Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Worst of Both Worlds: Axanar Edition

This is the 28th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Very far-reaching world events you may have heard of –and good ol’ work duties– have been dominating my attention for the past two weeks. However, for a small subset of Star Trek fans like myself, there has also been big Star Trek news of late:

First, Star Trek: Discovery is apparently delayed further.

Second, the CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar lawsuit has been settled — and the settlement apparently means Axanar can make a film.

I’ll get to the fact that the settlement means we can potentially see [a version of] Axanar in a moment.

Before that, I wanted to touch on Star Trek: Discovery being delayed. It’s a bummer, but production delays do not mean automatic doom (I’m looking at you, TV incarnation of Westworld). In fact, considering how little I knew about Westworld going in, I’m thinking a little self-enforced media blackout might be a good thing. It certainly helped my enjoyment of Force Awakens and Rogue One.

What you might not know about the Discovery delay is one side of the pro-Axanar narrative that I haven’t previously delved into before — in part because it will trigger your starship’s “crazypants deflector.”

(This is a little-known, but very necessary feature mandatory on all Federation starships — almost as important as structural integrity fields).

You see, as the narrative goes, in addition to CBS/Paramount going after Axanar “because it was just too good,” CBS/Paramount also wanted to use the specific time period where Axanar is set, and they couldn’t do that with pesky Alec Peters and Axanar in the way with their story of the Four Years War.

Why, Alec and co. might sue CBS/Paramount for taking their idea!

Yes, you read that right. In the mind of some Axanar defenders, CBS/Paramount, the people who own the the intellectual property (IP) of Star Trek might be stealing, um, ideas for Star Trek stories.

Evidently, the Axanar faithful have managed to avoid running this line of thought past any intellectual property attorney –or indeed any law student who’s been paying attention– so they don’t understand how “stealing ideas” doesn’t come into play when it’s not infringing a copyright, trademark, or patent. You know, like Axanar did with Star Trek IP.

There’s also repeated invocations of Gene Roddenberry, as if adhering to his vision –or at least what they believe to be his vision– conveys any legal standing. Roddenberry can and should get kudos for creating Star Trek. But for us to be able to see Star Trek in the first place, he sold the rights… like countless creatives have done before and since. During the lawsuit, the Axanar legal team went through the Quixotic legal motions for CBS/Paramount to prove chain of title. Unsurprisingly, there were no legal hull breaches. In fact, Judge Klausner struck down Axanar’s main legal strategy in claiming Fair Use.

But besides the silliness of fans being able to sue IP rights holders for “using their ideas” about the IP, there’s the notion that creative professionals are creatively bankrupt in the first place. The producers of Star Trek: Discovery include Star Trek veterans Bryan Fuller and Nicholas Meyer as well as a host of other experienced writer-producers that may not be as well known, such as Gretchen Berg, Aaron Harberts, and Heather Kadin.

I guarantee you that each one of these people wants to make the best dang Star Trek show possible — and they all have a track record of actually producing dozens of hours of professional television and films.

That’s no small feat… and it’s not a feat the Axanar crew has managed.

And that’s important. Because as I mentioned last year in parsing the new Fan Film Guidelines: what’s better than Star Trek fan productions? Actual Star Trek!

Which brings us back to the settlement. I know many on the CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar discussion board wanted blood, which is understandable given Axanar’s role in forever changing the landscape of Axanar fan films. Writer and designer Daniel Quinn noted a little over a week ago, as the case was marching to its court date, that Axanar was going to ruin things for everyone. I contend it already has. In fact, based on my last post, you can reasonably assume I wouldn’t say no to Axanar receiving a Kirk flying leg kick.

Still, there’s the amazing resolution that we could actually see Axanar, albeit an Axanar that must adhere to the new Star Trek fan film guidelines — with exceptions to said guidelines allowing some of the professional actors to still be involved. Part of me would love to see what they could come up with in two 15-minute segments.

But I can’t ignore their complete financial mismanagement that allowed them to blow through $1.4 million in crowd-raised funds… and pretend like that was normal or expected. Remember Axanar’s statement:

And also remember, that, per Axanar’s own admission via legal depositions, tens of thousands of crowd-raised dollars were spent on personal expenses:

Did you get that? Not just an occasional dip into the funds, which wouldn’t be cool anyway, but two years’ worth of personal expenses paid for by Star Trek fans.

