If you are going to play in someone else’s sandbox, then you are going to have to follow their rules.
So what does one do when your favorite television show goes off the air? What does one do when their favorite movie franchise drys up and the studio is no longer making films? Well many of those who love what has been here and now is gone start making fan films. At least those that have the means and know-how. The fans, are after all, what keeps things like Star Trek going, and have for the past fifty years. There have been many iterations of Star Trek available thanks to I he advent of the Internet. When I Google-searched “Star Trek Fan FIlms” recently, I was overwhelmed by the amount of material out there beyond what I know about. Just to mention a few, there is Star Trek Continues, Star Trek Renegades, and Starship Farragut. All of those were and are projects made by and for fans. While none were authorized or sanctioned in any way by the owners of the Star Trek franchise, namely CBS and Paramount, there were at least tolerated under one simple commandment; “Thou shalt not profit from our property.” Having dealt with film companies during my tenure as a theater owner, CBS/Paramount were being way, way beyond reasonable in allowing this. Kudos to them!
Then came another fan film group that proposed to make a new addition called Axanar. In the beginning, it sounded like it was going to be another interesting and possibly fun project that featured the exploits of Garth of Izar, a character from Original Series Trek, “Whom Gods Destroy” (season 3, episode 16). I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to it thinking that I would see it when it was released.
Now, fan films that have any kind of quality at all, are an expensive venture. Sets have to be built, costumes and props made, and then there are the visual effects that can make or break an entire project depending on the quality. Thanks to modern technology, many of those aspects can be done, but even with volunteers doing the work, there are expenses, and not small ones. For the vast majority of us, it would be impossible to bankroll making a film that looks and feels authentic, so many of those projects turned to “crowdfunding” to make their dreams come true. I have even contributed to some of these ventures and am proud to have done so. Axanar also went the route of crowdfunding , originally asking for a sum of money and raising far more than they were asking for. With each dollar that came in, they began promising that it would be bigger and better than they had originally planned.
Before I continue, I should say that I have been tacitly and casually following the developments and most of what I know I have heard from secondhand sources.
The money continued to roll in and the folks at Axanar became overly ambitious, almost to the point of blatant hubris by stating that they would not only exceed their own expectations, but they would also exceed the efforts of the franchise owners, as well as beginning to offer premiums with the franchise name plastered everywhere. I have even read that one of the executives of Axanar to pay himself a salary. These actions apparently caught the attention of CBS/Paramount and things escalated from there. The companies told Axanar that they had exceeded the bounds and that she should shut down. Axanar retorted that they were doing nothing wrong and they refused, so the battle lines were drawn.
Yesterday, while scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I noticed that a friend posted a link to some new guidelines that CBS/Paramount have initiated governing the making of future films in the Star Trek franchise. I read the guidelines and my knee-jerk reaction was anger. Anger at Axanar as well as anger with the franchise owners for the curtailment of fan film activity. I then spent a good deal of time thinking about the issue while performing my mundane tasks.
Here are my thoughts on the issue: CBS/Paramount own everything that is Star Trek. They bought it and paid for it and it is theirs to do with what they wish. The companies have been extremely tolerant over the past several years allowing anyone who wants to produce material using the Star Trek name as long as no one is profiting from it. They may not have necessarily liked it, and certainly never endorsed it, but we're very generous in its allowances. Now, thanks to those that would abuse what was granted, CBS/Paramount has seen fit to put a set of guidelines in place. They are not wrong in doing this, and I am surprised that it didn’t happen much sooner than it did as access to the technology allowing amateur filmmakers to make more and more professional looking product. Let’s face it, it would have been just as easy for them to simply slam the door shut by halting all use of anything Star Trek, but they left the door open, not wide open, but open enough that those that want to participate can continue to do so within certain limits.
Is this a bad thing? It is neither good nor bad, it is simply a company protecting their property as is their right under the law.
My only question is, what are the future implications for fandom? While CBS/Paramount have come out with, depending on your point of view, reasonable guidelines, there are many more franchises out there that have fan films owned by other companies. Along with that, not to mention the growing cosplay industry. There are thousands of people out there that enjoy dressing up as their favorite characters that are owned by corporate entities; will royalties be a thing of the future for that large guy in the Slave Princess Leia outfit? What about the actors and people involved in selling their autographs? I have an autographed photo of Walter Koenig on the wall in my man cave, I paid $40 for it. Will future items such as my photo cost even more because he is in a Star Trek uniform? It will be interesting to see how fandom is affected by the seeds planted by one entity that reached too far beyond the boundaries.
Well, there it is…