Weekly Trek - July 25-31, 2016

This past weekend was the release of Star Trek Beyond, so ideally I’d be spending today’s post talking about the movie.  Unfortunately as of this writing, I haven’t seen it.  I’m sorry!  I’ve been busy.

I will say that my anticipation for the film has grown over the last few weeks.  As I’ve said in several posts over the last year or so, the early trailers had me dreading the film because I worried that it was going to be an empty action spectacle that didn’t bother with petty annoyances like character and story.  I also wasn’t pleased by a major event that was revealed in those trailers.

But then the film opened in the UK a week before it opened here, and the reviews were good.  More importantly, they said that the film was fun (I like to have fun when I plop down that much to see a film) and severed the characters and the overall Star Trek franchise well on in its 50th anniversary year.  The US reviews have been much the same, and a good friendof mine (and fellow Trekkie) saw the film and really liked it.

I’m in.  Now I just have to find the time to get to the theater.

Honestly, Star Trek needs a win because the last few weeks have not been kind.  Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov in the new films, was killed in a tragic accident that has cast a pall over what should have been a celebratory time for the franchise.

Less newsworthy (although it got more coverage that I expected) was an announcement from CBS/Paramount regarding guidelines for fan films.  I’ve discussed many of the various Star Trek fan films over the last few years, and I’ve been very impressed at what many of them have been able to accomplish.  Let’s be honest, though.  Every single one of these is using copyrighted material.  CBS/Paramount had been tolerant for years and not really gotten involved.  They even borrowed a set piece from Star Trek: New Voyages (aka Phase II) and gave New Voyages creator James Cawley a cameo in 2009’s Star Trek film.

That changed in December 2015 when CBS/Paramount filed a lawsuit to stop the making of a fanfilm called Star Trek Axanar.  Without getting bogged down in the particulars, there are many in the fanfilm community who feel that the head of Axanar, Alec Peters, went too far and tried to use the fanfilm to enrich himself and open a studio.  Others feel that that CBS/Paramount was threatened because Axanar was getting so much positive publicity and looked better than what they were putting out.  Regardless, a lawsuit was filed.

At a fan event promoting Star Trek Beyond in May, the movie’s producer, JJ Abrams (who directed the first two of the reboot films) said that the lawsuit was going away and that fans would be able to continue working on their projects.

That turned out not to be true.  The lawsuit is still going, and, thanks to the new guidelines that CBS/Paramount released on June 23rd, no fan project is going to be able to continue the way it had before.

So what is in the guidelines that’s so terrible?  First, give them a read HERE

I have absolutely no problem with Items 2, 8, 9, and 10.  They are perfectly reasonable requests for a fan project.  I’m going to go in reverse order for the rest of these.

#7 – Most of this one is fine, but the wording gives CBS/Paramount a lot of leeway to smack down a film they don’t like under the vague lines about “harmful or illegal activity” and “threatening.”  Does this mean that a fanfilm can’t have action?  Villains can’t threaten anyone?  No one can get shot, punched, or kiiled?  Yes, I realize that this is a ridiculously strict reading of those lines, but we are talking about a document that is supposed to allow fanfilm makers to operate without threat of being sued.  They can’t even show the crew going for a drink after their shift based on the “no alcohol” edict.  I’m not sure if synthehol counts or not.  They’re pretty much left with tea time on the bridge.

#6 – I’m honestly shocked that CBS/Paramount allowed crowdfunding at all, since that’s a big part of what got Axanar into trouble.  And I don’t have a problem with the restrictions against profiting from the fanfilm.  That’s way over the line as far I’m concerned.  I don’t see any reason not to allow the projects to make a DVD or Blu Ray of their films.  They can’t offer them for sale under other parts of the rule, so what’s the problem?  I also have an issue with the prohibition against streaming the films from a site that has advertising.  I can understand if the prohibition is against the fanfilm profiting from said advertising, but what about Youtube? I need someone who knows more about Youtube to help me out here.  Is there a way to upload something to Youtube without them putting advertising before the film or during as a banner?  Both this and the DVD/Blu Ray rules come across to me as CBS/Paramount saying, “You can make your film, but good luck distributing it.”

#5 – This rule that anyone who ever worked on Star Trek in any way cannot be involved in your fanfilm feels the most vindictive of all of the guidelines.  Many of the major fanfilms have people involved who worked on Trek in some way, shape, or form.  Even James Cawley qualifies now, thanks to the help he gave CBS/Paramount and his cameo in a film.  CBS/Paramount says that it’s because the films should be made by “real fans,” but many of the people involved with Star Trek are also fans of Star Trek.  Why should someone who happened to do the title cards for a DVD extra on the Season 2 Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD set be banned from acting in a fan film?  My guess is that CBS/Paramount cannot legally forbid someone like that from being involved in a fanfilm, but they can threaten the fanfilm makers themselves.  Woe be unto you if they learn that your cousin Bob playing the Klingon also worked catering on Star Trek: Enterprise!

#4 – This one might be okay, but it needs to be clarified.  After the guidelines were published, there was a lot of dispute in the fan community as to what it actually meant.  Can you make your own uniforms for a fanfilm?  Some read it as saying that you can make your own, but, if you buy them, they have to be official products and not ones from a place like one of the many cosplay companies on eBay that will custom make you an outfit.  Others read it as saying that if you are going to use anything that CBS/Paramount sells a version of as an official product, you have to buy theirs.  No sewing your own uniforms.  No vacuforming phasers.  Buy theirs if you want to make a Star Trek  fanfilm.  My guess is that CBS/Paramount really meant the former, but when we’re talking about getting sued by a major corporation, I’d want absolute clarity.

#3 – This isn’t a huge deal, but I wondered if it was a direct slap at Star Trek Continues, which made a vignette recreating the final scene of the original Star Trek television series and then continuing (See what they did there?) on from that moment.  This rule also effectively killed any crossovers with other properties unless you think you can get J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers to sign off on that Star Trek/Harry Potter idea you’ve been developing.  And you’d better talk to me, since I already wrote one.

#1 – While the previous rules I’ve discussed are annoying in many cases, unclear in others, and very possibly vindictive, this one is the absolute worst and tells me everything about how CBS/Paramount really feels about fanfilms: They don’t want them to exist at all.  However, they couldn’t just come out and say that without infuriating the fans (which they managed to do anyway.  More on that in a moment.), so they effectively killed Star Trek fanfilms with this rule.  A fifteen minute limit?  Thirty if you split it into two parts?  No additional parts, episodes, sequels, etc?  Let’s go back to the opening narration of Star Trek: The Next Generation for a moment, shall we.  “It’s continuing mission…”  That’s nice, but no fan project will be continuing.  Who is going to go through the time and the effort of creating sets, costumes, and everything else involved when they only get one shot?  How do you get to know or care about a new ship and crew in 15-30 minutes?  But again, who is going to bother?  Sets are an enormous cost for something that is only to be used once.  Or will we be back to all fanfilms being shot against green screens? 

I get that CBS/Paramount owns the Star Trek copyright and can legally do whatever they want.  However, these guidelines seem more like a way to shut down fan productions altogether.

As I mentioned earlier, reactions to these generally were not positive.  Check out the comments to the article on the official Star Trek website announcing the guidelines HERE.  I’m surprised that the website has left them up.  The major players in the fan film community have reacted in different ways.  Axanar, who as I said before many blame for the whole mess, seems to have decided to keep fighting, which make sense since they’re still being sued anyway.  Star Trek Continues seems like they are moving ahead with the release of their next episode, which had already been filmed before the guidelines hit.  Based on their Facebook posts, they are acting like nothing has changed.  It remains to be seen if they will make any more episodes, though. 

Star Trek: Renegades, a project that involves a huge number of former Star Trek actors both in front of and behind the camera, had just started filming a new episode when the announcement hit.  This episode was supposed to be the final screen appearances of Walter Koenig’s Chekov and Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura.  Rather than shut down, the project was renamed simply Renegades with all Star Trek names changed and signage removed.  You can still see the Starfleet delta blurred out on the uniforms in some of the publicity photos they’ve released.

As for Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, there were already discussions that James Cawley was ending the series.  I haven’t found Cawley’s actual comments on the subject, though, but it sounds like he wasn’t having fun anymore.  The New Voyages team has, however, taken things in an interesting new direction.  They were shooting on an exceptionally faithful recreation of the original Star Trek television series sets, right down to the way they were laid out on the soundstage.  Rather than lose all of that work with the end of their series, they have made a deal with CBS/Paramount to open their sets to the public as an officially-licensed attraction.  If you are headed anywhere near Ticonderoga, New York, you can swing by to take a look at the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour.

I just hope the endeavor is a success, so that it will still be open by the I make it up there to see it.


Back to fanfilms, though, as it stands, I think Star Trek fanfilms as we have known them are dead.  I’m sure some people will make new ones under the guidelines, and I wish them success.  Maybe I will turn out to be wrong, and this will lead to all kinds of new films that I didn’t anticipate.  I have my doubts, though.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter