Even the best things must come to an end…and so it is for the MINARD saga. Depending on which films you count officially as part of this tapestry, the character of Erick Minard has appeared or been referenced in about THREE DOZEN different fan films!
More than thirty of these were written and produced by VANCE MAJOR (who plays the character of Erick Minard along with his mirror and Kelvin-verse alter-egos). Minard has also appeared in multiple episodes of Starship Valiant and Dreadnought Dominion.
Vance Major’s Minard films have ranged in length from 30-second parody vignettes to the full 15 minutes allowed by the fan film guidelines. His last episode, The Best Things, premieres today as a 2-part 25-minute finale.
With only a shoestring budget, Vance has done action, romance, comedy, suspense, quiet introspection, and even surreal dream sequences. He’s produced episodes featuring full casts of ten or more characters and other episodes with just two actors or even just one. At one point, Vance released SEVEN Minard fan films in just SEVEN DAYS! A couple of months later, Vance released another SIX Minard episodes in a SINGLE MONTH!
Vance’s Minard films range from Trek eras pre-Kirk to post-DS9…and they were NOT released chronologically. This allowed viewers to jump around the century-long life of Erick Minard, experiencing a tapestry of moments that ultimately come together like puzzle pieces into a finished image.
Fan films can be the great equalizer when all one wants to do is simply tell his or her story without all the dazzle. And that’s exactly what Vance Major has done…in a truly remarkable way.
I did an audio interview with Vance last summer (which is worth a listen), but he’s released nearly TWO DOZEN more fan films since then! So to celebrate the successful conclusion of this ambitious fan series project, I decided to bring back Vance for a final 2-part print interview…
JONATHAN: And so we meet again, Mr. Major…excellent! And I’m going to start off with a little surprise. I found a clip of you from June of 2014…just before you filmed the prologue scene for the Special Expanded Edition of Starship Valiant‘s pilot episode “Legacy“. You had just accepted Michael L. King‘s invitation to appear in the episode…
VANCE: WOW! That is old! <LOL> I think that was back when I was very eager to just get in front of the camera and be in Trek. I think that represents most fan film actors…because they are so enthusiastic to go-go-go. They just do anything!
JONATHAN: So was that your first experience with Star Trek fan films?
VANCE: I had a voiceover in the original Starship Valiant “Legacy” at the end where I say “Engineering,” but that’s no real claim to fame! So yeah, the special edition was my first time really getting into character. And it was a wonderful experience, expanding on what Michael had already built. I remember being on the other side of the Sickbay wall, pacing back and forth and putting myself almost into a panic…just to get into character! I didn’t know that this was method acting; I simply thought that’s how people did it, and I wanted to bring my “A” game. But when I came in each time, and you could feel the tension between Michael and me, that was real. He’s a very talented actor.
JONATHAN: What are the biggest differences between who and where you were then in your life then and who and where you are now…three and a half years later?
VANCE: I have definitely grown in how I see the character, and I think the character himself has grown. I’ve made so many new friends and had so many good memories with each film.
Back in the day, I was in awe of it all and really the wonder of it. Now, I’ve kinda gone through the trenches of filmmaking and storytelling, and I’m not so wide-eyed as I once was. I see some people giving me the look I once gave the experienced people when I came into this, which is very flattering.
It doesn’t bother me to “fail” at something on screen because at least I can look at it and see what worked and what didn’t. So I’m very open to trying different things and thinking outside the box. I hate being told what to do in that regard and I think it shows. My films are definitely out there.
JONATHAN: That’s certainly true, my friend, but in a good way! Now, another thing that happened to you in the last three and a half years is that you and your wife had a baby….
VANCE: Yeah. My wife was actually pregnant in the fan film Chain of Command at Uhura’s station [at the 6:15 mark -Jonathan]—the last of my films shot at Starbase Studios when it was still in Oklahoma City. I think my son Royce is destined for geekness no matter what! <LOL> But yeah, he was born on February 9th of last year and has added so much to my life. I really enjoy getting off my 12-hour shift and singing to him while cooking him breakfast . Poor kid has to eat my cooking, though!
But I love being a daddy; I’ve wanted to be one since I proposed to Mona back in ’98. I knew she’d be a great mom back then, and it’s a huge blessing to see that unfold. I’m always getting videos and pictures when I’m at work, seeing him do something silly. And that’s become my drive now: giving him the things I didn’t have growing up and being the best dad I can be to him. We have a blast together dressing up in capes and going to Wal-Mart to look at toys. I’m just a big kid, so I really love having him around. He’s so fun and funny…especially when he flies around the house(with daddy’s help, of corse).
JONATHAN: Looking back, what made you decide to create an entire saga of fan films about your character of Erick Minard spanning nearly a century of Star Trek time?
VANCE: I’ve always loved character-driven story telling, such as Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5, and when I was approached to do Starship Valiant, Michael very much wanted to focus on the characters. Sadly, as fan films go, you can only do so many in a certain amount of time. So I just did what little I could here and there to flesh the character out and have fun. So when you saw him in Valiant, you knew him.
I always gravitated toward O’Brien in early DS9 because you had that backstory with him from TNG. Even if it wasn’t relevant, you were comfortable. I wanted that here. The more I went on with Erick, the more I felt the story unfold and the pieces just fit. And people really gravitated to him. It was odd because, even though I don’t get the big numbers some do, my films have an almost cult-like following, and that was very cool to see that unfold because I’m just as big a fan as they are! It’s like in the early Kevin Smith days; if you saw Clerks, you simply got it. <LOL>
JONATHAN: You’ve written and produced about THIRTY separate fan films in the Minard Saga. Had you always planned to do that many films…and with that much variety in length, theme, and dramatic approach? Or did things shape themselves as you went along?
VANCE: I kinda took things on a case by case basis. Time was never an issue for me in having a time limit or minimum. I just told the story I wanted, trimming the fat and giving the meat of the story. Which always kept me pretty safe in terms of time.
With the variety of the stories, yeah, I had a plan of what I wanted to do in the very generic sense at first. In April, I shot Dark Glimmer, Resistance, and Minard…and I knew then the stuff I wanted to layer in to future films (for those who pay attention).
It wasn’t until maybe July that I decided I needed to step away and actually start wrapping everything up in the stories I wanted to tell. Even though I could have continued and added more layers, I needed to see what should be cut back. So the genetic sense had to come into focus, and I really had to delve into it.
I always knew that the last three stories were going to be exactly what they were: the death of Minard, the legacy left to his protégé, and then going back to Valiant days and seeing why he left. What made him go from engineering to start the command path? And I knew I wanted to show the origin of the mirror universe Minard (who the editor and I dubbed “the phantom” from his line at the end of Persona) and how the Valhalla Stone in our universe was protected from evil by Erick. But in that universe, Minard IS that evil.
I really love themes like that. So I knew what I wanted, and you can see that planned all the way back in Dark Glimmer when he stabbed Emily in the chair. But no one knew who that was, and I told them on set why it was important that it be her. To see that relationship in The Hill went into more depth that he’s disgusted with her. In Persona, you see that our Emily was the one that calls him out on his b.s….thus starting the whole reason he resents her, and eventually he kills the mirror version.
But all that, yes, planned. All of the story arcs and characters, I spent hundreds of hours thinking of how things interact with themselves and real Star Trek, yet remained completely independent in their own right…giving a different experience upon different watches. That’s another reason I jump around in the timeline. If you watch the films in shooting order, they give layers and mysteries. If you watch um in chronological order, you see things a different way. I enjoy things like that.
JONATHAN: So when last I had a Minard blog in December, you were one episode away from completing what you called “Phase 3” and about to begin the six episodes of your final “Phase 4.” Now that all four phases are complete, can you explain what unifies each phase?
VANCE: Well, Phase 1 was just the beginning of things, tip-toeing into the whole fan film thing for me, establishing the character. Phase 2 was actually venturing out and expanding, getting to know the character more and beginning to see that there are more layers. How is Minard alive in the 24th century? What is the Valhalla Stone? These questions were really bugging people, and I loved sitting on the answer knowing “just wait and see.” Obviously, I had no budget to work with, but I had pretty good concepts. Phase 3 was about loyalty and family. What does each member mean? What does it mean when the house is burned down? How far are you willing to go for family? These things are symbolically spread out through that phase. And phase 4 is about the consequences of that. It’s really about the legacy and the consequences of the things we did in the life we had.
JONATHAN: You’ve often said that the events in Erick Minard’s life parallel your own real-world experiences. For example, your story Crying Wolf showed the wreckage of the USS Constar, filmed on the sets from Starbase Studios after they were deemed all but unusable last summer. Your episode Change had you saying your good-bye to fan films and to certain key people you had come to know well and call friends. What else in the Minard saga parallels the real life of Vance Major?
VANCE: I’ve always gone out of my way to help people. My little brother Pete is one of the ones I’ve been blessed with in my life because of it. Sometimes, though, that helping hand doesn’t work out, and it sucks seeing things fall apart. I have a huge heart for people, and I think that’s something I’ve tried to convey with this character.
His love for his wife, I have the same for mine. I haven’t always been the best husband, but I love her more than anything, and I think the film Minard shows just how I would be if I ever lost Mona. I honestly would throw myself into my work…like Erick did.
In Mr. O’Sullivans Bakery, I wrote that one for my brother Dan, whom I’ve known since I was 13. That story is a real-life “what if?” and dedication to his and my friendship. So many people go through life with the same “I’ll call them next week,” mentality…and then they are gone. That scares the bajeezus out of me! But that’s real life. And I wanted to show my bro how much he meant to me, in case we ever fully get to that point. Real life sucks sometimes. <LOL>
But I get to tell a lot of my life in these stories…or at least the Trek equivalent. And for that, I’m very blessed. That’s the thing I love about Michael L King: he will discuss characters and be on that same level, and I always have his blessing. I don’t think he’s ever told me “no” to any idea I’ve had. I love it. So I’m very loyal to that guy.
I do this simply for the fun of it and the joy of being a fan. I’ve always lived by the mentality that you take the material seriously, but you don’t take yourself too seriously!
JONATHAN: In your final few episodes, you invited your friends, your “network” (including me!) to appear in brief cameos. In fact, you’ve had numerous show-runners and actors from other fan series make brief appearances, including Nick Cook of Intrepid, Robin Hiert of Dark Armada, George Beau Kayaian from Antyllus…the list is ridiculously huge! You even feature ALEC PETERS of AXANAR doing a voice-over as Captain Garth in your final episode. What made you decide to include these cameos…and are you worried that featuring Alec might make your final episode “controversial” and invite jeers from Axanar detractors?
Come back tomorrow (yes, a rare Fan Film SATURDAY!) for the answer to that question and others as Vance talks about his experiences with the fan film community—both positive and negative—and also provides introductions to each of his final fan film releases.