With STAR TREK: DISCOVERY delayed, are FAN FILMS needed now more than ever?

discovery-under-constructionHave you ever sat in the audience for something–a concert, a stage play, or a seminar–and there was an unexpected delay?  Maybe there were technical problems, or maybe someone was stuck in traffic.  Whatever the reason, as things took longer and longer to get started, was the audience becoming impatient?

Maybe you were lucky and there was a host or a warm-up act who could keep the audience engaged and entertained during the delay.  Or maybe you weren’t lucky and just sat there waiting…and waiting…and waiting.  Maybe some people even got frustrated and walked out before the show started.

What does any of this have to do with Star Trek: Discovery and fan films?  Glad you asked!

By now, you’ve probably heard that the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, the new subscription-based TV series from CBS, has been delayed from January to May of 2017.  A number of reasons have been suggeted for this delay:

  • The studios say they want to give the producers more time to do a good, solid job with the new series.
  • A show insider has told me privately that most of the delay is due to show-runner Bryan Fuller needing to finish up work on the TV series “American Gods,” and that production ran behind schedule.  So Fuller wasn’t able to transition his attention and energies to Star Trek: Discovery until early summer (about 3-4 months later than he should have started).
  • Another insider mentioned that Toronto, where Star Trek: Discovery is being filmed, is currently suffering from a shortage of laborers with production skills and experience.  This is mostly due to the decision by many Hollywood studios to move production on dozens of TV shows and movies to Canada (most recently Toronto).  There simply aren’t enough trained Canadian production crew to go around, and the government is dragging its bureaucratic feet on issuing work visas for Americans looking to relocate along with granting permits for filming.

Whatever the reason(s), the fact remains that the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery has been delayed by four months (possibly longer).  In and of itself, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  In my opinion, what would be infinitely worse would be rushing this show out, cutting corners, and having an awful new Star Trek series that could, if it’s bad enough, bring a permanent end to our beloved franchise just as it celebrates passing 50 years in existence.

But the problem for CBS is the same as the problem that the concert promoter has when the pop diva refuses to come out of her dressing room or the stage manager has when the curtain gets stuck and won’t open: what do you do about the audience?  How do you keep the audience hyped up?  How do you keep them excited, involved, and enthusiastic?  How do you keep them from just getting out of their seats and leaving?

When Discovery was set for a January debut, the answer wasn’t all the complicate.  The previous summer saw the release of a blockbuster Star Trek Beyond feature film, and a couple of months later, the actual 50th anniversary of Star Trek was happening.  There were big convention celebrations in Las Vegas and New York City, and January wasn’t that long after.  The new series could ride the momentum and excitement of those big events, have a huge premiere on CBS (where the pilot will air for free before going to subscription-only) just as folks have recovered from the holiday zaniness.  Discovery could launch with Star Trek fans still psyched and engaged.

At least, that was the plan.

(I’ll leave aside for the moment whether CBS and Paramount actually did a satisfactory job of promoting either Star Trek Beyond or the 50th anniversary.  Some folks definitely believe that the studios really screwed it all up.)

But whether or not the studios did the good or awful job promoting the 50th anniversary is irrelevant now.  That “boost” won’t carry CBS through until May.  Four extra months is just too long; the audience won’t stay happily in their seats.

What’s worse is the competition facing the new TV series.  If it debuts early enough in May, it faces off against all the big season finales during May sweeps….plus there’s Guardians of The Galaxy 2 hitting theaters on May 5.  If CBS waits until the end of May, people are beginning to wander away from their TV sets for the summer and see more movies.  Box office competition in May, June, and July of next year includes the newest Pirates of the Caribbean, then Wonder Woman, World War Z 2, Divergent, Kingsmen 2, Cars 3, Transformers, Spider-Man, War for the Planet of the Apes, and many others.

Now, I’m not saying that someone is going to see Guardians 2 or Wonder Woman and therefore NOT download and watch Star Trek: Discovery.  What I am saying is that it’s going to be a VERY crowded media environment beginning in May.  All of these tent-pole properties are going to be advertising themselves like crazy!  I challenge you to find a summer billboard that DOESN’T feature one of these movies on it.

And into this cluttered mess of advertising and marketing (to the very demographic that CBS is counting on attracting to their new All Access subscription service) enter Star Trek: Discovery.  And, um, good luck getting noticed, guys.

January would have been a much easier time to spread the word.  Not many blockbusters come out after Christmas, and February sweeps are still a few weeks away.  The quieter media environment in January would have been much more conducive to launching a new Star Trek series and generating some excitement, but alas, that option is now off the table with a planned May debut.

So what is a studio like CBS to do?

Well, it’s too bad that they’ve essentially castrated most Star Trek fan productions with those ultra-restrictive guidelines, isn’t it?  When you think about it, Star Trek fan films–the big ones with hundreds of thousands or millions of views on YouTube–serve the same function as the warm-up act before a show.  Sure, the little-known indie band that opens for the main act probably isn’t nearly as good as the top-billed superstars, but at least the audience is kept engaged and entertained while they wait for the main event.

In the year or so before the new fan film guidelines were released, the excitement about and engagement with fan films was palpable.  Renegades premiered their 90-minute feature.  The amazing Star Trek: Horizon debuted.  Star Trek: New Voyages released “The Holiest Thing” and before that, “Mind Sifter.”  Star Trek Continues released “The White Iris,” “Divided We Stand” and “Come Not Between the Dragons.” Starship Farragut released “The Crossing.”  Project: Potemkin released more episodes than I can count–of multiple series!  Other, smaller fan endeavors like Star Trek: Natures Hunger, Dreadnought Dominion, Starship Grissom, Dark Armada, and Star Trek Antyllus released fan film episodes of their own (including the crossover Eye of the Tempest).  And of course, the weekly releases of The Red Shirt Diaries were something I always looked forward to.

And add to that all the fan productions we were getting excited about seeing soon: like Axanar, Pacific 201, Captain Pike, Exeter Trek, Star Trek: Ambush, Star Trek: Excalibur, Star Trek: Anthology, Guinan: the Series, Star Trek: First Frontier, Trek Isolation (with Stan Lee!)…and so many others that I’m sure I’m forgetting.  But fans were donating, discussing, viewing, sharing, and eagerly searching for more trailers and teasers and news about many of these projects.  Sure, the more modest productions had smaller followings, but the larger productions were getting YouTube views well into the hundreds of thousands and even millions.

In other words, the warm-up act was keeping the audience engaged and excited.  And it wasn’t costing the studios a thing!

In the three months since the release of the guidelines, the world of fan films has been relatively quiet–almost a ghost town.  We’ve heard few updates from of those “in progress” productions I listed two paragraphs ago.  Some fan series have ended production entirely, like New Voyages and Dark ArmadaIntrepid has suspended new production for now.  Axanar, of course, has halted production pending the outcome of their copyright infringement lawsuit.  Other fan productions like Renegades, Anthology, and Guinan: The Series have surgically removed any direct references to Star Trek in their upcoming films, becoming generic sci-fi fan films.

A few stalwart fan endeavors are plowing on…with differing levels of conformity to the guidelines.  Potemkin Pictures’ four ongoing series are following nearly all of the guidelines except the one forbidding ongoing series.  However, they’ve come up with a clever workaround: renaming the “series” with each new production.  Another fan project, Chance Encounter out of the U.K., always intended to be a short film and only raised about $2,500.  However, they did announce that their actors, who are professionals, are getting paid.

And then there’s Star Trek Continues.  Their most recent release, “Embracing the Winds,” clocked in at 45 minutes, cost $100,000 to make, is an ongoing series, and pays their actors and many of their production crew.  Granted, this latest release was already in post production and might be considered to be “grandfathered in,” but their plan is to produce and release four more episodes, even though they will similarly not be following the guidelines.

So the guidelines seem to have had a very predictable (and chilling) effect: they’ve essentially unplugged the amps of the warm-up band.  While the “small” fan productions are still moving forward, and most are definitely worth checking out, their viewership is rather limited.  As an example, Star Trek Continues’ latest episode was released on September 3 and already has more than 150,000 YouTube views.  Starship Tristan‘s latest vignette “The Greater Good” (from Potemkin Pictures) was released on September 11 and (as I write this on Friday morning) has only 523 views.

