My head hit the pillow on Saturday night, I blinked, and it was suddenly 7 hours later (thank you, daylight savings!)—I was that exhausted after two days of Axacon. But now I was recharged with only one day to go…and this day was much less hectic. I was only scheduled to lead two panels, and nearly everyone I could think of had already been interviewed in the director’s chairs alcove.
I heard the shower running in the bathroom that I shared with STEVEN “Admiral Slater” JEPSON (we each had our own bedrooms in Alec’s house), so I started packing up my stuff. I’d be leaving the con and taking the hotel shuttle directly to the airport a little after 4:00pm. When Steven was done, I hopped into the shower and got myself dressed.
Steve was already downstairs, and for a little while, it was just the two of us waiting for the others. Over the weekend, Steve quickly became one of my favorite people in the entire Axanar brother-and-sisterhood. A music and vocal teacher at the University of Missouri School of Music, Steve is also a singer and performer, and a really smart, well-spoken guy. And like me, he’s incredibly funny (see what I did there?).
As we waited for the rest of the posse to get ready, Steve and I admired the new Starfleet admiral’s uniform, had-sewn for Steve by Axanar costumers CLAUDE FRANCIS DOZIÈRE and ANGELA AVINO from Italy. Steve’s original Admiral Slater uniform was the same one worn by actor TONY “Admiral Ramirez” TODD…who is a BIG guy! When Steven tried the uniform on for his photo, it was like wearing a parka. So it literally needed to be clipped (with binder clips) all along the back in order for Admiral Slater not to look like a toddler wearing his daddy’s Starfleet uniform.
This new uniform had been specifically tailored for Steven, and when he tried it on, it looked amazing! And that gave me an idea…
The view from the rear balcony of Alec’s house is really beautiful. And after two overcast days, Sunday had dawned without a cloud in the sky. A brisk autumn morning, I wanted to go out back and take a few photos of the pond and trees.
“Hey, Steve,” I said, “Would you mind putting the tunic back on and taking a few photos on the balcony?” Two birds with one stone: I could photograph Admiral Slater in uniform and get the beautiful view all at the same time…
We all headed back to the hotel, stopping not-so-briefly at the world’s slowest McDonald’s to grab an Egg-McBreakfast. In fact, things took so long, that Alec needed to hurry off to the hotel, leaving me to ride the rest of the way with Steven and Axanar Art Director LEE QUESSENBERRY once our “fast” food was finally ready.
Alec was already leading a panel on Starship Combat in the Axaverse (we have an Axaverse???) when we finally got there. With about 45 minutes until my first panel of the day, I decided to finally “walk the con” to see what was around. The vendor room was, not surprisingly, fairly small. But the two conventions together—Axacon and the host convention SphinxCon—only had 185 attendees total (and another 35 for Axacon). And I’m told by SphinxCon organizer DAVID WEINER, that the vendor rooms did sell out of tables, including the tables comped for guests.
Here’s a couple of photos of the vendor room…
Those tribbles in that first photo were on DAVID GERROLD’s table (that’s David’s hand in the left corner). And speaking of David, remember from yesterday’s blog that my son Jayden wanted me to tell David Gerrold that “The Trouble with Tribbles” is Jayden’s favorite Star Trek episode? Well, not only did I do that, but I actually filmed David’s response and reply directly to Jayden…
For an 8-year-old Trekkie-in-training, that video made Jayden ecstatic. Five days later, he’s still talking about it!
At the bottom right corner of the second photo, you will see LEE BENJAMIN, part of the “THREE LEE” brigade—which also includes LEE MAVITY and LEE QUESSENBERRY. The former two Lee’s manned the Axanar Fan Group table along with STEVE DIXON. Some of the items at the Fan Group table were really nice. So nice, in fact, that I took a few pictures…
Note that the Axanar Fan Group is an entirely separate legal entity from Alec Peters and Axanar Productions. Also note that there’s really nothing for sale on this table that uses anything that could be classified as Star Trek intellectual property…not even the “House of Kharn” Dark Roast Coffee. (Also note the really cool hand-phaser made out of balloons. That wasn’t for sale.)
Time for my next panel! GARY EFFING GRAHAM and J.G. EFFING HERTZLER. (Oh, man…not those guys again!)
