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Roll With The Changes

By May 30, 2016 Feature Stories

Duane Smith 7During a 7-hour weekend drive this holiday, REO Speedwagon’s song “Roll With The Changes” came on the radio and it struck a particular chord with me – having watched the entire “fan film guidelines controversy” unfold over my phone during the weekend. Unfortunately, due to limited access to data and my laptop, I wasn’t able to weigh in on the conversation until now.

I first became aware of a potential issue on Friday, when Newsweek’s Marc Perton called me (while I was helping move my son out of his dorm) to ask for some clarification on Axanar Production’s position on crowdfunding. He told me that someone had posted a set of guidelines online (attributed to AXANAR Executive Producer Alec Peters) that suggested crowdfunding not be allowed and that seemed to contradict what Alec had told him earlier in the week that Axanar Productions would object to having guidelines that forbid the practice.

My response was that while we found a ban on crowdfunding objectionable, we also thought it was inevitable and that’s why it was in the first draft of guidelines but not in subsequent versions of the guidelines – due to concerns raised by other producers.

As I looked into things I realized that one of Axanar Productions major detractors, Carlos Pedraza, had published the first draft of guidelines circulated between some Star Trek fan film producers that Alec had contacted. Eventually names were released and the circus of finger-pointing began. A number of producers distanced themselves from any of the various drafts of guidelines circulating on social media and many of them had less than kind words to say about Axanar Productions and Alec Peters.

I won’t go into why I think this was the wrong thing for these producers to do. I’ll save that for a later post. Instead, I’d like to point out the effect of Carlos’ “scoop” of publishing drafts of guidelines in an attempt to embarrass Alec and Axanar Productions.

I’ve seen a number of comments from people who claim what Carlos did is going to doom fan films, altogether. Frankly, I think that’s an exaggeration. There are other people who have filled their holiday weekend sleuthing through the evidence to discover the leak. I think that may be a waste of time.

What’s done is done. And I think we owe Carlos a big “thank you” for pushing this conversation out into the open where it can’t be ignored by fan film makers, CBS or (especially) fans.

And now I’m speaking as a fan, not as the PR Director for Axanar Productions: The world of Star Trek Fan Filmdom is a toxic community of self-proclaimed “super-fans” who need to take a step back and embrace the change that is inevitable with technological change and increased interest in new stories (and forms of story-telling) for a venerable franchise that has survived through the combined efforts of CBS, Paramount and 40+ years’ of fan art, fiction and film/video productions.

So what’s the best way to ensure the continued success of Star Trek – a franchise built on the backs of great storytellers, innovative filmmakers and fans alike?

Well, it’s clear that ignoring the fans and allowing them to “play in the sandbox” won’t work for CBS anymore. The sandbox has become too large and can be distributed instantly via services like YouTube.  Add access to technologies that can make killer visual effects and interest from professional actors and writers, and suddenly that “sandbox” starts to look more and more like a Hollywood backlot.

Worse still, when there is no one paying attention to the children playing in the sandbox, someone has to make the rules – and that usually falls to the biggest kids. Sometimes those kids can be bullies.  And bullies don’t like it when the kids they pick on punch back.

And that’s what we’re seeing today.  An out-and-out brawl in the schoolyard. Spilling out of the sandbox and across the playground. It’s nasty, ugly and it needs to stop or we’re all going to get detentions.

Carlos Pedraza’s premature posting of a draft of the guidelines for fan films provides us with an opportunity to stop, take a breath, calm down and talk productively. Maybe CBS won’t notice. I think they will.

See, my sources tell me that CBS has been working on guidelines and solicited information from two fan film productions. I wasn’t told who they were, but Axanar Productions certainly wasn’t one of them and judging from reactions to Carlos’s posting from Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Continues, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine who’s “in” with CBS.

Some people might be comfortable with that, but I’m not.

I don’t think the vast majority of fan film makers (let alone fans in general) should be on the outside looking in. The more we can talk about this, the greater the chance that someone will hear us.

