hallucinogenic mind-scape sequence as Matt’s captain character battles a psychic entity trying to take control of him. You can see those shots beginning at 5:33 in the video below…

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A VERY scenic photography trip to VASQUEZ ROCKS…with snow in the background! (picture blog)

This is going to be a different kind of blog, and admittedly a wee bit self-indulgent. If you just come for the fan films and streaming Trek reviews, feel free to skip this blog…although a few fan films have, in fact, been filmed at the iconic VASQUEZ ROCKS—a frequent outdoor shooting location for numerous Star Trek episodes and movies.

Some of you might know that I’m a bit of a photography buff. In the springtime here in southern California, I’ll often drive hundreds of miles to the middle of nowhere to spend my day capturing amazing wildflower vistas on film, leaving home before dawn and returning long after dark. They say that one of the secrets of great nature photography is being in the right place at the right time. And if you’re not in the right place, the timing won’t matter.

That said, you may have seen on the news that the weather here in the Los Angeles area has been a bit ridiculous lately—and I don’t want to make light of it. People living in the mountain communities north of San Bernardino are literally trapped in their homes under 10-15 FEET of snow, with local stores and gas stations empty and closed because delivery trucks can’t make the trip up the winding roads to towns like Running Springs and Big Bear. A state of emergency has been declared, and the national guard has been called in to help.

On the other hand, this much snow in southern California is a once-in-a-generation rarity, and while I literally can’t do anything to help those poor people living above 6,000 feet elevation (I can’t even get up there under current road conditions), I nevertheless wanted to record this event on film in some way—not the emergency, per se, but the beauty and rarity.

A few days ago, a friend e-mailed the chat list of a local Star Trek fan club that I belong to. The group is planning a trip to Vasquez Rocks on Saturday day (sadly, I’ll be in San Diego that day at a robotics tournament for my son and won’t be able to join them), and this member reported that there was snow in the adjacent town of Agua Dulce, and the park might be closed on Sunday.

I imagined those amazing diagonal rocks covered in the white stuff and decided I had to go see for myself1 Of course, this would need to happen between the time I drop off Jayden at school at 8:15am and pick him up at 3:15pm. But since the park is only a hour’s drive away (mostly on freeways), that seemed doable.

The first clear day without rain or heavy wind was Thursday, and so I called up my buddy (and associate producer of my fan film INTERLUDE) David to see if he wanted to play hooky with me, and away we went.

Continue reading “A VERY scenic photography trip to VASQUEZ ROCKS…with snow in the background! (picture blog)”

INTERLUDE Confidential #24: We just won our NINTH film festival award!

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve written an INTERLUDE CONFIDENTIAL blog. It’s not that I was finished with them (I was almost finished)—I still had a few left to do, including an interview with our musical composer KEVIN CROXTON, a blog about sound-editing, and a video compilation of the second day of filming. And I was also planning to write a blog about entering fan productions into film festivals…and that’s what I’m writing about today.

This past weekend, Interlude won it’s ninth film festival award (not counting those contests exclusively open to fan films). Our latest award was won this past weekend at the Austin Indie Fest for “BEST FAN FILM,” a category which is appearing ever more often in mainstream film festivals. In fact, one of Interlude‘s other three wins was the EUROPA PRIZE for “Best Fan Film” in the L.A. Sci-Fi & Horror Festival. And if you’re curious, Interlude also won these six awards in the following two film festivals…

Cult Critic Movie Awards
• Short Film
• Best Cinematography (Fiction & Documentary)
• Best Sound Designing (Fiction & Documentary)
• Best VFX Artist

Venice Shorts
• Best Science Fiction Film
• Best Short Film Cinematographer

There were five festivals we entered where Interlude was NOT selected:
Film Invasion Los Angeles, Etheria Film Festival – Genre Films Directed by Women, Under Worlds Film Fest, Cannes Short Film Festival, and Cannes Independent Film Festival. Interlude was also a selection but didn’t win the Tri-Cities International Film Festival…and there’s three film festivals I entered that will be choosing winners next month.

But what I’ve come to realize is that entering film festivals is a bit of a financial black hole. There are literally hundreds of them each year! And they all cost money to enter. Granted, I limited myself primarily to those offering special 50% discounts on submission fees, but that still started adding up, and by late last summer, I went cold turkey on entering any more film festivals.

But honestly, they make it just so darn easy to enter!

When I say “they,” I mean the people at Film Freeway. Just about every film festival uses that website to advertise their show and collect entrance fees. So if you’ve produced an independent film, all you have to do is set up a Film Freeway page like I have for Interlude (click here to see it). A film’s Film Freeway page contains everything a film festival needs to judge it:

  • The film itself
  • The trailer
  • Summary overview
  • Director(s) bio and statement
  • Behind-the-scenes stills
  • Link to the film’s website
  • News and reviews
  • Credits
  • Specifications (like country of origin, runtime, color or black and white, genre, completion date, and budget)

As long as you have a Film Freeway account and page, you can enter any contest as easily as you make a purchase from Amazon.

Continue reading “INTERLUDE Confidential #24: We just won our NINTH film festival award!”

2022 Star Trek Fan Film YEAR IN REVIEW!

Ladies and gentlemen, as I begin my seventh (sheesh!!!) year publishing this blog site, I am very pleased to announce that neither the CBS/Paramount guidelines, the AXANAR lawsuit, COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, high gas prices, the collapse of the crypto market, crazy conspiracy theories, nor Elon Musk buying Twitter have managed to destroy our little niche of a niche of a niche community of Star Trek fan films!

In fact, I’d say we’re as strong as ever!

The challenge I always face when writing these year-end blogs is having waaaaaay too much to cover properly. There are literally hundreds of fans involved in making Star Trek fan films…from writing and directing to acting and producing to building sets and making costumes to doing make-up and writing music to editing and creating amazing visual effects. And there’s no way I can possibly cover everyone and everything that deserves mention.

So once again, I’m going to spotlight a few of the biggest stories and trends of the past year. And thus, without further ado…

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Please help SANTA SAL by getting the new audio version of our book BEING SANTA CLAUS…

If you’d prefer to skip the blog and just order the audiobook (so that net revenue can go directly to “SANTA” SAL LIZARD and his family), please click here to get to the Amazon webpage. And thank you.

Below you can read more about Santa Sal…


Some of my readers might aware that I became a professionally published author (more precisely, co-author) back in 2012. A year earlier, Gotham Books (a division of Penguin Publishing) purchased the rights to an autobiographical memoir of a professional real-bearded Santa by the name of Sal Lizard. Sal spent more than 50 hours on the phone with me—over the course of two and a half years!—telling his amazing, hilarious, and heartwarming Santa stories in astounding detail, and I turned them into a full manuscript. Titled BEING SANTA CLAUS – What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas, the hardcover was released the following November, and a paperback version came out in late 2013.

And that was pretty much that.

It was cool becoming a published author, and the book was very well-received (4.8-out-of-5 stars on Amazon). In fact, the only complaint we ever got was that the book was too short. And indeed it was! Our editor at Gotham helped us trim an 83,000-word manuscript down to about 79,000 words, which everyone thought was perfect…including the president of of the publishing company. But the managing editor decided to trim it further…all the way down to 47,000 words(!!!), and a lot of wonderful Santa Sal stories got left on the literary cutting room floor. However, they were paying us a ridiculously huge advance, and we had little choice other than to let the managing editor have her way.

A few years later, though, Being Santa Claus was no longer in print, Penguin had shuttered Gotham, and the rights to our book reverted back to Sal and me. It was at that point that I thought about creating a “director’s cut” audiobook out of the 79,000-word version that everyone loved.

But how exactly does one go about recording an audiobook?

Good fortune fell upon us when I met the father of one of the kids in my son’s school and discovered that he owns a sound studio here in Los Angeles, and he offered me the use of it. For the next few years—which included a frustrating hiatus during the lockdown—I recorded all 35 chapters in a series of reading sessions when my sound engineer, JAE KIM, was available (which wasn’t often, as he travels the world doing sound for concert tours and film shoots). But a few months ago, we finally finished!

Continue reading “Please help SANTA SAL by getting the new audio version of our book BEING SANTA CLAUS…”

R.I.P – NICHELLE NICHOLS, our elegant Lady of Communications – 1932 to 2022

We all loved her. We all admired her. And we all knew this day would come.

NICHELLE NICHOLS, the amazing actor and person who helped raise women and people of color to new heights of recognition and self-confidence at a critical time in American history, has passed away at the age of 89 from natural causes.

As happens with many people as they approach their tenth decade of life, Nichelle had grown frail and was losing her memory. Her voice was no longer able to serenade us with the melodies of the stars as it did for most of her career. She had recently completed her “farewell tour” of conventions and public appearances with her fans and was living her final years with her son and his family in New Mexico.

But we still loved her.

And it was a love that had been there, for many of us, over the course of decades. She was always Lieutenant (and later Commander and, in fan films like OF GODS AND MEN and RENEGADES, Captain and even Admiral) Nyota Uhura.

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura through the years: in TOS, in the Trek movies, and in the fan films STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN and RENEGADES: THE REQUIEM.

In the TOS episode “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” it is revealed that the name Uhura means “freedom.” Indeed, it is the Swahili word “Uhuru” that means freedom, and according to Nichelle’s 1994 autobiographical Beyond Uhura, she was carrying the 1962 book Uhuru by Robert Ruark when she read for the part in Star Trek. Later, producer ROBERT JUSTMAN reportedly told GENE RODDENBERRY what Uhuru meant, and Gene decided to name his African communications officer Uhura right then and there.

The character’s first name, Nyota, came years later in 1982, following the release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Author WILLIAM ROSTLER was writing the licensed paperback Star Trek II: Biographies telling the personal histories of the seven main TOS characters, including Uhura. Rostler contacted Gene and Nichelle directly asking both for permission to give Uhura the first name Nyota, which means “star” in Swahili. They both approved, and since it was a licensed book, Nyota became as official as anything not shown on film. Indeed, a few years later, the 1985 Star Trek novel Uhura’s Song by JANET KAGAN (still one of the best!), became the second licensed product to use that first name for Uhura. However, it wouldn’t be until 2009 and the release of the first rebooted Star Trek film with ZOE SALDANA taking on the iconic role, that Nyota officially became “canon” when Spock calls Uhura by her first name during the movie.

I remember seeing Nichelle during countless conventions, always talking about how moved and excited she was to learn that Nyota meant “star” and that Nyota Uhura meant “Freedom Star” or “Star of Freedom,” guiding those suffering under prejudice, discrimination, and persecution to a brighter future. And goodness knows, Nichelle did just that!

Continue reading “R.I.P – NICHELLE NICHOLS, our elegant Lady of Communications – 1932 to 2022”

Let’s look inside the SHOWRUNNER Awards and other fan film competitions (Part 2)

In Part 1, we took a look “under the hood” at the engines running three of the most significant and well-known of the annual awards competitions for Star Trek fan films: the BJO AWARDS, the DIRECTORS CHOICE AWARDS, and the SHOWRUNNER AWARDS. Of course, only one of these three is technically “annual” at this point, as the latter two competitions only got their start in January of this year while the Bjos have been running each year since 2015.

Why this deep-dive into the inner workings of three different awards shows? Why not? Most fans see only the end results of these competitions…who were the finalists, who were the runners up, and which films and filmmakers ultimately won. But what happens behind the scenes?

Last time, we looked first at the challenge of finding judges, and how ERIC L. WATTS of the Bjo Awards sets himself the Herculean task each year of finding people “…who have a professional credit in the Star Trek franchise or are Star Trek fans working in the television and film industry, are not in any way personally associated with any past or present Star Trek fan film.” Add to that these people must be willing to watch hours and hours of Star Trek fan films for no money and little more than a thank you for their efforts.

DAN REYNOLDS and GLEN WOLFE went in a different direction for the Directors Choice Awards, opting to require the directors of the films entered to cast ballots for the winners in all categories in order for their own films to quality (and of course, a director could not vote for their own fan film). And finally, I assembled a panel of twelve Star Trek fan film and fan series showrunners (including myself) to judge the Showrunner Awards.

In all three cases, the judging panel was made up up ten or more judges, all publicly identified for the contest. This is, of course, by no means a requirement when holding a fan film contest, although it does inspire more confidence in the results knowing the the people judging the entries have a practical and experiential knowledge of the categories they are judging.

The next thing we looked at was the method each awards show used to gather and organize information on the entries. Eric would determine the submissions based on the Star Trek fan films released in a calendar year that met the eligibility requirements and then type in all of the names of the nominees himself.

Dan and Glen and I, instead, allowed the filmmakers themselves to fill out online forms, changing a nominal $10 entry fee for each fan film entered. The Showrunners then tacked on an extra $1 per each category entered, while the Directors Choice simply limited the number of categories per entry to no more than five. And in the end, all three contests rely heavily on Excel spreadsheets to record the immense amount of submission information.

So what’s left…?

Continue reading “Let’s look inside the SHOWRUNNER Awards and other fan film competitions (Part 2)”

Let’s look inside the SHOWRUNNER Awards and other fan film competitions (Part 1)

So you say you want to create a fan film awards competition! Actually, unless you want to work really, really hard, you probably DON’T want to create one…at least, if you want to do it right. And when I say “do it right,” there isn’t only one correct way to organize and run a film contest. In fact, there’s several different approaches, all of them totally valid.

The challenge is to set everything up so that the process runs smoothly and inspires confidence in both the process and the results. That’s what I mean by “do it right,” and it takes a surprisingly sizable amount of work. DAN REYNOLDS, who along with GLEN WOLFE, ran the recently-completed DIRECTORS CHOICE AWARDS, said, “The sheer enormity of organizing was difficult. There was a lot of checking, double checking and triple checking. I don’t think we knew just how much work it really would be to pull something like this off.” Glen said that he mostly concentrated on “…getting ballots returned in a timely manner, getting the presenters to turn their videos in in a timely manner, and then getting the whole award ceremony edited while juggling real life.”

ERIC L. WATTS lists off an even longer “to do” list for the annual BJO AWARDS, including…

  • Recruiting top-level, high-calibre judges;
  • Finding eligible fan films for consideration (filmmakers don’t actively enter the Bjo Awars—Eric includes all qualifying Star Trek fan films released in a calendar year);
  • Researching release dates, runtimes, cast and crew credits, and creating a spreadsheet that sorts and organizes that data; and
  • Spending hours and hours and hours creating the actual ballot.

And of course, none of this includes marketing the awards show and announcing its winners, answering questions from the fan community, and of course, nagging the judges to get their ballots in on time! Plus, there’s a whole host of other efforts involved.

One of the biggest challenges is logistics. And like the duck gliding gently across the smooth surface of the lake, most fans never get to see all of the intense paddling that goes on just beneath the surface to make these fan film competitions run like well-oiled machines.

So if you’re interested in “peeking under the hood,” today’s blog is for YOU…

Continue reading “Let’s look inside the SHOWRUNNER Awards and other fan film competitions (Part 1)”

A FATHERS DAY blog as my 11-year-old son JAYDEN discovers STAR TREK fan films…

In honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to share something special and Trekkish that recently happened with me and my son.

Jayden is reaching the age where he’s developing his own interests that are completely separate from Daddy’s. He’s playing Roblox and Terraria and a bunch of other games on his computer that I’ve never heard of. He watches YouTubers with names like Mr. Beast, Flamingo, and Merg. He codes, builds robots, and does karate. And now that summer has started, hours will go by where I’ll only see him when he comes down from his room for a quick snack (and it’s all I can do to make him eat a nutritious lunch!).

Ah, being the father of an almost-teen…

I am so proud of my not-so-little boy!

But there is one thing that we do almost every day, and that’s watch Star Trek together after dinner. I give the food a little while to digest, and then we’ll head off to my office where I’ll do 25-30 minutes of cardio on the bike while we watch (most of) an episode of Star Trek. It’s been our “thing” since Jayden was 5. We’re going in release order. We began with TOS, then TAS, then back to TOS because Jayden was really young when he first watched them, and I wanted him to remember. Then on to the first four movies, then TNG…with DS9 added as we hit season six of TNG. And of course, we watched Trek V and Trek VI when those came up in the chronological release order.

We’ve also watched LOWER DECKS, PRODIGY, and STRANGE NEW WORLDS—but not DISCOVERY or PICARD. In the case of Discovery, too much @$&%ing swearing, and in the case of Picard…SPOILERS!

Anyway, Jayden has become quite the little Trekkie (thank heaven!) and sci-fi nerd. The other day at the comic book store, he begged me to buy him a stuffed xenomorph from Alien(s)—which he’s seen, of course—with a zipper for a mouth and a second mouth-tongue inside. (We named him Zipley.)

Jayden holds the newest addition to the family: ZIPLEY!

Most recently, we’ve made it to the end of TNG. We only have “All Good Things” left to watch, but it’s time to switch back over to DS9 and complete season two. We’re two episodes away from watching “Crossover,” the first episode of any Trek to feature the Mirror Universe since TOS’s “Mirror, Mirror.”

Not certain whether Jayden would remember that early episode, I fished out the ol’ remastered Blu-rays to watch that as a special “extra” before heading back to DS9. I’d done the same thing earlier in season two when we did a detour to watch “Errand of Mercy” then “The Trouble with Tribbles” and finally “Day of the Dove.” Those three were all in anticipation of DS9‘s “Blood Oath,” which featured the return of Klingons Kor, Koloth, and Kang from those episodes. So as you can see, I am doing all of this VERY methodically!

Last week, we viewed “Mirror, Mirror” and, as I watched the following scene, I got a crazy idea…

Continue reading “A FATHERS DAY blog as my 11-year-old son JAYDEN discovers STAR TREK fan films…”