#Axanar & Alec Peters killed #StarTrek fan films. Not CBS Paramount

It’s an overly simplistic and clickbaity headline, I know. Show me one that isn’t. Of course CBS Paramount’s new ‘guidelines’ for Star Trek fan films are their own responsibility and so, at the least, they must shoulder a weighty proportion of the blame. But by ignoring what caused their release, you’re ignoring the meat of the story.

Before we get to that though, what are the guidelines? Well, google them. I’m not your dad. Here’s the highlights though.

Your fan film can be no longer than fifteen minutes in length. You can extend this by making it a two parter, but that’s it. Two fifteen minute ‘episodes’. No sequels, no remakes, no continuations, nada. One stand alone story in two pieces lasting no longer than thirty minutes in total.

No props unless you bought them from official sources. Made a captain’s uniform at home with a sewing machine? Can’t use it. Got a friend who makes plywood phaser rifles? Nope. Turned your tablet into an LCARS padd? That might be okay, if only because I’m not aware of an official toy of the sort, but if CBS have a licensed product out there already, you’re not using an alternative.

There are also narrative constraints, and their scope is wider than a Galaxy class’s saucer section. You can’t depict drugs or alcohol, so bang goes Sickbay or Quarks. You can’t show any “offensive” behaviour which could quite literally cover anything CBS wish it to, you can’t show anything “disparaging” so your O’Brien/Bashir-esque banter has to go, no “hateful” or “threatening” content either so say goodbye to your antagonists.

In truth these narrative constraints sound very familiar to those set out by Gene Roddenberry when laying the groundwork for The Next Generation, but it’s easy to forget this far removed that the first two seasons of TNG, like The Motion Picture which Roddenberry was in charge for were… well, let’s just say they’re not the parts we get nostalgic about.

It’s fair also to note that CBS’s restricitons are more about overall themes than individual characters motives. You’d likely get away with a Klingon who hates Romulans, but the moral of your story can’t be that hatred of others is a perfectly fine thing to feel. So far, so Star Trek.

The most limiting of these rules are those concerning length, and production. Anyone who’s ever seen the excellent Star Wars short, Troops knows that you can make a great little fan film in ten or so minutes, but the majority of Trek fan films are based on an episodic structure; indeed the most celebrated are fully fledged series of 43 minute films. Many, if not most, have costume designers who work, with varying degrees of success, to mimic the costumes and uniforms seen on screen while constrained by a tight budget. CBS have nuked that idea, and purchasing the uniform, combadge, and pips from official supplier Anovos to dress up as Captain Janeway or her equivelant will set you back six hundred dollars. Picture a halfway populated bridge and your fifteen minute film has now cost you anywhere from $3000 to $6000 before you’ve shot a single scene.

The quickest skim of these rules then, reveals that fan films have basically been Red Wedded by CBS. They will allow you to crowdfund up to $50,000, which isn’t nothing, but who really wants to spend $50,000 on a half hour concept that they can’t use in any way in  future? Star Trek fan films, never the most populous beasts to roam the Internet plains, are to become ever rarer.

But why? CBS have been fine with fan films for decades. There have been ongoing Star Trek fan series for as long as I’ve been using the Internet. They’re almost all dreadful, and the few that aren’t tend to be TOS-based which isn’t my thing, but because they were small, inoffensive, and crucially, didn’t make any money, CBS didn’t care. Why would they? A fan film is effectively free advertising for a franchise. LucasArts worked this out long ago, and though CBS have never embraced them to the same degree as their competitor, they knew that too.

Enter Alec Peters. Alec Peters is a fifty-five year old former volleyball coach who collects children’s toys and led his last company into bankruptcy owing creditors hundreds of thousands of dollars, and who describes his hair colour as “salt/pepper”. Which is fine.

Peters and some chums made Prelude to Axanar, an excellent documentary type short film set in the Star Trek universe. It met with near universal acclaim thanks to excellent visual effects, a tight script, and blessed lack of wannabe actors who would struggle to show more facial emotion than a Gerry Anderson character.

The goal was to intrigue people enough that they would contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to finance a full Axanar feature. This blog isn’t here to drown you with legalese, but in short, presuming the money is accounted for and all goes on the feature, this is generally fine. Strictly speaking every fan film you’ve ever seen is a copyright infringement, but as long as you pay your dues and don’t profit, most studios don’t give a damn. They’re not Konami, after all.

The trouble with Axanar is that all the money raised wasn’t going on the Axanar feature. Portions of it were going to Peters and Co. Effectively they were paying themselves out of the fund. Weasel wording aside, this is a textbook definition of “profiting” and they were doing it based on the Star Trek IP. Furthermore, funds were also being used to set up Peters own studio, which, it was planned, would go on to make for profit features. Effectively, the lure of a Star Trek fan film was being used to generate money to build something else, and line the pockets of those involved.

CBS, understandably, had something of an issue with this. Try to imagine this parable. You write and record a piece of music. You allow people to download it from the Internet for free, in exchange for the usual agreement that they won’t use it for public broadcast or to generate profit. If someone’s making money off it after all, it should really be you. Imagine then than James Cameron picks it up, and uses it as the main theme for the next Avatar movie trailer. The trailer has millions of views, Cameron gets the ad money from YouTube for this, and thereafter, Avatar 2 makes a billion dollars in large part because the trailer convinced people to go and see it. You get nothing. Wouldn’t you be pissed?

This is pretty much the same thing that Peters did to CBS. CBS are legally recognised as the creators and owners of Star Trek. What happens with Star Trek is up to them and you can’t do anything with it that they don’t want you to. This includes, but is not limited to, using their brand to crowdfund tens of thousands of dollars for yourself. Surprising, I know.

So CBS sued Peters, and rather than, “hey bud. Sorry about that. My bad,” Peters countersued CBS trying to alledge that among other things, they didn’t own the copyright to Vulcan ears. This lawsuit by the way, was also paid for using funds from the original crowdsourcing. Fans who had paid for a new Star Trek film, were instead paying for a new studio, Peters wages (some $30-40k per annum if I recall, but don’t quote me), and the frivilous lawsuit he winged at CBS to divert attention from the fact that he’d broken the law.*

  • – Allegedly, of course, each man being innocent till proven guilty, and this apparent evidence of Peters breaking the law isn’t proof that he broke the law or that he is a lawbreaker until of course a court of law decides that he broke the law and is a lawbreaker. I’m just saying it looks like he broke the law and is a lawbreaker.

Cue an effective media campaign launched by Peters & Co. CBS was “picking on” the fans. They “were jealous” that Axanar was looking better than Justin Lin’s Fast Stars & Furious Treks (which in fairness, looks to have all the charm of a hypocritical Simon Pegg moaning about comic book films and sequels propping up Hollywood). CBS were only suing Axanar because the fundraising had been so successful. They wanted the million dollars that had been raised. The CBS network is worth about $30 billion, but sure, they wanted the $1m Peters had raised.

You can pick whichever side of this you choose. You can criticise CBS for not supporting fan films. You can call Peters a dishonest money-grubbing git. You can pledge never to watch another Star Trek feature again (no one will ever believe you because you’re lying, but you can pledge nonetheless), you can ignore the whole thing because Star Trek will go on as it always has, and you’ve never really felt like you were in need of extra hammy acting, ropey special effects, or surprisingly impractical clothing beyond that you already get onscreen.

But it remains a fact that CBS never felt the need to lay down the law until Alec Peters and his friends decided to profiteer off fans desire to see ever more of a beloved franchise. So fine. I retract the headline. CBS is the one killing fan films.

But it was Alec Peters that inspired them to do it.

 

Nb – 29/06/2016 14:00 – This article originally stated that monies from the crowdsourced fund were being used to fund Axanar‘s legal case. Thanks to readers who pointed out this error below. Axanar’s legal team agreed to work on a pro bono basis, and I’m happy to acknowledge that here.

