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David Gerrold on CBS vs. Axanar – Part 2

David Gerrold 2Star Trek Legend David Gerrold expands upon his previous comments on the CBS lawsuit vs. Axanar.

I’m not a lawyer, I do not even play one on TV. And nothing I’ve posted about the Axanar lawsuit has ever been intended as legal commentary. It was intended as the opinion of a knowledgeable observer.

I’ve had dealings with Paramount legal since the early seventies, and in almost every case found them to be intelligent, well-researched, and understanding not only their own rights, but also well-aware of the full scope of the circumstances they must deal with. I have also, from time to time, been asked by people at Paramount to help them understand various situations with fans.

I’ve also had dealings with CBS, mostly good. And again, the folks at CBS want to have a good relationship with the fan-base. Many are enthusiastic about Star Trek. The one person I did have contact with at CBS legal probably isn’t there anymore. He was an ass. But I don’t think he represents all of corporate thinking.

I’ve also worked on Trek in a variety of roles, I’ve worked on New Voyages and I’ve given Alec Peters as much moral support as I can, because I admire his enthusiasm and commitment as well as his integrity.

That this situation has occurred is probably because of a lack of communication — possibly on both sides. I do believe that CBS has not been as clear as they could be on the guidelines for fan films, but I suspect that to a great deal they don’t understand the situation they’ve inherited and don’t understand how to make the best of it.

Regardless of the legal issues that have been discussed ad infinitum, ad nauseum, I stand by my conviction that the only win-win here is to find a way for CBS to license fan films and issue a CBS approved release of fan films — specifically identifying them as amateur productions.

There is a larger issue here, as well. The film industry is like the planet Earth at the end of the Cretaceous era. A gigantic comet has just slammed into it. That comet is the synergistic combination of modern day electronics and the internet.

For less than a grand you can get a phone or a camera that shoots 4K video. For less than a grand, you can get a laptop on which you can edit that 4K video. If you spend $6K, you can get equipkment and software and lights that will give you professional level quality. This means that just about anyone who wants to make film CAN make film.

The internet gives you worldwide distribution. Instantly.

Now, imagine the big studios are like big lumbering dinosaurs. They’re successful in their ecological niche. They proceed slowly, but inevitably. They spend $100 million to lay an egg, and they can only lay one or two eggs a year. And they desperately need at least one of those eggs to hatch and generate a billion dollars so they can keep laying eggs.

Meanwhile, there’s all these little egg-sucking therapsids running around, laying hundreds of little offspring that cost them only a few thousand. Like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Some of those little offspring are so spectacular, they end up generating hundreds of millions of dollars. The return on investment is incredible — and that inspires thousands more hungry little egg-sucking therapsids to make thousands more of these little projects.

Where the dinos can produce only one or two eggs a year, the therapsids can produce two or three litters in the same time.

Ecologically, those nasty little therapsids will outbreed the dinosaurs, easily. Every time.

Now, if the dinos try to stamp out the egg-suckers, they’ll fail. There are too many. And it’s a waste of time and energy. The dinos need to concentrate on being the best dinos they can.

But if the dinos can find ways to partner with the therapsids, there are opportunities for all to live long and prosper. The success of the studios, the dinos, lies in the fact that they have well-established distribution channels. That’s something the therapsids do not have. The therapsids can produce quality imaginative films that the studios cannot, because nothing is as timid as a hundred million dollars.

So the obvious answer is for the studios to create partnership situations where the little independents can get the protection of the studios and the studios can enjoy the profits that come from supporting and distributing work that otherwise would languish.

The real winners, of course, will be the audience — because they will have the opportunity to see much more imaginative films than they could ever see otherwise.

David Gerrold

David Gerrold (born January 24, 1944)[1][2][3] is an American science fiction screenwriter and novelist known for his script for the popular original Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles“, for creating the Sleestak race on the TV series Land of the Lost,[4] and for his noveletteThe Martian Child“, which won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and was adapted into a 2007 film starring John Cusack.

Join the discussion 32 Comments

  • David Gerrold continues to make A LOT OF SENSE! =D

    I REALLY hope that someone at CBS reads this, and that *this* is what happens… =)

    • Robert Donovan says:

      I totally agree that David has the most sensible take on all of this out there.
      Since this lawsuit started, I have thought CBS was looking at this all wrong. If CBS was smart, they’d put a section on their website linking to these fan productions and use them as lead-in advertising for their big-budget productions on their website. Maybe even create a fan film event to showcase the best output of the fan productions as a way to kick off interest in their next film release or TV series. Between each fan film piece, they could put a trailer for the upcoming big-budget stuff they’re doing. The cost would be minimal to CBS, and the PR value and fan enthusiasm would be huge.

  • Mark Heber says:

    I still like David and what he says mirrors my thinking. This change is going to happen and Hollywood can either accept it and create a synergistic system where everyone wins or they will ultimately lose what they are trying to protect.

  • Agreed. Well written David.

  • Jim Moyer says:

    Very well said. I really don’t know why some have such a big problem with the concept that without the fans CBS or Paramount wouldn’t make a dime off of this I also hope they can come to some sort of agreement. It’s insane to want to just squash this kind of enthusiasm from the very people who make this franchise viable. It could be a win for everyone who likes Star Trek.

  • Brian Heite says:

    Well said. Axanar is just a tipping point that was bound to be reached at some point. Now it is time to make an ecosystem that works for all the makers and let their quality and story sort out the winners. CBS has a golden opportunity to show what the next phase of entertainment can become, hope they grab it.

  • Laven Pillay says:

    Very well said, sir !
    The dinosaur extinction metaphor is quite apt, I think.
    If possible, get other Star Tek production alumni together and maybe make a more official letter saying this to both sides.
    Its an ugly legal situation – but it doesn’t have to end up badly for everyone.

  • Scott T. says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m also sure the outcome of this lawsuit will affect CBS and Paramount’s public opinion more than anything else. Think about it for a moment. If CBS manages to work something out with Axanar, such as the partnership concept David is explaining in this article, then think of how much positive press they’ll get from both the media and the creators/fans of these types of creations. However, if CBS/Paramount stands firm in their unnecessary assault on fandom, then they’ll end up getting a ton of negative press and reactions. From a marketing and advertising standpoint, that could be much more hurtful in the long-run to their public image, especially with respect to their “CBS Cares” catchphrase. People will then associate CBS/Paramount as being a greedy, monopolistic corporation, which is the impression that’s already circling the internet even now, as a result of filing the lawsuit in the first place.

    Just like everyone else is explaining, CBS/Paramount is forgetting that without the fans, this franchise would not exist today. This is similar to how a company cannot exist without its employees, and how video games would not exist if nobody bought and played them. Alienating your core fan-base or target market is the last thing you want to do. Oh, and by the way, speaking about greed — you can’t take all that money with you into the next life anyway.

  • Gayle Grindahl says:

    Sometimes when something is as logical as this is never happens because it is logical. But I do hope that the powers that be can see the sense in this. It would be a win win for everyone. Sending positive energy out into the universe and wish Alec and company a wonderful outcome. I have faith in the project and am excited to see the movie and what can be done with a dream.

  • JDH says:

    Mr. Gerrold and all of us fans here make valid points.
    However, we all are assuming that CBS or Paramount gives a rat’s behind about us “niche fans.”
    I’m not so sure that they do. They may give us a nod and here and there, but I don’t expect anything like we know and love.
    Star Trek “purists” are a nitpicky bunch. We know every detail, stat and factoid about every episode.
    If I showed you a picture of a 1966 Mustang, most of you would recognize it as an old Mustang, unsure of what year, what engine it has, etc.
    A Mustang fan would know exactly what year that Mustang is and probably know every small detail upon a closer look.
    At classic car shows, judges and onlookers “nitpick” about what may be missing or isn’t right about a restored 66 Mustang.
    When Ford relaunched this classic car, they took styling cues from the older models to appeal to a mass audience who would say: “Hey! That’s a Mustang, very nice!” They probably don’t know a thing about old Mustang’s but they will come take a look.

