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Why Star Trek Continues Violating the Fan Film Guidelines is GOOD for Fan Films!

There is a a lot of talk lately about how Star Trek Continues has decided to openly violate the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines that CBS put in place last year. STC has already violated the guidelines with the release of their last episode, and is making 3 more roughly 50 minute episodes that violate at least 5 Guidelines including length (close to 50 minutes) and the use of Star Trek actors.

I would highly recommend you read Jonathan Lane’s Fan Film Factor article on the matter here:

Fan Film Factor

Jonathan provides a very fair view of the matter, as he likes both Axanar and STC.  And Jonathan calls out Vic for his hypocrisy in attacking Axanar for violating “guidelines” that never existed, while violating the actual written rules himself.  And lets be clear, Star Trek Continues has neither been “grandfathered” in (total nonsense), nor do they have a special deal with CBS.  They are simply stating that “we think CBS will be OK with us doing this.”

But I am going to argue that this is actually good for fan films.

Now let’s be clear, I don’t like Vic.  He has been lying about Axanar since he stormed out of the Prelude to Axanar Premier we invited him to in 2014.  But I support Star Trek Continues as I do all fan films.  I don’t let my feelings for Vic cloud my feelings for a very worthy fan film series.  Along with Star Trek New Voyages, they have done wonderful things in the fan film genre.

Now what is ironic is that while Vic refuses to help anyone else in fan films, (he famously asked Tommy Kraft for a role in the Horizon sequel while telling Tommy he wouldn’t lift a finger to help him) and has refused to allow others to use his sets (unlike James Cawley or Starbase Studios who generously allowed anyone to come use their sets), Vic’s decision to ignore the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines may well help all fan films moving forward.  How is that?

Well, CBS always hated policing fan films.  Having communicated extensively with with John Van Citters, (Head of Star Trek licensing),  Liz Kolodner (VP CBS Licensing) and Bill Burke (VP CBS Consumer Products) about fan films for years, and having advocated extensively for guidelines, I knew that CBS didn’t WANT to have to worry about fan films as they saw it as a huge waste of time.  They were too busy making money to have to worry about a bunch of fans making films.  I once joked with John Van Citters that CBS treated fan films with “benign neglect” and that was good, as fan films did nothing but help the franchise.  And CBS told me over and over how it would be impossible to come up with fan film guidelines because of 50 years of Star Trek contracts and agreements with unions, guilds and actors.

Well, clearly that wasn’t the case, since they were able to come up with Guidelines pretty quickly after they sued Axanar.  And while many feel the guidelines are too severe (e.g. limiting fan films to 15 minutes and no more than two installments) or even possibly illegal (it’s questionable if CBS can tell you who you CAN’T hire for your fan film) – the guidelines are what they are. They provide some general rules to follow if a Star Trek fan film producer doesn’t want to run the risk of getting sued by CBS.

So how does Star Trek Continues violating the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines help all fan films?  Well, it just supports what we at Axanar have known for a while.  Axanar was sued because we didn’t look like a fan film.  Not because we made “profit” (we didn’t) or that we built a “for-profit studio” (we didn’t…STNV did that), both reasons made up by people who don’t know what they are talking about, but because Axanar looked like it came from the studio.

Now CBS doesn’t want to sue its fans again.  The 13 months of the lawsuit was not good for CBS and Paramount from a PR perspective.  And the Guidelines were basically a way to put a lid on the “arms race” of professionalism taking place.

But what we see here is CBS giving Star Trek Continues a pass.  And why?  Because over a year ago, CBS said to me “No one is going to confuse them with real Star Trek“.   And that is the crux of the matter.  Yes, Star Trek Continues, like Star Trek New Voyages, have excellent production values, with amazing sets, brilliant VFX and visuals, and excellent costuming and props.  They LOOK amazing.  But the acting is mostly amateurs, and that is the main reason fan films don’t have widespread appeal. (By the way, I love Chris Doohan as Scotty in STC.  Simply brilliant).  But ask fans what they think of fan films, and the overwhelming # 1 reason they give for not watching or liking them is the acting.  And this is one of the main reasons I decided to give up the role of Garth in the feature film.

So, as long as you aren’t too good – and stay in familiar territory – it appears you are in a safe harbor.  Want to break the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines? Just don’t make something that CBS perceives as a threat.  There’s no question that from a marketing perspective, fan films are actually very good for the Star Trek franchise, and the powers that be at CBS know this and will allow you to break many of the guidelines as long as you aren’t overly ambitious.  And since no one is really raising money for their productions anymore, I don’t think CBS has to worry about this.  STC is spending the money they had previously raised and why they cut down on the number of episodes they were making.

Also, by allowing Star Trek Continues to ignore the guidelines, CBS is basically admitting that this is not a problem for them and they would have a very hard time claiming damages in any future legal action.  Sure they could selectively sue anyone they want, there is no bar to suing one party if you have ignored others as in trademark litigation.  But arguing that one fan film harms CBS while another doesn’t is a much harder proposition. And hopefully by now CBS has learned to pick up the phone rather than file a lawsuit and incur over $ 1M in legal fees.

So, while I won’t advocate a fan film maker break the CBS Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines, I think what Star Trek Continues has shown, is that CBS isn’t going to worry about a product that they don’t see as threatening.  And that gives all fan film makers a little breathing room.

Alec

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Join the discussion 16 Comments

  • Scott Voigt says:

    Excellent point sir.

  • Jerry says:

    Alec,

    I think you nailed it when you mentioned quality. CBS/P are trying to stop what I think is inevitable – the democratization of movies. It continues to get easier and cheaper to make high production-value films and they’re trying to hold back the tide while they make retreads and reboots. Soon the only thing the studios will have to offer is creativity and I’m not sure they’re up to the challenge.