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12 comments

  1. Pingback: CBS/Paramount Issue Guidelines for Star Trek Fan Films Because Axanar Ruined It for Everyone – IdiotBox Reviews
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  3. Paul Vitello

    Your article is full of factual errors. “This lawsuit by the way, was also paid for using funds from the original crowdsourcing.” This is a lie. Alec Peters went out and found an amazing law firm who specializes in IP to take on the lawsuit with CBS/Paramount pro-bono. This “blog” should not be trusted, nor should anyone take what’s written here as fact.

    http://www.litigationdaily.com/id=1202753294846/Winston–Strawn-Boldly-Going-Where-No-Pro-Bono-Case-Has-Gone-Before?slreturn=20160526114057

    • Mr Universe

      Pro bono does not mean free. It means the client isn’t billed for the hours. The client still needs to pay filing fees, expenses, etc. I’m sure that cash won’t be coming out of Alec’s pocket.

  4. Pingback: ‘Star Trek’ fans slam CBS and Paramount after it releases guidelines for fan films – Life's Journey
  5. ray junior

    There’s so much wrong with this post by Chris, it’s hard to know where to begin. But begin we must…

    Let me state this first: When I first heard that Alec was profiting from this, I was on CBS’ side. If so it’s wrong and illegal, and if proven to be accurate the guy deserves to lose everything he’s put together.

    I also want to state that I don’t like Axanar at all. I watched a few minutes of it and couldn’t stomach more from this basket of fan tripe that so many seem to be partial to. I think it’s horribly produced and, given the immense amount of work that went into the prelude, they could have at least taken the time to secure some people who could actually act. If I want to watch cardboard on a tv I’ll aim a camera at a box and connect it to my television.

    So I’m no fan of his work to begin with, so don’t read my response with some kind of “he loves axanar” bend to it…

    Now, on to the meat and potatoes of all that is wrong with this post…

    1. COUNTERSUIT FILING – Chris makes the claim that Alec is buying a lawyer with resources raised through crowdfunding. Really? Prove it, Chris. You can’t. I’m not your dad, but here’s the link proving it’s pro-bono: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/star-trek-axanar-lawsuit/

    Paul Vitello already aptly pointed this out: the counter suit is pro bono. This is not just a factual error or mistake on the part of Chris, it’s clearly both an assumption and an outright lie. This one item alone, because it is stated as absolute fact , utterly destroys the credibility of the rest of the post. How can we trust anything else he says here if Chris will bald faced lie about this important detail (and it’s critically important because of #4 below)? If you have proof, Chris, I’d love to see it.

    2. REFUSAL TO PROVIDE LINKS – you open the post by refusing to even provide links to the new guidelines. And while I have taken the time to independently verify that what you have written regarding the guidelines is correct, it only further demonstrates your desire to obfuscate the issue because of an angry temper tantrum you’re throwing at Alec. Speaking of which…

    3. PERSONAL ATTACKS – Rather than open the case against Alec with hard evidence & facts, you instead choose to start with a personal attack via demeaning references to his history, life and other businesses failures that are totally irrelevant to the matter at hand, or the merits thereof. Even more important: you provide ZERO proof that any of what you say is true. And even if it were, WHAT IS THE CONTEXT of said items you name?

    Your thinly veiled goal with the personal attack is clearly to make him look like a washed up has been that stepped onto the star trek turf and screwed that up too. And again, EVEN if the history you provide is accurate, what relevance does it have to the merits of the case!? NONE.

    Then, as if that wasn’t enough, you insult all of our collective intelligence by capping the personal attack with the phrase “Which is fine.”. Really? Then why mention it? You’re just being a jerk.

    4. NO PROOF OF PERSONAL PROFIT – The most critical portion of this entire piece is the paragraph where you talk about how Alec is personally profiting from the venture (and the subsequent paragraphs where you expand on this, and, most specifically where you falsely claim he’s paying legal fees with profit). THIS IS THE CENTRAL piece to the whole story. And, by your own admission, is what sets this particular fan film apart from all others. It is the very activity which, if true, would be illegal. It is the central point of CBS’s contentions (according to you) and is the focal point of your post. Yet… no links? no supporting material? No evidence? NO PROOF?? Not ONE link to even a CBS claim?

    [And let me be on the record about this: if this is true, if Alec was profiting, then absolutely everything he’s been doing should be shut down, gutted and otherwise relegated to the dustbin of history]

    5. IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO SAY “ALLEGEDLY” – It’s wise to include the disclaimer, but highly irresponsible and damaging to provide no proof to the central claim. Making such a claim, when yet to be proven, requires this disclaimer. But without proof you’ve only protected your legal interests, not your credibility (which you summarily destroy repeatedly).

    [For the rest of this response, let’s move forward with the assumption that Alec profited. Let’s assume this is true, since this is the claim you are making and the pivotal point that turned this from a fan film into an epic legal battle….]

    6. 2 WRONGS DON’T MAKE A RIGHT – Whatever personal , toddler like angst you may harbor toward Alec, you cannot deny that you spent 50% of your article reaming CBS (rightfully so), but somehow come to the conclusion that the final guidelines laid out by CBS are his 100% his fault? What an utterly farcical and ludicrous conclusion even if all the claims you make are true, but even on its face it’s incredulous.

    You imply, whether intentionally or not, that CBS took this path because of Alec. You further imply, whether intentionally or not, that CBS had no other options, due to Alec’s supposed infringement.

    And the basis for your claim that CBS landed where they did appears to be “well.. he started it”. A toddler like, baseless rationale.

    The only thing that Alec would be responsible for, assuming he’s actually guilty of profiting, is CBS’ need to mount a response.

    But the content of that response is ALL CBS. Alec has NO CONTROL over what they choose to make their final guidelines. And even from the content you’ve written here there is absolutely no question that the guidelines are onerous, ridiculous and absolutely unnecessary. YOU imply this from what you’ve written, whether you intended to or not.

    So even YOU see that CBS is responsible for this, not Alec. Yet you somehow come to the opposite conclusion (somehow = angry , thoughtless rant).

    Furthermore, it your claim that the entire genre of fan films will likely die an untimely and painful death cannot be denied as the guidelines will utterly kill the fan genre for Star Trek.

    And this is Alec’s fault? Because he “started it”?

    If Alec was profiting off this, as I’ve previously stated, I hope CBS goes after him with both barrels.

    BUT EVEN IF HE WAS: THERE’S NO REASON TO GO AFTER THE REST OF US WITH BOTH BARRELS!

    CBS is responsible for this ridiculous response. Not Alec.

    CBS had the option to elect more reasonable guidelines. They chose not to. THEY are being ridiculous, not Alec (even if he’s guilty of what you claim).

    7. IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN – Your post refuses to mention how CBS and Paramount have been toying with the makers of fan films for years.. issuing vague threats and providing no guidelines, tottering back and forth between elation over certain projects and anger over others – leaving no visible path to understand their thought processes.

    And because of this there has been considerable unrest and queasiness in the Trek fan film community due to CBS & Paramount’s continued implications that we are doing something wrong, but never providing guidelines or otherwise codifying what is permissible.

    An explosion like this was BOUND to happen, Alec is just the tinder they chose to light the fire with.

    And for you to not even mention this shows either blatant disregard for context, or more lies by omission.

    8. IN ONE SENSE I’M THANKFUL FOR WHAT ALEC DID – Let’s assume that Alec did indeed profit, I’m still grateful for this moment because it brought about the revelation of what a** hat, control freak, ninnies the people at paramount and CBS truly are. It shows that they do not understand which side their bread is buttered on and that they have no regard for truth or common sense. I’m glad to finally see them for who they are. Again, it was bound to happen.

    IN CONCLUSION:

    A MORE REASONABLE CONCLUSION: Both parties are wrong.

    If we work under the assumption that Alec profited (and assuming you provide proof, or at least the reference to where CBS is making this claim), then your attack on Alec is justified , as long as it stays within the realm of “What he did was wrong because he broke the law and he should be punished for it, not the rest of us”. THAT is a reasonable, tenable position.

    But that’s not the ultimate position you have taken. The claim you’re making is essentially: We’re stuck with these new guidelines because of Alec.

    THAT’S CATEGORICALLY AND PROVABLY FALSE, EVEN IF ALEC IS GUILTY OF WHAT YOU ALLEGE! It’s borderline unethical to even make the claim, let alone reasonable.

    You give no credence to the concept that CBS acted with wild disregard for common sense and took this too far. The very title of your article gives CBS an unwarranted pass.

    So it must be asked: exactly who at CBS paid you to write this? I mean, if we’re just throwing out accusations without proof, do tell!

    _Ray

    PS – not noted above, but still equally frustrating, are the repeated grammatical issues with your post.

    It’s not “CBS have a licensed…” , it’s “CBS has a licensed …”.

    And it’s not ” anything CBS wish it to…” it’s ” anything CBS wishes it to”

    and it’s not “CBS have nuked that idea…”, it’s “CBS has nuked that idea..”

    and so on…

    • Chris Murray

      That’s an awful lot of anonymous CAPS for someone who’s making the point that I’m angrily ranting.

      The statement about the legal fees was an honest error. I don’t really care if you believe that or not, but I’ll happily be amending the post after this to reflect that. Sometimes I get things wrong.

      Concerning links to sources; I’m not sure why you have a problem with me not providing a link to an easily found website which you know confirms what I wrote concerning the guidelines, but since you later spend a lot of time shouting about the lack of proof concerning Alec’s income from Axanar, their own annual report confirmed it. They later confirmed that they saw no problem with this in a Q&A on their own website. http://www.axanarproductions.com/captains-log-jan-7th-2016/ Shortly thereafter, CBS filed their suit. Quelle surprise.

      My jibes at Peters insult no one but Peters. I wasn’t aware I’d veiled my intentions with the paragraph at all. And if you’re curious as to why I mention him by name, it might have something to do with the fact that he’s the face of Axanar. Though I’m not sure how you go from my conclusion which starts, “CBS are the ones killing fan films…” to me saying it’s “100%” Peters’ fault. Both are at fault, which is why I skewered both of them. You say you agree, but the emotive tone of your argument leads me to wonder.

      If you don’t like my conclusion, you’re welcome to shout your own point of view. But criticising another for personal insults while disparaging their “toddler like angst” and “angry, thoughtless rant” won’t get you far.

      Similarly, taking issue with their prose with a response that plays fast and loose with capital letters, periods & commas, then goes on to demonstrate either a lack of understanding as to what an ellipsis is or just a temper which has overtaken their usage will make you look just a teensy little bit unhinged.

      Which is fine.

      • ray junior

        I very much appreciate you updating the post by stating the correction and being honest about the mistake publicly. That goes a long way with me (not that you need to care what I think).

        I don’t want to take it beyond that except to say that your response comes close to addressing the points I made, in that it mentions them and provides your thoughts. But it doesn’t actually deal with the reasoning in each one – so I’ll just state that I stand by what I’ve written.

        Having said that, I have to admit that , yes, I was angry when I read your post and I ranted at you. For that I apologize.

        I get the feeling that perhaps I’m hurting teammates in this “battle” rather than working with them. I think you and I feel the same way insofar as it relates to how important fan films are and how they need more freedom (especially given the new nazi like guidelines), so rather than try and put a fine point on where we disagree I’d rather focus on where we agree and work as a team. I suppose I was incensed at what CBS did, and took offense to your post which I viewed as a very public defense of their position.

        My apologies for anywhere I was offensive.

        And i’m not anonymous, had to put my name, website and email in to post.

        _Ray

  6. Jammer Rulz

    Although they are working pre-booked, it has come out that Alec Peters is paying some money to the lawyers to cover certain items. So fundraiser money is going to the legal team. Makes me sick. I donated to that film.

  7. T. Criss/J.Hofmann

    You didn’t donate to a film – you donated to Alec Peters new studio – which he will still have. No wonder he doesn’t care about the new rules – he never had to. He’s already got your (and others) money to do what he really wanted to do. Ever heard the old saying “there’s one born every minute”? This guy LIVES by that statement and it got him what he wanted – your money to open up HIS for profit studio. He should have his ass thrown in jail. Don’t blame CBS – they saw right through his bullshit and decided to nip it in the bud. CBS/PARAMOUNT was not going to allow anyone else to go out to get money from a bunch of dopes to open their own studios with the “Star Trek” logo attached to the request. They probably have saved themselves from being sued by one of these poor fools who thinks this is related to the “real” Star Trek. What really gets me is his donors still want to pony up some more money for this stupid film – geez its like shooting fish in a barrel with you star trek fans – poor slobs.

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