TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE releases “LA MORT DE LA GUERRE” (“The Death of War”) featuring AVALON characters in the PRIME universe! (video interview with JOSH IRWIN, CAITLYN BAILEY, and others)

NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA (at least for now, the studio will be relocating soon) has provided TOS sets for countless Star Trek fan films and series, including STARSHIP FARRAGUT, STAR TREK CONTINUES, DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, THE AVALON UNIVERSE, and so many more. And not to be outdone, the studio itself has its own fanthology series: TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE. Beginning in 2019, NZS has released seven fan films:

“THE LOOKING GLASS”
“ENDOSYMBIOSYS”
“DOOMSDAY”
“WHEN DUTY CALLS”
“THE TEST OF TIME”
“THE LOST STARSHIP”

And the seventh, which was premiered on May 23, is titled “LA MORT DE LA GUERRE” (“The Death of War”), written by JOSHUA IRWIN and directed by Josh along with TYLER DUNIVAN. It came out extremely well; take a look…

The film features the crew of the U.S.S. Excalibur, but not the starship in the Avalon Universe that Josh’s films usually spotlight. No, this time it’s the ship and crew from Star Trek‘s Prime Universe, most recently seen in last year’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALIBURS.

This fan film also represents a somewhat unique pairing of resources, as not only was Neutral Zone Studios involved in the production, but so was the other major fan film studio featuring TOS sets, WARP 66 STUDIOS in northern Arkansas. Co-owner of WARP 66, GLEN L. WOLFE, traveled down to Georgia, bringing along a plethora of TOS tunics and uniforms for both actors and extras to wear. Also joining the production team were FRANK PARKER, JR. from CROSSROADS: THE GEMINI PROJECT (this time playing a Romulan) as well as VANCE MAJOR playing Eric Minard from CONSTAR. Even GARY DAVIS from DOMINION MEDIA got into the act by providing a last-minute photo of a “Sulu scope” for a close up shot of the tactical readout at the helm station.

Heck, even I worked on this fan film as a creative consultant. That meant that I provided Josh feedback and suggestions at various points during the months-long post-production and editing process. That might seem like an easy-peasy way to sneak into the credits, but I’ve actually watched through different iterations of this film more than a dozen times(!!!), marking down time-code and making extensive notes. Combined with the 50 to 70 people who worked on this project during the two days of shooting on the sets, this was truly a group effort of the many.

In the spirit of that sense of camaraderie and collaboration, my fellow fan film fanatic, JEFFERSON KELLEY of BEYOND TREK PODCAST, organized a group discussion of this excellent fan film, inviting a number of people from the production as well as myself, as well as CHEETO and ZAM from the NERD TUBE podcast. So rather than just doing one of my typical Fan Film Factor video interviews, Jefferson has offered to make his group podcast available for me to post here. It was a very fun, lively, and enlightening discussion. Enjoy…

Tales from the Neutral Zone’s “THE LOST STARSHIP” unites old and new fan film faces! (interview with BRIAN W. PETERSON and JOSH IRWIN, part 2)

In part 1, we looked at the sixth release of TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE, a really excellent fanthology episode titled “THE LOST STARSHIP.” It was written by newcomer to Star Trek fan films, professional author BRIAN W. PETERSON. And our previous blog featured an awesome interview with Brian.

In this second and concluding blog, we shift to veteran fan filmmaker JOSHUA IRWIN (showrunner of the THE AVALON UNIVERSE series of fan films), who served as director of photography (DP) on the production under the supervision of director VIC MIGNOGNA (showrunner of the celebrated run of STAR TREK CONTINUES). If you haven’t seen “The Lost Starship” yet, please take the time to check it out, as it is amazingly well done…

As many long-time readers know, Josh graduated from film school a couple of decades ago and has worked professionally in the entertainment industry ever since. In fact, in January, his name will be in the credits as cinematographer of a new film being released in theaters across America titled Wildfire: The Legend of The Cherokee Ghost Horse (based on the famous song) starring country music singer CHEVEL SHEPHERD, the late ANNE HECHE, MO BRINGS PLENTY of Yellowstone fame, and the Highlander himself, ADRIAN PAUL. Josh was also cinematographer on three films that can be found on Tubi: Rain, Your Local News, and Uneven Ground: The Melissa Witt Story.

But of course, we’re here to talk about a Star Trek fan film, so let’s dive into our interview with Josh…

Continue reading “Tales from the Neutral Zone’s “THE LOST STARSHIP” unites old and new fan film faces! (interview with BRIAN W. PETERSON and JOSH IRWIN, part 2)”

Tales from the Neutral Zone’s “THE LOST STARSHIP” unites old and new fan film faces! (interview with BRIAN W. PETERSON and JOSH IRWIN, part 1)

The day before the 57th anniversary of the first airing of Star Trek, NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS released the sixth installment of its fanthology series, TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE. The previous five were the following…

“THE LOOKING GLASS”
“ENDOSYMBIOSYS”
“DOOMSDAY”
“WHEN DUTY CALLS”
“THE TEST OF TIME”

The last of these five, “The Test of Time,” featured VIC MIGNOGNA (of STAR TREK CONTINUES fame) directing with JOSHUA IRWIN (of THE AVALON UNIVERSE) acting as director of photography and editor. The sixth Neutral Zone offering, “THE LOST STARSHIP,” also features these two fan film veterans, with Vic once again directing and Josh as DP. But it also features some brand new names to the world of Star Trek fan films, including writer and executive producer BRAIN W. PETERSON, who had never written a fan film before (and in my humble opinion, knocked it out of the park on his first try).

Jeff Johnson as Finnegan in Star Trek: Phase II’s “Origins: The Protracted Man”

The film also features a notable lead. JEFF JOHNSON, who plays Captain Blake Hovis, is a voice actor with a fairly impressive filmography. What makes him extra notable, however, is that he appeared as Finnegan (and did an incredible job) in the never-completed and never-officially-released STAR TREK: PHASE II episode “ORIGINS: THE PROTRACTED MAN.” Vic also appeared in that episode as Jim Kirk’s father, and Jeff and Vic are close friends. So that’s how Jeff returned to fan films over a decade later. As an amusing aside, Jeff is a pilot for a major airline (voice acting is not a primary profession for most), and he texted the Vic and Josh photos of him reviewing and memorizing his lines in the script while sitting in the cockpit with the plane on autopilot.

Fly the Trekkie skies…

Each of the actors, all cast by Vic, put in very strong performances, as most had training, which can make a big difference. Granted, the majority of fan films don’t have the luxury to bring in experienced actors, and indeed, part of the fun of fan films is fans getting to strut their own stuff, even without the training. However, it’s clear from watching “The Lost Starship” that this cast is made up of folks who know what they’re doing. And that combined with Josh’s professional skills as DP and Vic’s accomplished directing, along with a very solid script from professional writer Brian W. Peterson, to produce a very impressive finished production…

For this particular fan film, I’ve opted to interview one new face and one old face. Part 1 will focus on newcomer to fan films, writer Brian W. Peterson. And then in Part 2, we’ll chat with Josh about DP-ing and what it was like working on this project.

First up, Brian…

Continue reading “Tales from the Neutral Zone’s “THE LOST STARSHIP” unites old and new fan film faces! (interview with BRIAN W. PETERSON and JOSH IRWIN, part 1)”

DOMINION launches new fan series WARBIRD VALDORE and a new Indiegogo! (interview with GARY DAVIS, RANDY WRENN, JOAN SAVAGE, and MICHAEL BEDNAR…part 1)

DREADNOUGHT DOMINION got its start back in 2015 when the first two episodes “Haunted” and “Anchors Aweigh” were released. Afterward, the showrunner and lead actor, FRANK PARKER, JR. (playing Commodore Samuel Grissom) departed the series, leaving GARY DAVIS and RANDY WRENN to take Dominion where no fan series had gone before…onto the bridge (and corridors) of a Federation-class dreadnought starship.

