R.I.P. – STEVE “KORATH” ATWELL (1967-2023)

It is always a sad moment for the Star Trek fan film community when one of our own embarks on a final journey to what Shakespeare called “…the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” Earlier this week, cosplayer STEVE ATWELL, who played the role of the Klingon Korath in multiple episodes of VANCE MAJOR’s CONSTAR CHRONICLES saga, passed away at the too-young age of 56 after battling an illness that he could not defeat.

Vance contacted me yesterday to ask if I would write a blog about Steve and noting his passing. Unfortunately, I did not know Steve and never even met him, and aside from watching his performances as Korath and occasional appearances on the CRITICAL NOT CYNICAL video podcast, I knew nothing about this unique man. So I suggested that Vance, who was quite close to Steve as both director and friend, write Steve’s eulogy, and I would publish it here.

I now turn the blog over to Vance Major…


Vance Major with Steve Atwell

My loyalty is to my house, as your loyalty is….

– Krorath (“Much Afraid”)

How do you sum up the life of one man into a few paragraphs? You can’t. Something is going to be overlooked. All I can tell you is what Steve Atwell meant to me and his impact on this community. He is known by so many of us as “Fan Films’ Greatest Klingon” for a reason: he lived the part so much.

I met Steve a few years ago at TOPCON when STARBASE STUDIOS had been part of the event, and I was asked to help out with the bridge there. As people from every fanbase walked by, I noticed this cosplay of a Klingon that was so detailed that I had to know who guy was.

I followed Steve around for a while before approaching him, as he is a pretty intimidating guy…especially in Klingon garb! But he was so warm and receptive to me and my questions. We discussed what I was doing in fan films and his involvement in cosplay and exchanged information.

It was a little over a year before I actually was able to get him into a film, as I was still new to creating my films at the time. But he took to it really well, and we became fast friends. I trusted him to change dialog if it didn’t fit what a Klingon would say, as he was not just an actor, he was a guy with experience with Klingon culture. It stemmed from cosplaying for years as the character of Krorath. He lived this. When I brought Steve on, it was not me making the character of Krorath for him, it was more like we were bringing his character of Krorath from cosplay into the fan films, and it worked. We had a trust that I began to put on screen that was very much behind our characters…a bond, if you will.

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AVALON UNIVERSE releases THE TRUTH WITHIN and then shoots THREE new fan films SIMULTANEOUSLY! (video interview with JOSH IRWIN, TYLER DUNIVAN, and VANCE MAJOR)

if showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN and his team from THE AVALON UNIVERSE can shoot three different and highly complex fan films simultaneously, then I can definitely do a blog that covers two things at the same time, right?

Those two things are 1) the release late last year of a new Avalon Universe fan film THE TRUTH WITHIN, starring CHUCK MERÉ as Captain Lance Ramirez and VANCE MAJOR as Engineer Erick Minard, and 2) Team Avalon’s current efforts to wrap up their fan series by tackling not one, not two, but THREE ambitious fan films all at once!

First, let me show you their latest fan film…

For those unfamiliar with the Avalon Universe, Chuck Meré joined the cast for their second episode, AVALON LOST, which also marked the departure of series lead TYLER DUNIVAN. Chuck stayed for two additional episodes, DEMONS and AIR AND DARKNESS, before departing the series along with co-star VICTORIA FOX. Tyler Dunivan returned to the series shortly thereafter with the episode COSMIC STREAM.

Meanwhile, Vance Major is a bit of a legend of Star Trek fan films, having written, produced,edited, directed, and/or starred in a total of 146(!!!) Star Trek fan films featuring his character of Erick Minard and the U.S.S. Constar. Many of his fan films feature interstellar “Facetime calls” between two or more characters, which are pretty easy to shoot (just record your lines into your computer or camera phone at home!). And indeed, The Truth Within looks more like a Minard/CONSTAR CHRONICLES fan film than a typical Avalon production.

Lots of questions abound, like why that simplified format, and does this mean that Chuck Meré is returning to Avalon or just making a cameo appearance? I ask both of those questions during this blog’s video interview below.

