Whether you’re talking about Star Trek on television, in the movie theaters, or fan made projects on YouTube, you’re ultimately gonna see somebody complain about sumthin’…often a LOT of somebodies!
That’s one of the main reasons why I refuse to ever criticize any Star Trek fan film. It’s way too easy to do so because no fan film is perfect, and many of them fall far short. But at least they TRY.
Creating anything from nothing takes effort, determination, persistence, and—to be honest—a fair amount of courage. Whether you create just for yourself, for friends and loved ones, or for total strangers, you put a part of yourself out there for judgment.
And as hard as it is to create something from nothing just by yourself, doing it with an entire team of people is even more difficult. In a recent interview, actor J.G. HERTZLER said that there’s nothing harder than making a movie. Now that I’ve produced one—even a short 10-minute one—I know exactly what J.G. means…and he’s not that far off.
Hopefully, people will like what you’ve created and will shower you with praise. But there’s no guarantee of that (except maybe making a clay ash-tray at summer camp for your mom even though she doesn’t smoke…moms tend to be very generous art critics).
But Trekkies, man, some of them will cut you down to the quick if you let them…and even if you don’t let them! I never want to be that guy. So I praise all fan efforts because I feel that their determination and bravery should be respected and acknowledged. You made a frickin’ fan film…good for you!!!
And that’s why I cheered when I saw the latest offering from GARY DAVIS, show-runner of the fan series DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. Over the past half-decade of releasing fan films, Dominion has produced everything from the serious (like the recent “Redemption at Red Medusa”) to light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek romps (like “Reality Check”—which broke the 4th wall—“Technical Difficulties” and the just-released “A Barrel Full of Qunicys.”
Through it all, Dominion has always kept a positive and healthy attitude, acknowledging what they are and aren’t. Gary’s latest upload to YouTube sums up that outlook perfectly…
A fun look at some of the comments Dreadnought Dominion has had over the years… Scenes from our shows set against the song “I Get Knocked Down.” This song has always been a favorite of mine. It meant no matter who hard you get knocked down, GET BACK UP and move forward. I love the comments we get on our shows…even the bad ones! It just makes us strive to do better. WE KNOW we aren’t up to the same level as “giants” of fan films, but we don’t pretend to be, and don’t aspire to be. We are just a group of folks—some older and some of us “not slim”—having fun telling a story.
Hmmmm, let’s see…should I show you the new INTERLUDE trailer first and then talk about it—or talk about it first and then show it? Aw heck, I know you all really wanna see the new trailer…!
Pretty cool, huh? For those of you unfamiliar with the 1970s sci-fi TV series Space 1999, that trailer is an homage to the way they used to start their episodes (take a look at this video to see an example). The opening credits for that series would include rapid-fire quick cuts from various scenes of “this episode” followed by a slower musical bridge where they would show some of the names behind the production. Then the date would flash: September 13th, 1999—the day the moon supposedly would have been blasted out of earth’s orbit to begin its odyssey through deep space.
Cheesy? Yeah…it was 1975, for gosh sakes! But back then, with Star Trek and Lost in Space in reruns, Doctor Who hidden on weird channels at weird times, and Star Wars still two years away, Space 1999 was one of the only first-run sci-fi games in town. And let’s face it, those eagle transport spacecraft were friggin’ cool! I loved that show, and I loved the opening credits sequences.
So what does any of this have to do with my Axanar Universe fan film Interlude, you ask? Well, technically nothing. That’s not even the actual music I’ll be using (composer KEVIN CROXTON is creating an original score for Interlude).
Okay, so a lot happened over the past few days in Lawrenceville, GA…the home of ARES STUDIOS. If you read yesterday’s blog, you know that the AXANAR project got a jaw-dropping $10,000 donation last Thursday from a very generous and supportive donor…bringing the total for the current private crowd-funding campaign above $20K. The goal was also adjusted upwards from $30K to $35K to bring in a little money to start work on post production while production (filming) is on hold due to the pandemic.