And so they did, producing and releasing an additional FIFTEEN fan films, including a few crossovers with other fan series, over the course of seven years. (You can watch all the episodes of Dreadnough Dominion on this playlist.) But they didn’t stop there. In July of 2021, using a TOS-era runabout set that Gary constructed in his basement, they filmed and premiered the pilot episode of a new Dominion spinoff series called PROJECT: RUNABOUT. And a little over a year later, they released the second episode of that new fan series, “YORKTOWN,” shot both on the runabout set as well as at the U.S.S. Yorktown Naval and Maritime Museum in the Charlestown Harbor in South Carolina.

You might think that simultaneously producing two ongoing fan series would be enough to keep these two guys busy, and you’d be correct! But when has being busy ever stopped them before???

And so, in July of this year, Dominion Media launched its SECOND spinoff fan series: WARBIRD VALDORE. As you might be able to guess from the title, its stories are told from the perspective of a Romulan warbird commander and her crew. This isn’t the first time a fan series has spotlighted the adventures of another spacefaring alien race. POTEMKIN PICTURES’ BATTLECRUISER KUPOK and SCOUTSHIP QAB’ELTH are both set on Klingon vessels. But this is the first time, to my knowledge, that a Romulan warbird has been been the primary focus of a series.

The new series is filmed in part on sets located at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA and stars JOAN SAVAGE as Romulan Commander Jhu D’Varo, reprising a role she previously played in Dreadnought Dominion. Check out their first episode…

Assuming you just watched it (SPOILER ALERT if you didn’t!), you’ll notice an appearance by MICHAEL BEDNAR, reprising his role of Robert Tacket from STARSHIP FARRAGUT and the upcoming FARRAGUT FORWARD. Now a full captain, Tacket is now in command of the U.S.S. Constitution. His appearance was quite a happy surprise for longtime fans familiar with Farragut (like me!).

Dominion has just launched a new crowd-funder trying to raise $5,000 for their three fan series. If you’d like to donate, click on the link below (I just tossed in $50 myself)…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dominion-media-fundraising

I was able to assemble Gary, Randy, Joan, and Mike for a group interview to discuss the new Valdore fan series, their involvement, and of course, the campaign…

Continue reading “DOMINION launches new fan series WARBIRD VALDORE and a new Indiegogo! (interview with GARY DAVIS, RANDY WRENN, JOAN SAVAGE, and MICHAEL BEDNAR…part 1)”

Update: NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS defeats an alien invasion…of MOLD!

It’s a tale as old as time itself…

  • Fans build perfectly nice TOS sets to use to make Star Trek fan films.
  • Egg roll manufacturer moves in next door.
  • A few years later, egg roll manufacturer moves out…leaving mold behind.
  • Mold starts creeping into Engineering.
  • Set owner has to spend his own money fixing the problem.

Yeah, I know; you’ve heard this one a million times at least! But it just happened again at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA.

As many of you know, the building housing the TOS sets is only partially rented by set owner RAY TESI. The other half of the building was, until recently, utilized by a company that manufactures egg rolls…because, well, somebody has to make those yummy, greasy things, right? It was kinda nice, actually, as the smells from the egg roll factory would permeate the entire building, and they smelled amazing.

“Oh, I still remember that amazing smell,” says director JOSHUA IRWIN. “It was like filming in the middle of the most incredible Chinese restaurant. Sometimes, weeks or months later, I would be sitting at home in Arkansas, editing a fan film I’d shot at Neutral Zone, and just seeing that footage on my screen was enough to make me start smelling phantom egg rolls in my brain.”

But alas, all good things must end. And so it came to pass that this egg roll manufacturer grew to be so successful that they needed to move to a larger facility in Jacksonville, FL, leaving the space next to the studio vacant.

Despite the loss of the intoxicating aroma, this actually wasn’t the worst news ever. For a while, Ray actually considered renting the other half of the building to expand the studio, but the price was not feasible. However, while in consideration, Ray walked through the adjacent space after the egg roll equipment had been removed. The space looked like a war zone, and there was grease everywhere.

