News Blast: Star Trek Fan Films

News Blast: Star Trek Fan Films

Today, while still in the middle of an ongoing lawsuit over the Axanar fan film, CBS/Paramount announced guidelines for Star Trek fans interested in making their own fan films/works. A seemingly noble gesture by CBS/Paramount, a number of folks took issue with some of the guidelines:

1. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

A lot of people have observed that these exceptions exclude nearly every fan-made Star Trek film or video ever produced, including Axanar, the popular Star Trek New Voyages, Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, and even Voyager alumnus Tim Russ’s Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, since all of these fan works infringe on the guidelines in multiple ways.

That's either a rocking cosplay party or an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages with George Takei.
That’s either a wild cosplay party or an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages with George Takei.

Consider Star Trek: New Voyages, the fan series created by James Cawley and Jack Marshall. From their very first episode, they utilized an actor who had previously appeared in Star Trek (specifically, William Windom as Commodore Matthew Decker). Later episodes would include notable Star Trek actors such as George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, Walter Koenig, and others. Stories written by Star Trek writers like D. C. Fontana and David Gerrold were utilized or adapted for the series. Within the “amateur” consideration alone, New Voyages would fall outside of the guidelines provided by CBS/Paramount. Let’s not mention the length, as the group was filming 45 minute episodes as part of a “season 4” of the Original Series. Or the costumes and the set.

Of course, as the copyright holder, CBS/Paramount is under no obligation to allow any derivative work, so perhaps this is just a sample of their noblesse oblige. Given the recent popularity of the J. J. Abrams Star Trek films and the announcement of a new Star Trek series to be released digitally, there are plenty of reasons for CBS/Paramount to express concern over semi-legitimate fan work. Historically, a lot of the fan features were pretty bad, so there wasn’t really a reason to get involved because they didn’t really reflect on any of the work being done for “official” Star Trek.

But, Axanar? Just take a look:

Not only did it have a host of popular Star Trek guest stars like Tony Todd and J. G. Hertzler, but it looked like real Star Trek. And, given the concern many classic Star Trek fans have with the J. J. Abrams movies, something like Axanar stands defiantly in the face of CBS/Paramount and their precious franchise.

USS Ares, from the (upcoming?) Star Trek: Axanar.
USS Ares (NCC-1650), from the (upcoming?) fan-made film, Star Trek: Axanar.

It’s also worth mentioning that the production team raised over $500,000 through a crowdfunding campaign. Twice. Two separate crowdfunding campaigns. Over $1,000,000 raised towards this project. That may help explain why CBS/Paramount brought a lawsuit to begin with and why their guidelines seem so restrictive. Money is being made and the copyright holder isn’t part of it.

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