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.

 

2 responses to “The Worst of Both Worlds: Axanar Edition

  1. A couple of quibbles: Gene Roddenberry never sold the rights to Star Trek because he *never owned* the rights to Star Trek! Star Trek was created as a work-for-hire for Desilu Studio (later Paramount Television). Roddenberry had profit participation (as did William Shatner), but he did not own the work. Furthermore, some years after Star Trek’s initial television run ended and the series had been in syndication for some time, Paramount–which never understood its value–offered to sell Gene Roddenberry the Star Trek property outright. Roddenberry declined the offer because he couldn’t afford to buy it outright.

  2. Great points. I agree with both of your quibbles.

    In mentioning that Gene Roddenberry “he sold the rights… like countless creatives have done before and since” I was trying to convey that Roddenberry had the “moral rights” as the person who created the TV show, but in order to have the TV show get made, he needed to give those away.

    I would say Canada and Europe recognize the moral rights (droits moraux) of creators far more than the United States does (in part because I don’t think they really bought into that part of the Berne Convention until relatively recently) AND the United States in general and the film and TV industry in particular has a long tradition of work-for-hire.

    All that to say again, yes, I agree: Roddenberry in a very real and legal sense (to invoke Monty Python) was *never* the owner of Star Trek. That’s the deal people often make to have their TV shows made — and actually all Star Trek fans owe Desilu and Lucille Ball an enormous debt of gratitude for ensuring the show did get on the air.

    Regarding the other part, I did consider mentioning that Paramount was all ready to sell the Star Trek property back to Roddenberry –I think specifically to his “Norway Corporation”– but Roddenberry couldn’t afford it. That little tidbit didn’t seem to fit in the flow of my post above, so I skipped it, but it’s a very important part to note in the saga of Star Trek rights.

    Thanks for raising both points!

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