OUTRAGED raises the bar on green screen fandemic films… (interview with DAVID CHENG)

DAVID CHENG and his gang of cosplayers at Star Trek Fan Productions International are upping their game with each new fan film that they produce…and there’s been quite a few in the past two years—six, in fact! Their first, THE HUMAN ADVENTURE, was a very rare Star Trek: The Motion Picture era fan film, shot and released in late 2019. That was half a year BEFORE the world shut down due to a once-in-a-century pandemic. The global quarantine didn’t stop David and his team, but it did force them to start being creative. And thus was born one of the many examples of what I went on to dub the “fandemic” film, where each of the actors is filmed separately and individually, and these self-contained pieces of footage are then edited together to create scenes with conversations and story…a new kind of Star Trek fan film.

(Actually, there was nothing really “new” about it. VANCE MAJOR had been doing similar editing together of footage shot in various people’s homes for years in his many, many MINARD and CONSTAR fan films.)

Beginning in June 2020 with LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, David and co-showrunner MIKE LONGO (who played Jim Kirk) began releasing fandemic films where one character appeared in the screen at a time, first simply seated in front of backgrounds in their houses, sometimes with props visible…

A few weeks later, JENS DOMBEK, known internationally as “The German Spock,” released a very stylized vignette titled I AM SPOCK, shot against a stark black canvas background with only himself (dressed as Spock) and a series Vulcan props , accompanied by a monotonal voice-over and haunting minialist music track.

By October 2020, the bar was lifted slightly when, for the first time, their newest release worked in chroma-keyed virtual backgrounds against cosplayers who had shot their footage in front of green screen. UNREST also featured a few VFX shots of the U.S.S. Excelsior (under Captain Sulu) and the U.S.S. Enterprise-A (under Kirk, of course), with David Cheng returning to the front of the camera as Admiral Nogura for the first time since The Human Adventure.

For Christmas of 2020, PEACE AND GOODWILL continued building on their previous steps, incorporating green screen footage composited over digital backgrounds, but now some of those backgrounds included CGI animated VFX shots. Also, a few of the green screen shots were wider angles, showing more of the characters than just their head, shoulders, and torsos. And finally, the size of the cast had grown to six actors, their largest complement yet.

And finally, the month of June 2021 brought their most ambitious project yet, OUTRAGED, with a cast of 15 characters! But even more impressive were scenes that include TWO characters on screen at the same time…even though everyone’s footage was still being filmed separately. Thanks to digital compositing, fans could now see “over-the-shoulder” scenes plus Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock together on the Enterprise bridge, even though Mike Longo and Jens Dombek live on separate continents!

Take a look…

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Get a little TOS chuckle from TIMES ARE CHANGING (interview with THE GERMAN SPOCK)!

A couple of months ago, shortly before Christmas, JENS DOMBEK (known to the world as “The German Spock”) gave fans the gift of a fun little vignette titled TIMES ARE CHANGING. And with the exception of bookends of 15 seconds at the beginning and at the end, there is no dialogue whatsoever for the three-and-a-half minutes in between!

And that’s what makes this such a unique and enjoyable fan film.

Back in the fledgling days of filmmaking, silent movies endeavored to tell stories without the benefit of spoken words. Indeed, the early works of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton endeavored to make audiences laugh with purely physical (“slapstick”) comedy. In many ways, silent movie-making is a bit of a lost art.

But what’s so great about the fan film format is that there are no rules (only guidelines), and that freedom and flexibility allow fan filmmakers to explore all aspects of cinematic expression…including, as of now, silent slapstick comedy.

Granted, I don’t think Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have anything to fear (yet) from the comedy hijinks of Jens and his buddy MICHAEL O’CONNOR KELLY. But who cares? It’s fun watching Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in a whimsical series of sight gags. Take a look…

Jens (pronounced “Yens”)has been cosplaying as an uncanny Spock lookalike in Germany and elsewhere for many years, sporting a nearly infinite number of costumes and uniforms in nearly infinite combinations…

Jens made his Star Trek fan film debut last June in one of the earliest “fandemic” films, LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, alongside fellow cosplayers MIKE LONGO as James T. Kirk and FRANK JENKS as Dr. McCoy—keeping socially distant via a subspace zoom call. A month later, Jens released a short fan film vignette of his own, I AM SPOCK—a mesmerizing 90-second soliloquy made all the more impactful by the eerie doppelgänger of our favorite Vulcan played by Jens. Jens also appeared in another “holiday” fandemic film, PEACE AND GOODWILL, with fellow cosplayers DAVID CHENG (playing admiral Nogura) and KEN HAYASHIDA (playing Sulu) just last December.