All for the privilege of not getting the promised film.

Where No Fan Film has Gone Before
There’s a number of questions the settlement raises, some of which are covered in a recent Axamonitor article.

What I find truly disturbing is Alec Peters’ casual admission that they knew over a year ago that they wouldn’t be making the film:

 

There’s several things to unpack in that conversation. First and foremost is the admission that “…it was clear [Axanar] could never make the movie, win or lose.”

So if they knew they couldn’t make the movie that Star Trek fans wanted to see –a consistent talking point throughout this past year– why didn’t they settle earlier? And how is that spending the $1.4 million “as promised?”

As you might expect, many an Axanar backer is not cool with this. Many of them point out that they backed an Axanar feature film, and that two 15-minute webisodes does not amount to the same thing. Others are upset that Axanar settled at all, feeling their cause was just (and apparently missing the part where the Fair Use defense was rejected).

Even so, there are still those Axanar true believers. That’s another item to unpack in the online conversation above. Ambitious crowdfunded projects failing to achieve their goal is not unheard of. Backing a team that failed to achieve their goal so spectacularly means giving more weight to one’s faith than the facts at hand. At this point, do you really want to keep on backing Axanar, despite strong evidence that they will not be good custodians of your dollars?

But apparently some people gotta lotta faith.

It’s transformative!

Besides the $1.4 million in funds being gone, many of the team that made Prelude to Axanar are no longer there, including Christian Gossett, the director and co-writer and Tommy Kraft who was instrumental in much of the digital compositing portion of the visual effects.

And in addition to the lack of funds and possible lack of integral personnel, there’s also a significant leap of logic one needs to make. When I last pointed it out, it had seven steps, but since the settlement, it’s grown.

In short, if you are to take Alec Peters at his word, working on Axanar has been:

1) A full-time job which is just a hobby, for which he
2) required a completely reasonable salary which is not a salary because he paid it back
3) to produce a professional feature film that is simultaneously a fan film
4) to be shot in a studio which is a commercial studio except when it’s not and is just a warehouse
5) and they were all ready to begin shooting in the beginning of 2016 yet the studio/warehouse still isn’t ready for shooting in 2017
6) and they have been working meticulously to get every detail adhere exactly to Star Trek canon because they’re doing this for the true Star Trek fans,
7) but this is in no way a Star Trek film
8) which the Axanar team knew could not be made the moment the lawsuit was filed in December 2015
9) which is one of the reasons the Axanar team continually argued they wouldn’t settle the lawsuit unless they could make that film the Star Trek fans really wanted
10) and so Alec Peters and Axanar spent the $1.4 million as promised
11) to make the Star Trek fan film that’s a professional film that’s not a Star Trek film
12) except they didn’t make the film.

If someone can keep that straight in their head, they’re far better than me or our poor ensign above.

I can’t help but think they’re worse off in the long run though.

Where Umbrage Has Lease
So here’s the thing: if people want to support the continued adventures of Axanar, go for it. The fan film guidelines allow for rich uncles and private donations.

But what Axanar can’t do, by their own description of the settlement, is solicit more donations publicly.

Guess what they’re doing as of today?

Taken from axanarproductions.com on 2017-01-30

And this is what really overheats my warp core: they’re still pretending that they’re a non-profit because they’re going to apply to become a non-profit. For realz.

Click to enlarge. Taken from http://www.axanarproductions.com/mythbusters-debunking-three-misconceptions-about-axanar-productions/ on 2017-01-30. Note the post itself is from March 2016.

Ladies and gentlebeings, I’ve worked for non-profits. I’ve benefited from non-profits. I’ve even helped start a non-profit.

Neither Axanar Productions nor any of its shell companies is a non-profit.

Some people have opined that California is pretty strict about non-profits. Perhaps. But I’ve checked out out the steps for forming a non-profit in California and they don’t look any more difficult than Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia (where the non-profits I’m more familiar with reside).

Look at that link I provided above. It’s chock full of useful information and, as with so much in government, it may be boring, but it isn’t rocket science. Anyone can form a business (hey, Axanar Productions has arguably formed several) and the nice thing about non-profits is you often can find a lawyer who’s willing to help you out pro-bono.

What? Did you think all those small non-profit theaters I worked for in the DC area were raking in the cash?