The second thing we chat about is something that I personally find even more intriguing. As some Avalon fans know (and are a little saddened by), the series will soon be coming to an end. The Truth Within marks the eleventh Avalon fan film (watch them all on this playlist), and only three more episodes remain: KNIGHTS OF THE VOID, CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALBURS, and THE ONCE AND FUTURE CAPTAIN. (Dontcha just love the Arthurian titles?)

And these aren’t “little” episodes!

Knights is full of action and adventure. Crisis is a huge undertaking crossing realities with the same actors playing multiple characters from different universes and sci-fi franchises. (And thanks to Josh for letting me add a couple of fun characters to the script, including a “Space Elvis” tribute to STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES‘s show-runner JAMES CAWLEY. You’re all going to love this character!) And Once and Future Captain is a gripping and poignant series finale with a huge cast.

But rather than shooting these three films one at a time, Josh has decided to produce them all simultaneously. And we’re not talking about taking a long weekend to work on the first film Friday, the second on Saturday, and the third on Sunday. No, sir!

Continue reading “AVALON UNIVERSE releases THE TRUTH WITHIN and then shoots THREE new fan films SIMULTANEOUSLY! (video interview with JOSH IRWIN, TYLER DUNIVAN, and VANCE MAJOR)”

JOSHUA IRWIN sings (well, writes) the praises of TEAM AVALON!

Did you ever wonder why we use the term “PAYING a compliment”? After all, compliments have no monetary value. You can’t use a compliment to put gas in you tank or cover your rent. And it certainly doesn’t cost anything to “pay” someone a compliment. Compliments are 100% free! And yet, compliments do have value, especially in today’s world when so many of us often feel unacknowledged and taken for granted.

The Star Trek fan film guidelines state that the people working on fan productions can’t be professional. Since many professionals in the entertainment industry do work on fan films—including JOSHUA IRWIN, the force behind the AVALON UNIVERSE fan series—most showrunners interpret that rule as meaning you can’t pay people to work on your fan film (other than covering gas, lodging, meals, and/or traveling costs). So if you can’t pay your cast and crew in money, how about at least paying them in compliments?

Many showrunners do praise their teams in interviews that I feature here on Fan Film Factor, often calling out individuals by name for their contributions. But recently, Josh Irwin took the concept one step further. After a series of grueling shoots for multiple fan films, including one during the cold-snap in January where the mercury dropped to 25 degrees inside the WARP 66 studio facility(!!!), Josh decided to thank each member of his team one-by-one in personalized Facebook posts accompanied with some very cool images.

Josh wrote a number of very nice things about each one of them, and as I read those posts, I thought that they were special enough to deserve a little “extra” coverage here on the blog. Credit where it’s due, right? Actually, Josh said it best in this quote he asked me to include with the blog: “No one wants to work really hard on a project and feel like what they did wasn’t noticed or appreciated. Films are made by the efforts of A LOT of people, and everyone has an important part to play. To me, it’s personal—they’re helping me make a dream come true, and I’m never not going to express my gratitude.”

In addition to writing all these complimentary posts, Josh also included a selection of still frames from the three upcoming Avalon Universe films plus some behind-the-scenes photos. So while I certainly hope you folks will take the time to read what Josh wrote (as his team really does deserve to have others know more about them and their efforts), at the very least, you’ll have a chance to scan through these amazing images to get a good idea of how awesome these new three episodes will look!

So as not to play favorites, I’ll present Josh’s posts (both text and images) in alphabetical order…

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VANCE MAJOR concludes CONSTAR! (some final thoughts from me)

It’s the end of an era.

Granted, that “era” has only been going on since 2016 or thereabouts, but it seems like so much longer! And maybe that’s because, over the past seven years, VANCE MAJOR (Owen is his middle name) has produced and released a total of 146(!!!) Star Trek fan films featuring his character of Erick Minard (in all its many iterations!) as well as a bevy of recurring characters, cameos by a who’s who of other fan filmmakers (including myself), and even his own 5-year-old son Royce…who has been appearing in Vance’s films literally since infancy.

