Wanna see and hear what the guy who types all these blogs looks and sounds like? Last week, I was contacted by a news producer for ReasonTV and asked if I’d be willing to come in for a half hour or so and discuss Star Trek fan films. Well, gee, twist my arm!
I’d never heard of ReasonTV, but it turns out it’s the latest offering from the Reason Foundation, which was founded in 1978 and publishes the monthly Reason magazine (voted one of the 50 best magazines in 2003 and 2004 by the Chicago Tribune…for whatever that’s worth).
I was told the news feature would be about 10 minutes long and focus on the CBS/Axanar lawsuit and the new fan film guidelines. Alec Peters and Richard Hatch would also appear in the piece. We’d all be interviewed separately and edited together later.
I drove to the studio (conveniently located only about ten minutes from where I live) and sat for a very pleasant interview. The reporter, Zach Weissmueller, was well prepared with some great questions. This wasn’t just a fluff piece, and my job wasn’t to talk up Axanar. In fact, I think I only even said the word “Axanar” once during the entire interview. Instead, I was asked about the history of fan films and the introduction of the new official guidelines.
When CBS and Paramount announced their new guidelines for Star Trek fan films, the fates of two long-running, celebrated fan series seemed to be in jeopardy. Star Trek: New Voyages (having released nearly a dozen full-length TOS fan episodes since 2004) and Star Trek Continues (with six full-length TOS fan episodes plus three vignettes released since 2012) both appeared to violate multiple new guideline rules. These included run-times over 15 minutes, more than $50,000 in crowd-funding, perk give-aways for contributors, the use of professional actors and crew, and of course, simply having an ongoing fan series in the first place!
Would these two venerated fan series finally come to an inglorious end? It seems the answer is “yes”…and “no”…and “maybe.” Let me explain…
If the release of the new guidelines by CBS and Paramount was the shot heard round the fan film world, then the subsequent response by the show-runner of Star Trek Raven was the first hint of return fire.
Or was it?
A week after CBS and Paramount published their guidelines for Star Trek fan films, an announcement went up on the news page for Star Trek Raven, a little-known fan series based in central Iowa filmed at Starfleet Studios (not to be confused with Starbase Studios in Oklahoma). The production had only released three short vignettes so far (this, this, and this), but Raven was about to become one of the most talked about fan films.
On July 1, the lead producer for Raven, David Whitney, posted this proactive statement:
The rules which pertain to direct copyright infringement and intellectual property will be adhered to. The rules which do not directly support their copyright, and copyright law, will be ignored.
Last time: Marc Scott Zicree discussed the first professional fan film, “World Enough and Time,” the fourth episode release from Star Trek: New Voyages back in 2007. Roughly 200-300 people worked on the production (235 names appear in the credits plus another 50 on the “Special thanks” list. A number of team members were actually Hollywood industry professionals…including George Takei himself reprising his role of Sulu, plus Marc and his co-writer Michael Reaves, his editor Chris Cronin, many of the department heads, the visual effects team, and the production unit who shot the USS Excelsior scenes in Los Angeles (the majority of the episode was filmed in upstate New York on the New Voyages TOS sets).
Even today, nearly a decade later, “World Enough and Time” remains high up on the list of MUST SEE fan films. And it provides a magnificent example of the kind of engaging, emotional, and dramatically satisfying production that can be achieved using a mixture of fan amateurs and industry professionals working together to create a true labor of love.
Of course, such a fan film would now be impossible to create and release under the new guidelines issued by CBS and Paramount. Industry professionals are barred from working on a fan film, although this particular guideline may violate California’s Business and Professions Code: Section 16600. Even if it does, however, fan films are now limited to 15-minute episodes or, at most, two 15-minute parts totaling no more than 30 minutes. The depth of character development and story complexity required for “World Enough and Time” could never be squeezed into such a constrained time limitation…nor should it, say many fans.
Marc Zicree is a rabid Star Trek and science fiction fan who has written and produced hundreds of hours of network television over a career spanning decades…including episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
As our 2-part interview with Marc concludes, he finishes discussing “World Enough and Time” and then dives head-first into what he thinks about those darn guidelines…
Back in 2004, Star Trek fans’ collective jaws dropped when they got their first look at Star Trek: New Voyages, an original fan film series shot on sets meticulously recreated from the original TOS bridge, transporter room, and captain’s quarters. Show-runner and lead actor James Cawley reportedly funded the construction of these sets with $100,000-150,000 of his own money.
Other set recreations would follow: sickbay, the briefing room, expansive corridors, and many more. Eventually, the New Voyages (also known as Phase 2) sets located in Ticonderoga, New York had replicated nearly the entire layout of the original TOS shooting sets at Desilu Studios on the Paramount lot fifty years ago.
Along the way, Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2 produced and released nearly a dozen original fan films, each dazzling fans. But then the new fan film guidelines were released by CBS and Paramount, potentially signalling an end to this venerable TOS fan series. Fan wondered if they would even see these amazing sets again.
