When I first heard about plans for a new children-oriented Star Trek TV series from CBS Studios (now part of Paramount), I was VERY dubious. First of all, it didn’t “sound” like Star Trek. The show would focus on a group of renegade teenage characters finding a derelict Starfleet ship which they would use to “…search for adventure, meaning and salvation.” Huh? No Starfleet crew other than Kate Mulgrew voicing Kathryn Janeway? Teenagers (and renegade teenagers, at that)? They hadn’t even gone to Starfleet Academy!
At the time ALEX KURTZMAN announced the new “kids-focused” Star Trek series (January 2019), STAR TREK: DISCOVERY was about to premiere season 2, while PICARD and LOWER DECKS were still a year and a year-and-a-half away, respectively. So with only Discovery‘s first season to go on, well, you can understand my trepidation about a new children’s version of Star Trek. I mean, no one would be allowed to use swear words!
Even after Picard and Lower Decks premiered (and I enjoyed both MUCH more than Discovery), I was still apprehensive about STAR TREK: PRODIGY. And to be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the first few episodes I saw. But I was intrigued enough to keep watching. And by the end of episode 5, I was hooked. After the brief winter holiday hiatus of 2021, the next 5 episodes in early 2022 had me positively captivated by the new series—I LOVED IT!!!
And apparently, I wasn’t the only one. If you look at the average audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes (more reflective of widespread fan reaction…and fans can be HARSH!), here’s how the current five streaming Trek series stack up…
Prodigy is the second-most well-received of the new Star Trek series, all but doubling the ratings for Discovery and Picard and coming within docking range of Strange New Worlds.
Now, when asking WHY Prodigy performed so surprisingly well, it’s easy to say, “Well, it has good writing, quality animation, and solid characters.” Or you could say, “It’s fun and it ‘feels’ like Star Trek.”
But I want to go a step farther. Prodigy serves THREE masters: younger viewers unfamiliar with the franchise, longtime Trekkers, and the executives who want to attract the “next generation” of fans. And looking at it from this perspective, I believe that Prodigy is a “PERFECT” Star Trek series. I don’t mean to imply that there’s nothing wrong with it; everything has room for improvement. But in terms of meeting the needs and desires of its “masters,” Prodigy succeeds perfectly in all three cases.
Let’s take a closer look at what I’m talking about…
“Tellarites do not argue for reasons. They simply argue.”
I thought about that Sarek quote from the TOS episode “Journey to Babel” as I pondered what I like to call TREKKIE GRIEVANCE SYNDROME. Those who suffer from TGS (or make the rest of us have to suffer THEM having it) say things like:
Star Trek is dead! CBS/Alex Kurtzman killed it!
The crap that CBS is putting out is NOT Star Trek!
I’d rather there be NO Star Trek than what’s on Paramount+!
Alex Kurtzman/CBS/JJ Abrams/Bad Robot doesn’t care about us longtime fans; they just want to destroy real Star Trek and replace it with Star Wars!
Anyone who likes these new shows is living in denial and not a true fan!
The ratings/viewership for Star Trek is way down, which is why Alex Kurtzman was/is about to be/has been/is being fired!
We fans have been loyal to Star Trek through these many decades, and we deserve better than this drivel they have the gall to make us pay for!
It’s that last item that led me to dub this Trekkie GRIEVANCE, as the fans complaining seem to take it quite personally that new Star Trek isn’t living up to their expectations. Fan “deserve” better! And maybe we do—but I gotta say, some of us are not acting very deserving!!!
Y’see, there’s a difference between critiquing, criticizing, and just plain bashing. Critiquing is what I do in many of my blog review editorials. There are things I don’t personally like in some Trek series and certain episodes, and so I analyze why something isn’t working—whether it’s STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s storytelling pace being too fast and not giving the characters a chance to breathe and develop or PICARD’s plot dealing with the suicide of Jean-Luc’s mother not feeling particularly compelling to me. I critique in a mature, measured way…nothing wrong with that.
I also criticize. Discovery‘s new Klingon make-up was a total misfire, and even the show’s creators realized it by season two. The last two episodes of STAR TREK: PICARD‘s first season were a rushed mess with a Federation fleet made up forty of the same class of starship and Romulan bad guys who would have twirled their mustaches with an evil cackle if they actually had mustaches to twirl. Some creative choices are atrocious enough that you don’t need to “analyze” in a mature and measured way. If there’s something you don’t like, you can certainly gripe about it. That’s fine, too. Fans have been doing that since TOS was first airing in the 1960s.
But there’s a difference between griping/criticizing and outright bashing. Bashing looks like this…
In part 1, I pointed out how many, many Trek fans have warmly and enthusiastically greeted STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS in a way they didn’t for DISCOVERY and PICARD. It’s not that those other two CBS Studios-produced series have been universally panned—in fact, a good number of fans (including me) enjoy both series much of the time.
But from reading reviews and comments on social media and websites, fans seemed to feel almost immediately that SNW felt like “real” Star Trek. I put “real” in quotation marks because “real” likely means very different things to different people. But in general, “real” Star Trek seems to be anything produced by Paramount prior to 2005, with the stuff debuting on CBS All Access (now Paramount+) from 2017 onward seemed to miss the mark. And I’ve decided to exclude the J.J. ABRAMS StarTrek movies in to avoid turning this into a three-part blog!
