GUEST BLOGGER ALEC PETERS: Why Star Trek Continues Violating the Fan Film Guidelines is GOOD for Fan Films! (editorial)

Earlier today, ALEC PETERS posted the following blog on the website.  As it’s very relevant to my editorial blog entry from yesterday—and it makes some excellent points—I asked for and received Alec’s permission to re-post the blog in its entirety here on FAN FILM FACTOR.  (Please note that the opinions expressed and descriptions of events presented are solely those of Alec Peters.)

There is a a lot of talk lately about how Star Trek Continues has decided to openly violate the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines that CBS put in place last year. STC has already violated the guidelines with the release of their last episode, and is making 3 more roughly 50 minute episodes that violate at least 5 Guidelines including length (close to 50 minutes) and the use of Star Trek actors.

I would highly recommend you read Jonathan Lane’s Fan Film Factor article on the matter here:

Fan Film Factor

Jonathan provides a very fair view of the matter, as he likes both Axanar and STC.  And Jonathan calls out Vic for his hypocrisy in attacking Axanar for violating “guidelines” that never existed, while violating the actual written rules himself.  And lets be clear, Star Trek Continues has neither been “grandfathered” in (total nonsense), nor do they have a special deal with CBS.  They are simply stating that “we think CBS will be OK with us doing this.”

But I am going to argue that this is actually good for fan films.

Now let’s be clear, I don’t like Vic.  He has been lying about Axanar since he stormed out of the Prelude to Axanar Premiere we invited him to in 2014.  But I support Star Trek Continues as I do all fan films.  I don’t let my feelings for Vic cloud my feelings for a very worthy fan film series.  Along with Star Trek New Voyages, they have done wonderful things in the fan film genre.

Now what is ironic is that while Vic refuses to help anyone else in fan films, (he famously asked Tommy Kraft for a role in the Horizon sequel while telling Tommy he wouldn’t lift a finger to help him) and has refused to allow others to use his sets (unlike James Cawley or Starbase Studios who generously allowed anyone to come use their sets), Vic’s decision to ignore the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines may well help all fan films moving forward.  How is that?

Well, CBS always hated policing fan films.  Having communicated extensively with with John Van Citters, (Head of Star Trek licensing), Liz Kolodner (VP CBS Licensing) and Bill Burke (VP CBS Consumer Products) about fan films for years, and having advocated extensively for guidelines, I knew that CBS didn’t WANT to have to worry about fan films as they saw it as a huge waste of time.  They were too busy making money to have to worry about a bunch of fans making films.  I once joked with John Van Citters that CBS treated fan films with “benign neglect” and that was good, as fan films did nothing but help the franchise.  And CBS told me over and over how it would be impossible to come up with fan film guidelines because of 50 years of Star Trek contracts and agreements with unions, guilds and actors.

Well, clearly that wasn’t the case, since they were able to come up with Guidelines pretty quickly after they sued Axanar.  And while many feel the guidelines are too severe (e.g. limiting fan films to 15 minutes and no more than two installments) or even possibly illegal (it’s questionable if CBS can tell you who you CAN’T hire for your fan film) – the guidelines are what they are. They provide some general rules to follow if a Star Trek fan film producer doesn’t want to run the risk of getting sued by CBS.

So how does Star Trek Continues violating the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines help all fan films?  Well, it just supports what we at Axanar have known for a while.  Axanar was sued because we didn’t look like a fan film.  Not because we made “profit” (we didn’t) or that we built a “for-profit studio” (we didn’t…STNV did that), both reasons made up by people who don’t know what they are talking about, but because Axanar looked like it came from the studio.

Now CBS doesn’t want to sue its fans again.  The 13 months of the lawsuit was not good for CBS and Paramount from a PR perspective.  And the Guidelines were basically a way to put a lid on the “arms race” of professionalism taking place.

But what we see here is CBS giving Star Trek Continues a pass.  And why?  Because over a year ago, CBS said to me, “No one is going to confuse them with real Star Trek.”   And that is the crux of the matter.  Yes, Star Trek Continues, like Star Trek New Voyages, have excellent production values, with amazing sets, brilliant VFX and visuals, and excellent costuming and props.  They LOOK amazing.  But the acting is mostly amateurs, and that is the main reason fan films don’t have widespread appeal. (By the way, I love Chris Doohan as Scotty in STC.  Simply brilliant).  But ask fans what they think of fan films, and the overwhelming # 1 reason they give for not watching or liking them is the acting.  And this is one of the main reasons I decided to give up the role of Garth in the feature film.

So, as long as you aren’t too good – and stay in familiar territory – it appears you are in a safe harbor.  Want to break the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines? Just don’t make something that CBS perceives as a threat.  There’s no question that from a marketing perspective, fan films are actually very good for the Star Trek franchise, and the powers that be at CBS know this and will allow you to break many of the guidelines as long as you aren’t overly ambitious.  And since no one is really raising money for their productions anymore, I don’t think CBS has to worry about this.  STC is spending the money they had previously raised and why they cut down on the number of episodes they were making.

So, while I won’t advocate a fan film maker break the CBS Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines, I think what Star Trek Continues has shown is that CBS isn’t going to worry about a product that they don’t see as threatening.  And that gives all fan film makers a little breathing room.


35 thoughts on “GUEST BLOGGER ALEC PETERS: Why Star Trek Continues Violating the Fan Film Guidelines is GOOD for Fan Films! (editorial)”

  1. I think what you said was pretty f* self evident for anyone with half a neuron when C*B*S*/P*M*ount decided to sue Axanar.

    I agree that is very important that STC breaks the rules, and I think is even more important for the long term value of the franchise and what it represents that fan films keep breaking the rules over and over until the ‘right owners’ (which I think they stopped being so when they neglected it and also when it became an integral part of popular culture) start pushing around their weight not through lawsuits, but delivering the quality products we all crave …

    I have always said if there was anyone with a neuron left in the studios, they should be recruiting from fan film productions and supporting them, instead of alienating the fan base… which is what gives value to ST franchise

  2. What is going on with these guys ?? I suggest marriage counseling and one gets Star Trek on the Weekend and the other get to pick it up on monday ! If they have something important to say fine, but whats with the personal attacks. The only thing these type of bloggs are doing is putting people off their films.

    1. Alec and Vic used to be friends and even worked together on some fan projects. But the thing about irresistible forces is that they only work when the go exactly parallel to each other. As soon as the vectors change, the two forces either come together and clash or else they diverge away from each other…or both.

  3. I would suggest that STC is being given a pass not because it lacks pro quality but because it is continuing a Star Trek thread (i.e., following from TOS) that CBS/Paramount have no interest in pursuing. Nor, for that matter, does much of the general public. Axanar, by contrast, was in the style of the modern commercial Star Trek genre and so, in essence, potentially competing for the contemporary general public audience. Remember, only a portion of the G.P. audiences for the commercial product are Star Trek ‘nuts’ like us; many just enjoy sci-fi, including Star Trek.

    To me, Vic comes off as an arrogant person, but that’s just a distant impression that is not really relevant. What is important is that he portrays a very convincing Kirk – I cannot conceive of another actor being so convincing in the role, and he has good scripts, supporting cast and production team. As to Vic’s ability as an actor – few people seem to observe that Shatner was no great actor himself, and Vic, for me, is not inferior to Shatner (most of the time – and sometimes he is marginally better).

      1. Jonathan, we ALL share a fondness for Shatner, but also some degree of bias as he was central in creating and defining our image of Star Trek. One Emmy does not a great actor make. Of course, we are all entitled to our opinions, but various professional reviews of his work over the years have shown that less partial critics than you or me (or should that be “I”?) have had some less than flattering assessments of some of his work. As has the reaction of the reaction of the G.P. in voting with their feet.

        1. I went through my, “Man, Shatner is a ham over-actor!” phase for many years. But the more I watch Shatner’s TOS performances as I get older, the better of an actor I think he is. But that’s just me.

