STAR TREK CONTINUES releases their seventh episode “Embracing the Winds”…and sparks new debate about the fan film guidelines!

STC-Embracing the WindsSTAR TREK CONTINUES’ seventh full-length episode, “Embracing the Winds” is–at least in my opinion–a masterpiece.  It’s a MUST SEE+ Star Trek fan film and possibly one of the best ones released to date.  Fan reaction has ranged generally from positive to gushing, with almost no one saying anything overall negative (only pointing out this or that little issue…and we Trekkers always have our “little issues”).

But really, STC has continued to up their game, and the quality and watchability of their newest offering is superb.  The acting, writing, directing, pacing…everything is top-notch.  There’s not of a lot of “wasted” scenes where the viewer feels the production has indulged itself too much and stretched things out.  In short, it’s a tight, exciting story that does what Star Trek has traditionally done so well: take a modern day issue (in this case, a very politically charged one at the moment) and provide a “safe” mirror through which we can examine our society and beliefs…and look at ourselves with a critical eye.

STC-Embracing the Wind stillIndeed, the greatest compliment I can give to this latest episode is that I now want to talk about it with other fans!  I’m not giving spoilers here, but man, I so want to!  There’s just so much to discuss.  And my other sincere compliment is that, at least for me, this episode is now in my “head canon.”  As far as I’m concerned, the events of this episode actually happened early during the fifth year of the five-year mission.  So congratulations, STC team, for another triumph…possibly your greatest one yet!

But with such an amazing, quality fan production, the debate about the fan film guidelines has heated up yet again.  One fan, Fred Archer, summed it up pretty concisely: “…[this latest STC episode] is genuine proof the fan film guidelines DO NOT WORK.  A story like the one they told CANNOT be told in 15 minutes.”  Granted, STC could have done a two-parter totaling 30 minutes, but even then, I don’t think it would have worked.  This 44-minute episode was tightly edited.  There were maybe 3 or 4 minutes of dialogue that didn’t really serve much of a purpose (Sulu discussing going to a museum, for example, although still necessary to give a reason for him not being on a Enterprise…and I will say no more about it for fear of spoiling).

Another fan, Mickey Goins, pointed out that STC is “…also in flagrant violation of Guidelines 1-8.”  Granted, this episode was already in post production when the guidelines were announced, so it’s being assumed by the producers (and by some other fan films like Star Trek: Raven) that the almost-completed production might be “grandfathered in” and not earn the legal wrath of CBS and Paramount…at least not this time.  But STC is still planning to produce and release four more original episodes (as discussed here), and one would assume they will continue to do so in a way that does not follow most of the guidelines.  And while it isn’t as bad as violating all or even most of guidelines 1-8 (sorry, Mickey), they still come in conflict with a few of the biggies.

For example, simply by being an ongoing fan series, STC violates the first guideline, which says “…with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.”  STC has released seven episodes so far and plans four more.  Also, the 15-minute time limit of the first guideline is pretty much ignored, as STC episodes are typically about 45 minutes in length, just like TOS episodes were five decades ago.

STC logoOf course, STC has the words “Star Trek” in the title, but that guideline and many of the others are minor rumbles.  Where the big earthquakes hit are in Guidelines #5 and #6, which limit the amount of funding that can be publicly crowd-sourced and, of course, the moratorium on using professionals or paying any participant who works on the fan production.

STC, according to writer/director/co-producer James Kerwin, has about $400,000 available to spend on their final four episodes…about half of which was generated through their most recent Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.  Technically, that campaign finished before the guidelines were announced, and STC is not planning another at this point.  (They are, however, asking for donations directly through their website.)  So really, STC won’t be violating guideline #6 limiting crowdfunding to $50,000 anytime soon.

But then there’s the infamous Guideline #5:

The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.

Like many other of the major fan productions such as Renegades, Axanar, Of Gods and Men, and New Voyages–and even some of the “smaller” ones like Starship Farragut and Equinox–STC uses professional actors (members of the SAG-AFTRA union) and even some professionals who have previously appeared on studio-produced Star Trek or other sci-fi series.  In STC‘s latest episode, Marina “Counselor Troi” Sirtis voices the Starfleet computer (and considering that Troi’s mother, Lwaxana, was played by the actress who voiced the Starfleet computer originally, Majel Barrett, Marina Sirtis’ casting seems wonderfully appropriate). But as someone who has previously worked on Star Trek professionally, Marina’s participation in the production would be prohibited by guideline #5.

