Will STAR TREK RAVEN be IGNORING the new fan film GUIDELINES? (Interview with DAVID WHITNEY, Part 1)

Cover 2If the release of the new guidelines by CBS and Paramount was the shot heard round the fan film world, then the subsequent response by the show-runner of Star Trek Raven was the first hint of return fire.

Or was it?

A week after CBS and Paramount published their guidelines for Star Trek fan films, an announcement went up on the news page for Star Trek Raven, a little-known fan series based in central Iowa filmed at Starfleet Studios (not to be confused with Starbase Studios in Oklahoma). The production had only released three short vignettes so far (this, this, and this), but Raven was about to become one of the most talked about fan films.

On July 1, the lead producer for Raven, David Whitney, posted this proactive statement:

The rules which pertain to direct copyright infringement and intellectual property will be adhered to. The rules which do not directly support their copyright, and copyright law, will be ignored.

 Wow! Them’s fightin’ words!!

Among the guidelines that David was preparing to ignore were the ones limiting the length of a single fan film to 15 minutes or less, not being allowed to pay people who worked on the production, and not giving away production-related perks.

The fan world quickly took notice and got set to watch the struggle and excitement. Sides were quickly taken for and against Raven (as they were when Axanar got sued), and for 24 hours, Star Trek Raven (which hasn’t even released its first full episode yet) was the biggest news in fan films.

Then, the following day (before I could even write up something about it on Fan Film Factor), the post on Raven’s news page had changed to this:

We are going to try to conform our film, now called “Starfleet Studios Raven Part One” to the new rules.

I’d like to thank CBS for making the guideline public, so we know what their law team and their licensing team are looking for.

The statements made here are mine, and can change tomorrow. I’d like to thank the RAVEN team for hanging in there.

What happened? Fans eager to see a “David” take on “Goliath” were left disappointed and even somewhat disgruntled that someone got their hopes up and then quickly surrendered before firing a shot. (Of course, all those fans rooting for a glorious battle weren’t risking tens of thousands of their own dollars in potential legal fees in a lawsuit.)

But I was curious: what really did happen to change the mind of the seemingly ravin’ Raven show-runner? (Sorry, that pun was just too irresistible.) So I contacted David Whitney and requested an interview…

David Whitney, show-runner for Star Trek Raven.

Jonathan: Okay, David, what happened to the guy who was shaking his fist vowing to fight the system one day and falling into line the next?

David: Well, I deleted a paragraph. And the sentence about doing our best to conform to the new rules was there before. The paragraph I deleted was the statement about us ignoring the guidelines. And I made the statement at the end that I could change my mind at any time, even the next day…which I did.

The whole “shaking my angry fist” was taken out of context by, last time I checked (I didn’t read all of them), but I saw 99 comments on one story I read. I said, “Good grief! I’ve got a lot of traction on this!” And a little part of me likes attention, and I thought that was very fun, but I talked to my producer and my co-producer. And really, when I say, “I’m gonna ignore the rules,” here’s what I meant by that…

I was listening very intently to John Van Citters’ podcast. To me, it seemed at least somewhat clear that groups that are already in post-production they’re not going to bother with. And moving forward, they don’t want people using the term “Star Trek,” going over $50,000 on your fundraiser, or paying Star Trek actors. And so, the fact is, none of those apply to me. I didn’t make any money, I don’t use Hollywood actors, and I’m already in post-production…which means we’ve done our filming, and we’re just trying to finish the film.

When it comes to the time limit, though, I’m going to have to say, “Yes, I’m ignoring that for Star Trek Raven because I think we got in under the wire. But moving forward, I’m gonna do my best to conform to the guidelines to make sure CBS doesn’t bug me…’cause I don’t wanna end up in court like Axanar and have to fly out to California to defend myself getting to wear a costume and playing Star Trek. It’s not worth it to me because I didn’t make any money off of Kickstarter. I didn’t make a million dollars like Axanar…or Renegades, what, they’re up to $800,000 now for both films. Even Star Trek: Horizon, they raised, like $70,000.

So when I say I’m gonna ignore it, most of the reason I said that is, frankly, it doesn’t apply to me as much as it does to a lot of these other guys. So at least for Star Trek Raven, I’m gonna put it out there as I intended to do it. It was only supposed to be a 24-minute film anyway. I don’t think CBS is gonna come after me for it, but if I put it on YouTube and all of a sudden the next day, I get a call from CBS, then I’ll have to chop it in half and show it in two parts.