During the time the factory occupied the building, Ray saw that water would occasionally seep through the walls and into the studio side. Turns out the egg roll people would hose down and pressure clean the floors at the end of the day and push some water into the studio. At Ray’s request, new plastic floor boards were installed by the egg roll folks to restrain the water, but the damage was done.

During his walkthrough of the non-vacant space, Ray noticed the mold.

Continue reading “Update: NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS defeats an alien invasion…of MOLD!”

NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 2)

In Part 1, I began chatting with RAY TESI, the owner of NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA, home of a complete collection of TOS sets that are used by countless fan films and series. Ray recently completed a 30-day Indiegogo campaign that took in a remarkable $19,617 from 218 donors. But it still fell well short of its $36,000 goal.

It’s possible that some of that shortfall was due to a series of scandalous rumors and attacks on social media which seemingly came out of nowhere days after the crowd-funding campaign was launched. It’ not entirely clear what set these people off or what their game plan was, other than what is colloquially known as MANUFACTURED OUTRAGE. But for nearly a month, it seemed their goal was to sabotage this Indiegogo campaign, and through depriving Neutral Zone Studios of much-needed fan donations, to potentially force the closure of this incredible fan film resource, possibly forever.

Normally, I’d include links to the comments themselves or even just a screen cap or two, but these posts were so ridiculous that I’d rather not give them any coverage at all. Instead, I’m going to let Ray speak about what can only be called baseless and unfounded attacks by total strangers agains him and his studio as we conclude our two-part interview…

Continue reading “NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS raises nearly $20,000 in MAJOR crowd-funder! (interview with RAY TESI, part 2)”

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)”

JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 2)

Yesterday in Part 1, I began talking to JOSHUA IRWIN about the latest release from TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE, an ambitious fan film titled THE TEST OF TIME.

Or rather, we almost talked about it!

Y’see, Josh burst onto the Star Trek fan film stage back in late 2018 with the first of his high quality AVALON UNIVERSE fan films, GHOST SHIP. And the reason for the professional look and feel of Avalon releases is that Josh is himself a professional in the film industry, having graduated from film school and worked on countless projects from short commercials to full-length feature films cast with major celebrities. In other words, Josh knows what he’s doing, and you can watch all nearly-dozen Avalon releases here on this YouTube playlist.

But this blog isn’t about Avalon. It’s about Tales from the Neutral Zone, which Josh is also now working on regularly. In fact, beginning with their next release, Josh will be taking over as director, after having worked as cinematographer on both this latest fan film as well as the previous one, DOOMSDAY, which he also ended up co-directing with RAY TESI, the showrunner and owner of the TOS sets down in Kingsland, GA. But it’s not just NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS that Josh is helping out. He’s begun working in various capacities on numerous other fan films and series, as well.

And that ended up becoming the focus of most of the first half of our interview, conducted via phone as Josh was driving from Arkansas to Maryland to help shoot some stuff for FARRAGUT FORWARD. We discussed the growing cooperation among various fan filmmakers in the community, sharing talents and resources. We also chatted about what exactly Josh does on all of these other non-Avalon projects and how he deals with so much driving and getting time off from work for this hobby that he loves so much.

Anyway, the moment has finally come to discuss The Test of Time. And if you haven’t seen it yet, give it a viewing first…

And now, the conclusion of my interview with Josh Irwin…

Continue reading “JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 2)”

JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 1)

A funny thing happened on the way to a discussion of THE TEST OF TIME, the latest TALES FROM THE NEUTRAL ZONE fan film release from NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA. Those are the Star Trek TOS sets that were originally used for STARSHIP FARRAGUT and STAR TREK CONTINUES. Now owned by super-fan RAY TESI (who pays thousands of dollars of his own money each month to rent the location that houses the sets), Neutral Zone Studios is available to any fan production wanting to film there. Among the fan series that shoot at the studio regularly are DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, AVALON UNIVERSE, and of course the aforementioned Tales from the Neutral Zone. And even more fan projects are slated to shoot there in the coming months.