STC-Embracing the Wind still 2
Vic Mignogna and Erin Gray

Vic Mignogna himself, who portrays Captain Kirk (and I, for one, love his performances), did voice-over work for Star Trek Online, which is an officially licensed Star Trek product.  So he also would be barred from working on the very production he himself founded, funded, nurtured, and brought to fruition.  Also in this latest episode, actress Erin Gray (who played Commander Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century nearly 27 years ago) plays a Starfleet commodore and starbase commander.  And even though she wouldn’t be barred from participating because she’s previously worked on Star Trek, she wouldn’t be allowed to be paid to be part of the production.  And STC does, in fact, pay some of their actors and crew (which is the case for a fair number Star Trek fan productions, such as Axanar and Renegades and others).

Granted, many fans are not aware that paying professionals and others salaries on “fan” productions is as common a practice as it is, since most productions don’t discuss it (and when they do, they tend to get sued…don’t they, Mr. Peters?).  But as was publicly documented when STC applied for their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit status application (on page 9, which I’ve screen-capped and highlighted below), the STC production pays actors about $12,000 on average per year (for the past three years) in contractual fees.  That not too much, all things considered.  A big-name professional actor might only be making a few thousand dollars to appear in an episode of STC, and that’s a bargain.

Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code

STC also pays about $40,000-$50,000 annually in contract labor to crew members over the last three years.  (I’ve highlighted that line item in yellow, as well.)  In this addendum to their 501(c)(3) application, STC explained this $139K expense as follows:

In the interest of full disclosure, some of the professional “guest stars,” episode directors (but not if a board member), stage managers, cinematographers, video editors, special effects experts, etc. have been compensated in sums approaching $4000 per year – about $500-$2500 per episode, depending on the skill level. All are working for approximately 10% of the amount they would usually bill a for-profit production company. All Forms 1099 have been filed and are available for in camera review on request.

My point here is a simple one: those arguing that the guidelines, constraining as they are, still allow for creative storytelling within the strict limits imposed…they are NOT entirely wrong–believe it or not!–but they’re not entirely right either.

What STC has just produced is a masterpiece, but it required 44 minutes to tell the story, it cost about $100,000 to make (according to comments from James Kerwin of an average cost of about $100,000 per episode), and it needed to hire and pay professional actors and crew to do so.

Can a fan film masterpiece still be made for $50,000, last for just 15 minutes, use no professionals at all, and compensate no one?  Sure.  But take a look at the following painting…

SNA very famous artist painted it back in 1888.  It’s pretty…isn’t it?  Definitely a masterpiece in its own right.  However, this artist actually had a much larger canvas to work with than what I’ve just shown you.  What you see here is just a small portion of what could have been painted…had I not just arbitrarily imposed constraints on the size of this artist’s canvas.

If you’re curious to see what he painted without those limitations and restrictions, click here.

The same holds true for fan films.  I, along with a number of other fans, agree that a good short story can be told in 15 minutes and for $50,000 or less with no professionals getting paid.  And we also agree that million-dollar fan films reaching feature length proportions may, indeed, be crossing the line and moving into territory that should rightly be claimed by the studios.

But do the studios really need to make the guidelines so restrictive, the canvas made so small, that a masterpiece like STC‘s latest episode could never be made without risking legal action?  Isn’t there a middle ground somewhere between the extremes of no limits and the current Draconian limits?

That’s our point…and our plea to the studios:

Limit fan films if you must.  Having guidelines that define a safe harbor is actually a welcome development.  Just please don’t go so far as to turn an inspirational sky full of stars into a dark night lit only by the dim glow of a few valiant and intrepid survivors…themselves struggling to shine through the stifling haze of restrictions that allows their light to burn only so brightly before it must be snuffed out.

Now go watch “Embracing the Winds”!

20 thoughts on “STAR TREK CONTINUES releases their seventh episode “Embracing the Winds”…and sparks new debate about the fan film guidelines!”

      1. Erin Gray was great, and so was the black Vulcan admiral!

        Spock’s non-reaction to the counselor’s “hand-held weapons” tease… HAH! LOVED IT! =D

        DEFINITELY good stuff! …but I think “Dragon” was even better… 😉

  1. The events on Nimbus III should have been explained better,but it was a very good Star Trek Episode.

    1. As I said, “Little Issues.” I think the point of NOT explaining what happened on Nimbus III was part of the message of the episode. Is it really important for us to know exactly what happened in Benghazi, er, Nimbus III, or simply how it has been used as a political weapon to define Hillary, er, Garrett as an officer and limit her opportunities for advancement?

      1. …the ‘Hillary breaking the “Captaincy” barrier’ analogy was well done; nicely veiled, and VERY glad that the decision was made moot by the end 😉

        I honestly can’t decide who would be worse: Hillary or Trump

        Trump = fascist, Hillary = traditional republican warmonger =(

  2. I still go back to what Jon Van Citters alluded to in the “Engage!” podcast:

    Those fan films that were already in production are obviously exempt from following the idiotic “guidelines”, therefore, STC is allowed to continue to make their episodes unfettered by those heinous restrictions.

    1. JVC said that any fan film that was already done wouldn’t have to be removed from the Internet. Some fan films are making the assumption this also applies to anything in post production…and I think it’s a fair assumption to make. But STC’s final four episodes are not in post production yet or even in production yet. They’re in pre-production. And that means the studios could determine the guidelines apply to anything STC releases from here on out.

      Of course, James Kerwin said that the studios haven’t said that if a fan production DOESN’T follow the guidelines they definitely WILL get sued…only that if the guidelines are followed that the series WON’T get sued. So in the end, it all comes down to what CBS and Paramount decide to do. STC is “allowed” to do anything they want. And the studios are allowed to call them and say “knock it off,” issue a cease and desist order, sue them, or (hopefully) sit back and do nothing and allow these last four episodes to be completed. But at this point, it’s kind of a game of chicken, and I just hope we don’t break any eggs.

      1. …I think that STC should keep going, and change nothing! =D

        STC obviously has figured out how to fly RIGHT BELOW the radar…

        now, can Phase II and Axanar and all the rest follow suit?

        …i think they should try to follow EXACTLY in STC’s foot steps 😉

        1. Axanar can’t fly beneath the radar–they’re already being sued. They are not only on the radar, they are engaged in a pretty intense dogfight. 🙂

          As for STC, I suspect that CBS/P knows exactly what is going on. I doubt any move will be made regarding the release of STC’s seventh episode this past weekend simply because of the ambiguity about whether fan series already in post production get a pass. But STC’s next episode will likely be released in the next 6 months (or thereabouts; they release two per year), and if/when that one comes out, we’ll see if STC has indeed flown under the radar or if it’s just stepped on a land mine. In the end, the decision to sue (or send a cease-and-desist or just call) rests with the studios. They could choose to look the other way until STC finishes its remaining four episode run, or they might decide to say, “No, really, we were serious.” But nothing will likely happen until episode 8 is produced and released. That action is what will trigger the reaction from the studios. I doubt CBS/P feel the need to be preemptive at this point.

          And the real interesting variable in all of this is what happens ultimately with the Axanar case? It goes to trial in January, but a lot can (and probably will) happen before then. I know a lot of people are expecting (hoping for) Alec Peters to lose and lose badly. But what if he doesn’t? Or what if the judgment isn’t a colossal penalty in the millions but something only in the thousands or tens of thousands. Would STC want to follow the Axanar lead, pay the $25,000 “fine,” and release their next episode anyway?

          I’m not saying any of that WILL happen…only that it COULD happen. And if it does, it’ll likely happen before the next episode of STC is released.

    2. At precisely what minute mark does he say that? the re listened to the podcast,this past weekend specifically for that and it says Jonathan said anything already out there

      1. JVC said that any fan film that was already done wouldn’t have to be removed from the Internet. Some fan films are making the assumption this also applies to anything in post production…and I think it’s a fair assumption to make. But STC’s final four episodes are not in post production yet or even in production yet. They’re in pre-production. And that means the studios could determine the guidelines apply to anything STC releases from here on out.

