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Fan Film Friday – How will CORONAVIRUS affect Star Trek Fan Films?

By March 20, 2020 Fan Films

Last Friday night on AXANAR CONFIDENTIAL #52, ALEC PETERS announced that the fourth shoot for AXANAR, originally scheduled for April in Los Angeles, will need to be delayed at least until May and possibly longer because of the coronavirus pandemic. (The good news is that he now has a little longer to raise $30K in the fundraiser on Ares Digital.) The planned premiere of “The Gathering Storm”—the first of the two Axanar sequels—might no longer happen during San Diego Comic Con or even at Creation’s Las Vegas Star Trek convention because there’s a chance that one or both events will be postponed or canceled.

Whether or not you personally feel that the media is making too much out of all this, the fact remains that folks across the United States and the world are taking this new virus very seriously. Sporting events, concerts, offices, schools, theaters, restaurants, fitness clubs—all are being temporarily closed to prevent people from inadvertently sharing this very infectious new virus while congregating in close quarters. All of these measures are intended to slow the spread of the disease until such time (hopefully soon) when a vaccine can be developed, tested, and deployed to the general population.

And this also includes film production. CBS, ABC, Netflix, Apple, and Disney are all suspending shooting on series including Young Sheldon, Grey’s Anatomy, Supergirl, Batwoman, Claws, All Rise, Lucifer,  Stranger ThingsGrace and Frankie, The Morning Show, FoundationFor All Mankind, and NCIS…to name but a few! (Get the whole current list here.) Disney has halted production on nearly all pilots, including the new Falcon and the Winter Soldier planned for release on Disney+. So this is going to cost the studios some big bucks and major lost revenue in advertising and subscriptions.

But the logic is sound. Production crews can often number in the hundreds, and they work in very close quarters as make-up and costume people, lighting and camera people, actors, directors, sound engineers, and countless others are constantly near or touching each other and the same items to adjust mics, wardrobe, make-up, hold up light meters, etc. And production teams can’t afford for even small numbers of their crew to be out sick at the same time.

And of course, even though survival rates are in the 98%-plus range, the elderly are most susceptible…and most younger folks in sets have parents and grandparents (plus some of the actors themselves are older). It would be irresponsible on the part of the studios (and possibly trigger some legal liability) to put so many people at risk just to make a TV program, Indeed, I suspect even more shows will announce they are suspending production soon.

So what does all of this mean for Star Trek fan films? After all, Axanar‘s production and release might very well be delayed by months due to COVID-19—what about other productions? I decided to ask around…

Some groups are lucky in that they’ve already wrapped principal filming—including my fan film, INTERLUDE. This past weekend, we shot our final live-action footage at Ares Studios, “piggybacking” on Axanar‘s third shoot. They were grabbing scenes of “older” Garth (with grayer hair) doing interviews for The Four Years War documentary and we needed the same set-up for Interlude. Fortunately, this past weekend’s shoot in Georgia wasn’t postponed, since my directors VICTORIA FOX and JOSH IRWIN had to clear their schedules to drive in from Arkansas (11 hours each way!). But I feel like we got in just under the wire. All the rest of our post production work can now be done in relative isolation. We need a voice-over, four more VFX shots, editing, music, and sound mixing…and all of that happens remotely.

Also making it in just under the wire was DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. Show-runner GARY DAVIS told me, “We wrapped filming last month. We’re now in post, and no pick-up shots are needed. I’m not sure how many folks would have refused to show up if our production would have been this month instead. I know people say better safe than sorry… argh. But DD was lucky. We wrapped…and we are doing a soft premiere to our cast and crew on our vignette that we shot, but the main production will be out in the fall.”

Another fan production in solid shape right now is STARSHIP ANTYLLUS. New York-based sh0w-runner GEORGE KAYAIAN reports, “No, I can’t say right now that the pandemic is effecting my production. I shot enough footage for the next couple of episodes, and all the post production work is handled by me for the most part. Plus, as of now, nobody I know is ill, so that’s some good news. I believe if everyone keeps calm, washes their hands properly, and refrains from touching their face, your odds will be good that you’ll get by just fine. I take the threat seriously, but it hasn’t altered any of my plans in the short term future.”