And while I was writing all of that up in a blog, ALEC PETERS was also launching a brand new Kickstarter to fund production of the first in a series of “Master Systems Display” Posters…the first one (pictured above) featuring a beautiful side cutaway view of the USS Ares. The artwork was lovingly and meticulously created by graphic designer extraordinaire ALEXANDER RICHARDSON of Great Britain. He’s actually created a whole bunch of these images based on the various ships from PRELUDE TO AXANAR. And if the first Kickstarter is successful, additional posters will be offered to fans with the proceeds going to help Ares Studios live long and prosper.
Actually, there’s no need to say “if” the first Kickstarter is successful. With a 15-day duration, the campaign reached the $1,200 goal in less than an hour, and within the first few hours had crossed the first stretch goal threshold of $3,000 (which unlocked a second poster—the USS Geronimo class—which will be sent free to all donors). After 24 hours, the campaign had added another thousand and was now closing in on the second stretch goal of $5,000 (which unlocks a mystery poster).
Not entirely unexpectedly, some less-than-supportive fans caught wind of the Kickstarter and mistakenly assumed that Alec was violating the legal settlement that he had signed with CBS and Paramount in January 2017, ending the infringement lawsuit and allowing Alec to complete two Axanar sequel films (15 minutes each) as long as he did not publicly fund the project using services like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Since Alec was using Kickstarter for these posters, they surmised, he must be breaking the settlement agreement and would quickly see a cease and desist letter (or worse!) from the lawyers at Loeb & Loeb on behalf of the corporation now known as ViacomCBS.
There are multiple reasons that these folks are wrong, of course. After all, Alec Peters isn’t stupid and did graduate from law school and pass the bar. He’d never risk the Axanar project and potentially his own livelihood just to print up a few hundred posters.
So, yes, this is all on the up and up. But just in case anyone is still dubious, let’s briefly discuss the biggest reasons that Alec is NOT running afoul of his settlement agreement…
ARES STUDIOS IS A SEPARATE LEGAL ENTITY FROM AXANAR PRODUCTIONS
This is, of course, the biggest elephant in the living room. The settlement was signed by Alec Peters on behalf of Axanar Productions. That means that only those two entities can be in breach of that agreement if, in fact, a breach ever happens.
Ares Studios did not exist until seven months after the settlement had been signed and Alec moved himself and the sets from California to Georgia. Therefore, there is no way (barring time travel) for Ares Studios to be considered a signatory of the settlement agreement that was signed before Ares Studios ever existed.
ARES STUDIOS IS NOT ALEC PETERS
Ares Studios is a not-for-profit corporation based in Lawrenceville, GA. Alec Peters is a corporate officer of Ares Studios (one of several) but not considered the corporation itself. Sometimes the Axanar detractors dream of CBS’s lawyers someday “piercing the corporate veil” to determine that Ares Studios is just Alec Peters in disguise or some such. It doesn’t work that way in the real world, however. Don’t take my word for it. Click that link I just provided or just read the following quotation from that article:
“…generally courts have a strong presumption against piercing the corporate veil, and will only do so if there has been serious misconduct.”
Printing a bunch of posters is not “serious misconduct,” folks.
Alec Peters has started a number of small businesses in his time. The legal settlement applies to only ONE of those businesses: Axanar Productions. All other ventures Alec engages in are his business (literally and figuratively).
A STUDIO IS NOT THE SAME AS A FILM
The legal settlement applied only to the production of a fan film called Axanar, the sequel to a previous fan film called Prelude to Axanar. That’s it. It didn’t apply to sets or lights or cameras or green screens or costumes or props or anything other than a finished fan film production.
Ares Studios is a film studio. It’s not nearly as big or impressive as, say, Pinewood Studios an hour’s drive southwest in Fayetteville, GA, but perhaps that’s still a good example to bring up. You see, since it opened in 2013, Pinewood Studios has played host to the filming of eight Marvel blockbusters including Civil War, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the last two Avengers movies. But Pinewood Studios has no ownership in any of those films. They’re all Disney. The Walking Dead is also filmed at Pinewood, but the production company is AMC Studios. Pinewood is just a place they use to film.
The same is true for Axanar and Ares Studios. Ares Studios is just the facility where Axanar is being filmed. Several other productions have also filmed at the studio, including my own production INTERLUDE, a parody sci-fi project from PUAL JENKINS, and a number of student films. After the pandemic, Alec is planning to film even more productions there…and none of them are Axanar.
The legal settlement only forbids Alec from publicly crowd-funding Axanar itself, not from crowd-funding the rent of a studio used for multiple productions besides Axanar.
THE TWO FINANCIALS ARE COMPLETELY SEPARATE
This probably goes without saying, but money given to the Kickstarter for the posters goes to Ares Studiosonly (minus the cost of printing, packing, and shipping). The money for Axanar is being collected privately via the Ares Digital 3.0 firewall, not using Kickstarter or any other public service. Alec has been careful not to promote the Axanar fundraiser publicly, and so he is abiding in good faith to the specifics of the settlement.
HALF A YEAR WITH NO COMPLAINTS FROM THE STUDIOS
Late last year, Alec received two Notice of Breach letters over a two-month period from David Grossman, one of the attorneys from Loeb & Loeb, CBS’s outside law firm. Alec had actually received about 8 or 9 of these letters since the settlement in 2017, and Alec has always responded, addressing any issues raised and making corrections to his practices when needed. And when the issues raised were either misunderstandings or incorrect, Alec would clarify that the thing(s) they had a problem with weren’t really a problem, explain why…and that would be the end of it. There has never been any follow up by CBS or Loeb & Loeb about any unresolved issue.
This time, though, Alec felt particularly aggrieved by the letters, especially after the first letter got leaked to a detractor in an attempt to sabotage the first Axanar shoot in October. In the process of looking into this leak, Alec discovered to his shock that Mr. Grossman had contacted him (Alec) on behalf of CBS without informing CBS that he (Mr. Grossman) was doing so.
So Alec sent a copy of his second response directly to executives at CBS letting them know what their lawyer was up to and pointing out that, with Star Trek: Picard about to launch, it might not be the best time for stories to start appearing in the media about CBS continuing to harass their fans with legal intimidation after resolving a year-long lawsuit amicably.
And to be fair, Alec has been a good Star Trek citizen. He is never overly critical of CBS on his live streams and podcasts, he loves Picard, and is excited about the new Pike series Strange New Worlds.
Although I can’t read the minds of the folks at what is now ViacomCBS, my guess is that they don’t think that a guy raising money in the tens of thousands of dollars (no longer over a million) to produce a 30-minute fan film is worth the public relations hassle at such a critical time for All Access. And they certainly wouldn’t care about a bunch of posters and a $1,200 Kickstarter.
In the past six months, Alec hasn’t received a single communication from anyone at either Loeb & Loeb or ViacomCBS…and this despite having a Patreon for Ares Studios taking in $2,600/ month and an online store selling patches, mugs, T-shirts, stickers, hats, messenger bags, and a whole bunch of other “swag.” Long story short, if CBS had a problem with Alec publicly funding Ares Studios while privately funding Axanar, I suspect he would have heard more than crickets over the past six months.
THERE’S NO STAR TREK INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN ANYTHING ALEC IS SELLING
Even if ViacomCBS did have some kind of problem with Alec selling swag, it’s hard for them to do anything about it. As I pointed out above, Ares Studios never signed a legal settlement with the studios. And if it’s a case of pulling the infringement alarm again, take a close look at what’s being sold. There’s nothing on any product that says “Star Trek,” nothing that uses any of ViacomCBS’s licensed trademarks, and no intellectual property unique to Star Trek and only Star Trek. Words like “phaser,” “transporter,” and “warp” are too generic to ever be granted copyright protection. And you won’t find unique words like “Klingon” or established starship designs like the USS Enterprise on any Axanar merchandise.
