Remember the good, old days? Back in 2015 and before, Star Trek fan film crowd-funders were as common as lens flares on a JJ Abrams movie set! They’d easily take in thousands, tens of thousands, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of enthusiastically-donated fan contributions.
We all know what happened. Axanar was sued. Six weeks later, Tommy Kraft was told by CBS to take down his $250K Kickstarter for Federation Rising. And then in June 2016, the fan film guidelines came out. And while they didn’t forbid crowd-funding, they did put a $50K cap on it and severely curtailed what kinds of perks could be offered.
Fans (including me) predicted the complete demise of Star Trek fan films. It turned out that we were wrong. Fan films found a way to not only live on but also to prosper, working within the guidelines (mostly) while still being pretty decent—in some cases even quite excellent.
Ah, but crowd-funding…therein lied the rub! While the days of the six-figure Kickstarters and Indiegogos for Trek fan films were obviously gone, maybe fans would still donate five-figures or even just four-figures. Maybe? For a while, it wasn’t looking good.
For the remainder of 2016, only Renegades (with Star Trek surgically removed) attempted a crowd-funding campaign for “The Requiem” (reaching $146K). And Starbase Studios raised $3,500 for a move from Oklahoma to Arkansas for their TOS sets. But beyond that, the only crowd-funding even peripherally connected to Star Trek fan films was a $19K successful Kickstarter by Star Trek: Horizon creator Tommy Kraft to fund his NON-Star Trek fan film Runaway.
Would 2017 fare any better for Trek crowd funders? Well, not so much…
Actually, that isn’t entirely true. The year got off to a crowd-funding explosion when the Deep Space 9 documentary “What We Left Behind” managed to blast through its $150K goal and reach nearly $650K! But that was a very unusual project and not your typical Star Trek fan film. Another unusual project, The Circuit: Urbiessa, was non-Trek but featured (will feature) a dozen Star Trek alumni plus a host of other sci-fi genre actors. That Kickstarter passed its $50K goal in less than a week and finished with $101K.
But when it came to the more “mundane” Trek fan film projects, only a tiny handful of crowd-funders were attempted in 2017…with mixed but mostly disappointing results:
- Starship Republic attempted to reach $16K but only made it to $2,351.
- Trek vs. Trek (by the maker of Star Trek vs. Batman) tried to reach $13,500 and didn’t even make it to $150.
- Axanar Productions attempted to raise $60K to keep the rent paid on Industry Studios in Valencia, CA , but took in only $22K (necessitating a relocation to Georgia).
The only fan production to successfully reach its crowd-funding goal was a GoFundMe for Melbourne‘s second episode “Balance of Terror.” But for that one, the goal was a much less ambitious $3,000.
I should also mention that Renegades returned to the donor well once more seeking $80K to finish post production on “The Requiem.” This time, however, they bypassed the usual crowd-funding services and just took in donations directly from their own website. For this reason, I don’t know whether or not they reached their goal But both parts of “The Requiem” were ultimately released.
All told, 2017 didn’t turn out to be all that encouraging for crowd-funding Star Trek fan projects.
Then came 2018…
Although I began the new year with my fingers crossed that fans would emerge from their post-lawsuit/guidelines-traumatic-stress-disorder (PLGTSD) and finally begin donating to worthy crowd-funding campaigns, my hopes were almost immediately dashed in February/March when The Holy Core failed to get more than halfway to its $11,000 goal. Only 87 people bothered to donate. And since it was Kickstarter, missing the goal meant they would got zero.
What made this even more distressing is that the show-runner Gary O’Brien had previously produced Chance Encounter, a MUST-SEE Next Gen era fan film that is one of my all-time favorites. That fan film had been viewed over 50,000 times on YouTube by that point. If a person with that kind of proven track record was struggling, what hope did other first-time fan producers have???
At the end of February, the fan series Melbourne launched a second GoFundMe campaign for their second full episode, “Balance of Terror.” This one also had a modest $3,500 goal, but took in only $145 during its first three months (GoFundMe’s have no time limit.) Even now, 10 months later, only 8 people have donated, and the total raised stands at just $475. (This campaign, I personally believe, suffered from a lack on effort on the part of the show-runner.)
I was now feeling very pessimistic, and the next crowd-funder seemed destined to fall short, as well…despite a LOT of effort from show-runner Mark Naccarato. The Romulan War looked really exciting, picking up where Star Trek: Enterprise left off and recounting the “missing” history of Earth’s war with the Romulan Empire. The fan film would be told in the same “mockumentary” format at Prelude to Axanar, and much of the footage had already been shot (along with many completed CGI effects sequences). But after 30 days of trying really hard (and mostly succeeding) to get coverage of his project, the fish were only biting about half the time, and Mark was barely 55% of the way to his $10K goal.
But then something changed.
I’m not sure exactly what it was, but it began when Mark discovered that Indiegogo would let him extend his 30-day campaign an additional 30 days! The extension worked, and Mark’s campaign not only reached its goal, but it gets to keep raising donations as an “in demand” campaign…currently at $13K.
At the same time The Romulan War was going on, another Trek fan project—this one musical—was underway on Kickstarter. The Roddenberries, a Star Trek themed rock-n-roll band, was trying to raise $9,500 to fund their second studio album and a music video. The 2-month campaign struggled into its last day, still 30% short entering their final hour. But a mysterious $3,000 donation put them over the top with about 63 minutes to go! All together, 109 backers made this project possible.
So by May, it was still a bit shaky for Trek fan projects, but at least things were moving in the right direction. And most important of all, unlike the anemic number of crowd-funders in 2017, sh0w-runners in 2018 weren’t afraid to step up to the podium and ask supporters to help make dreams into realities.
No sooner had The Romulan War and The Roddenberries wrapped up their campaigns than Lukas Kendall launched a $25K Indiegogo for Sky Fighter. Not technically a Star Trek fan film—Sky Fighter was an original story in an original universe—Lukas had hired Robert Meyer Burnett (who edited Prelude to Axanar) to edit his fan film, along with Tobias Richter (who has done amazing visual effects for many Trek fan films) to do the Sky Fighter VFX. Also, Lukas came from the Trek fan world, having made a name for himself in the production of numerous Star Trek music CDs. Indeed, some of his perks were CDs and CD collections, and many aficionados went there to “donate” even though they were often just interested in just making a purchase of music CDs. Also Lukas’ unique tongue-in-cheek approach to his campaign made it stand out.
Even though Sky Fighter was still 10% short of its goal with 48 hours left, a surge in the home-stretch landed Lukas Kendall with more than $31K. Heading into summer, it looked like crowd-funding was making a comeback.
Not so fast, though. In rapid succession, a couple of more traditional, low-budget Trek fan films both launched GoFundMe campaigns…and they didn’t do so well. In June, The Lexington Adventures tried to reach $1,350 and failed. Many frustrating months later, they’d lower the goal to $600 and reach that. Dreadnought Dominion simultaneously launched a campaign for $1,250 and made it only to $275. However, they actually abandoned the campaign on purpose shortly after launching. They had misunderstood about the costs for using Stage 9 Studios in Kingsland, GA and thought they’d need to pay to rent it. (They didn’t; they only had to cover electricity costs.) So there was no more need for the full $1,250 and they stopped asking for donations.
On the other hand, in July, Vance Major put up a modest campaign using a service called Fundrazr trying to generate $500 for uniforms for the upcoming Constar Chronicles. Two and a half days later, before I could even post it here on Fan Film Factor, Vance made it to his goal with 19 donors giving him $550. Not needing any more, he shut it down 72 hours after starting things up.
How did he raise so much so fast? He asked his friends…directly. Vance has made a name for himself as one of the nicest and hardest working guys in the fan film community, always willing to lend a hand, and he’s built up a lot of goodwill along the way. I’m actually surprised it took him two and a half days!
July also saw Star Trek veteran actor Gary “Ambassador Soval” Graham get in on the crowd-funding action with a Kickstarter for his hard-rocking band Sons of Kirk. The band plays songs with lyrics taken from Gary’s experiences on Star Trek and other sci-fi shows and fan films. A goal of $5K would let them record their first-ever studio album plus a music video (just like The Roddenberries). But stretch goals eventually took them over $21K with 275 donors and allowed them to record an additional three songs plus a second music video and an additional third video taping of their concert at the Las Vegas Star Trek convention.
August brought with it two MORE new crowd-funding campaigns, one of them quite major. Space Command is the brain-child of noted Star Trek TV writer Marc Scott Zicree and will feature multiple Star Trek veteran actors along with alumni from Babylon 5, Farscape, Big Trouble in Little China, and others. Although not a Star Trek fan film (it’s all original), I’m counting it because it competed directly against another fan film campaign—this one definitely Star Trek—and the two campaigns were targeting the same kind of donors. But it was a David and Goliath situation. Could a relatively “little” project go up against a huge megalith?
And make no mistake: Space Command is a megalith. Back in 2012, it raised $221K from 3,000 donors. Still not completed half a decade later, Space Command took in another $108K from 1,100 backers in late 2017 for post production on the first hour of its 2-hour pilot. Now in 2018, Space Command was looking for $49K and wound up with $102K from 1,290 backers.
Woe be to the fan project that went up against that! And remember that Gary Graham’s Sons of Kirk campaign was wrapping up, too…syphoning off even more donor dollars. However, Mark Largent, the creator of the 3D-animated Trek-puppet parody series Stalled Trek, set a very modest goal of just $600 on Kickstarter. But that was simply to pay for the pressing of 250 DVDs of his new project “City on the Edge or Foreclosure.” What Mark was intending was to sell these DVDs (parodies are protected by fair use and don’t fall under the guidelines), and so he was really aiming for $4K-$6K…and got there with $4,161 from 114 backers.
Fans and donors got a short respite in September (the first month since January without a single new Trek fan project crowd-funder…let alone two or three simultaneously!). But things weren’t over for the year just yet. October brought a new Indiegogo for the multi-fan-series crossover film Convergence from Trekyards‘ CG wizard of space and time, Samuel Cockings. He needed $5,500 to pay to get all of his actors back to the U.K. to finish filming. Samuel poured his heart and soul into 30 days of non-stop publicizing of his campaign…with impressive results. He came away with $7,385 from 114 backers.
As Convergence was heading into its last week, the final Trek-related fan project for the year was about to launch. Once again, it wasn’t a Star Trek fan film, but it was from the creators of Renegades and will feature Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips of Star Trek: Voyager (among other sci-fi notables). Obviously, this Kickstarter with an initial $16,000 goal would again be tapping many of those same fans who had been donating all year long already! Would they have enough left in their wallets for one last hurrah…especially with the holiday shopping season just a few weeks away?
As a matter of fact, yes they would—considerably! Utilizing Renegades‘ database of thousands of existing donors, they opened up their Kickstarter 48 hours early exclusively to folks on their e-mail lists for some limited-time perks. The result was that they’d already taken in $22K (well over their $16K goal) by the time their Kickstarter went live to the general public! At the end, they wound up with nearly $55K from 865 backers!
So no, my friends, crowd-funding for Star Trek fan projects is NOT dead…far from it! While things were understandably shaky and uncertain for a while there, the fog is lifting, and things are looking up.
What will 2019 bring? Well, one would assume more crowd-funders and more donations. Maybe most of them will be in the thousands of dollars range and fewer in the tens of thousands, but they’re back to being a viable way to fund fan dreams with the help of other fans who share and support those dreams.
Heck, I might even try one of these crowd-funding campaigns myself! Do any of you think it’s time I made a fan film? Would you donate? We may soon find out…