Fan-filmed before a live studio audience at STAGE 9 STUDIOS…but not without a little controversy!

An estimated 1,300 fans came to STAGE 9 STUDIOS in Kingsland, GA on October 19-21 to visit the amazing TOS sets and meet STAR TREK CONTINUES cast and crew members, including VIC MIGNOGNA, CHRIS DOOHAN, LISA HANSELL, and many others.  (Here’s a complete list.)  Dubbed “Fan Appreciation Weekend,” the event was free of charge and admitted anyone who showed up on Friday from 2-10pm, Saturday from 9am-7pm, and Sunday from 9am-6pm.  That’s 27 hours of open set visit time over a three-day period!

Not just a simple “tour” (like what is offered in Ticonderoga, NY by James Cawley), this event included the opportunity for fans to watch and even participate in the FILMING of episodes for two different fan productions.  Both DREADNOUGHT DOMINION and the upcoming  CONSTAR CHRONICLES shot scenes on the bridge on Friday night and in engineering on Saturday as fans looked on.

Visitors would be escorted in groups through the sets by none other than STC star and show-runner Vic Mignogna, who would discuss the fan filmmaking process, point out certain details of the sets, share a few “secrets” (like how they filmed a scene from a camera angle when a permanent wall was in the way—answer: they put a hidden hole in the wall to film from behind!), and answered questions.  Other groups were escorted by Stage 9 owner RAY TESI, who purchased the sets from Vic last year and decided to make them available to any fan film that wanted to shoot there.  (Listen to Ray’s interview here.)

Vance Major live in front of a studio audience

The groups traveled in cycles through all of the sets—sickbay, auxiliary control, transporter room, captain’s quarters, briefing room, etc.—finally emerging on the bridge and/or engineering to watch rehearsal, set-up, or actual filming during certain scheduled times.  Each group spent about 5-10 minutes with the film crews before moving on and letting in the next bunch.  The fan filmmakers would talk to the audience, answer questions, and in some cases, even offer a few lucky fans the chance to throw on a tunic and be filmed as extras on the bridge or in engineering!  How cool is that???

The event was not without some controversy, though.

The self-proclaimed “copyright police” (my term for fans who hang out in various Facebook groups and have a cow whenever they feel like a fan—any fan—might be “stealing” intellectual property from CBS and Paramount…or anyone!) got wind of this event and began criticizing it because Stage 9 Studios isn’t licensed like James Cawley’s Star Trek Original Series Set Tour in upstate New York is.  Even James Cawley himself jumped into the fray directly…

According to reporting on the Trekzone blog site:

Any time a post was made in the Axamonitor Facebook group in the lead up to this event, Cawley – an infrequent poster in the group – would let an angry comment fly, bemoaning Ray’s flagrant disregard for his license, occasionally asserting that CBS would be hearing from him and how he would get the fan service shut down.

This would whip other members of the group into action, eventually leading to a permanent paradigm shift in the focus of the group to policing any infringements of the Star Trek IP.

Interestingly, I confirmed that Ray Tesi did, in fact, speak with CBS both before and after the event.  While he didn’t share with me specifically what was discussed, he did confirm that CBS knew what he was doing and even made a few requests beforehand that Ray was completely willing to agree to.  At no point did CBS ever tell Ray not to hold the event.

I understand that this upset James, as he feels that, as a licensee, he is provided certain protections against unlicensed competition in the space he paid to reserve for his set tour.   James gives tours daily (closed Mondays) 10:00 AM till 5:00 PM and charges $22.50 ($20 for seniors, $11 for kids).

But Ray is doing something quite different.  He opened his sets up to the public for one weekend for FREE, allowed visitors to become a live, studio audience for a pair of fan films, meet some fan filmmakers, ask questions, and attend some fun activities like make-up demonstrations, wardrobe and writers and panels, and even watch some fan films.

