Last time: Marc Scott Zicree discussed the first professional fan film, “World Enough and Time,” the fourth episode release from Star Trek: New Voyages back in 2007. Roughly 200-300 people worked on the production (235 names appear in the credits plus another 50 on the “Special thanks” list. A number of team members were actually Hollywood industry professionals…including George Takei himself reprising his role of Sulu, plus Marc and his co-writer Michael Reaves, his editor Chris Cronin, many of the department heads, the visual effects team, and the production unit who shot the USS Excelsior scenes in Los Angeles (the majority of the episode was filmed in upstate New York on the New Voyages TOS sets).
Even today, nearly a decade later, “World Enough and Time” remains high up on the list of MUST SEE fan films. And it provides a magnificent example of the kind of engaging, emotional, and dramatically satisfying production that can be achieved using a mixture of fan amateurs and industry professionals working together to create a true labor of love.
Of course, such a fan film would now be impossible to create and release under the new guidelines issued by CBS and Paramount. Industry professionals are barred from working on a fan film, although this particular guideline may violate California’s Business and Professions Code: Section 16600. Even if it does, however, fan films are now limited to 15-minute episodes or, at most, two 15-minute parts totaling no more than 30 minutes. The depth of character development and story complexity required for “World Enough and Time” could never be squeezed into such a constrained time limitation…nor should it, say many fans.
Marc Zicree is a rabid Star Trek and science fiction fan who has written and produced hundreds of hours of network television over a career spanning decades…including episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
As our 2-part interview with Marc concludes, he finishes discussing “World Enough and Time” and then dives head-first into what he thinks about those darn guidelines…
Jonathan: Do you remember about how much in total was spent on this episode for everything?
Marc: I don’t know how much James Cawley and his group had spent on the sets, and they were providing all the costumes. I brought on my friend Ian McCaig to design the look of Barbarian Sulu and Alanna, and then their costumer had to create those outfits, and I think they reimbursed her for materials. So I don’t know what James was spending on his side. But on my side, I’d say about $60,000 that I brought in, that I put into it.
Jonathan: Was that your own money? I know these were the days before crowd-funding, so most fan productions were self-funded by the people doing them.
Marc: I had a private investor who had given my production company a certain sum of money, and I utilized that for things like hiring an editor.
Jonathan: You said in your famous letter to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) that 300 people worked on “World Enough and Time,” correct?
Marc: Yes. It was about that amount; I don’t remember precisely anymore. But you can see hundreds of names in the credits at the end.
Jonathan: So what percentage of those 300 people would you say were volunteers and not compensated in some way?
Marc: I would say 95% of the people were working for free.
Jonathan: I seem to recall Alec Peters once saying about 80% of the people working on Prelude to Axanar were doing it for free. So even a “professional” fan film is still mostly volunteers, it seems.
Marc: Yeah. There’s just sometimes that people have to put in so much time, and you don’t want someone not to be able to make their rent because they’re working 50-60 hours a week editing “World Enough and Time.” There’s a reality that we all have to pay our bills and buy food. We’d all like to be independently wealthy and not have to earn a penny.
For me, my life is structured in such a way that I have a lot more freedom than most people, so I don’t need to be drawing a salary for directing “World Enough and Time” or producing it or working for that year editing it. That was something I was doing for the love of it, and I didn’t need to be paid for that.
Jonathan: So what year did you start working on it?
Marc: We started late in 2005, we shot in 2006, we finished it in 2007, and I was even still tweaking it into 2008—little tweaks on it—but mainly it was finished by 2007.
Jonathan: And did you write it before or after Walter Koenig did his episode?
Marc: Walter was about to fly to upstate New York and do his episode when we were on a panel together at a science fiction convention. That was the first I ever heard of Star Trek: New Voyages. And I was so fascinated by it that night I watched their sequel to “The Doomsday Machine” [their second episode “In Harm’s Way” –Jonathan], and I loved it. It wasn’t of a professional quality, but it had so many things going for it that Star Trek: Enterprise lacked.
Now, my friend Michael Reaves had come up with a great Sulu story that he’d pitched to Star Trek: Phase 2 when Paramount was going to bring back the show in the 70s. And the only reason that didn’t get made was because they decided to do the Star Trek movies instead. So I remembered that story, and I called up Michael and said, “Hey, do you want to do this together?” And he said “Sure.” I made some adjustments to Michael’s initial idea because, in the intervening years, the Next Gen episode “The Inner Light” hit on some of the same story structure, and that’s why we share the writing credits.
Jonathan: Okay, so let’s shift from the historical to the controversial. CBS and Paramount seemingly came out of nowhere with these guidelines, and some people are saying, “Well, if it hadn’t been for Axanar, they wouldn’t have done this!”
Marc: Oh, I don’t know if that’s true…
Jonathan: Now, you said in your 2008 letter to the SFWA that you actually spoke with people at the studio. Whom did you speak with, and what did you tell them?
Marc: Here’s the thing. The studios and the networks are very foolish because, rather than clamping down on this and putting an end to it, they should license it and sell it. They would generate millions of dollars with no investment on their part. It’s very short-sighted what they’re doing. There isn’t a single person on earth who would avoid going to see Star Trek Beyond because they’re watching Star Trek Continues. It’s apples and oranges.
But when I did “World Enough and Time,” CBS video wanted to license it, and I even met with those executives, but we couldn’t get the guy at the top to understand it. He wasn’t a Star Trek fan; he didn’t get it. But they wanted it on the Star Trek Blu-ray. And I also met with an executive at Paramount Interactive who wanted to sell it as downloadable content. And again, he couldn’t convince his boss because the problem is that the guys at the top don’t get it. And even with these new guidelines…clearly these aren’t Star Trek fans. Clearly these are lawyers.
They wouldn’t even be issuing these guidelines except that J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin were so public saying you guys should let this continue. And they think, “Oh, then how do we get our arms around this? We’ll make rules that are so problematical that it basically kills the Star Trek fan film. It’s so stupid. They can be 15 minutes long or two can be 30 minutes, but you can’t have series or sequels? That kills Star Trek Continues; it kills Star Trek: New Voyages.
You can’t have anyone who works in the industry? You can’t have anyone who worked on Star Trek? Come on! For one thing, that’s illegal. I don’t think you can insist on that as a rule because that’s restraint of trade. Paramount has no say over what I do or don’t do as an individual! I never signed a contract with Paramount saying I wouldn’t work on other projects for other people.
Jonathan: I think you’re referring to the California Business and Professions Code: Section 16600. It says that no one can be “…restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind.”
Marc: I guess. I’m sure that if that were challenged in court, Paramount would not be able to win. Think about it, if those guidelines were followed, you couldn’t have George Takei in “World Enough and Time,” you couldn’t have Walter Koenig or Nichelle Nichols in Renegades. So who does it protect, and who does it hurt? It protects the studio—albeit in a very foolish way—and it hurts those actors. And again, at this stage of their lives, they’re not doing it for money at all. That’s not what they care about. These are the characters that they brought life to, and they would like very much to have a chance to have a final adventure. And that’s only appropriate. I think the only people who wouldn’t want that would be cold-hearted…well I don’t want to say the word. But they clearly would not be people who understood Star Trek or understood its fans.
Back when Filmation was going to do the Star Trek cartoon show, they did something very smart. They went to World Con and they posted character drawings on a wall. And they had a blank sheet of paper underneath, and they said, “Please tell us what you like about these designs and what you don’t like. And they got the input from the fans, and then they refined it, and they did their show. And whether it was a good show or a bad show, at least they got input from the fans.
What Paramount and CBS should have done before issuing guidelines is they should have sat down with those who are making the fan films and fans who are watching the fan films. And they should have said, “Okay, these are the guidelines we’re thinking of, what cuts you off at the knees? What makes this impossible for you to move forward?” And they would have gotten an earful.
I strongly believe that these guidelines kill the fan film.
Jonathan: When John Van Citters of CBS Licensing gave his podcast interview, he indicated that the goal of these guidelines, especially the 15-minute limit, was to “level the playing field.” They didn’t want there to be haves and have-nots in fan films. He didn’t want the people driving the Toyotas to be resentful and jealous of the people driving the Mercedes.
Marc: That’s bull$#*&! It’s bull$#*&! I think people at the studio were very concerned about Alec Peters raising over a million dollars. I think they were very concerned that he was putting the money toward building a studio. And I can understand their concerns. But no one came to Paramount and said, “Give us a level playing field.” Star Trek Continues didn’t tell CBS to shut down Axanar.
My understanding is that nowadays, to make a Star Trek fan film of a professional quality costs around $300-$350,000 per hour. That’s a guess; that’s sort of what I’ve been hearing. But the question always comes back to, “Who does this hurt?” The smart move, particularly if you’re an executive in licensing, is just to license it. If you say, “Okay, if you make a Star Trek fan film, you have to agree that it will be licensed as downloadable content by CBS and Paramount and it will not be made available for free. Period.”
If you make a Star Trek fan film, it’s available and it’s nominal…so you figure 99 cents for a download. It’s not like it’s thirty bucks to watch Star Trek Continues. It’s like 99 cents or $1.99 or even $2.99. People would do it, and that would generate millions of dollars. And Paramount and CBS could even get a lion’s share of those revenues, and no one is damaged. And if it’s a crappy Star Trek fan film, then it’s still licensed, it’s still released under CBS, and it still makes money…just probably not as much. But again, no one is damaged and everyone comes out ahead.
Amazon recently licensed fan fiction from Pretty Little Liars and several other things. And as a result, it’s legal to write fan fiction, people could sell it, people could get revenue, no one was hurt, and it didn’t violate copyright. That’s the sane way of doing this. Anything beyond that is foolish.
To sum up, I think you either understand the fan community or you don’t. And they obviously don’t.
Jonathan: I think you’re right.
Marc: These new guidelines are just going to make things very difficult moving forward. And it’s a shame because some very good work was done, and a lot of these actors would never have had a chance to ever be seen playing their Star Trek characters again. I mean, even people like William Windom and Malachi Throne and BarBara Luna…these were people who were beloved by the fans. And to see them in the Star Trek universe again was wonderful.
And that’s something that the studios and the networks–not only would they never have done it–they wouldn’t even care about these people. But it’s great to see these actors in their 60’s and 70’s and 80’s getting to have their last hurrah playing these iconic characters.
I think we’ll look back and say that at least there was this brief period when these fan films were made, and we’ll be really glad that they were made. There’s some really wonderful work in them.
Jonathan: For one brief, shining moment…Camelot.
Jonathan: Well, Marc, I thank you for taking the time to chat about the new guidelines and “World Enough and Time.” Whether one calls it a fan film, a professional fan film, or whatever, it was a gift to Star Trek fans everywhere…a true masterpiece that can be enjoyed and celebrated for the triumph it was.
Marc: Thank you, Jonathan. Take care.