When CBS and Paramount jointly announced their new fan film guidelines last June, most of us in the fan production community (both filmmakers and viewers) were horrified, furious, indignant, grief-stricken, and depressingly convinced that these ten Draconian rules would spell the end of world for Star Trek fan films as we knew them.
And few out there felt more strongly about this than yours truly! I used words like “carnage,” “eliminate,” and “destroy.” I proclaimed in a blog I posted on June 23, 2016:
In short, these new guidelines would obliterate the majority of fan films…
And I quickly moved to set up a new protest campaign, Project: SMALL ACCESS, endeavoring to use the threat of fewer subscriptions to CBS’s new All Access paid video streaming service to try to encourage the studio(s) to revise and revisit these overly-restrictive guidelines.
SMALL ACCESS quickly grew to over a thousand members in a group on Facebook, and we examined the guidelines one-by-one. Through polling and discussions, we determined that about half of the guidelines were actually just fine as they were and didn’t cause much angst. Another quarter of them could benefit from a little tweaking of the phrasing to explain them better. And the final quarter of them, well, they pretty much pissed most of us off completely.
Eventually, we created a 38-page Focus Group Report, and members mailed 115 copies to various executives at both studios. Yes, it was a stunt, and no, it didn’t work. Eight months later, the guidelines are still in place, and the studios don’t seem to be inclined to make any changes.
So what in the name of James Tiberius Kirk do we do now?
I’ve been sitting with this question for a few months now. It’s right up there with:
- “Did we completely fail?”
- “Was there something else that could have been done differently to make us succeed?”
- “Should we just give up, accept the inescapable reality, and move on with our lives?”
These aren’t easy questions to answer. For example: “Did we completely fail?” Well, if the goal was was to get the guidelines changed (and it was), then yes, we’ve failed…but no, we didn’t fail completely. We did actually get noticed. In one of the depositions from the Axanar lawsuit, a CBS executive acknowledged receiving copies of our focus group report. This means that not all of those 115 copies were just tossed into the garbage by the secretaries. And I know this sounds kinda silly, but I actually consider that a bit of an accomplishment. We weren’t completely ignored…only mostly ignored. (Any Princess Bride fans out there?).
Did the studio executives ever take us seriously? Probably not. But at least they know we’re out there. Yeah, we’re small and easily discounted, but at least we got their attention long enough to be noticed. And that’s why I don’t consider this a complete failure.
You see, eight months later, and all those angry calls to boycott and petitions that were hastily assembled and signed have pretty much gone nowhere. The main Change.org petition (which is currently at 2,209 signatures) posted this disappointing comment back on August 2, 2016:
Thank you all SO much for your support! We have just hit 2000 signatures! Unfortunately, 2k isn’t enough to change CBS and Paramount’s minds. We need YOUR help sharing this petition so that it can reach as many eyes as possible! Thank you all, and may you live long and prosper!
And there’s been no update since. By contrast, Project: SMALL ACCESS still has an active Facebook group with 1,283 members, many of whom post often about fan films and the latest news in the world of Star Trek. We’ve become quite a fun fan community…although our raison d’être (reason for being) still remains unfulfilled–getting those darn guidelines loosened up!
But here’s the reality: no matter how you feel about SMALL ACCESS–a good try, a total failure, a joke, a waste of time, a way for Jonathan Lane to drive traffic to Fan Film Factor, or just a bunch of delusional Trekkies who think they can fight the system and the big studios–the fact remains that we’re it. There’s no other option left. There’s no other organized group of fans right now trying to get a message through to the studios.
So if we give up, then yes, it’s over. Done. Finished. The guidelines stay the way they are because there’s no reason for the studios to make any changes. Now granted, we might not have even a snowball’s chance of getting the guidelines changed anyway. This might totally be a fool’s errand. But if Project: SMALL ACCESS throws in the towel–then we guarantee our own complete failure. We decide, as a group and community, that the fan film guidelines are here to stay as is, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
To be honest with all of you, I’m not ready to do that yet.
John Van Citters of CBS Licensing said in his podcast interview last July:
All of this is definitely a conversation. We hope very much that this helps settle things with Star Trek fan films, that it provides some clarity for everybody, and that we can see what is working and what is not working…and we can follow up accordingly with that.
I believe we can still have that conversation. But in order to do that, I think we first need to know what we want to say. And that’s why I’m writing this series of blogs. It’s a way to collect our thoughts…starting with mine and hopefully pulling in all of yours, as well. Yeah, we probably won’t all agree, but at least we’ll have talked it out.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to continue this line of discussion with all of you…trying to figure out the answers myself as I think out loud, and hoping that you’ll join me in comments here and also over on SMALL ACCESS (feel free to join the group if you haven’t already; our main rule is: “Be excellent to each other”).
There’s no right or wrong answer, but if we’re going to try to keep on fighting the good fight, then it’s important we all get on the same page.
And first up–and for the next installment of this blog series–I’m going to ask another complicated question: what exactly are we fighting? Are the guidelines really all that awful? Might they also be a good thing in some ways? Do we need to wipe the guidelines off the face of the planet, or can we find a way to live together in peaceful coexistence (because we probably don’t have much of a choice anyway)?
We’ll take a closer look at these challenging questions next time…just as soon as I figure out what I think!