Word is beginning to spread about the Fan Film LETTER WRITING CAMPAIGN, and I’m very encouraged so far. After just one week, we’ve already had 75 packets mailed to executives at CBS and Paramount with the focus group results and recommendations from the 1,200+ members of the SMALL ACCESS Facebook group.
Now, 75 packets might not seem like much (especially considering that the original Star Trek letter writing had over a hundred thousand letters), but keep in mind that 1) word is only just starting to get out about this initiative, and 2) the packets are supposed to contain a 37-page Focus Group Report and optional Cover Letter, which will use up a lot of toner and paper and cost about two to three bucks per packet to mail (more from outside the U.S., although I don’t expect as many international fans to participate due to the higher postage costs). So each mailed packet represents a greater amount of time, effort, and investment by a fan then just sending a 1-page letter or copy/pasted e-mail. I was actually kinda worried that we’d only get about one or two dozen packets sent…so 75 in a week is pretty awesome. (And remember, only one copy has to get read by the right executive!)
During the next week, Mike Bawden will be trying to get us some press coverage in the mainstream media, but there’s already been some interest just around fan circles. Earlier today, I did a podcast for an upcoming episode of TrekZone (look for it this weekend). And Shane Stacks told me he’ll be mentioning the campaign on the excellent Shane Plays Radio and Podcast.
And I’m even being covered by other blogs!!! And that brings us to…
I recently received a couple of important questions from Carlos Pedraza of the Axamonitor blog site. Carlos has already published a blog article on the letter writing campaign, getting most of the information correct. The few factual errors I noticed were minor, such as referring to me as an “Axanar surrogate” (I’m a supporter, not a surrogate) and to the SMALL ACCESS group as “Axanar supporters” (trust me on this, the moderators and I put out way too many “It’s all Alec Peters’ fault!!!”/”No it isn’t!!!!”/”Yes, it is!!”/”No it’s not!!!!” comment wars early on for anyone to believe that the group is solely Axanar supporters. The group is made up of Trekkers who care about Star Trek fan films–ALL Star Trek fan films, not just Axanar.
But hey, not every blogger (or even every journalist) gets everything right all the time, and I know that Carlos tries his best. As I said, most of what he reported was fairly accurate, so “Good job!” to my colleague.
But since he’s already published the article, I figure I can answer his questions here on my blog instead…’cause they’re important questions:
CARLOS PEDRAZA: Were any fan producers among the people polled, or involved in compiling or authoring the report? If so, I’d like to get quotes from them.
Most of the polls had an average of 100-200 participants each, and there were two dozen polls conducted (or thereabouts). So answering your question would take a fair amount of research…and I’ve got a 6-year-old to take to make dinner for and give a bath to tonight!
But seriously, the answer is “maybe.” There are links in the Appendix at the back of the Focus Group Report to each of the online surveys, and you or anyone are welcome to scan through the respondents to see if there are any fan producer names that you recognize.
Also, the SMALL ACCESS group currently has 1,273 members that anybody can look through. I scanned briefly down several dozen members just now before my eyes started glazing over. I recognized Camren T. Burton, writer/producer of Star Trek: Equinox, John Sims of Exeter Trek, and of course, there was Alec Peters of Axanar, who has been very supportive of this project. Early on, someone tried to sign up James Cawley without his consent, and we reached out to James directly, and when we didn’t hear back, we relayed a message to him through one of his production crew and removed James at his request.
And I understand why. Many of the more high profile fan productions are in an awkward situation when it comes to this campaign. I’m sure if you asked any of them if they’d like the guidelines to be less restrictive–for example, allow for ongoing series instead of just one-shots (or 2-part one-shots) and increase the crowd-funding cap higher than $50,000–I’m sure the vast majority would they “yes.” But they’re also, most of them, trying very hard to stay on the studios’ good side and not earn their wrath (and potentially get sued like Axanar). Being too public in their support for, or participation in, a high profile (or hopefully high profile!) campaign such as ours could work against a fan production. Even simply participating in a publicly-viewable survey, if John Van Citters or Jonathan Anschel at CBS noticed a particular fan producer, could potentially “poison the well” for that production. Alec Peters has nothing to lose at this point (other than a lawsuit!) while Camren Burton has shifted Equinox to an audio drama. So each of them can be public supporters of this campaign without taking much of a risk.