So really, the only fan project right now really doing the job of keeping a large number of the fans engaged is the one series that is NOT following the guidelines.

(I should mention, though, that Chasing the Infinite Sky has nearly 250,000 views since being released in July–and it did follow all guidelines–but it’s not a typical fan film…more of a special effects masterpiece using Kelvin-timeline ship designs.)

But imagine if the engine of fan film production had continued from last year into this year without the anchor of the guidelines and the filing of the Axanar lawsuit.  Imagine the world of Star Trek right now.  Fans would be going wild with anticipation of the upcoming Star Trek: Renegades swansongs of Chekov and Uhura in the two-part “The Requiem.”  Fans would be jumping over themselves to catch a glimpse of the latest teaser or trailer for the long-awaited Star Trek: AxanarNew Voyages would likely still be chugging along.  Pacific 201 might be almost finished…along with Exeter Trek, Star Trek: Anthology, new episodes of Intrepid, and who knows what else!

And one would assume that these fan films would still be getting media coverage in places like Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, and even the Wall Street Journal…just like last year.  In fact, with Renegades nearing the $1 million mark and the likelihood that, without the lawsuit, Axanar might have reached $2 million by now, I would guess the news media coverage of Star Trek’s fan films would have been even more prominent and frequent.

You know: the same kind of media coverage that CBS is going to need in order to get viewers’ attention in May when the time comes to subscribe to All Access.

Instead, CBS and Paramount have protected their intellectual property from the fans.  Was it really worth it?  They’ve slain their dragon…or at least caged it and surgically removed the thingy in its throat that ignites the fire it breathes.

But in doing so, the studios have all but extinguished that fire and any good it could have done if used properly.  You see, the dragon wasn’t attacking the studios…it was helping them.  It was the studios’ weapon to use to leap forward, cut through the media clutter, and make sure Star Trek kept getting noticed.

Instead, the studios will have to work extra hard and spend more money just to keep Star Trek in the public consciousness long enough to last until May.

Good luck with that, CBS.


Click here to learn how you can join the fan film LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN to try to convince the studios to revise the guidelines to make them less restrictive.

43 thoughts on “With STAR TREK: DISCOVERY delayed, are FAN FILMS needed now more than ever?”

    1. Hey Alice. I’m surprised you had time read this and make a post while obviously being g so busy with your corporate goose steeping drills and such. Jeez,do the studios pay you to be a fan film basher?

      1. Okay, Kenny, gentle warning here. We can debate ideas and opinions, but we don’t name call. (Technically, calling me a farmer isn’t so bad.) Please keep things civil on this blog.

  1. …what a sorry state (shakes head) =(

    …Axanar SURE WOULD HAVE MADE A GOOD WARM-UP (eyesroll)

    …but, NO-OH! …CBS SUCKS just as bad as paramount/bad robot =(

    I’m moving on: “Deep Space” on Gaia, and “Dark Matter” on Netflix =)

  2. What is so Draconian about the Fan Film guidelines, they Restrict things in a orderly way, that makes clear who the IP holder is and what a Fan Film is. I understand fans want to be able to show their passion to the Nth Degree but fans passions are there on Fan Film bit cause IP holder Decided to move on from the Niche thing Fan Film watchers like to attempting to get new fans of Trek.

    So your limited in length and can’t do direct Sequals, that to me means you have to be a more creative writer, you can’t use Trek alum, but the point in using Trek alum is to try to draw eyes to your version of Trek, can’t it stand on it’s own Metrits without having to use big names to draw the eyes of fans?

    The problem is one fan film was planing on not only Violating the IP, but coming out about the same time as Beyond and was billed by its Creator in one of its selling points as “The Trek Fans Really want to See.” Thus saying the IP Holder was not making Trek that people wanted too see. I understand that some fans like having a Fandom that is somewhat Exclusive but CBS and Paramount want to make a Trek that reaches pardon the pun bey0nd the classical fan base and this has made some hard-core fans unhappy cause it means we are moving on from the age of Trek they liked.

