The following is an opinion piece, and it’s not about Star Trek Online.
With multiple fan productions trying to provide us with new classic trek in a manner tolerated by CBS, multiple licensed video games, a new television series looking better by the day for 2017, and another alternate-universe movie due on the big screen – Star Trek is still a force in 2016.
Has any of these official productions/games come close to capturing the real essence of Star Trek? I don’t really think so. There are moments in each that resonate, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything officially produced in the last decade that I would call true ‘Star Trek’.
I’m a late-comer to the world of fan productions. There was a time for me when if Shatner wasn’t Kirk, it would be crap. Like his hairpiece, my impressions of fan productions and Shatner-less Trek have changed. Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: Phase II represent my favorites, with the most recent episodes standing out as being canon-quality on par with anything produced in the 1960’s. To a certain extent even JJ’s Star Trek (2009) is a massive fan-film with dozens of canon nods and shout-outs between actively ignoring the science and stories that made Star Trek so cool.
Star Trek and science go hand in hand even through it’s science fiction.
It’s one of the reasons for me why Star Trek: Axanar was potentially so cool. Even though it was a fan production, it hit all the right notes for me personally. The story behind the creation of the Ares Class, the arms race with the Klingons and the balls-to-the-wall blood-bath solution at Axanar was pitch perfect to me. The effects were spot-on. The actors were amazing!
Tony Todd brings credit to anything he works on. I could not wait to see him in the final product!
When I saw they offered patches as a goal reward , out came my credit card to support the movie. 5 months and still waiting to receive anything promised though…
Then Axanar started making models for sale. They expanded the online (albeit private) store. Novels were announced. And of course there was Axanar Coffee.
The donation I made for the production of a fan-film went to building Ares Studios – a legitimate profit generating business, and not the movie. And it paid for a studio lease, a sound stage, sushi and now likely the legal expenses at some point in the near future.
Somewhere along the line this fan production became a wage-paying profitable business. Great news for CBS – proving Star Trek was still very viable – but bad news for every other fan production. Axanar was effectively using another companies IP for profit leaving CBS in a very difficult place. CBS had no choice but to act to preserve it’s intellectual property. As for fans feeling a little like they got a bait-and-switch, there’s musings of a class-action against Axanar. I plan to ask for a refund tomorrow – I wonder what will happen?
It’s an odd place for a fan to be, just shy of the 50th anniversary and wondering – who’s Star Trek is it anyways?
No Justin. Star Trek doesn’t belong to the fans. It belongs to the people who just paid your 7 figure salary to direct Star Trek Beyond. (Guessing on his salary).
Which Trek is your Trek?
Star Trek is many things to many people, but one thing is for certain – it cannot be classified by any one description including mine.
Those unfamiliar with science fiction will sometimes classify Trek fans in the same way they talk about Star Wars. Nothing could be farther from the truth. At it’s worst Trek is cheesy Science Fiction, while at it’s best its about the exploration of the human condition. It tries with surprising success to base itself in a foundation of real science even when it doesn’t quite understand what that science is. Communicators and tricorders are inspiring real products. 3D printers are improving every year. Warp drive is no longer in the realm of fiction and the principles behind it are actually being investigated.
Star Trek has inspired generations to explore and improve the human condition through science. How many scientists are out there today because they were inspired by Star Trek?
For many trekkers it’s about exploring the human condition through allegorical tales of the 1960’s with the odd monster of the week thrown in for good measure. For an even larger group – the 1980’s TNG fans – it challenges us to see what could be, and in Q’s own words.”to explore the possibilities of existence”.
Star Trek has always been as much about the time it was made as it was about the stories themselves. And while I might have pointed out just a few elements of what makes Star Trek special for you, I know I’m missing much more because…
Star Trek is different for everyone.
In the 1970’s I wasn’t just a child of Star Trek, but of NATO as well. I lived on an Armed Forces base in West Germany, and got my news from the Stars & Stripes. There was an arms race underway, and the world was on the brink of a nuclear war. It’s that world perspective that really put me over the top for Axanar.
Star Trek’s Utopian potential is why I gravitated to a science fiction television program that showed us that even with our differences, we could live in peace in a future where anything was possible. I read and reread every Star Trek novel and book available. I consider it a badge of honor that I watched every episode of TOS in German, even though I didn’t completely understand the language.
I didn’t need to.
For a time Next Gen was the unwelcome usurper, that I watched intently week after week for a fix of ‘anything trek’. Bitching became praise as I grew to accept The Next Generation as not only equal to classic Trek, but as a series that expanded the Star Trek universe. I still get misty eyed when I think of The Inner Light, or feel a sense of completeness with All Good Things… .
One thing is true – you don’t need to remaster great storytelling.
My Trek came of age with Deep Space Nine.
While we could argue that DS9 was the least trek-like of the series that came before and after, the complexity of the characters and stories stand out to this day. The various mega-space-battles of DS9 rival anything on the big screen, but what stands out for me is the character driven moments – In the Pale Moonlight and The Visitor still resonate years after watching them.
Imagine that – Star Trek can be as good with phaser fire as without. DS9 might not have had as satisfying a closure as TNG, but it was lightyears ahead of the series to follow.
Voyager was in my opinion, a dark time for Trek. It was the first series I ever gave up on, about the time that the episode Threshold was released. I’m not really sure why Enterprise never ‘gelled’ with me. Faith of the Heart, while lyrically a perfect match, was the first of many bad decisions which doomed that series. Canon isn’t something you can mess with without raising our ire. Voyager and to a greater extend Enterprise both suffered from fan fatigue and a rapidly changing television landscape – something neither could adapt to. There were standout moments in both series, but it was too little and too late. Having just re-watched Enterprise I am very willing to accept that Enterprise as a series never existed except as a holodeck program in Rikers personal library.
Update: tried to re-watch the first season of Voyager, and gave up at episode four. Even at it’s worst Enterprise was so much better. I’d better put on my fire-proof twitter pants…
My Trek may not be your Trek. And that’s ok. Trek is what you make of it.
While we might agree to disagree on what Trek really is, one thing is for certain – we enjoy it and want more.
But wanting more Star Trek doesn’t give just anyone the right to make more, and CBS has the right to say no.
Fan films are made on ridiculously small budgets, often at great personal expense for the people involved. If the material is done with respect, CBS unofficially tolerates it. It’s their right as the owner.
And then there’s this guy:
Am I being an armchair lawyer? Hell yes 😉 but Alec Peters might have a point.
I’m not a lawyer, but even with first hand experience in dealing with the approval processes for licensing with Lucasfilm, Disney and 20th Century Fox – I may not know what I’m talking about. The thought of Disney’s legal team still gives me nightmares, and for good reason: All of them like to protect their investments, and CBS is no different.
Full disclosure: I’ve had 2 email conversations with Alec Peters, neither of which had to do with this post. The first was answering his call for bloggers – I offered, but nothing came of it. The second email was about the status of the production and fan rewards given the lawsuit. Alec’s answers came quickly (Kudos to him, I didn’t expect an answer), but as they contradicted what was attributed to Axanar days later, I decided not to publish them here.
So in a way, I think I can offer my opinion on the subject, especially after being told I wasn’t a true fan of Star Trek if I didn’t support Axanar (even though I’ve been pro-axanar in all my posts). Here are a few of the common comments I’ve seen floating around on the subject:
CBS is suing the fans.
Nope – this is a non starter. CBS is not suing everyone. That’s batshit crazy talk.
CBS is greedy.
CBS is a publicly traded company and has a responsibility to protect it’s value for shareholders and licencees. It’s not called greed. It’s called corporate responsibility.
Axanar is so good that CBS is scared.
That’s a load of crap. Axanar hasn’t really filmed anything of consequence, and has even stated in court documents they don’t have a ‘locked’ script. Finished movies are rarely better than the trailers, so it’s hard to imagine that CBS is scared of Axanar’s perceived quality. The lawsuit is primarily to defend the property of the company and it’s shareholders and licencees. While ‘Prelude to Axanar’ is among the best looking fan projects, you can’t judge something that hasn’t been made yet.
Why not finish it and put it out professionally in theaters or pay per view?
In a perfect world this could happen, but as both sides start ratcheting up expenses it’s highly unlikely. Whatever funds raised for Axanar are likely never going to be used for the production of the movie.
Is Axanar a con job?
No, and Alec Peters is not a con-man. While Alec Peters may be guilty of pushing the boundaries in how fan films are made, I don’t believe he is intentionally dishonest. Seeing my donation going to start a studio and pay wages certainly raised red flags with me. I didn’t donate to Ares Studios. Having Tony Todd’s image used to sell products was problematic, especially after there was no announcement that he had parted ways with Axanar. That seems a little shady but in light of the rumor Tony may be up for a part in the new series, it now seems his departure may have more to do with that than the rumors of issues with Axanar. And someone, somewhere is making money off of coffee, T-shirt printing, model making AND music CD’s. CBS isn’t seeing a dime from that. I seriously doubt Juan Valdez is picking coffee at a loss, shipping it to a roaster, who then roasts & repackages it at a loss to given away free to fans.
Why has Axanar being singled out when there are many fan productions?
Axanar created this problem when they admitted to paying salaries and expanded the ways to raise funds. Those funds are being used to set up a business in which Mr. Peters and others are earning a living.
And no, Hollywood accounting practices cannot be used to hide income.
Is Axanar actually trying to hurt other fan productions?
No, Axanar and Alec Peters are NOT trying to hurt other fan productions. In fact I honestly believe that one part of this project was to produce something we’d all be proud of, setting a new standard for the entire genre.
My only beef is the scorched earth policy in the way they are responding in social media isn’t helping. Fans being kicked from Facebook. Threats sent to bloggers.
Unfortunately for fan productions, the most likely outcome of this lawsuit is that fundraising where a third party earns a percentage may no longer be viable. In simple english – indiegogo may no longer be viable to raise money for productions using unlicensed IP. Technically it’s against their terms and conditions. It’s possible that the lawsuit could be expanded later to include them.
Will Axanar win the lawsuit?
Win may be a poor descriptive choice. In all likelihood the production will be shut down, and the monies raised seized to cover court expenses. If the fan-raised funds are in jeopardy, CBS may relent and offer it returned to the fans especially if they can go after other sources.
CBS will do it’s very best to recover the legal fees and judgement made against Axanar Productions and Alec Peters.
Why is Axanar being sued for copyright infringement? Others are doing it. If they’re making money from Star Trek, why not give the profits to CBS?
Copyright infringement is CBS’s best legal option to go after Axanar’s use of their property. CBS tolerates fan productions. Period. But when someone uses their property in any way, CBS has the legal right to determine how it is used. As for the issue of profit sharing, Axanar could have asked CBS and negotiated a deal to create Star Trek content for the web under existing arrangements. CBS chairman Les Moonves admitted recently that Netflix and Amazon tried to get a new Star Trek series; Axanar would fall under that arrangement.
Unfortunately for Axanar, CBS decided to produce their own series in-house as is their right.
What’s the future for Axanar?
I hope they can come to a settlement where Axanar gets made, and the fans love it®. I also hope that Donald Trump won’t be the Republican nominee. Both hopes are highly unlikely at this time.
If you’d like to get an in-depth legal view on the process and machinations I highly recommend you start following the G&T Shows coverage. It’s by far the most concise and accurate representation of the facts as I know them. I trust their coverage however there’s been a fair amount of unwarranted vitriol thrown in their direction by Axanar fans. That has left co-hosts feeling fairly mistreated, all the while they maintained balanced coverage of the issue.
Another great source is axamonitor.com. Frequently updated, it’s become my go-to for the latest updates in the legal proceedings. Last Friday CBS updated it’s complaint with specific references to the IP infringement. Axanar Productions and Alec Peters have until March 31st to file an answer to that amended complaint (summary of the ammended complaint).
Lastly, I’d like to think that I’m still a supporter of fan-produced films. While I personally believe that Axanar is effectively ‘A Starship Bridge Too Far’ in terms of fan-films, I still hold out hope that it could get made. Imagine a settlement where CBS gains full control on Ares Studios to complete the project without Peters, while establishing a framework where fan productions must be approved to proceed. It could be an amazing win-win for everyone.
That, and T6 Ares-class in Star Trek Online (updated by Thomas Marrone) would be awesome.
My Two Bits