For those who know me, I’m a Trekkie. I’m The Star Trek Dude on Twitter and Facebook and I do tend to bring in Trek examples more often than I probably should. That’s why this issue is near and dear to my heart. On Thursday, June 23rd, Paramount and CBS announced via StarTrek.com the first official Star Trek fan film guidelines. Of course, I jumped on quickly to review these and see what the situation was. Now, I was feeling very optimistic after everything Justin Lin (Director of Star Trek Beyond) and J.J. Abrams had said specifically about fan films and the Axanar lawsuit. Unfortunately, my mood has since changed.
For a full explanation of these guidelines, please check them out here but I’m to highlight a few and talk about my thoughts.
Analyzing the Guidelines
I don’t hate all of these guidelines. Some make perfect sense like:
2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
I totally get it. They want everyone to know exactly what is and is not a fan production. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, about this one. It’s straight forward and reasonable. The very next point is just as reasonable:
3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
Again, yes, we don’t want fan films literally ripping off content from licensed official episodes, movies, etc.
If the rest were like this, I wouldn’t even need to write an article but things just blow up. Let’s start with the very first point:
1. The fan production 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.
Out of the gate this means that Star Trek Continues is basically dead in the water. They produce nearly hour long episodes following ongoing missions of The Original Series Enterprise and crew under Kirk’s command. Each episode would break this rule not to mention every other fan film that is well over 30 minutes in length like Of Gods and Men and Renegades. In fact, Prelude to Axanar is over the 15 minute mark and would need to be broken into two just to fit this very rule. The short segments could be dealt with in a serialized web format much like Red vs Blue or something to that affect BUT “no more than 2 segments” and “with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.” That means you get 30 minutes to tell your story with your characters and then they are gone forever. I don’t know about you but one of the things I loved about Trek in the 90s was how characters’ lives continued. They grew older, got promoted, and showed up on different shows. It was a connected and evolving universe. Fan films can kiss this goodbye.
4. 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.
That point focuses on props and costumes. Now, if I’m understanding this one wrong, let me know. It sounds to me like fan films that use existing styles (i.e. uniform designs from TV series or movies, props from the same) they must use officially licensed products. Does this mean fan films can make their own? What about costumes made from officially licensed costume patterns? And how is this going to be enforced? This one is tough and a little nebulous to me, so I’ll move on.
The big one I want to talk about is #5 which focuses on the actors and crew allowed involvement in fan films.
5. 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.
So this means that ANYONE who has ever worked on Trek in any official capacity or any other CBS or Paramount product cannot legally be involved in a fan film. No one. No actors, lighting guys, DVD art designers, maker of t-shirts. Even a person who does graphic design work for Star Trek Online said he has to drop off a fan films he was planning to work on. This immediately means that Star Trek: Renegades and their upcoming project Requiem is a no-go from the start since it includes legacy actors like Walter Koenig, Tim Russ, and Robert Picardo just to name a few. It also means that anyone who might have helped with ship design back in the 90s is a no-go too.
What does this mean?
From my perspective it’s simple. This is a direct reaction to the events around Axanar, its lawsuit, and the other popular fan productions, specifically Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: Renegades. Paramount and CBS have a new movie and TV on the horizon. While we don’t know the details on the show, we know that Beyond continues the JJ-verse with Kirk and company. Meanwhile, the fan productions focus on the Prime universe in the old TV show era, before that, and in the future after Nemesis. These things don’t clash yet Paramount and CBS seem to take issue with them. Now, maybe this is more personal and just about Axanar or maybe it’s less personal and it’s about all fan films. I don’t know but I can say that these new guidelines appear to take aim at the big three.
As a lifelong fan, I’m disappointed. I love Star Trek and I enjoy the fan productions. They get me through the empty time Paramount and CBS have left in addition to telling stories those companies have no interest in telling. The fact that everything is coming to a head on the 50th anniversary of the franchise is both disappointing and disheartening. For us fans, it was supposed to be a year of celebration and excitement. Instead, there is a lot of tense, hurt feelings, and distrust.
Since the news is still young, I’m curious to see what these fan films have to say in addition to others I have not mentioned. In fact, we’ve published at least five other articles about Star Trek fan films. Check them out below to see some of what we might be missing with these new guidelines.
What do you think of the new fan film guidelines? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter @griddaily!