    That’s what Paramount did with Star Trek 2009 and STID. They took styling cues from the old shows to appeal to a mass audience.
    “Hey! That’s Star Trek! I used to watch that as kid or in college.” And basically, the mass audience enjoyed the Star Trek reboots because they were unaware of the details that a “purist” would know. Us, as purists and experts, all we could do is nitpick and see what wasn’t right about the reboot or “restoration.”
    With STB and the new 2017 series a year away, we are about to see huge marketing, merchandising and advertising to bring awareness to the mass TV and movie going public.
    “Hey! A new Star Trek movie!” “Hey a new Star Trek TV show!” The mass movie going and TV watching public will want to take a look.
    I think Paramount and CBS were worried that Axanar was going to benefit from THEIR marketing and they didn’t like it.
    Axanar or the other fan films would have taken attention away from these big budget efforts.
    The only thing they knew how to do was launch a lawsuit.
    All of that being said, I hope someone can mediate this thing so we all can win.
    Paramount, CBS and the entire fan film community.

    • Daniel says:

      The premise that Axinar would take away from a TV reboot is off. It would only create a synergy of mutual interests and help the TV effort. This is what any marketer would tell you. There is very little in limits on TREK fan enthusiasm. Whoever’s driving this attach from CBS/Paramount does not understand the backlash this can incite from the fan base.

  • John C Weaver says:

    The man makes SENSE……for a tribbles! 😉

  • Mark Heber says:

    Then they should be happy to be able to access the wallets of “niche” markets as well as the mainstream. I fail to see how this will hurt their bottom line.

  • John Wright says:

    Well said Sir! This could be an outstanding opportunity for Paramount/CBS, Independent Art makers like Axanar, and we the loyal audience. Especially we the audience who desperately want to see the vast holes in Star Trek timeline filled with quality Roddenberry canonical stories.

  • Scott Hedrick says:

    I’ve posted this elsewhere, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest I’m wrong. I’m a Trek guy. I believe the universe of Star Trek is greater than that of Star Wars, because we’ve seen it on screen. Take the wars out of Star Wars and you get …. (Beuller? Beuller?) Take the wars out of Star Trek and you get The Measure of a Man, I, Mudd, 2 Days and 2 Nights, etc. Star Wars lends itself to the big screen because it has lots of big explosions. The best of Trek is philosophical discussions of the human condition, which doesn’t do so well as a blockbuster movie, but can work well on the small screen. Booms draw bucks, so when you spend bucks to make a movie, it better have a lot of booms in order to make the bucks. This is in line with what David said.

    Having said that, I think George Lucas did a far better job of making a product that attracts and keeps fans. Far from handing down from on high, he actively courted a relationship with the fans that worked two ways- hence the 501st Legion going from a fan club actively involved in charity to becoming canon onscreen, so Disney is likely to keep it. Lucas not only encouraged fan films, he held an official contest for them. He was very generous when it came to listening to fans, and we can only hope that Disney doesn’t stomp all over that. Paramount has not been as open to the fans. Indeed, the treatment of Trek in comics and books has often been handled very poorly as management has acted sometimes on personal whims. I recall a storyline in a DC version of the comic in which a female character was abruptly removed because someone in charge of Star Trek thought that the character was becoming too popular and might overshadow the Trek regulars. Similarly, there were limitations imposed on characters found in novels. Not every good story had to center on a Trek regular to be good, but secondary characters weren’t allowed to develop fully because of the fear of overshadowing the regulars (fondly remembering Harb Tanzer). The Next Generation came along and showed that there could indeed be good Trek without Kirk & Company. Star Trek has been poorly merchandised compared to Star Wars, and the powers that be often treat Trek, and Trek fans, as golden geese to be plucked. Lucasfilm strongly encouraged the growth of an integrated Expanded Universe (with the understanding that movies and eventually TV were canon), and you could find fairly consistent shared material between video games, books, comics and other merchandise. Star Trek, on the other hand, for a while intentionally kept the comics, novels and other merchandise separate, for reasons I have yet to discover. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is indeed richer than the Star Trek universe, because of that unified effort and the work with the fans instead of acting as if Paramount Knows Best. The Star Trek universe onscreen is already richer because there’s more to it than fighting. Paramount/CBS has an opportunity to turn this around and develop a relationship with the fans like George Lucas, and everyone can win. Structurally, it will be problematic because unlike Lucasfilm, there’s no single person in charge of Star Trek. We seriously need a Trek Czar, with authority. The biggest difference I see with Axanar as compared to other fan films comes from two things: the amount of money raised, and the promotional emphasis on professionalism. The Prelude to Axanar is certainly an exceptionally fine effort, and doesn’t look like amateurs were involved. Perhaps it was the quality that got someone’s attention who didn’t have a sense of humor or wonder. There are a lot of people involved with Trek, and since there is no one person in charge, it’s entirely possible that lawyers in one branch acted without consulting with the folks who had been talking to Alec Peters. I’ve interacted with him elsewhere and he sometimes comes across as rather obnoxious (which is sometimes a side effect of passion), but I don’t get the impression that’s an issue with respect to the lawsuit. Since Alec Peters actually talked to some folks involved with official Trek, it’s far more likely that David is right and there was a miscommunication somewhere. Surely, if the people Alec talked to were the ones that initiated the lawsuit, they would have contacted him beforehand in order to avoid the suit. Or, maybe someone new to the department and not familiar with Star Trek had this dumped on his desk and he did the Standard Lawyer Thing since it seemed like such an obvious IP violation before consulting anyone. There’s not a lot of actual information available, and there won’t be a lot forthcoming because that’s how lawsuits work, so it’s hard to understand what’s going on. However, it’s still not too late for CBS/Paramount to put the lawsuit on hold so that a mutual understanding can be worked out and a new era of mutual respect and cooperation with the fans can arise. Working with the fans is mutually beneficial. However, since Star Trek is managed by committee, I am not hopeful. At least we’ll always have Prelude to Axanar.

  • Scott Hedrick says:

    I’ve only just now read Part 1 (found part 2 on a Facebook link but not part 1), and found the mention of Lucasfilm as the model. I think part of what made the Lucasfilm model work is because a single person was in charge. I don’t mean legally or technically in charge. No matter who owned Lucasfilm, as long as George Lucas had a direct connection, all of the creatives were going to be run by him. Lucas is a terrible dialogue writer and a so-so director, but he is an utterly fantastic big idea man, and his overall direction of the Star Wars universe has been masterful. That’s what Star Trek needs. However, with movie and TV rights separated, that’s going to be a problem because it is rife with conflict.

    Now on to part 3.

  • Lee Benjamin says:

    But the dinosaurs cannot conceive of a world in which they are not at the top. To them compromise is death and they have no reason to compromise. 🙁

  • morbius says:

    I believe that the corporation (CBS/Paramount) saw the quality of “Prelude”, compared to the other fan-based Treks on YouTube, and felt theatened.
    I believe that if the TV execs/corporation had any good sense/feelings, they’d have shown some interest in, to one extent or another, joining forces in some way… or just ‘paddle in the same direction’.
    I believe that this suit over copyright is the only way they can bash the competition before their Jan. 2017 release, and they don’t want anyone telling them how to do their Trek. If they wanna do JJ style, then that’s it, and nobody’s gonna poo-poo on it… by hell!
    I also believe that the corporation is gonna loose their copyright suit. After all… what, of their copyright, has been infringed on? Where is “Star Trek” used?… or Kirk, Spock, NCC1701, Enterprise, mechanical recordings, artwork, music, or sound effects? And what of all of the other fan-based Treks that have been around on YouTube for years without CBS/PARAMOUNT suing them?
    And… Axanar is not charging for access… i.e., making profit, therefore the corporation and damages seem to be in different lanes.
    If the corporation were smart, they’d drop the suit, and start a two way collaboration with Axanar… because… Trek fans will make or break anything CBS ‘thinks’ they can do regarding Trek. The fans will drop CBS like a JJ Abrams universe.

  • AL says:

    Expertly written. If only the studios can see it’s the fans that are at their mercy. Don’t piss off the fans.

  • Joe Brooks says:

    Brilliant and insightful analysis, Mr. Gerrold. I really hope the forces that be on the CBS/Paramount side of this issue have read and understood your posts, what they have to gain from the official licensing of fan productions, why the model already established by LucasFilms works, and why this is best for all parties involved, especially the fans. Because as you’ve presented it, this really is a no-brainer (not in the same sense that “Spock’s Brain” was a no-brainer) and this really can and should be wrapped up quickly. Let’s hope those at CBS/Paramount really do see the wisdom of the infinite diversity in infinite combinations that the fan films represent and that they will find a way to let everyone involved live long and prosper.

  • Scott D. says:

    Mr. Gerrold’s analogy was on target. While people’s comments are focusing on the fan-aspect with George Lucas / Lucasfilms working with the fans, there is another aspect that could very well apply here as well. And that example is Disney with their upcoming one-shot Star War films like Rogue One, and the Han Solo film. CBS / Paramount very well could benefit from this in a similar fashion.

    Granted, I have no idea where this lawsuit could or will result in. But if an agreement could be reached, Axanar very well could easily end up as a Win-Win for the fans of Star Trek, and for CBS / Paramount. Like Disney’s Rogue One, Axanar is a basically a missing piece of the puzzle of the larger Star Trek story. Rogue One is the story of how the Rebel Alliance got the Death Star plans, while Axanar is the tale of a battle we only heard of in passing in the original Star Trek. And it doesn’t stop at Axanar, there are literally dozens of opportunities in the original Star Trek lore that they could expand on and turned into one-shot movies. One great example is the Earth-Romulan war that people hoped would’ve been Season 5 of Enterprise. You got the Lost Eras, and even more offshoot stories. My personal favorite is the Battle of the Klach D’Kel Brakt that was mentioned in DS9: Blood Oath (which I made a story in Star Trek Online UGC). So much potential that CBS / Paramount could tap into, and we as fans get to continue the original story, all while Paramount can focus on the new Star Trek.

    So CBS and Paramount can easily continuing to make money by having both timelines going at the same time, independent films doing projects with low budgets and high profit returns, and the fans getting what the want. How is this not a Win-Win?

  • Mark Davis says:

    I agree with all that was said. The main point is that the studio needs to adapt to the times. There is many Star Wars fan based things going on all the time, but where is the Star Trek fans. We have been stifled because their copyright views.

    One thing I do want to point out is Enterprise. That is a navy ship that has been around as long as the United States. The idea of them copyrighting that would be bad.

    I am very much in doubt of paramount, weather they will live even a tenth of what Gene wanted for Star Trek. He loved fan input, ideas for books, or comics. Doing a show with a normal budget back then was not the easy, by today’s standards. 4K TV with wide screen is the normal.

    Paramount needs to really do some fan based meetings to see what can be done, together we make Genes ideas live long and prosper.

  • Paul Mazierski says:

    As a geologist (and Axanar funder), I particularly appreciate Mr. Gerrold’s end of the Cretaceous analogy. There’s no doubt that Axanar, with its super high quality look and high level of professional involvement (all of which have been HIGHLY touted in it’s own crowd-funding marketing) has pushed the envelope of what is a “fan film” to the point where Paramount/CBS felt they must do something. “Axanar is more than a fan film”…..I believe that’s what the Indiegogo site says!…them’s fightin’ words to CBS. Unfortunately, they then immediately resorted to the very corporate, heavy-handed lawyer approach. That’s not good for Axanar, any fan-film production, the franchise, and certainly not the fans!

    Alec – you’ve done an incredible job with Axanar and have clearly put out a fantastic product. You would/could reach even more legendary status if you can work out a win-win with Paramount/CBS that comes anything close to what Mr. Gerrold is suggesting. Qapla’!

    • Alec Peters says:

      Thank you Paul. Believe me, we agree with David and many industry experts who believe there is a win-win. If CBS believes there is a win-win is another matter.


      • Paul Mazierski says:

        I was just thinking the same thing. I work with lawyers and regulatory agencies on a daily basis. You will come into this process with your passion and be flexible, reasonable, and want quick resolution so you can get back to putting all your energy into making Axanar. Paramount/CBS will send high hourly rate curmudgeon lawyers, be inflexible, and won’t care about how long this takes. It will not be easy. All my best to you (and Diana)!

      • Brian Heite says:

        Alec, just from the sidelines, I would like to believe that CBS does believe there is a win win solution here, as it only makes business sense to take all the assets and make them produce. I am hoping they just hit the point where they felt it was time to go through the motions to get to the solution step in the process. Regardless, we all stand with you and Ares. By the way the calendar is friggin AWESOME! Thank you for all you folks do, you are greatly appreciated.

        • Scott Hedrick says:

          That is an interesting proposal. It seems an inefficient way to go about it, but they may well have a good reason to swing a club first and then talk. Not unlike the best diplomacy being a fully activated phaser bank.

  • Ron E. says:

    I have not read everyone’s replies but leaves stuff aside cause yes anyone can make a fan film and look pretty damn good. But we’re here and now need to come to settlement. CBS and Paromount should be the ones to release it now. But in theory they must like it enough cause it caught their attention. Stop being Corp greed buy the film and provide some funds to help complete it.

  • Nicholai S. says:

    Years ago I scoffed at the idea of Paramount possibly launching a Star Trek network. Combine Paramount’s Trek output with the fan productions and such a network makes perfect sense.

  • mstrMayo says:

    maybe they thought something like this never would/could work out..and no seeing ,realising, it is something more,this new movie.more pro than ever is done.
    i do not know about other plans,merchandise and other reveneus.maybe they see such as a new danger as well..another danger,if it becomes succesful..the actors that are involved,actors from the original series,in a fan made one..outragious,they will think….i can see problems in the more far future,if there is merchandise..new fans will not know the difference no more.same quality movies,same quality merchandise,if not even better stuff than the original,will other actors from the original series join the next one,when the first is succesful…..next thing you will hear,i guess,is hearing that actors involved in new original series have to sign a contract that they never are allowed to participate in fan movies/not original movies no more..hard,certainly when you think those actors are looking for work,and are not against pro fan made ones..but i think they will do such,and seeing it as protecting their.own goods..a actor can decide not to sign such a contract,but don’t count on it..and maybe they will punish your actors already by giving them no future jobs no more…in that alone you need to talk and explain the intentions a little bit better..hopefully,they will believe the blue eyes,meaning,after signing a contract as well..like…this is it..a one timer..and you all,joining the original series..making everything better..think it is time a long version appeares,bringing in a few billion dollars as well..why not,if a other series can do so…a upgrade to another 6 of them..all of this,it’s just a compliment for the work that is done already..a fan made movie,looking more pro than ever..nice..

  • Dr. Tenenbaum says:

    Steven Tenenbaumseconds ago
    There was no intention to make money with this production. The “Suits” of Paramount /CBS were consulted at every stage before and during the scheduled production by the volunteer film makers. The sin of the makers of Axanar was in their making a better written and more enticing tale on the tiniest of budgets, shaming the CBS/Paramount Suits into a last minute retraction of their promise to not intefere with the fan flick, “as long as they did not try to earn any profit.” The Suits lied. They must have grasped what I have been saying to any Trek fans that would listen to me, since I saw “Prelude to Axanar.” This 20 minute fundraising “documentary” revealed the most innovative and brilliant new characters and storyline I had ever seen in a lifetime of watching every form of Star Trek ever produced. As I told my friends, “Forget JJ Abrams… Axanar looks to me like it was going to be the best Star Trek production ever made. Ever. Axanar was the product of the love, blood, sweat, and tears of a selfless team volunteer actors and production crew, whose heartfelt efforts shone through every second of the footage released. Axanar’s promise of an understated Klingon antihero, a Federation realistically on the ropes, desperate for a vision, any vision with which to move forward, was going to be a Star Trek for all time. So the “Suits,” the quintisential opposite of “artists,” in a duplicitous act of total cowardice, exercised their legal rights, and killed Axanar as it entered production. Legally they had every right to do what they did. Morally, they did not have a leg to stand on. And I swear on the grave of Leanard Nimoy, to never ever watch another Star Trek production in a theater or online or in any form that will make those chickenhearted suits one thin dime. That is also my legal right.

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