And that doesn’t include Vance’s appearances in other fan series like STARSHIP VALIANT and THE AVALON UNIVERSE. Vance has been a staple of our fan film community this entire time, and his parade of new releases—sometimes coming almost weekly!—provided a recurring reminder that Star Trek fan films come as much from the heart as from the camera.

Of course, Vance’s stuff isn’t to everyone’s taste, and I totally get that. His production budgets are ridiculously humble (like, “Buddy, can ya spare some change?” humble), the quality modest at best, and the acting as likely to be hit as miss. More often than not, there’s limited if any “action,” and the more recent films (especially since COVID) have been little more than a series of interstellar Skype calls as two people have a conversation. “The Best of Both Worlds” or “Sacrifice of Angels” these fan films are most assuredly not!

But what they are, in my opinion, is a form of poetry. Vance presents his thoughts, feelings, observations, perspectives, concerns, triumphs, frustrations, dreams, and passions through his films. Most poets don’t need much more than a pen and paper (or keyboard). For Vance, it also means a camera phone, Starfleet uniform, and video editing software. But the idea and the goal is the same: to share a part of himself with others.

Some of us enjoy that sharing and don’t mind seeing the cord in the doorway or not being able to hear bits of the dialog because of the wind. We don’t mind seeing 20th and 21st century cars and trucks, or clothes and baseball caps that look like they were bought at Target, appearing in a story set centuries in the future. That’s never been what Vance’s poetry has been about. Instead, it was always about using Star Trek to speak his truth…for those interested in listening.

And even though it was never Vance’s primary intention, his fan films also served as inspiration for others for make fan films of their own. If Vance didn’t care about top-tier production quality or jaw-dropping sizzle, then how important was it really? If you have a story you want to tell, then hey, just do do it.

Continue reading “VANCE MAJOR concludes CONSTAR! (some final thoughts from me)”

A ONE-OF-KIND documentary celebrates VANCE MAJOR and his 9-YEAR mission in FAN FILMMAKING!

My first reaction was, “FOUR HOURS???? Vance, are you kidding me?” He wasn’t kidding.

And as I began watching a courtesy viewing copy of the documentary CONSTAR: BOLDLY GOING, I began to understand why. I’d sat through over an hour before taking my first break and finished it off in its entirety over the next few days. The behind-the-scenes film is surprisingly watchable, but more importantly, it represents the very heart of what makes our “little” fan film community so unique and special.

And the reason for that is that VANCE MAJOR also represents the heart of our fan film community. At a time when Star Trek fan films were getting bigger, bolder, and much more expensive—so much so that CBS and Paramount instituted a set of guidelines to curtail the “space race,” as they called it—Vance came out just as boldly and went both small and cheap! He wasn’t trying to compete with the big guys or even to send some kind of message to them to spend less on their productions.

No, instead Vance was simply saying, “Hey, I’d like to show you my stories, too, but I don’t have any money. So I’m just going to do my best, and if you like what I make, great. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too. I’m doing it for me.”

And that was about 150 fan films ago!

In the years since Vance first portrayed the character of Erick Minard, Chief Engineer of the STARSHIP VALIANT, he’s worked with nearly every fan filmmaker in the community, having inspired many of them to “just go for it.” If Vance didn’t care if there was a cord visible in the doorway in the background of a shot, or if half the lights on the bridge were out, or the sound was bad or the uniforms didn’t quite fit the actors, why should anyone else be bothered by it? These are FAN films, and they’re made for FUN.

Now, as Vance prepares to pull the U.S.S. Constar into space dock one final time and complete his career creating Star Trek fan films, he’s decided to once again go where no fan has gone before and produce a documentary about not just one or two fan films but an entire MAGNUM OPUS of work…viewed not solely through Vance’s own eyes but through the thoughts, memories, and experiences of those he has worked with over the years…including me and dozens of others.

I thought about interviewing Vance as he brings this epoch of his life in for a landing. But anything we discuss would only pall in comparison to the release of his 4-hour documentary, which will premiere on Sunday, July 3rd at noon central time. Here is the link…

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Welcome back, Parker! Prodigal fan filmmaker returns with CROSSROADS: THE GEMINI PROJECT (video interview with FRANK PARKER, JR.)

Report two casualties: Commodore Sam Grissom, Actor FRANK PARKER, JR.

Correction: they’re not casualties. They are…list them as “missing.”

That’s the way it seemed back in 2016. Frank Parker, Jr. had become a prominent name in the fan film community. Appearing in THE ROMULAN WARS fan series in 2012, he had gone on to help build sets that were used for both STARSHIP FARRAGUT and STAR TREK CONTINUES. In fact, Frank briefly appeared in the penultimate episode of Farragut, “The Crossing.”

But what Frank was really becoming known for was the debut of a new fan series filmed on the Farragut/STC sets in Kingsland, GA: DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. Frank played Commodore Sam Grissom of the titular starship, as bald as Jean-Luc Picard and plagued by a troubled past. Two episodes, “Haunted” and “Anchors Aweigh,” promised another fine addition to the world of Star Trek fan films with Frank as showrunner. But then, seemingly without any warning, Frank completely disappeared from the fan film community without a trace! POOF!!!

Fortunately, Dreadnought Dominion found a way to carry on without their lead actor and creator. GARY DAVIS and RANDY WRENN took over the series, releasing nearly a dozen follow-up episodes, including a crossover with STARSHIP VALIANT titled “Chain of Command,” which dealt with the aftermath of Commodore Grissom’s sudden departure.

Fast forward five years to early 2021.

As quickly as he disappeared, Frank reappeared in the Star Trek fan film world, almost as if he’d simply beamed down somewhere and beamed back half a decade later. And although Dreadnought Dominion had moved on, Frank appeared in an episode titled “The Passenger with Baggage” to tie up many loose ends and bring closure for most of the characters, including his.

But Frank’s return didn’t stop there. Frank has since formed an alliance, of sorts, with VANCE MAJOR of the MINARD and CONSTAR saga of fan films, partnering Frank’s FILK FERRET PRODUCTIONS with Vance’s NO BUDGET PRODUCTIONS to create multiple fan films. These have included the following for CONSTAR COMPLETED episodes released between March and June of this year:

Sam Grissom also appeared in a flashback during the alternate 24th century timeline fan film WASTELAND, released this past March. Plus, a Kelvin timeline version of Sam Grissom appeared in the 47-minute long MINARD 2: HEMORRHAGE released in June and the recent Dominion/Constar crossover fan film CALM, COOL, & COLLECTED released in July.

Whew!

If you don’t want to watch all of the above, Frank and Vance compiled a “highlight reel” titled THE STORY SO FAR GRISSOM ADVENTURES. It serves as a user primer…

A primer for what, you ask?

Continue reading “Welcome back, Parker! Prodigal fan filmmaker returns with CROSSROADS: THE GEMINI PROJECT (video interview with FRANK PARKER, JR.)”

COVID takes the life of a fan filmmaker, sends another to intensive care…if you’re coming back from Las Vegas, PLEASE get tested ASAP!

Y’know how sometimes in movies and TV shows (even Star Trek), they give you a “fake out” ending where you think the good guys have won, but suddenly the villain escapes or comes back to life or something and there’s an even bigger challenge to the hero leading up to the exciting climax?

Welcome to the summer of 2021.

A year ago, operation “Warp Speed” seemed to be our only hope to overcome this incomprehensible global pandemic. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths were reaching terrifyingly historic levels, and those of us who weren’t calling the whole thing a hoax were praying daily that a vaccine could be developed in the nick of time the way Dr. McCoy used to do on Star Trek.

Then we got the vaccine—four of them, in fact!—Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca, and many people took their shot(s). But almost inconceivably, many did not. Actually, it’s not so inconceivable when you consider that the name “Warp Speed” carries with it the implication that the vaccines were rushed out rather than what really happened…which was actually building on a vaccination technology that had been decades in the making and testing and just needed a push over the finish line.

