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!)
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…
First I should mention (in a follow-up to our previous post) that the survey results are in. I invited members of the SMALL ACCESS protest campaign to vote in an online Facebook poll: which ONE if the new fan film guidelines feels like it is the most problematic for fan filmmakers? This would be the guideline that Project: SMALL ACCESS will focus on convincing CBS and Paramount to revisit and revise. And there was a clear winner: Guideline #1.
However, Guideline #1 is actually a two-part guideline made up of the following:
#1a – 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…
#1b – …with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.
It’s possible for us to request a revision by CBS to one part of this guideline without necessarily changing the other part. And so I divided Guideline #1 into two options, and together these were, by far, the highest vote-getters, taking more than 95% of the nearly 140 submitted responses. So which one got the most votes?
Last week, I invited folks to vote on just one of the fan film guidelines that they thought the SMALL ACCESS group should focus our energies on trying to convince the studios to revise.
Initially, we set out to encourage multiple changes simultaneously from CBS and Paramount and pretty much got nowhere. And while we still have a veeeerrrrry steep mountain to climb, we might end up with a better chance of success asking for just one change rather than many.
And so we set up a survey over on the Small Access Facebook Group, and so far, we’ve had just under a hundred votes. Two-thirds favor a focus on the second half of the first guideline: “…With no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.” And with about a quarter of the vote, the notorious 15-minute limit is currently in second place.
But there’s still time to vote because, to be honest, I haven’t had a chance to work on the next entry of my “FAN FILM GUIDELINES: Reality Check” blog series yet. And since I’m on vacation next week (heading up the California coast with the family and my camera), there might be a solid two weeks left to vote.
Here’s the link for the poll if you haven’t voted yet or want to encourage others to:
And in the meantime, if you want to help me write the next entry in the blog series, how do YOU think we should proceed from here? We’ve got 1,300 in the Small Access group…92 of which are bothering to vote. We’re not exactly a “movement,” but we’re not entirely invisible either. A full-on boycott with just 1,300 people is pretty meaningless, though. And I doubt we’re going to convince every fan filmmaker out there to simply ignore the guidelines and risk getting sued. So what else is there?
I have a few ideas, but I’m curious first to see what other people think. Feel free to comment on this page or, if you’re a member of SMALL ACCESS (and if you aren’t–why not???) on that Facebook group page.
Last time, we began looking at all of the fan film guidelines one at a time, wondering if we could choose just one to present to the studios with a request for reconsideration.
Why choose just one? Don’t we hate all of the guidelines? Don’t we want everything to go back to what it was when the only rules were “Don’t charge to see your fan film” and “Don’t make any profit”?
Well, actually, no…at least I don’t feel that way anymore. Actually, I never wanted to get rid of all of the guidelines, and I only ever thought that maybe four of them were truly problematic for fan films. As I discussed in Part 2, the guidelines didn’t kill Star Trek fan films. In fact, since the guidelines were announced last June, more than SIXTYTrek fan films have been released…some of which did not follow the new guidelines but many did.
And then in Part 3, I discussed how the guidelines weren’t a completely bad deal for fan producers. By providing a safe harbor, much of the guesswork, uncertainty, and outright fear could be avoided by fans wanting to ensure they would not answer the door one day to a person holding a subpoena. Of course, the guidelines are still very restrictive, but they are far from impossible to follow.
However, I still believe there is room left to improve the guidelines to make them less constraining for fans while still protecting the interests of the studios. But the reality is that the more changes we fans try to get made to their guidelines, the less likely the studios will be to cooperate. So last week and this week, I’m looking at all the guidelines in an attempt to choose just one to focus on—one little compromise. If we can adjust just a single guideline, it’s still a win for fans…and we go from there.
But which one?
Last week, we quickly eliminated nearly half of the guidelines because they weren’t really problematic. Then we began looking at the second group of guidelines, a category I called…
In Part 3, I acknowledged a very inconvenient truth for many fans: CBS owns STAR TREK. This is the reality we live in, and if we want to continue in our quest to change the Star Trekfan film guidelines, we need to accept that fact and strategically move forward from there.
Project: SMALL ACCESS began as a protest campaign to convince CBS and Paramount to revisit and revise their new guidelines for Star Trek fan films. And we had a plan. After several weeks of discussion and debate about all of the guidelines, employing surveys and gathering suggestions for possible changes/improvements, we came to (mostly) a consensus that only about a quarter of the new guidelines were really troublesome to the 1,200 members of our Facebook group who were involved in the discussion. Another quarter only needed minor tweaking to make them less ambiguous, and nearly half were fine as is.
Our plan involved creating and then sending out copies of our Focus Group Report to CBS and Paramount executives as a sort of “letter-writing campaign” to begin a conversation with the studios in an attempt to create a better compromise of rules that still protected the studios but allowed fans more flexibility in creating their films than the guidelines were permitting.
The plan didn’t work. Although we know the studios received and were aware of the 115 copies of the 38-page report that was sent (they acknowledged receiving them during questioning in the Axanar lawsuit depositions–so we know the printouts weren’t just thrown out unread), there has been no mention by the studios of revisiting or revising the guidelines at all.
Over the past few months, I’ve done some deep soul searching about what to do for “Plan B” (assuming there even is a “Plan B”…which I would still like there to be). And then I realized something, and again, a number of you aren’t gonna like hearing it:
The more guidelines we try to convince the studios to revise, the less chance there is that they’ll want to change any.