“Your revered Admiral Nogura invoked a little-known, seldom-used ‘reserve activation clause.’ In simpler language, Captain, they DRAFTED me!” Dr. McCoy uttered that line back in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And in 2023, it happened again…this time at NEUTRAL ZONE STUDIOS in Kingsland, Georgia.
As most of you know, NZS is the location of the gorgeous TOS sets that were originally constructed for the fan series STARSHIP FARRAGUT and later for STAR TREK CONTINUES. In 2019, after STC wrapped filming and Farragut Films had long since departed the studio, set owner and STC show-runner VIC MIGNOGNA sold the now-unused sets to Florida resident RAY TESI, who used a portion of his retirement savings to not only purchase the sets but to pay the lion’s share of the four-figure monthly rent with some help from fan donors on Patreon.
Ray decided to open the sets up to fan filmmakers who wanted TOS sets to shoot on, and the list is now quite impressive—including such fan series as AVALON UNIVERSE, DREADNOUGHT DOMINION, and CONSTAR CHRONICLES, along with individual fan films like LET OLD WRINKLES COME and TO HAVE BOLDLY GONE. In addition, NZS has its own fan series that has released a number of one-off fan films including THE LOOKING GLASS, ENDOSYMBIOSIS, and the very popular recent release DOOMSDAY. That’s one busy studio!
But it doesn’t end there.
Ray periodically opens the sets up to the general public for what he calls Fan Appreciation Weekends where people can visit Neutral Zone Studios, walk around those amazing sets, and take photos to their hearts’ content. Fan visitors often attend in costume, and that brings us to today’s blog. Ray Tesi tells the story…
One of the things that The Neutral Zone likes to offer fans is the opportunity to work on a fan film, either in front of or behind the camera. In November 2021, two women came to our Fan Appreciation Weekend in cosplay and were doppelgängers for Michael Burnham and Sylvia Tilly from STAR TREK: DISCOVERY!
My first reaction upon seeing them was: “I have to put you in a fan film!” Within four weeks, I had written the story (a TOS/Discovery crossover), and we filmed in March 2022. These women had never acted before, but they knew their lines and hit every mark as if they were seasoned professionals.
We premiered WHEN DUTY CALLS as an online event with an interactive Zoom call that followed. Whether you’re a fan of ST:Disco or not, these women deserve your undivided attention…
And now that you’ve seen this fan film, let’s chat with “Michael Burnham” and “Sylvia Tilly” themselves, LISA LAKE and RACHEL KAYS…
JONATHAN – Welcome to the world of Star Trek fan films!
LISA and RACHEL – Thank you.
JONATHAN – Tell us a little about yourselves and how you first got interested in Star Trek and Discovery.
LISA – I’m from Augusta, Georgia, a wife of 21 years and mother of four children ages 14, 16, 18, and 20. I’m currently a co-founder/executive director of a disability nonprofit called TELIC Empowerment. I began watching Star Trek as a kid but absolutely started loving Star Trek after I got married. My hubby is a huge Trekkie!
RACHEL – I’ve always lived in Georgia, but I am currently working as a language assistant in France. Growing up, Star Trek always was a significant presence in my home. My mom is also a major Trekkie, so some of my earliest memories include watching “The Trouble with Tribbles” with the family, so I’m definitely an Original Series girl.
When the Kelvin timeline films came out, we’d go watch them in the theater together. And then over the pandemic, I got into Discovery and watched that together with my mom as well. And while I’ve always loved the Trek I’ve seen, Discovery really was the first show that felt like it was “my” Star Trek show. It felt like it carried the heart of the franchise while updating it to reflect the current world we live in. I connected so much with it and have gotten to watch it as the episodes release, so it’s a really current and active fandom to be apart of, and it really holds a special place in my Trekkie heart.
JONATHAN – When did you start getting involved with cosplay, and what brought you into it? What characters do you cosplay?
LISA – I started cosplaying in 2019 but had been going to DragonCon for years with the husband, who also loves comics, movies, and video games. We decided to dress up for DragonCon in 2018, and I loved it! So the next year I was asked to join a cosplay group and then started cosplaying more characters, going to cons, cosplay events, ect.