So you combine ample resources to walk you through forming a non-profit and the prospect of pro-bono legal help, why don’t we see any sign of that on the Axanar website?

You see, getting that non-profit status isn’t an endless black hole. Another quick Google search and you’ll find another resource that tells you to expect 2-12 months to get your IRS status as a 501(c)(3). In my experience, it seems to always take at least 6 months, but that’s doable.

And why am I harping on this? Because in my experience, any bona fide non-profit can’t keep quiet about seeking its valid status and announcing they’re open for tax-deductible donations. And, in fact, the IRS likes to get a bunch of information every year on such organization in their Form 990 — a form those organizations love to share on their websites and something you can look up.

That’s right citizen: these organizations dedicated to public good make the nitty-gritty details of their budget open for anyone to see. Heck, they often share their bylaws openly too.

Don’t believe me? Check out the non-profit running Star Trek Continues and their application for non-profit status, something you’ll also find mentioned on their website. Plus, you want their Form 990? Bam, here ya go!

What about that non-profit I has a small part in starting, the DC Film Alliance? Here’s their form 990.

What about two local media non-profits I’m a member of? What if I want to know more about their inner financial workings? Well, I guess a simple Google search will net me copious info about WIFV and TIVA-DC.

Oh, you want a California non-profit? Okay, have the Sierra Club. Bam.

I could do this all day.

All of these theaters I’ve worked for or supported, any of these media organizations that try and support me and my fellow creatives: they all would love to have $1.4 million in donations to spend. Heck, if that’s too frivolous for you, think about what Habitat for Humanity could do with that money.

And they’d all want to make sure you’d know the money is well spent — hence the just-the-facts Form 990s you see.

That’s not the case with Axanar Productions… but they’re happy to say they’re going to get around to being a non-profit. Some day…

And that’s what sets off the umbrage alarms in the warp core. I absolutely hate to think that more Star Trek fans will donate money to this non-non-profit which is not delivering any Star Trek or films or the public good.

So if you, like me, want to look out for your fellow fans, there is actually something you can do.

If you go over to the CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar forum, you’ll see a post that explains exactly how you can complain to the California Attorney General about some Ferengi masquerading as hoo-mans taking donations for a non-non-profit. The direct link to the form is here, but if you want to double-check some of the information to fill in, consult the thread above. And hey, if you don’t fax it, feel free to mail it with a Star Trek stamp.

I know the fate of one Star Trek fan film doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. And we know it’s a crazy world because the fan film is also not a fan film nor a Star Trek film. Except it is. Except is hasn’t and probably won’t get made.

Okay, I digress. But whatever the future holds, let’s make sure we all have more gold-pressed latinum in it to causes we care about, perhaps actual films. Axanar has gotten over one million. That’s enough.

 

Time Management is a Lie

Writer, and fellow GTD fan, Terri Huck passed along this thoughtful piece by Oliver Burkeman about the modern obsession with “time management.”

It’s a great read, as it goes back into some of the origins of what is now something of a cottage industry on making us ever-more productive.

The article delves into the origins of time management — which goes back way more centuries than you might, at first, imagine, and moves forward to today. It also reflects on today’s workplace and the fetishizing of productivity and efficiency — a fetish often honored at the expense of happiness, job satisfaction, or just basic quality of life.

Given the posts I do about project management, especially the latest ones all about extracting maximum efficiency from meetings, this might seem strange.

It’s true. As a stage manager and a trainer of stage managers, I knew the benefits of the “Gemba walk” before I ever heard the term. As a project manager and a producer, my bullshit threshold has ever lowered because I have to get things done. And being involved with technology means I’ve strived to bring automation and greater efficiency to no end of workplaces for the better part of two decades.

But despite that –or perhaps because of it– I don’t believe efficiency is the fundamental to maximize. I think quality is.

And sometimes, to maximize quality, you have to build in some inefficiency.

That’s all the more important as these lean concepts come from the manufacturing sector to the office. Office workers are sometimes called “knowledge workers” and the path from data to information to knowledge to wisdom isn’t like repeatedly producing a widget. More often, it’s crafting a process that allows time for the right reflection and analysis, with some controls to ensure certain questions always get asked and answered.

I’d like to think that even the gurus who pioneered this revolution in manufacturing thought this way, though perhaps they’d find all my sentences terribly inefficient.

In any case, I was reading up on Taiichi Ohno, the “father” of the Toyota Production System, “Lean manufacturing” guru, and developer of Kanban (I love Kanban Boards, by the way). Because doing all that wasn’t enough, he also attempted to distill much of his philosophy into “Ten Precepts.”

Some of it is as manic go-getter as you might expect, such as “Re-improve what was improved for further improvement.” I mean, I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I am saying it feels like I just downed two shots of espresso just by reading that sentence.

However, one of his precepts really struck me as acknowledging the purpose of efficiency and inefficiency:

Valueless motions are equal to shortening one’s life.

That’s why you want to take out the slog. You want to eliminate the mundane.

When I’m writing, I want to spend time telling a story not figuring out how to use the pen.

But I’m still going to spend hours writing and re-writing. I’m going to obsess about certain story points, perhaps ones that others would wonder why I’m taking so much time. For me, that’s still time well spent.

Doing something faster doesn’t necessarily add value. Buying a store-bought cake is certainly more efficient than making one myself. It might even be a better quality cake than what I can manage. But that isn’t the whole picture of quality.

And that seems to factor into the article above and the notions of time management being foisted upon us. The current crop of time management mavens tend to default to one simplistic equation that emphasizes a one-dimensional, non-customizable version of efficiency.

No wonder so many of us don’t register some of the time we might save using their methodology. The time we save isn’t valuable (possibly not even recognizable as time saved).

Feel free to offer other perspectives or resources in the comments.

Recommended Reading: The Long Tail Wags

Vox’s resident media prognosticator, Todd VanDerWerff, picked up on something in the CW’s recent renewal announcement: renewing low-rated Crazy Ex-Girlfriend may represent a new way of evaluating –and valuing– TV shows in today’s media landscape.

All three of my longtime readers will recall how I am avidly interested in the future of TV. For those of us non-full-time filmmakers, knowing all the viable paths to sustainably scratching our creative itch is of intense interest and constant examination.

I’m intrigued that not only does a show’s ratings weigh less heavily in the equation, but that it appears a show’s popularity among critics appears to have risen AND that a show’s “binge worthiness” on platforms such as Netflix is now a significant factor.

Recommended Reading: Arms and the Bard

This piece from by Robert McCrum in The Guardian about some Shakespearean research this past weekend is a welcome read.

Not only does it detail intriguing additional evidence that the plays of William Shakespeare were written by (dramatic pause) William Shakespeare, but it shows how ardent and assiduous the scholars of Washington DC’s own Folger Shakespeare Library are.

It is fair to say that I first came to know Shakespeare through many, many performances at the Folger Theatre and their many exhibits about both Shakespeare and Elizabethan England. So I suppose you could say I’m pre-disposed to give them credence, but, in sooth, they have earned such trust.

Kudos to your diligent research, Dr. Wolfe. May your continued paleography (isn’t that a wonderful word?) give us more insights in the future.

 

For the Love of Spock: Let This be Their Last Battlefield

This is the 27th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Let’s start with the pleasant updates, shall we? I finally had a chance to see Star Trek Beyond and enjoyed it immensely. Okay, maybe I didn’t quite like it as much as these folks did, but I see where they’re coming from. It was delightful Star Trek, balancing plenty of action with some Trek-style thematic underpinnings and full of references to the overall franchise (including surprising –yet not unwelcome– love for Enterprise, the last series).

It finished 15th overall in the 2016 domestic box office and made $343 million worldwide, but in today’s rarefied standards, that is evidently a flop. I kind of understand. Given that most modern blockbusters spend the same amount of prints and advertising (P&A) as they do on the production budget –reportedly $185 million in this case– Star Trek Beyond therefore cost $370 million to get from idea to local cinema. But just like Waterworld and many other films that fall short of the mark in theaters, the question is how soon the film is profitable, not if. Still, Paramount executives are probably bummed they can’t start their own space program based off the profits of this film alone — like Disney is currently able to do with Rogue One. In fact, Disney has made so much money on its collective movies alone for the past few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly announced they had built a heretofore secret moon base and were currently colonizing the outer solar system. But I digress…

As with so many modern feature films, I feel there were perhaps 20 minutes of enriching backstory in Star Trek Beyond that was cut from the film that would have helped it immeasurably. If this had been a modern TV series, with naught but 10-13 episodes in its exquisitely produced season, I think we would have been all agog. Every character’s storyline could have expanded to satisfying arcs and Krall’s origin could have been a fantastic reveal in the penultimate episode.

Spaceflights of fancy such as these are what makes me all the more excited for the new Star Trek TV series due in May of this year. While it’s apparently experienced some turmoil as original showrunner Byran Fuller is stepping aside and executives discovered that (gasp) sci-fi/fantasy can cost some serious ducats, there’s plenty of tidbits that indicate this could be the kind of serialized, ensemble show both modern audiences –and Deep Space Nine fans– will love. And who doesn’t love the idea of Michelle Yeoh as a Starfleet captain? Make it so.

Ah, but we can’t stay in this pleasant nexus of Star Trek thoughts, can we?

Firmly in the column of unpleasant news, is the Axanar lawsuit, which has moved from the “tediously-long-story-told-by-coworker” stage to the full-blown “insane-drunken-uncle-at-holiday-gathering” stage. Axamonitor has recently released a synopsis of the legal battle in comic book form in case you want to get caught up.

The short version of it all is that the drunken uncle still refuses to admit he’s not entitled to use other people’s property — even when they tell him not to use their property in the form of a lawsuit in Federal court.

Even shorter: the case isn’t settled.

It isn’t settled, despite some embarrassing facts coming to light this past Fall. Remember the pre-trial discovery phase? Well, various people have now been deposed including the original Prelude to Axanar director, Christian Gossett, and Axanar producer Alec Peters. There were already questions about Axanar’s finances and what it was being spent on, but now from the depositions, it appears Mr. Peters spent money raised through crowdfunding on all sorts of personal expenses for himself and friends including:

  • Restaurant bills
  • Phone bills
  • Gas, insurance, and maintenance of his car

Oh, and that whole question of using the funds to lease and renovate a building for use as a commercial studio space? That was confirmed in the depositions as well. And lest one forget what a deposition is: this is evidence. Legal evidence. Testimony given under oath. Testimony given under oath, in part, by Alec Peters.

Axanar’s reaction? We shouldn’t have seen the unpleasant things in the depositions, therefore, there’s no problem. But, should you want to comb through these pesky legal documents, the pie-loving CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar Facebook page have ’em. If there’s a particular tidbit you’re looking for, just ask on the forum.

In addition to all the official documents of the case, we have all the social media and PR pronouncements from the Axanar team, most memorably from Alec Peters (and frankly, many of those are now evidence in the case). These pronouncements have… changed somewhat over the past year of the lawsuit. And of course there’s never an official retraction to these statements. All of Alec Peters and Axanar’s assertions are apparently still valid.

So, if you are to take Alec Peters at his word, working on Axanar has been:

1) A full-time job which is just a hobby, for which he
2) required a completely reasonable salary which is not a salary because he paid it back
3) to produce a professional feature film that is simultaneously a fan film
4) to be shot in a studio which is a commercial studio except when it’s not and is just a warehouse
5) and they were all ready to begin shooting in the beginning of 2016 yet the studio/warehouse still isn’t ready for shooting in 2017
6) and they have been working meticulously to get every detail adhere exactly to Star Trek canon because they’re doing this for the true Star Trek fans,
7) but this is in no way a Star Trek film

Got it?

For Whom Gods Destroy, indeed.

Oh, and just like the asylum denizens in that episode, Axanar still has its supporters. More on them and their cognitive dissonance below.

First, let’s talk about what should be top on the mind of anyone who liked Prelude to Axanar and supported any of the crowdfunding campaigns: the Axanar feature film.

The Axanar crew was given 1.4 million dollars to make this fan film. I’ve done multiple crowdfunding campaigns for films and supported colleagues’ crowdfunding campaigns for films and web series and so on — all of them for less than one tenth of the money Axanar received. Not a single one escaped setbacks or unexpected cost overruns, but they were made.

And this is such the important point. Even with the ridiculous game-playing by the Axanar team, I know many, many people would forgive all the ridiculousness and all the delays if there was a Star Trek: Axanar feature to show for it.

Instead, Alec Peters says that the money was spent “as promised.”

Thanks to Dayton Ward for this one

Even expensive rock creatures won’t save things at this point: we’re not seeing Axanar.

But wait, there’s more!
Just this past week, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled that Axanar has “objective substantial similarity to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.” (you can read the full decision here). I suppose one might find solace that Judge Klausner did not grant CBS/Paramount its desired summary judgement, but the ruling does eliminate using Fair Use as part of the defense.

