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Axanar Crew Interview – Mark Edward Lewis

I was introduced to Mark Edward Lewis by Richard Hatch in early 2014.  Little did I know Mark and I would help each other out with each others projects and in the process, help shape Star Trek fan films.

1) How did you become a Star Trek fan?

Apparently, my mother watched TOS while she was pregnant with me. In reruns, of course! After I was born, that habit continued for years. Basically, I was introduced to Gene’s vision before I was beamed here. I grew up watching those reruns and the bright colors of the cast’s tunics and dresses, and it caught my imagination, but it didn’t move me to be a fan.

I wanted to be a paleontologist. I loved dinosaurs WAY more than sci-fi. It wasn’t until I watched Star Wars at the prestigious Graumann’s Chinese Theater (where all the hand/footprints are mashed into the concrete in Hollywood) that my heart was stirred for science fiction. Sorry. It was Star Wars first- until I was deep into my college years – when TNG came out.

We were all extremely skeptical of it. As skeptical as most of us are about Discovery right now. We were so sure they were going to ruin Gene’s vision. I mean, a Klingon who looks like that!? Trying to stupidly replace Spock with a droid? A guy wearing a hair clip to show he’s blind? And worst of all, that silly Enterprise “D” design? I mean, what the heck happened to the “B” or “C”?!? Yeah. We were upset. Even after “Farpoint” and the nonsense which was “Q” we weren’t convinced. It got worse when TNG basically stole an episode out of the TOS playbook with their second “we’ve got a disease which has us feel drunk” story.

But about 4 episodes in, we realized this was something we were going to watch every week (long before streaming, binging or buying a series on iTunes – we actually had rituals around the commercials we had to endure), and I was hooked. TNG was really where I made the transition from Star Wars to Star Trek.

The next test of my resolve to like Star Trek was when Deep Space Nine came out. I mean, are you kidding me? A ship that doesn’t go anywhere!?! And so it was that DS9 became my favorite of all the iterations with the best captain, the best writing, the best characters, the best battle scenes, the best music, the best call-backs to episodes and characters from TOS/TNG.

Regardless of what series I loved best, I’ve become a serious defender of the idea of IDIC over the years, and I’ve had the honor of working with several actors and venerable crew members from the series on my series “Blade of Honor” including Dennis Madalone (Stunt Choreographer for TNG, DS9, Voyager and more), Aron Eisenberg (DS9) and Tim Russ (Voyager).

2) How did you hear about Axanar?

One day I was early to meet with my dear friend Richard Hatch. I strolled up to a sidewalk table where he was sitting with two other men. One of those men was Star Trek: New Voyages director and VFX supervisor Daren Dochterman. The other was one: Alec Peters. Richard introduced me to both, and Alec and I hit it right off. I was told by Richard that Alec was making a “Star Trek film…” which Alec quickly corrected was a “fan film.” Now, I had worked with Marc Zicree on New Voyages’ “World Enough and Time” years earlier as a camera operator for the Los Angeles shoot on the Excelsior set, so I knew what a fan film was…but I nearly fell out of my chair when he said that the story focused around the Klingon/Federation war – which came from the FASA storyline.

Although I was a Star Wars fan during my formative youth, my younger brother and I poured hundreds of hours into Star Trek FASA universe Starship Tactical Combat Simulator games. We created computer programs to track multiple ship movements and cloak vectors (we’re talking the 80s here), and ships were always what amazed me. I loved the concept of phasers, photon torpedoes, warp speed, and raze shields. I think my brother and I have blown up more starships than all the series and movies combined. My excitement about a movie which would jump into that uncharted period in Federation history set my heart on fire.

3) What did you do for Prelude to Axanar?

In that meeting with Alec, he needed an editor. I had won several awards as an editor. I was also beginning my career as a post production supervisor. Being an editor AND a post supervisor on smaller format projects (under $5 million) is usually a good situation, since all the assets of post production have to come into the hands of the editor anyway. So I quickly became the editor and the post production supervisor.