There’s an old Vulcan saying: “Only Nixon could go to China.” The 1,200+ fans who are part of this campaign are Nixon (but not in a bad way!). The fan films can’t really stand up for themselves without taking a huge gamble. But the rest of us fans can certainly do so. Even I, who used to work for John Van Citters as a consultant, haven’t done so in nearly a decade, and my one authored Star Trek book from Simon & Schuster (“Starship Spotter”) came out way back in 2001. I don’t think I’m risking losing any work from CBS at this point by being the public face of this campaign.
CARLOS PEDRAZA: Are you folks planning any specific follow up with CBS and/or Paramount after the packets are sent?
It’s hard to answer that question without knowing what the studios do next…if anything. The ball’s pretty much in their court right now. If this campaign works and they say, “Hey, great suggestions; we’ll make all these changes…” then no, I’m not planning to do anything other than a happy dance and shoot off LOTS of thank you e-mails! And let’s face it, wouldn’t that be AWESOME??? I mean, studios so often say they want to know better what their viewers want. Well, here’s a perfect example of that, and if CBS and Paramount actually listen and act on it (for a change!), then WOW!
On the other hand, the studios might make some of the suggested changes and not others. Then it’ll depend which changes they make. If they raise the crowdfunding cap and allow for continuing fan series but still insist on no professions, I’m not sure how to proceed next…although I’ve heard that some SAG (Screen Actors Guild) members might be contacting their union to see if SAG can pressure the studios on Guideline #5, as some fan productions are SAG signatories and are provided protection and representation by that trade union. In that case, it’s so above my pay grade that I’ll probably just declare partial victory and then return to blissful obscurity. Or maybe I’ll find some other way to lobby the studios. We’ll see what happens first.
And then there’s the possibility of the studios either doing nothing at all or potentially just taking a long time to do anything because the wheels of bureaucracy grind so slowly. Perhaps nothing happens until mid-March of next year if/when subscriptions to All Access come back disappointingly low and someone says, “Hey remember that annoying Focus Group Report stunt from last year? Maybe we should take another look at it…”
So it’s hard for me to say, “Well, if Van Citters hasn’t caved into our demands by such and such a date, we’re gonna…!” because 1) these aren’t demands, and 2) we’re gonna what exactly?
Y’see this isn’t some kind of negotiation where I march into the CBS conference room like Erin Brockovich and start some kind of intense negotiation. “I want a two hour time limit!” “You can have 20 minutes!” “90 minutes!” “We’ll up it to 30.” “I think we could live with 60 if you’ll meet us there.” “45 minutes, and that’s our final offer!” “Agreed!”
Nope, that ain’t gonna happen! (Not even in my dreams, ’cause I am no Julia Roberts.) And let’s face it, we’re not an angry mob or a bunch of striking workers. We’re simply trying to have the conversation that John Van Citters was talking about when he said: “All of this is definitely a conversation.” Well, here’s what we 1,200 fans have to say. Now it’s your turn.
And of course, I already know the next question you’re thinking of asking: “With millions of Star Trek fans around the world, why should a meager 1,200 get to speak for the rest?” Good question, and the answer is simply: “This was the best I could manage on short notice!” 🙂
Seriously, instead of looking at everything this campaign isn’t, take a look at what it is. In less than two months, we’ve managed to assemble over a thousand voices of fans who are concerned enough about the guidelines that they participated in a six-week-long discussion (and did so seriously with a pretty good amount of civility), and now they’re trying to make their voices heard with a letter writing campaign. If it works, great. Any of our recommended revisions would improve the guidelines from a fan producer perspective…and getting of the suggested changes would be awesome. And if it doesn’t work, well, at least we tried.
The only way to guarantee that nothing changes, or that we have no say in any changes that are made, is by doing nothing. Given that choice, I’d rather look my son in the eyes as he gets older and tell him I did something to try to change something for the better…and I hope someday he stands up and does the same for something he believes in.