Friday, May 27, 2016

Forging Fan Film Guidelines

Funny how a simple message of congratulations can turn into something worth writing about! After JJ Abrams announcement (and subsequent confirmation by CBS and Paramount) that the lawsuit would be settled amicably and Alec Peters and company would be allowed to continue producing Axanar, I shot Alec a message to congratulate him. He responded, and told me how much he appreciated reading my blog posts on the subject. I tried to get some idea of how the negotiations were going, but he obviously couldn't talk about those. However, he did tell me the following, which he is allowing me to share with you!

Based on the official statement from CBS that the network is finally going to issue fan film guidelines, Alec has put together a group of Star Trek fan film producers to discuss a guideline proposal which reflects their concerns, and the apprehension of the thousands of fans who have rallied behind fan films for decades.

Alec said he contacted almost every major fan film producer seeking suggestions on a proposed set of guidelines.  Eight of them were invited to a Facebook chat group to discuss the proposal.  “I just felt that all the active fan films should be able to share their thoughts together in a constructive way,” he said. “Most of them don’t speak to CBS, and clearly we are communicating with them regularly, so it felt like the right thing to do."

“Unfortunately, James Cawley of Star Trek: New Voyages said no without even hearing a proposal. He was the only one who declined.  Everyone else wanted to at least see what a set of proposed guidelines would look like.”

As a starting point, Alec created some suggested guidelines which he forwarded to Todd Haberkorn of Star Trek: Continues, John Broughton of Farragut,  John Atkin of Yorktown, Nick Cook of Intrepid, Michael King of Valiant, Scott Johnson of Starbase Studios (who produce their own fan production as well as let other productions use their facility), Greg Lock of Star Trek Ambush, plus an unnamed representative of Star Trek: Renegades. “Everyone I sent this to agreed to at least look at the draft, and half of them became part of the ongoing discussion.As for the guidelines themselves, "It is still very much a work in progress, but we hope that we can at least have something to send to CBS so they appreciate the concerns of the fan film makers.”, said Peters.

Apparently, Peters has been lobbying CBS for fan film guidelines for over four years. He told me about his various meetings over the years. “I first spoke with Liz Kalodner, EVP of CBS Consumer Products and the Head of Licensing, after my first trip to New Voyages back in 2010. We actually met on the Paramount lot when Liz was out for some meetings in L.A.  She’s really nice, and very sharp, obviously! She felt there was too many issues that would need to be overcome, but she was very positive about fan films in general.”

“I then spoke to John Van Citters, Head of Star Trek Licensing, who I managed the Star Trek: The Experience auction for in 2010. We had a very good working relationship. In 2013, at the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, I met with Bill Burke, VP of CBS Consumer Products, and continued the conversation. Both gave me the same line.  CBS simply couldn’t come up with guidelines because there were too many contracts, union and guild agreements, actor contracts, etc.  It was too complicated. Bill even told me that it would take the CEOs of both CBS and Paramount sitting together in the same room, talking about Star Trek fan films, in order to get anything done.”

Then there was the well-known (and since thoroughly discussed) meeting between Alec and several CBS representatives at the Las Vegas Convention last Summer, where Alec’s auction company Propworx produced a giant Star Trek auction. “John Van Citters and Bill Burke met with me at my request. I was determined to get some guidance, but they still told me that CBS would neither tell me what I could do, or what I could not do.  They were afraid that any such guidance would potentially give up IP rights. Ironically, here we now finally doing what should have been done years ago!"

It seems pretty obvious to me that if CBS had possessed the internal will to put out guidelines back then, they would have avoided a lawsuit and saved themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

As I said previously, this situation was inevitable, as fan films have increased in popularity and quality over the years. These changes have led other studios, notably Lucasfilm Ltd., to publicly support and assist fan films, even hosting them on their own websites.

And for those who might be curious as to what guidelines Mr. Peters and his group are planning to propse, here is their working draft:

1.) There must be the following disclaimer at the end of each episode, and in all promotional and marketing materials, on all fan production websites:
"Star Trek" and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios, Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition of distribution is permitted.
2) Fan productions may not sell, or give away as perks, any item with a Star Trek mark, logos or character including, but not limited to, the words "Star Trek", the Enterprise insignia chevron, images of the USS Enterprise, or any Star Trek trademark.
3) Fan productions may take donations, but all donations must go to the production of the fan film and may not be used to pay any of the principals.
4) Fan productions may pay professional cast and crew for their time working on the production.
5) If a production uses a SAG member, he or she must become a SAG New Media Signatory.
6) Finished fan films may be no longer than 50 minutes in length (the approximate length of TOS episodes).
7) Fan film makers give to CBS an unlimited, unrestricted license to use their films, or any portion thereof, in any format CBS should deem appropriate.

