You might remember that when those guidelines were first announced, they were met with cries of panic that the world of Star Trek fan films was doomed. These guidelines would eliminate, destroy, even obliterate fan films. (Yep, I used all of those words.)
And you know what? I was wrong.
Rather than killing the medium of Star Trek fan films, the guidelines didn’t seem to have had much of a curtailing effect at all. In fact, do you know how many Star Trek fan films have been released in the eight months SINCE the guidelines were announced last June?
Take a guess.
Would you believe…SIXTY??? (If you don’t believe me, scroll to the bottom of this blog entry to see the full LIST.) Sixty Star Trek fan films in eight months…that’s an average SEVEN-AND-A-HALF PER MONTH!!!! That’s a larger number of Trek fan films than have ever been released in such a relatively short period of time!
And that total includes everything from 30-second parody vignettes to 47-minute-long full episodes, live action and animated, produced in the U.S. and elsewhere, both continuing series and one-offs.
Now, it’s not that the guidelines actually helped or encouraged more fan films to be made. The vast majority of these projects were well underway, even in post-production, when the guidelines were announced.
But the important thing is that the guidelines didn’t suddenly choke off fan projects. In fact, many productions were already in compliance with most, if not all, of the new guidelines. And those that weren’t were allowed by CBS and Paramount (according to this podcast interview with John Van Citters of CBS Licensing) to be “grandfathered in” as long as they were already in production when the new guidelines were announced.
This is not to say that there weren’t any “casualties” along the way. Perhaps the most notable was the celebrated Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, halting all new production last summer for the first time in over a dozen years in favor of transforming their studio into a licensed Star Trek Set Tour. With three unreleased episodes either partially or completely filmed, there might one day be more New Voyages, but for now, the loss was a hard one for most fans to face. (That said, there were rumors that James Cawley was planning to shut down his fan series anyway.)
Another fan series to fall victim to the guidelines was the planned Farragut Forward, which was going to be a movie-era continuation of the long-running Starship Farragut series, which was producing its final episode, “Homecoming,” when the guidelines were announced. Farragut Forward was going to have new refit-era sets and monster maroon uniforms, but if all that work and time and money was only going into at most a half hour of finished product (the guideline limit), it probably just didn’t seem worth it to them.
Star Trek: Aurora, which had already produced and released 4 out of 5 parts of its wonderful second episode, “Mudd in Your I,” decided to complete the final installment and then hang it up for the time being (which is a real shame, I have to say, as that was one of the best fully-animated fan series out there).
And then there was Star Trek: Renegades, which decided to surgically remove all references to Star Trek, even though they were featuring Walter Koenig as Chekov, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, and Tim Russ as Tuvok (plus a half dozen other Trek veteran actors reprising their roles). So now the guidelines would no longer apply to their web series, and they could do whatever they wanted to.
Also taking a similar route was the fan series formally known as Star Trek: Anthology. They had been planning to do multiple fans series simultaneously, including a Starship Challenger TOS series, an Assignment: Earth Gary Seven series, and a wholly original series called Mother. Realizing that they were already kinda going in an original direction anyway, they ditched the Trek stuff and renamed their anthology project The Outer Rim. They did a quick Assignment: Earth vignette (see link at the bottom) and then said go0d-bye to Star Trek.
But other than those I just mentioned and a few scattered others, the new guidelines did NOT deter Trek fan filmmakers. Granted, many haven’t exactly “pushed the envelope” over the past eight months. The vast majority operated within most if not all of the guidelines, even ones that were grandfathered in. They changed their titles, kept their lengths below 15 minutes, and most weren’t crowd-funding anywhere near $50,000!
The only real guideline most fan series were finding a challenge was the one that says “no fan series.” More specifically, it says, “…no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.” That makes it kinda hard to produce a fan series rather than just a fan film.
Again, the filmmaker responses to this challenge have taken different paths. The various series from Potemkin Pictures simply began changing the name of the “series” with each new “episode.” So no longer was it Starship Tristan or Starship Deimos with different episode titles in an ongoing series. Now it was individual fan films, each with a different title like “All in a Day’s Work,” “Be Careful What You Wish For,” and “The Archive.” Of course, the characters are still the same, the starships have the same name, and the sets are all the same. So for all intents and purposes, these are still basically continuing series. But aside from that, Potemkin Pictures is following every other guideline to the letter, and it seems a little ridiculous to expect CBS to go all nuclear on a fan production that is trying so hard to play by the rules.
A few other fan series have taken a similar tact of following all of the guidelines except the no series rule and hoping for the best. Some, like German-based Euderion and Starshiop Mojave, have already produced two episodes in their series since the guidelines (see links below). Other series, like Intrepid, Starship Antyllus, Natures Hunger, and Starship Valiant have released only one post-guidelines episode each thus far. So they won’t raise any red flags (if they raise them at all) unless and until they release another episode or two…especially if they keep their series titles the same.
And then there’s Star Trek Continues, which is trying the ballsy move of ignoring the guidelines completely and moving forward full speed ahead. They’re NOT doing this in any arrogant “calling their bluff” sort of way. The show-runners sincerely believe that the guidelines are there not as rules or some kind of law, but rather just a safe harbor that says, “Hey, if you do it this way, you will definitely not get in trouble.” But, according to the STC folks, the guidelines do NOT say that if your fan film violates one or more of them that you WILL get sued. (Indeed, a few fan films that have not completely complied have, so far, escaped studio notice or reaction. So why not STC, too?)