By scraping some of the stuff from if already, it gets it off their radar. And that’s the real kicker, Jonathan. I want to go forward and call if Star Trek Raven and finish it because we were in post production…and put it out there—in its full 24 minutes of glory—and then worry about the next film.   The next film won’t be called Star Trek anything.

 Jonathan: So is Raven going to be a self-contained story that ends, or is it the beginning of an ongoing series…which is, of course, no longer allowed under the fan film guidelines?

David: That’s a great question! Raven, part 1 is just a set-up for a series. And at 24 minutes, part 2 was going to be 24 minutes, as well. So when you combine those, you get a TV episode length. And so the goal was two 24-minute episodes, then combine them later into one episode. But now, with the new guidelines, Raven, part 2—which is already cast with actors and actresses, we have the script almost written, we’ve got the outline, we have new costumes—so now we’re having to decide what to do with it. And I think that right now, where we stand, we’re basically going to have to just drop all references to Star Trek for that. If we’re going to continue on with that character, we’ve got to move her out of the Star Trek world.

Cover 1 Raven-2Jonathan: Is that why you announced you were going to be changing the name of the series to Starfleet Studios Raven?

David: Yes.

Jonathan: But you already have costumes. You already have a library of digital backgrounds for your green screen shots that are mostly Federation starship interiors. I heard you’re even building a TOS bridge set. How do you take Raven out of the Star Trek world?

David: Well, you can’t. I have collected the interiors of starships for the last 3 years. Everything I have is Star Trek: Voyager look-a-like or Next Generation look-a-like or DS9. So I’m gonna have to stick with those interiors moving forward because that’s what I have to work with. And I don’t have the luxury of paying CGI guys to rebuild entire ships. Some of the stuff I have I can change myself, like the LCARS displays. I can edit those and change those. I can change some of the colors and the way things look. But the structure is very obviously gonna be lifted from Star Trek. And there’s just not anything I can do about that right now.

Jonathan: So what’s your specific role at Starfleet Studios, David…or do you wear many hats?

David: I have to do nearly everything, and I’m still learning as I go along. For example, I do all the writing. I do the camera work and all the video editing and all the CGI…and all the sound and music.

Jonathan: So you’re like the “Tommy Kraft” of your production. [Tommy Kraft is the jack-of-all-trades who almost single-handedly wrote / directed / produced / edited / scored / CGI-animated / etc. the 105-minute long fan film Star Trek: Horizon from his parents’ basement. –Jonathan]

David: Yeah, but Tommy’s got a serious advantage ’cause he knows how to make those ships from scratch and look fantastic as they fly around, and I’m kinda cheating when I do it. But my effects still look pretty good. I’ve come a long way.  Oh, I should mention that some of the scenes I got camera help from Stephen Janousek, a local actor and camera guy who is very good.

Jonathan: I’m curious about Starfleet Studios itself. How big is it? Are we talking something the size of Star Trek Continues, which is 18,000 square feet? Is it a small warehouse like Starbase Studios in Oklahoma?

Raven-3David: Really, Starfleet Studios is just a name and a green screen with some cameras and costumes and props. And we would film wherever we could—whether it be someone’s basement or someone’s garage or in the middle of my house with my dogs walking around on the green screen. Now we have a small studio that we rent, but it’s being filled up with set pieces. And we have one third of a TOS Enterprise bridge that has been donated. And we’re going to be receiving another 25% of it, so within just a few months, I’m out of room because I have half a bridge!

And we can re-purpose that set if we wanted to. We could change it. Initially I was going to make it the USS Prometheus interiors, because the Prometheus from that Voyager episode looks structurally like TOS, and it could be changed to conform to look like that. But now with the new guidelines it’s like, “Well, what do I do?” We’re just gonna leave it TOS because, along with the Voyager-style costumes, we’re also getting a lot more of the TOS style. So now, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we’re making a TOS film. So we’re doing three different eras now.

Jonathan: Three? There’s Raven; there’s the TOS project…did I miss something?

David: There’s also a TNG project that will have Picard and Data in it. I’m going to place it on Kickstarter to see if I can get any money at all—which I doubt because all of my Kickstarters have failed—to see if fans will support if without Hollywood actors…and with a budget of $50,000. And I’m working that up, and I want to be the first one up on Kickstarter to see what happens if I play by the guidelines. “So okay, CBS, here’s what you said we could do. We’re doing it.” Now, what are the fans gonna think about it? Are they going to support it? We’ll see. I’m hoping that after I release Raven, even if it’s a little cheesy with the purple wig, that fans will notice us and give us some support.

Jonathan: What about your TOS project?

David: We’re finishing filming at the end of this month—hopefully—and completely finish with all filming within two months. And that film involves all real sets. I can’t say much more except that it’ll be a TV-length film…between 48 minutes and an hour.

Jonathan: And your belief is that the 15-minute time limit isn’t applicable because the episode was already in production at the time the guidelines were announced…that you’re grandfathered in?

David: The producer has not decided yet how it will be distributed.

Jonathan: You’re not the producer?

David: No, it’s not my project.

Jonathan: So there’s a chance it won’t ever get posted to YouTube?

David: Yes, but I really can’t say anything more right now.

Jonathan: Not a problem, David. Let me ask you instead about your cast. You’ve got a lot of attractive cast members…which isn’t always a hallmark of Star Trek fan films (please forgive my political incorrectness). How did you manage to put together such a good-looking cast?

Raven-4David: I’ve got some great people, and yeah, they’re good-looking people. And people have asked me that a lot: “Where did you find such good-looking actresses?” And I’ve just been very fortunate. It’s hard to pin down how that all happened. Some of them are family members of the people who work at Starfleet Studios. But then there’s a whole bunch of other actresses who have joined the group. The beautiful Sydney Bowii, who is playing Raven, just showed up one day with a friend. And it turns out, not only is she very pretty, but she can act! And she’s really fun to work with. And she’s now in three or four different projects that I’m working on because I’m not just working on Star Trek. We’re also working on a Labyrinth-style film called The Goblin Princess where she plays the heroine.

Jonathan: Oh, so she’s really a blonde, huh?

David: Well, her hair isn’t really purple. She’s got blond hair, and we use the purple wig for two reasons. One is that since I do everything green screen, her blond hair reflects that green a lot. And it was really difficult to work with. So I said, “Would you mind wearing a wig?” And we went through different colors and different wigs. And she just loved the purple, and I said, “Works for me!” So the second reason is because Sydney likes it. And it works well against the green background.

What a difference a purple wig and a skin-tight leather suit make! The lovely Sydney Bowii as Raven (left) and the Goblin Princess.

 Jonathan: So you said that Sydney just showed up one day with a friend. And suddenly you had your Raven?

David: There’s a large group of people in central Iowa…a lot of actors and actresses. There’s a lot of Facebook groups. And there was a girl who I think was nineteen at the time who I had in the original version of Raven (before I had to scrap it) who was playing Janeway, and she brought Sydney along. And we put Sydney in a costume and started talking to her. And we were going to give her a bit part as a helmsman. And then after that, things just kept growing.

I eventually had to scrap the entire two years of filming the original version of Star Trek Raven

Jonathan: Why was that?

Next time: Why did David have to scrap an entire two years of filming!? What does he think about other fan films…and about the guidelines themselves? The answers might surprise you!

A few months after this interview was first published, Star Trek Raven was released as the debut episode of Voyager Continues…

12 thoughts on “Will STAR TREK RAVEN be IGNORING the new fan film GUIDELINES? (Interview with DAVID WHITNEY, Part 1)”

  1. Okay, based on story, special effects, and acting, I don’t think Paramount has much to worry about. This is far worse than the first half of season 1 of Hidden Frontiers, which had the advantage of getting rid of their character named Raven, and going more hard scifi. They also had the advantage of getting better as they went. I don’t see that kind of hope for this series.

    1. Remember the prime directive of Fan Film Factor:
      Rule #1 – There is no such thing as a bad Star Trek fan film.
      Rule #2 – If you see a bad Star Trek fan film, refer to Rule #1.

      1. You are welcome to remove my comment. But I stand by it. Raven is Juvenile on a level that not even the first episodes of Hidden Frontiers were. They grew into something very good, and actually made me LIKE the Next Generation setting, but Raven looks like somebody’s Vampire the Masquerade LARP crossed into Star Trek.

      1. I’m approving the comments and responses but only up to a point. I really don’t want any name calling on Fan Film Factor. As Scotty said, “Everyone’s entitled to an opinion.” It actually might be helpful for the two of you to discuss what aspects of Raven might be improved–intelligently and respectfully–so David gets some honest feedback that could be useful (or not) in the future. Straight insults aren’t helpful, but if there’s reasonable and realistic ways to improve the production, I’m certain David would be open to hearing suggestions…which he can then choose whether or not to incorporate into his next production.

        1. Okay, how to improve it. Fair enough. First thing is get rid of the purple hair for Raven. With the name Raven and the purple hair she looks like a goth wannabe (ie: someone’s Vampire the Masquerade LARP crossed over into Star Trek) Secondly, spend a little more time with either lightwave, or whatever video program you’re using for the ships. They need A LOT MORE rendering time. Third: And I don’t want to be thought of as fat shaming here, but the girl playing the Vulcan has to go. She’s too big-boned to be believable as a Vulcan. Also, it takes more than just deadpanning lines to make a Vulcan sound logical. However, I congratulate you however on making the character both Vulcan and blonde. Betazeds are overused as telepaths.

          1. If I might chime in…
            1) I actually like the purple wig. It makes the character distinctive (at least to me), and as David said in his interview, it shows up well against the green screen.
            2) David’s self-taught in the CGI world. Rob Caves was already an accomplished CGI artist when the first HF episode launched in 2000. I’m sure David will get better with time…and perhaps with rendering time. 🙂 If there are specific techniques you’d like him to try out or research, I’m sure he’d appreciate the advice.
            3) Hidden Frontier had some “amply shaped” characters (including myself!) along the way…even as Starship commanders (who, I would say, have even less excuse to be overweight than Vulcans). But I also have to say that I don’t find the Vulcan character in Raven to be at all “big-boned.” I think she’s actually quite attractive, and I referred to her as a “hot chick” in part of the interview that got left on the cutting room floor because I didn’t want to sound crass.

            If I were going to critique a fan film, I wouldn’t critique casting by appearance. Unless you’re doing what HF did and hiring people in, or just out of, acting school, living in L.A., with slim physiques, a fan film pretty much gets made with what it has to work with. And like a recreational sports team, the idea isn’t necessarily to win every game by only using the strongest players. Everybody should get a chance to play…even if that means the team doesn’t do as well as the Star Trek Continues team or the Hidden Frontier team. The idea is to have fun.

      2. Depends on how you define issues. I realize not every one can do episodes on the level of Phase 2 and Continues. I can look past acting and special effects for a while if the story is good. Hidden Frontiers did that, and managed to keep my attention although I have no use for any television series that came after TAS. They actually had a great story to tell and it was worth following. The acting got better, the special effects got better, and the character development was simply awesome. Raven doesn’t offer me any hope of any of that.

        1. Let’s review your comments shall we CB?
          “First thing is get rid of the purple hair for Raven.” No.
          “she looks like a goth wannabe” Tough
          “spend a little more time with either lightwave, or whatever video program you’re using for the ships” I’m flattered that you think I used Lightwave or other. Nope.
          “but the girl playing the Vulcan has to go”. Stick it in your ear.
          “I congratulate you however on making the character both Vulcan and blonde” Cute.
          I suggest you grow up and get a life. Try to make a real friend who treats you with a much kindness and you spout bitterness. Raven is not meant to offer you hope for anything. Try praying. That works much better. I swear it seems like you’re just trying to get views for Hidden Frontier. I’m sure they’d be embarrassed to hear your ranting. The only reason I’m responding is because whoever you are, I feel sorry for you. I’ve known people like you. They are very lonely people. Maybe go see a counselor.

          1. Actually, I’m quite happy. And I wasn’t trying to get hits for Hidden Frontier. Just pointing out that they started off VERY rough and overcame that. I somehow don’t see that happening here. Someone wanted suggestions on how to improve the show. Those were the my suggestions. Take them or leave them. I don’t really care. However, if some serious changes aren’t made to the show, then Paramount/CBS really has nothing to worry about from what you’re putting out.
            I seemed to have stepped on on you feelings: Too bad. You want to put out something for consideration by fans, then expect negative reviews. Anybody honest is going to give you a lot of them. I’m sorry, but when I see something substandard, I’ll point it out, and I did it without resorting to personal attacks, which you seem to be incapable of doing. I honestly hope that you do improve, but with that attitude, I somehow doubt it. Right now, you’ve got a hot mess of bad acting, poor scripting, half-baked CGI and what looks like an episode of Kindred the Embraced in Starfleet- Or is Mage the Ascension more accurate?

            As for being lonely, nope. Perfectly happy with a circle of friends, and plenty to keep me busy. If this is how you react to negative reviews, I suggest you get ready to lock down the comments section on your Youtube channel, or you’re going to become a very unhappy person. I’m not going to stand here and say “Oh, it’s Trek! I’ll take any trash you want to throw out and call it great!” There’s are too many good sci-fi and fan films out there. You either step up your game or get buried by better productions.

            And next time, try communicating without personal attacks. Otherwise you’re the one who comes across as lonely, and fragile. Do you need to retreat to your “safe space” now? Did my words hurt your widdle feelings? Perhaps, you’re the one who needs to grow up.

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