A jury trial still awaits (barring settlement) not because there’s a question of whether CBS/Paramount has been wronged, but because a jury gets to weigh in on the degree to which CBS/Paramount is wronged as well as the type and amount of damages.

(Okay, that’ my layperson take on it, you can check out Eriq Gardner’s article and the ruling to learn more about intrinsic and extrinsic tests and other details).

So at this point, the Axanar has decided to… claim victory of sorts?!?

Yes, CBS/Paramount has fallen right into Axanar’s legal trap: in a jury trial the case may simply be dismissed with no damages awarded. Evidently, some of this hope is borne out of the fact that, since this is a matter of multiple copyrights versus one, clear-cut trademark, technically Judge Klausner didn’t say CBS/Paramount was wronged in his ruling. That determination is entirely up to the jury. So the jury needs to have sufficient cognitive dissonance to ignore all the similarities CBS/Paramount has already pointed out and will certainly point out in a trial.

There’s also the matter that we wouldn’t be talking about this if Axanar was some space adventure that talked about “warp drive” which somehow got CBS/Paramount worked up over petty word usage. It’s a film project that specifically invoked Star Trek and the Star Trek universe in order to raise funds. Even a reverse tachyon pulse beamed directly at the jury won’t stop them from concluding there was willful infringement.

No matter. Axanar will win on appeal! Pay no attention to the implausibility of this scenario. As one person quipped on the Facebook forum, if the appeal fails, it’s constitutional amendment time!

Half a year ago, I mused that “[Axanar will] settle. It’s just a question of when.

Boy, did I misjudge how crazypants this case would be.

The original narrative most all of us were presented with was a familiar one: wherein a big, bad corporation was picking on a little guy for the sake of flexing their control-freak muscles to squelch a little fun fan film.

That turns out not to be true. $1.4 million is not a little fun fan film — and not producing the film at all certainly isn’t. (remember: early last year, the judge stated the lawsuit did not prevent Axanar from making their film: no injunction was in place).

I suppose someone could ignore the dizzying story-changing from the Axanar camp I mentioned above (the fan film which is a professional Star Trek film that isn’t a Star Trek film, etc.). I’ve backed scores of crowdfunded projects before and a couple have crashed and burned — but I’ve never been treated to an ever-morphing story like Axanar. In fact, the creators usually go out of their way to make sure they do right by their backers — and they certainly don’t insult their backers nor the professional actors that helped them bring their vision to life (btw, that’s evidently a response to this – who insults Candyman?!?).

Someone might also ignore the very unusual web of anonymous shell corporations involved on the Axanar side, which appear to be set up to shroud how Axanar and Alec Peters personally may have profited. This latter part is part of court documents and so hopefully the truth of the matter will eventually come out.

But seriously, you can honor the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and still guard your wallet. And for any of us who actually backed the Axanar, you have to be suspicious — someone might have swiped some quatloos from said wallet!

But let’s say someone, for some reason, buys all the reasons that the production is delayed and there is no movie (despite $1.4 million being spent). And let’s say they don’t fear they are the victim of a lying, cheating grifter because that has not been unequivocally confirmed.

That leaves the legal arguments: specifically the arguments to be presented at the jury trial, which may begin as soon as January 31st.

Well, one can’t argue Fair Use. That defense has been neatly and completely dismissed by Judge Klausner in his ruling, Axanar may want to bring it back on appeal, but they don’t get to argue it to the jury (unless I’ve missed a central reason for the ruling).

So what’s left? It really appears to be two points:

  1. That all the elements that seem like Star Trek are really not Star Trek intellectual property.
  2. That Axanar is entitled to use Star Trek intellectual property.

Now here’s where we get to the heart of the cognitive dissonance on the part of Alec Peters, the Axanar crew, and the others who are strangely still supporting Axanar.

The defense team, the actual lawyers, are trying desperately to argue point #1. Somehow, this is not a Star Trek fan film or Star Trek. Good luck with that one.

However, if you go on the Axanar discussion boards or have followed their blogs for the past few years, Axanar and its supporters are fully behind point # 2.

A year ago, six months ago, and even this week, I read comment after comment about how Alec Peters and company are entitled to make this film because it’s what Star Trek fans really want. In fact, he is the one person who can help lead a path out of the current morass of feature films that make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Pshaw. Those films are Denebian slime devil pus and CBS/Paramount are fools. They should feel lucky to settle in the face of Axanar’s righteousness.