And yes, I know that James also holds mini-conventions at his museum in upstate New York, but that isn’t something that needs to be licensed, nor is the concept of a Star Trek mini-con exclusive to his set tour.  Star Trek conventions happen all over the world, both official and unofficial ones.  And anyway, this was more of a fan film convention (celebrating the cast and crew of STC and their incredible sets) than a Star Trek convention.

For me, while I acknowledge James’ concerns, what I don’t agree with was his belligerent posture on social media.  Deal with this privately through discussions with CBS (which I’m assuming James did) rather than out in the open.  Had CBS decided to send Ray a cease and desist letter, then James could decide to either take a victory lap or be gracious and try to smooth things over…or whatever.  But since CBS decided to take no action to stop this, James and the self-proclaimed “copyright police” on Facebook should honor that decision from the actual copyright owners.  After all, as they so often remind us: CBS owns Star Trek.

Vance Major, who was there at Stage 9 Studios both filming and volunteering, provided me a quote that says pretty much the same thing I just did…

There’s nothing but a generosity of spirit with Ray.   The atmosphere that he creates is nothing but a positive one for the fans of fan films.  I know that Ray would never do anything to step on anyone’s toes, and if he were ever asked or told to stop doing something he wasn’t supposed to do, he would.

But CBS didn’t tell him to stop, and he did talk to them.  That was CBS’s call to make—not James Cawley’s and not the guys on Facebook hurling insults and accusations at Ray Tesi.  If CBS had wanted this to not happen, they would have told Ray not to do it.  But CBS made their decision, and it’s time to let this go.  

Anyway, after all is said and done, it really was a very successful event…and one that a lot of fan enjoyed immensely.  The sets were kept safe and pristine by volunteers who were stationed in certain rooms to make sure no one and nothing “wandered off” or got touched or played with.  Several dozen folks got to watch fan filmmakers in action, and these amazing sets which had been closed off to casual visitors for half a decade were now made available to over a thousand people for a very special weekend.

An event like this should be celebrated.  With luck, CBS will allow similar Fan Appreciation Weekends to happen in the future.  What a gift to the fans!  But even if they decide not to, what Ray Tesi is doing opening up his sets to fan filmmakers and their productions is nothing short of a dream come true.

When I was growing up watching TOS in the 1970s, I wouldn’t even dare imagine that something like Stage 9 Studios could ever exist…let alone be made available for fans to film their own Star Trek episodes!  And more than that, that the owners of Star Trek—in this case CBS—would actually allow such fan films to be made…as long as they followed certain guidelines.  (Granted, I don’t love all of those guidelines, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Anyway, rather than attacking Ray Tesi on social media, how about we applaud him and simply appreciate what he is doing for us fans?  And while we’re at, how about a tip of the ol’ Shatner toupee to CBS for not shutting down this event and letting fans just show and share our love of Star Trek…still going strong even after 52 years!

Ray Tesi said he had literally hundreds of photos from this event—possibly more!  Here’s the best 25 of them (sorry, I don’t have captions)…

31 thoughts on “Fan-filmed before a live studio audience at STAGE 9 STUDIOS…but not without a little controversy!”

  1. Oh, what I would have given to have been there *wistful sigh*

    Glad everyone had a great time!


  2. TY Jonathon, nicely done !! Hope all is well on the homefront ! Howdy’s to all ..

    1. All is well on the homefront. I survived being the co-chair of the Halloween Carnival at my son’s school…just got to survive trick-or-treating tonight…and then Axacon!

  3. A Set in Georgia hardly competes with an official Set Tour in Upstate New York! There is plenty of fan interest for both to coexist graciously and with maturity!

    Good call, CBS / Paramount!

    A license from the IP allows one to make a profit, not guarantee someone else can’t do something for free once in a while that Ticonderoga charges for all the time!

    Maybe Ticonderoga should give out a few freebies to promote goodwill once in awhile!

  4. Cawley’s hypocrisy is ridiculous. After all, he didn’t “license” anything when he just decided to start making fan films all those years ago, and NOW he starts throwing yet another “poor-me” hissy fit? He seriously needs to grow up.

