Well, I certainly had an interesting Saturday morning! Before I get into the news and the statements from PAUL JENKINS and ALEC PETERS on the subject of the termination of their relationship, I’d like to start this blog with something that happened on Friday night…
Several weeks ago, just prior to Alec contracting COVID-19, I’d offered to help edit a new trailer for AXANAR. Normally, the trailers are cut by the editor, MARK EDWARD LEWIS. But post-production funding is only just starting to trickle in, and I’m willing to work for free patches. So Alec agreed to send me all of the raw footage from the Axanar shoots and let me have at it. Cool, I thought.
Then Alec got sick and couldn’t leave the house. So the hard drive with the files on it didn’t arrive here in California until Friday afternoon. I took a look through everything—hundreds and hundreds of video and audio files—and thought to myself: which of these takes are the ones that the director (Paul Jenkins) wants to use? I watched through nearly everything until about 2:30am, and then went to sleep, expecting to (hopefully) set up a 3-way call with Alec and Paul sometime over the weekend or in the coming week to figure out which takes they wanted to select for the trailer.
Then I woke up Saturday to this…
Honestly, the first thing that went through my head as I considered my previous plan of going through selects with Paul and Alec was Lt. Kevin Riley’s line from “The Naked Time”: No dance tonight…
The following message from actor GARY GRAHAM was posted to Facebook on Wednesday afternoon:
An hour or so later, when asked what happened, Gary added this brief explanation:
This obviously comes as a blow to AXANAR fans who looked forward to once again seeing Vulcan Ambassador Soval in the two 15-minute sequel fan films. Gary had already played the venerated character to near universal praise in PRELUDE TO AXANAR and then a year later in the 3-minute “Vulcan Scene.” In the years since the lawsuit that shut down production on Axanar in 2016, Gary had been an ardent supporter of both the project itself and of show-runner ALEC PETERS. Gary traveled from California to Georgia to appear at AXACON in 2018, saying positive things about Alec and the original production in interviews like this one (skip to 14:40).
Gary’s announcement came without any warning. And in the last 36 hours, I’ve seen unconfirmed reports of “irreconcilable differences,” that Gary is hoping to land a role on the new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds series and worried that an association with Axanar Productions would hurt his chances, and even political friction (Gary and Alec are on opposite sides regarding Donald Trump).
With so many unconfirmed rumors spreading on social media, I reached out to both Alec and Gary for comment. Gary has not yet responded to my request, but Alec confirmed that the first he knew that Gary was leaving the project came on Wednesday, and Alec provided me with the following statement (which has also been posted to the Axanar website)…
ALEC PETERS has logged a lot of “firsts” in the Star Trek fan film community. He was the first to raise more than a million dollars in crowd-funding for a Trek fan film project, he was the first to get sued by the studios, the first to survive such a lawsuit and reach a settlement agreement, and the first to set up an online store to sell merchandise based on original aspects of a fan film.
And now he’s the first well-known Star Trek fan filmmaker to test positive for COVID-19.
At this point, this is kinda “old” news. Alec first told me that he thought he’d caught the virus back on Sunday, July 5th. He’d had a 101-degree fever for two straight days and was feeling sicker than he’d ever felt before (although he never lost his sense of smell or taste). Alec explained that he’s generally healthy, and when he gets sick, symptoms typically don’t get too bad and pass pretty quickly. This felt different. And since it wasn’t flu season, Alec suspected by Sunday evening that he might have contracted the Novel Coronavirus.
It’s not that Alec hadn’t been careful. He wore a mask everywhere, washed his hands often, and social distanced. But Georgia is a pandemic hot-spot, currently 4th in the nation of 50 states in active COVID-19 cases with an average of 3,500 new cases per day for the month of July.
On Sunday evening, as Alec began to suspect that he’d contracted the highly infectious virus, he went to the CVS website to schedule a test and discovered that the earliest appointment they had available wasn’t until Wednesday. (What’s wrong with this picture, folks?) He booked it.
