There’s something NEW to view at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS! (interview with RAY TESI)

The amazing TOS sets at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA got their start back in 2008 when the fan series STARSHIP FARRAGUT began building some of their own sets. They didn’t want to have to continue borrowing JAMES CAWLEY’s sets in upstate New York (where they’d filmed scenes for their second episode “For Want of a Nail”). By 2009, they had an awesome shuttlecraft set interior plus a transporter room, turbolift, captain’s quarters, and a corridor…and they were about to start work on a bridge set!

The original location for these sets was a small building in the lovely city of St. Marys, GA (the second oldest city in America) just north of the border between Georgia and Florida. The facility was dubbed “Studio One” and hosted the first-ever fan series “open house” on April 17, 2009. At the time, this is what those sets looked like…

By the time of their second “open house” on December 4, 2010, the bridge set looked like this…

A year later, two big announcements came. The first was that VIC MIGNOGNA (who had joined the Farragut Films team to direct their third full-length episode “The Price of Anything,”) was going to be taking over creative direction and film crew operations not only for Starship Farragut but also for a new fan series starring Vic as Captain Kirk to be titled STAR TREK CONTINUES. The second announcement was that the sets were going to be moved to a new facility 10 miles away in nearby Kingsland, GA with nearly four times the square footage. There, in the newly-dubbed “Studio Two,” the TOS sets would be expanded. And by 2013, nearly all of the original Star Trek sets that existed back in the 1960s at Paramount Studios had been recreated…with the notable exception of Engineering.

But that set addition would happen in 2015 after a very successful second STC Kickstarter (what they called a “Kirkstarter”) brought in $215K, which was enough to fund the construction of most of Engineering plus a buy-out of the sets from Farragut Films (the two fan productions officially parted ways later in the year), pay the next year’s rent, and produce two new episodes in 2015.

STC finished their run in 2017 with the release of their tenth and eleventh episodes. But Vic Mignogna was still covering the $4,000/month rent to house these beautiful sets that he and this fan series no longer needed. Vic couldn’t continue paying this expense indefinitely, but thanks to super-fan RAY TESI, Vic’s problem was solved.

In February of 2018, Ray bought the sets from Vic, took over the monthly rent from his retirement savings, and opened up the sets to all fan films to use for a nominal daily fee. The sets were renamed Stage 9 Studios, a name that was subsequently changed to Neutral Zone Studios the following February after a virtual reality group in the UK calling itself “Stage 9” was shut down by CBS for trying to create an unlicensed VR walkthrough of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D.

And that’s the story so far…

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JAMES CAWLEY releases the unfinished STAR TREK: PHASE II “Origins: The Protracted Man”!

It’s been five years since fans have seen anything new from STAR TREK: PHASE II (a.k.a. STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES). The most recent completed Phase II episode to debut was “The Holiest Thing” in January of 2016. But that changed last week with the unexpected release of a never-completed episode filmed way back in 2010-2011: “Origins: The Protracted Man,” directed by DAVID GERROLD and co-written by him along with Trek novelist DAVE GALANTER.

Phase II founder and show-runner JAMES CAWLEY had announced, shortly before the unveiling of the fan film guidelines by CBS in June of 2016, that Phase II would cease all fan film production. Then two weeks after the guidelines came out, James announced that his TOS sets in Ticonderoga, NY would become a brand new, licensed STAR TREK Original Series SET TOUR.

Fans were certainly excited by the opportunity to walk these amazing TOS set recreations that had previously been reserved only for fan filmmakers and special guests. But what about the episodes of Phase II that had already been filmed (or partially filmed)? Would these be completed and released? There were still three unfinished Phase II projects: “Bread and Savagery” (a sequel to the TOS episode “Bread and Circuses), “Torment of Destiny” (a sequel to “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” and featuring the now-deceased RICHARD HATCH), and “Origins: The Protracted Man.”

The answer seemed to be that these three episodes would forever remain in limbo. None was in any condition to be released (or so we were told), and with Retro Studios in upstate New York now turned into a licensed set tour, James didn’t appear to be in interested in having any of these remaining Phase II projects completed. In fact, in the case of “Bread and Savagery,” the director, MARK BURCHETT, had passed away in 2014. Certain actors were also no longer available, and in some cases, the footage that had been filmed wasn’t shot properly (camera and/or sound issues), and wouldn’t be usable…and reshoots were rather problematic.

