Monthly Archives: March 2016

More on Writing for Free… or Very Little

I should spend more time talking about and linking to Mark Evanier‘s series on rejection. However, in the meantime, in light of my post on Monday, I figured I’d list Part 7 of his Rejection series which covers low and no pay writing.

One standout quote: “Working cheap or for free occasionally leads to getting paid decently but more often, it leads nowhere… or to more offers to work for little or no money.”

At the same time, I really like what he gets into in the second part of the post: about how peers can influence your decisions.

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school. Naturally, as with anyone who’s ever wanted to do anything creative, I wanted my work to be breathtakingly original, if not all-out genre re-defining. And of course, I didn’t want to “sell out,” whatever that might be.

We can talk more about “being original” at another point in time, but through my later teens, I came to a much better understanding of what “selling out” meant. Simply put: “selling out” in most cases is a meaningless phrase others will foist on you, much like Eugene did in this case.

This isn’t to say you might not sell your soul. You may use your creative powers for evil, not good. There’s a lot of corporations out there that don’t share your values and scruples — and even if what they’re asking you to do isn’t criminal, it doesn’t feel right. The trick is that outside of actual criminal activity, you not the Eugenes of the world, get to define where that line is. You cross that line, you are selling out. Once you stop to examine what peers are advocating, you’ll see their lines are, almost to a fault, very different, even if they’re on your side. If they’re folks like Eugene, who want to hold you to a line to which they themselves don’t want to be held, run.

Star Trek goes full Gilgamesh… or at least Victorian?

This is the eighth entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Here’s an update on the Axanar lawsuit, in the form of an article by Eriq Gardner over at The Hollywood Reporter. As mentioned before, this case could be interesting for more than just Star Trek fans in terms of what it means for copyrights, IP, etc. I’m not so convinced Axanar can prevail based on the amended complaint and other matters I talked about last time, but we’ll see.

The Seemingly Eternal Issue of Writing for Free

My head nodded knowingly, along many other part-time scribes, as I read Wil Wheaton’s piece last Fall about turning down Huffington Post’s offer to e-print a popular article of his in exchange for “exposure.”

Wil Wheaton touches on what appears to be one of the most infuriating aspects of the modern economy (though I know examples of it have existed for ages): exposure is sufficient payment for creative work.

Robert Bevan, from a post on his blog back in January, considers the whole issue of whether to write for free… and in part based on the chest thumping pronouncements of various colleagues online, proposes that writing for free is not wholly horrible — and that includes Huffington Post’s seemingly abusive offer. Sometimes you’re using these platforms just as they are using you.

Bevan’s piece is a quick read. And for those of us not making a noticeable income from our writing, the concepts of how one might employ “giving free samples” using some of these platforms is an intriguing idea. In fact, it’s good to think how it should or should not factor into the strategy.

However, the larger industry as it applies to writers is important to keep in mind. Unless I’m missing something, there’s a severe structural problem within the overall publishing industry with paying writers: both in a timely fashion and for a reasonable rate. Photographers, musicians, and other creative folk appear to be in the same or similar boat. And while this issue pre-dates the Internet, the Internet seems to have helped push the cultural attitude that content can be free — and the way to maintain that non-price is to squeeze the content creator.

That brings us to a second piece by Yasmin Nair on Vox. She also references Wheaton’s piece, but from the perspective of an active freelancer unapologetically trying to make a living here and now entirely as a writer. (I believe Bevan works as both a teacher and a writer)

Nair’s piece is longer, but well worth the read. She makes several points throughout the article, but I would say an overarching argument is that writing needs to be seen as more than a hobby and writers should be budgeted for — even as other positions are budgeted for in organizations, many of which are bare-bones concerns.

I see similar arguments with actors and the aforementioned photographers, musicians and others. People try and pay them nothing because sometimes they can get away with it. As Nair points out, there’s a cost to “free” and that cost can hurt other writers trying to make their major living from writing (just as actors working for free can harm the livelihood of other actors).

I can’t say I have answers, but I’m listing these links here to spark and continue conversation. And I’ll continue to discuss my own strategy as well (hint: this blog is where I write for free and provide “free samples”).

 

Recommended Reading: Roger Corman’s Next Act

Roger Corman, the indefatigable indie film icon, has apparently fallen afoul of financial shenanigans because of others’ mismanagement as detailed in this piece by Eriq Gardner in The Hollywood Reporter.

I, for one, am looking forward to Death Race 2050.

Daredevil on Netflix Might be for you if…

In honor of the impending Season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix this Friday, I’m going to re-posting a list I put on Facebook after my wife and I finally got around to seeing it last Summer.

For those of you wondering if you should jump in, you should definitely start with Season 1… and I stand by all these observations.

Warning: Potential Spoilers for people who want to go in with no expectations…

Daredevil on Netflix might be for you if:

1) You watched The Dark Knight trilogy and thought, “Oh, they’re trying to be dark and edgy. How cute!”

