There are about 4 million people living in Los Angeles, 40 million in California, 330 million in the United States, and 7.6 billion in the world. Of those, a few hundred to a few thousand read this blog each day. (I can happily live with that.)
Over the years, I’ve met people at Star Trek-related events who have seen my blog…or at least folks who know about fan films. But yesterday I had that experience in, of all places, my local supermarket!
I was wearing my custom-designed AXANAR T-shirt (shown in the photo above) while doing grocery shopping, and a fellow standing near me in produce said, “I like the design on your shirt!”
I looked down—having forgotten what I was wearing(!!!)—and said, “Oh, thanks. Are you familiar with Axanar?”
He was, and I didn’t feel that surprised. PRELUDE TO AXANAR has nearly 4.5 million views on YouTube, and it got a lot of coverage in the press during 2015-2016. ALEC PETERS talks about how he occasionally gets recognized in public, and I’ve actually been with him once when it happened…so I’ve seen in it action.
“Do you know if that fan film is going to be finished?” the man asked me. (I get that question a lot.)
“Absolutely,” I said. “In fact, I talked to the show-runner just yesterday, and there’s a shoot tentatively scheduled for next month. Most of the two sequels have already been filmed at this point, and some post-production has started.”
“Oh?” he said, sounding impressed that I knew so much. “Are you involved with the project?”
“Kinda,” I said. “I write a blog about Star Trek fan films called Fan Film Factor.“
“I read that blog!” he said. Now, before I allowed myself to feel completely shocked, I will admit to being temporarily dubious…after all, maybe he was just being polite and had never heard of my blog in his life. But then he added, “In fact, I saw it was down this past weekend. Is it back up now?”
HOLY FRACK! He really does read my blog! I thought.
With INTERLUDE in the final month or so of post-production, my goal of making a Star Trek fan film is nearly complete. The trailer came out last month and seems to have been very well received by most people who didn’t mind the Space: 1999 music. (For those who did mind…well, the world didn’t end, did it?)
Back in November of 2018, my idea of making a fan film was just a crazy suggestion that I’d made to JOSHUA IRWIN, curious to see what a filmmaker of his abilities could do with the nearly-finished USS Ares bridge set to shoot on.
The next twelve months became a rollercoaster ride—starting off slowly and then accelerating as I began to crowd-fund and work through pre-production with Josh and VICTORIA FOX, our director. By the time we reached November of 2019, one year later, I silently prayed that we’d crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” because we had two full days of shooting planned, fifty people coming to the studio that weekend, and thousands and thousands of dollars had already been spent without the ability to afford a “do over” if we screwed anything up.
In this 2-part blog—likely the last “InterludeConfidential” until the premiere on July 25, 2020—I would like to share with all of you some of my most cherished memories of the November shoot. It was, unquestionably, the highlight of the entire filmmaking experience because that was when nearly everyone came together at one time.
During pre-production, by comparison, almost everyone worked either individually or in small groups, getting things ready for production. And after the footage was shot, things shifted to the director, editor, sound-mixer, composer, VFX person, and of course, the producer overseeing it all. But by that point, most of the time, much of the work was being done individually or, at most, in small groups holding production meetings via conference calls.
But it was at the film shoot(s) when all of the excitement happened and all hands—or most all of the hands—were on deck. So here are some of what were the biggest highlights for me personally during that magical weekend…
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…
I wrote that sentence at the beginning of yesterday’s blog featuring the new YouTube music video from GARY DAVIS of DREADNOUGHT DOMINION. In it, Gary featured a compilation of many of the viewer comments that have come in through social media over the past five years both praising and scorching their fan film efforts.
The video—set to the popular song “I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again” (the actual title is “Tubthumping” by the band Chumbawamba)—reflects Gary and his team’s positive and “bring it on” attitude about their hobby. They know they aren’t the giants of fan films, but they’re having FUN…and that’s really all that matters.
After writing that blog yesterday, I began thinking about the fan reaction to the trailer I released last Wednesday for my own fan film INTERLUDE. Man, did that one light a match! And it all came from a fun and silly little idea I had to do an homage to the opening credits of one of my favorite sci-fi series from the mid-1970s, Space: 1999. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, or you’d like to check it out again, here it is…
Actually, lots of people liked it. It’s had about 2.1K views so far on YouTube, with 85% of the reactions being thumbs up. Of the 15% that were thumbs down, the main complaint seemed to be my choice of music—likened by some to 70’s porn, and called by one Facebook poster “ear-raping” (whatever that means…although I’m guessing it’s not a good thing).
Others didn’t like the quick cuts, the over-use of the CGI shots, and one fellow thought I had too many clips of people spinning around in their chairs! ALEC PETERS said he liked the trailer but added that it’s not what he would have done. One of my oldest friends, ADAM “MOJO” LEBOWITZ, took time from his busy schedule to write on my Facebook post: “That’s the kind of trailer a fan makes after the movie came out. A mash up. It was cute and cool but I know nothing about your movie other than battle CGI.” Heck, even one of the members of my Interlude production team told me didn’t like the trailer. (Hey, at least he was honest.)