And so these three episodes remained hidden away, inaccessible to fans beyond this really exciting trailer for “Torment of Destiny” and this equally exciting trailer for “Origins: The Protracted Man” (along with a couple of scene clips, including one of Kirk’s Koybashi Maru test and another in sickbay).

Jeff Johnson as Finnegan…just as annoying as we imagined!

Fan were desperate to see more, as these two episodes looked amazing. They were also quite special for other reasons. In addition to “Torment of Destiny” featuring the late RICHARD HATCH, “Origins” featured actor COLIN CUNNINGHAM as Christopher Pike (Cunningham’s extensive Hollywood career includes recurring and regular roles in such series as Stargate SG-1, Falling Skies, and Preacher). Also, voice-over actor JEFF JOHNSON turned in such an amazing performance as Cadet Finnegan that you would’ve sworn they’d managed to kidnap original Finnegan actor BRUCE MARS by beaming him through time!

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Get a virtual tour of NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS from VIC MIGNOGNA today at 7:30pm Eastern Time!

One of the wonders of the fan film world is the incredibly detailed TOS sets at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA. For the past two years, owner RAY TESI has been offering open house fan appreciation weekends when Trekkers from all over the globe could come to tour the facility. Right now, however, the pandemic prevents that from happening. In fact, it prevents any in-person convention from happening.

But not virtual online ones.

Since Wednesday, VIRTUAL TREK CON has been appearing on a computer or smart device near you! And already, thousands of people have tuned in to see and ask questions of celebrity guests from all eras and series of Star Trek…everyone from actors like TIM RUSS, ARMIN SHIMERMAN, MICHELLE HURD, GARY GRAHAM, DOUG JONES and over a dozen others to behind-the-camera folks like IRA BEHR, ROBERT HEWITT WOLFE, and DOUG DREXLER. The full guest list is 34 people! And it’s all absolutely free…you don’t even have to sign up for a mailing list!

Today (Sunday) at 7:30pm Eastern Time, Neutral Zone Studios will be taking its turn as a Virtual Trek Con event with a special live tour of all the sets hosted by STAR TREK CONTINUES show-runner VIC MIGNOGNA, who will be taking family friendly, respectful questions submitted by viewers (so no questions about you-know-what) . Fans are encouraged to submit questions that may be answered live on air in the comments of the live broadcast chat.

Vic will share stories about the fan films that have been made at that studio and (according to the Virtual Trek Con website) have special guests joining to tell their stories and lend their expertise and advice on filmmaking.

The hour-long online event will also celebrate STC‘s Mr. Sulu, actor GRANT IMAHARA, who passed away unexpectedly last Monday. Vic will spotlight Grant’s achievements and the special contributions he made to both the Trek community and the sci-fi community as a whole. 

You can access the live virtual event on Sunday July 19th, 2020 at 7:30pm Eastern Time at the following link:

www.facebook.com/events/s/neutral-zone-studios-live-at-v


There will also be a special message from actress NICHELLE NICHOLS (“Uhura” on TOS) to her fans immediately before the Neutral Zone Studios event at 7:15pm Eastern Time on Sunday.

The folks over at the Atomic Network (creators of RENEGADES) recorded Nichelle and were going to release the video to the public, and the timing was right to have it done during Virtual Trek Con. So you can watch this announcement from our inspirational lady of communications at either of the following links before it goes out to the rest of the public:

The Aron Eisenberg Stage: https://youtu.be/6VIQk_MDShE
The Rene Auberjonois Stage: https://youtu.be/hGTi8mY94Nc

LET OLD WRINKLES COME – a childhood dream come true! (interview with BENNY HALL, part 2)

Last time, we began chatting with BENNY HALL, who seemed to have come out of nowhere to release a $50,000 Star Trek fan film shot at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, GA, as well as at the iconic Vasquez Rocks in Southern California. That money was NOT crowd-funded, by the way. Benny paid it out of pocket…and thereby was he able to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. And isn’t that what fan films are all about: living our dreams?

Benny was accompanied on his journey—his trek, if you will—by some veterans of the much-loved fan series STAR TREK CONTINUES, including VIC MIGNOGNA, LISA HANSELL, TIM VITTETOE, and ADRIENNE WILKINSON…as well as some friends, volunteers, and a few industry professionals (and one very convincing Mugato!).

The result was an impressive production made even more so by the fact that Benny had not previously been involved with the creation of any Star Trek fan film before…

When the film was completed, and before it was released onto YouTube, Benny held a private screening at a theater in Los Angeles, inviting cast and crew and special guests to view the film on a big screen. (And yes, the fan film guidelines don’t forbid that…as long as no admission fee is charged.) He is already working hard to crowd-fund his second $50,000 Star Trek project (this time he is asking for donations), but more on that later.

When last we left off, Benny was discussing filming the Mugato scenes at Vasquez Rocks. And that led to the following question from me…

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LET OLD WRINKLES COME – a childhood dream come true! (interview with BENNY HALL, part 1)

As Willy Wonka’s great glass Wonkavator soared over the countryside, the candy-maker looked into the face of the boy who would be inheriting his amazing factory. “But Charlie,” he said with great seriousness, “don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted…”

“What happened?” Charlie asked.

Willy smiled, “He lived happily ever after.”

That scene played out in my mind as I read over the answers that brand new Star Trek fan filmmaker BENNY HALL sent back to me. When everything else is stripped away, fan films are the chance we adults get to live out the fantasies we had as children. We are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams. And Benny Hall is the very epitome of what fan films are all about. You’ll discover that as you read the heartfelt and uplifting interview below.

But first, a little about LET OLD WRINKLES COME, a 16-minute fan film shot both at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, GA as well as at the iconic Vasquez Rocks Park north of Los Angeles where Kirk fought the Gorn and Vulcan was destroyed by Nero. But this time, Kirk isn’t fighting a Gorn—he’s fighting a Mugato! Take a look…

The fan film has a real flavor of the 1960s TOS Star Trek, right down to Kirk putting the moves on a female crew member. I mention this because, what seemed totally normal five decades ago as Kirk regularly hit on crew women like Yeoman Rand, Dr. Helen Noel, and Lt. Marlena Moreau has been supplanted by the #MeToo movement. And while Let Old Wrinkles Comes has generally been getting very positive feedback, Kirk’s romantic overtures toward a female crew member in this fan film are stirring up a bit of controversy.

Another notable item is that Let Old Wrinkles Come marks the return of VIC MIGNOGNA to the credits of a Trek fan film for the first time since STAR TREK CONTINUES ended its 11-episode run in late 2017. And it wasn’t only Vic who returned. STC alumni LISA HANSELL and TIM VITTETOE (make-up) and Ralph Miller (sound-mixing) signed aboard, as well. So did ADRIENNE WILKINSON, who played Lexxa Singh in STAR TREK: RENEGADES as well as Edith Keeler in the fourth episode of STC, “The White Iris.”

Just before being posted to YouTube, Benny hosted a red carpet premiere of the film at a Los Angeles theater for the cast and crew and selected guests. And yes, there’s nothing in the fan film guidelines preventing that (as long as it’s a free screening). However, that’s still rare treatment for a Star Trek fan film, so I made certain to ask Benny about that later in the interview.

One last thing, Benny is currently crowd-funding his second fan film, TEARS OF J’KAH. His goal is an ambitious $50,000, but he’s already near $6,000. If you’d like to donate, please click below…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/funding-for-tears-of-j-kah-a-star-trek-fan-film#/

And now, let’s chat with Benny Hall…

Continue reading “LET OLD WRINKLES COME – a childhood dream come true! (interview with BENNY HALL, part 1)”

Why I am NOT “neutral” about NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS…

I need to clear the air regarding myself and NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS, the TOS sets in Kingsland, GA that were originally used for STARSHIP FARRAGUT, later used for STAR TREK CONTINUES, and were recently purchased by RAY TESI and opened up to any fan filmmaker who wanted to use them, was able to pay $300/day, and was willing to follow the fan film guidelines.

I want to state for the record that I wholeheartedly SUPPORT Neutral Zone Studios and encourage anyone who is a fan of Star Trek fan films to support them, as well, through their Patreon campaign:

https://www.patreon.com/neutralzonestudios

As many of you know, I was originally scheduled to film two of my scenes for my fan film INTERLUDE there. Ray Tesi was 100% on board. In fact, when I was considering bringing my son Jayden to Georgia watch the shoots, Ray told me that he’d make sure the entire studio was lit up (all the lights and buttons) before we arrived so that when Jayden walked in, the first thing he’d see would be the USS Enterprise in all of its glory. Ray was even going to see if he could manage to drive up for the day from Florida to finally meet me in person and watch the shoot.