I have cosplayed Captain Michael Burnham, Snow White, Daphne(Scooby Doo), Storm (X-men), Princess Leia, Black Canary, Moana, Green Lantern, Lana Kane (Archer), Woman King, and a host of other movie characters and black female celebrities.
RACHEL – I’ve always loved dressing in costumes, and I’ve been involved with costume-making since I was probably around 10 years old. I took sewing classes and I would sew my first costumes at that age. But the first time I officially cosplayed I think was a Rose Tyler costume from Doctor Who at around age 15 or 16 for small events in my community. I did a couple Disney costumes at Disney World when they held special events, and then cosplayed at a con for the first time as princess Belle at DragonCon at age 18. That experience was so incredible, it’s stuck with me ever since!
I may have too many cosplays to list because I generally do a couple new ones each year, but some of my favorites outside of Star Trek have been Thumbelina, Alan Grant from Jurassic Park, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. I love walking around and taking pictures, especially when I’ve worked really hard on a costume and want to be able to share it. I like going to some panels and events, meeting the con guests, and just taking in the atmosphere. And of course, meeting new friends…like Lisa!
JONATHAN – So (or sew), do you make all of your cosplay costumes?
RACHEL – I do a mix between making my own costumes and buying them. For example, with my season one Tilly uniform, I purchased it from Amazon because I knew I didn’t have access to some specific skills or materials I would have needed to make it. But my most recent Star Trek uniform, I created the pattern for and sewed myself.
LISA – I don’t make any of my costumes from scratch (I’m not that great at sewing…Rachel help me!). 😂 But I do tend to buy random pieces online—from costumes shops, Amazon, etc.—and piece together my costume and alter it to make them original. I also love to walk around and meet new cosplayers, reconnect with cosplay friends, take pics with fans, go to cosplay events, and meet new photographers. I don’t do many costume contests, but I’m open to it.
JONATHAN – How did you two first meet, and what led to you becoming such good friends? How often do you get together?
RACHEL – So on my end of the story, I had just recently gotten into Star Trek: Discovery, and I always go to DragonCon every year. So when I found out the cast of Discovery was coming to DragonCon in 2021, I knew I had to go in cosplay to meet them…especially when I found out MARY WISEMAN was going to be there—even Mary did a double take when she saw me!—so it was an easy decision.
I also went to go see one of the Discovery panels, and while waiting in line, Lisa came by with her spot-on Michael Burnham cosplay. I definitely had a fan girl moment seeing how much she looked like SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN and had to get a picture with her, and then everyone else in line at the panel wanted our photos together. After the panel was over, I don’t even remember how long she and I were standing there while everyone stopped us (and we kept getting stopped all weekend!). We both clicked and exchanged information so we could try and do more Trek stuff together! So now we definitely meet up at DragonCon, and we’ve gotten to do some really fun projects together as well.
JONATHAN – How did you find about about Neutral Zone Studios and their fan appreciation event?
LISA – I literally stumbled upon Neutral Zone Studios when I was looking for a photo location and more Star Trek events online that Rachel and I could go to after DragonCon. As soon as I saw Neutral Zone, I couldn’t believe this was in Georgia! I told Rache, and she was just as excited as I was to go to their Fan Appreciation Weekend. We booked the times we wanted to go and promised to make the 5-hour drive and meet each other there. I think it was the first time I had seen her in person again since DragonCon. It was AMAZING!
RACHEL – I had no idea Neutral Zone Studios existed! But when Lisa sent me the information about it, I was fully on board. Like I mentioned, I’m a TOS girl at heart, and one thing I loved about Discovery was the crossover between new Trek and original series events (I’ve been a massive Captain Pike fan especially even before Discovery). I loved that they had the chance to expand on what was only briefly mentioned in TOS, and I thought it would be really cool to blend the costumes from Discovery with the look of the 1960s set, continuing that crossover!
JONATHAN – Were either of you familiar with Star Trek fan films before going to Neutral Zone Studios?
LISA – I wasn’t very familiar with Star Trek fan films at all.
RACHEL – I had a passing awareness of Star Trek fan films but hadn’t ever really watched any. So a whole new segment of Star Trek fandom has been opened to me through all of this!
JONATHAN – What did you think of the TOS sets and the experience of visiting them?
RACHEL – It was absolutely surreal. I couldn’t believe how much it felt like I had actually stepped on board the original Enterprise. It was a dream come true for me.
LISA – I absolutely LOVED the TOS sets!!! Incredibly impressive! The experience was completely surreal. I couldn’t believe how accurate the sets were, and it was amazing to be able to not only be able to see the sets but walk directly onto them, touch everything, sit in the captain’s seat, take pictures, and actually create a Star Trek film as a Star Trek character. It was unbelievable!
JONATHAN – How and when did Ray Tesi approach you to star in a fan film? What was the conversation like, and what was your reaction?
RACHEL – I think Ray spotted us pretty quickly after we arrived. It was a very small group, and he kept telling us he wanted to speak with us more after the tour. I don’t think he was able to contain himself, though, because I remember, during the tour, Ray kept coming over to comment on our costumes, and at one point he made direct eye contact with Lisa and said, “I need to put you in a fan film.” And the rest is history.
We talked more about the idea of it that day, but at least on my part, I couldn’t believe that it would really happen. However, Ray got us a script within about a month, and at that point I knew it was actually happening and couldn’t contain myself.
LISA – Rachel is telling no lies! Ray spotted us and instantly said we needed to talk to him about a fan film. It was unbelievable! When he got us these scripts so quickly and our names were on them as part of the cast, and then to see that the entire film was written with us as the main characters, it was just surreal!
JONATHAN – Had either of you done any acting or performing prior to this?
LISA – I have never acted a day in my life!
RACHEL – I’ve done background acting on sets, and I had done some improv work at a Renaissance festival, but I had never done anything to this level, especially as a principal role like this. And it has been one of my favorite experiences that I’ve ever done.
JONATHAN – Did you do anything before the shoot to prepare for filming? If so, what?
RACHEL – Mostly line memorization! And I rewatched some clips with Tilly to try to be able to mirror some of how Mary acts. I wanted to be well prepared!
LISA – I literally looked at this script everyday, studied several clips of Sonequa as Michael Burnham, and practiced memorizing all the lines for each scene with my kids. I was so nervous that I was gonna mess up, and I was literally in almost every scene!
LISA – I LOVED shooting at Neutral Zone Studios! The sets are beautiful and nostalgic, the crew was so professional and focused, and everyone was so nice! My favorite moments were literally all the laughs in between the takes and just having fun with Rachel! I was so glad my hubby could be there too to witness it all! Walking onto the bridge and sitting in that Captain’s seat was also my favorite part!!!!
RACHEL – I was really impressed with how professional their operation was! I really had no idea what to expect, and they really know what they’re doing at Neutral Zone Studios. I think my job was probably one of the easiest—I just had to show up in costume and give lines!
I think one of my favorite moments was just having fun acting in Star Trek with so many other fans. I especially remember filming the Captain April scene—everyone was having a good time and we were all cracking jokes. And at the same time, having the doors open and close and being in the Captain’s Quarters really felt like we were on the ship! I also think a standout moment was watching Lisa enter the bridge with the overhead drone shot. It was also really cool watching Ray take the director’s chair.
JONATHAN – I’m assuming your friends and families have seen When Duty Calls by this point…what did they think?
RACHEL – They’re very happy and enjoyed a lot about it!
LISA – Everyone that has seen the fan film was so impressed and loved it! Many wanted it to continue and said it was too short!
JONATHAN – So, would you be interested in doing more fan films (Star Trek or other) in the future…or was once enough for you? And if yes, would you want to come back as Burnham and Tilly or play some different character?
LISA – I would absolutely do another fan film!! I love cosplaying Burnham, but I’m open to trying new things as well!
RACHEL – Absolutely, I would love to do more fan films in the future, Star Trek or otherwise. In a heartbeat. I had so much fun. I think doing a creative project on this level with so many people is a very unique experience, especially when you’re collectively celebrating something you love. And I would love to come back as Tilly, or try something new! I think both would be fun.