Well, wonder no more! Although the fate of Star Trek: New Voyages as a fan series is still unknown, an announcement was just made on the Star Trek.com website that the TOS sets in upstate New York would now be open to viewing by the general public…on officially licensed set tours! Yes, officially licensed!!!
There still seems to be some misconceptions about the SMALL ACCESS protest campaign. Some say we’re all about a boycott and want to destroy Star Trek. Some say we’re under the control of Axanar. And most people have no idea why we’re doing surveys each day.
First and foremost, a boycott implies not watching or supporting Star Trek at all. We’re actually suggesting the opposite. We want fans to WATCH the new TV series, not avoid it completely. We’re simply suggesting a designated subscriber hosts a viewing party and the rest of the friends who come over pitch in to share the cost of the subscription (or pay for the host’s dinner or whatever seems the most legal). In the end, groups of Trek fans get together to WATCH the new series, NOT to avoid it. If some people want to boycott completely, I won’t stop them. But that’s NOT what the SMALL ACCESS campaign is about.
As for being under the thumb of Alec Peters and Axanar, that’s simply not the case. In fact, in a recent poll on the SMALL ACCESS Facebook group, I lobbied hard for a compromise of raising the 15 minute time limit to 30 minutes. That wouldn’t help Axanar much, as that feature film was planned to be somewhere around 90 minutes or even 2 hours. I was actually trying to help find a way for Star Trek Continues and New Voyages to still get made because I really enjoy both fan series. So no, Alec Peters isn’t pulling our strings, and the SMALL ACCESS campaign is completely independent from anything Axanar. Many in our SMALL ACCESS group like and support Axanar (and yes, some members don’t), but our goal is to convince that studios to REVISIT and REVISE the new guidelines. Period. We’re not about pointing fingers at any particular fan film.
And that brings us to the big question: what the heck do we do in our Facebook group day after day? Some people imagine that we just sit around, bitching and griping and talking about how Star Trek should just die.
Ummmmmm……no with a capital NO.
Instead, each day I post a new online survey, and we take a daily poll. In fact, that’s the MOST IMPORTANT thing we do!
Some fans believe that Axanar was the first fan film to use professionals or, at the very least, the first to pay them. Both of those assumptions are incorrect by nearly a decade.
The first fan film to feature a known Star Trek professional in their credits was the debut episode of Star Trek: New Voyages in early 2004, “Come What May,” which featured Doug Drexler as visual effects artist (under the pseudonym “Max Rem”) while Doug was also actively working doing the digital FX for Star Trek: Enterprise and also for the new Battlestar Galactica.
New Voyages’ next episode, “In Harm’s Way,” likewise included Doug Drexler…this time as an executive producer. It also featured veteran Star Trek TOS guest stars William Windom (reprising his role as an older, time-displaced Commodore Matt Decker), BarBara Luna, and Malachi Thorne (also voicing his former role as Commodore Jose Mendez as well as playing a Klingon).
Okay, folks, now THIS one is intriguing! As many of you probably know, TOMMY KRAFT is the fan dynamo who wrote, produced, directed, and did about six dozen other things on the wildly popular Star Trek: Horizon feature-length fan film (currently at 1.75 million views on YouTube!). Shortly after releasing Horizon in late February, Tommy announced a Kickstarter for a sequel and was quickly contacted by CBS and strongly advised not to proceed with his new endeavor.
Now we know why, as the new fan film guidelineswere probably already being discussed and would soon be released by CBS and Paramount. One of those guidelines states: “The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.” Another states: “No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.”
Fast forward to this week, and Tommy Kraft has just launched a brand new Kickstarter for a short film called Runaway, set in the not-too-distant future where an android fights for her life as she races to get to the Free States. He’s seeking $13,000 and has already raised about $4,000 in pledges from 55 backers…one of whom is me. I pledged $35.
Today, JOHN VAN CITTERS, Senior Vice President, Licensing at CBS Consumer Products Inc., gave a lengthy podcast interview to the ENGAGE official Star Trek podcastto host Jordan Hoffman. During that interview, “JVC” spoke at length about the new fan film guidelines that were just issued jointly by CBS and Paramount.
Considering the uproar these new guidelines have incited, along with petitions, calls for letter-writing and tribble-inundation campaigns, threats of boycotts, and of course, my own SMALL ACCESS campaign on Facebook, JVC is to be applauded for “stepping in front of the firing squad,” so to speak, and trying to explain and justify these new guidelines reasonably, calmly, and–dare I say it?–logically. And I have to hand it to my former boss (yep, I used to be a Star Trek consultant for Paramount’s licensing department back when it was still Viacom Consumer Products, and JVC was one of my supervisors), he did a very commendable job of explaining what CBS and Paramount were thinking.
With great notoriety comes great misunderstanding and misinformation! (Sounds pretty catchy, don’t it?)
Now that Project SMALL ACCESS has picked up nearly one thousand active participants on Facebook in just three days, we’re getting noticed. Obviously, we have a fair number of supporters–and still growing!–but there are also detractors out there calling out our campaign for all sorts of reasons…some valid, and some very much not.
In an effort to make sure there are no misunderstandings about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and who is behind it, I’ve put together the following list of questions and answers that I hope will be widely shared…