        Of course, James Kerwin said that the studios haven’t said that if a fan production DOESN’T follow the guidelines they definitely WILL get sued…only that if the guidelines are followed that the series WON’T get sued. So in the end, it all comes down to what CBS and Paramount decide to do. STC is “allowed” to do anything they want. And the studios are allowed to call them and say “knock it off,” issue a cease and desist order, sue them, or (hopefully) sit back and do nothing and allow these last four episodes to be completed. But at this point, it’s kind of a game of chicken, and I just hope we don’t break any eggs.

  3. Thanks for the Shout out John I feel almost nearly sort of famous.! I’m definitely pleased you referenced my comments. I do want to make it clear that I want ALL fan series to continue unmolested. that includes. Axanar, and Continues. But I also think it’s really unfair for a production like continues to act like all is well, and nothings changed. While at the same-time. productions like Horizon, Pacific 201 and many others are either forced out, or made to limit what they do. Or like Renegades are forced to file the serial numbers off their productions.

    Also after the comments, I made yesterday. And the response by Dave Heagney (H+EGG+knee) lol.
    I felt that I needed to re listen to the Engage Podcast with John VanCitters. Because my understanding at the time was that guidelines apply to everyone and they start immediately. And they were very, very clear, The Guidelines started as soon as they were published, and they expect everyone to make the Adjustment and conform. For those who want to listen you can download it on ITunes, it’s kind of toward the bottom of the list.

    The really relevant portions are at the 20 thru 30 minute mark, and at 50 minutes to the end .

    Dave was under the impression that, Continues and NV/P2 or as I now like to call it now STST, were going to be grandfathered somehow. I know that’s been the rumor for several months, So either the rumor caught on, or people heard what they wanted to.

    So sorry to dissapoint but we are living in the Post Guidelines Era.

    I apparently should have defined. why I said 1-8. and not 9 or 10.

    1. 43 minutes is not 15 minutes, and then there’s the whole no additional parts clause.
    2. The Title sequence remains unchanged and contains the words Star Trek – In the Trek Font or one close to it, at no time did it say “A Star Trek Fan Production”
    3. Well since it’s a recreation of the original series, it clearly contains countless recreations, and they use original series music, although i think it’s recreated.
    4. This one to me is kinda Dicey – as they make their own costumes but they are commercially available. there was a costumer mentioned in the guidelines chat. Also those phasers don’t look like the commercially available ones. And neither does the communicator.
    5. Marina Sirtis – Computer Voice, and then Most of the Cast Did Voice over work for Star-Trek Online. – which violates the working for a CBS Liscensee. And The entire cast is are Professional actors and actresses, in one way or another.

    I Do further want to say that applaud the comment you made about hiring pros like electricians, and stunt coordinators, if some were to get hurt or die making one of these things. because they were made to feel by CBS that couldn’t pay a professional to do the job, that would be heartbreaking and actually lawsuit worthy. 😉

    6. they definitely raised over the 50,000 CAP
    7. To quote Kirk, is that what I think it is?, yep flagrant depiction of Alcohol…. last Ep there were fist fights (depiction of violence)
    8. The Disclaimer was there at the end however, it was in the Star Trek Font so while not technically a violation of rule 8. it’s kind of a hybrid Violation of rule 2 so I will let Lobe and Lobe Ferengi Atty’s at large, sort that out.
    9. I kind of assume they aren’t that stupid. So I gave them that one.

    It does beg the question, what if one of the camera guys were to come across a new patent-able technique or process that moves film forward, would they not be able to use it? or would they have to cut it to, patent it? I assume so, or does the technique become CBS property? That is property unlikely but possible. and also why they don’t want to give anyone rights.

    (it should also be noted that if this were anything else and the company violated peoples rights there’d be hell to pay)

    10. Both Continues and New Voyages, like to imply they have the Blessing of the Powers that be, in social media. And maybe they do but I’d like to see that in writing. Because it would render all this moot.

    Sorry for the length but as your aware this is a big topic.

    But Let me just say right now I am pretty disappointing to be a Star Trek Fan, Over the years in one form or another Star Trek, and by extension the companies who have owned it, have gotten more of my money than I’d probably like to admit. via tapes DVD, now BluRay, and Books Toys Games ETC.