Remember how everything seemed to be so honky-dory this past July 4 when infections and hospitalizations (and deaths!) finally started to drop to encouraging levels? Many cities with mask mandates had already dropped them for outdoor activities and were starting to lift them for indoor areas, as well.

But then, the Delta Variant arrived. It sounds so sci-fi, doesn’t it? Trekkies know “delta” as the quadrant of the galaxy that Voyager was stuck in for seven seasons. And “variants” are a big thing in the Marvel Universe thanks to the events of Loki. But don’t let the familiar-sounding terms lull you into a false sense of security because the Delta Variant of COVID-19 is deadly serious.

Michael Sylvester (right) with Vance Major in 2016

Just how deadly serious hit home to the fan film community this past week with the announcement of the passing of MICHAEL SYLVESTER from Coronavirus. Michael lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and before anyone says, “Oh, he must have been one of those anti-vaxxers/COVID-is-a-hoax idiots,” Michael took the virus VERY seriously. He always wore a mask in public (even in a state where such a thing is sometimes mocked), washed his hands constantly, and according to his close friend ERIC L. WATTS, Michael was indeed vaccinated.

A man celebrated and loved for having a big heart and wonderful sense of humor, Michael has been involved in the fan film community for a long time, working on the crew of STAR TREK: RENEGADES back in 2014-2015. Later on, he appeared in seven of VANCE MAJOR’s early MINARD saga fan films and then starred in the two-part MELBORNE fan film “Storm Front” in 2017 and 2018…

Continue reading “COVID takes the life of a fan filmmaker, sends another to intensive care…if you’re coming back from Las Vegas, PLEASE get tested ASAP!”

MINARD joins the AVALON UNIVERSE in “NEW ORDERS” (interview with VANCE MAJOR and JOSH IRWIN)

There’s a lot of love and camaraderie in the fan film community. That’s one of the reasons that I enjoy creating and maintaining this blog. Oh, sure, there’s also some trolls and drama and silly “feuds,” but honestly, I don’t really pay much attention to all of that anymore because it’s pretty meaningless.

What is meaningful—with the emphasis on the FULL part—is all the positivity that Star Trek fan films bring…because when it comes right down to it, we’re FANS. It’s what got me involved in the world of Star Trek to begin with, knowing there was this group of people who loved something that I loved, too, that we could share and bond over…no matter our backgrounds or location or anything else that might separate us. Star Trek brought us TOGETHER!

And that’s why I cheered when I saw this new vignette from the AVALON UNIVERSE

NEW ORDERS might not seem like much. There’s minimal VFX, and only two characters are talking to each other via subspace for most of it, with a third popping up at the very end. But for me, it was so much more—it was a chance for me to watch two dear friends come together to make a fan film.

JOSHUA IRWIN and VANCE MAJOR have worked together before this. Josh (as well as his Avalon Universe collaborator VICTORIA FOX) has appeared in some of Vance’s CONSTAR productions, like “SHAKEDOWN.” And Vance made a very brief cameo in the Avalon Universe episode DEMONS. But this time felt different. New Orders wasn’t simply one of them appearing briefly in the other’s film. It was two fan filmmakers who have become “legends” in our small-but-close-knit community, coming together as equals, and teasing the arrival of an awesome fan-favorite character into a fresh, new universe.

The fun thing about the Avalon Universe is that it’s Star Trekish but without five decades of canon weighing it down…kinda like what Star Trek: Discovery coulda/shoulda been had they just told us from the beginning that it was a parallel Trek universe (then most of us would have forgiven the different-looking Klingons and shiny uniforms and super-advanced tech). So characters from “standard” Star Trek fan films can pop up in the Avalon Universe in completely new ways. In fact, Captain Jakande, who died in my AXANAR Universe fan film INTERLUDE, will be making an appearance in an upcoming Avalon fan film, alive and healthy and played by actor WARREN HAWK.