    As someone who enters things into Contests and such, I often have to abide by rules that make me have to improve the quality of the product I am showing or entering even though I may feel I would have a better thing to show or enter if I some of the Restrictions were lifted, for me to show or enter something I have to abide by the rules weather or not I think I might do better if some of the Rules were not in place. this is what Fan Films have to learn.

  3. While I’ll stop just short of saying “schadenfreude”, this does smack ever-so-highly of the studios finally taking notice that they’ve royally torqued us, the fans, off.

    I amy be wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it if that comes to pass, but oh boy, does it feel like they’re finally taking notice.

    Doug

  4. This is like writing a Short Story for Fair or a Publican and compelling about Restrictions on how many words maybe used or How many Entries I can enter in, the Restrictions should make you more creative not less.

    Do some Restrictions make what I want to say a take a bit longer to make or doesn’t Exactly cover everything I want yes, but that is what you have to do to play the game..

    1. Of course, my point was that the game is currently not benefiting either player. If a game leaves both players losing, them maybe it’s time to change the rules slightly? Just a thought, BP. 🙂

  5. What gives fans the right to make $2 million dollars of Star Trek without having to Pay CBS and Paramount to make said fan Production? how does the fan production making $2 Million Dollars help CBS or Paramount seeming none of that 2 Million is going to their Property Directly. Also when is it making a Profit off their IP when It’s $5 Million, $10 Million, $100 Millon when are you making Unearned profit of the Star Trek IP that CBS and Paramount owns? and what is a Fair price for you pay to get to make fan films for CBS And Paramount?

    1. Okay, Bill , you’ve convinced me! According to you, there should be only one guideline that says, “The fan production cannot make ANY profit. Any funds left over from crowd-sourcing or donations must be either given back to the backers, paid to the studios, or donated to charity. No profit can remain in the possession of the fan production or its film makers.”

      All the 15-minutes maximum time limit, no ongoing series, crowd-funding can’t go over $50K, no professionals, etc. rules are totally unnecessary! I’m right there with you on that, Bill!

      AWESOME–we finally agree on something!!! My day is complete. 🙂

  6. Seriously? Your delusions of fan grandeur is amazing. ST fans that know about fan films are a small minority. Most don’t know or care about them. CBS doesn’t need to do anything to fill this gap? It’s been YEARS since the last series, what does a few more months matter? The studios are spot on protecting their brand and making sure that no unofficial productions diminish what they’ve spent 50 years building.

    I for one am happy to wait to ensues we get a quality show. Until then I’ll keep watching reruns on telly.

    1. I’m happy to wait, too. But as you said, Sandy, you and I might be in a small minority. 🙂

      That’s the risk. There are an estimated 4 million hard core Star Trek fans out there. I estimate this from the box office of ST: NEMESIS. With only $43 million in total box office earnings, and debuting at #2 on opening weekend, it’s fairly safe to say that only (mostly) hardcore Trekkies saw the film (unlike the JJ movies, which widened the audience to non hard-core fans and saved the franchise). At the time, 2002, ticket prices averaged about $9. That yields about 4.75 million ticket-buyers for NEMESIS. We can assume some of these were fans seeing the film multiple times…and a very small percentage might have been non-fans dragged along. So that leaves about 4 million hard-core Trekkies, give or take.

      The exact numbers don’t matter as much as the estimate, which is certainly in the millions and not in the tens or hundreds of millions of hard-core fans. And let’s face it, unlike the audience for BEYOND (which stretched well beyond hard-core fans), the audience that will shell out six bucks a month for STAR TREK: DISCO is primarily the hard-core fans.

      So if we’re talking about total hard-core Trekkies in the millions and YouTube views of AXANAR and RENEGADES and HORIZON also in the millions, your claim about fans who know about fan films being a “small minority” doesn’t really stand up to careful scrutiny, Sandy.

      Unless you have different numbers you’d like to share, I think I win this round, my friend. 🙂

      1. I love how you pick one part of my comment to reply to but not the rest.

        Either way, the vast majority of Trek fans I know don’t know or care about fan films. I’m also not sure you can correlate the large numbers of YouTube views with the much smaller numbers of followers and/or subscribers.

        The bottom line though is the studios do not need to do a thing. People who want to watch it will wait and pay for it. In the rest of the world those with Netflix will get it essentially for free. That also is another reason CBS isn’t worried about losing subscribers due to the delay, the show is already profitable.

        1. There’s some debate right now about whether the show is already profitable. The claim was made casually at the annual shareholders meeting for CBS, but final numbers were not released, of course, since we don’t know yet whether or not the series will stay within budget.

          That said, they don’t simply need the show to be profitable. That’s kind of a “well, duh” aspect of the business model. What they REALLY need is for DISCO to bring in subscribers to All Access! CBS is putting a lot of resources–both financial, administrative, and technical–into making their own subscription service like Netflix and Hulu. It’s a huge gamble. If it pays off, CBS has its own delivery mechanism for exclusively-owned content, launching them into the next phase of entertainment delivery as cable and satellite are slowly replaced by on-demand streaming services. But if All Access fails to convince enough people to subscribe (and DISCO and THE GOOD WIFE are their first two tent-poles), CBS not only winds up with egg on their face, they’re also stuck with the new delivery mechanisms–Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.–being out of their control. CBS will still get paid for supplying content, but only studio-produced content. They won’t make any money from delivery, only from production. And if the streaming services don’t want what CBS is selling (there’s a lot of production studios out there), then CBS is really screwed.

          So hopefully, Sandy, you can understand how high the stakes truly are for CBS in this endeavor. Trust me, I live in Los Angeles and know people in the industry (including one at CBS and one closely associated with them). The pressure on DISCO to prop up and help launch All Access is staggering at the moment. The show simply being “profitable” would not, in and of itself, be considered a “win.” So if I were CBS, I’d be trying my hardest to excite every eyeball I possibly could about Star Trek right about now…and into next May. I wouldn’t be taking any chances or assuming that, essentially, if CBS builds and airs it, they will come.

        2. I’m probably average as far as Trek fans go. I’ve seen all the films and all the series, but I didn’t care about fan films at all. Until I saw Prelude to Axanar. I would’ve watched Axanar. And while waiting for it, I started to check out a couple other fan films on YouTube: Horizon and the animated one. They were pretty good.

          I think it’s that burgeoning interest in fan films that caught CBS’s attention. It’s not that Trek fans (not hardcore, but still Trekkies) were already into fan films, it’s that we were on the verge of discovering them.

          I’m content to wait for the official product. I wish I didn’t have to, but it’s their IP so that’s just how it is.

  7. It’s really funny how all the anti Axanar people are coming out of the woodwork to try and downplay or negate your blog Jonathan. They seem oblivious that this is Fan Film Blog (plural, meaning ALL fan films for those that still don’t comprehend). Guess PROJECT Small Access must be striking more nerves than anyone realized.

    1. I understand. If it turns out that I’m right, then it means that they were wrong…and who wants to be wrong? I certainly don’t! So yeah, there’s a kind of desperation on their end. But let’s face it: I wrote a long blog. I write a LOT of blogs. So there’s a lot that I say that they need to “prove” to be wrong in order for them to be right…and who has the kind of time to thoroughly debate me point-by-point? It’s easier (and a LOT faster) to just dismiss or negate what I say with pithy pot shots. I’d rather have a real debate, but they’re welcome to keep it low-intellect, if they want. It’s easier for me to score points. And hey, wife’s a litigation attorney–I don’t get to win arguments very often at home! 🙂

      What’s gonna be really fun, though, is if the Axanar lawsuit settles without Alec Peters being ripped a new one in court. Now THAT will definitely strike a bunch of nerves!

  8. I cannot! Take anything on this post seriously, yes fan films are a nice pass time for some but please do not over express their importance, I would go as far as saying around 80% of Star Trek Fans do not even care about them let alone watch them.

    And to say Fan Productions are dead… err have you done any research in to this??