It was another wacky session. I sat between the two actors, asking them slightly different questions than the ones I’d asked on Saturday during the video interview. I took my fair share of “abuse” along the way, but it was all in good fun. And I think the panel was another great opportunity for fans to get to know these two gentlemen. I even asked a question submitted by a detractor in Australia named “Mr. Tiggy”:
After all is said about Alec Peters and the public perception that there is a low possibility of Axanar actually being made, why are Mr. Hertzler and Mr. Graham staying with the project? What do they see that we aren’t seeing?
“What do they see that WE aren’t seeing?” Who you calling “we,” mate? Everyone I saw at Axacon was totally seeing it…and feeling it. The love, man, the LOVE!
Once again, Gary and J.G.’s answers will eventually be on the Blu-ray perk. You won’t want to miss it!
After the panel, Alec asked me to record a video of Gary and J.G. explaining why fans should give money to help complete Axanar. The video won’t be posted to Kickstarter or Indiegogo because the legal settlement with CBS and Paramount precludes Alec from using public crowd-funding services. But he’s not prevented from making private requests to donors, and that’s what’s being planned.
So once again, Gary and J.G. sat in the director’s chairs, this time looking straight at the camera as I fed them questions to answer with full statements talking up their enthusiasm for Axanar and finishing what was started four years ago. This time the guys remained more focused—although still joking around a little because I truly think it’s in their DNA. And honestly, that’s effing great! I loved every minute with these two gentlemen.
I SURVIVED GARY EFFING GRAHAM AND J.G. EFFING HERTZLER, DAMMIT!
And as long as I was in the video alcove area anyway, Alec asked me to do one final interview…this time with my new buddy, Steven Jepson, talking about Admiral Slater.
Of everything I recorded over the weekend, I think this discussion is the one I am most looking forward to watching on the Blu-ray. Y’see, Admiral Slater appears on screen for just 4 second in Prelude to Axanar. He had no lines. His image didn’t even move. And yet, he’s become a fan favorite character in Axanar with almost a cult following. TREY McELWAIN is in the process of writing a whole story for Axanar Comics about Slater’s “redemption.” I myself am planning to have Slater play a key role in an upcoming short story of Garth’s struggle to recover from the horrors of the war titled, “Why We Explore.”
Why is Slater so popular? Why do so many fans want to see this “Neville Chamberlain” appeaser have a happy ending? Steven and I discussed this and came up with some interesting theories…including the possibility that Slater is the character who is most like “us” (the viewers). We will likely never be the brilliant tactical strategist that is Kelvar Garth. We’re not going to give rousing speeches to thousands like Ramirez. We’re probably not tough-as-nails like Sonya Alexander or a gruff old warhorse like Sam Travis. We’re certainly not Kharn, and we’re probably not a 200-year-old Vulcan ambassador like Soval.
But Slater? We’ve all been there at one time or another—out of our depth, in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying our hardest but still failing anyway. Slater is us, the everyman, and we all want the chance to have our own happy endings, to move past our previous screw-ups and get some kind of redemption ourselves.
So yeah, the discussion was like that.
We also both shared our thoughts about where Slater would go after being kicked out of the top job in Starfleet. Steven though this intelligent man who believed in peace might go teach on Vulcan. I had a different take.
In my imagining (and who’s to say who’s right), Slater was asked to run Starfleet Academy. After all, he’s still a valuable officer, and Steven wholeheartedly believes that Slater was originally in Communications (“Slater the Communicator”?) and rose up to be Fleet Admiral during a time when Starfleet was at peace and a good negotiator (“Slater the Negotiator”?—Okay, someone stop me!) was highly valued. But he was not a warrior, and the Klingons didn’t wan to hear Slater’s endless attempts at diplomacy.
But Slater was still, at heart, a teacher…and what better place for a teacher than Starfleet Academy? But this wasn’t just a pity hiring by the admiralty. Slater now had a mission: figure out how to train a new generation of warriors to fight the Klingons. The Academy at the time was set up to teach science, exploration, first contact, and diplomacy. But now Starfleet needed fighters if it wanted to protect and preserve the Federation. Normally, experienced military veterans and combat specialists would teach these skills directly to the cadets in classrooms, but all of those personnel were critically needed on the front lines.