  5. The way some people get their shorts in a bunch about this stuff just turns me off, and frankly it reinforces the broad suspicion among the general public that the most devoted Star Trek fans still live (figuratively, at least) in their parents basements.

    It also shows that (contrary to some rather sanctimonious beliefs), the negativity, over-developed egos and dramatic backbiting in Star Trek fandom does not – and did not – begin nor end with Axanar.

    I hope James can grow up, because I’d really like to feel good about visiting his sets some day. Meanwhile, I’m just slightly jealous of those who were there to have a great time.

    1. >> and frankly it reinforces the broad suspicion among the general public that the most devoted Star Trek fans still live (figuratively, at least) in their parents basements.

      I’m one of the most devoted Trekkies you’ll ever meet (heck, I used to get paid by Paramount to be a Trekkie!), and my parents don’t even HAVE a basement. I live in a very nice 2700-foot house in southern California with a wonderful non-Trekkie wife and a fantastic son who love Star Trek and Star Wars and Lego and Minecraft (not necessarily in that order).

      Oh, wait…you said figuratively! 🙂

  6. It make me sick to my stomach, when i see “fans” like Cawley throw out postings with so much double standard, that can silence youre sitting potus.
    Interesting also is that “fans” have ressurected the spanish inquisition.
    Nice to see that is possible to have a great time as a fan for free.
    Nice Photos!
    Sadly here in Germany we have only one good Replica of an Classic Bridge, but the owner want good Money when Fanfilm Makers want to shoot on this Bridge.

  7. Didn’t Cawley build those sets and improve them with the funds he raised from fan donations?

    Now he took the studio he built and is making money off of it?

    What is he complaining about? He wouldn’t have that studio without the fans that donated money. Now he is charging $1000 tickets for that Shatner event.

    I’ve even heard some fans claim that they never received perks from past fundraisers.

    His posts make him seem like a whiney infant.

    1. Most of the Retro Studios sets in upstate New York were constructed before James ever raised public money from donations. The initial costs for materials and labor came from two friends of James: Gary Evans and Greg Schnitzer (who recently passed away). Funds from Kickstarter were intended for the later fan film episodes of NV, some of which were never completed.

      1. Here’s the Link to Elvis’s sales Pitch, Talk about taking money from fans and not delivering.

        1. So they raised money from Kickstarter to build sets. Then he turned around and profited from the sets and is charging the same fans that helped him to see the sets themselves?

          Not sure how this is any different than Alec Peters plans for the sound stage in California. Yet Cawley is beloved and Peters is hated.

          1. James didn’t use crowd-funded money to build most of his sets. But so what if he did? Who cares? Now we get to visit them (for $22.50 and the cost of a trip to the Adirondacks). Frankly, I don’t mind if people profit from my donations. Once I give them my money, it’s theirs. I can say the same think about James and Alec (and whomever) that I do about the guy on the street corner that I give a dollar to. If he uses it for cigarettes or drugs instead of food, well, once I hand him the green piece of paper, it’s his.

  8. It is disappointing to see one of fan filmdom’s “old schoolers” attack another like this. Did James Cawley check with or notify CBS/Paramount before he attacked them in public like this?

    I have not been a fervent follower of fan films, but I don’t remember this much animus existing between Cawley and Mignona before. Did Axanar bring it into focus(helped, no doubt, by that one guy on what used to be who seemed to encourage the alliance of all fan film production companies to do whatever they could to shoot Axanar down)?

    This seems to be CBS/Paramount’s attempt to mend fences in the wake of the disastrous Axanar lawsuit, a course of action that I consider wise.

    I don’t think the fan film environment can go back to what it was pre-Axanar, but it seems that it’s starting to restore what it can.

    Does James Cawley feel that Vic Mignona got a better deal and took to online media spaces to grouse? Well, to each their own.

    Regardless of these actions, I still hold STAR TREK CONTINUES and STAR TREK PHASE II/NEW VOYAGES in high regard.

    1. Mickey, I don’t condone talk like this about Alec Peters, and I don’t condone it about James Cawley either. The money James raised was, indeed, put into production costs. One of those productions were filmed and released (“The Holiest Thing”) while three others were filmed but were not completed and released due to a variety of reasons. But I don’t feel like anyone was “ripped off.” They donated to something that never had any guarantee of being completed. That’s true of any fan film. My donation to “Captain Pike” disappeared into a black hole. I always knew that was a possibility. But I donated; I didn’t invest. And hey, I’ve invested in companies that tanked, too. Ask me sometime about all those uranium mining stocks I bought back in 2003. 🙂

      1. Actually I sent you a PM on this that it was basically a duplicate post. Since I didn’t see an awaiting moderation message. I redid it. And then later my comment appeared. So I sent you a message that this one could be deleted.

        That being said…. Cawley built out The replica of the Trek Desilu studio set with the stated goal of doing more New Voyages content. Where is that content? He’s been handed guidelines just like everyone else. Obviously I’m am not privy to the intricacies of his licensing. But ostensibly there’s no reason why he can’t at least do 2 new 15 minute new voyages episodes.

        And you are absolutely right that that sometimes things don’t work out.. I just personally don’t understand why AP is held to a higher standard than JC, or the million other fan productions that are smoke and mirrors.

        1. I’m not certain what James’ situation is vis a vis his license. But fan films are 100% not licensed…and that could have certain ramifications for someone who does have a license. Almost like trying to legally walk in two different worlds at the same time.

          Yes, James took in donations to pay for three fan films that were shot and never released (and one that was released). The ones that remain unfinished each have specific issues preventing their completion. In one case, a fan film needs a scene filmed with Vic Mignogna in a shuttlecraft. Just one scene. But I doubt Vic is gonna want to work with James again or vice versa. There’s too much bad blood there. So “Origins” will remain the best New Voyages episode that was ever filmed and not completed.

          But as for donors, they donated; they didn’t invest. So once they give their money, it’s gone no matter what. With luck, it results in a fan film. In the case of New Voyages, that fan film was “The Holiest Thing” (which was filmed AND released). I think fans should be happy about that.

          As for Alec, well, he’s just an easier target to throw rocks at.

          1. I don’t care what the reasons are – It’s a fan film – they certainly could always

            A. Rewrite said scene with a different Character.
            B. Recast said actor.
            C. OR…. And this is going out on a limb, Be bigger than their ego’s and extend the olive branch, for the sake of friendship, finishing the production, and healing whatever wounds there are. Both between each other and their respective communities.

  9. Thanks for your story on the Kingsland, Ga event. It was certainly a tremendous rousing success. It was certainly great to get to meet Mr. Ray Tesi shake his hand and say thank you for all he is doing. Getting to listen to Mr. Vic Mignona talking about the sets and making the films was great. I would also mention that I took the set tour in Ticonderoga where I also got to meet Mr. Cawley. I enjoyed both and appreciated being able to see them. Now, as I type this I just was at the event in Lawrenceville to see the bridge set there. I look forward getting to meet you in Atlanta tomorrow. It is inspiring to get to meet the people whose hard work and dedication bring these fan films to completion. I have been able to see many great fan films primarily because I heard about them first by reading about them on your Fan Film Factor. Live long and prosper.

    1. It was nice meeting you this past weekend, Moon Pie. Sorry that I didn’t get to chat with you for longer, but I was being pulled in a lot of different directions at Axacon. I dare say that, next to Alec and a couple of other volunteers, I was the busiest guy at Axacon!

  10. One more thing, post script. While driving to Kingsland I went through Folkston, about 20 miles west of Kingsland. In front of the courthouse there is a monument to Folkston resident Henry Roddenberry. Sure enough, he had a son Henry Jackson Roddenbery, Jr who had a son Leon Ellis Roddenberry who had a son Eugene Edward Roddenberry who had a son Eugene Wesley Roddenberry creator of Star Trek. I thought it was very interesting the Gene Roddenberry’s family came from a town so close to the place where the fan films were made and where these amazing sets are being preserved today. I hope that some readers find this bit of trivia interesting

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