Such a fuss over a 1-minute trailer that I threw together in iMovie on a lark! Honestly, folks, I didn’t make the trailer for Alec or Mojo or for ear-raping guy. I made it for me…as a way to provide a sneak peek to supporters and friends and family members of what this fan film that they’ve been hearing about for a year was going to look like. It was fun to edit together, and I like the way it came out. Sure some people didn’t like it. So what? The world didn’t end (at least, not because of one Star Trek fan trailer).
Hmmmm, let’s see…should I show you the new INTERLUDE trailer first and then talk about it—or talk about it first and then show it? Aw heck, I know you all really wanna see the new trailer…!
Pretty cool, huh? For those of you unfamiliar with the 1970s sci-fi TV series Space 1999, that trailer is an homage to the way they used to start their episodes (take a look at this video to see an example). The opening credits for that series would include rapid-fire quick cuts from various scenes of “this episode” followed by a slower musical bridge where they would show some of the names behind the production. Then the date would flash: September 13th, 1999—the day the moon supposedly would have been blasted out of earth’s orbit to begin its odyssey through deep space.
Cheesy? Yeah…it was 1975, for gosh sakes! But back then, with Star Trek and Lost in Space in reruns, Doctor Who hidden on weird channels at weird times, and Star Wars still two years away, Space 1999 was one of the only first-run sci-fi games in town. And let’s face it, those eagle transport spacecraft were friggin’ cool! I loved that show, and I loved the opening credits sequences.
So what does any of this have to do with my Axanar Universe fan film Interlude, you ask? Well, technically nothing. That’s not even the actual music I’ll be using (composer KEVIN CROXTON is creating an original score for Interlude).
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…
When our Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE is released in a few months and the credits roll, two names will appear prominently: JOSHUA IRWIN and VICTORIA FOX. And it’s because of them that Interlude will not only be an awesome Star Trek fan film but also a visual work of art.
A year and a half ago, when I first suggested to Josh the idea of shooting a fan film on the Ares bridge set, I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations other than, “It’ll be SOOOOO cool!” Y’see, the Ares Studios bridge set is just so darn awesome-looking that I figured any fan film shot on it would have to look amazing. And when Josh started talking about all of the ways he planned to light it, the angles he’d shoot it from, types of lenses he’d use, etc.—it all just zoomed completely over my head. I simply figured that my fan film was in good hands, and it was gonna be such a blast flying to Georgia and getting to watch someone shoot on those sets.
A couple of months later when I discovered that Victoria usually collaborated with Josh on their amazing AVALON UNIVERSE fan films, I invited her to come on board the project, as well…and after some discussion, she accepted. At the time, I naively thought I understood how things worked with the two of them: Josh would set up the lights and cameras (cinematography) while Victoria would work with the actors. The perfect team, splitting the tasks right down the middle.
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?
Back in January, I wrote a blog discussing how we were transitioning from the production phase into post-production on my Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE. Over the past three months, JOSHUA IRWIN, VICTORIA FOX, and I have been working hard on the editing. As of this past weekend, we officially have picture lock.
“What’s the heck is a picture lock??” you ask.
Editing is kinda fun. You move a shot here, you trim a shot there, maybe you add an extra reaction shot in another spot. As you assemble the “puzzle pieces,” you can experiment and shift things around, tweaking and refining to your heart’s content. But there comes a point when you have to stop and hand the edit off to your composer.
Music is kinda unforgiving. If a scene lasts for 57 seconds, then you need 57 seconds of music underneath it. So that’s what your composer gives you. If the director or editor later decides to insert a 5-second clip in the middle of the scene or trim out 12 seconds, then the music will no longer match the scene length, and the composer will have to re-do all of the music for that scene from scratch. And eventually, if this happens too much, he or she will likely quit, often accompanied by a long series of expletives.
So achieving picture lock is a “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment. Once you hand the edit off to your composer, nothing changes that affects the timing. Nothing. Period.
Picture lock doesn’t mean the edit is all done except for the music, however. In fact, there is still a LOT left to do! For Interlude, LEWIS ANDERSON still needs to deliver two more VFX shots. “Wait,” you say, “doesn’t adding in VFX shots affect the timing and length of the film?” Not in this case. For one of the shots, Lewis has already provided us a low-resolution previsualization animatic to insert as a placeholder. His final high-resolution VFX shot will be the exact same length. In the other shot, he’s creating the digital background of Admiral Slater’s office at Starfleet Academy. We shot Slater (STEVEN JEPSON) against a green screen, and those video sequences are completed. So adding in the background doesn’t change the scene length.
Joshua is also still working on finishing touches here and there like shakes and flashes and sparks. But none of those things will affect the timing. We’re also adding in the background “bridge chatter” sounds, which doesn’t change timing either.
On Saturday, our composer KEVIN CROXTON began composing our score. Once he’s done, the edit goes to MARK EDWARD LEWIS for post-production sound-mixing. He’ll add sound effects, adjust the levels of everyone’s voices, clean up stray sounds from the set, and balance the music with the dialogue and other sounds so nothing is drowning out anything else. At this point, we’re still a month or two away from being finished.