And so, Slater did the next best thing. He taught their TACTICS. Cadets studied what was working against the Klingons, strategies employed by captains like Travis, Alexander, Trask, Robau, and Garth. Remember that, in “Whom Gods Destroy,” Kirk says to Garth: “I studied your victory at Axanar when I was a cadet. In fact it’s still required reading at the Academy.” That was Slater’s doing (or at least, I think it was).
Steven and I had a really great discussion. You’re totally gonna want to see it!
Before lunch, I stopped by a panel in the larger main meeting room with Alec, DAVID GERROLD, and MATT GREEN and SCOTT LYTTLE (who are helping to make the upcoming fan film First Frontier). They were discussing what the difference is between a fan film and an independent film…and where the industry might be going. Arriving late was JOHN ADCOX (who is making Yorktown: A Time to Heal featuring footage with George Takei filmed back in the 1980s). But in a amusing Land of the Lost moment, just as John arrived, David needed to leave. So there remained a balance.
After lunch, I went to moderate my final panel: Steven Jepson and Alec Peters discuss Slater and Garth (sing “Slater and Garth” to the Christmas tune “Silver and Gold”—it’s fun!).
Much of the first half of the panel was similar to my earlier video interview with Steven, although this time Alec chimed in with some of his own opinions on Slater, which were quite interesting and informative.
But then there was a moment. For me, it was THE moment of Axacon…and I really hope Alec will decide to share it with all of you either on YouTube or the Blu-ray—rather than leavign it on the cutting room floor—because to me, at least, it shows who Alec truly is when it comes to this amazing project.
it happened as the panel was finishing up, and I wanted to share one final thing with the audience. It was something STEVE IHNAT’s (the actor who played Garth of Izar in “Whom Gods Destroy”) widow, SALLY IHNAT MARSHALL had told me on Saturday…
Steve died of a heart attack in 1972 while at the Cannes Film Festival in France. He was there to show an independent film that he had poured his heart and soul into (along with $37,000 of his own money, which would be about $220,000 in today’s dollars…about the same amount as Alec has put into Axanar thus far, as it happens). Sally told me that Steve would totally “get” what Alec was doing and would be proud of him for doing it. In that way, the two men shared something beyond simply playing the same character in Star Trek.
Alec decided to follow up on what I said. During his panel the previous day with Sally, she had commented that Garth’s costume from “Whom Gods Destroy,” one of Alec’s most prized possessions and something he wore in the Axanar “Heroes” vignette (filmed but still to be released), contained her late husband’s DNA. There was part of Steve Ihnat in that costume. And now Alec was a part of those same threads and fibers, connecting the two men forever across time.
And then the moment happened.
As Alec was talking in a casual tone, about to describe what Sally’s words meant to him, about how Steve would have been proud of him and that sense of connection…he choked up. Really choked up. These weren’t crocodile tears, and it took Alec about 10 seconds or so to recover himself to continue talking.
But for that brief moment, Alec Peters was truly feeling everything: the years of preparing for Axanar, of not giving up on his dream; the thrill of production and post-production; the emotional rollercoaster of the lawsuit; the struggles to pay the California rent and the painful decision to give up Industry Studios and move everything to Georgia. All of that came rushing to the surface along with the sheer, unbridled joy and triumph of this moment—Axacon—the bridge set finally completed, the script finished, the actors signed and appearing in person, the director in place. And despite all of the naysayers and detractors with their discouragement and nonsense, gathered here were the people who LOVE Axanar, who share the dream and never stopped believing that it could come true.
Okay, was Alec really feeling all of that, or was he just exhausted from weeks of preparations for Axacon and three straight days of non-stop events and juggling the various people and panels and everything else? I’ll never know for certain, but what I do know is that, in that instant, I saw how much Axanar means to Alec Peters. And it was touching and vulnerable and real. It was everything that I always knew was inside but had never got to witness before.
I sincerely hope that Alec isn’t embarrassed to show that video clip to people…because that brief moment says so much more than all of the interviews and podcasts and panel discussions and donor “ask” videos and blogs and Facebook comments ever could. Alec Peters IS Axanar. It’s been a long road getting from there to here…and that arduous trek is nearly finished.
Okay, enough of the poetry! There’s one more thing I need to tell you about: CARLOS PEDRAZA.
As you might remember from yesterday’s blog, Carlos was an attendee at SphinxCon that entire weekend, but he had been barred from attending Axacon events. On a practical level, that simply meant that Carlos wasn’t allowed to come to the studio to see the bridge set, join the celebrities for lunch or dinner, and he couldn’t go into the small Axanar panel room for the weekend. But that hadn’t stopped him from walking past and sneaking a glance inside whenever the door was open. I don’t blame him for that; I’d be curious, too, to be perfectly honest.
As Alec was setting up for the final panel—an Axanar trivia contest where the panelists try to stump the audience and vice-versa—I noticed Carlos do the walk-by/glance-in yet again. I mentioned it to Alec.
“Hey, Jon, go and ask Carlos if he wants to join us for this last panel,” Alec said.
“You sure?” I asked.
“He doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to,” Alec replied, “but yeah, I think we should at least invite him.”
I walked out into the hall just in time to see Carlos head into the men’s room. Hmmmm…do I follow Pedraza in there? That seemed too much like some weird kind of stalking. So I waited outside, trying to look casual. When Carlos finally emerged, I walked over and told him that Alec wanted to invite Carlos to attend the last panel…if he was interested. Carlos said he’d like that, and I escorted him in.
“Hey everybody,” I said, poking my head in. “Look who I found in the hallway. Can Carlos Pedraza come and join us for one final panel?”
Alec waved him in, saying, “Sure, come in, Carlos.” Carlos took a seat and the trivia games continued.
The questions weren’t just about Prelude to Axanar (“What Federation planet did the Klingons attack first?” and stuff like that). There were questions about production, about the people behind the production, about Diana Kingsbury’s cat Boomer, and even about who sent Alec the blueprints for the Enterprise bridge that had been used to build the original set back in the 1960s at Desilu Studios. (The answer was Gary Hutzel, by the way.) There was even a question: on what date did Alec Peters find out he was being sued by CBS and Paramount? (December 30, 2015. Happy New Year, Axanar!)
Anytime someone got an answer right, Alec threw them a Devil Dog or Drake’s Coffee Cake (their choice). Or if the question stumped the panel/audience, the person asking got a pastry, too…or some other prize. At one point, Carlos even won some Axanar coffee! (How ironic is that?)
The last question of the panel was mine to anyone in the room except Carlos: “When was the first Axamonitor blog published…month and year?” Everyone was stumped, and I won a Coffee Cake. I asked Carlos for the answer: February 2016. Alec pointed out that my question wasn’t really Axanar trivia, but I just wanted to follow-up with “And when was the first Fan Film Factor blog published?” January 2016. Yep, I was first!
However, Carlos had really been a good sport about everything. So I walked over to give him my Coffee Cake prize. It had been a really fun, lively, and hilarious panel, and I sincerely hoped that Carlos would see that Axanar isn’t just a bunch of gullible idiots following some nefarious conman. We are a family, a team, friends who just want to see this project reach completion, work hard if necessary, and hopefully have some good times along the way. I’m truly curious to see how Carlos chooses to report on this panel and gathering on his blog…as I’m doing on mine.
With the panel over and Axacon now in the record books, it was time to say my good-byes. A hug for Alec, Steve, Crysstal, and a bunch of others. And while I didn’t hug Carlos, I did shake his hand. “I will see you on the battlefield,” I joked. We took a photo, and then I was off to the airport.
The next day, Alec and I were talking on the phone. “Could you imagine what would happen if Carlos were to start working with us instead of against us?” Alec asked. “He could make such a difference. He’d be a hero. I mean, he’d be hero to GOOD people—not these sociopathic losers who spend every moment being negative and beating up on anyone they don’t like…sometimes even each other!”
“Yeah,” I said, “But Carlos is pretty firmly convinced that he’s right about all this, Alec.”
“Well, maybe this weekend showed him what we’re all really about. I mean, if seeing everyone having such a good time and being nice to him in that panel doesn’t change his mind, I can’t imagine what will.”
“We’ll see, Alec,” I said. “We’ll see…”