Tag Archives: Axanar

Prepare for Warp Speed. No, Really.

This is the 30th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

A lot has happened in the months since my last Crisis post, so let’s focus on Discovery.

You mean we should check the orbit?

Fine, Star Trek: Discovery. We now have:

Aja Romano has a nice summary on Vox of what we know, and perhaps should know, about the upcoming series. The article is cautiously optimistic, as am I (and I’m very excited about both Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs as Starfleet captains — they’re usually good in any role in which they’re cast).

Bill Allen on TrekFanProductions.com sums up many of my feelings about encountering new Star Trek TV series. His specific misgivings are different from mine, but they echo my journey through each new iteration of Trek, a journey that has always ended well (maybe not good final episodes, but good endings).

In the end: we have a brand new, official Star Trek series. And as Mr. Allen points out: that’s cause for celebration in Trekdom.

Given my previous installments, I should mention that, yes, Axanar continues (Not like Star Trek Continues, but still…). In case you hadn’t picked up from my last Crisis installment, I don’t have any hopes for us seeing further Axanar: certainly not the feature-length version and probably not the “two 15 minute segments” version. Posturing and acrimony remain should you care to throw yourself into that particular Briar Patch. I keep an eye on things, but at this point, my flying leg kicks on the matter are known.

In the meantime, if you’re itching for Star Trek fan films to tide you over until September 24th, there’s plenty to choose from. (This is assuming you have already re-watched all the canon TV series on Netflix). You can check out some of the latest episodes of the aforementioned Star Trek Continues. In fact, if you go to that same website with the Bill Allen post, you’ll see a whole page of fan film productions you might want to check out.

Fall will be here before you know it. It’s no longer a training cruise, people.

Prepare for warp speed.

P.S. Oh yeah, this Fall, there’s a Star Trek homage/parody from Seth MacFarlane which looks like it could potentially pick up the torch of Galaxy Quest. I’m hoping both shows are good.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Naked Greed Time

This is the 29th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Frankly, I though we’d all be done with all things Axanar by now, but since certain Star Trek “fans” continue to try and fleece other fans, I needed to weigh in again.

I’ll cut the chase: Axanar Productions (Alec Peters, et al), the folks who crowdfunded about $1.4 million to make a feature film and spent it all while not making said film are back trying to raise more money via Indiegogo.

Again: they raised a ton of cash promising to do something. They spent the cash, not doing at all what they promised — and are back to ask for more money. In this case, they’re saying it’s not for Axanar per se, but for a non-profit studio, even as they are losing their studio space (more on that below).

Before you –or anyone you know– sends them any money, know that there are two outcomes of any of their crowdfunding efforts based on their previous words and deeds:

  1. They are grossly incompetent, will waste any crowdfunds, and will not deliver on what they promised.
  2. They are insidiously greedy, will not deliver, and will spend crowdfunds on something other than what they promised.

I’m thinking they’re going with the slime-covered door # 2 in this scenario.

It’s not that starting a studio with a focus to help aspiring filmmakers tell their stories isn’t a bad idea. It’s quite cool, in fact. But it’s a tremendous undertaking that takes a particular passion. And I haven’t seen that particular passion of helping other people make films come from the Axanar crew.

What I have seen from Alec Peters and the Axanar crew has been not delivering on their own project — and the reasons why they haven’t delivered require one to maintain a level of cognitive dissonance that exceeds warp 10. And we all know how bad that gets.

Arguably transformative, but don’t go there.

I’ve mentioned this in both the 27th and 28th entries,  but it bears repeating: 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 (and which they’re vacating by the end of April 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.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that, upon much reflections, the Axanar team has decided they will channel their energies into creating a non-profit studio. Well, they’ve just said that, at the end of this month, they don’t have a studio!

Screenshot from the announcement. Clear as mud, no?

Have they updated their Indiegogo campaign meant to raise funds for this studio? From their own announcement, it’s quite vague about who owns what, except that Axanar Productions is now no longer intertwined with Industry Studios… though it sounds like Axanar Productions might still get the crowdfunding for this Industry Studios campaign, which would be odd. For example, who fulfills the studio rental perks?

What does Danny think of this?

And then the Axanar sets will need to be moved… somewhere. In fact, anywhere in the United States seems to be an option per the announcement. Are funds from this current campaign going to moving and storing the sets? Is using crowdfunding for Axanar activities even kosher under the settlement with CBS/Paramount?

Yeah, some clarification on the campaign page might be in order.

And if the Axanar sets move outside of California, is it even logical to try and have Axanar Productions located in California? As mentioned in a previous entry, they’ve been saying for over a year that they’re pursuing non-profit status and while the process is detailed, it really doesn’t take that long and California spells out the steps. If they really are at “step # 7” as the announcement indicates, we should know about their board of directors, their bylaws, and they could also mention the most important step: getting tax-exempt status from the Feds. (Hint: if you want to know what that could look like, look at what the Star Trek Continues crew did and posted on their website for all to see).

Sigh.

Those of you who have read my previous posts in this series know I have long since exhausted my patience with Axanar.

But you don’t need to be exhausted nor be a “hater” to choose Door # 1 in this scenario: they’re incompetent.