I offered some suggestions to Alec when I saw a draft of the guidelines and to my knowledge, they’ve never been shared. So indulge me on Memorial Day (and with apologies to Alec … heheh), here are four key points about any guidelines for fan films that I think are worth further discussion …


  • Guidelines aren’t enough. We need more than that.
    Making a fan film isn’t illegal. It’s just risky. Having guidelines from CBS implies a kind of “safe harbor” where fans can tell their stories without the risk of having what happened to Axanar Productions happen to them.But guidelines alone don’t cut it.  What’s needed is some kind of fan film license agreement that requires producers to follow the guidelines in exchange for a promise not to sue for copyright infringement.I’m not the first guy to suggest this.

    In fact, shortly after CBS/Paramount dropped their suit on Axanar Productions, David Gerrold and Marc Zicree both wrote blog posts urging CBS to adopt such a policy. It’s a good idea and creates a “defined space” for the mythical sandbox in which fan film producers are supposed to operate.  More importantly, such a license can be an objective measure of the “legitimacy” of a project for those who are interested in supporting it financially or working on it as cast or crew.


  • Eliminating crowdfunding is a bad idea, but not for the reason you might suspect.
    Getting rid of crowdfunding as a potential source of production funds for a fan film could definitely put a kink in a producer’s plan.  And such a ban probably seems like an easy fix for CBS – by cutting access to lots of money, productions need to scale back in both number and quality, reducing the potential for confusion and dilution in the marketplace.There’s a problem with this line of thinking, from my perspective.  Crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are secure middlemen for the transfer of funds from donor to producer. Banning their involvement would probably encourage producers to look for fundraising alternatives. If a ban were broader to include other crowdfunding sites (and methodologies) like Patreon, GoFundMe, etc., the pressure on producers to find other, less reliable (and possibly less secure) ways of “passing the hat” will mount.What might be a better idea is finding a way to standardize and regulate what qualifies as “acceptable crowdfunding practices” under the license.  Remember, the hammer here is the threat of lawsuit and the protection is the license. Violate the terms/guidelines of the license and a producer could feel the wrath of Loeb & Loeb and, trust me, nobody wants to feel that.

    Creating guidelines for this activity (and sharing those with Kickstarter, Indiegogo and any other “approved” crowdfunding service) could help protect donors/backers on projects and put many of the potential product licensing/trademark violation issues for donor perks to bed.


  • Time limits don’t have to be a deal breaker.
    I know that when Alec and I discussed the 50-minute time limit in his initial draft of guidelines, he was thinking specifically of how much time episodes of Star Trek: Continues and Star Trek: New Voyages need to play out. With the last AXANAR crowdfunding campaign (on Indiegogo), we had set a goal of hitting around $600k in order to produce the first half of the feature, which timed out to around 50 minutes.But I’ve seen everything from “no time limit” to 5 minutes thrown around online the past few days.  The 5-minute time limit comes up time and again when people start talking about the guidelines for Star Wars fan films. Just to be fair, the 5-minute time limit on Star Wars films is for their fan film contest and isn’t so much an attempt to restrict creative expression as it is an acknowledgement of the fact the judges receive and have to view thousands of entries every year.  More than 5 minutes per production would just make the whole process too unwieldy.So, what’s the right time limit?

    To be honest, I’ve seen intriguing content produced in 3 minute segments, 15-minute segments and longer versions. Think it can’t be done? Check out the Battlestar Gallactica prequel series “Blood & Chrome” – released as 15 minute episodes and then think again.

    If you know what the guidelines are going in, I don’t really think it matters.


  • Accountability is key.
    The most important thing missing from any version of guidelines I’ve seen is some kind of accountability on the part of the producer for making sure the project they’ve taken on is completed on time and in budget.  Donors’ ability to hold producers accountable is almost nil. Other producers aren’t likely to hold producers accountable – just gossip about them.The one with the hammer – again – is the issuer of the license. CBS.In my opinion, the guidelines should include a requirement for producers to provide an independently-produced income and expense statement at the end of the production that shows how much money was raised and where it was spent.  Failure to meet production or release dates should put the license in jeopardy (or subsequent licenses if discrepancies don’t arise until after the final production is completed).

    How likely is it that any of these suggestions will be considered (let alone adopted) by CBS? Not very, I suppose. Not if the only place these suggestions appear is on this lonely little Memorial Day blog post.