Meanwhile, Alec’s girlfriend CRYSSTAL HUBBARD, kept her distance from Alec while he isolated himself upstairs in his room. Fortunately, they have a five-bedroom house, so separation wasn’t difficult on a practical level. Going to work wasn’t an issue for Crysstal, as her job is at a night club, and those establishments were closed down at the time Alec got sick. In fact, Crysstal was furloughed for about 2-3 months total.
Although Alec announced through social media that he was “95% certain” that he had coronavirus (shortly before taking the test), I decided to hold off reporting it here on Fan Film Factor until the results were in. Alec was told to expect the results in about 6 days. (Again, what is wrong with this picture??? )
There was, of course, an outpouring of sympathy and well wishes from across fandom. And then, sadly, there were also Facebook posts like these…
AXANAR needs only two more shooting days and the production phase will be complete. Just…two…more…days.
Seems so simple, and yet, because of COVID-19, it’s proven to be just out of reach. And it’s not just Axanar that’s been stopped dead in its tracks. Because of concerns from the various Hollywood trade unions, television and motion picture production has been brought to a standstill throughout the entertainment industry. Don’t binge-watch too much too fast because your favorite shows aren’t coming back in September…and probably not even this year!
But there is finally a ray of hope.
Actors, directors, writers, camera people, hair & make-up, grips, gaffers, and pretty much everyone in the film industry are dying to get back to work. They just don’t want to be dying BECAUSE they went back to work (man, that sounded morbid!). As such, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers recently formed a task force to put together this 21-page white paper providing guidelines for “safely” restarting production. I put “safely” in quotation marks because it’s hard to be 100% safe when actors often have to be up close to other actors and not wearing face coverings, and lighting and camera and sound people have to lean in close to each other, and hair and make-up people can’t do their jobs if they’re 6 feet away from the actors and aren’t able to powder noses and put on lipstick because of face masks and…you get the idea.
But the white paper does its best to provide a reasonable “cover-your-asses” approach to restarting film production…and both the unions and the studios are on board with it. After all, people need to get back to work! And the recommendations are pretty obvious, all things considered:
Crews should consist of as few people as possible.
Have production meetings virtually or at least with social distancing.
Everyone wears PPEs on set except for actors when they’re filming.
Wash hands frequently; clean every piece of shared equipment as often as is practical.
Regular, periodic testing of the cast and crew; social distance as much as possible on set.
Use electronic scripts and call sheets on personal handheld devices (or if you need print things out, make sure no paper is shared).
And the list goes on and on. But the idea is to minimize the risk factors on production sets as much as possible.
Because Axanar is a union project, no new filming could be done until a set of guidelines was issued that Axanar Productions could follow. But now that the white paper is available and being slowly adopted throughout the industry, the Axanar project can begin moving forward again, albeit tentatively at first.
Hurry, hurry! Get ’em while they’re hot…and available! (Well, at least get them while they’re still only $30 plus shipping.)
Last month, ALEC PETERS raised nearly $10K for ARES STUDIOS in a Kickstarter that offered a special Master Systems Display cutaway poster of the USS Ares, the fan-favorite Starfleet assault cruiser depicted in PRELUDE TO AXANAR, the soon-to-be released INTERLUDE fan film, and the upcoming AXANAR sequels. The campaign ended up passing two stretch goals, adding two additional free posters to the orders for all donors: a cutaway of the Geronimo-class and a D7 tactical display.
That campaign, it turns out, was just a warm-up to the main event: a new Kickstarter offering a full set of USS ARES BLUEPRINTS! In total, it will be eight 11″ x 17″ blueprint sheets that show every deck and part of the Ares-Class Assault Cruiser.
The campaign launched at 9:30am Eastern Time with a goal of $3,000 (the same as the first campaign) and a 16-day duration. That means, according to Kickstarter rules, that Ares Studios has only half a month to reach that goal or else they get zero. No worries, though, as the campaign surpassed that goal in HALF A DAY (closer to just seven hours) and is currently at $4,906 from 100 backers as I write this. There’s actually a stretch goal of $10K that, if reached, will result in every donor being sent a free 11″ x 17″ version of the USS Ares Master System Display poster from the first campaign.