Then Robert Meyer Burnett became the editor, and I ended up bringing on Frank Serafine (Tron, Star Trek: TMP) as Senior Sound Designer to help with what I knew would be a massive amount of original sound effects for the series of ships which Tobias Richter and Co. would be creating. As it turns out, I ended up creating all the sounds for the starships and battle sequences with the exception of the TOS and TNG sounds which we used/layered into the sequences. We absolutely HAD to use the original phaser and torpedo sounds, but we altered them and cleaned them up to work in what was in essence a modern short film about an old-futuristic series but done earlier-even older- but sound-better-but-be-older. Yeah. It was confusing to us too. Frank ended up doing several of the compression phaser sounds and he added shotgun samples to the torpedoes of the Ares which was a cool “snappy” addition. I also brought the mix, which I did, to Sol 7 Mix & Post where I did the Re-Recording Mixing. I oversaw the internet mix as well, where we brought in one of the world’s best music mastering engineers, Moshon Shabbah, and gave him instructions to make a LOUD “Hip Hop” stereo mix of our 5.1 surround master. It’s amazing and is most likely the mix you’ve all heard – unless you saw Prelude in a theater.

So basically, I was at one point or another: Editor, Post Supervisor, Sound Editor, Sound Effects Designer, Mixer, Re-Recording Mixer.

4) Tell us about the very first Axanar shoot, the first Kickstarter video.  You have a big role in that.

The first crowd funding video we did was actually at Alec’s apartment. I brought my friend, Emmy Award winning director Sven Kamm to shoot it for us. It was Alec, Me, Richard, Christian and Ryan T. Husk (who is now a producer on “Blade of Honor). I had never met Christian or Ryan, and the shoot went pretty well. Lisa Hansell was there doing makeup as well.

There were two issues with the shoot: one was that in the background was some cool stuff Alec had, but it was lit by this awful yellow light. We shot on the HVX-200 which usually handles yellows well, but it was SO yellow that it actually was distracting. Second, we knew there was going to be TONS of ancillary content which needed to be cut – and needed to be cut to Alec’s spec. As the editor of Axanar, I knew that Alec needed to have some facility with a software non-linear editing platform so he could at least audition shots and move things around as needed. I knew I wasn’t always going to be available, and I feared that post production might slow down while Alec waiting for me to do simple things I knew he could do with a little training.

So, instead of me cutting this video myself, Alec lugged himself down to my place where for several days, I taught him how to edit in Final Cut 7 (before X was usable) by doing the cut himself. I never touched the keyboard. He did it all himself while I guided him. He picked it up pretty fast, and after a couple of days, we had a powerful rough cut which, as I recall, didn’t need a lot of tweaking. Alec also, then, had a good understanding of how cutting works, and how to do it himself. It was a good two-for-one deal. When you watch that video, you’re actually seeing Alec’s work as an editor.

Now, I have no idea if he ever cut anything ever again, but he did good work on what garnered Axanar over $100,000. That’s pretty good cutting.

5) Alec got you to edit and post the Star Trek New Voyages episodes “Kitumba” which Alec secured from James Cawley.  Tell us about working on that.”

Actually Alec got me a lot more than that on STNV. He brought me in for Kitumba, then to fix the beleaguered “The Holiest Thing,” then to direct “Mind Sifter.”

It began with Kitumba which was languishing in a post production political nightmare. Alec got an assembly of the episode which had multiple directors/people having cut their versions – none of which had any cohesion with the others. I have no idea how he did this, because at the time, several people had “their edits” of the show and they were such that “this director” had this act, “this producer” had this act, “this guy with an editing platform and the footage” had this act. Somehow he got all the acts put together, and got a drive from James Cawley – and got James to sign off on letting me cut it. Remember, at that time, James had no idea who I was.

Alec and I sat down and we watched the various versions, made a composite single edit, it and made notes. It wasn’t horrible, but it was certainly bad. It was way too long, and there were significant continuity issues bad enough to take the viewer out of the story. This was the biggest issue James Cawley had with it. So I went to work in Final Cut 7 (the format in which it came). As I recall I cut out 20 minutes of it, while adding the most beautiful VFX shots anyone had ever seen of Star Trek vessels as made by Tobias Richter. He’d made a HOST of shots which no one had ever seen, and the former director(s) had never inserted. I was able to put those shots back in, and reduce the length of the episode to what felt much snappier – without losing the 1968 pacing (a little slower than modern standard).

But the BIGGEST ISSUE with that episode was not the cut or the sound which poor Ralph Miller had to redo for a third time, it was the footage itself. It had been completed at 720p – which is about half of true HD standard (consider Axanar Prelude was shot at 8 times that size). The episode had been shot in 2009 when 720p was fine, but in 2013 even youtube videos looked terrible at 720…and blowing up the footage to 1080p (HD standard now) made everything look like it was in a snow storm of noise and haze. Worse, all of Tobias’ and Pony Horton’s amazing VFX work was 720 and dramatically suffered from the blow up. They would have to redo hundreds of hours of work to get to 1080p.

I had STNV invest in a simple noise fixing program and I went to work blowing up all the footage to 2K (slightly bigger than 1080), noise fixing everything – including Tobias’ shots which also had a strong color correction and enhancement done to them – and reducing them again to 1080. Pony Horton, bless him, opted to completely redo his shots so they had the most fidelity. The end result is something I think we’re all proud of.

After this, Alec brought me in for “The Holiest Thing” to fix that episode which had been suffering from bad transcodes, cinematography and other issues. But that would go on hold until after I was brought in as 4rth string director for “Mind Sifter.” Several other directors had been approached before me, and had conflicts of one sort or another. Alec approached me after an Axanar production meeting and asked if I’d direct for STNV. I was thrilled. As it turned out, “Mind Sifter” was released and “Torment of Destiny” shot with Richard Hatch before “Holiest Thing” was released. I had a wonderful time working on all three of those episodes, and now we’re waiting for special dispensation from CBS to allow Torment of Destiny to be completed. My biggest thrill for Mind Sifter was being able to create the perfect Constitution vs. D7-strikes-first opening salvo as my brother and I had created in FASA’s Combat Simulator so many times – and to watch Spock be the captain of the Enterprise while it happened in the episode.

6) What was your favourite memory of working on Axanar so far?

My favorite memory of working on Axanar is sitting at the mixing desk at Sol 7 Mix & Post and watching Prelude top to bottom in a perfect viewing, perfect 5.1 listening environment – LOUD. It was so gratifying. In the room with me were Michael Lehmann Boddicker, Alec, Rob, Christian, Frank – and we all had notepads and were writing down little fixes we saw or heard. Being in the re-recording mix of any movie is where all the magic comes together and it feels like a movie. We knew we had something which had never been done before, and it would change everything. My heart was racing through the whole thing.

7) How do you feel about Axanar now having to be two 15 minute episodes rather than a feature film?

In two words? It sucks. I’ve never seen the script for any iteration of Axanar except prelude, but I trust in Rob’s vision for storytelling and I know from what he’s told me that what would have been – was going to be amazing. On the other hand, it may allow for other people (like me) to be involved in more creative roles because now there is a break out of budgets, stories and schedules into cuttable episodes instead of a giant juggernaught. Still, I think it’ll be great whether I’m involved or not.

8) Why do you like working on Axanar?

First, I like working with friends. Rob, Alec, Michael, Frank, Bing, Ryan, and so many others are people who I’d just as soon have a drink and sushi with as make a product. But I also have that childhood dream of seeing the Klingon War realized. Being a part of that with great people is the best of all worlds.

9) How would you like Axanar to be remembered?

I would like Axanar to be remembered as the next step in Crowd Funding evolution, Fan Film evolution, one of Richard Hatch’s best performances – and along with J.G. as Martok – the greatest Klingon performance, an evolution in how Science Fiction battle scenes should be realized (no more space lake), an evolution in what space shots should look like, and, of course, an evolution in how fan films should sound and immerse audiences.

 

Thanks to Mark for answering our questions!  We look forward to Mark working on The Four Years War epsiodes IV & V. 

 

Mark Edward Lewis is an award winning filmmaker and Executive Producer of the science fiction series “Blade of Honor”. He is also a sought after lecturer on creating Hollywood production values for independent filmmakers and has over 85 hours of education available at his online portal: CinemaSound.com

 

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