And add PACIFIC 201 to the list of fan productions with all of their footage in the can. Show-runner ERIC HENRY assures me, “Pretty much all the work that remains is on the computer, so we haven’t really been impacted.”

THE FEDERATION FILES had been planning to go full steam ahead with shoots over the next few weeks and into the future. GLEN L. WOLFE of THE FEDERATION FILES pointed to the relative isolation of the northern Arkansas location of the WARP 66 Studios TOS sets: “Jonathan, thus far the coronavirus has not affected our shoots, and there are no reported cases near us. So unless the spread starts going through Arkansas, I don’t foresee anything that will affect anything we’re doing. Some productions like Axanar and those at Neutral Zone Studios have people come from all different areas of the country. So postponing those kinds of shoots is probably a good precaution, whereas our shoots are typically very local and less chance of bringing the disease in from outside.” Glen mentioned that they had a shoot this past weekend and had another scheduled for this coming Friday.

However, just two days later (just yesterday), I received a follow-up from Glen’s partner DAN REYNOLDS: “With the escalation of the Corona virus, I have decided to cancel this Friday’s shoot on our next episode “Doppleganger.” Although it was a small shoot, I woke up with a slight cold and felt it best to cancel.” Of course, our best wishes go out to Dan and his wife Kelly that it’s only just a cold and that he feels better soon.

Also suspending all filming operations is VANCE MAJOR, who was starting up production on the sequel-to-the-sequel series CONSTAR CONTINUES.

Firing on all thrusters, however, are the folks at POTEMKIN PICTURES, now based in Lexington, KY. Show-runner RANDY LANDERS was hard at work this past weekend filming with the STARSHIP WEBSTER creative group, and they hope to have costume fitting, table reads, and a test shoot for lighting, sound, and practical effects in the coming weeks. But its not like Potemkin Pictures is just waiting to turn into a fan film petri dish. Randy assured me, “No one here has a fever. We always ask our cast and crew to not attend shoots or workdays if they don’t feel well. And that’s been the rule for ten years! We had three cast members who didn’t feel well enough to attend, and we appreciate their consideration for the health and well being of everyone else who is here.” Randy also added, “The sets will be sterilized after we finish…plenty of soap and a wash sink on hand. And masks are always available for folks. We’ve had them for ten years; we use them frequently when sanding and gluing to protect our people from inhaling unhealthful particles or fumes.”

STAR TREK: NATURES HUNGER also completed a shoot in the Atlanta, GA area this past weekend. Show-runner JOSE CEPEDA confirmed, “We did do our fan film yesterday. We did two days filming into one long production day. We filmed the science lab, turbo lift, cafeteria, transporter room, briefing room, and counselor’s office all in one day. The cast and crew wanted to knock it out in one day and take Sunday off. So why not? We limited our group to six actors and took normal precautions.” He then sent along these two photos…

Jose continued, “New tools of the trade. We did spray our sets with Lysol. The show must go on in the age of coronavirus. We did consider cancelling our fan film shoot, but we studied the statistics. The percentage of cases in our area was extremely low. None of us was inflected or sick. We decided to limit the crew and cast to six to reduce chances too. I have to give the cast and crew credit for showing up. Fear can cancel many plans.” Jose added that no immediate filming was scheduled in the future, and there’s a lot post production work to do. Eventually, they’ll start on their next films, “Razors Edge” and “Don’t Mess with the Time Cops.”

However, not everyone is proceeding forward with production. DAVID CHENG, who released the recent Star Trek: TMP-era THE HUMAN ADVENTURE and is currently working on a follow-up fan project titled TIME AND TIME AGAIN, told me that they had a shoot scheduled for this past weekend in the Los Angeles area but decided to postpone it.

England-based SAMUEL COCKINGS had been planning to head to Scotland in May to shoot a short vignette that he’d written. It was going to feature the actors from Intrepid and one of his actors from the upcoming mega-crossover CONVERGENCE. But those plans have been put on hold. As for Convergence itself, that shoot is scheduled for August, and Sam is hoping for the best. “It’s half a year away, and if this whole pandemic thing isn’t sorted out by then…then we have worse things to worry about.”