Naturally, I ordered mine as soon as got to my computer this morning. Ever since I first got ahold of the original Franz Joseph blueprints for the USS Enterpriseback in 1975, I have LOVED deck-by-deck renderings of starships. There haven’t been many full sets done over the years, but the few that have been published remain some of the jewels of my collection.
When I heard that Axanar graphic designer ALEXANDER RICHARDSON was creating deck-by-deck blueprints of the USS Ares-class, I got very excited. And when I first saw some of his initial layouts, excitement quickly turned to elation. Each time he completed and shared another deck, I marveled at the careful attention to detail, thought, and quality that went into every line.
Alexander used Adobe Illustrator to create the blueprints, spending an average of 5-10 hours per deck and then another 3 hours laying them out on the individual pages (plus extra time making alterations along the way). Alexander told me, “I based the aesthetics on Rick Sternbach’s Enterprise-D blueprints, a copy of which has been hanging on my walls for reference for some time.”
It took just two weeks, but 258 AXANAR fans and supporters just donated $9,690 to fund a series of Master Display Posters and also, of course, ARES STUDIOS in Lawrenceville, GA. The monthly expenses run about $4,200 ($3,750 of that is rent, the rest utilities). A Patreon brings in about $2,600 a month from an average of 260-270 donors…so the remaining $1,600 is coming out of the pocket of ALEC PETERS himself.
To help make up at least some of the shortfall, Alec launched a new Kickstarter on May 16, offering fans a snazzy full color poster of the USS ARES—a side-view cutaway designed by Axanar graphic designer extraordinaire ALEXANDER RICHARDSON. The original goal was a pretty humble $1,200…with a stretch goal of $3,000 that would unlock a second full-color cutaway poster of the USS Geronimo class and a mystery poster stretch goal at $5,000.
Donations began pouring in almost immediately. The $1,200 goal was passed in less than one hour, the first stretch goal a few hours later, and the second stretch goal within the first week! When the campaign closed yesterday evening, the final total was nearly $10,000! Even I wasn’t expecting such a large amount.
A few folks wondered if this Kickstarter campaign was a violation of the agreement that Alec Peters and Axanar Productions signed with CBS and Paramount to settle their infringement lawsuit and allow Alec to finish Axanar as two 15-minute fan film segments. As I wrote in this blog from a couple of weeks ago, the answer is no. The agreement not to publicly crowd-fund using services like Kickstarter applies only to Axanar Productions and the completion of the Axanar fan film, not to the studio that houses the bridge and captain’s quarters set. In fact, Ares Studios did not even exist at the time the agreement was signed in January of 2017, and so Ares Studios (a not-for-profit corporation in Georgia) cannot legally be considered a signatory to the settlement agreement (barring the existence of time-travel).
I texted Alec last night to congratulate him on his surprising achievement of nearly $10,000 in just two weeks, and our back-and-forth turned into a mini-interview of sorts…
Okay, so a lot happened over the past few days in Lawrenceville, GA…the home of ARES STUDIOS. If you read yesterday’s blog, you know that the AXANAR project got a jaw-dropping $10,000 donation last Thursday from a very generous and supportive donor…bringing the total for the current private crowd-funding campaign above $20K. The goal was also adjusted upwards from $30K to $35K to bring in a little money to start work on post production while production (filming) is on hold due to the pandemic.
And while I was writing all of that up in a blog, ALEC PETERS was also launching a brand new Kickstarter to fund production of the first in a series of “Master Systems Display” Posters…the first one (pictured above) featuring a beautiful side cutaway view of the USS Ares. The artwork was lovingly and meticulously created by graphic designer extraordinaire ALEXANDER RICHARDSON of Great Britain. He’s actually created a whole bunch of these images based on the various ships from PRELUDE TO AXANAR. And if the first Kickstarter is successful, additional posters will be offered to fans with the proceeds going to help Ares Studios live long and prosper.
Actually, there’s no need to say “if” the first Kickstarter is successful. With a 15-day duration, the campaign reached the $1,200 goal in less than an hour, and within the first few hours had crossed the first stretch goal threshold of $3,000 (which unlocked a second poster—the USS Geronimo class—which will be sent free to all donors). After 24 hours, the campaign had added another thousand and was now closing in on the second stretch goal of $5,000 (which unlocks a mystery poster).
