Last time: David Whitney, the show-runner for Star Trek Raven (and two other Trek fan films) produced by Starfleet Studios in central Iowa, shocked the fan world on July 1 when he announced his productions would be ignoring the new CBS and Paramount fan guidelines that, in his words, “do not directly support their copyright and copyright law.”
A day later, in an apparent about-face, David eliminated the parts of his announcement dealing with ignoring the new guidelines and instead stated “We are going to try to conform our film, now called ‘Starfleet Studios Raven Part One’ to the new rules.”
When asked in part 1 of our interview what had happened to change his mind, David said that, the way he interpreted the guidelines after listening to John Van Citters’ podcast interview, was that they would not apply to those fan films already in post production. And even if they did, Raven would have little in it that violated any of the guidelines. There was no significant crowd-funding, no perks, no professional actors, and the title would be changed from Star Trek Raven to Starfleet Studios Raven. The only guideline he would be violating would be the episode length, which he’d always intended to be 24 minutes. If Raven is indeed “grandfathered in” for having already been in post production, the length wouldn’t be a problem. And if David gets a call, he’ll need to chop it in half.
What’s less certain will be what to do about Raven Part Two, which is also slated to be 24 minutes but is only in pre-production at the moment. David suspects he might have to strip all references to Star Trek from it, which could be challenging, although Renegades was able to do it. Starfleet Studios will also be producing two other Trek fan films, one in the TOS era and the other a TNG film featuring Picard and Data.
We then transitioned to a discussion of Starfleet Studios itself and the actors and actresses who appear in the films. David had just started talking about the people who appear in Raven when he made the following unexpected comment…
David: I eventually had to scrap the entire two years of filming the original version of Star Trek Raven…
Jonathan: Why was that?
David: Our actors got busier and some had to move on. It happens, but it left me with a lot of scenes I couldn’t finish because the original actors were no longer available. So as I prepared to reshoot Raven, I had to sit back and say, “Who are my most committed people and my best actors?” And it was pretty obvious it was Sydney as a leading role versus a side role.
And that’s basically how I make a fan film now. I don’t write a script first anymore. You look at your assets and your people, what you have to work with, and then you create a script for that. And so that’s what we did the second time around is say, “We’re gonna make a shorter film. We’re going to only write script for people who we know are gonna stick with it the whole way. And not to put down anyone who had to drop out…because people have lives, and they have to move on with themselves. And they’re all doing it for free anyway. But the people who really wanted to see it through, I had to figure out who that was.
But even since then, even since we finished filming back in January (I think it was), more things have popped up, and more actors and actresses have shown up. I met a couple at a comic con. One was dressed as Data, and his wife was dressed in a TNG uniform. Well, now, we’re making a TNG short film with another actor who was playing the Borg. We were filming one scene, and he had come along just to see what was going on, and it turns out he was a really good actor and a filmmaker himself…he was helping me with sound. I said, “Hey, do you want to play the Borg scene? I need someone who can act.” And he just blew me away with his acting ability. And now he’s getting a lead role in the TNG production.
So people just keep popping up and rising to the top, and I get all these really talented people. And I’m asked, “How do you keep getting all these talented people?” And I think the key is they know I’m not making any money at it, and I know not to be a jerk. Be nice to people, and they’ll keep coming back around. We’re all there just to have a good time.
Jonathan: Do you find people just by word of mouth, or do have you specifically recruited actors, as well?
David: Sometimes people just show up, and sometimes I meet someone and say, “Hey, you look like so-and so from this show. Do you want to put on a costume?” I have this woman that I work with who’s an electrician, and she looks just like the original Uhura. I’ve been begging her because I’ve got the dress, a $600 costume that was part of our collection, and boy, if I can get her in that costume, people would flip out!
Jonathan: Yeah, that would be cool, but the question is: is she even allowed to play Uhura? One of the guidelines says, “The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production.” So if you feature Uhura, are you breaking this guideline?
David: I have an opinion on that one. When listening to John Van Citters on that podcast, they talked about not making the characters profane or warping the characters in a way that offends people. That means, from my perspective, use of known characters. I think that door was left open right there because of how Van Citters responded.
In my film, in Raven, one character we call “Admiral Paris.” Now I may have to change his first name, but that was supposed to be Admiral Owen Paris, and we reference Voyager. And I’m not going to change that name, either.
As a fan film producer—whether you’re in your garage or you’ve got a lot of money involved—it was just really difficult to hear those guidelines. But I suspect, because of what we’ve seen happen as far as videos getting pulled and people like Tommy Kraft getting the phone call from CBS, that those guidelines have been there for a long time, and we just didn’t know what they were.
So it’s nice now to know what they’re looking for, but they’re just guidelines. They’re not a list of rules.
Jonathan: John Van Citters said that, as well; they’re guidelines but they’re not the law. But what does that mean? It seems to me that a guideline and a rule would be the same thing, right?
David: You would think. But this is where the paragraph that I pulled I needed to pull. Because if you look at the guidelines that I have the most personal trouble with, that don’t have to do with copyright infringement, those were the most difficult to swallow. But then, as I went over them for the thirtieth time, I was like, “Wait a minute, they’re not saying you can’t do this. They’re saying if you do it, we might take a look at it and have a problem with it.
I think they have a little checklist before they get involved and start worrying about a fan film…number one being money. The 15-minute limit is there, too. But I think certain ones are going to be more important to them than others, as well as how far you go past them. Look at Tommy Kraft. He was planning on a 2-hour sequel to Horizon filmed in Hollywood with professional actors and trying to raise $250,000…and he got a call the very next day from CBS. But a fan film that has no Hollywood actors and zero fundraising, like ours, if we go slightly over that 15-minute limit, will that bother them? I’m hoping not.
And the thing is, you can make your own film however you want it. You can call it Star Trek all day long. You just can’t put it out there for people to stream. You can’t raise money in the name of it. But you could make a film and call if Star Trek something, have Uhura in it, and then give it just to your friends. You can do anything, but it’s not as much fun because we want the attention on YouTube. I know I do! I love attention.
We’re a small fan film, and most people have never heard of us. They don’t know about us. And my little comment on “ignoring the rules” got me another thousand likes…or something crazy like that. That wasn’t my intention, but I’ll take ‘em.
Jonathan: So it sounds like David Whitney will not be the “David” to take on the “Goliath” of the big studios and lead the uprising on behalf of all fan films great and small?
David: Not really, no. From the comments I got on that first news page announcement, people seemed to think that I was going to be the trumpeter of the charge. But I have the most to lose because I haven’t been able to finish. Not counting the TOS film I’m helping with, I’m trying to compete two films of my own that are Trek films, and we’re very close to having them both completed. Raven is done filming, and the other one is going to be a really great production. And I don’t want to get involved in the politics of the fan films. I just want to make my fan film.
People need to understand that, as a so-called producer with no budget, I was upset about the guidelines…but I’m calming down. The guidelines are something I think I can deal with because those guidelines, as they’re written and intended, don’t hurt me like they hurt the other, bigger productions. I don’t have Star Trek actors. I don’t have Kickstarter campaigns. I don’t have the money. So it doesn’t hurt me like it hurts the ones who are trying to raise a big budget. And I wish that their productions could go through.
And not to be mean or anything, but I’m in a better position than those guys with the big studios and the money because I don’t have the bills they’ve got. What do I have? I’ve got people, and I’ve got some costumes and cameras, and now we’re building sets. And yeah, I’m paying rent, and that’s a pain in the butt, but that comes out of our pocket. I think I’ve raised through crowd-funding like 70 bucks in the last three years because my Kickstarter campaigns all failed because I’m not giving fans what they want. And that’s where I would get jealous and mad at these other productions because I can’t add these guys like Tim Russ and Garrett Wang. I can’t add them because I don’t have the money to add them. And I don’t have the CGI guys. Yeah, I could pay Tobias Richter—and I know exactly what it would cost because I’ve talked to him—to do our fly-bys. We all have these contacts now. But I don’t have the money invested that these other films do. And so it just doesn’t hurt me as much. It’s kind of a catch-22. I wish I had the problems they had, but I don’t have the problems they have.
And so for me, the main issue is the length of the film right now. Most of the guidelines I don’t think are killing me as much as that. And so, I would love to have a dialog with CBS. Their best assets are the fan film productions. And it’s like they can’t see that.
I called them a couple of times two years ago. I did not get responded to. I got a name once and left a message. But that’s as far as I got. This was back when I was pretty much pie-in-the-sky and thought I was gonna take over the fan film industry when I had nothing.
That being said, we’ve come a long way. We’ve got a lot of projects going on, and I’m pretty excited about them. And I’m just gonna do what I can to stay out of CBS’s radar while at the same time, try to have a lot of fun.
A few months after this interview was first published, Star Trek Raven was released as the debut episode of Voyager Continues…