NOTICE: THERE IS AN IMPORTANT PIECE OF INCORRECT INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS EDITORIAL. SOUND STAGE RENTAL IS NOT $15K-$30K/DAY BUT RATHER PER MONTH.
A FOLLOW-UP BLOG CORRECTING THIS ERROR APPEARS HERE.
One of the most controversial decisions made during the three-year saga (so far) of AXANAR was the choice to build Ares Studios (now Industry Studios) rather than to just rent a local sound stage in Los Angeles.
In a recent Fan Film Factor interview, ALEC PETERS said that the original plan was NOT to shoot Axanar in Los Angeles but rather to film in upstate New York on James Cawley’s Star Trek: New Voyages sets:
I certainly wish we had done what I had originally planned on and shot Axanar at the Star Trek: New Voyages sets. Instead, Christian Gossett–our former director–felt he couldn’t shoot at those sets because of the limited space and the volunteer crew. Ironically, Rob Burnett did a beautiful job when we shot the “Heroes” vignette there. You’ll see his work as an “extra” when we release Axanar.
If we’d done that, we would be finished with Axanar by now and probably avoided the lawsuit.
Now, I don’t claim to know the details of whether the decision not to film on the New Voyages sets was made solely by Christian Gossett or solely by Alec Peters based on Christian’s reservations or as a team decision. But I do know that it changed everything about Axanar and immediately turned it from a fan film that could be made for potentially a couple of a hundred thousand dollars into a fan film that would cost between a half million and a million dollars (or more)…
…even if they’d rented a sound stage. In fact, BUILDING a studio instead of RENTING one actually saved them money! Let me ‘splain…
As we await the release of the Axanar financials and Review Committee report (which I am now told will happen next week!), I wanted to share an editorial that I initially wrote as part of the comments section on Part 1 of Alec’s interview. I had just approved a post that said the following:
Actually, Christian said that flying and housing actors and crew in Ticonderoga would be prohibitively expensive when there is plenty of existing studio space to rent in LA. He never recommend renting a warehouse and converting it to a studio. He also recommend that Alec bring him or some other experienced professional along to evaluate the different spaces and instead Alec came back with a signed lease.
And that got me thinking about what it would have cost to rent a sound stage rather than building out an entire studio. And before I knew it, I’d written a 1,300-word response! (Yeah, I tend to do that.)
A few people have since asked me to re-publish the response as a full blog, and so I am…
There are three basic kinds of Trek fan films (at least live-action as opposed to animated). There are the ones with the ship scenes filmed almost entirely in front of green screens (like Star Trek: Hidden Frontier or Intrepid or Horizon); the ones that use modest, low-cost sets (like the stuff from Potemkin Pictures); and the ones filmed on actual high-quality sets (like Star Trek Continues and Starship Farragut, Renegades, and of course, New Voyages). And sometimes there are hybrids…for example, Renegades uses both practical (physical) sets as well as green screen compositing.
Axanar was always intended to be part of that final category: high quality practical sets plus some green screen work. But folks need to understand the costs that are associated with a production that’s to be filmed on high-quality sets. Obviously, many of those costs could have been mostly avoided by choosing to film on the existing New Voyages sets in Ticonderoga, New York. Those sets had already been constructed and would have needed only relatively minor adjustments to make them look like the bridge and corridors and transporters, etc. of an older-but-similar starship.
Now, whatever the reason for the decision NOT to shoot on the existing sets in the upstate New York studio, it created a whole new set of challenges and additional costs, including:
Let’s assume you can rent a warehouse for construction and storage of your sets for about $3K a month, and it takes 3-4 months to build them. That’s about $10,000 in rent total.
However, shooting Axanar all at once means raising a LOT more money up front. In addition to set and studio costs, there’s costs for actors, production crew, visual effects, music, editing, etc. (Remember, this was all BEFORE the guidelines said you can’t pay anyone. And Axanar wasn’t the first or only fan production to pay actors and crew.) So while you can be a true optimist and hope that enough can be raised to shoot the whole film at once, a reality check would lead you back to assuming at least two and most probably three parts, each with their own crowd-funding campaign.
OPTION 2 – Build a Studio
Ares Studios (now Industry Studios) costs about $15,000/month to operate. Assuming 21 months (just as I did above) to make all three parts of Axanar, that’s $315,000 in rent sand utilities.