One of the biggest problems right now for fan films (and for Hollywood itself) is the global pandemic. And while COVID-19 did not completely stop the production of fan films or the entertainment industry in general, it made the shooting of these projects much more complex, somewhat more limited in scope and flexibility, and in some cases more expensive, as the cast and crew had to be provided with PPDs, disinfectants, and other ways to reduce the risk of contamination.
So what’s the alternative?
Well, the most obvious answer is to make an acoustic drama. Finally, the speakers do not have to be in the same place, they can record their lines individually at home or in a studio sound booth. In fact, there have been Star Trek audio series of varying quality for many, many years. But usually they appear on YouTube with a single or a slideshow of still images. You have to listen to them, not look at them. What if you want to make something that fans can see and hear during a pandemic?
Since the middle of last year, a few resourceful Trekkies have started producing what I like to call fandom movies. These were fan films where the characters were usually shown in single shots, so the actors didn’t have to stand next to each other. In many (but not all) of these stories, Starfleet officers spoke via subspace – such as space zooms or FaceTime calls – with actors filmed in their own homes.
But now fan film director MARK NASCARATO has come up with a new idea for socially conscious fan films, which he calls the comedy film. There have been a few proto-comics before, including creator TREY McELWAIN’s AXANAR COMICS series (like this one), in which the comics he writes and the illustrator illustrates are presented panel by panel with panning and zooming, with the narrator reading the credits, sound effects, and music.
But Mark went one step further. Although Mark also has a voice-over (provided by KYLE GEARY) and sound and music effects, his comics are not just still images with panning and zooming. Mark has brought in a facilitator who really moves the work.
Of course, it’s not full-blown animation like Star Trek: Lower decks because Mark doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars. So the movement is simple, but smart enough to provide an immersive visual experience. Look here…
The Holocaust comic itself (without animation) was originally published in April 2019 as the first of two such comics in Mark’s Rumulan War: An anthology of stories with illustrations by YUDHI SURYO and flowers by ULULL AZM. You can read the original, comic book version of the Holocaust here. And you can read the other Intruders comic here.
The Romulan War Stories anthology also includes the MUST SEE series, which Mark calls an extended audio drama. It’s a kind of fan film, in which voice actors play different characters – admirals, MAKOs, flight engineers, cargo pilots, planetary leaders – accompanied by simple 2D animation, short sequences of 3D visual effects and sometimes short video clips. While not as complete as a full video production, it is a significant step up from a simple radio play with only still images. You can watch and listen to all the war stories in this playlist on YouTube (including First Flight, in which yours truly shows off his singing skills).
And of course Mark is currently working on the second part of his great fan film Romulan War. Directed in the mockumentary style of PRELUDE TO AXANAR, Romulan War focuses on Earth’s other great interstellar enemy and the war that led to the creation of the United Federation of Planets. If you haven’t seen the first part yet, you should check it out…..
Currently, Mark is still trying to raise the last $605 on Indiegogo so he can fund the production of new scenes that were not originally planned. But because the campaign exceeded the original $10,000, there was an additional goal of $14,000 – and they almost reached it!
I was curious how this unique cinematic comic project came about, so I contacted Mark…..
Jonathan – Well done on your cartoon, Mark!
MARK – Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Jonathan! – Of course! I didn’t know you were planning on posting something like that. What is the origin story of this cartoon? And shouldn’t you finish a big fan film? Why are you interrupting to work on it?
MARK – I think the Marvel Super Heroes cartoons from the ’60s (like this one) that I saw after school in the mid-’70s were the first real cartoons, even if they weren’t called that. These limited edition cartoons reprinted many of the most important classic Silver Age stories of Marvel’s strongest heroes, and were a boon to young comic book readers like me who lived in a world where collectible stores and paperbacks didn’t yet exist.
I had always intended to do a Holocaust comic, at least for one of the Romulan War stories, and of the two comics we had published up to that point, the Holocaust lent itself better to animation than the other.
Why did I do this while producing the second part of the film and simultaneously running a fundraising campaign for the Indiegogo project? Well, the world of low-budget movies begins and ends during production. It’s not like a real Hollywood studio, where a lot of money goes around and people are employed for weeks or months at a time. There are rest breaks in the morning, and I used those to get away from it. The hardest parts – the script and the finished art – are already done.
Jonathan – How did you find your voice actor and presenter?
MARK – Hmmm, I wish there was a sexy story behind the production of Holocaust, but the truth is that after a few hours of searching I found a presenter and voice actor through Fiverr. Fortunately, the host (yes, he has his own small production company Creative MQ) turned out to be a Trek fan and gave me a discount at his usual rate. It was great working with him, even though he still won’t tell me his real name. …. Lol! And I worked with Kyle Geary, our voice actor, before he lent his voice to the same character, Anderson Le, in a short film called Hunting Ground that we released last year.
Jonathan – What do you do when a voice actor reads lines you’ve written elsewhere? Did you actively direct his performance on the phone or did you usually let him do it?
MARK – For Holocaust, I gave Kyle background on Le’s past, how he might process the horrors he sees, and the character’s emotional point of view. I think Kyle did a good job of showing us how Anderson Le’s experience in the Earth-Romulan war set him on the path of xenophobia and revenge that we see in Star Trek Beyond (Le was a former MACO who mutated into an alien named Manas when he was stranded on the Altimid planet). Honestly, Kyle’s performance in this piece is more a testament to his voice acting skills than mine as a director. I wasn’t even there when he said his lines!
Jonathan – Did anyone else work on this project as a composer?
MARK – I did all the editing, titles and sound effects, and the soundtrack comes from the music library. Honestly, I’m surprised that fan filmmakers don’t do more comic book movies. The format allows you to tell a big, exciting story, which you couldn’t do with real actors and locations. From a production standpoint, it’s much more manageable, because you’re really only dealing with a few people – atomists, animators and dubbing – let alone the dozens or more you’d need for a low-budget film. And, uh… The comic book movement is pandemic-proof. No mask or test is needed! Hey, here’s a quote for you!
Jonathan… Yes, I actually removed it from the blog! Everyone has asked how long it took you to make this comic from the time you started working on it to the time you published it.
MARK – It is difficult to calculate the duration of this project. The script and graphics were finished almost two years ago. Once the animation was approved, it only took Creative MQ a week to animate it, Kyle to record his tracks, and I probably a few more days to edit everything, mix the audio, and do the rest of the post-production.
The truth is, I let it happen for a while. I wanted to bypass the main Indiegogo campaign and make sure our donors saw it first. By the way, I plan to build at least one more mower bruiser by the end of the year. I love the format, and there are many other stories set during the Romulan War that I want to tell….. and the limited animation is as good as any.
If you’d like to help Mark raise the last $605 towards $14,000 for Romulan War, Part 2, here’s a link to his current Indiegogo campaign: