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Alec Peters - Star Trek Axanar
Host Richard R. Lee interviews Alec Peters, the writer and producer of "Star Trek Axanar."

Special Feature: End of ‘Star Trek’ Fan Productions?

SIDEWALKS host and producer Richard R. Lee on his thoughts on “Star Trek®” fan productions and the new guidelines that CBS / Paramount have decided on the future of “Star Trek” online video community. Plus, a look back at our 2014 interview with Alec Peters, the producer and writer of “Axanar,” the highly anticipated project that became the unwanted center of the proposed changes.

It’s another sad day (or future for that matter) for fans and creative filmmakers as CBS and Paramount Pictures – the owners of the legendary “Star Trek” franchise in TV and feature films – have announced a guideline for fan-made “Star Trek” productions. The guideline has — in a sense — put a possible end to many of these fan-related productions.

For years (and decades), hardcore fans have made “Star Trek”-produced stories, based on ideas and characters from the original 1960’s series and related spinoffs (“The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager,” “Enterprise”) and feature films, through written and video adventures. While all of the presentations are non-profit type of productions, the creation of the web and streaming services like YouTube have allowed fans to showcase their work and recreate some amazing stories on the video medium from one of the most popular science fiction properties of all time.

For the general public, what is unique here is that “Star Trek” is/was one of the few proprieties that saw hundreds of “Star Trek” on-line visual stories with limited restrictions. There may have been some fan videos for other sci-fi hits, like “Doctor Who” or “Firefly,” but “Star Trek” was the number one in fan-produced videos.

On June 23, 2016, CBS / Paramount put forth an official guideline (can be viewed on StarTrek.com) for the creation of web-produced projects that uses their characters, story ideas, and titles of “Star Trek.” It is their approach to combat copyright infringement with the “Star Trek” brand.

While some people have made online stories playing with their video cameras and using the latest computer software for editing and special effects, there have been some filmmakers who have expanded these fan-made productions and made some top notched showcases that can rival major studio productions. For instance, “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II” (produced by James Cawley) and “Star Trek Continues” (by Vic Mignogna) are some of the leaders of the web-based programs that further the original take of “Star Trek” that starred SIDEWALKS ENTERTAINMENT previous guest William Shatner and the late Leonard Nimoy. These two friendly projects made their presentations appear to be new seasons (with a number of long-awaited episodes) of the Original Series that was cancelled by NBC in 1969. When you watch their productions, Cawley, Mignogna and their respective teams have been working for years on their own time to make you actually believe you are watching new episodes on TV – with highly detailed sets, lighting, music and costumes.

Many of the “Star Trek” actors that have appeared on SIDEWALKS, like Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Garrett Wang, Denise Crosby, BarBara Luna, Celeste Yarnall, and Chase Masterson, have appeared on Cawley’s and Mignogna’s productions as new characters or reprising their original TV roles. Individuals from production side – such as original “Star Trek” TV series writers David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana — have also been involved with these web-based productions.

Along with those two highly-regarded web shows, a popular “Star Trek” actor is also recreating the “Star Trek” universe through his own web-based productions. Actor Tim Russ, who played Tuvok on “Star Trek: Voyager,” directed the web mini-series “Star Trek: Of Gods and Men” and is now in production of “Star Trek: Renegades,” a story that follows a group of crew of misfits and criminals secretly hired by Starfleet for undercover espionage. “Renegades,” which is starring Russ (as Tuvok again), original series star Walter Koenig (Chekov) and “Voyager’s” and SIDEWALKS’ favorite Robert Picardo (hologram The Doctor or creator Lewis Zimmerman) , to name a few, has made a “pilot episode” and is currently shooting another installment at this time.

In late 2014, I was fortunate to interview Alec Peters, who was creating and starring in his own feature film idea called “Axanar,” at a Creation Entertainment’s “Star Trek” convention (watch video on top of the page). In our exclusive interview that also talked about copyrights and ownership, Peters didn’t consider his project as a fan-produced film, like the other web shows. He wanted to make a feature film, based on Garth of Izar, a character featured in the original series’ season three episode, “Whom Gods Destroy.” At that time, Peters and his team finished production on a short film called “Prelude to Axanar” in the hopes to produce a glossy feature film for online. Like some of the web-based shows, the “Axanar” team, too, went through crowd funding sources like Kickstarter to help produce their ambitious film. According to on-line news reports, the “Axanar” production raised some $1.3 million for their feature-film concept.

Unfortunately for Peters and his group, the “Axanar” project became the focal point to CBS / Paramount’s recent lawsuit for copyright infringement. While CBS / Paramount and Peters appeared to work out their differences in some form (after some positive shootouts from current film producer J.J. Abrams), the “Star Trek” owners have decided to come up with their official guidelines for ALL “Star Trek” fan-made productions.

CBS and Paramount Pictures released this statement on June 23, 2016:

Dear Star Trek fans,

Star Trek fandom is like no other.

Your support, enthusiasm and passion are the reasons that Star Trek has flourished for five decades and will continue long into the future. You are the reason the original Star Trek series was rescued and renewed in 1968, and the reason it has endured as an iconic and multi-generational phenomenon that has spawned seven television series and 13 movies.

Throughout the years, many of you have expressed your love for the franchise through creative endeavors such as fan films. So today, we want to show our appreciation by bringing fan films back to their roots.

The heart of these fan films has always been about expressing one’s love and passion for Star Trek. They have been about fan creativity and sharing unique stories with other fans to show admiration for the TV shows and movies. These films are a labor of love for any fan with desire, imagination and a camera.

We want to support this innovation and encourage celebrations of this beloved cultural phenomenon. It is with this perspective in mind that we are introducing a set of guidelines at Star Trek Fan Films.

Thank you for your ongoing and steadfast enthusiasm and support, which ensure that Star Trek will continue to inspire generations to come.

CBS and Paramount Pictures

 

When you read the guidelines, the new policy has changed all the rules to fan-based productions.

Some of the main highlights in the guidelines:

  • Fan productions 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The rules, as it stands now, will destroyed all of the current web-based productions, including “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II,” “Star Trek Continues,” “Axanar,” and even Russ’ “Star Trek: Renegades.” The long list of “Star Trek” actors, who enjoyed making these fan presentations, would not be able to appear on future installments.

 

Who is on the right side or on the wrong side?

Well, for one thing, CBS – officially CBS Studios, Inc. — owns the rights to “Star Trek” and all related marks, logos and characters. They have control on the property. They can enforce the rules no matter what. All fan productions have to obey to their copyrights and trademarks.

On a side note, actor and previous SIDEWALKS guest Richard Hatch, who played Captain Apollo on the original “Battlestar Galactica” TV series in the 70’s, made his own 30-minute presentation and trailer (with his own money) for his proposed concept to further the stories of the late Glen Larson-produced sci-fi show. While his presentation was made for executives at Universal, which owns “Galactica,” Hatch – who incidentally appeared in some of the “Star Trek” web series and was planned to star in “Axanar” — wasn’t allowed to show his version online by Universal; the trailer was seen only at fan conventions. Just wondering … if his presentation was “Star Trek”-based, maybe the actor would have been allowed to showcase it online? This is how “Star Trek” was different.

But the bigger picture is: after all these years, CBS and Paramount have somewhat allowed these fan productions to be made with no direct guidelines and no major disruptions. Reading through various articles and interviews, the web producers knew they were on the border line of copyrights and trademarks, but they tried to do the right thing and followed an “unofficial” guideline. They never got paid and they respected “Star Trek.” The bottom line, I strongly believed those producers had the best interest with CBS’ “Star Trek” property. You can witness that through their respective productions, while they are still online.

While I have no official inside sources with the owners or web-production producers, CBS/Paramount must have known about the web-based properties like the “New Voyages” and “Continues,” as well as Russ’ own version. Because of CBS/Paramount non-involvement and unofficial blessing, they have been making “episodes” for years and featured past “Star Trek” actors in roles. Now, these productions are the endangered species that have put a damper of the 50th anniversary celebration of “Star Trek.”

 

Is there a resolution?

It’s up to CBS/Paramount to decide if they want to make changes to their new guidelines … and enforce their rules. Nobody wants a lawsuit.

To me, instead of punishing (this is how I see it) the current producers, maybe come up with a different levels of use for the fan-made productions within the guidelines. If it is a “continuing” series, maybe have a different set of guideline that CBS Studio Inc. can monitor. Possibly called it, “Semi-Professional Level.” This way, “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II,” “Star Trek Continues” and “Star Trek: Renegades,” as well as “Axanar,” can continue in some form. Everybody will be a winner and we can go back and just love the Gene Roddenberry-inspired “Star Trek” – copyright and all.

In any case, as a longtime viewer of some of these “Star Trek”-produced fan productions, the on-going producers of these fan-based productions should be applauded for their creativity and helping continue a franchise in a very impressive visual way. They (the web producers) knew the risk, but after so many years, nobody thought the hammer would come down so strongly … and so fast

On one hand, CBS/Paramount is still allowing fan-based productions. That’s good and welcomed.  But, on the other hand, they made a fan community – the people who paid to watch the stories and supported the franchise – and some creative filmmakers very disappointed.

Time will tell on the true outcome.

 

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About Richard R. Lee

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Richard R. Lee is the creator, executive producer and on-air personality for the "Sidewalks Entertainment" project. His primary interest is in television programming and TV news. Although he views a variety of programs, he enjoys primarily sci-fi, comedy and adventure series, such as "Star Trek," "Firefly," "Battlestar Galactica," "Jericho," the "Stargate" shows, "Alien Nation," "Bosom Buddies," and "MacGyver." Additionally, he samples many of the entertainment talk shows and has seen many of the biggest shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, and Jay Leno.