I did a full text interview with Jens when he released I Am Spock, but Times Are Changing was so unusual that I wanted to chat with Jens specifically about his latest effort…

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Happy Holidays from KIRK, SPOCK, SULU, NOGURA, et. al. in PEACE AND GOODWILL (interview with DAVID CHENG)

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? This is an interesting question when it comes to Star Trek. The earliest mention of the annual winter holiday was waaaay back in November of 1966 when the ninth episode of TOS, “Dagger of the Mind,” mentioned that Captain Kirk had met Dr. Helen Noel at a Christmas party in the science lab. (Noel / Christmas…get it?) Later on, Picard enters the Nexus in Generations and emerges inside of a Christmas holiday with his “family.”

Throughout the 54-year history of the franchise, Christmas has been sporadically referred to here and there (Memory Alpha has a full list), but as often as not, those were just short, offhand references. Never did we see any starship crew deck the decks with buffers of holos …fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la…or put presents under trees in the mess hall or sing Christmas Carols (or Marcuses) over the intercoms. And so fans might indeed wonder if, in the Star Trek universe, do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Now, in a brand new release from STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTIONS INTERNATIONAL, we get to see what happens at Starfleet HQ and on a couple of familiar starships on Christmas eve. PEACE AND GOODWILL is the fifth fan film that this group has released, and the fourth this year alone! (You can watch all of their releases here.) The latter four were all produced remotely with the actors recording their lines in separate locations and editing the footage together later—what I have taken to calling “fandemic” films.

This latest production has their largest cast yet, six in total, all of them noted cosplayers with impeccable uniforms/costumes. Led by show-runner and director/editor/co-writer DAVID CHENG as Nogura, the cast also includes MIKE LONGO reprising his role of Jim Kirk, the “German Spock” JENS DOMBEK, KEN HAYASHIDA back for a second appearance as Captain Sulu, BILL VICTOR ARUCAN as Admiral Phil Curry, and LAURA SIRKIL as Ensign Mitsuko Nogura.

It’s a fun little slice of holiday happiness and camaraderie among Starfleet’s top brass, a feel-good “Christmas special” for fan film fans to enjoy during this festive season as 2020 comes to a merciful and (with luck) hopeful end. So please enjoy a little Peace and Goodwill

I reached out to David Cheng with a few short questions…

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UNREST is the newest FANdemic film! (interview with DAVID CHENG, MIKE LONGO, and KEN HAYASHIDA)

It’s now the age of the pandemic fan films—or fandemic films, as I like to call them—at least for the time being. And like the coronavirus itself, Star Trek fan films are proving to be quite tenacious and hard to get of…which is a GOOD thing if you like Star Trek fan films (and I certainly do)!

Over the past five months, these fandemic films have been filmed and released totally virtually with the actors who appear in them never actually being together in the same scene at the same time:

The last of these was made by DAVID CHENG and MIKE LONGO (along with FRANK JENKS and JENS DOMBEK) as a “Zoom call” between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy during a difficult period when they could not be with each other…a reflection of the world of 2020 seen through the lens of the 23rd century.

Now, David and Mike have teamed up once again, this time with KEN HAYASHIDA, to present a brand new “Zoom call” adventure…this time featuring Captain Kirk, Captain Sulu, and Admiral Nogura (along with a forth “Away Team Officer”). The 7-minute vignette is from STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTIONS INTERNATIONAL and is very nicely done (especially since all of the actors are cosplayers and have impeccable monster maroon uniforms). Check it out…

I had originally planned to ask show-runner David Cheng for a few words to include with the blog announcement of this new fandemic film. But within a few hours, I’d collected a rather robust 3-way interview with David, Ken Hayashida, and Mike Longo. So let’s jump right in, shall we…?

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JENS DOMBEK shows why “I AM SPOCK” in a new fan film vignette! (interview, part 2)

Last week, we began chatting with the über Star Trek fan JENS (pronounced “Yens”) DOMBEK, known around the world as The German Spock. He’s been booked for appearances in both the eastern and western hemispheres, and most recently, he’s appeared in two different Trek fan films as the logical Vulcan, both released within two weeks of each other.

The first, LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, is a short film featuring Kirk, Spock, and McCoy sharing a long-distance video call during a time of frustrating separation. The vignette was written, filmed, and edited as people around the planet found themselves having to social distance and isolate at home.