If there is any acknowledgement of defense point #1, it’s with a wink and a nod, as if “we know it’s Star Trek, but if it helps us get Star Trek Axanar made to say otherwise, then it’s not Star Trek. Oh, and did we mention we’re huge Star Trek fans? The best fans, really.”

For the love of Spock, this cognitive dissonance is so overwhelming I’m surprised there haven’t been any head explosions.

Author and audio dramatist Jay Smith sums up many of my feelings quite well in a post from this past November about the legal battle of Axanar. We all love Star Trek and we’ve loved Star Trek fan films, but no amount of fan love will ever equal ownership. No matter how fervent the fan, they do not get some bizarre “eminent domain” of someone else’s intellectual property.

The law doesn’t work like that. The law has never worked like that, and it never will. The legal case for Axanar is ultimately untenable because copyright and intellectual property matters.

There has been much discussion about why the dwindling number of Axanar supporters do support Axanar with such grim prospects of winning and such disturbing revelations of financial tomfoolery. There’s the obvious “sunk cost fallacy” that they have gone this far and this long supporting Axanar, they feel compelled to maintain this support.

But why do they support Axanar? Based on the comments in the aforementioned social media and after articles, many people have gone beyond simply wanting to see the Axanar feature to seeing “true” Star Trek. They went beyond simply disliking the new Star Trek movies to finding them a betrayal against this “true” Trek. And in Alec Peters and company, they have found someone who validates these feelings: there is such a thing as true Star Trek. You have been wronged by the blind corporate overlords. Your fandom does entitle you in a say to what the corporation does.

Now, I would be the last one to say things can’t have a Star Trek feel. I mentioned that as a big part of my enjoyment of fan films. But if the people who own Star Trek decide to make something else entirely and slap the name “Star Trek” on it, well, I may be disgusted, but the only thing I can legally or morally do is not give them my attention, financial or otherwise. That’s certainly been the case with Transformers, something I enjoyed growing up. I just don’t watch the Michael Bay movies.

I know it’s hard, especially as corporations have clued into the immense potential of energizing fans, making fandom seem more commercial and transactional, but them’s the breaks. Joss Whedon fans appear to be among the most rabid fans out there (yeah, I’m talking about you browncoats), but they’re not about to try and profit off of that ‘verse at the expense of its creator. Heck, a lot more people love what Joss Whedon did for the Marvel Universe — and I suppose if some bizarro version of Joss Whedon declared he was going to make his own version of an Avengers movie because Marvel lost its way and even if millions of his fans supported this endeavor, Marvel’s parent company Disney would be laughing all the way from here to their aforementioned moon base.

It’s not legally tenable and it’s not morally right.

And here’s the kicker on the moral front. Star Trek is not the huge fictional universe we love because of Gene Roddenberry. It is that vast universe because of the team that Roddenberry assembled. Hundreds of actors, writers, designers, and other crew during and after Gene Roddenberry’s tenure have helped bring the strange, new worlds of Star Trek to life. Just like the Federation, this isn’t the work of one person alone. To my mind, this doesn’t diminish Gene Roddenberry, it exemplifies his vision of a positive future.

If you’ve watched and loved episodes and movies of Star Trek, you’ve sensed that love was put into facets here and there. If you’ve read the interviews from so many of these people, you know this wasn’t simply a paycheck. Star Trek was something to have pride in and to love.

Quite simply, we have had official Star Trek made by Star Trek fans for decades now.

Alec Peters is not one of them.

If he were, he might understand that CBS and Paramount –and any owner of intellectual property– doesn’t give jobs based on fan fervor, but on how someone can deliver a story. And Alec Peters has failed to deliver on the story so many of us wanted him to deliver. In fact, many of the key people who helped deliver Prelude to Axanar have abandoned him and Axanar because of the attitudes referenced above.

Perhaps I and others who have become disillusioned by this lawsuit will be proven wrong in our suspicions. Perhaps this isn’t some bizarre quixotic attempt to use someone else’s IP to fund a certain lifestyle and Hollywood dreams. But I’m not holding my breath.

I’m also not holding out hope that Axanar and their defense team will settle. Either because they sincerely believe some faulty legal logic that they can use Star Trek IP, or they’re hoping some long con bears fruit, they see no profit in calling it quits. Their hubris has helped decimate an entire ecosystem of fan productions — and I can guarantee you those people will not forget or forgive Axanar. The only solace is the larger federation of Star Trek fans is by and large unaware of its existence and while Axanar claims thousands of supporters for its “real” Trek, millions of fans will likely watch the new Star Trek series and other offerings and feel free to enjoy it regardless of what these self-appointed gatekeepers think.

Nevertheless, Axanar is pursuing a legally untenable and morally indefensible course — and it doesn’t benefit Star Trek fandom one bit. I look at my posts from last year and the hope and optimism that there could be a solution that would be a win for all. Who would have thought the big corporation would be the relative good guys?I am so sorry to say this, but I am heartily sick of Axanar’s presumption to speak for all fans and hubris in not listening to anyone else (including many who helped them make Prelude to Axanar). Whatever the coming trial can do to end their folly, I wish it.

Don’t Forget to Breathe

Someone I’ve known just shy of 20 years, Tricia McCauley, has died.

Photo by Tammy Rubicat

Photo by Tammy Rubicat

This is hard. You can do remembrances for people who inspired you from afar or mentors who were decades older than you. And although I have lost friends and peers around my age, this is different.

She went missing late in the afternoon of Christmas Day. Most of us found out through social media the following day, Monday, when she hadn’t checked in for a planned flight. In a sign of the times, a Facebook group was created to help coordinate finding Tricia. It swelled to over 3,400 members in just a few hours. Twitter and Reddit spread the word. Uber and Lyft drivers were recruited in the search. It’s a small comfort that these efforts appear to have helped locate Tricia’s car and the suspect driving it.

Early Tuesday morning, December 27th, the DC police held a press conference which confirmed that Tricia’s body had been found in her car. She was, indeed, dead. Later that day, the suspect was formally charged. The details that came out were horrid. She had not simply died. She had been brutally murdered.

It’s sad to know someone who’s vital and full of life has died through accident or illness. It’s another level of sorrow to know someone with that kind of light has been willfully extinguished. I can but barely imagine the grief her family and closest friends felt and will continue to feel for some time.

I think of the person I first met one morning in Adams Morgan –a talented, energetic, elfin figure in combat boots– to the yogi, herbalist, and accomplished actress so many people came to know by the time of her death. Not only did she grow as a person, she wasn’t afraid to grow or to inspire others to do the same. When I entered the 30s a few years after her, she let me know, with an almost conspiratorial glee, that one’s 30s were the best decade yet. And everything I heard from friends and colleagues over the past week or so has confirmed my impression that she had decided to make her 40s even more extraordinary.

In fact, amongst all those personal reminisces were many posts where the person confessed they didn’t know Tricia personally, but knew about her from her work, her reputation, her very presence in the community. Whatever a life means, that she touched so many people she never met has to count for something.

The Washington Post did a nice piece which captured some of the impact Tricia had on the wider community. She was, or could be, a friend to everyone. She loved to create and inspired others to create and generally be present. And so although we hadn’t worked together for many years, I had hoped we would again, because I knew the energy she would bring to both the work and the rest of the cast.

But that possible future is gone now. And I mourn all the other futures all her other friends and family are now denied. The community lost a vital part of itself.

Tricia was not the first subject of an “RIP post” here and she won’t be the last. But isn’t the purpose of any of these remembrances not simply to mark what we have lost, but what we have gained?

If you haven’t gleaned already, Tricia believed in the best kind of magic: the kind that makes people grow. And for many of us, we don’t want this senseless act to be the last word. Her longtime friend and fellow Washington Stage Guild member, Bill Largess, has some excellent words on what can be done now.

Friends have also started a fundraiser to provide theater professionals health insurance — something that freelancers like Tricia often needed to worry about. It has happily blown past its original goal of $25,000.

So everywhere around the region, people are working to find meaning, to create meaning, to create.

But it’s hard to stay in the moment and look to the future. In fact, I think that balance was something Tricia had found — and kept on trying to encourage all of us to find as well. I try and think of something several NTI teachers mentioned to me while I trained there — and perhaps they mentioned it to Tricia in her time there as well. It’s one thing I tell all the actors who attend Stonehenge Auditions right before they go on to perform their monologues.

Don’t forget to breathe.