Axanar Productions crowdfunded $1.4 million and failed to deliver what they promised. They’ve just announced they won’t have a studio — the central tenet of this campaign. And frankly, I have to believe other studio spaces in the Los Angeles area have sprung up in the past few decades to meet indie filmmakers’ needs (and some may even be soundproofed!). Axanar doesn’t have a track record and they now don’t have the facility. They don’t deserve your money.

However, I’m going to still go with Door # 2: greed. They advertised this latest campaign as the natural progression of  their work, as if the 8,500 supporters of their Kickstarter campaign or 7,600 supporters of their previous Indiegogo campaign were wanting a studio instead of the Star Trek film advertised.

In space, no one can smell what they’re shoveling

And now the studio itself is out of their hands.

We already know the $1.4 million did not result in completed sets or a properly soundproofed studio. We also know from court documents that Alec Peters used crowdfunds on personal expenses. He also seems to like having a web of shell corporations, which really does not inspire trust.

Whether you think it’s incompetence or greed, Star Trek fans don’t let fellow fans donate to Axanar (and yes, that means Industry Studios, Quark Enterprises, or whatever other names they come up with). Spread the word.

And hey, feel free to let Indiegogo know about this dubious campaign as well.

UPDATE, April 8th, 10:30 ET
Evidently, realizing that their Indiegogo campaign being for a studio space they no longer control looks a tad sketchy (presumably even into Indiegogo), Axanar is trying to update the campaign.

If I wanted things this sketchy, I’d watch Monty Python.

UPDATE #2: April 9th, 2:30pm ET
Besides the various conversations happening on Reddit and the various Facebook groups (e.g. the original CPvA group, CPvA Alumni Pie Club, Axamonitor) Carlos Pedraza has written an update on the Axanar/Industry studio shenanigans on Axamonitor proper. Between that article and many of the screenshots on the Facebook group, you get the impression that the vitriol directed at people questioning Alec and Axanar’s motives is not at all uncommon — and just as ridiculous and silly. Of course, I’m probably only saying that because I’m clearly doubleplusungood.

Oh, and I’m thinking of introducing myself as “Bjorn Munson, Anonymous Blogger” in the future.

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.

 

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.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Guidelines Hit The Fan

This is the 24th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Well, I was going to make sure I updated my last post about CBS/Paramount’s response to Axanar’s counterclaim in everyone’s favorite intellectual property (IP) lawsuit, but then CBS/Paramount had another surprise today.

They released the fan film guidelines. The announcement is here and the guidelines are here.

In terms of timeline, I didn’t think they’d do this until after Star Trek Beyond was released.

In terms of content: wow, just wow. Holy flurking schnit, is that a hammer or what?

If I’m not mistaken, this effectively kills all the longstanding ongoing fan series and productions which off the top of my head includes:

  • Star Trek: New Voyages (aka Star Trek: Phase II)
  • Star Trek Continues
  • Star Trek: Renegades
  • Star Trek: Intrepid
  • Starship Farragut/Farragut Forward
  • Potentially anything produced at Starbase Studios

And, of course, Axanar.

As you might imagine, the fannish community is a-flutter. Debates abound about who is more worthy of damnation: CBS/Paramount or Alec Peters/Axanar. Many a comment thread will be filled on Facebook pages and elsewhere, I’m sure.

Once again, I completely understand corporate lawyers behaving like corporate lawyers and protecting their company’s IP vigorously. Make no mistake: they own Star Trek. However, I lament the lost opportunity to especially use these longstanding fan productions as a way to engage with fans in a way other IPs simply won’t be able to.

Earlier this month, I noted that we were all awaiting orders from Starfleet Command (CBS/Paramount). I hoped that the order given would be some form of “warp speed.” Instead, they’ve come in with something close to full phasers. I don’t think it’ll start a war with fandom –I’m sure some bellicose fans are convinced it has– but it sure doesn’t seem like the best way to keep the peace.

I’ll have to think more about this… and more importantly, pause for some pie.

UPDATE: as comes as no surprise, there’s many reactions:

There are, of course, many, many more reactions, but these should keep you all busy for now.

Axanar on the Road to Discovery

This is the 23rd entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

So, remember an event now way back in May where the Axanar lawsuit was “going away” in a few weeks and some people thought that meant it was being “dropped?”

Well, as I indicated when covering Axanar’s response to CBS/Paramount’s complaint and Axanar’s counterclaim, the court of law will tend to move forward whatever the court of public opinion may think.

So it should come as no surprise that in today’s Hollywood Reporter, they report that CBS/Paramount has responded to Axanar’s counterclaim.

Many of us who are now following this case more closely have been waiting for that response since Monday, and you can read both the response and the original counterclaim at Axamonitor’s page on the subject.

By not moving to dismiss the counterclaim, but addressing it, I understand CBS/Paramount is trying to move things along. Indeed, the reading of the response seems to be “admit public knowledge, don’t know enough to comment, deny Axanar’s allegation, deny Axanar’s allegation, deny Axanar’s allegation, also, let’s move on with things.”

“Things” in this case would be discovery and other fun matters — except we might not have public visibility into this until much later in the year.

As in previous times, I’m going to look for the G & T Show’s Janet Gershen-Siegel for a breakdown of the response — and I’ll update this post.

Axanar Lawsuit: The Counterclaim and the Road Ahead

This is the 22nd entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

So, with the last post all about fan film guidelines, I know many of you were probably thinking, “What about Axanar’s counterclaim and that stuff?”

Okay, fine, enough with the fan guidelines. Aren't you going to follow up about the Axanar counter-claim?

I should say so. I don’t hang around Starbase 11 just to talk about fan film guidelines.

As I hoped, Janet Gershen-Siegel over at the G and T Show did a detailed overview of Axanar’s counterclaim which, if you want to want to really get into legal details, is well worth your time.

Here are some my takeaways as a non-lawyer/non-legal journalist:

Axanar’s lawyers (aka The Defense) are defending their client — as they should
The counterclaim, occasionally referred to as a countersuit, is what in legal terms is called a compulsory counterclaim. In game terms, it’s a card that, if you don’t play in your defense at a certain point, you can’t play. So why not play it? Lawyers, as a rule, need to provide the best defense (or offense) they can for their clients. Even as settlement talks are continuing, you may continue to play the game.

The Defense is not entirely successful in addressing the complaint
In other words, part of the Defense’s response is to admit as little wrongdoing as possible (in this case copyright infringement). There’s a lot of little maneuvers they use that are really quite interesting and remind me why lawyers are the wacky subject matter experts of law that they are. At the same time, you can only defend that which is defensible, and the fact is Axanar has been trying to make a Star Trek film. For example, when you claim that the title of the work is not Star Trek: Axanar and your Kickstarter for Axanar is called “Star Trek: Axanar,” there’s not much to your claim it’s not Star Trek. Not only that, many details of the complaint are statements by the defendant on social media, so the defense has to say, “Um, yes, that is publicly available” evidently hoping by not saying that the detail of the complaint is proof of copyright infringement, that somehow it won’t be.

The Defense’s attempts at affirmative defense will almost certainly not land a hit
These ripostes (c’mon, I got use my fencing terminology somewhere) appear to be a legal way to say “okay, whatever wrongdoing we might have done –which we don’t admit to anyway– the plantiffs are totally off base and/or not as wrong a doing because of X, Y, Z. Also, take THAT.”

If I counted correctly, there are 14 different affirmative defenses — and for those of us playing the “learn more about the legal arts” home game, almost every one is a new legal term, though some like “Fair Use” are ones with which I’m reasonably familiar. Again, I applaud the ingenuity of The Defense in trying a variety of ripostes. It sounds like they’re doing what they can.

Nevertheless, of those 14 ripostes, it looks like only one or two might merit some consideration before being rejected. Most can and will be rejected outright.

Now, having all read this, you may notice that Janet Gershen-Siegel does not appear to be siding with Axanar. If true, I don’t think that means her analysis is inaccurate, but I’d welcome any additional legal analysis of the counterclaim that comes to different conclusions.  I’d especially like that as, hey, I wanted to see Star Trek: Axanar get made, which seems increasingly unlikely even with a settlement. Unfortunately, the analysis appears to validate my conclusion that goes back to the Ides of March: Axanar can’t win this lawsuit.

That’s the bottom line. I do not think one needs to have any animus against Alec Peters or Axanar to reasonably conclude that the Court will side with the IP owners in this case. I haven’t seen legal precedents cited where IP owners losing cases like this.

In fact, one legal precedent from 1998 has been raised down in the rabbit hole. It involves a publishing company wanting to publish a book relating to a corporation’s IP. The corporation had not bothered to enforce their copyright for decades, but was being enforced in this case. Here, read about it in the New York Times.

Notice anything about the case of Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Carol Pub Group that sounds even slightly similar? A long-time Star Trek fan pointing to non-enforcement of copyright in something like 100 instances over decades?

And what did the court say? They sided with Paramount.

So in other words, in a case that’s not only similar to Axanar, but actually deals with Star Trek IP itself, the court sided with the corporation that owns the IP.

The defense that bears a striking resemblance to Axanar lost their case.

There’s next to no chance the judge isn’t aware of this legal precedent and absolutely zero chance CBS/Paramount won’t bring it up, which leaves The Defense to explain how this legal precedent doesn’t apply.

And I have no doubt The Defense knows too. Axanar can’t win the lawsuit.

Which leaves us back with the best option being to settle — and probably settle on CBS/Paramount’s terms.

How long The Defense waits to settle (and how strongly CBS/Paramount insists on their own terms) depends greatly on the court schedule. Luckily, some of the folks over at the CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar forum came up with some graphics.

Other_AxanarLawsuit_timeline

You’ll see we’re coming up to June 8th where additional defendants, known as “Does” will have to be named or be dropped from the lawsuit (this amounts to a card the Plaintiffs have to play or lose).

There is much speculation about which Does will be named and what their defense lawyers will do. We’ll also know what CBS/Paramount thinks of the counterclaim above by Monday, June 13th.

I’ll save further speculation and observations for others or when I get more information. For now, I mainly wanted to write this post for friends and fellow filmmakers who wanted to know the Axanar lawsuit timeline and how nigh impossible it will be for Axanar to win the case should it go to trial.

I know they’re not going to admit that. That’s playing a card they don’t have to. But they’re going to settle. It’s just a question of when.

(Thanks to Jody Wheeler and Janet Gershen-Siegel for pointing out some of the legal links)

UPDATE, 2016-06-09: It looks like there will not be a Day of the Does as many Axa-watchers thought there would be (okay, I’ll speak for myself, but I don’t think I’m alone). I expect there might be more to look into by the end of next week and Monday’s expected response from CBS/Paramount to Axanar’s counterclaim.

Awaiting New Orders from Starfleet Command (i.e. CBS and Paramount)

This is the 21st entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

In April, Marc Perton over at Newsweek wrote a really good article about the Axanar lawsuit which, as much as anything, led me down the rabbit hole because that’s where I first learned of discord within the Star Trek fan and fan film community.  Then things got depressing. Suffice to say, I originally thought the lawsuit filed by CBS and Paramount against a Star Trek fan film production last December was an unhappy David vs. Goliath story involving corporations crushing fan fervor. Instead, I found the corporations are not exactly the bad guys in this matter (though they are still good at crushing).

Well, in any case, Mr. Perton back to comment on all the fun we’ve had in the past week with JJ Abrams’ announcement of the lawsuit “going away.” Specifically, he delves into the double-edged sword that is official fan film guidelines.

If you just want an excellent overview of what’s going on with, including the pros and cons of having fan film guidelines, I highly recommend you read that article. As I’ll get into, I think having some form of guidelines is a good idea and a long time coming, regardless of how people might feel about Axanar.

And strong feelings about Axanar abound, as a draft of Axanar’s proposed fan film guidelines has surfaced on the Interwebs this past week, prompting much analysis and hand-wringing. The G and T Show’s Shanna Gilkeson does a nice job of trying to sum up some more fannish concerns. If you are intrigued by learning what the those proposed guidelines are and you want to know more about the rigorous (and some might say rancorous) debate down in the fannish depths of the Briar Patch/Rabbit Hole, read on.

(If you’re not ready for that kind of real-life intrigue, go back and watch a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode that deals with intrigue. I suggest “Necessary Evil” as an excellent aperitif.)

So, again, the link above is to Axamonitor’s reporting of a draft of fan film guidelines. This information comes in part from a blog entry about creating the guidelines and engaging the fellow fan film producers. If you’re reading these posts now, it may not be obvious, but at one point, the fan productions involved were kept anonymous by Axamonitor. Then when furor about the leaked guidelines arose, and over the course of the weekend, the participants (or non-participants, see the Axanar published list) were discussed.

As you might imagine, multiple discussions have exploded over at the CBS/Paramount vs Axanar Facebook forum. Not only that, but many Star Trek fan productions have responded that they are absolutely not on board with Axanar or its guidelines. I was going to try and list all the tally of the responses from the fan film producers, but since I started writing this post, Axamonitor has published a list.

Remember: many many people really, really dislike Alec Peters or at least his actions.  These actions include Peters having bad things to say about other fan productions (as reported in the first Newsweek article). For Peters to be the face of the Star Trek fan community, especially the Star Trek fan film community regarding fan film guidelines, triggers their outrage meters. As I mentioned in my earlier, depressing post, I understand why several individuals feel the way they do about Alec Peters and Axanar — and in many cases, the feeling appears mutual. Know that if you explore these parts of the rabbit hole, it gets quite personal with invective thrown from both camps. While I don’t consider myself neutral, I also don’t feel the need to join forces flinging invective. In fact, I think I may feel closest to what the producers of Starship Melbourne said:

“I’ve never gone on record to bash anyone, I’ve nothing against Mr Peters, nor his production. But it seems as if every time there is some calming of the storm, something associated with him kicks the hornets nest. It’s hard to tell what’s the truth because nothing adds up. He does not speak for any of us in Melbourne.”

Now, that’s just one production. But the fact remains that over a dozen fan film productions –including the majority that Alec Peters reached out to in order to comment on the proposed guidelines– have not only officially distanced themselves from Alec Peters and the proposed guidelines, but also have firmly sided with the intellectual property (IP) owners: CBS and Paramount. That has led to the following image being used as many a person’s profile picture:

The Eye of CBS and P for Paramount. IP. It's a joke, ya Vulcan!

The Eye of CBS and P for Paramount. Eye, P. IP.         It’s a joke, ya Vulcan!

So, anyway, some people are angry just at fan film guidelines being flung about, because they’re meant to be drafts discussed in relative private as detailed here.

I understand the idea of wanting to have consensus and wanting to present the Napoleonic juggernaut that is the CBS/Paramount legal team with some form of formidable coalition, but really, that wasn’t going to happen given the aforementioned discord in the fan film community. And this was evidently a discussion to the fan film community on Facebook, not exactly known as a bastion of privacy. I understand wanting to point out that draft guidelines are draft, but when you’re introducing guidelines to be discussed by a community of members who don’t work for you on a forum that defaults towards openness, I can’t see how that’s “telling tales out of school.” Also, I squeezed the Charmin while I was typing this, so perhaps I am not to be trusted.

But seriously, when the overwhelming majority of the fan productions you reached out to publicly state that they want no part of you or your guidelines, the main problem is not that the draft guidelines were leaked.

Rounding out the weekend was a post from Mike Bawden, the PR director for Axanar. In it he muses about how the Star Trek fan film community is sadly toxic, that CBS and Paramount can no longer ignore the “sandbox” of fan film productions, and that there should be something more than guidelines with accountability being a key principle.

Naturally, critics of Axanar point to Axanar being one of the reasons the community is toxic, that Axanar has made the sandbox more of a litter box, and that the unofficial guidelines were perfect until Axanar came along.

But here’s a twist: I don’t entirely agree. In fact, I agree with a lot of what Mike Bawden had to say in his post.

Dude, you went there?

Dude, you went there?

Yes I did, Cap. And have a Snickers. You haven’t been yourself recently.

I like the idea of CBS/Paramount providing “more than guidelines” because I want this to be a way in which they actively engage with fans versus passively allowing people to express their fandom.

I like the idea of licenses, though that’s a whole huge discussion about how they are to be properly non-commercial and not an administrative burden.

And I absolutely think there needs to be discussion within the fan and fan film (and fan of fan film) community about what the guidelines might be. Yes, Star Trek fan film producers may have the loudest voices on this score for good reason: they and their productions are directly on the line. But they are supported by thousands of other fans, so why ignore good ideas from people who want to see good fan productions? (This speaks also to Mike Bawden’s mention of “super-fans” and why Mike Bawden can raise good ideas along with everyone else).

As I previously mentioned, I am not a fan film producer, but I have produced and continue to produce and cast indie films and web series — and in my experience, I much prefer to deal with official guidelines than unofficial “understandings.”

In fact, not having any official guidelines is one of the reasons I haven’t done fan films. I salute all those people who have gone ahead and made Star Trek fan films in such a risky environment — and it’s precisely because those fun fan films could be taken away that I want there to be official guidelines.

I want that because I’ve been faced with something similar as an indie film producer.

You young whipper-snappers may not remember the ancient days before 2005, but back in the day, the film actors’ union SAG (now merged and called SAG-AFTRA) did not have the low budget agreements they have now. They’ve also made great strides with the New Media agreement. Heck, they didn’t even have the snazzy website they have now where you can easily download all sorts of documents and get the ball rolling.

These agreements are not without their headaches — not in the least that they add paperwork. However, between the Short Film agreement and the New Media agreement you have two vehicles that allow you to work with professional, SAG-AFTRA actors –including actors who appeared in official Star Trek series– for free.

Yes, for free.

That’s because for the SAG-AFTRA short film agreement, the student film agreement, and the New Media agreement, compensation may be both negotiated and deferred. This deferred salary must still adhere to Federal and State minimum wage laws, and they are employees, not independent contractors, so that overtime kicks in after 8 hours, but that can all be deferred.

Yes, things get a bit more complex, but basically, if you are a non-commercial project, you can enter in this agreement in good faith, not expecting to ever make money and therefore not pay the cast — you just have a legal agreement to pay the cast if certain conditions are met (generally getting distribution where SAG-AFTRA commercial agreements usually apply).

This is not theoretical nor is it some loophole of which SAG-AFTRA is somehow unaware.

Every year, hundreds of short films are made with SAG-AFTRA actors for competitions like the 48 Hour Film Project. Technically, the actors are receiving “deferred pay,” but effectively they receive no pay. Ever.

Every year, hundreds of student films are made with SAG-AFTRA actors who do not expect nor will ever get money for their participation. Hopefully they get a great acting experience with an up-and-coming filmmaker and the student film gets into a bunch of festivals, but only in rare exceptions would it ever get into a situation where revenue is earned on the film. Hence, the actors receive no pay.

It is the order of things.

It is the order of things.

This is expected. This is accepted.

The reason SAG-AFTRA offers these contracts is because they function as essentially “research & development” films: films that simply aren’t going to get onto the distribution channels where big money is. (By the way, Actor’s Equity, the union for professional stage actors, has “codes” and “plans” which are similar). If you read the low budget and deferred pay agreements closely, you’ll see that they all roll back to the “basic” SAG-AFTRA agreements if revenue occurs. In other words, in the odd event that your student film suddenly gets a distribution deal with Netflix, your web series gets onto Hulu, or your indie feature is going to be featured on IFC, then the actors get paid what they’re usually due.

But effectively, you’re getting a talented actor “for free.”

Note that “for free” doesn’t mean that’s there’s no cost to you, the fan film producer. Besides treating them well on set, having decent food, and decent hours, you might need to spring for their transportation costs, putting them up in a decent hotel, and paying for other incidentals. Basically, you’re making sure that the only thing the professional actor has to give you is their time — and the implicit arrangement is that this is their time well spent on something they’ll find fun and/or rewarding.

And, of course, the professional actor has to agree to this arrangement. They don’t have to. This is their union simply giving them a formal, kosher way to perform in less-than-commercial projects.

Do I love the SAG-AFTRA agreements? Not particularly. Who wants to do more paperwork if they don’t have to? But I love that, if I follow a set of publicly available and official rules, I can always work with professional actors who want to work with me.

Frankly, it always boggles me when I encounter indie filmmakers who go to enormous lengths to avoid following the rules, but still want to use union actors. (especially in our area, where our local SAG-AFTRA office is quite friendly).

So while I know people have been very happy with the unofficial Star Trek guidelines, I also know all the uncertainty we filmmakers had before we had improved SAG-AFTRA guidelines and agreements.

And that’s why I say the current unofficial Star Trek fan film guidelines are not perfect. Because at any time, any of the these fan productions could go away due to CBS and Paramount having a bad day. Some fan films are suspending production as I type because of the current uncertainty.

And you can say it’s all Axanar’s fault, but that doesn’t matter: because we have every reason to believe that when CBS/Paramount says fan film guidelines are coming that guidelines are, in fact coming. For better or worse, the old way is going away. Don’t you want to talk about what would work for you or not?

(Incidentally, this appears to be a point on which Axanar and Axamonitor agree, at least in part: Mike Bawden wrote of the fan community discussing guidelines in his post and Carlos Pedraza wrote about guideline discussion in a post this past week).

You remember seeing “all rights reserved” next to some copyrights? Well here CBS and Paramount are offering the fans a way where all rights are not reserved all of the time. They don’t have to do this. Look at what the fan productions said above. So many mentioned how thankful they were to CBS and Paramount for being allowed to play in the sandbox. You don’t need to throw those thanks away when you’re talking about how you might want to play in the sandbox.

So talk. Please. Believe me: they may not be receptive to any guidelines you give them, but they’re likely to be more receptive before they issue guidelines than after. And since the worst case scenario is you never get to do another Star Trek fan film, is it really bad to discuss what your best case scenario to make a Star Trek fan film might be?

Please let me know about these fannish confabs in the comments or other channels (for those of you who know them). I will update this post about good forums where the conversation is going on. There doesn’t have to unity. There should be discussion. Keep it polite. Keep it positive. And as CBS and Paramount are corporations, but they’re staffed by humans. Some of them even want to engage with fans.

And that brings us back, briefly to Axanar, Alec Peters, and the draft guidelines kerfuffle. In the best possible scenario, it sounds like Alec Peters felt Axanar had a unique channel to speak to the humans at these corporations, and perhaps help focus some communication from theStar Trek fan film community. The community has decided otherwise. In fact, they’ve effectively said, “no.” You gotta Vulcan up and accept that.

And I need to accept, based on reading the fan production statements above that perhaps there won’t be that fannish conclave about guidelines. It could be that everyone has decided to wait. Wait for Starfleet Command to issue orders to its fleet of fan productions.

I can only hope when the order is given, it’s, “Warp speed.”

Let’s Get Back to Boldly Going

This is the 20th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

So, after Sunday’s somewhat somber, but cathartic post, I wanted to get back to the fun part of Star Trek. I mean, eventually, we’ll have to end the whole Crisis series. Right? Right?

Yes, I know Axanar Productions responded to CBS/Paramount’s complaint yesterday which they talk about here and you can read further about at 1701 News here. Unlike people freaking about this ‘countersuit,’ I’m given to understand this is de rigueur for lawsuits, even ones going through settlement talks.

I’m sure I’ll have opportunities to get back to that legal drama, but today let’s focus on everyone’s favorite 50-year old Space Opera. (Not 50+ years).

In preparing the aforementioned somber piece last week, I didn’t feel I had time for what I really wanted to talk about: the teaser trailer for the 2017 Star Trek TV series, and the second trailer for Star Trek Beyond.

And of course, anything I say won’t be as exhaustive as what I’m sure a hundred YouTube trailer reaction videos might be, but I suppose if you’ve gone as far as 19 entries of this series, perhaps you’ll willing to go a bit farther.

All right, but don't mix pop culture too much.

All right, but don’t mix pop culture too much.

No promises. So first up, the TV show teaser:

This is what I’d call a “save the date” kind of teaser. It really doesn’t give us the tone of the TV show or movie, it just lets us know it’s coming. It seems these are more prevalent these days, perhaps as entertainment conglomerates want to craft their buzz delivery with ever-increasing care. Perhaps they want us to keep some space in our fannish hearts, so we won’t forget them come January.

Whatever the case, it’s nice to see they’re saying is new heroes, villians, etc. Why, it might even be hopeful. Based on some of the people involved, I’m optimistic.

Okay, now onto the second Star Trek Beyond trailer:

Oh, so much better than the first one.

Now, my wife (that’s not Mrs. Columbo) either didn’t see or forgot the original Beyond trailer, so she picked up on the action-y action with a side order of action in this one. However, having already resigned myself to a seriously action-y Big Screen Star Trek (which isn’t that out of character for the franchise — let’s be honest), I still wanted some thoughtful moments.

And I got ’em. The teaser trailer for me was “Hey kidz, join us on this outer space romp!” I suddenly realized what a friend of mine felt when he was confronted with “Hip” Bugs Bunny.

Y u no like NuTrek, bro?

Y u no like NuTrek, bro?

But with this trailer, I got the thoughtful seasoning I’ve seen in Trek movies. There’s the idea of humanity grappling with the immensity of outer space from the very cool shot of the Enterprise going through the warp bubble to the megastructure. And there’s the idea of finding one’s place in said massive space as Kirk wonders if his whole career amounts to anything. And there’s the sense of family, of what you owe your ship and your crew and what it might take to survive. And the honey-smoke voice of Shohreh Aghdashloo doesn’t hurt matters. Plus, Jaylah is clearly from Farscape. And who doesn’t like Farscape?

These people certainly appreciate Farscape

These people certainly appreciate Farscape

Exactly. But more than Farscape, that felt like some good classic Trek themes… amid the destruction of the Enterprise…. again. So it’s still action, egg, action, action, bacon, and action, but it’s not action, action, action, action, action, baked beans, action, action, action. At least I hope not.

And in the early months of this year, I was reminded that both the director and one of the writers (perhaps both writers) are very into Star Trek and are arguably engaged to execute it well.

Simon Pegg, lest you forget, has written entertaining films before — ones that have been able to synthesize genres. And he’s a tremendous Sci-Fi nut and his co-writer, Doug Jung, has been the creator of some well-regarded drama.

Justin Lin, whose films I have not seen, also promises to bring an interesting perspective on the Star Trek franchise — at least that’s what I got out of this profile in Wired. Star Trek has a special place in his heart. Hey, I never would have thought Lord of the Rings held such a special place in Peter Jackson’s heart. We all contain multitudes, it’s how the multitudes are applied and this isn’t the creative team’s first rodeo.

So here’s hoping there’s some damn fine adventuring come July.

UPDATE, 2016-05-31: I meant to fit io9’s breakdown of the Star Trek Beyond Trailer as an example of people being far more in-depth than I’ll plan to, but I forgot, so ya got it here. It’s fun.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: For the World Wide Web is Hollow and I Have Touched The Pie

This is the 19th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks. I’m not saying this is the most depressing entry, but well, read on.

I want to tell you a story.

It’s not a particularly happy story, but it’s a true story. It’s my story and yet I feel it is many a fan’s story: one marked first by excitement, giddy anticipation, fear, shock, and then horror and disgust.

Then, at the end, pie.

But more on the pie later.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this series, all the way back to November 2015. The first announcement of a new Star Trek series and cautious optimism.

Then the fast and furious action trailer for Star Trek Beyond in December and the realization of the cold equations with how Paramount will likely be making Star Trek films.

Then the Axanar lawsuit and the feeling that Big Business was, in a familiar narrative, trampling on the passion of the little guy rather than trying to figure out how to harness said passion.

Because of the implications for fan productions and use of intellectual property (IP), I continued to follow the case. I had given a nominal amount to Axanar’s IndieGoGo campaign after seeing Prelude to Axanar as it seemed a worthy fan cause, so I certainly wanted to see the resulting fan feature.

But in hindsight, I think I might have sensed some things were a bit weird. Why was Axanar singled out? After reading a Newsweek article that mentioned some discord in the fan community, I stumbled across a passionate editorial to take a stand in the Axanar case, I had a bad feeling. Still, as I’ve observed bad blood in office politics, there’s rarely advantage to get involved if you don’t have to. And I’m not a fan film producer, so I didn’t have to, right?

Then came the judge’s ruling on Axanar’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. I read it with my usual excitement, amped up now because of the amicus brief regarding Klingon. And something didn’t sit right. That initial pull away from the Briar Patch seemed premature. What was going on down the rabbit hole? What truths were down there.

And like Chekov and his gun, I had to find out.

Shouldn't it be "his phaser?"

Shouldn’t it be “his phaser?”

No, not him. I mean Anton.

Sheesh. Modernist.

Sheesh. Modernist.

NO! Not Yelchin. Stop being such Star Trek fans for crying out loud.

Fine, theater nerd.

Fine, theater nerd.

That’s the one. Gotta love that depressing Russian sonofabitch.

So yeah, Anton Chekhov’s gun had to go off, and so I went down the rabbit hole.

As Sam Beckett might say, “Oh, boy.”

My first entry into this world of people-far-more-into-following-the-Axanar-lawsuit-than-I landed on the inevitable Facebook group of CBS vs Axanar: a group that wanted to be a spot to talk about the lawsuit… and apparently liked pie.

The part about the pie confused me. But more on that later.

I was shocked and actually noted the difference between posts there and posts on the Axanar Facebook group were like visiting two different worlds (Eminiar 7 and Vendikar, perhaps? Ya gotta keep the Trek references going).

What I got in response was multiple people saying that they did not hate Axanar Productions, nor its head Alec Peters. Instead, I received a number of nuanced, thoughtful replies of how they were not hating on the person, but being disgusted by the behavior.

I was pointed to and found many additional articles indicating behavior that raises many questions about the conduct of Axanar Productions in terms of how it’s been handling someone else’s IP and about the conduct of Alec Peters and others in handling other people.

For those interested, I recommend checking out 1701 News and its rather exhaustive archive about Axanar-related articles.

There’s also Axamonitor, I site/wiki created solely to follow the case, provide context to rumors, and follow up on allegations.

And naturally, there has been talk of these matters on Reddit, like the suggestion Axanar Productions has used the fan donations to prep a for-profit studio over and above trying to make a fan film.

Oh, did that get your attention? Here’s someone who was evidently paying closer attention than I was back in January talking about why they are not comfortable with what Axanar is up to.

And here’s someone who originally tried to help out as a fellow fan film creator, and was asked to do something unethical.

There's a 'but' in there, isn't there?

There’s a ‘but’ behind this, isn’t there?

Yes. Yes, there is. Because even with all these questions, I’m certain some of these concerns could (and have) been dismissed as here-say. Some matters are speculation. Some are matters specifically denied by Axanar Productions. I don’t know Alec Peters personally, nor any of the Axanar team.

And on one level, doesn’t that make this a fan version of office politics?

Perhaps. And if I were more of a neutral lawyer type, I would say that –or not even have written this post at all– but I’m not neutral.

This doesn’t mean I’m joining in any attacks on Axanar (though from reading some comments, it sounds like simply writing this post, I am a ‘hater’). I have no personal beef with Alec Peters or Axanar Productions. Perhaps I’d even enjoy a Romulan Ale with them in other circumstances.

But if you can read all those articles and not feel that Axanar and co. have done some –at the very, very least– bone-headed things, I have a Ferengi that wants to sell you the planet Earth.

I mentioned office politics and I try to avoid them as much as possible, but I also try to avoid the office Machiavellis: those who scheme and add to strife.

Because, you see, even if I don’t know which side is right, when one side says, “Here is my issue with several sober details laid out and why I feel wronged.”

And the other side says, “CBS/Paramount SUCKS! Axanar Trek is TRU TREK! HATERS!”

Well, I don’t need to pick sides, but I know who to avoid at the water cooler.

And really, there’s something quite loathsome about some of the comments I’ve read in this trip down the rabbit hole. I know the David vs. Goliath story is compelling. I know. I latched onto that narrative too as you might recall from my January post which essentially launched this whole series (previously, it was just a couple posts about Star Trek).

But at the same time, I absolutely, positively believe in the rights of intellectual property owners (as I’ve said before). Fans don’t own the IP. They can attempt to sway it, they can pledge devotion to it, or even abandon it, but they can never own it.

So that’s why stuff like this irks me no end:

From http://www.sci-fest.com/#!short-films/m7wwv for an event on Saturday, May 21st.

From http://www.sci-fest.com/#!short-films/m7wwv for an event on Saturday, May 21st.

Seriously, WTF?!?

(That’s hoW‘s That Fandom?, by the way).

You’re the subject of a lawsuit for stealing someone else’s property, and you let someone advertise your film like that? (Lord forbid Axanar provided the copy).

People have said they stand with Axanar and some have said they stand with CBS.

I stand with Star Trek.

I enjoy many of the fan films, and think they should continue as a side of Star Trek we don’t always see — and as a great outlet for the fans (and not coincidentally, a good way for CBS/Paramount to engage with said fans). I don’t like the idea that someone might be trying to profit off someone else’s IP. That’s not right.

Now, at this point in my post (I started it on May 14th and figured I’d be able to post it Friday, May 20th), I originally proposed two solutions, both predicated on the thought that the lawsuit was still pending.

The first solution was in case Alec Peters and Axanar Productions have been acting in good faith for the most part — and mistakes and mean-spirited comments were the result of idiocy, which, while enraging, is usually not a crime.

In that case, the solution would be to settle with CBS/Paramount. Settle and hopefully fulfill the promise to fans in making the film.

The second solution was in case Axanar Productions has not been acting in good faith and that some or all of the accusations of greed and general Ferengi-like avarice were accurate. In that case, my hope was that, yes, let them be crushed in the court. Let their misdeeds become known, but let CBS/Paramount create official guidelines for fan films. Further, let them use such guidelines to deepen their relationship and engagement with fans.

With this weekend’s bombshell announcement that “the lawsuit was going away” that changes matters. It looks like there will be some sort of settlement (no, the lawsuit wasn’t “dropped” as has been reported) and CBS/Paramount will be releasing some guidelines.

First off, context.  Janet Gershen-Siegel did everyone a solid with her breakdown of the ruling on the motion to dismiss, and she does a good job here explaining what this bombshell announcement mean… so far.

There’s also a piece on 1701 News reporting on statements people have made. Axanar Productions has also responded, as mentioned in the 1701 piece.

I mention these two sites because, unlike the slew of brief articles that I have seen friends post, they actually understand that CBS/Paramount has not dropped the lawsuit. After the judge’s ruling, why would CBS/Paramount? This simply puts them in a stronger position to settle.

And while I’m glad to hear there will likely be a settlement, there’s now rampant speculation as to whether that will mean an Axanar film, if the new fan film guidelines will be too restrictive (e.g. in the “be careful what you wish for” category), and if we’ll ever get a solid answer as to what Axanar was intending and what they did or didn’t do.  I assume legal discovery does not necessarily happen with a settlement the same way it might if you’re going to trial.

Regardless, I hope there are answers soon. Answers on the settlement. Answers on the film guidelines. But don’t think this is a victory of David over Goliath. It’s not that simple. Again, maybe some of the Axanar actions can be credited to idiocy, but too many people have pointed to too many stories to make me believe them entirely blameless.

Uncovering all of this has left a very bad taste in my mouth for fandom and crowdfunding and vitriol spewed on the Internets.

And I’m not sure if justice or Star Trek will be well served.

When I mentioned that having all these details come to light was edifying, but depressing, the CBS vs. Axanar group responded.

“That’s why we have pie.”

pies_many

I guess that will have to do.