The second vignette was even shorter and features Jens providing a monologue as Spock in a dark, empty room over haunting music. It’s a simple yet brilliant masterpiece of minimalism, and if you haven’t watched it yet, take a look…

In Part 1, Jens and I discussed his history as a fan and how he became such a well-known cosplayer. One of his greatest regrets, though, was missing a chance to meet LEONARD NIMOY in person when the actor’s failing health led to the cancelation of an appearance at a convention in Germany. However, Jens did have a chance to meet William Shatner at that convention—dressed as Spock! Naturally, I asked the obvious question…

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JENS DOMBEK tells us why “I AM SPOCK” in a new fan film vignette! (interview, part 1)

There are some amazing cosplayers and impersonators out there…folks you walk past at conventions and you do a double-take. “Was that…? Nah, couldn’t be! Could it?”

We certainly have our fair share in the world of Star Trek fandom—people who look like William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Deforest Kelley, Brent Spiner, Whoopi Goldberg, the list goes on and on.

But by far, one of the most convincing cosplay impersonators out there has to be JENS (pronounced “YENS”) DOMBEK…also known as “The German Spock.” Born in Berlin and currently a resident of Brieselang, Germany, Jens is completely committed to our favorite Vulcan/Human hybrid, portraying him in all manner of uniforms and clothing…

Recently, Jens appeared alongside MIKE LONGO and FRANK JENKS in a short vignette called LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY—a subspace “Skype” call among Kirk (played by Mike), McCoy (played by Frank Jenks), and Spock. In the short film, the three friends support each other through a difficult separation, inspired by our current pandemic quarantine. For that fan film, I interviewed writer/producer/director Mike Longo.

Mike had very complimentary things to say about Jens and suggested that I friend him on Facebook and check out the many, many awesome photos he’s posted there…some serious, some hysterically funny, and a few are really clever homages to classic photos that Leonard Nimoy took while playing Spock in the 1960s.

So I reached out to Jens with a friend request, he accepted, and we exchanged a few introductory IMs, all very warm and pleasant. A week later, the following greeting was waiting for me on Saturday morning…

What a wonderful surprise! Jens has continued to provide little sparkles like this in my IMs and has proven to be an officer and a gentleman and an all-around really sweet and awesome guy.

Then, last Friday, Jens sent me a link to his new fan film…

Like many others—including, I am told, people at SYFY (the science fiction channel) who have since reached out to Jens—I was blown away by the simple-yet-complex intensity of a monologue that lasts a total of less than 80 seconds and takes place against a stark and empty black background. One of the best things about fan films is that there are no rules—guidelines, yes, but I’m not talking about those. Fans can add in or leave out whatever they want. And in this short film, so much was left out in order to distill a haunting but loving tribute to the “emotionless,” logical first officer of the starship Enterprise.

Even though Mike Longo wrote and edited this fan film, just as he did the previous one from two weeks ago, Jens produced, directed, and stars in “I Am Spock”—and I felt he deserved a turn to be interviewed.

And when you’re the German Spock, there’s a LOT to talk about…!

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Another PANDEMIC fan film: LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY… (interview with MIKE LONGO)

Stop me if you’ve heard this: two Americans and a German walk into a fan film…

No, wait, that’s not it.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are all on a Zoom call…

Well, any way you want to introduce this blog, the fact remains that the world is just a little topsy-turvy at the moment. Social distancing is affecting nearly all aspects of life. And for us Trekkers, that includes our fan films!

Last week, I reported on a fan film from France, HORREUR POST ATOMIQUE, that was produced entirely post-pandemic during the global quarantine. Three fans dressed in grungy clothes played previously-unknown characters from the Star Trek universe during the post-atomic horror following World War III just prior to first contact with the Vulcans.

Now another short fan film has been released, also produced entirely during the weeks of shelter-in-place orders. However, this fan film, LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY, features three very familiar characters to fans: James T. Kirk, Mr. Mr. Spock, and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy…having the future equivalent of a three-way Skype call or Zoom meeting. Our new normal, apparently, is also the new normal in the late 23rd century—at least temporarily for our three heroes.

What makes this new fan film extra fun is that the three actors portraying Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are not only cosplayers, but two of them are impersonators of these characters who appear at many conventions…

Pictured above are JENS DOMBEK, known as “The German Spock ,” photos of whom can be found all over the Internet, and FRANK JENKS, whose uncanny resemblance to the chief medical officer of the USS Enterprise got him roles in several fan films including the award-winning “Walking Bear, Running Wolf” from THE FEDERATION FILES.

Leading the cast as Kirk was MIKE LONGO, who recently played the same role (just wearing a different uniform) in the recently-released THE HUMAN ADVENTURE. Mike also wrote, produced, and directed Look Forward to the Day.

Many fans have already watched and enjoyed this little vignette. If you aren’t one of them (or even if you are), please have a look…

I reached out to Mike to find out a little more about this project and how it came together. Here’s what he told me…

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