  4. I couldn’t agree more! I just yesterday, watched Axanar and the trailers, again. Something I’ve not done since before the lawsuit, and it STILL gives me goosebumps, and an emotional reaction to various scenes, JUST, LIKE, Star Trek has ALWAYS done!

    Although I very much admire, respect, and appreciate all fan films, none came close to the power of so many elements done right. And though I know the balance of the Axanar installments will be great, I look toward the future for independent productions from Alec and company. Thanks again to all the people who worked on this special project.

  5. So, as long as the film doesn’t send a shiver down CBS’s spine, it could basically break all the guidelines and get away with it? If that’s the case, then, that is pretty awesome news – So, we can see definitely see a 90 minute First Frontier film and a 90 minute Pacific 201 film, just so long as it doesn’t outshine any of CBS’s so-called professional looking pieces – Is that about right, or am I missing something here?

    1. Well, the one thing you’re missing is that CBS still owns Star Trek and can do whatever it wants to…regardless of what the fans–even Vic and Alec–think. 🙂

  6. Right, but would they to sue or otherwise shut down a fan film that isn’t making them nervous? – I don’t know if my questions are making any sense here…

    1. I really can’t say. I suspect that a shut-down at this point would come in the form of a cease-and-desist letter rather than a lawsuit. I think CBS learned an important lesson. But of course, there’s PR ramifications for that, as well. And yes, they could simply decide to look the other way, too.

      Many years ago, I was hiking in the southern Sierra Nevadas with a friend (this trail) and we saw a black bear about 50 yards away from us. He saw us, too, and we just kept hiking. He walked off in the other direction. Whew! But a bear is unpredictable. So is CBS. There is every reason for the studio to look the other way, but there is also a strong justification for them taking action.

      We have the guidelines for those fan films who want to play it safe. For everyone else, well, beware of the bear.

      1. Hmm, I suppose those risk takers could always give that bear a big jar of honey and, then, hope for the best. God-willing… P

        1. Well, there’s a BIG difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear. My hiking partner, years later, went on to do archaeological digging in central Alaska near Fairbanks. She would be out alone in areas that had grizzly bears, and she was warned to stay clear of them at all costs. Black bears aren’t nearly as bad. My friend was given a loud whistle to blow and a can of mace to spray at the bear if she ever got into trouble. But she was also told to learn how to tell what kind of bear might be in the area by examining its droppings. If the bear poop had various nuts and berries inside it, then it was probably from a black bear. But she’d know the poop was from a grizzly if it was filled with whistles and cans of mace.

          Okay, half of that story was true. 🙂

  7. Both Alec and Vic just need to leave Star Trek fandom, indefinitely! Their actions have done enough harm!

    1. Just FYI, BT, I trashed your other comment because you broke the rules. No false accusations. Neither Vic nor Alec ever did anything illegal or immoral. The first would require a court to prove, and no such verdict has ever been rendered. The second, while your own opinion, is the equivalent of a direct insult and therefore also against the rules on this blog site. Amazingly, that’s my first trashed comment since Monday morning’s blog post…pretty surprising!

      1. Ask me if I really care.

        What is a direct insult is this blog site’s constant support of the man who literally killed Star Trek fan films and the constant insulting of the rightful owners of the Star Trek franchise. The rightful owners being CBS/Paramount.

        Alec is just trying to stir up trouble to deflect from himself. It’s becoming a worn out tactic. And it further erodes whatever credibility(if one could call it that). He tried to be a hot shot and look what happened. CBS/Paramount justifiably suing Alec and Alec’s actions bringing an end to the fan films.

        Granted I don’t like Vic and I don’t like anything about him. But he was right about one thing. You can’t make a profit off of a property that you don’t own.

        And as far as your protests concerning the new guidelines are concerned, it won’t help change matters. Those guidelines were placed by CBS/Paramount when Axanar violated the rules and the law.

  8. This has been prob said before … but if anyone can answer this ?

    1: Does it make any difference what other Star Trek fan films are doing, as Alec Peters-Axanar has already settled in court with CBS. So havn’t they already aggreed to ‘do’ Axanar the way CBS have asked or face another court case?