    The point about acting is also spot on. I’ve watched fan films with great plots, decent special effects and one or two professionals that were compelling. If you are not a natural then lack of experience show up like a sledgehammer to the toes. I’ve been taking acting classes for fun for many years and the more I learn about acting the more I appreciate those that are good at it.

  • […] today, ALEC PETERS posted the following blog on the AxanarProductions.com website.  As it’s very relevant to my editorial blog entry from yesterday—and it makes […]

  • John MacEnulty says:

    I think that’s an excellent assessment.

  • Dave Jamison says:

    Best article yet on what’s really going on behind the scenes! Great job Alex!

  • Trek Tonight says:

    Have to agree 100%. Really sick of Vic’s attacks on Axanar as well. The guy is so insanely jealous of Axanar and it shows.

  • Greg Walker says:

    CBS Studios have become the modern Borg. They are passive until they either see something they want or perceive others as a threat. It would have been great to see Richard Hatch in action as a Klingon. I would have loved that.

  • Eric says:

    Good post, Alec (and it is awesome watching Chris portray Scotty, isn’t it?!)

    I know you and I and others have all said this in the past; why in the world wouldn’t CBS do the right thing and let you make the movie and then they show it and keep whatever they made off showing it?

    I know… makes too much sense and we wouldn’t want to accuse the execs at CBS of having any sense (common or otherwise). I wish someone would build me a shiny new car, with their money, and give it to me for free… but that doesn’t happen in the real world… except for that one time you offered to do that very thing with Axanar.

  • Doobie Boobington says:

    I really wish Axanar could have been made back in the day. From
    What I e seen online so far, it would have blown everything else out of the water. Maybe next the Axanar folks could do an original series of their own. Clearly they’re talented enough to.

  • jwillis says:

    I was beginning to wonder if it was because STC was not derivative of Star Trek, but a straight up fan film of the original material. Axanar on the other hand was derivative and evolved the narrative in a direction outside their control. I liked the direction, but I thought Van Citters said something in an interview that they felt they had to police derivative works to protect the brand. The example cited by him was some novel in which Wesley Crusher killed someone in a gruesome way. I have no way of knowing if that was what tipped the balance.. and many fan films are derivative.. in fact the law suit is forcing them into even further distancing themselves from the original material (which if that was the tipping point, means the lawsuit made the situation even worse). Certainly the dollar figures had to factor in.. but I just can’t understand why they wouldn’t enter into a simple discussion.. especially in the 50th year of Trek.. that seems really poor judgement.

  • CDR Arch says:

    A bunch of Suits at CBS saw how popular Axanar was going to be and said “How come we are not profiting from this? Let’s make a new series and if hardcore fans want it to be pre Kirk and Spock let’s do that!” Discovery is a direct reponce to Axanar. If it is good we will have Alec to thank for lighting a fire under the boardroom table. If it sucks we will say “I told you so, Axanar had the right idea!”

  • Ian Treloar says:

    I feel the suits missed a fantastic opportunity by not working to bring Axanar under their umbrella. This had the potential to be a really great movie or short series, and with studio financing and actors and technical support, even more possibilities could have been realized. Instead they chose to play silly buggers and nark off a huge section of Trek fandom.

    It seems to me that fan productions are going to whither on the vine with the draconian guidelines, even if Axanar is allowed to finish in some sense and STC put out their remaining episodes. Few will be willing to produce anything more, and of those who is going to strive to make a really good production anymore? And this at a time when the older Trek fans are dropping off and new fans haven’t warmed much to the new Abrams’ version of Star Trek. Where are the new Trekkers to keep the franchise alive? Sure, there are some, but are there enough?

    Everyone knows the story of the killing of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Unless the suits start getting smart with this Star Trek goose they are killing, they are going to stop receiving the golden eggs.

  • ANDREW says:

    I Don’t think its totally the case, Axanar could well still have gone ahead if it were, Since the money was raised and in the Bank to produce an Axanar film as far as I could see, the point came when Alec and crew started jetting all over the world to promote the film bigging it up, It came across as a totally professional endeavor, So that threatened CBS who’s Knee jerk reaction like any big corporation was to stamp on the little man because his ambitions were too high!

    Fly to close to the Sun and you get Burned !

    • Alec Peters says:

      Andrew, first of all, we never “jetted all over the world”. I took ONE trip to Germany, where I was a guest of Fedcon in 2014. Other than that, all our travel was domestic, and many conventions we were already going to, or invited guests where our expenses were paid.

      Did Axanar come off as a “professional endeavor”, yeah and we were. There is a difference between “professional” and “money making”. You can be a non-profit and be totally professional! Professional means QUALITY. And that is what Axanar has always been all about and what many fans thinks differentiates us.

      And it was our lawyers advice not to proceed, and we listened to them.

      Alec

  • Nelson says:

    I think the real reason this lawsuit happened is because Axanar was from the original timeline. Paramount and Jay Abrams wants that to go away so the Kelvin timeline can be the foundation of all future star trek movies. Notice how the new Discovery series conveniently takes place before the start of the Kelvin timeline. Most Star Trek fans wanted a new series to take place in the distant future and not the recent past. One must admit though the producers came up with a clever trick. The series takes place before Kirk and Spock but the sets are hyper futuristic. This way they can pay homage to the original series while at the same time having the affectations of a series not in conflict with the movies to come. Still, I’ll watch the TV pilot but I won’t subscribe to see future episodes.

  • Parker Gabriel says:

    I held with Ian Treloar on this. There was one exception I made, and that sole exception concerned the extent of the evil of which the company was making and keeping itself guilty.

    It would eventually lead to the company destroying its fan base, corrupting that fan base instead into an enraged mob of bitter enemies bent on some sort of revenge.