As we celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek on September 8, 1966, let’s take a trip back in time five decades to what was very likely the first-ever Star Trek fan film to be shut down by the studio that owns the franchise.
It’s generally accepted in our community that the first major Star Trek fan film produced with a decent degree of quality by American fans was the 1974 project PARAGON’S PARAGON. But thanks to the folks at RODDENBERRY ENTERTAINMENT and some recently-discovered letters from the archives of the late GENE RODDENBERRY (Star Trek‘s creator), we’ve just learned that there might well have been a significant Star Trek fan film half a decade sooner—while Star Trek was still on the air!—if only a lawyer at Paramount hadn’t killed the fan project in its infancy.
Sure, we all know about the Axanar lawsuit. And some fans mistakenly believe that CBS (and before them, Paramount) hate Star Trek fan films and want to shut them all down. But if you look at the numbers, that claim doesn’t hold up. Over the decades, there have been thousands of Star Trek fan films created and released onto the Internet and, prior to that, copied from VHS tape to VHS tape and even shot on Super 8. In all of that time, the studio lawyers have only stepped in a small handful of times.
In other words, this blog isn’t a hit-piece bashing CBS or Paramount for being “evil” corporations dedicated to trying to screw over their loyal fans. Instead, it’s what Spock would consider a fascinating look back at a time when the concept of a fan film was likely as alien to a studio lawyer as an Andorian or Tellarite.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so), Star Trek‘s very own creator—a man often considered ahead of his time—was all for the idea of a Star Trek fan film and tried to talk Paramount’s lawyer into it. But there’s an old saying that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.
This is a story of what happened when a Trekkie tried to get permission…
Is CBS switching back from copyright infringement lawsuits to cease & desist letters? It’s hard to read the tea leaves when it comes to a multi-billion dollar corporation, but we may have just gotten a clue.
The year 2016 was a turbulent and uncertain time for the world of Star Trek fan films. It began with a copyright infringement lawsuit against Alec Peters and AXANAR, and then by the summer, fans were presented with a series of fan film guidelines listing the things fans were and were not allowed to do if they wanted to avoid legal action on the part of CBS and Paramount.
But were lawsuits now the “new normal”? Would fan films that violated the guidelines find themselves dragged into court for expensive litigation? The studios weren’t saying. For many years, most fan film producers had (perhaps naively) assumed that the worst that would happen would be they’d get a call (or letter or e-mail) from the studios saying, “Stop what you’re doing.” Even Alec Peters himself figured he’d probably get a call long before ever being served with a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Man, was he wrong!
Ironically, had the studios simply sent Alec a cease & desist letter instead of suing, they could have saved themselves nearly a million dollars in attorneys fees and 12 months of polarizing publicity with likely a similar result of a scaled-down Axanar. But that’s a “what if” scenario that we’ll never see played out in this universe.
But here’s a question: did CBS’s and Paramount’s experience with the year-long Axanar lawsuit leave a bad enough taste in the studio execs’ mouths that they’ve decided to dial things back from battlestations to just yellow alert? Are the studios ready to return to good ol’ fashioned cease & desist letters to get the job done?
The answer to this question might come from another copyright infringement lawsuit going on right now involving Star Trek…and Dr. Seuss!
Earlier today, ALEC PETERS posted the following blog on the AxanarProductions.com website. As it’s very relevant to my editorial blog entry from yesterday—and it makes some excellent points—I asked for and received Alec’s permission to re-post the blog in its entirety here on FAN FILM FACTOR. (Please note that the opinions expressed and descriptions of events presented are solely those of Alec Peters.)
There is a a lot of talk lately about how Star Trek Continues has decided to openly violate the Star TrekFan Film Guidelines that CBS put in place last year. STC has already violated the guidelines with the release of their last episode, and is making 3 more roughly 50 minute episodes that violate at least 5 Guidelines including length (close to 50 minutes) and the use of Star Trek actors.