Not entirely unexpectedly, some less-than-supportive fans caught wind of the Kickstarter and mistakenly assumed that Alec was violating the legal settlement that he had signed with CBS and Paramount in January 2017, ending the infringement lawsuit and allowing Alec to complete two Axanar sequel films (15 minutes each) as long as he did not publicly fund the project using services like Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Since Alec was using Kickstarter for these posters, they surmised, he must be breaking the settlement agreement and would quickly see a cease and desist letter (or worse!) from the lawyers at Loeb & Loeb on behalf of the corporation now known as ViacomCBS.
There are multiple reasons that these folks are wrong, of course. After all, Alec Peters isn’t stupid and did graduate from law school and pass the bar. He’d never risk the Axanar project and potentially his own livelihood just to print up a few hundred posters.
So, yes, this is all on the up and up. But just in case anyone is still dubious, let’s briefly discuss the biggest reasons that Alec is NOT running afoul of his settlement agreement…
ARES STUDIOS IS A SEPARATE LEGAL ENTITY FROM AXANAR PRODUCTIONS
This is, of course, the biggest elephant in the living room. The settlement was signed by Alec Peters on behalf of Axanar Productions. That means that only those two entities can be in breach of that agreement if, in fact, a breach ever happens.
Ares Studios did not exist until seven months after the settlement had been signed and Alec moved himself and the sets from California to Georgia. Therefore, there is no way (barring time travel) for Ares Studios to be considered a signatory of the settlement agreement that was signed before Ares Studios ever existed.
ARES STUDIOS IS NOT ALEC PETERS
Ares Studios is a not-for-profit corporation based in Lawrenceville, GA. Alec Peters is a corporate officer of Ares Studios (one of several) but not considered the corporation itself. Sometimes the Axanar detractors dream of CBS’s lawyers someday “piercing the corporate veil” to determine that Ares Studios is just Alec Peters in disguise or some such. It doesn’t work that way in the real world, however. Don’t take my word for it. Click that link I just provided or just read the following quotation from that article:
“…generally courts have a strong presumption against piercing the corporate veil, and will only do so if there has been serious misconduct.”
Printing a bunch of posters is not “serious misconduct,” folks.
Alec Peters has started a number of small businesses in his time. The legal settlement applies to only ONE of those businesses: Axanar Productions. All other ventures Alec engages in are his business (literally and figuratively).
A STUDIO IS NOT THE SAME AS A FILM
The legal settlement applied only to the production of a fan film called Axanar, the sequel to a previous fan film called Prelude to Axanar. That’s it. It didn’t apply to sets or lights or cameras or green screens or costumes or props or anything other than a finished fan film production.
Ares Studios is a film studio. It’s not nearly as big or impressive as, say, Pinewood Studios an hour’s drive southwest in Fayetteville, GA, but perhaps that’s still a good example to bring up. You see, since it opened in 2013, Pinewood Studios has played host to the filming of eight Marvel blockbusters including Civil War, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the last two Avengers movies. But Pinewood Studios has no ownership in any of those films. They’re all Disney. The Walking Dead is also filmed at Pinewood, but the production company is AMC Studios. Pinewood is just a place they use to film.
The same is true for Axanar and Ares Studios. Ares Studios is just the facility where Axanar is being filmed. Several other productions have also filmed at the studio, including my own production INTERLUDE, a parody sci-fi project from PUAL JENKINS, and a number of student films. After the pandemic, Alec is planning to film even more productions there…and none of them are Axanar.
The legal settlement only forbids Alec from publicly crowd-funding Axanar itself, not from crowd-funding the rent of a studio used for multiple productions besides Axanar.
THE TWO FINANCIALS ARE COMPLETELY SEPARATE
This probably goes without saying, but money given to the Kickstarter for the posters goes to Ares Studiosonly (minus the cost of printing, packing, and shipping). The money for Axanar is being collected privately via the Ares Digital 3.0 firewall, not using Kickstarter or any other public service. Alec has been careful not to promote the Axanar fundraiser publicly, and so he is abiding in good faith to the specifics of the settlement.