Typically, I interview Ray Tesi about new Neutral Zone episodes, although for the previous release, the wildly popular DOOMSDAY, Ray tag-teamed with JOSHUA IRWIN on the interview , as Josh had stepped up to co-direct, along with being director of photography as well as editor. And with their latest release, Josh was once again director of photography…with VIC MIGNOGNA returning to Star Trek fan films for the first time since the end of STC to direct. With Ray’s approval, this time I reached out to Josh to field the questions, and so we began our interview.

Now, Josh is one of the busiest filmmakers in our community, serving not only as showrunner for the Avalon Universe fan series but also helping out on a whole slew of other productions in all sorts of different capacities. As such, it was probably appropriate that I ended up interviewing Josh via a recorded phone conversation while he was driving more than 1,000 miles from his home in Bentonville, Arkansas to Frederick, Maryland to help shoot some videos for FARRAGUT FORWARD!

So naturally, I began the interview asking Josh about all of these other projects he’s been working on, and…well…sometimes interviews just go in unexpected directions. So please accept my apologies that Josh and I don’t start discussing The Test of Time until PART 2 of this interview! But trust me, the stuff in PART 1 is just as fascinating, and I really do recommend that you read the whole interview. You won’t be disappointed.

And speaking of not being disappointed, take a look at The Test of Time, as it turned out REALLY well…

And now, here’s Josh Irwin…

Continue reading “JOSH IRWIN discusses THE TEST OF TIME…and just about everything else, too! (interview, part 1)”

Two ST: DISCOVERY cosplayers get “drafted” into the NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS fan film “WHEN DUTY CALLS” (interview with LISA LAKE and RACHEL KAYS)

“Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used ‘reserve activation clause.’ In simpler language, Captain, they DRAFTED me!” Dr. McCoy uttered that line back in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And in 2023, it happened again…this time at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, Georgia.

As most of you know, NZS is the location of the gorgeous TOS sets that were originally constructed for the fan series STARSHIP FARRAGUT and later for STAR TREK CONTINUES. In 2019, after STC wrapped filming and Farragut Films had long since departed the studio, set owner and STC show-runner VIC MIGNOGNA sold the now-unused sets to Florida resident RAY TESI, who used a portion of his retirement savings to not only purchase the sets but to pay the lion’s share of the four-figure monthly rent with some help from fan donors on Patreon.

Ray decided to open the sets up to fan filmmakers who wanted TOS sets to shoot on, and the list is now quite impressive—including such fan series as AVALON UNIVERSE, DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, and CONSTAR CHRONICLES, along with individual fan films like LET OLD WRINKLES COME and TO HAVE BOLDLY GONE. In addition, NZS has its own fan series that has released a number of one-off fan films including THE LOOKING GLASS, ENDOSYMBIOSIS, and the very popular recent release DOOMSDAY. That’s one busy studio!

But it doesn’t end there.

Ray periodically opens the sets up to the general public for what he calls Fan Appreciation Weekends where people can visit Neutral Zone Studios, walk around those amazing sets, and take photos to their hearts’ content. Fan visitors often attend in costume, and that brings us to today’s blog. Ray Tesi tells the story…

One of the things that The Neutral Zone likes to offer fans is the opportunity to work on a fan film, either in front of or behind the camera. In November 2021, two women came to our Fan Appreciation Weekend in cosplay and were doppelgängers for Michael Burnham and Sylvia Tilly from STAR TREK: DISCOVERY!

My first reaction upon seeing them was: “I have to put you in a fan film!” Within four weeks, I had written the story (a TOS/Discovery crossover), and we filmed in March 2022. These women had never acted before, but they knew their lines and hit every mark as if they were seasoned professionals.

We premiered WHEN DUTY CALLS as an online event with an interactive Zoom call that followed. Whether you’re a fan of ST:Disco or not, these women deserve your undivided attention…

And now that you’ve seen this fan film, let’s chat with “Michael Burnham” and “Sylvia Tilly” themselves, LISA LAKE and RACHEL KAYS…

Continue reading “Two ST: DISCOVERY cosplayers get “drafted” into the NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS fan film “WHEN DUTY CALLS” (interview with LISA LAKE and RACHEL KAYS)”