But this is why it’s important we’re not on the outside looking in while CBS develops their guidelines (with or without the help of the other fan film producers I mentioned earlier). The more people discuss and debate the guidelines (these or any others), the more noise about them there is. Eventually, someone will hear it and pay attention – if only to dismiss it as noise.

On the other hand, if someone just pays enough attention …

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Mickey says:

    Great Job Mike,,, I am deeply saddened by the knee jerk reaction of many, who chose to participate and then threw axanar under the bus without good reason.

  • Reece Watkins says:

    Nicely put, Mike. I agree, we’ve spent far too much time squabbling over who did what to whom. This is the window of opportunity we have, even if it isn’t the one we might have chosen. At some point, we all have to sit down together to discuss our concerns to make sure they are addressed properly when Axanar’s lawyers are talking with CBS. Spite and sour grapes are not what those making fan films need to concentrate on right now. It’s time to be adults, act like adults, come together to work on what we must, then go our separate ways once again if we must. Trek and let Trek.

  • AriesRCN says:

    Makes me wonder how long until all large studios says no crowdfunding because someone who is not in a big studio makes a better movie then them.

    Big corporations always kill the small guy because they figure it’s easier than competing.

  • Fred Trafton says:

    I posted elsewhere that I don’t understand this whole fuss. Your assertion that “The world of Star Trek Fan Filmdom is a toxic community of self-proclaimed ‘super-fans'” is probably true. And definitely sad. Why does everyone feel the need to one-up everyone else as if their fan film is the only one worth thinking about. The fact is, I’ve enjoyed Axanar, STC, STNV and a host of other less pro fan films, and even the JJ reboots. It’s all Star Trek. I consider them all to be “alterbate universes” even though the reboot movies were the only ones that came out and said it.

    But I digress from the topic … yeah, the best thing would be for CBS/Paramount to say what’s OK and what’s not. Fan films will still choose which rules to embrace or ignore … or find loopholes in. CBS/Paramount will still need to weight the advantages and disadvantages of pressing charges or avoiding alienating fans. As a wannabe fan artist myself (fan fic writer), I understand the tensions that happen when you’re doing your thing and the owner of the IP is trying to tell you what you can or can’t do with it. But I try not to let those tensions make me into a big jerk. Of course, I can’t speak about how Alec works with people one-on-one, but his public face at least has been very inclusive, confident, calm and free of the nasty mud-slinging that seems to be happening among other fan productions. Well, some of them anyway. I understand the desire to lash out at Axanar … “We were flying under the radar, and now YOU’VE gone and ruined it for the rest of us!” Of course, that’s childish nonsense, but I can still understand why people would feel that way. That doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable or fair way to react so nastily, especially in public. In fairness, I think this triggered a “fight or flight” response in other fan film makers, and I’m hoping some of this animosity will go away once the dust clears.

    And finally, I can’t believe Alec can keep his cool so well under this kind of unreasonable attack from the fan film community. While also keeping his cool about the lawsuit. As much as I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, I’m glad CBS/Paramount chose to sue Axanar. I think Alec’s measured response of acquiring the correct legal defense team to defend him and reacting neither with fear, remorse, nor anger actually made CBS/Paramount realize they had made a mistake. All fan films owe Alec a debt of gratitude here … it’s never cool to beat up on someone who loves the same thing you do. In this case, its even more mean-spirited to bite the hand that’s their last, best hope for victory. (Sorry, wrong SF franchise …)

    • Kevan in Canada says:


      Very well written. I found myself nodding in agreement several times while reading Mike’s posting and your comment. Mike makes some very good points, and your comment is thoughtful. As an Axanar donor, and someone who can only attest to Alec’s public persona (I’ve never met him in person, but he has given me nice replies to a couple of correspondences), he gives me the impression that he strives to abide by Star Trek’s core principles of tolerance, unity, and inclusion. He should be commended for handling this entire lawsuit ordeal (and the proposed guidelines leak) with nearly Vulcan-like temperament and composure. As a result of this lawsuit, it has been disheartening to learn that some quarters of Star Trek fan filmdom is plagued with people filled with such hatred, spite, ignorance and intolerance. Really makes one wonder why they’re Star Trek fans in the first place, if Trek’s core values are lost on them. Then I read your comment and I’m reminded that some fans can be intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable.