In short, everything that Alec and Ares Studios are selling is 100% original intellectual property that Alec owns the rights to. Anyone arguing differently isn’t looking carefully at the products themselves. This is all completely legit.
So if you think the stuff is cool and worth owning, and you have the money to spare, then shop (or donate) with a clear conscience, my friends…
Earlier this week, the private fundraising total was at $10,795…although the number hadn’t moved much recently. The global economic uncertainty from the pandemic is understandably slowing crowd-funding donations down to a veritable standstill. Sure, the Axanar total still moves a little, but over the past three weeks, only $795 had come in since it crossed the $10K mark on April 22.
So imagine my surprise when I refreshed the tab on Thursday and saw the total was at $20,795!
For the first few seconds, my mind didn’t process it. I’d just checked it a couple of days before, and it was at $10,795…so my brain first looked at the “795” part and thought: Oh, well…hasn’t moved. Then it started sinking in—did I see a “2” at the beginning of the number? I checked again. Holy frack! This was either some system glitch with Ares Digital 3.0 or else someone had just given ALEC PETERS ten grand!
It was about 3am for Alec in Atlanta (midnight for me in L.A.), so the answer to my question would need to wait until morning. But first thing, I texted Alec. Yep, it really was a $10,000 donation…and Alec had been just as surprised as I was when he’d found out the day before.
The donor hasn’t given me permission to share his identity, but Alec confirmed that he had given $1,000 to the previous Axanar campaign that had raised money for the second Georgia shoot in March. Apparently, this fellow has been so impressed by the organization and progress of Axanar over the recent months that he decided to provide a second, jaw-droppingly generous donation. The donor called Alec on Thursday explaining how truly enthusiastic he was about the project, and how he had decided to give some more. “Check your account,” he told Alec over the phone—and when he did, Alec was almost speechless…except for a wave of sincere gratitude flowing out to let this donor how much his support meant to the project and to Alec personally.
In the meantime, there have been a few major changes to the Axanar production and post-production game-plan recently, so I might as well catch you up…
When is a Star Trek fan film NOT a Star Trek fan film? Or is it vice-versa? For GLEN L. WOLFE, writer and director of the sixth installment of the anthology series THE FEDERATION FILES, “Voices from the Past,” any distinction is totally blurred and probably irrelevant. No matter what “Voices” might seem to be, it is at heart VERY much a Star Trek fan film!
Granted, it certainly doesn’t look like a Star Trek fan film. There are no starships flying around, no one wearing Starfleet uniforms, no Klingons or Romulans or Cardassians in sight. No main characters from any Star Trek TV series or movie are walking around. “Voices” doesn’t even take place in the 23rd or 24th century. And yet, it’s 100% a Star Trek fan film!
The fact that no scene takes place on a 23rd century starship is particularly surprising considering that Glen and his partner DAN REYNOLDS are the co-owners of WARP 66 STUDIOS in northeastern Arkansas and have access to a number of very high-end TOS-era sets like the bridge and sickbay. Indeed, over the course of the past three and a half years, The Federation Files has released these five fan films all set in the 23rd/24th century:
But this time, Glen has something very different in mind, and very unique in the world of Trek fan films. Without spoiling it for you, how about you just give it a look-see for yourself…
At nearly 39 minutes, the two parts of this fan film exceed the 30-minute limit imposed by the ViacomCBS guidelines, but I doubt these are the droids the license holders are looking for…as it would be highly unlikely that the casual viewer might mistake “Voices” for anything resembling Star Trek. So I’m guessing Glen and Dan are safe for the time being.
I always enjoy chatting with my pal Glen, especially after the release of a new Federation Files production. So once again, I’ve got a great audio interview with this mover-and-shaker of the Star Trek fan film community…
When our Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE is released in a few months and the credits roll, two names will appear prominently: JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX. And it’s because of them that Interlude will not only be an awesome Star Trek fan film but also a visual work of art.
A year and a half ago, when I first suggested to Josh the idea of shooting a fan film on the Ares bridge set, I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations other than, “It’ll be SOOOOO cool!” Y’see, the Ares Studios bridge set is just so darn awesome-looking that I figured any fan film shot on it would have to look amazing. And when Josh started talking about all of the ways he planned to light it, the angles he’d shoot it from, types of lenses he’d use, etc.—it all just zoomed completely over my head. I simply figured that my fan film was in good hands, and it was gonna be such a blast flying to Georgia and getting to watch someone shoot on those sets.
A couple of months later when I discovered that Victoria usually collaborated with Josh on their amazing AVALON UNIVERSE fan films, I invited her to come on board the project, as well…and after some discussion, she accepted. At the time, I naively thought I understood how things worked with the two of them: Josh would set up the lights and cameras (cinematography) while Victoria would work with the actors. The perfect team, splitting the tasks right down the middle.
In my first-ever Fan Film Factor blog from 2016, I credited PARAGON’S PARAGON as the generally-accepted first “major” Star Trek fan film. It was made back in 1974. But even in that blog, I mentioned “…that the earliest Star Trek fan films dated back to when the original series was still playing on first-run broadcast TV on NBC.”
At the time I first wrote the blog, I didn’t have any specific examples of such early fan films, but today I do! From way back in March of 1967, while the original Star Trek was still in its debut season, a trio of youngsters created a short Trek fan film titled THE THING IN THE CAVE. And here’s the most amazing thing: they used actual tunics from the show loaned out to them directly from the Star Trek set on the Paramount lot!
Imagine a fan film today using actual spare uniforms from Discovery or Picard. The mind boggles! But things were apparently much different in 1967 (the year I was born).
So who were these kids, how did they get a hold of actual Star Trek tunics, and why are we only first finding out about this “lost” fan film 53 years later?
For the answers, I have an interview with ALAN WHITE, one of the fan filmmakers behind The Thing in the Cave. A current resident of Las Vegas—where he lives with his wife of 30 years, DeDee—Alan was 20 years old back in 1967. About a month ago, Alan posted some photos to Facebook that he took of individual frames from a surviving roll of film from The Thing in the Cave. I was fascinated by both the age of the project and by how well-made and authentic the tunics looked. Naturally, I reached out to Alan in order to learn more…
Never let a pandemic ruin an opportunity to take a pot-shot at STAR TREK: DISCOVERY…or so it seems for SCOTT BAKER, a writer, director, and Steadicam operator from Los Angeles. His independent film, 5th Passenger, featured Star Trek alumni TIM RUSS, MARINA SIRTIS, ARMIN SHIMERMAN, MANU INTIRAYMI, HANA HATAE, and DOUG JONES. In his spare time, Scott is also a decent cartoonist, and his first Trek-themed parody short from 2016, CEASE AND DESIST, lampooned the just-announced CBS fan film guidelines. Nearly four years later—with the help of fan film actors RYAN T. HUSK and RICO E. ANDERSON, along with MALÍSSA LONGO (widow of the recently passed and sorely missed ARON “Nog” EISENBERG)—Scott sets his parody sights on both the global quarantine and the most controversial canon changes in Discovery, with hilarious results…
The strangely surreal DATA & PICARDStar Trek fan music video has been viewed on YouTube nearly seven and a half million times…making it one of the most widely seen Trek fan productions of all time. And yet, I haven’t covered it here on Fan Film Factor up until now—somewhat on purpose.
When the musician/DJ/remix artist/film editor/YouTuber POGO (whose real name is NICK BERTKE) first uploaded this unusually hypnotic video back in late 2016, it was certainly a project I intended to cover. But less than two years later—and before I was able to blog about him—Pogo/Nick created some major controversy and trouble for himself.