Anyway, I wondered what is what about SNW that made it feel like “real” Star Trek…which is such a vague and undefined term. So I decided to list some very specific reasons—obviously in my personal opinion. Here were my first five items (counting down from ten) from Part 1…
10. THE MAIN TITLE SEQUENCE 9. ESTABLISHING SHOTS ALLOW YOU TO SEE THE SHIP 8. NO SEASON-LONG STORY ARCS 7. A TRUE PREQUEL 6. MUCH LESS OF A “MANIC/DEPRESSIVE” PRESENTATION
After writing 23 non-stop weekly reviews for the latest seasons of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY and PICARD, I took a break for the first season of STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Why? Because nearly everyone appeared to love each episode…and so did I. It seemed silly to just write about how great each episode was every week.
Not that every episode was perfect. I had a few complaints here and there, like turning the Gorn into the xenomorph monsters from Aliens and killing off my favorite character just nine episodes into the series (you bastards!).
But overall, I have been loving this new series right out of the starting gate in ways I haven’t loved Discovery and Picard. And it seems from social media and online reviews that most fans feel the same way about Strange New Worlds (with the exception of those who are still counting the days until ALEX KURTZMAN is fired for the seventeenth time!).
“The show just FEELS like real Star Trek,” seems to be the general consensus among fans. But WHY does it feel more like “real” Star Trek? What does “real” Star Trek even mean?
Some have said, with a certain amount of vagueness, “Well, it’s more optimistic.” Yeah, kinda. But some episodes have been a bit sad, too. The one where Dr. M’Benga has to part with his daughter in order for her to have a guaranteed chance at life…man, that was a downer! Another episode ends with the sacrifice of a child in order to keep a planet of floating cities from crashing down. (Man, it’s tough to be a kid on this chow!) And don’t get me started on Hemmer’s death-dive! So I’m not sure that “optimistic” is the secret sauce of this show.
“Well, it’s episodic, not serialized…” say others, and yes, that’s true—although character arcs like Spock’s marriage, Uhura’s doubts, and M’Benga’s dying daughter carried over through multiple episodes. But is “real” Star Trek simply defined as one-story-per-episode? The Dominion War lasted through multiple seasons of Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise devoted an entire season to finding and dealing with the threat of the Xindi. Were those NOT “real” Star Trek?
So rather than writing a review, I’d like to instead attempt to answer the question of what mades this series feel like “real” Star Trek—and so quickly gain the support of the vast majority of fandom—while Discovery and Picard have struggled to achieve that same reception.
The big news in the fan film world a week and a half ago was, of course, the wildly successful first shooting weekend for AXANAR. If you haven’t already, you can take a look at the many, MANY online streamed videos of the exciting shoot here, here, and here.
A week later, the biggest news is how much ALEC PETERS has managed to raise in just ten days of private crowd-funding for the production of the two Axanar sequel fan films. As of the publication of this blog, that number stands at nearly $15,800!
And what’s most amazing about that total is that those donations are almost exclusively from existing donors…with no public marketing or advertising of the campaign thus far. (In contrast, my GoFundMe for INTERLUDE took six times that long to raise that amount.)
You might be wondering why Alec is trying to raise money AFTER the shoot rather than before it. The answer is simple. Alec paid for the first shoot entirely out of his own pocket…about $75,000, according to him. This brings the total money that Alec has personally put into funding Axanar over the last five years well over a quarter of a million dollars.
“While I don’t mind fronting money for the remaining production,” Alec told me, “and I’ve certainly been doing quite a lot of that, Axanar was never intended to be funded by just one person. And honestly, I no longer have anything left to put into this project…much as I’d love to.
“So now we have to go back to our existing donors as we return to our roots of being a crowd-funded fan film. And that means we need $70,000 right now to fund the costs for our first two shoots. That’ll cover some of the expenses I already paid, although not all. Considering that our second shoot is going to cost another $20,000, even when we reach the full goal amount, I’ll probably still be left having put about $25,000 of my own money into these first two shoots. I don’t mind that, but I simply can’t afford $70,000 or more.
“So that’s where our existing donors need to step up. And they’re already starting to—which is fantastic!”
The next question I had for Alec is one that many people are asking right now: is Alec actually allowed to crowd-fund Axanar anymore? What does his legal settlement with CBS and Paramount let him do and not do when it comes to fundraising? Does he have to abide by the $50,000 limit imposed by the guidelines, or does he get a special waiver to exceed that limit (just as Alec has a special exemption allowing him to use professional Star Trek veteran actors like J.G. HERTZELR and GARY GRAHAM)?
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…
It’s been a while since I wrote a biography blog…nearly a year and a half, in fact! I’d started out thinking I’d write these regularly, as I’ve had some interesting adventures as a fan: sneaking onto the Voyager and DS9 sets at Paramount, writing the Star Trek reference book Starship Spotter in just 18 days, directing Majel Barrett Roddenberry doing voice-over for four hours…in her living room! The list goes on.
But then I got busy writing about fan films, and suddenly it’s 17 months later with no second entry to follow up on the “to be continued…” that ended my first biography blog. Time to fix that! (I’m even adding a new tab to the main menu that says “BIOGRAPHY” in the hope it’ll inspire me to write more of these entries before another 17 months go by.)
When last we left off, it was December of 1993, and I’d just turned down a job working for MICHAEL OKUDA in the Star Trek Art Department! (Was I nuts???? Read my first biography blog to find out why.)
So instead of doing graphics and animations for DS9, Voyager, and Generations, I stayed with my brother David and grew our fledgling multimedia company, 2-Lane Media, Inc. Over the next two and a half years, we expanded to about a dozen employees doing websites for clients like Disney, Nestlé, Transamerica, and Tenet Healthcare.
But in 1996, we added a new client that would change my Star Trek life forever…
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…
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!)