Personally, I think this is a pretty good start! It will be interesting to see how much of this gets incorporated into the final guidelines. I find it strange that the Godfather of the modern fan film, James Cawley, declined to participate in this discussion. Alec has mentioned in his blog that his relationship with James has its ups and downs, so the lawsuit may have put it on the "down" side of things for Mr. Cawley. Even still, CBS will issue these guidelines regardless of his participation. One would think a man of his standing in the fan film community would want to have a say in shaping them. Then again, he shut down his Facebook page, and his website is now "under construction", so who knows what's going on with New Voyages in the first place? 

Either way, kudos to Alec and the other producers for working together to propose guidelines.  Incorporation of their efforts by CBS would certainly help guide Star Trek fan film producers, assuage concerned studio executives, and satisfy Star Trek fans who simply want more stories set in Gene Roddenberry's vast universe.

And thanks to Alec, for allowing me to share this with everyone!

(5/28/16: I have corrected this article based upon information released in a statement from Starbase studios. Previously, I had stated that eight had joined the Facebook chat and were part of the discussion, which conflicts with Mr. Peters' later statement that half of them actively participated. I also corrected the article to show that Starbase Studios only produces one production themselves, while allowing several others the use of their facilities) 

(5/30/16: Please also read my follow-up post here


  1. Superb blog post. And it's great to see at least some of the other fan film makers are being reasonable and adult about all of this.

  2. Thank you for sharing these historic developments.

  3. Interesting article. As many existing fan-films are longer than an hour, perhaps it would make sense to limit the episode length to say 90 minutes or more. Do we even need a time limit?
    AS to the New Voyages online presence. They recently changed their name back from Phase II to New Voyages, so maybe that has something to do with it? Their startrekphase2 Facebook page has indeed closed, but there is now another one at which is active. They also have an active website at as well, that seems to have everything that used to be on their website under construction. Maybe that is the answer.

  4. 50 minutes maximum sounds like the Axanar movie must be at least a two-parter.

  5. Except for the time limit of 50 minutes because the film's being created are usually an hour fifteen to hour and a half everything seems correct. Now if you make two fifty minute movies back to back to finish a storyline it could be the other way to make a film.

  6. I would like to hear a thoughtful response/rebuttal from CBS et al, but it appears that isn't happening soon. To bad.

  7. I liked the content. Seemingly well put together.

    I had thought while reading. Maybe James Cable has an agreement with CBS/Paramount and can't disclose it. But, if not then as this goes foward it seems his uniqueness fades too. Does not take away his relavance as the God father of it, just not unique anymore.

  8. Great blog post! I'm definitely in favor of guidelines for Star Trek fan films. But speaking as a fan who likes to watch fan films and as a fan who would like to make fan films or other kinds of fan projects, I believe that if fan film producers have input into these guidelines they should strongly push for no restrictions on content.

    I'm referring to proposed guideline #6. What constitutes a "finished fan film"? Does this mean that no continuing storyline can be longer than 50 minutes? What about story arcs that carry over multiple episodes? I've heard critics refer to Breaking Bad as a "62-hour movie" because of the story arcs that its characters go thru. What about two-part episodes? Star Trek is known for a number of really excellent two-part episodes, would fan series be allowed to do things like that? What about creating 12 ten-minute webisodes with a continuing story arc and then releasing them all on one DVD?

    One of the advantages of a fan film not being a commercial enterprise (pardon the pun) is that, relieved of the burden to make a profit, a focus can be placed on the artistic vision of the collaborators in a way that no commercial venture can afford. If fan filmmakers are not going to be receiving any money for their efforts they should at least have unfettered artistic opportunities.

    I also have concerns about proposed guideline #7. The thing about fan films is that they are non-commercial and they should stay non-commercial. Otherwise they run the risk of creating situations like those the early comic-book artists went through where characters they created turned out to reap huge profits for corporations while the artists themselves never saw a dime. Imagine if characters created for fan productions found their way into commercial Star Trek movies or TV shows. If companies started profiting from the characters and situations created by fans wouldn't those fans feel entitled to some of that money, the same way that CBS/Paramount feels entitled to any profits made by fan films?

    These proposed guidelines are a good place to begin the conversation but they need to protect the fan artists as much as the corporations.

    1. I hear where your coming from Dennis, and I agree with you about everything you've said - I myself am particularly nervous about guidelines 6 and 7 - If you look on you'll see that this guideline proposal is not the first but the second draft really of what Axanar Productions came up with, and it really scares me a little that they held onto guidelines 6 and 7 - I don't think there should really be a time-limit at all on fan films or if there is at least make it an hour and 58 minutes or so or perhaps even 90 minutes MAYBE - As for #7, I don't think CBS needs to have anymore power over the fan films than they kind of already do - It's really not necessary or a good idea for anyone to have too much power - Seems like maybe the actual fans should write to Alec or someone and say, "Hey, wait a minute, maybe you guys should consider this instead..." - I don't know if the professionals would listen to a mere fan, but might be worth a shot to have our voice heard seeing as how these are made-for-FAN films and all, ya know? - I don't that's just how I feel about this whole thing...

  9. Respectfully, isn't #4 a giant loophole to pay anyone you want to give a title on your production? Also what is the point of the 50 minute time limit? How does that effect IP one way or the other?

  10. Keep in mind that non-profit does not mean non-revenue generating. IRS does allow non-profit organizations to receive revenue surpluses which exceed annual operational costs which must be applied to the future expenses that meet the corporate mission of the non-profit. Both the NFL and the American Red Cross regularly generate healthy non-profit surpluses to their annual costs.

    In their annual costs are line items for salaries and benefits for direct employees of the non-profit as well as indirect costs for services from subcontractors and costs of benefit rewards to contributors.

    What can not be done is the sharing out of surpluses as direct income dividends to "equity stakeholders" or grant makers. A gift to a non-profit is irrevocable: A gift does not provide a right to share in any non-profit revenue since that does jeopardize the future mission of the non-profit by harming the creation of a sustaining surplus.

    What is required is a Star Trek Fan Production Foundation:

    The benefit to CBS and Paramount is a single point for non-profit revenue audit reports. This is important because as producers and production companies come and go, the released fan productions can be generating ongoing online advertising revenue for a very long time - as well as any fan IP branded product sales.

    An additional benefit to CBS and Paramount is a single point for coordinating fan release Windows with professional production releases to prevent marketing fratricide.

    The benefit to producers is a single Foundation underwriter funding source to cover ongoing administration, insurance, accounting, and legal costs for each active and inactive production company. This would not prevent crowd financing future productions to cover specific production costs, but would ensure a base level of funding in between fan financing campaigns.

    The benefit to the entertainment industry is an increase in venues to sustain the education of a new generation in the crafts and skills of motion picture production.

    An existing non-profit business model can be similar to how regional Shakespeare repertory theaters are sustained by grants from The Globe Theater Trust Foundation.

    But the ability to centralize non-profit revenue collection and accounting from distributors could give the Foundation the ability to negotiate limited release licenses as Fan Film Festival presentations through direct-to-theater satellite broadcasts and cable pay-per-view channels, as well as providing access to increasingly important international venues,

    The Foundation could even sustain Star Trek Fan Productions in other languages and countries and thereby meet the requirement of sustaining infinite diversity through education efforts in entertainment technologies and skills..

  11. I think releasing these guidelines, half-baked as they are, does a great disservice to fan films as a whole. A much greater impact will be had from the basis of the CBS/Paramount v Axanar settlement, if there is one.

    1. I can see your point. However, it's fairly obvious that this was coming out one way or another (and I'll have something to say about that later), as someone had given Axamonitor this information, along with the conversation that took place.

  12. I wood not let parmount stuido and CBS to take credit on some one other work and you get none of anything that you did. They just want to take everything that you did.
    On this line 2. The enterprise is own by the u.s. navy. You would need to ask if you can use there name.
    And in the insignia have no copyrights
    The chevron is no copyrights to
    As for the images have the same issue no copyrights.
    Any Star Trek items don't have many copyrights.

    In line 3. They don't want you to get no money of any kind, and you will lose your money and time and work.

    I can keep going to this but my idea for you to go at a Star Trek convention to see what you will lose.
    Don't go for this deal it is bad and it will hurt
    Everyone who want to do a fan film.

  13. I thought the blog post was well done. I like all the recommendations... Its a start.


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