In a video from 2016 which was posted to YouTube in May of 2018 (and has since been removed for reasons of hate-speech), Pogo shared some very homophobic opinions, including calling gays an “abomination” and seeming to approve of the 2016 massacre at the gay nightclub Pulse. And of course, social media sleuths quickly unearthed another controversial rant of his against feminism from 2017. Within days, public opinion had turned strongly against Pogo, and the Lamplight Lounge at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, CA, which featured some of Pogo’s Disney-related tracks on their restaurant’s playlist, quickly bowed to pressure and removed them all. (For more details on Pogo’s controversial statements and attempts to walk them back, click here.)
And so I was torn. On the one hand, Pogo had created this wildly popular Star Trek fan film music video…and his background story is quite interesting. On the other hand, hate speech and homophobia is anathema to me. I am totally repulsed by Pogo’s prejudices against gay people and women. I decided not to cover Pogo and his video…a decision I’ve stuck with for nearly two years (despite a number of readers sending me links and asking me to cover it). Eventually, I mostly forgot about the video.
A few weeks ago, however, I happened upon a new version of the Pogo video that had used a digital manipulation technique called Deepfake to replace Pogo’s image with the faces of PATRICK STEWART and BRENT SPINER. (I’ll include that new video at the end of this blog.) This new video got me thinking about maybe covering Pogo after all.
If you can’t stomach my decision, then please feel free to skip this blog. Otherwise, let’s start with showing Pogo’s original Data & Picard video (without the Deepfake) for those who haven’t seen it yet or who just want to see it again…
In the summer of 2016 when the AXANAR infringement lawsuit was still in full swing, I drove to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to attend a hearing of the Ninth Circuit in that case. I was the only guest in the “audience” and the only person in the courtroom other than the clerk who didn’t have a law degree!
Nearly all legal proceedings in America are open to the general public, but few citizens avail themselves of this right because—for non-lawyers and non-participants—most of these proceedings are nigh incomprehensible and boring.
But I was personally invested in the Axanar case and found the hearing absolutely fascinating! In fact, I suspect that, had more Axanar supporters lived close to downtown L.A. and didn’t have work commitments, they would have flocked to watch the trial…had the case not settled.
Now the COVID-19 pandemic has offered a unique opportunity to watch Federal Court hearings remotely. The judges and lawyers are all working from separate locations and dialing into a video conference, and those proceedings are being broadcast live to YouTube so the public can observe. The conference videos are also being recorded and kept available on YouTube. Nothing like this has ever happened before! [CORRECTION – Oops, got that one wrong. Then Ninth Circuit (and possibly some other courts) has been streaming oral arguments since 2014.]
As many of you know, I’ve been closely following the infringement lawsuit where DR. SEUSS ENTERPRISES (DSE) has sued COMICMIX and author DAVID GERROLD, artist TY TEMPLETON, and publisher GLENN HAUMAN for violating DSE’s copyright in trying to publish Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! mashing up Star Trek and Dr. Seuss.
Long story short: DSE lost. (Long story long: read this.)
With a pre-trial summary judgment, Judge JANIS SAMMARTINO ruled that “Boldly” (as it was shortened) qualified for First Amendment protection on the doctrine of Fair Use. That was in March of 2019. In August, DSE filed an appeal of that decision. (And here’s a blog explaining that in detail.)
The thing about an appeal is that you can’t just say, “Hey, we didn’t like that verdict, so we want a do-over with a new judge!” Nope, you can only appeal if you feel the first judge made a mistake in interpreting or applying the law in some way (other than just deciding against you.)
In DSE’s case, the biggest mistake they felt was made by Judge Sammartino was in determining that they (DSE) had to prove that they would suffer financial harm if Boldly were to be published and sold. DSE felt that ComicMix should have had to prove that DSE would not be injured by the mash-up. But because the district judge reversed the direction of burden of proof, and DSE failed to meet that burden, they lost and Boldly was ruled Fair Use. (DSE also felt that Boldly wasn’t transformative and also used too much of the original Dr. Seuss source material, which they contend should overturn any Fair Use ruling.)