Is This the End of Star Trek Fan Films?

“This is getting ridiculous! I support the fans. Trek belongs to all of us.”  — Justin Lin, Director of Star Trek Beyond

[Note: I had something else planned for this week, but the recent news on this front seemed to beg for commentary. So,…]

Several weeks after Lin made the above statement, JJ Abrams announced that CBS/Paramount had dropped their suit against Axanar Productions, which presumably included permission for the independent studio to move forward with Star Trek: Axanar. Abrams seemed to think so, anyway, saying, “fans would be able to continue working on their project.” I lauded CBS/Paramount (though with slightly cynical reservations) for making the smart move and allowing the fans to non-competitively continue having fun playing in the Star Trek universe.

CBS_Paramount_TelevisionWell,… seems we may have spoken too soon on that one, since Comic Book Resources reported in mid-June that negotiations were still, slowly moving forward. Technically, “the copyright-infringement action remains pending.” As if that weren’t enough of a concern, a week later CBS/Paramount released their new “Guidelines for Avoiding Objections,” within which “amateur fan filmmakers [can] showcase their passion for Star Trek.” This would presumably affect not just films but series (e.g., “Star Trek Continues”). Though this might sound reasonable, the general response has been… mixed, with some smaller groups being OK with them, but those with larger productions (e.g., Axanar Productions, Farragut Films) being… less than enthusiastic.

The problem is that the guidelines are, as Axanar producers have called them, “draconian”. Now, if it were me, I could live with things like keeping the production non-commercial (i.e., totally non-profit, from unpaid actors to a ban on selling tickets or production-specific merchandise) and including an official disclaimer. (From what I can tell, fan productions generally adhere to this, anyway.) I can even see disallowing “Star Trek” from the title, while requiring a subtitle that includes “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION”, though that will be a *big* problem for “Star Trek Continues”, et al. I also don’t have a problem with insisting that fan productions be “family friendly and suitable for public presentation,” though banning alcohol & tobacco seems like politically-correct overkill, especially since they have been seen in official Star Trek movies & series. These and other efforts to retain copyrights/trademarks and the good reputation of the “Star Trek” brand are understandable.

The “draconian” requirements, however, include:

“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.”

This limits fan productions to one-offs even shorter than a “short film”. Given the greatly restricted time length, fundraising is also limited to a $50,000 maximum per project, including all platform fees.

Plus, there’s this beaut:

“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.”

Why forbid professionals from lending their talent and expertise to a fan production, if they are willing to do so for free?! (Is this prohibition legal?) As long as the majority of those involved in the production are amateurs, what is wrong with throwing a couple professionals into the mix once in awhile? Also, if someone was ever an “extra” on an official Star Trek series or movie, would that make them ineligible to ever work on a fan-made project? Would it matter if they were paid or not? What is CBS/Paramount afraid of?

star-trek-logo

Demands like these seem designed to kill webseries like “Star Trek Continues” and “Star Trek: New Voyages” and fan films like Star Trek: Axanar, and that’s just stupid. These and other fan productions haven’t and won’t eat into the profits of CBS/Paramount, and no one thinks the poorly-done ones have any affiliation with CBS/Paramount. Productions by fans who put so much time & effort into them are labors of love, tributes to a treasured franchise that keep the fans excited and engaged. They are expressions of creativity, hope, and joy. Throwing up roadblocks like the above, especially in light of the relatively loose (though unofficial) guidelines that fans have been allowed to operate under for years, only frustrates and angers otherwise loyal and enthusiastic fans… like me.

The announcement of the new guidelines was couched in terms to make it sound like they will help and encourage Star Trek fans to make their own, amateur productions. Or, as they put it, “show our appreciation by bringing fan films back to their roots.” On the contrary, many efforts that could have been wonderful will now be aborted, and CBS/Paramount only make themselves look like tone-deaf, paranoid, insecure bullies in the process.

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