    Now I find thanks to all the drama, well, I’m kind done with Star Trek and more interested in other things. Go Flash, TWD Last Ship & GOT

    If CBS felt Star Trek was threatened they could have handled thing much better with a C&D. We’d have all gone man that sucks, the producers would have had to move on and we might even have gotton something better and original from the Axanr folks, because of it.

    And if they don’t start enforcing those guidelines pretty immediately, It’ll go back to the wild west I’m sure.

    Thanks for your attention

  4. Paramount are obviously playing favorites by letting Continues FLAGRANTLY abuse their guidelines without saying boo about it. I hope the Axanar defence team are able to make use of this in their pleadings.

    1. Don’t assume too much, Bob. The episode came out Saturday and Monday was a holiday. The studios could take action as early as tomorrow. Or (hopefully) they can just let this one slide for now because the episode was already in post-production. As for the Axanar defense team, I’m sure they have a LOT planned. In fact, I’m writing a very interesting blog about that right now! Look for it later on this week or next.

  5. Nice article. Star Trek Continues is truly an amazing endeavour. It’s so easy to forget that your not watching an TOS episode. The show is colorful and wonderfully done. The lasted episode could have used more action for my taste, but, the story,the story was SOOOOOOO Star Trek TOS.
    While Captain Kirk struggles between what he truly believes in and what he knows is right asthat nagging voice of instinct gut feeling push him to tread very carefullyin his decision making. Meanwhile, Mr Scott and several members of the Enterprise crew find themselves in a life and death battle while trying to complete their own mission.
    If you love the old Trek, when issues like race, gender equality, geopolitical issues and general social indignities were addressed, then this is your show. With each episode the show gets better. Which isn’t an easy task considering how good it has been straight out of the gate. Visually, this show is jaw dropping. Between the spot on sets to the amazing special effects, STC is everything the original could have been with access to the technology that is employed in the creation of this show. Well done yet again Star Trek Continues, well done.

  6. Once upon a time there were Star Trek fans who wanted to keep the dream of Star Trek alive when the show went off the air. In garages and parental basements throughout the world, fan groups were started and cardboard sets and homemade costumes and props were made, and cheezy scripts were written for play acting. Then, someone who could afford a camcorder started to video record the sincere and endearing (but crappy) performances. Fan newsletters got the word out and more people got involved. Then the internet was born, and the videos were posted for other fans to enjoy. Everyone had fun. There were no critics – everyone dreamed of being part of the adventure. Then one day these little fan films started to catch the attention of the Money Grubbing Suits of CBS/Paramount! The Suits, who cared nothing for the emotional attachment to Star Trek that had developed among fans nevertheless decided these silly fan films were too small to pose any threat to their almighty copyright. No one was making money on these productions, and so the Suits, believing themselves divinely magnanimous, pat the fans on the head like dogs and said, “O silly and strange people: so long as you make no money whatsoever through these weird little films, we will look the other way and not send our lawyers to crush you like cockroaches. Besides, if your little films keep Star Trek alive in the public eye, we’ll rake in the bucks when we crap out a pithy movie every few years.”
    Then those fans said, “Hey, let’s see if other fans would like to help fund a production so we could have some nice, realistic sets, instead of this cardboard junk!”
    But once they raised the funds for good sets, soon enough the jaded fans that had foot the bill expected equally good acting and productions.
    And then, in a startlingly quick period of time, home computers got good enough to make Hollywood Quality FX and the fans who were funding the productions demanded that the fan films be EQUAL in production to a Hollywood production. And to do that, the production had to leave the garage and Hollywood celebrities & writers & composers & set designers & make-up artists & prop masters & lighting crews & directors had to be brought in – and production that were actually made by fans and starred amateur talent was mocked and belittled and shamed as filthy worms daring to make a production that didn’t rival a $100 million Paramount production, and the true fans crawled away.
    It was then that the pompous, arrogant, anally retentive, ultra jaded After Birth brought the requirement of paying people to do what everyone in the beginning did for free.
    And the Cardinal Law was broken.
    The network gods awoke, and they were filled with wrath against the fans who had become as money grubbing as they were. And the lawyer hounds were unleashed! There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth! Blood was spilled, and CBS had come to avenge itself.
    And like the earthquake that suddenly destroyed Atlantis, money worshiping CBS forever killed the dream of fan film makers for their insolence.

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