As most of you probably know, Josh and Victoria were my directors on Interlude, and I consider both to be good friends. We often spend hours on the phone. The same is true for Vance, for whom a “short” call between the two of us is defined as anything under an hour!

So when I saw Josh and Vance having their own subspace “call” in New Orders, I decided to ask them both to say a few words about this new project…

Continue reading “MINARD joins the AVALON UNIVERSE in “NEW ORDERS” (interview with VANCE MAJOR and JOSH IRWIN)”

The history of STARSHIP VALIANT! (Part 2)

In Part 1, we met MICHAEL L. KING from Oklahoma, considered by many to be one of the nicest, most agreeable and helpful folks in the fan filmmaking community. Back in 2013, Michael got involved with a group of local fans planning to launch a new fan series called STARSHIP AJAX to be filmed at STARBASE STUDIOS. The folks who ran the facility, originally located in Oklahoma City, had moved the deteriorating remnants of the TOS bridge set that had been used for the second episode of STARSHIP EXETER and then worked to restore and expand them into Trek fandom’s first and only 360-degree TOS bridge set.

Sadly, the Ajax team never really got themselves going, but Michael—who had initially signed up as a volunteer on that project—was able to launch a fan series of his own called STARSHIP VALIANT. His intention was to focus Valiant‘s stories more on the characters than the action. And although the initial script that Michael wrote, “LEGACY,” began with a space battle, the fight quickly ends, leaving the rest of the episode to focus on the aftermath and how some of the main characters try to deal with it.

Joined by director and editor BRADY FOSTER, Michael and his team were able to film “Legacy” in late 2013 and complete the project by the summer of 2014, where it debuted at the central Oklahoma SoonerCon convention before being posted to YouTube just afterwards. This is what was released…

The new fan series was warmly welcomed into the Star Trek fan film community, and the following year in 2015, Michael was contacted by SoonerCon organizer AISLINN BURROWS asking if he’d like to show “Legacy” again during the convention at the end of June. Michael was more than happy to accept the invitation, but then he had a thought. In the almost-year since “Legacy” had debuted, it had gotten many YouTube views, and fans were pretty familiar with it. But imagine their surprise if the version they saw at the convention included brand new footage!

Continue reading “The history of STARSHIP VALIANT! (Part 2)”

A tale of two CONSTAR Gregs, Part 2: GREG MITCHELL (audio interview)

Last week, I shined the Fan Film Factor on one of the two Gregs who went from being an actor in VANCE MAJOR’s CONSTAR CHRONICLES to being a writer/director/editor of a full episode. This week, we shift over to the other Constar Greg, GREG MITCHELL.

Greg Mitchell, as you’ll see from the audio interview below, had a slightly different journey. He was an editor on various Constar fan films throughout 2019, and like GREG TEFT (the “other” Greg), Vance offered him the opportunity to move beyond editor and “take the con” on Constar.

Greg Mitchell actually wrote and directed two Constar episodes, but one wasn’t really a Constar production. “Splashdown” was a fan film produced by Greg back in 2014, which he directed and co-wrote featuring the crew of the U.S.S. Splashdown journeying to a backwater planet that looks mostly like a house and backyard. But hey, that’s the fun of do-it-yourself fan films! A Constar Chronicles framing sequence was added around the original fan film and unveiled as part of Vance’s 40-episode release last December.

Take a look…

Also included in the mass-release was a brand new Constar Chronicles episode, again directed by Greg Mitchell and co-written by Greg and Vance together. Greg edited it, of course. The fan film is a classic “stranger in the house” scenario with an unexpected twist. Greg stars in this 17-minute production along with MARY JANE BLYSTONE, who does a fabulous job and makes the film very enjoyable to watch…

Again, I had a very nice chat with Greg, discussing his filmmaking history, editing in particular, and his experiences working with both Vance and members of the Constar cast. Have a listen…

And if you listened to the entire interview and are curious to see my cameo at the end of the Constar Chronicles episode “The Phantom,” click here to view it.