HALF A YEAR WITH NO COMPLAINTS FROM THE STUDIOS
Late last year, Alec received two Notice of Breach letters over a two-month period from David Grossman, one of the attorneys from Loeb & Loeb, CBS’s outside law firm. Alec had actually received about 8 or 9 of these letters since the settlement in 2017, and Alec has always responded, addressing any issues raised and making corrections to his practices when needed. And when the issues raised were either misunderstandings or incorrect, Alec would clarify that the thing(s) they had a problem with weren’t really a problem, explain why…and that would be the end of it. There has never been any follow up by CBS or Loeb & Loeb about any unresolved issue.
This time, though, Alec felt particularly aggrieved by the letters, especially after the first letter got leaked to a detractor in an attempt to sabotage the first Axanar shoot in October. In the process of looking into this leak, Alec discovered to his shock that Mr. Grossman had contacted him (Alec) on behalf of CBS without informing CBS that he (Mr. Grossman) was doing so.
So Alec sent a copy of his second response directly to executives at CBS letting them know what their lawyer was up to and pointing out that, with Star Trek: Picard about to launch, it might not be the best time for stories to start appearing in the media about CBS continuing to harass their fans with legal intimidation after resolving a year-long lawsuit amicably.
And to be fair, Alec has been a good Star Trek citizen. He is never overly critical of CBS on his live streams and podcasts, he loves Picard, and is excited about the new Pike series Strange New Worlds.
Although I can’t read the minds of the folks at what is now ViacomCBS, my guess is that they don’t think that a guy raising money in the tens of thousands of dollars (no longer over a million) to produce a 30-minute fan film is worth the public relations hassle at such a critical time for All Access. And they certainly wouldn’t care about a bunch of posters and a $1,200 Kickstarter.
In the past six months, Alec hasn’t received a single communication from anyone at either Loeb & Loeb or ViacomCBS…and this despite having a Patreon for Ares Studios taking in $2,600/ month and an online store selling patches, mugs, T-shirts, stickers, hats, messenger bags, and a whole bunch of other “swag.” Long story short, if CBS had a problem with Alec publicly funding Ares Studios while privately funding Axanar, I suspect he would have heard more than crickets over the past six months.
THERE’S NO STAR TREK INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN ANYTHING ALEC IS SELLING
Even if ViacomCBS did have some kind of problem with Alec selling swag, it’s hard for them to do anything about it. As I pointed out above, Ares Studios never signed a legal settlement with the studios. And if it’s a case of pulling the infringement alarm again, take a close look at what’s being sold. There’s nothing on any product that says “Star Trek,” nothing that uses any of ViacomCBS’s licensed trademarks, and no intellectual property unique to Star Trek and only Star Trek. Words like “phaser,” “transporter,” and “warp” are too generic to ever be granted copyright protection. And you won’t find unique words like “Klingon” or established starship designs like the USS Enterprise on any Axanar merchandise.
In short, everything that Alec and Ares Studios are selling is 100% original intellectual property that Alec owns the rights to. Anyone arguing differently isn’t looking carefully at the products themselves. This is all completely legit.
So if you think the stuff is cool and worth owning, and you have the money to spare, then shop (or donate) with a clear conscience, my friends…
Earlier this week, the private fundraising total was at $10,795…although the number hadn’t moved much recently. The global economic uncertainty from the pandemic is understandably slowing crowd-funding donations down to a veritable standstill. Sure, the Axanar total still moves a little, but over the past three weeks, only $795 had come in since it crossed the $10K mark on April 22.
So imagine my surprise when I refreshed the tab on Thursday and saw the total was at $20,795!
For the first few seconds, my mind didn’t process it. I’d just checked it a couple of days before, and it was at $10,795…so my brain first looked at the “795” part and thought: Oh, well…hasn’t moved. Then it started sinking in—did I see a “2” at the beginning of the number? I checked again. Holy frack! This was either some system glitch with Ares Digital 3.0 or else someone had just given ALEC PETERS ten grand!
It was about 3am for Alec in Atlanta (midnight for me in L.A.), so the answer to my question would need to wait until morning. But first thing, I texted Alec. Yep, it really was a $10,000 donation…and Alec had been just as surprised as I was when he’d found out the day before.
The donor hasn’t given me permission to share his identity, but Alec confirmed that he had given $1,000 to the previous Axanar campaign that had raised money for the second Georgia shoot in March. Apparently, this fellow has been so impressed by the organization and progress of Axanar over the recent months that he decided to provide a second, jaw-droppingly generous donation. The donor called Alec on Thursday explaining how truly enthusiastic he was about the project, and how he had decided to give some more. “Check your account,” he told Alec over the phone—and when he did, Alec was almost speechless…except for a wave of sincere gratitude flowing out to let this donor how much his support meant to the project and to Alec personally.
In the meantime, there have been a few major changes to the Axanar production and post-production game-plan recently, so I might as well catch you up…
Lately, it seems like every morning we wake up with a choice to make: optimism or pessimism? Either the world is collapsing around our ears or else we’re gonna make it through this pandemic and everything will be fine again. Sometimes it feels like we’re faced with this decision multiple times each day!
And that brings us to the topic of crowd-funding campaigns. At the moment, with the global economy teetering on the edge of a second Great Depression, there aren’t any new Kickstarters or Indiegogo’s or GoFundMe’s starting up for Star Trek fan films. The odds are simply too long on reaching one’s goal. But what about those campaigns that launched BEFORE the pandemic (or just as quarantining was beginning)?
In the case of Neutral Zone Studios, owner RAY TESI reports that he’s suspended (not canceled) plans to move his TOS sets to Orlando and start up an Escape Room business. Their WeFunder campaign kicked off in late February with a goal of $100K and stalled at $30K. Ray suggests that they’ll have to see when things start getting back to normal. “No change in plan, only time,” he says.
But another February campaign that was caught by surprise was the Indiegogo for SQUADRON from the Czech Republic. These hardworking and humble folks put everything they had into their campaign. But with two weeks left in their two-month campaign, they were barely 23% of the way to their $15,000 goal, and donations had essentially flatlined. Squadron show-runner JAKUB HOLÝ was hopeful that they could make it at least to 50% ($7.5K) of their goal in order to afford all of the VFX shots they needed to tell their story properly. As a battle tale set during the Dominion War, CGI effects shots would be super-important.
But with seven weeks gone and only 13 days left—and during an international health crisis and economic collapse—how could Squadron possibly manage to double their total when it had barely budged for nearly a month?
A lot was happening in the world of AXANAR just three short weeks ago. After raising $50K to cover 2/3 of the cost of the first two shoots at Ares Studios (ALEC PETERS covered the rest personally), an additional $5K was raised in a new private crowdfunding campaign in February. That allowed a third one-day shoot to happen on March 15, just as fears of the pandemic were beginning to take hold in many states.
This led Alec to announce via Axanar Confidential that the fourth shoot, a major two-day green screen excursion to Los Angeles to film nearly half a dozen aliens in full prosthetics and makeup, would be delayed and no longer happen in April as planned. And the premiere of Axanar itself would likely no longer occur at San Diego Comic Con, as it was possible that the huge gathering of hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans might itself be canceled.
This didn’t stop Axanar completely, however. The first full trailer was released online the night of March 15, and you can see it here if you haven’t already…
This followed the release a few weeks earlier of some rough cut footage of actor JAMIE RENELL doing some background ad-lib for his on-screen interview as USS Ares Chief Engineer Alexei Leonov…
And of course, on March 15 Axanar also launched its third private fundraiser on Ares Digital, this one with a goal of $30K to cover the major “alien shoot” in L.A. Some people asked if this was an appropriate time to raise money for a Star Trek fan film with people being furloughed and losing their jobs and the economy in a tailspin. Alec answered that question in a blog on the Axanar.com website. At the time, the campaign had already taken in about 25% of its goal in less than a week. In the two weeks since then, donations have slowed considerably, although they’re still trickling in steadily…
If you’re interested in donating (and are able to), you can do so by clicking here: