In recent years the bubble that is the Star Trek Fan Film world has grown incrementally with crowdfunding, advancing technologies, and increased social media presences. Until very recently, that is, when it seems to have finally popped.
On this bog, I haven’t really addressed the controversy surrounding the new guidelines set forth by CBS and Paramount Pictures regarding Fan Films. Personally, I wanted to see how everything played out and affected the projects that I had been following.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Paramount and CBS collectively filed suit against the Fan Film group, Axanar Productions, and its head, Alec Peters late in 2015. Since then, Axanar Studios has pushed back, fans have responded in various ways, celebrities have weighed in; in total, it has become a very messy and ugly situation for all involved. For more information, check out TrekMovie’s detailed description of the case and its subsequent effects: Everything You Need to Know About the Current State of the Axanar Lawsuit.
Needless to say, those in power at CBS and Paramount do not want to see something like this come to fruition again. Thus, they have released a series of guidelines (or, restrictions, depending on your interpretation) for what can pass as a Fan Film and simultaneously stay safe from official objection or legal action.
Those guidelines are as follows (from startrek.com):
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, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.
The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.
The fan production must be non-commercial:
CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.
The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
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.
The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.
The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.
The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production:
“Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know that I have tried to support and give exposure to some of the Fan Films that have been made over the past few years (see my reviews of Star Trek: Renegades & Star Trek: Horizon). Because of this, I was initially saddened to hear about the guidelines and – what I thought to be – the inevitable disbanding of several projects that I was following with interest. Despite this, I did not want to instantly jump onto the bandwagon of those who were determined to vilify CBS and Paramount. When these guidelines were released and the Axanar case progressed, many of those following the case seemed to have become experts on Intellectual Property and Copyright laws overnight. I know very well that this is not an area in which I have much expertise, so I will leave any legal judgement and justifications up to those with more knowledge than myself.
For me, my interest quickly shifted to what those passionate individuals and teams behind the productions such as Star Trek: Renegades and Horizon were going to do to move forward. Were they going to cease and desist? Were they going to continue in a new way? Or were they simply going to challenge and/or ignore the new set of guidelines?
In light of this, I’ve put together quick overviews of what a lot of these teams have decided to do, given the new developments, and where to continue following them and finding more information:
Star Trek: Renegades:
In my review, I wrote about how eager I was to see some of the new characters introduced in Renegades develop and grow. I was also eager to see how the creators were going to handle some of the historically beloved characters that they chose to include in their story as well. Sadly, we will never get a true continuation to that first chapter of Renegades, however the team behind it has decided instead to take the project in a creative and interesting direction:
“We, at Renegades, have nothing but the utmost respect for Star Trek and its IP holders, CBS and Paramount. Everything we have done has been because of Gene Roddenberry’s vision and creativity. Star Trek is their property and we will absolutely abide by their rules and guidelines.
That being said, we do have an obligation to our donors and fans, and we have every intention of fulfilling it to the best of our ability. So, we will continue to make “The Requiem” as promised, but without any Star Trek elements.
As you know, we’ve already begun filming “The Requiem” so we cannot halt, suspend, or postpone production. Renegades, from the get go, was designed to be transformative… not derivative. Thus, with very minor changes to our script, we have eliminated all of the Star Trek references. The good news is that Renegades is now a completely original and ongoing series.
We would like to take this time to thank CBS and Paramount for letting us play in their proverbial sandbox for as long as they did. And we’d also like to thank our loyal, creative, and passionate fans for their unending support. We truly appreciate it.”
In essence, Renegades will become a completely original project that takes inspiration from the ideals of Star Trek while including several Trek alumni such as Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Terry Farrell, Tim Russ, Robert Beltran and many more. While it is unfortunate that we will never see a full conclusion to the first outing, I believe that we will now be treated to a production with more freedom and potential for unique and original content.
Find out more and stay up to date at the Renegades website.
Star Trek: Horizon
The production team behind Horizon had intended to follow up this project with a sequel, Federation Rising which would depict the origins of the Federation as Trek fans know it today. Unfortunately for this team, the new guidelines effectively killed this project in its entirety. However, the creator behind Horizon, Tommy Kraft, has decided to press on in the world of film and science-fiction with his own independent short film, Runaway (see my write-up on the project here).
Runaway has surpassed 100% of its goal on its Kickstarter page and still has a few days left to go.
Star Trek: Ambush
Ambush, a project out of the United Kingdom, aims to tell the story of a brand new crew set aboard the USS Ambush. Taking place not long after the events of the episode, The Balance of Terror, the plot will follow the crew as they embark on a single away mission to rescue a captured commander from the Romulans.
Fortunately, Ambush intended to be a short, self-contained story, so the guidelines do not appear too difficult for them to adapt to, and it appears the project is still moving forward.
Here’s the update from the film’s creator, Greg Lock:
“Ambush” will still happen, the point of the project was to tell a story I had and introduce a new crew. The guidelines will still allow me to do that. Things will change, that is inevitable, I will never forget a phrase a lecturer kept repeating at film school when I was making films then, “Adapt and Overcome”. I will be having a meeting with various members of my creative team so we can discuss each guideline and where “Ambush” currently stands on them. We will make sure “Ambush” fully respects the guidelines that CBS/Paramount wish to impose and will showcase it knowing this.
Some specifics that spring to mind already, we purposefully designed our own costumes and sets, we do not have recreations or reproductions, if a prop was commercially available we used the official licensed one. “Ambush” was always intended to have a running time of approximately 20 minutes, it’s looking like it would be more like 30 minutes, so “Ambush” may well be a 2 part self contained story. I look forward to seeing if we can use the runtime guideline to a creative advantage. There will be a further statement once I’ve been able to discuss this with the other members of the team, but thats an initial response.
Find and follow updates on Ambush on their Kickstarter page.
I’ve been following Pacific 201 for a while and with every update, the project has boasted some incredible visuals for an independent, low-budget film. The story will take place four decades after Earth’s first interstellar war, and will see the launch of a new vessel, the Pacific. In launching this new ship, the Federation hopes to recapture the spirit of exploration that they have felt alienated from since the devastating effects of the war.
From the Pacific 201 team:
“Make it a virtue!”
-Ira Behr, on production difficulties for DS9
The new fan film guidelines certainly limit exactly how we wanted to tell the Pacific 201 story, but we are committed to making this a virtue for our film. We’re confident that Pacific 201 will survive and thrive within these guidelines (even if it’s a little shorter and more to-the-point than we intended)!
Fortunately, it looks as if this project will continue on as well. Follow the film and get updates on the Pacific 201 website here.
Star Trek Continues:
For those of you who have not yet seen Star Trek Continues, watch it. It is a phenomenal continuation of Star Trek: The Original Series in not only story, but aesthetically, tonally, and thematically as well. Continues has an impressive and talented core crew, but has also attracted significant guest stars such as Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Gigi Edgley, and Lou Ferrigno.
All six Star Trek Continues episodes are available to watch on their website here. This critically-acclaimed web-series has won several awards, and was even featured in the recent USA Today special on Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary.
Unfortunately I have not heard of any updates on the progress of episode 7 or how exactly the new guidelines will affect the production moving forward. However, the show’s creator and star, Vic Mignogna responded with optimism and solidarity when asked about his thoughts on the matter:
“While we are grateful for and humbled by fan support, helping fan productions will not come in the form of anger and threats of boycott toward CBS. Those that are calling on the fans for any such actions do not represent the ideals of Star Trek, nor the best interests of Trek fan films in general. If you insist on spreading negativity about CBS, do it elsewhere. It is not welcome here and I’ve asked that any such posts be deleted immediately.
The last thing any of us would ever want would be for the owners of Star Trek to say, “Why are we spending so much time, effort and money on this? Let’s just wipe the whole thing clean off the map and be done with it. It’s not worth all this trouble.”
I’m not sure how it will happen, but I hope to see this series continue. You can find updates and information about Star Trek Continues at their website here.
Despite an initial and somewhat pervasive undercurrent of negativity, I believe that, as evident from the examples above, the Star Trek fan community has generally responded to these new guidelines positively and proactively. I’m happy to see the independent spark and spirit is still alive and well in what could have been an incredibly divisive and ugly fallout. I know that there are several more Star Trek fan productions out there – too many to highlight in a single article – and I hope the same sense of optimism continues among them as well. Star Trek has such a rich and expansive universe that begs to be explored. Similarly to how Star Trek novels have been embraced and licensed out as an ‘extended universe’ to the franchise, I hope to one day see a progression in which fan produced films can follow that path as well.