    A fair few productions have things lined up and some even have things in post production, Fan Films do not materialise out of thin air I know you being a “spokesperson” for Axanar (do not pretend otherwise its boring to hear you deny it) means you like to pass off inaccurate information or half truths but please go out and talk to some productions.

    A few examples are,

    Farragut has their finale Homecoming in post,

    Intrepid are working things out and have plans for shorts to continue their stories.

    And

    Do not forget Continues is still working away at their promised finial stories.

    Your comment regarding New Voyages well let’s say James made it rather clear he had wrapped up a while ago almost six months ago if memory serves so saying “they would be chugging along” is incorrect and now with them becoming the TOS set tour we know one of the reasons the stopped was to receive a rightly deserved license! That takes time! To work out the kinks so they could be granted it.

    All this takes time.

    So next time you say things are like a ghost town well yes, they are for good reasons not because of the guidelines. I will not disagree that some have moved on to other projects or have removed things to make them non-Trek but this is down to them and what they! Feel is best for them.
    Remember in the engage podcast Van-Citters said they would take every production on a case-by-case basis so they will not be suing everyone and we all know why a certain one is in trouble but that debate is for another time.

    Now.. Next, time you “blog” about things try, get things correct, and stop spouting things you obviously have no subject knowledge.

    Oh and Time is a common theme in my post things take time Discovery was pushed back not even THREE days ago and here you are shouting DOOOOOOOOOOOM…..

    1. I’m well aware that Farragut has Homecoming in post. I’m still waiting for an update from John Broughton (I keep bugging him via FB and e-mail, and he keeps promising me an interview–John, dude, are you reading this, man????), but I am a proud donor. As for Intrepid, I spoke to Nick Cook in Las Vegas, and they’re suspending production for now on Intrepid itself (as I said in my blog post). They might have something later on. They did recently do some shooting in San Francisco.

      Trust me, I do very thorough research, James. My point was simply a comparison of the fan film explosion of last year which included all of the amazing content being released by over a dozen different productions versus the relative dearth of anything other than STC and Potemkin (and scattered others) over the past three months. Sure fan films take time to make, but the pace of releases of even trailers and teasers has slowed to a crawl. And the culprits are the guidelines and the lawsuit. If those hadn’t happened, I suspect James Cawley would still be doing NV, Axanar would be nearing completion, and we might even have our first trailer for Federation Rising. Wouldn’t that have been cool? (Don’t tell me you wouldn’t prefer that alternate universe with no lawsuit and no harsh guidelines to this one!)

      And why do people out there 1) think I’m a spokesman for Axanar, and 2) that even if I were, that it’s some kind of a bad thing? Heck, I’d LOVE to be a spokesman for Axanar…if Alec wanted to pay me (I’m not sure he’s allowed to pay salaries, though). 🙂 But seriously, what does it even matter? It’s like some of you guys feel like you’ve found a silver bullet to slay the werewolf and the bullet is really just made of jello. GO on, shoot the jello–I can take it! I stand with Axanar just like I stand with all fan films!

    2. For one thing when I met Brandon Stacy and Robert Withrow on June 5, 2016 New Voyages/Phase II was far from wrapping things up. They had three episodes they were trying to finish and plans to begin filming yet a new episode featuring Harry Mudd. I think they were far from done.

        1. Yes Jon, That one has always been of high interest to me too. I am a big fan of the pilot era as you may well know. Besides, my Good friends Frank & Gina Hernandez are in it!

        2. Well the one certain thing is three weeks BEFORE the guidelines they were speaking of moving forward, not quitting.

  9. Excellent blog! I totally agree with the author. CBS and Paramount have cut their nose to spite their face. They were just angry that fans were producing better quality stuff than their own studios. This is just another example of why ‘copyright’ and intellectual property laws are antiquated and should be done with.

  10. Well written Jonathan Lane. Its a very good analysis of the situation right now.
    CBS have shoot her in the own food with the Guidelines and the Lawsuit against Axanar.
    Can CBS hold the Premiere Time in May? I doubt it. And this could mean this is the last Nail in the coffin of Star Trek in TV for years.
    Greetings from Germany
    Llap

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