But over Memorial Day weekend at Neutral Zone Studios‘ Fan Appreciation Weekend 2, Ray informed my directors, JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX (who were there shooting interviews with VIC MIGNOGNA, MICHELLE SPECHT, and CHRIS DOOHAN to help promote the studio’s Patreon campaign) that Interlude was no longer welcome to use the sets.

Although ALEC PETERS, who was similarly banned, accused Vic of being the reason for Ray’s sudden change of heart, Star Trek Continues make-up artist, LISA HANSELL, posted this comment on Facebook the Monday after the event…

Now, all things considered, I should probably feel angry, hurt, insulted, frustrated…and to be honest, I did feel those emotions quite deeply for a short time. But I moved past it.

However, something happened this past weekend that has left me wondering if others haven’t let this go as I have. And I now feel that it’s important to state publicly that I have forgiven Ray and Lisa and (if he was involved in the decision) Vic…and anyone else who pressured Ray Tesi into changing his mind about letting my production film at NZS.

So what happened this past weekend?

Continue reading “Why I am NOT “neutral” about NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS…”

NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS Patreon is ON FIRE!

Man, I hope nobody misread that headline as “NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS is ON FIRE!” No, no, no…that is NOT what’s happening!

But what is happening is that donations are coming into their Patreon campaign at an awesome pace! It was barely three weeks ago that I published a blog marveling at a single donor committing to pay more than $800/month(!!!) to help keep the rent, utilities, maintenance, and insurance paid on the building housing the amazing TOS sets that had first been used for both Starship Farragut and Star Trek Continues.

After purchasing the sets from VIC MIGNOGNA in late 2017, uber-fan RAY TESI decided to open up the renamed NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA to any fan filmmaker wanting to shoot there (cost is $300/day). Already, Dreadnought Dominion, Ghost Ship, and the upcoming Constar Chronicles have all shot there…with more projects scheduled soon, including an appearance by NICHELLE NICHOLS for the proposed documentary about her amazing life and career.

The sets were also opened up to the general public for a weekend last October and will be opened up again this coming weekend for Fan Appreciation Weekend 2. (It’s free to attend, and you can still sign up here.)

But while they say the best things in life are free, in this case, someone has definitely been paying for the “free”—Ray Tesi himself. Considered by many (including me) to be one of the nicest guys in our fan film community, Ray has been paying the costs for this studio out of his retirement savings for the last year and a half. That’s about $3,500/month or $42,000/year.

Think about that number for a second. Ray isn’t a Kardashian (or even a Cardassian). He’s just a nice guy with a modest income and some decent savings wanting to keep these unbelievably beautiful and important sets out of the dumpster.

Continue reading “NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS Patreon is ON FIRE!”

NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS nearly doubles its Patreon total with an unexpected $800/MONTH donor!

As you might remember from my recent blog, NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingland, GA (where Star Trek Continues and Starship Farragut) has a Patreon campaign currently trying to raise $3,500/month to cover rent, utilities, insurance, and maintenance. Right now, those expenses are being paid primarily by RAY TESI, the super-fan who purchased the iconic TOS set recreations from STC show-runner VIC MIGNOGNA. Ray has generously opened up his sets to fan filmmakers and also to the general public during periodic Fan Appreciation Weekends (the next of which is coming up on May 24-26).

The challenge for Ray is that these monthly expenses are ongoing…which is not the case for his retirement savings, which is what is funding the dream at the moment. So Ray has asked the fan community to chip in in the form of small monthly contributions made via Patreon.

The campaign kicked off last July and kinda went nowhere for seven months. By February, Ray was up to only 17 patrons donating $176/month (of which Patreon takes a small percentage), leaving Ray with annual expenses that were still topping $40,000…YIKES!!!

But then things began to look up, as a renewed outreach effort on social media saw totals nearly triple by the end of February to 41 patrons and $566/month. Ray was down to having to cover “only” $35,000/year. Sure, still a long way to go…but definitely headed in the right direction.

The following two months saw reliably steady growth, reaching 74 patrons and $872/month by the time I checked the campaign before heading to bed on April 22. Ray was now taking in about $10,000/year, covering about 25% of his expenses.

When I sat down at my computer the next morning, Ray’s Patreon page was still on the screen, so I did a refresh just out of curiosity. I didn’t expect the total to change, but ya never know. That said, it took me a few moments to fully process what I was seeing…

At some point while I slept, Ray’s Patreon total had jumped from $872/month to $1,696/month—almost DOUBLING overnight! Surely this was some kind of glitch at Patreon. No one donates $824/month…do they????

I messaged Ray.

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NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS once again opens their TOS sets to the public for FAN APPRECIATION WEEKEND 2!

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, watching Star Trek each weeknight at 6:00pm, I used to dream of one day building my own Enterprise bridge. I’d have it on the second floor of my house, in a circular area, with a turbolift elevator that would go up to it, doors whooshing open to shock and impress my friends.

Sadly (at least for me, not sad for my wife), that didn’t happen.

But miraculously, I can still walk onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. I can sit in the captain’s chair, stand in the transporter, walk through the corridors, visit sickbay and engineering, wander into the briefing room and Captain Kirk’s quarters. And I can even do it in two different locations!

The first place I can go is the officially licensed Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY. For $22.50/person (less for seniors, military, and kids), I can walk around meticulous, museum-quality recreations of the original 1960s sets that were used to film Star Trek. The sets in upstate New York were used to make the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2, and now are available throughout the year for personal and group tours.

Further south in Kingsland, GA are the sets that were originally used for the fan series Starship Farragut and Star Trek Continues. A little over a year ago, those sets were sold by VIC MIGNOGNA to RAY TESI, who has opened them up for free filming (just pay the electricity costs) to any fan production that follows the CBS guidelines. Originally called Stage 9 Studios, the sets were recently renamed NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS to avoid confusion with the Virtual 3D walkthrough of the Enterprise-D that was shut down by CBS.

Last October, Ray Tesi opened his Georgia sets to the general public for a FAN APPRECIATION WEEKEND. It featured tours, photo opportunities, some fan film celebrity guests, and even two different fan productions shooting scenes in front of a live, studio audience.

However, there was also some controversy

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Fan-filmed before a live studio audience at STAGE 9 STUDIOS…but not without a little controversy!

An estimated 1,300 fans came to STAGE 9 STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA on October 19-21 to visit the amazing TOS sets and meet STAR TREK CONTINUES cast and crew members, including VIC MIGNOGNA, CHRIS DOOHAN, LISA HANSELL, and many others.  (Here’s a complete list.)  Dubbed “Fan Appreciation Weekend,” the event was free of charge and admitted anyone who showed up on Friday from 2-10pm, Saturday from 9am-7pm, and Sunday from 9am-6pm.  That’s 27 hours of open set visit time over a three-day period!

Not just a simple “tour” (like what is offered in Ticonderoga, NY by James Cawley), this event included the opportunity for fans to watch and even participate in the FILMING of episodes for two different fan productions.  Both DREADNOUGHT DOMINION and the upcoming  CONSTAR CHRONICLES shot scenes on the bridge on Friday night and in engineering on Saturday as fans looked on.

Visitors would be escorted in groups through the sets by none other than STC star and show-runner Vic Mignogna, who would discuss the fan filmmaking process, point out certain details of the sets, share a few “secrets” (like how they filmed a scene from a camera angle when a permanent wall was in the way—answer: they put a hidden hole in the wall to film from behind!), and answered questions.  Other groups were escorted by Stage 9 owner RAY TESI, who purchased the sets from Vic last year and decided to make them available to any fan film that wanted to shoot there.  (Listen to Ray’s interview here.)

Vance Major live in front of a studio audience

The groups traveled in cycles through all of the sets—sickbay, auxiliary control, transporter room, captain’s quarters, briefing room, etc.—finally emerging on the bridge and/or engineering to watch rehearsal, set-up, or actual filming during certain scheduled times.  Each group spent about 5-10 minutes with the film crews before moving on and letting in the next bunch.  The fan filmmakers would talk to the audience, answer questions, and in some cases, even offer a few lucky fans the chance to throw on a tunic and be filmed as extras on the bridge or in engineering!  How cool is that???

The event was not without some controversy, though.

Continue reading “Fan-filmed before a live studio audience at STAGE 9 STUDIOS…but not without a little controversy!”