Tag Archives: Fandom

Fandom, Umbrage, and IP

I’ve been thinking of writing a longer post about fandom and perceived ownership — all the more so with the launch of Star Trek: Discovery.

Mark Evanier’s post, aptly titled “Creative Custody,” refutes the notion of fans “owning” comic book characters, but it can be applied to lots of other fan-beloved intellectual property (IP), such as IP that involves warrior races called Klingons.

Much of what Mark Evanier says could be said by someone who hasn’t been an avid comic books reader for about 60 years and a continuously working comic writer for about 40 years… but that authority helps.

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: Once and Future Fans

This is the 26th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

Short version: It’s been a while since my last entry in this series. An article by Molly McArdle in GQ about Star Trek fandom spurred me to reflect further about the current state of Trek and Trek fandom.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, Fall is in the air. And here in the United States, it’s election season: a never-ending, supremely dispiriting election season. I can’t imagine that even the partisans for either major party are anything other than ready for this season to be over.

Sadly, that exhaustion mirrors my feelings towards the Axanar lawsuit, which, amazingly, remains unsettled. Fans and skeptics continue to do postings as we trudge towards the end of the “discovery” period (and you’ll find Axanar discussed in McArdle’s article). As I mentioned back in looking at the defense, I don’t see any way they can triumph over the intellectual property (IP) owners — though the defense did have CBS/Paramount go through the exercise of demonstrating chain of title. For those who want to delve into the Briar Patch, the Axanar Facebook group, the CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar Facebook group, the ever intrepid Axamonitor, and the Fan Film Factor all continue to post (among others, I’m sure). Expect vitriol if you do much digging.

Meanwhile, the latest theatrical voyage, Star Trek Beyond, though received well-enough critically, did not bust blocks at the box office. I’ve seen some people on social media, purporting to be Star Trek fans, cheering this outcome, as if commercial failure will help more actual Trek get made. But that discussion of what I suppose I would call love/hate fandom is for another time.

When you go through McArdle’s article, you see how Star Trek is interwoven with modern fan culture in general — and the fact that more people than ever feel free to let their geek or nerd flag fly. Hey, we just got to hear POTUS talk about his fandom for Star Trek.

So here’s to the undiscovered country that is the future of Star Trek.

Crisis of Infinite Star Treks: The Guidelines After the Gobsmack

This is the 25th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

So, after June 23rd’s astounding reveal by CBS/Paramount about their fan film guidelines, I took in a lot of the reactions (reactions you can see back on that post, btw).

But even though it’s now decades later in Internet time, I wanted to comment on the guidelines, in part because, in one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that I, as an indie filmmaker who specifically likes working on sci-fi and fantasy projects, have shied away from doing fan films in part because of a lack of guidelines. I like the framework established by the SAG-AFTRA low budget agreements, for example, that allow me to legally work with professional union actors at low or deferred rates (if they’re willing). I would love for those SAG-AFTRA agreements to be even more flexible, but I’ll take what they have for now. Being able to work with willing union actors without risk –so long as I follow the union’s rules– is better than having all the blood, sweat, and tears inherent in any film production being at the whim of unofficial “understandings.”

So based on that experience, I absolutely wanted guidelines. Alec Peters of Axanar Productions has publicly stated he really wanted guidelines for Star Trek fan productions too. Anecdotally, he had asked CBS/Paramount for guidelines before the lawsuit hit and CBS/Paramount demurred.

Between my agreement with Peters on this point –someone many consider persona non trekka– and the fact that, as Axamonitor has noted, the current Star Trek fan film landscape has been rendered a desert of non-production, you might ask, “Are you happy now?” In fact, some of you might be thinking something along the lines of this:

ST_FanFilmGuidelines_Meme

Fair enough.

I’m not pleased nor happy, as it happens. However, after picking myself off the virtual floor upon my first reading of the guidelines, I went through them again. And I realized something.

They might be fair enough.

So I’ll list all of the guidelines verbatim and comment on them all to let you know how I came to that conclusion. (Note: if you want to skip my musings, you’re welcome to jump to the end to thoughts and reactions from other people including recovering lawyers).

The Guidelines

1) The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.

It’s little wonder that so many Star Trek fans, specifically fans of Star Trek fan films were shocked on June 23rd. This first guideline fundamentally changes the landscape of current fan productions. In fact, one wonders how ongoing series can possibly boldly go now.

Coming as the very first guideline, it’s little wonder a lot of us metaphorically tripped and tumbled down the rest of the guideline stairs. How will Star Trek Continues continue? What new voyages can New Voyages have?

But stop and ask yourself some questions. Can you do a story about Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the original series characters? Yes. Can you do some alternate Trek history where Riker commands the Enterprise after Picard’s death on the Borg cube? Yes. Can you do a follow-up to any existing canon work or simply make up your own tale in any era of Trek or your own heretofore unknown era of Trek? Yes, yes, and yes.