    2: I’m making a guess here, but STNV & STC seem to me, like a homage to the TOS where Axanar looks like they were tring to rival the series/movies. Could this be one of the reasons CBS arn’t so bothered with STNV & STC as they aren’t tring to compete against CBS’s current work.

    3: I guess it’s expensive and takes a lot of time to sue people ? Maybe CBS would only do this as the last resort ?

    4: It’s a little unfair to say STNV & STC arn’t as good as Axanar. STNV & STC are deliberately ‘trying’ to look like the 1960’s Star Trek not a modern movie. I agree there are times where the acting isn’t always perfect, most of them aren’t professonals & if I had my way I would of recast a few of the minor actors too. However the sets, effects and scripting has been as good as the original.

    1. It sounds like you’re saying most of the same stuff that Alec did in his editorial. But here’s answers to your four questions, Luke:

      1. What other fan films do does not affect Axanar, and what Axanar does at this point does not affect other fan films. Yes, Alec must follow a certain set of guidelines for his Axanar project–some of which are the same as the fan film guidelines and some which are different.

      2. That was one of the main points Alec was trying to make.

      3. You never know. That’s what Alec Peters thought going into December of 2015. But I know from talking to certain people that CBS and Paramount did not expect Alec Peters to lawyer up, let alone find a top IP law firm to represent him pro bono. The studios went into this thinking that Alec would piss in his pants, plead for mercy, and they’d “generously” settle in exchange for him shutting down completely, returning all the money, and agreeing never to work on any Star Trek fan film again. Thirteen months and a million dollars in legal fees later, the studios were “generously” offering to let Alec Peter finish his fan film using the money he’d collected (which was, unfortunately, now gone), keep all his actors and production crew, and continue making fan films beyond Axanar…with the only stipulations being that he wasn’t allowed to raise any more money for Axanar through crowd-funding, he couldn’t pay anyone to work on the project, he had to cut his run-time down from 90 minutes to 30 minutes, and he had to admit that CBS never gave him permission to do what he did that got him sued in the first place (which was kinda obvious anyway). Compared to the total shutdown of Alec and Axanar Productions, this was not an outcome the studios had initially hoped for. It wasn’t a loss, per se, but neither was it a clear win.

      My suspicion is that, yes, CBS and Paramount aren’t as eager to jump back into the courtroom with any fan production. But there are a lot of stops on the train between doing nothing and suing. A simple phone call, e-mail, or cease and desist letter could accomplish just as much as a lawsuit.

      4. Again, this is pretty much exactly what Alec said in his editorial.

      1. Thanks for the reply Jonathan 🙂 It’s helpful to get confirmation on what your thinking.

  9. Last time I checked Continues was mostly professional actors

    I don’t think you can level that one at them.

    1. STC is a mix of professionals and non-professionals. There’s a lot of voice-over actors (who are still actors!) plus some SAG actors. But there’s also a few folks who just do it for fun.

  10. lol I couldn’t possibly imagine which half 😉 Keep fighting the good fight, Jon… P 🙂

  11. So here’s a counterpoint to the whole ideas of “it was sued because of the QUALITY! It was TOO GOOD!” and “It was/is very bad press for CBS/P to Sue Their Fans”…

    Let’s start with “It was/is very bad press for CBS/P to Sue Their Fans”…

    The problem with that is that a great deal of donors were already vocally disgruntled months before the lawsuit dropped. With good reason. Reasonable queries were being met with defensive brick walls which was turning people off en masse.

    So in addition to arguably the most egregious IP violations, it already had a support base that had substantially eroded.

    So there was never any real danger of having to do damage control with “Star Trek Fandom”, because only a fraction of what we would call the HARDCORE fanbase maintains awareness of Trek fan films (seriously, do a Sample Group study at the Vegas con), and an even more microscopic percentage beneath that cares obsessively enough to follow the behind the scenes politics. So basically a couple hundred middle aged to elderly men that represent a demographic not considered particularly attractive to networks (and their friend Kimber) get butt hurt. I think to CBS that was reasonable collateral damage to their franchise. 🙂

    Regarding Mr. Peters’ oft repeated position of “Unlike Axanar, STC would never be construed as REAL Star Trek… Axanar was a threat and sued because of its QUALITY and being TOO GOOD!”…

    Yup. Nobody would mistake “Star Trek Continues” as “real” Star Trek. Not for any lack of production value, just… Yeah Its obvious it’s a tribute band. Star Trek TOS ended 48 years ago. DUH nobody would mistake a great tribute show that doesn’t star Shatner and Nimoy as “Real Star Trek”… That’s kind of the POINT.

    Axanar on the other hand did actually pose risk of Brand Confusion. “Brand Confusion” and “Quality” seem to be used interchangeably by team Axanar without understanding the difference. Kind of how I consider Alec Peters to be a great salesman but a lacking businessman. Others see him as a great salesman and mistake that for being the same thing, when it very much IS NOT. Same conflation of different concepts as the same.

    For example… The Vulcan scene continued onward characters like Soval from the most recent spin-off series, much more “current” than TOS and with the same actor. Prelude also features this character and introduces new characters which appear in a promotional piece that communicates to its audience that it is a set up to either a new feature film or new series under the Star Trek banner, and it’s “officiality” can come off as ambiguous to the layman viewer.

    The aforementioned casual majority fan base who doesn’t follow fan films can look at it and think they are seeing an official new Star Trek project, hence the “It was sued because it was Too High Quality” part.

    The problem is when they who are unaware it’s a fan film and think it’s real and react, “Wait so this is the new Star Trek show/movie? It’s got characters and people I recognize but… Why does it look so home brewed and low-buj? It looks okay for a low level Canadian Syfy show but if they cut corners this much on Real Star Trek? I’m out…”

    So yeah, it was a viable target. As for the upset casualties of this fallout? I seem to recall a TNG episode, WORF: “Captain… they are firing LASERS at us…” ::Picard and Riker exchange puzzled, bemused glances:: RIKER: “Lasers…?”

    1. I think you’re making Alec’s point for him, Gabe. Obviously, the Vulcan scene wasn’t up to studio levels of production since Paramount and CBS spend tens of millions and Axanar was barely spending 1% of that figure.

      But Axanar had gone where no fan film had gone before–and you said it yourself–“…its ‘officiality’ can come off as ambiguous to the layman viewer.” In other words, it got close enough so that the casual viewer might not know the difference and potentially be confused. And it was that confusion that worried the studios. Previous fan films had never looked good enough or seemed professional enough to potentially cause brand confusion.

      So you see, Axanar didn’t have to achieve a quality as good as Star Trek, it only needed to cross a threshold that no other fan film had before. It had to be good enough (not as good or better but good enough) to SEEM like it could be real Star Trek.

      The studios feared the trend-line. Even if the Vulcan scene still fell somewhat short, what about the next fan film…or the one after that…or the one after that? And what’s more, CBS and Paramount knew that the Vulcan scene was shot in front of a green screen in a parking lot. But the rest of the movie was to be filmed on elaborate sets and at locations like Tillman (Starfleet HQ in TNG and DS9) and Vasquez Rocks. And their full-length movie was going to feature not just one veteran Star Trek actor but two (possibly three or more) plus other SAG members. Their budget would be well over a million dollars, maybe even two million. So potentially that “next” fan film that looked even better than the Vulcan scene might very well have been the rest of Axanar itself!

      The line had to be drawn, and the studios drew it. “This far, and no farther!” (“Well, actually, back up a bit. No, back up more. More than that. Keep going. More. We’ll tell you when to stop. No, not yet. We’ll tell you. More. Yeah, you’re almost there. No, we didn’t say stop yet! Can you still even hear us back there???”)

      Anyway, it was indeed all about the quality and not the coffee. But no, it wasn’t because the quality was as good as studio-produced Star Trek. It was simply that this was the first time a fan film was really starting to get noticed for its quality.

      I’m sure you get that.

    2. “I consider Alec Peters to be a great salesman but a lacking businessman.”

      Most used car salesman types are lacking businessmen. Look what has happened to Star Trek fandom after the Axanar debacle.

      Laws, Legal Channels, Morals, and Ethics certainly took a back seat and Star Trek’s fan reputation has been permanently smudged.

  12. Maybe I’m biased, being a long time Studio Guy. Siding with the studios is a lot better for my career than not, and it also seems to fit more correctly within my conscience and ethics.

    1. Yeah, I’m not a studio guy. Almost was, but I heard another call and chose the road less traveled by. And that has made all the difference…for both me and Jim Van Over who got the job with Mike Okuda that I turned down in December of ’93.

      Anyway, I don’t think either of us is biassed so much as simply having opinions. Yours aren’t any more valid or correct than mine are. We both see things from our unique perspectives and let the few brain cells we have left do the rest. 🙂

  13. I think I would be more inclined to support STC if the cast didn’t mock the work Shatner, Nimoy, and DeKelly had poured their hearts and sweat over IMO. I’d rather filmmakers have a sense of imagination and create their OWN characters and set them into the world of Kirk, and Spock because I think a filmmaker has a better argument in standing their ground on the “CBS Trek fan film guidelines.”

    But giving the F-U to the existing guidelines and producing more fan films –NOT EPISODES– could make it harder for other Trek film enthusiast to make their own film. I think it’s selfish for Vic Mignogna to proceed in violating the guidelines because he’s lived the dream not once, not twice, but more than any Trek fan-filmmaker could’ve imagine to produce a Star Trek series with characters he doesn’t own.

    Characters he doesn’t own.

    I always felt 13 films, now 11, were over kill and self-serving because these things, or parodies, Vic has done will never be considered canon nor will it ever be true to the real episodes done from the 1960’s. Whatever was done prior to the CBS guidelines were enough; it’s not as if his series were chapters to an overall arc, those tales were STAND ALONE and didn’t need anymore.
    I would’ve preferred Vic to help other new filmmakers on their films or be more supportive with CBS by being an example of not rocking the boat and respected the studios wishes.

    I think good cooperation with the studio is a great step for them to relax on the guidelines, but when Vic does this; it presents bad precedence and a lack of professionalism IMO. These fan films were always supposed to be done in good faith to not upset the studios, because I feel the studio needs the fans and amateur filmmakers and vice versa.

    I disagree with Alec, I think CBS should execute a lawsuit on Vic to make a point, but they can’t sue everyone. It’s bad karma when a studio set some guidelines and then the person who doesn’t own their characters, who uses them bad or okay, thumbs his nose at them.

    It’s just not good, but I guess for a few who get to see these things at Conventions or on “You Tube” will say, “Be damned with ethics” as long as they can see Trek’s version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on those projected shiny, little, lights; guidelines should be ignored.

    1. I think you might be coming down a little hard on STC, Stephonie. I don’t think they are mocking Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley so much as honoring their work. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, after all.

      1. Mocking is a little hard, but I’d rather what that hot guy who replaced James Cawley did as Kirk. Putting his own interpretation of the character and making it his own than aping off of what was done by William Shatner. Something I despised from Karl Urban in the first 2 Star Trek film, but became his own McCoy in Beyond.

        A signature of an actor, a good one IMO, is making a viewer believe she or he is the character they’re portraying. I know Zachary Quinto is far better actor than Vic, and it’s not a fair example, but his version of Spock is not Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and I can believe him as the character. Every time I view STC I don’t see Vic as Kirk but him doing a poor interpretation of “William Shatner” late 1960’s as Captain Kirk.

        Other than that, I won’t take anything away from him being a great producer, and phenomenal Executive Producer. The production of STC is top notch, and benchmark for fan film presentations.

        1. My feeling about Vic is that his decision on how to play Kirk is just as valid as any other actors’–including James Cawley and Brian Gross from New Voyages. Just because he’s delivering a performance much closer to Shatner’s does not make it in any way wrong or inferior. It is Vic’s choice as an actor, and I not only respect him for doing so but also greatly enjoy watching him.

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