      • Scott says:

        It is exceedingly unfortunate the way some fans have reacted to this situation, but such is the nature of fandoms and is in no way unique to Star Trek.

        I agree though that Alec showed great character in the way he handled the situation and it’s probably more true then anyone wants to admit that the Star Trek fan film community owes him their gratitude. I get the impression CBS/Paramount was out for blood and they didn’t particularly care which fan film they targeted, it just happened to be Axanar. I worry that any other production would have simply folded under the pressure.

  • Claude says:

    The lawsuit was a big mistake for CBS/Paramount but now this is the past. The guidelines will open
    a new way for the fan film. For me the only guideline must be:

    No profit for the movie and gadgets

    If you respect this guideline you respect all. This is ridicilus to say, you can’ t be financing by fan
    or you can’t make promotion financing by fan. If you want to make a high quality movie
    you need money, to pay actors, studios, etc…………
    If you don’t take money for the movie and gagets you respect the copyright spirit.

  • John Willis says:

    Perhaps CBS/Paramount should look at handling it like a “distribution” agreement. There will be costs associated with handing out a License, policiing it, keeping people honorable. If there were a fixed “fee” collected by CBS/Paramount for handling that could handle that. It would also put the responsibility on the Licensees.. to conform to terms and uphold their end of the bargain. — in the end the terms whatever they are called “guidelines, ect..” will have to be subject to moderation and revision, or someone will spend inordindate amounts of time trying to “game the system”. It really depends on how deep CBS/Paramount want to explore this venue.. but it could become a new revenue model.. or a way of “farming” potential new sources of productions.. in which case a “Class” of Licensing” might be better that could scale and promote a production.. with escalating terms of contract.. perhaps unlocking greater access to elements which CBS/Paramount feel need protection.

  • …gorramn haters will not quit! =(

    axamonitor should be keel-hauled! =(


  • Brian Heite says:

    I am not sure that the “fan funding” question has been considered correctly. Whether I give Axanar 50.00, or go to a theater and spend 40 or 50 (with all the associated costs, the theater and movie get a lot of that in various ways) I am still “funding”. If I choose to fund Axanar because some people gambled on them and they produced something good, then Axanar wins on that basis. I wouldn’t support a lot of the “fan films” (including a lot of the “bullies”) for one reason: Their product is not the standard I would buy. Bottom line: If CBS does not make a product I do not want to buy, I won’t. Period. Trek or not, if it is poorly made, bad story, bad acting, whatever, it’s not happening. That is one of the fundamental economic issues here. CBS wants you to buy “their” Trek, only their Trek, and not any others. What they miss is some of the others is at their level or better, and is what some people will buy. The basis of the whole arrangement should be something of a deal that gives something to both parties, as well as encourages production of more. If a group thinks they can sell their idea, and get crowdfunded, fine. CBS and other groups should not begrudge people who make something others want and are willing to donate/pay for. In all respects, a license fee based on the amount funded would allow small or medium folks to still do it, since if a small fee went to license the material, that would just be part of the costs of production. The shining examples offer a better return to the license holder and offer the opportunity for a series, movies, and high quality Trek that they could use on their system. Take advantage of that and everyone wins. Do Axanar, provide it to the public as it would be done otherwise. The pen a deal with Alec and company to make more, or movies, or a series or whatever, and use it on your streaming service. They have to crazy to not realize anything on their service will be streamed for free within hours of being available, so the idea of a money machine from that is ludicrous. Their only good option is to try to make their series compelling, and try to draw in others and sell on DVD, pay per view, etc. Make so much good Trek people BUY it, thus crowdfunding them. Of course, all through this I still have no idea why Axanar was such a good target, when there are ongoing shows with their main characters, ships names, story lines, etc, that have never been touched. Maybe some people know other people better than some people do.

  • […] out the weekend was a post from Mike Bawden, the PR director for Axanar. In it he muses about how the Star Trek fan film community is sadly […]

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