2) You like to play “Spot the Accent” (Betcha don’t catch ’em all!)

3) You really want to feel better about yourself as a father by comparison

4) You like crusty old reporters whose wrinkles have wrinkles

5) You want to see a creative new spin on “Shut up, Wesley!” You’ll know what I mean.

6) You’ve always wanted to see if Vincent D’Onofrio will literally explode. I mean literally, not figuratively. Like the crew knew some of them would die in the D’Onofri-blast, but they still wanted to film it just to include the real footage in the show.

7) You want to see Rosario Dawson hang a lantern on it like a boss

8) You want validation that art people can dress in white but be just as weird. Seriously, what the hell is that person thinking?

9) You want to see someone completely miss the point of a Bible story.

10) You want to see an amazing drama with engaging characters which is also arguably the best superhero TV show ever made.

Every Star Trek Series has that Awkward Episode

This is the seventh entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Christine Wang at CNBC had an article yesterday giving an update on the Axanar Lawsuit.

In the good news, at least in the court of opinion, the director of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, Justin Lin essentially tweeted his support for Axanar.

Awkward.

Maybe not as awkward as Space Hippies, but still...

Maybe not as awkward as Space Hippies, but still…

I would strongly suspect Justin Lin got contacted by someone at CBS or Paramount to get some additional backstory and advice on further tweets.

That’s because as of March 11th, CBS/Paramount has an amended complaint, and it’s probably not going to look so good in, y’know, the actual court legally binding opinion (should we get to that).

I should pause here and disclose that, since there are rather a lot of lawyers here in the Washington, DC area (it’s true, ask Tom Paxton!), I’ve talked with some of them about the lawsuit in passing. And while they are not necessarily familiar with this lawsuit –or in some cases Star Trek– several are quite familiar with intellectual property (IP), licensing, and non-profits, so here are some of the take-aways:

1) Axanar may have let this escalate
The lawyers I spoke with don’t see a scenario where CBS/Paramount would not have sent a cease and desist letter to Axanar prior to the lawsuit. Companies, especially mega-corporations used to protecting their IP, routinely do that for precisely the “threat of the big stick effect” I mentioned in January’s post.

That means Axanar Productions may have ignored the cease-and-desist letter, which is, and I’m pretty sure this is the legal term: crazypants.

Again, this is speculation on the part of lawyers unfamiliar with the case, but familiar with how large companies –including entertainment companies– operate. Further research or articles may shed light on whether Axanar was sent a cease & desist and ignored it, but if it’s true, that’s a bad error on Axanar’s part.

2) California cares about non-profit status a lot
I had no idea about this and I don’t know all the details, but the one lawyer mentioned this could be a significant factor with the whole “not making a profit” aspect of the matter.

This came up when I mentioned how CBS/Paramount had allowed fan productions to exist as they didn’t make a profit and that I believed Axanar was pursuing getting formal non-profit status.

Star Trek Continues, for example, has Trek Continues, Inc. a bona fide, 501 (c)(3) that is all about looking at the original Star Trek series for “educational” reasons. That’s cool. It’s not uncommon for hobbyist/fan groups to emphasize their educational and community service leanings. The 501st Legion from that other Star franchise actually delights in doing community service things while all armored up.

So yeah, I know that it can take a year or so to get non-profit status, but that might be an issue.

3) There’s no way Axanar can win the lawsuit
This is the big one. I have quibbles (not tribbles) with the claim of the Klingon language or just about any language being owned, but I get why it’s part of CBS/Paramount’s exhaustive listing of infringements. Look at the amended claim and you’ll see dozens of examples of ways in which Axanar is copying Star Trek. This is one thing I feel the article above is getting imprecise. It’s not that CBS/Paramount is arguing they own the copyright to gold uniform shirts and pointy ears, it’s that those elements –along with several dozen other elements– are what makes this an unlicensed copy of Star Trek.

There’s fair use, there’s making transformative works, and making parodies (also in fair use, previously). None of those would seem to apply.

So now we get to the real awkwardness of this post. Because if CBS/Paramount can show that Star Trek Axanar is a copy (and it’s quite clear they can), then any other fan film is also a copy subject to lawsuit. Not a shocker for anyone with common sense or someone noting “Star Trek” is in both titles. However, absent any sort of license or agreement, the fan productions can be shut down at any time.

Again, makes sense legally, but as previously mentioned, some of us have gotten used to our homemade ice cream.

Let’s not have a General Order 24 of the fan productions, please!

Recommended Reading: The Internet as Disruptor, Political Edition

It’s well known that the Internet has disrupted existing industries like a rampaging honey badger. It’s probably also obvious –upon reflection– that this easily extends into the realm of politics.

A long-form article by Timothy B. Lee appearing on Vox.com delves into how this has factored into the current political season.

No matter how you view some of the candidates, it’s interesting to see how this is shaking up the status quo — and also preventing the status quo from quo-ing the status. Or at least translating everything into Latin. Honey badgers hate Latin.