It will be interesting to see what happens in April when STC releases their eighth episode, likely more than 15 minutes long, presumably keeping the name Star Trek Continues, and featuring a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) actress who was very likely paid something (as union rules require it). Also, as STC‘s financials said in their non-profit filing (see image to the right), folks on the production crew are also getting paid at least a little. All are technically no-no’s in the guidelines. But STC maintains that they have a good relationship with CBS, and they feel it will be okay if they release episode 8, followed by episodes 9, 10, and the finale 11 before the end of the year, and then they’ll be done. Reportedly, the reason for allowing this is because STC finished their crowdfunding for those four episodes prior to the initial announcement of the guidelines. We’ll see if they’re right. (I really hope they are, as I’m a proud donor.)
Anyway, the main point is that, regardless of the specifics of how various fan films are dealing with the guidelines, the fact is that most productions ARE dealing with them. As Mark Twain once famously said after rumors began flying that he was on his deathbed in London and may have actually died: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
And so it has been with predictions of the death of Star Trek fan films. Despite many fans still saying that the guidelines will destroy nearly all fan films by stifling creativity and strangling off honest attempts to show appreciation for Star Trek, that just hasn’t happened yet. And I honestly don’t think it will. So far, if anything, we’ve seen an amazing and unprecedented SURGE in the release of fan films. And lo and behold, they don’t all “suck” just because they have to be less than 15 minutes.
So why am I still fighting then? Why not just stop worrying and learn to love the guidelines? Well, remember that I’ve never claimed that I want to change all of the guidelines. Even back when Project SMALL ACCESS did our focus group surveys, only 25% of the guidelines were found to be really problematic by the majority. So it’s not like there’s a lot out there that I want to change.
But the guidelines aren’t 100% perfect either. Few things out of Hollywood are on the first attempt. You almost never see a first draft of a script actually get filmed or the first edit of a movie survive to be the final release. Things change. Things improve (hopefully). And when you look back on the first attempt from the perspective of the finished product, there’s usually a sense that all of those changes really were for the better after all. (Not always, though. Whoever got their hands on James Bond’s Spectre and started messing around with Blofeld needs to stop working in the entertainment industry forever!)
So that’s why I’m sticking with the “resistance” movement. I really do believe that the guidelines can be improved to the mutual benefit of both sides: the fans AND the studios.
But before we can do that, my friends, some of us are going to have to face a very unpleasant, inconvenient truth.
And you’ll find out what that is next time!
And now, as promised above, here is a list of SIXTY Star Trek fan films released SINCE the guidelines were announced…complete with hyperlinks to show you I’m not pulling your leg!
Unless otherwise indicated, each of the following productions came in at 15 minutes or less. The longer ones can probably be considered to be “grandfathered in.” I’ve also noted parodies, country of origin (if not the U.S.), animated, and a couple of other unique details where applicable…
Potemkin Pictures has released 10 fan films:
1. “All in a Day’s Work”
3. “Room Service”
4. “The Chronicles of Lanclos”
5. “The Greater Good”
6. “Be Careful What You Wish For”
7. “Between Two Worlds” (30 minutes for one episode)
9. “Pas de Trois”
10. “The Archive”
13. “Chasing the Infinite Sky”
14. “Cease and Desist” (parody)
15. “Starship Explorer – Ep3” (40 minutes, German animated)
16. “Star Tregg – The Origiwool Series” (parody)
17. Assignment: Earth Vignette – “Boredom” (pseudo-parody)
18. Star Trek Continues – “Embracing the Winds” (44 minutes)
19. “Star Trek: Tag Team” (parody)
20. Trek Isolation – “Out of the Fire”
21. Starship Antyllus – “Ripple Effect” (35 minutes for one episode)
22. “Euderion vs. Alien” (19 minutes, German)
23. “Euderion Infinity – On Asklepios Trails” (29 minutes, German)
24. Star Trek: Aurora – “Mudd in Your I” (final 12 minutes of a 38-minute animated fan film)
25. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – “The Toy Movie” (parody)
26. Star Trek: The Federation Files– “His Name is Mudd” (47 minutes)
27. “RAVEN: Voyager Continues” (32 minutes for one episode)
28. USS Danubia – “Force Contact” (29 minutes, German)
29. Starship Mojave – “Suspicion” (animated vignette)
30. “Chain of Command”
31. “How Star Trek Beyond Should Have Ended” (parody)
32. “Robot Masters” (animated)
33. Starship Valiant – “Crosses to Bear” (22 minutes)
34. TAS Continues – “Demon World” (animated pilot proof of concept)
35. Star Trek: Dark Armada – “Out of Time” (31 minutes, Dutch, series finale)
36. “Tales From Ten Forward: Charlie X” (parody)
37. Starship Mojave – “Feeder” (30 minutes, animated)
38. Star Trek: Natures Hunger – “Sting of the Prosecution”
39. Starship Intrepid – “Duty of Care” (Scottish, which is still technically British…at least for now)
40. “Chance Encounter” (20 minutes, British)
41. Starship Republic – “Serpent of Yesterday” (debut vignette)
42. “VGER for Women” (30-second parody)
43. Starship Swiftwind – “Any Port in a Storm” (37 minutes, British animated)
44. Pacific 201 – “Down to Earth with Zach Jasper” (teaser vignette)
Also “Star Trek: The Night Shift” has released 16 parody vignettes of second season TOS episodes between September 2016 and January 2017.
45-60. “Star Trek: The Night Shift” (short parodies)