Last month, in an interview with fan film maker VANCE MAJOR, I called him the “Where’s Waldo of Star Trek fan films.” The interview included a list of over a dozen different Trek fan films that Vance had written, directed, produced, appeared in, and/or worked on.
But now, after releasing ANOTHER seven (yes, SEVEN!) Trek fan films—one per day!—in just seven days, I think I need to rechristen Vance the “Oompa Loompa of Star Trek fan films”…perhaps even Willy Wonka himself!
Prior to these most recent seven fan film releases, Vance’s previous production was the emotionally charged Minard. The fan film followed the career of the chief engineer character whom Vance first portrayed in the extended edition of STARSHIP VALIANT‘s initial episode “Legacy” back in 2014. The 7-minute Minard was meant to be one of many non-linear pieces of a “tapestry” of fan productions and short vignettes focusing on this character.
Two of these vignettes were also recently released: Dark Glimmer and Resistance. But a whole bunch of other vignettes were pretty much completed and just waiting for Vance’s next full-length (meaning 15-minutes long, as per the guidelines) episode, The Valhalla Stone to be ready. That finally happened a few weeks ago, and last week, seven Trek fan films—all part of the Minard saga—were released from September 10-16.
I asked Vance why he released these episodes all at once rather than staggering them over the next few weeks or even months. “I don’t like sitting on films,” he replied. “When one is done, I want people to see it. These were all just waiting for Valhalla Stone. I’ll also have more fan films coming over the next several months. I intend to complete my last production next February, and then I’ll be moving on from doing my own fan films so I can concentrate more of my time on my family…especially my son, Royce.”
Vance works with little or no budget, having utilized a combination of the sets of Starbase Studios in Arkansas, outdoor locations, and green screen. Vance also doesn’t make your typical fan films. You can usually tell this almost immediately by his choice in music—which is often (but not always) very UN-Star Trek-like and provides for a range of emotional textures that lead into and out of each film or vignette.
But Vance also believes in fan films as “art.” A perfect example of this was Minard itself, which was very experimental for a fan film. It told the story of Chief Engineer Erick Minard through a series of short scenes that lasted only 10 or 20 seconds each, shown in non-chronological order and yet providing a rich and touching insight into the professional and personal life of this character.
The first of the seven fan films to be released last week was even MORE experimental and “artsy” than Minard. Around the World and Forever is something Vance calls “a dedication of different fan films.”
As I said, Vance has worked with a vast array of Trek fan filmmakers, calling most of them friends. He recently asked more than a half dozen of them, all from different Trek fan series, to appear as their character in a unique fan project.
Each actor was given only a short description of a major life event that Minard had just gone through and told to record a brief subspace message for him to view. There were no scripts, no specific filming location, no single director. Each fan actor was invited to ad-lib their message in any way they saw fit, in character, in uniform, on set or in front of a green screen…or just against a wall or in their back yard.
The 15-minute result of this experiment is fascinating to watch, seeing how each of these actors chose to tackle their scene. Yes, it’s a little slow-paced to watch—like listening to a bunch of voice-mails after you’ve been on vacation for a week. (And even Vance himself said the episode is probably best viewed in small chunks during a few different sittings.)
But if you’re a fan of fan films themselves, this is a great way of seeing actors from numerous different productions come together, with their characters’ Starfleet backgrounds all interweaving with each other through Erick Minard…
The following day, Vance released the long-awaited The Valhalla Stone. Unlike his previous two releases, this 15-miute production was much less artsy/experimental and more typically what one would expect from a Star Trek fan film.
It includes footage from a never-completed fan project where Starship Valiant crossed over with Starship Ajax. That portion of the production was filmed about two and a half years ago (during a major snow storm, no less!) and left on the shelf until now. Perhaps one day the crossover will somehow be completed, but fans can nevertheless see the parts that were filmed, along with a newer framing sequence, in this just-released fan film…
On day 3, the third release was a very surreal 2-minute series of dream flashes in an episode called Nightmare. What’s interesting, and what several fans are currently talking about, is how the character of Minard appears in the Starfleet uniforms from different eras…from TOS to TNG to late-DS9.
Anyone who saw the earlier release of Resistance was likely equally confused seeing Vance play an officer in a 24th century TNG tunic on board a 23rd century starship (a museum ship, as it turned out). But the question is: are these 24th century characters, all played by Vance, also Erick Minard? Are some his offspring? Clones? Is he a time traveler? An immortal? An android? Or does he just have a really good plastic surgeon? I’m told we’ll discover the answer once the Minard saga concludes. In the meantime, take a look at what Minard dreams about…
By day 4, we were treated to another short vignette, The Mind’s Eye, this one 4 minutes long. At first glance, it seems like just a typical landing party away mission…but it is really?
For day 5, we get to see Vance wearing his TNG tunic again in a quiet vignette titled Old Wounds, with just him and one other actor in a subdued and pensive dialog. In space above, the USS Constar floating museum from Resistance orbits. Minard, if that’s who it is, seems older and wiser, perhaps a bit more seasoned by time. The mystery continues…
And if 5 fan films in 5 days wasn’t enough, day 6 brought Discover. After a series of three serious and somber fan films in a row, this one was decidedly light and optimistic…with a wink and a nod toward both of the new TV sci-fi offerings right now: The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery.
Using a subspace chat between Minard and a fellow officer assigned to another starship, Vance shares some of his own views on the recent debates and “feuding” that has gone on among Trekkers involving these two new shows. Star Trek fan films don’t typically tackle “social commentary” (or perhaps I should say, social media commentary), but as I said, Vance’s fan films aren’t always typical; sometimes they’re topical!
And on the seventh day, Vance kinda rested. Yeah, he still released a seventh fan film in seven days (setting a record that’ll be pretty tough to beat), but this final presentation was actually a “special edition” of the already-released The Valhalla Stone. It’s essentially the same footage as the original version but with one significant difference that I like to call “The Wizard of Oz approach.”
Remember how, in the original Wizard of Oz, the framing sequences in Kansas were filmed in sepia black and white while all of the wonderful “Land of Oz” scenes were in glorious Technicolor? Vance decided to do the same thing with the framing sequences that took place during the earlier “Pike era”…a tip of the hat to how Gene Roddenberry used to bring a black and white film print of the uncut first TOS pilot “The Cage” to conventions and show it to fans wanting to see what was missing from the flashbacks in “The Menagerie.” While an uncut color version was later discovered, for nearly two decades, fans watched “The Cage” at conventions as a grainy black and white print.
As I said, Vance likes to play around and experiment, and the special edition of The Valhalla Stone does just that. Take a look…
If you’re planning to criticize these efforts as “low-end” or “amateurish,” ask yourself first how many fan films you’ve released this week. Let’s give some credit where it’s due, people!
Vance is now entering what he calls “phase three” of the Minard saga, his sprint to the finish. Most of these final episodes will be filmed on location and are intended to wrap up the story of Erick Minard…hopefully answering the questions and helping to solve the many mysteries of this character. Vance says that, when completed, all of these episodes will form themselves into a giant jigsaw puzzle, with the ultimate picture finally becoming clear.
And as Vance completes his last few fan films, I’ll be certain to bring them all to you.