Star Trek Fans: Rules of Acquisition

This is the sixth entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

No worrisome things today, just more information on the new Star Trek series, set to arrive at CBS’s new “All Access” channel in January 2017.

Over at a site called Trek Core they’ve summarized a speech CBS president Les Moonves gave to CBS investors recently at a conference. (For those interested, they have the link to the full speech).

My main takeaway was that they were pretty sure the numbers would be there to support scripted programming like Star Trek. They’re looking to this as a good way to do international distribution too, profits from the international market being an every-growing facet of Hollywood equations.

I don’t mind that, because Trek does strive to be universal — okay, at least pervasive in the Alpha Quadrant.

Anyway, it’s good to know because it seems a short time ago, before scripted dramas clearly made a comeback, studios and networks were all about reality television and how to maximize dollars earned. Scripted narratives were nasty, cumbersome expensive things.

If they’re confident in the money earned from distribution, they may feel comfortable giving decent funding to the series, so there won’t be a situation like there was with the Ferengi when they first appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"Should we return fire, Captain?" "No, we don't have the budget."

“Should we return fire, Captain?”
“No, we don’t have the budget.”

Hey, interesting considering yesterday’s post about profit vs. purpose, huh?

Recommended Reading: The Profit vs. Purpose Debate Continues

Jokes from my previous post about cheerleaders’ souls aside, it’s good to note that the debate about whether a business should seek profit to the exclusion of all else, or join it with purpose has raged for years, as explored in this article from Inc. by Bill Saporito.

Personally, I like it when businesses are profit-minded, but purpose-driven.

(At some point when I’m not feeling swamped with deadlines, I’ll elaborate on that phrase.)

Star Trek Fans: The Hope Strikes Back!

This is the fifth entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

You thought the CBS/Paramount EMPIRE would be the one to strike back, right?

Well that narrative could still happen, but Axanar Productions, the folks behind the impressive fan film Prelude to Axanar and the theoretically upcoming Star Trek: Axanar, have staged a legal counterattack versus the CBS/Paramount lawsuit.

Readers may wish to check out the third entry of this impromptu series where I elaborate on my position. I absolutely believe that CBS/Paramount has intellectual property (IP) rights to Star Trek and can (and should) protect those rights. However, there is also a big precedent they themselves in allowing fan productions to exist. From a legal standpoint, I wonder if they can be so inconsistent in the protection of their rights, all fan productions being equal. On a practical matter, they absolutely want to be sensitive to how this looks to ardent Star Trek fans.

Axanar, in essence, is asking CBS and Paramount to clarify exactly what rights Axanar is violating. You can actually read the entire motion at the article link above (and I know some of you will).

It could be a delaying tactic, as a lawyer consulted for the article notes, but it is a sign that Axanar Productions isn’t rolling over — which appears to delight many Star Trek fans publicly (and potentially Star Trek fan productions privately). Whether or not this results in a decision that Star Trek fans applaud, this is intensely interesting for those of us wondering about the future of copyright and intellectual property law.

By the way, if you thought I would stop making references to that other “star franchise” (you know, the one with the magical space wizards) while still talking Trek, you were mistaken. To mix franchises even further: the board is set and the pieces are moving.

Don't worry. I'm not going to go into the rights disputes that delayed The Hobbit from being made.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to go into the rights disputes that delayed The Hobbit from being made.

In fact, it would probably be a good idea for all said fan productions to meet up, Council of Elrond like, and discuss what they’d like the end state to be for Star Trek fan films. No, I’m not saying CBS/Paramount is Sauron or even Saruman, though I suppose I am saying the different fan productions may behave like elves and dwarves do when they get together: contentiously. (I mean, I hope not, but have you met fans?)

But in any case, the lawsuit is a dark cloud hovering over every fan production and will remain so until it’s resolved. For that reason, I’m actually kind of bummed Axanar did their David vs. Goliath thing. Whether one considers CBS/Paramount and evil empire or not (I don’t) and whether you think they took a heavy hand in going a lawsuit route (I do, at least based on info I have), they still own the Star Trek IP. In general, I don’t see how Axanar can ultimately win a court case that they can use other people’s copyright that is neither transformative nor protected under parody. So they need to settle. That’s all we need. We just need there to be no war… today.

Seriously, no one wants a General Order 24 of the fan productions.

Seriously, no one wants a General Order 24 of the fan productions. Well, maybe Anan 7, but he’s nuts.

 

Frankly, I’m bummed that we’re talking about this in March. I kind of hoped that, after all the announcements in January, there would be some update that Axanar people, perhaps with a lawyer by their side, met with CBS/Paramount, and a settlement was reached for the fan film to be made.

A worse case would be that there’s no settlement and we’re still talking about this in the summer. That eats into what I’m sure will be Star Trek Beyond publicity time… and meanwhile, I believe Axanar Productions has a warehouse-now-studio it’s paying rent on. That’s donor money that’s better spent on making a way cool fan film.

We’re burning daylight and dilithium people! Let’s make this work.