I would highly recommend you read Jonathan Lane’s Fan Film Factor article on the matter here:
Jonathan provides a very fair view of the matter, as he likes both Axanar and STC. And Jonathan calls out Vic for his hypocrisy in attacking Axanar for violating “guidelines” that never existed, while violating the actual written rules himself. And lets be clear, Star Trek Continues has neither been “grandfathered” in (total nonsense), nor do they have a special deal with CBS. They are simply stating that “we think CBS will be OK with us doing this.”
But I am going to argue that this is actually good for fan films.
Now let’s be clear, I don’t like Vic. He has been lying about Axanar since he stormed out of the Prelude to Axanar Premiere we invited him to in 2014. But I support Star Trek Continues as I do all fan films. I don’t let my feelings for Vic cloud my feelings for a very worthy fan film series. Along with Star Trek New Voyages, they have done wonderful things in the fan film genre.
Now what is ironic is that while Vic refuses to help anyone else in fan films, (he famously asked Tommy Kraft for a role in the Horizon sequel while telling Tommy he wouldn’t lift a finger to help him) and has refused to allow others to use his sets (unlike James Cawley or Starbase Studios who generously allowed anyone to come use their sets), Vic’s decision to ignore the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines may well help all fan films moving forward. How is that?
Well, CBS always hated policing fan films. Having communicated extensively with with John Van Citters, (Head of Star Trek licensing), Liz Kolodner (VP CBS Licensing) and Bill Burke (VP CBS Consumer Products) about fan films for years, and having advocated extensively for guidelines, I knew that CBS didn’t WANT to have to worry about fan films as they saw it as a huge waste of time. They were too busy making money to have to worry about a bunch of fans making films. I once joked with John Van Citters that CBS treated fan films with “benign neglect” and that was good, as fan films did nothing but help the franchise. And CBS told me over and over how it would be impossible to come up with fan film guidelines because of 50 years of Star Trek contracts and agreements with unions, guilds and actors.
Well, clearly that wasn’t the case, since they were able to come up with Guidelines pretty quickly after they sued Axanar. And while many feel the guidelines are too severe (e.g. limiting fan films to 15 minutes and no more than two installments) or even possibly illegal (it’s questionable if CBS can tell you who you CAN’T hire for your fan film) – the guidelines are what they are. They provide some general rules to follow if a Star Trek fan film producer doesn’t want to run the risk of getting sued by CBS.
So how does Star Trek Continues violating the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines help all fan films? Well, it just supports what we at Axanar have known for a while. Axanar was sued because we didn’t look like a fan film. Not because we made “profit” (we didn’t) or that we built a “for-profit studio” (we didn’t…STNV did that), both reasons made up by people who don’t know what they are talking about, but because Axanar looked like it came from the studio.
Now CBS doesn’t want to sue its fans again. The 13 months of the lawsuit was not good for CBS and Paramount from a PR perspective. And the Guidelines were basically a way to put a lid on the “arms race” of professionalism taking place.
But what we see here is CBS giving Star Trek Continues a pass. And why? Because over a year ago, CBS said to me, “No one is going to confuse them with real Star Trek.” And that is the crux of the matter. Yes, Star Trek Continues, like Star Trek New Voyages, have excellent production values, with amazing sets, brilliant VFX and visuals, and excellent costuming and props. They LOOK amazing. But the acting is mostly amateurs, and that is the main reason fan films don’t have widespread appeal. (By the way, I love Chris Doohan as Scotty in STC. Simply brilliant). But ask fans what they think of fan films, and the overwhelming # 1 reason they give for not watching or liking them is the acting. And this is one of the main reasons I decided to give up the role of Garth in the feature film.
So, as long as you aren’t too good – and stay in familiar territory – it appears you are in a safe harbor. Want to break the Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines? Just don’t make something that CBS perceives as a threat. There’s no question that from a marketing perspective, fan films are actually very good for the Star Trek franchise, and the powers that be at CBS know this and will allow you to break many of the guidelines as long as you aren’t overly ambitious. And since no one is really raising money for their productions anymore, I don’t think CBS has to worry about this. STC is spending the money they had previously raised and why they cut down on the number of episodes they were making.
So, while I won’t advocate a fan film maker break the CBS Star Trek Fan Film Guidelines, I think what Star Trek Continues has shown is that CBS isn’t going to worry about a product that they don’t see as threatening. And that gives all fan film makers a little breathing room.
Last Wednesday, STAR TREK CONTINUESannounced that none other than actor JOHN “Q” DE LANCIE is going to guest star in the ninth episode of their fan series, “What Ships Are For,” which will premiere the last weekend of July.
And now I am about to get myself into a shatload of trouble! But before I jump into the smoldering volcano of fan film frenzy and fanatical fealty, let me state the following up front:
I love Vic Mignogna (not romantically, just as a fan). Yes, I’ve heard him called every name in the book by people who don’t like him. I’ve heard vitriolic complaints about Vic’s ego, lack of integrity, and even his acting ability. (And I’ve heard similar rants about Alec Peters, by the way.) The fact is: I don’t care! I think very highly of both of these men…and for very similar reasons. But for right now, let’s focus on why I love Vic.
Every fan production has one bright sun at the center of its solar system. And for STC, that has always been Vic Mignogna. He’s a leader and inspiration to his production team. He makes things happen. He has set the tone for an endeavor where everyone gives 200% and does it all with smiles while having a blast. You can see it in their behind-the-scenes videos, and I’ve seen it in person at cons I’ve attended where the STC cast is in attendance…with Vic right there in the middle of the enthusiasm.
I also think Vic does a fantastic job being James T. Kirk. Many have attempted the role—from the late/great John Belushi to Jim Carey and even Carol Burnett to fan film actors James Cawley and Brian Gross. Each has brought something different and unique to the character. So before any of you criticize Vic Mignogna for his performance, imagine yourself trying to portray the legendary captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 and tell me if you could do any better. As far as I’m concerned, Vic nails it.
So regardless of everything else I am about to say in this blog editorial, let me state for the record that I am a big fan of Vic Mignogna and a HUGE fan of (and proud donor to) Star Trek Continues.
And with that, it’s time for Jonathan to jump into the volcano…
Unlike the USS Enterprise in Star Trek II, no, we didn’t make it. Our attempt to sign up 500 social media accounts to all automatically post/tweet the same message at the same moment last Tuesday came up short with only 109 participants.
But hey, live and learn, right? Or how about…if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. We’re doing a little but of both!
My Chief Social Media Officer (yeah, that’s kind of a thing), Commander LEE QUESSENBERRY, has just launched a NEW HeadTalker campaign. This one has a much less lofty goal of only 50 participants…and we’re already nearly there with 43! We can, of course, go over 50, and the more the merrier! And we’ve still got 15 days left!!
There’s a couple of other changes you might notice. First, the name of the campaign is now “United For Star Trek Fanfilms“. That works in THREE important elements of our message. Obviously, we’re all about Star Trek. And we’re also all about fan films. And of course, we’re united. No need to push the name “SMALL ACCESS” as few people outside of our group even know what that is. (And hey, that’s part of the problem…and the challenge!)
We also have a slightly new message that will be posted/tweeted on Friday, June 30 at noon Eastern Time:
“I am joining a cause (@smallaccesstrek) because I want to see #StarTrek #FanFilms succeed! #FF #FollowFriday https://hdtk.co/rWuJm“
As before, this one includes the @smallaccesstrek Twitter account and a hashtag for #FanFilms. But this time, we also included #StarTrek (yep, we forgot to include that one the first time—d’oh!) as well as #FF and #FollowFriday. What are those? I didn’t know either, so I asked Lee, and he said, “Follow Friday is an old twitter holiday like Throwback Thursday or Taco Tuesday. So on a Friday, if there’s someone you follow that you think others would find interesting, you #FF or #FollowFriday. It’s been a while since I actually did a FollowFriday request on Twitter, but it seems it is still a thing.”
So here we go again, folks! If you have a spare moment (and a Facebook or Twitter or other social media account), please click on the image below to help us out…
As you might recall from last week, Lee Quessenberry and I kicked off a HeadTalker Campaign to try to get 500 people to agree to have a message posted to their Twitter, Facebook, and/or other social media account(s) at noon EST on June 13. The message would say:
“We want to change the Star Trek #Fanfilm Guidelines. Follow Small Access Trek to find out how you can. https://hdtk.co/VSsvF“
The idea was to get the message to trend long enough to bring some more attention, eyeballs, and ultimately (hopefully) members to the SMALL ACCESS campaign to get CBS and Paramount to revise at least one of the fan film guidelines.
With less than 24 hours to go, we’re just short of 100 out of the 500 sign-ups we need. So barring a miracle (or Spock sacrificing himself in engineering), to quote Sulu, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”
No, we’re probably not.
So what does this mean for SMALL ACCESS? Well, in the words of Monty Python’s peasant: “Not dead yet!” In fact, we’ve taken in 45 new members in the last two weeks, which is 3.5% growth. No, it’s not the hundreds and thousands we need, but it’s better than stagnation or collapse. I choose to see the glass as 3.5% full.
And hey, even if we don’t grow large enough to succeed in our holy quest, we’ve still got a great group that’s spreading the gospel of Star Trek fan films…and I very much want that group to continue.
So what happens next? I’m not sure yet. Probably we’ll try another HeadTalker campaign with a smaller goal number. But I’ll be contacting Lee Quessenberry this week to get his ideas for plan B, C, D, and possibly E. We’ve got a few months before Star Trek: Discovery premieres, so there’s still time to grow this group some more. I’m willing to give it a chance if you are.
And hey, if you happen to know 407 people with social media accounts who might be willing to help us make it to our 500-person goal before noon tomorrow, please ask them to sign up here:
Two weeks ago, I discussed how Project: SMALL ACCESS needed to grow in order to give the group any reasonable leverage in trying to convince CBS and Paramount to revise the “no ongoing fan series” portion of fan film Guideline #1. Since then, we’ve added about 40 new members (3% growth)…which is certainly a nice start. But we need to grow a LOT more than that, my friends!
Needing advice from people more experienced in guerilla marketing on the social media front, I sought the assistance of Lee Quessenberry, who had helped with the online marketing efforts for Axanar during their Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. One of the first things Lee did was to set up a HEADTALKER campaign for SMALL ACCESS.
What’s a HEADTALKER?
It’s pretty simple. People sign up to allow HeadTalker to send out a single post from one (or more) of their social media accounts—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr—on a certain day at a certain time. With enough simultaneous posts, the message will “trend” and get a boost.
For example, here’s the message you would be agreeing to share (it would be posted automatically for you) on June 13, 2017 at 12:00pm Eastern Time:
“We want to change the Star Trek #Fanfilm Guidelines. Follow Small Access Trek to find out how you can. https://hdtk.co/VSsvF“
There’s only one catch: we need 500 people to sign up to share this message or it won’t get sent out. Right now, we’ve got 67 (which, according to the Headtalker page, gives us a social media reach of 941,141…assuming everyone’s contacts read the message).
BUT WE NEED TO MAKE IT TO 500…AND WE HAVE ONLY 7 DAYS LEFT!
If we don’t make it, we can always try it again with a smaller goal like 100 or even 75 or 50. But it would be so awesome if we could get to that 500 goal.
A note on your privacy
When you log into HeadTalker using your Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or LinkedIn account, you’re allowing their platform to share a single message on your behalf. That’s all. They use the absolute minimum permissions possible to post a message on your behalf. The social media platforms they integrate with sometimes include additional permissions that we do not use.
It’s really as simple as three clicks (well, possibly four if you’ve never used HeadTalker before):
The news has been spreading through the fan film community faster than a snitch through a quidditch match! According to a rapidly-expanding plethora of online sources, Warner Brothers studios, which owns the movie rights to the HARRY POTTER franchise, have given approval to the producers of a high-quality fan film titled VOLDEMORT: ORIGINS OF THE HEIR to be made. The only conditions: the producers must make no profit, and the completed project can only be shown for free via YouTube.
This didn’t seem to be the case last July when Warner Brothers shut down the Kickstarter page for this project. The production had already successfully funded a $30,000 campaign, but faster than you can say “Expelliarmus!” all trace of the campaign was gone, replaced by a pretty harsh sounding notice:
Description of infringing material: It recently came to our attention that users on your site, at the link(s) below, were contemplating a project that violates Warner Bros.’ rights. We have discussed it with the users who have agreed to remove the project from the site and have requested that we send this notice so that the project is removed. I have a good faith belief that the project is not authorized by Warner Bros., its agent, or the law. Accordingly, please act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the URL listed below.
In fact, some fans actually thought there was some sort of litigation (apparently, there wasn’t), and even Wikipedia erroneously reports that in their entry. (Look quick, before they fix it!)
I started the SMALL ACCESS protest campaign on Facebook last July, shortly after CBS and Paramount released the new guidelines that seemed to spell certain doom for Star Trek fan films. I’d hoped we could start a “movement” that would make the studios take notice and convince them to revisit and revise the guidelines.
It’s now almost a year later, and the guidelines remain in place…unchanged. We tried to get bunch of the guidelines changed all at once, but that didn’t work. And I realized instead that, if we tried to “eat the elephant” in smaller bites (try to change one guideline at a time), then we might have more luck in convincing the studios to listen to us and maybe even work with us.
And our offer would be simple: revise just one guideline, and our members will subscribe to CBS All Access for a month (to check it out, see if we like it). Revise two guidelines, two months. And so on. The first guideline we wanted to target was the “no ongoing fan series” rule (we voted on that), suggesting that Guideline #1 could be rewritten with a revised second part:
The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total. The production can continue featuring the same title, characters, and settings for additional episodes as long as no single story extends beyond two consecutive segments, episodes or parts.
The big question was: would the members of SMALL ACCESS agree to subscribe for a month if the studios made his first revision to Guideline #1? I published the results of a survey last week in Part 7, but here they are for you again…
Last year, Justin Lin and J.J. Abrams both went on record as being supportive of Star Trek fan films and that the fans should be encouraged to make them. A month later, CBS and Paramount issued a set of fan film guidelines that shocked many fans and angered others with their restrictions on length, shutdown of continuing fan series, and moratorium on participation by anyone who had previously worked on any studio-authorized Star Trek project…from movie and TV series to video games and even package design.
On the one hand, it was nice to finally have a set of guidelines that clearly defined what the fans would be allowed to produce without the fear of getting sued. On the other hand, a good number of fans familiar with fan productions felt that certain of the guidelines (like the ones I just listed) had overshot the mark, landing in a place of being too constraining and unnecessarily Draconian.
However, unlike a year ago when big names like Abrams and Lin spoke out on the fan film issue, no major names in the world of Star Trek have commented on the new guidelines other than John Van Citters (who was one of the people responsible for writing them).
But now that has changed, as I was able to interview Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Executive Producer STEVEN IRA BEHR and ask him directly, on the record, how he felt about the guidelines. Granted, I don’t expect Ira to rush out and rally for the guidelines to be revised and loosened. But I was curious if we fans who feel so negatively toward some of these guidelines are justified in feeling that way or not. Would Ira agree with us….or would he think that we’re just being petulant (or crazy!) to have any problems with these reasonable studio rules? You can find out below…
And for anyone curious how a small-time blogger managed to score an interview with Ira Behr and get him to speak on the record, I donated to the Indiegogo campaign for his Deep Space Nine documentary “What We Left Behind,” which blew through its initial $150,000 goal to reach nearly $650,000! (Click on the above link to learn more about this exciting project.)
The perk I donated for was a 10-minute call with Ira Behr where I could ask him anything. I cleared with his assistant beforehand that I’d be able to record the call and post it on my blog site, and last week, we spoke for more than 15 minutes. It was a really great conversation.