We’re shocked because this disrupts what some have already called the “Golden Age of Star Trek fan films.” In fact, it might bring much of those ongoing missions to an end.

But you know what’s better than fan productions? Actual Star Trek productions! And we have a big screen version coming out tomorrow that reportedly doesn’t suck along with a TV series coming in January with many a Star Trek vet on the production team.

I suspect this is where Axanar and I differ. They think the new guidelines are draconian, whereas when someone says “Draconian,” I think this:

DraconianTwoShot

Yes, I know a lot of you, when you hear “Draconian,” probably think this:

princess_ardala

The galaxy is big enough for both of us… assuming The Doctor and Buck foil their respective Draconians’ plans.

Okay, we’re getting a bit off topic. Back to the guidelines.

This is the one that makes me distinctly displeased and glum. But if there’s enough quality official Trek, I think I’ll be okay. And I have a feeling I’ll be in good company when people count ticket sales of Star Trek Beyond as well as views on CBS All Access.

2) The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.

Okay, this is a change from current fan productions, but quite understandable. CBS/Paramount wants these non-licensed productions to both clearly identify themselves as such and clearly delineate themselves from any official Trek.

I have no problem with this. Starship Reallycoolship: A Star Trek Fan Production works for me and I can’t imagine any of the existing fan productions kvetching about this. The only reason you would kvetch? You didn’t want to be considered a fan production, but both I and licensing departments for any IP the world over don’t know what to tell ya then.

3) The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.

So, they’re not looking for people to re-mix and package their IP and they don’t want people to, say, think they’re entitled to playing music in their Star Trek fan productions like Jerry Goldsmith’s epic Star Trek tracks that are not, in fact, owned by CBS/Paramount. Sensible.

Mind you, if you’re doing truly transformative work of parodies or commentary, Fair Use has your back. Comment on pop culture all you want, citizens.

4) If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.

Unless I’m mistaken, the main thrust of this is to make sure they’re doing right by the companies officially licensing Trek.

The operative phrase appears to be “If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek [stuff].” What if no really good commercially available tricorder exists for close-up shots? Can I not construct one myself?

Another example: The Star Trek movie uniforms from Wrath of Khan through Undiscovered Country are awesome, but the commercial versions are pretty pricey on places like Anovos (e.g. over $1,000 per costume). I seem to recall commercially available patterns for those costumes were available. What if an enterprising fan costumer found the right fabric and made a lot of the costumes? Does that violate this point?

From the Engage podcast, it sounds like the answer to this question is “no, it does not violate the guideline.” Enterprising fan prop creators or costumers may do their cool work… but they don’t want said enterprising prop or costume people to start a cottage industry renting said props and costumes to other productions.

I think there might be a further way to deal with any created fan costumes and props as I’ll delve into further down under Guideline # 6.

5) The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.

This guideline is another one that I know creates tremendous heartburn among the Star Trek fan film community (both creators and audiences). Combined with Guideline #1, this is the one that makes me most vexed (in an Austen way) or want to Kirk out (in a Star Trek way). Part of the fun of so many of the fan series has been the creative people behind and in front of the camera who’ve previously worked on Trek and other similarly fannish places.

Again, the appearance of original, new Trek may soothe this vexation. I reserve the right to do a flying leg kick at a later date, though.

6) The fan production must be non-commercial:

Absolutely no problem with that — and that was the premise of the unofficial guidelines, wasn’t it?

But wait, this one has a bunch of sub-guidelines, let’s look at those.

CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.

Oookay. Not so good at all for any of the continuing fan series, but they’ve theoretically been hamstrung or eliminated by Guideline # 1. The Engage podcast also clarified that private donations (e.g. rich uncles, etc.) are permissible.

The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.

No problem with this whatsoever.

The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.

I’m used to dealing with SAG-AFTRA low budget agreements that make similar restrictions. No problem.

I understand how this is a blow to those who used the DVD/Blu-ray perk in their crowdfunding campaigns, but frankly, Guideline #1 has already meant you’re not in this for an ongoing series.

The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.

No problem with that.

No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.

Again, a big blow for crowd-funders, but since Guideline # 1 means these aren’t ongoing series, that seems to have taken care of.

The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.

See Guideline #4 above. Again, this seems to be to protect actual companies that license Star Trek, but it could be a sticky wicket for even conscientious fan film creators.

I’m especially concerned with places such as Starbase Studios that are not looking to profit from set rentals, but are looking for donations from productions to cover the cost of their existence. And I think outfits like Starbase Studios could be cool as a resources where one can produce one’s one-off Star Trek fan adventures.

In the Engage podcast, CBS clarifies they’re fine with enterprising costumers and prop-makers building costumes and sets for their productions, but if productions are looking to buy costumes or props, they should be licensed goods.

Perhaps entities such as Starbase Studios could continue to operate as a non-profit, something official and ongoing that CBS/Paramount could grant a limited, non-commercial license that can provide resources for fan productions.  This group or groups could also be a place to donate sets, props, and costumes to after your fan production is done. I could see several fan productions paying it forward in this manner. That would reward the crafty fans and the thrifty fan producers.

7) The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.

Okay, this is another guideline that is completely understandable, but then potentially problematic for some fan productions. And fans may well point out that more adult behavior and illegal activity occurs in official Star Trek. So they’re basically saying it’s official Trek’s call to include this or not and fans shouldn’t try this at home.

This is a bit problematic as there seem to be more shades of gray (maybe not as bad as a second-season clipshow, but you know…). Sure you could still show Scotty’s love of scotch, right? Right? What about the most recent Star Trek Continues that touches on the subject of child abuse? Star Trek is often about philosophical and moral issues — and the famous interracial kiss from the original series was probably not deemed “family friendly” in some households at the time.

I would imagine the appropriately transformative work is still protected by fair use, but don’t be surprised if CBS/Paramount’s lawyers hail you on all frequencies.

8) The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:

“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use.  No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”

No problem here.

9) Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.

Oh, how some people on forums fumed about this one, but come on. CBS/Paramount is basically saying how you can make non-fair use derivative works in a way that they probably won’t come after you. You’re playing in their sandbox in their yard. Yes, you might come up with a cool new alien. Something that’s clever and represents your creativity, so naturally you want to protect that intellectual property.

You know what the solution to that is? Make your own damn science fiction show and put the brand new alien in that.

Also, do you know how many alien races there are in Star Trek? For crying out loud, use some of them. I, for one, would love to see more tales about the Vaadwaur for one.

10) Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.

See also Guideline # 7 above. CBS/Paramount wants to protect its IP brand. No surprise there. Yes, you could wish for CBS/Paramount to give you permission more akin to a license, but they’re not. You might as well wish for them to give you a pony with warp nacelles while you’re at it.

CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.

Look closely at just about any terms and conditions on any website and you’ll see that they too want the terms entirely at their discretion. You could complain, or again, you could make your own dang science fiction show. No crime in being influenced by Star Trek.

Okay, so there are my thoughts. If we break out the Guideline 6 and include that little “Oh, we can change things at any time, nyah” bit, there’s 17 different points CBS/Paramount wants you to adhere to. I have reservations about two of them (1 and 5) and partial reservations about one (7) because of how it could be overzealously enforced.

That’s not bad. The bad part is how it shakes up the fan production status quo, so I don’t blame anyone working on an ongoing series still feeling gobsmacked.

The Wednesday after the guidelines were released, in episode 5 of a new official Star Trek podcast, John Van Citters, an executive with CBS answers a lot of questions about the guidelines (I’ve cited it above, but you might want to give it a listen now).

So, what about other takes on the guidelines? As you might imagine, recovering lawyer Janet Gershen-Siegel takes a look at them at the G&T show. I especially like how she hypothesizes about what specifically might be allowed or not. Teresa Jusino also reacts to the guidelines over at the Mary Sue with feelings and thoughts that make sense to me overall — as well as some ire and snark for Axanar Productions. I’m afraid that the pro and anti Axanar forces will be in a Movellan/Dalek standoff for some time — neither are willing to turn off their battle computers (and the Movellans are still unwilling to admit they’re a completely lame alien race — please make no Doctor Who fan films with the Movellans).

But back to Star Trek. I do feel for the ongoing fan producers. The vast majority appear to have issued statements thanking CBS/Paramount for the ability to play in the Star Trek sandbox for so long without guidelines until now. I hope if they’re not continuing, they find a satisfactory way to wrap up.

And I hope they get to enjoy being a Star Trek fan with the rest of us.


Note: I’ve enjoyed writing this mini-series, but frankly, I’m sick of the “crisis” and more looking forward to just enjoying Trek. I’m not saying this my last entry in the series, but I’m hoping any subsequent entries amount to more of a denouement.

Fan Entitlement, IP Theft, and Wrath at Cons

So between the bombshell that was CBS/Paramount releasing their fan film guidelines yesterday and the upcoming Escape Velocity science-meets-science-fiction convention, this seems like an appropriate topic.

Lawyer (and film producer) Seth Polansky gives an overview of common misconceptions and arguments for IP infringement at pop culture conventions… and what we might do about it.

I meant to post this earlier (and apparently it’s already caused a modest stir around the Interwebs), but y’know, getting Escape Velocity ready for launch and all…

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.

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.”