Also on a production hiatus is the new late-24th century-era fan series STARSHIP RAINCROSS, based in the San Bernardino, CA area. They have really well-crafted Starfleet tunics modeled after those seen on STAR TREK: PICARD

According to show-runner PAUL JASCQUES, “We’re continuing to edit the first shoot from December, but we’ve postponed shooting any more segments, which would have occurred this week. This was our spring break at the school where we teach, and now we are learning how to be distance educators. Real life has barged in a bit.”

Real life also barged in for the annual TREKLANTA mini-convention, which hosts the annual BJO Awards for Star Trek fan films. Chairman ERIC WATTS posted an update on Facebook which included the following: “The situation in Atlanta is rapidly changing. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order on Monday “prohibiting public gatherings and events of 50 or more persons within the City of Atlanta until March 31, 2020.” Even though that date is only two weeks from today and our event is currently scheduled for more than a month after that, the general sentiment on the ground is that a first-of-May event is still probably not a good idea, so postponing Treklanta until later this year seems unavoidable at this point. We’re working with our host hotel to determine possible dates and we’ll announce any decisions on our Facebook page and on Twitter as soon as we make them.”

BENNY HALL, who recently released his first fan film, the TOS-era LET OLD WRINKLES COME, isn’t certain yet if he will need to delay production on his next project, TEARS OF J’KAH, which just raised nearly $50K. “Originally, we were going to shoot at Neutral Zone Studios in Kingsland, GA in March, but then I changed that in January due to my work schedule. That shoot has been pushed back to October, so hopefully it won’t be affected by all the current quarantines. However, our Oregon shoot is scheduled for May 11th. I’ll decide at the end of the month whether we still go. I feel this virus will continue to get worse before it gets better. The way things are going, I expect we will have to postpone shooting in May.”

Speaking of Neutral Zone Studios, I decided to check in with Owner RAY TESI and Creative Designer FRANK ZANCA on plans to move the TOS sets to Orlando and try to set up an Escape Room business called GALACTIC ADVENTURES. Frank responded, “We’re not sure how this is going to affect us. We are still going to market again starting next week. Of course, the move-in/opening is irrelevant because it’s so far away at this point. By then all of this will be ancient history.”

However, more immediate is the question of what happens before the move while the sets are still in Kingsland. There’s another fan appreciation weekend scheduled for this Saturday, and I was also curious if any other fan films would be coming in to use the sets prior to the planned move to Orlando in May. Ray answered this one, “We have a shoot scheduled in early April that’s still a go at this point.”  [NOTE: A few days after providing me this quote, the show-runner for that shoot contacted me to say he is putting the project on temporary hold.]  “And we are still having our fan day on Saturday that people say they’re coming to.”  But who knows what things will be like in the next few weeks?”

Indeed! And that brings up an interesting element to the whole pandemic crisis: crowd-funding. The WeFunder for Galactic Adventures has raised nearly $39K in the last month (of a $100-$500K goal), but that total has mostly flatlined over the past week of stock market turmoil and uncertainty. With 401(k)s plummeting in value and the specter of recession and even depression looming, are fans going to want to donate to (or invest in) fan projects? That is the $64,000 question!

Or in the case of Axanar, it’s the $30,000 question. And in the case of the Czech project SQUADRON, it’s been a rather frustrating $15,000. This far, Squadron has raised only 20% of their goal. And while they still have more than a month left on their Indiegogo, their campaign—like the Galactic Adventures WeFunder—has stalled. This has caused the Squadron folks to reevaluate their plans, even though the raw footage has been shot. $3,100 isn’t enough to get them through editing and adding VFX. So unless another $8-$10K comes in within the next month, Squadron may need to forego most if not all CGI and might be delayed in getting released. And their next project will be scaled back considerably.

One person on Facebook asked if this was even a good time to try to fundraise for a fan film. I say, it’s the best time! Right now, people are scared, uncertain, and some are feeling rather pessimistic. Fan films are the opposite. Star Trek and the fan films that spring from it have always built their foundation upon hope and optimism. What better way to put on a positive outlook than by giving $10 or $25 or $50 to a worthy fan film…assuming you can afford it? It sends a message that says, “We’re all gonna get through this, and when we do, I want to see you guys create something amazing!”

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