As CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures move forward on a copyright infringement lawsuit against one fan-film production, other amateur Star Trek producers are keeping one eye toward the courtroom, and another on their latest project.
And that's no different for "Star Trek Continues" executive producer and star Vic Mignogna.
When we say "amateur," of course, we don't mean anything about the people involved or the quality of the work. But the best way these fan-film productions have stayed out of the crosshairs of CBS and Paramount are to keep those productions as non-professional as possible. As Mignogna repeats time and time again, at the end of the day, the fans don't own Star Trek: CBS and Paramount do.
"If CBS were to write me tomorrow and say, 'OK, you know what? We are changing our stance on fan productions. You need to stop now,'" Mignogna told 1701News. "My public response would be to say the following: 'Star Trek Continues' is so very grateful to CBS for the privilege to have spent the last few years paying tribute to the show that we all love. And at their request, we will not be making any more. But I want to thank them for the opportunity to have done so in the first place."
Luckily for "Continues" and other fan productions, such a directive has not come down from the studios. And while Mignogna won't comment directly on what's happening with the sued production, "Star Trek: Axanar," he has no qualms talking about what makes "Continues" different — and why he isn't fighting for his hobby in a federal court.
"There is no fighting it," Mignogna said. "It is their property. People who think they have some kind of divine right to Star Trek are deluding themselves. Star Trek belongs to CBS and Paramount, and we don't have the right to do anything with it without their permission."
Before starting "Continues" in 2013 — literally, his fan continuation of the original five-year mission began in the original "Star Trek" series — Mignogna already had established a large fan base as a voice actor. His Internet Movie Database profile alone lists more than 200 acting credits, providing voices for popular shows like "Pokemon," "Naruto: Shippuden" and "Fullmetal Alchemist." Taking on "Continues," however, Mignogna was fulfilling a lifelong dream — one he even tried realizing when he was barely a teenager — of sitting in the captain's chair of the USS Enterprise.
"My childhood love and inspiration was the original series of 'Star Trek,'" Mignogna said. "And I mean to say that everything of a creative nature that I do professionally now, I was inspired to try for the first time because of 'Star Trek.'"
Inspired by other fan productions, like "Star Trek: New Voyages" — which also chronicle the further adventures of Capt. Kirk from the original series — Mignogna invested well over $100,000 of his own money to make "Continues" a reality. He rented permanent studio space far from his California home in Georgia, and convinced many of the actors and crew people he'd regularly see at science-fiction and comic conventions around the world to join him.
"When I started this, many people encouraged me to launch a Kickstarter to raise money to make the first episode," Mignogna said about the crowdfunding platform. "You know what? I didn't feel that was ethical. I didn't think it was right for me to ask people to give me money for something they had no proof I could do."
Instead, Mignogna plopped down $70,000 to build the Enterprise interiors just as they were in the 1960s, and then used his own funds to fly his cast and crew to Georgia, give them hotels to sleep in, food to eat, and even rent the camera equipment.
"Even if someone needed some money for gas, I would pay that out of my own pocket," Mignogna said.
Even today after successfully raising tens of thousands of dollars to fund "Continues," Mignogna said he refuses to direct any of those funds to himself. Even though he stars in each episode, and is an executive producer, he still pays all of his own expenses out of his own money, and won't use a dime from fans for him.
"Pilgrim Of Eternity" starred Mignogna as Kirk, fellow voice actor Todd Haberkorn as Spock, and Trek super-fan Larry Nemecek as McCoy. Also joining in were Chris Doohan reprising the role of Scotty, which his father James Doohan made famous. And two Apollos — Michael Forest, reprising his role from the 1967 Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and a cameo from Jamie Bamber, who played Apollo in Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica" reboot.
As each episode was produced, Mignogna would find a way to include many familiar faces and voices. Like Marina Sirtis as the ship's computer. Grant Imahara of "MythBusters" fame, "Doctor Who" star Colin Baker, "Buck Rogers and the 25th Century" legend Erin Gray, and even the Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno.
"People that make something for passion understand," Mignogna said. "People who make something out of love, they understand. My cast and crew is literally full of people who understand what we are doing. They are fully behind it, as opposed to people who are only doing it if they can get a payday out of it."
Actors get a free plane ticket to Georgia, a hotel room, food and transportation on filming days, and that's about it. Anyone who asks for more simply aren't included, Mignogna said. Even Ferrigno waived his usual appearance fee for the chance to don green makeup again and play an Orion slave trader in "Lolani."
"I was showing Lou what I was working on once, and he told me he was a big Star Trek fan," Mignogna said. "I told him if I ever came up with a good story and could use him, we would do it. And we came up with a story."
"Lolani" featured "Bates Motel" actress Fiona Vroom as an Orion slave, the lone survivor of what was some type of mishap on a Tellarite vessel. Ferrigno was Zaminhon, her owner, who shows up on the Enterprise to recollect his property — creating a moral dilemma that Kirk must try to resolve.
The five episodes released so far have racked up more than 4 million views on YouTube, with a sixth currently in post-production. "Continues" has launched a few crowdfunding campaigns since the release of the first episode, and has since looked to create each installment at about $75,000 each.
"If you think about it, an original episode of 'Star Trek' cost $115,000 to make in the 1960s," Mignogna said. "To make one today of the same production quality, it would cost $1 million. We are making episodes that most anybody would argue are as good as — and according to Rod Roddenberry even better than — the original series episodes. All for just $70,000 to $80,000."
A crowdfunding campaign last year was designed to fund the fifth and sixth episodes as well as build an engine room set. However, Mignogna and his crew worked so efficiently, they said they had money left over to start a seventh episode. The latest crowdfunding goal is $350,000 — money that will be used not only to pay the $5,500 monthly rent and utilities for the "Continues" set in Georgia, but to finish the seventh episode, and produce the eighth, ninth and tenth episodes as well.
In just its first five days, the campaign already has raised nearly $50,000, including five donors who paid $125 each to have a pair of screen-used Spock ears autographed by Haberkorn.
The bad news is that this campaign is the beginning of the end. Mignogna has planned for only 13 episodes, enough he feels to bridge the gap between the original series, and 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." And he says he thanks God for each and every opportunity he has to fulfill this dream.
"My passion and drive for making this production is so pure, it's almost childlike, as when I first discovered 'Star Trek,'" Mignogna said. "I have no interest in being famous from it, and I have no interest in making money from it. It is purely from my desire to show my love and appreciation for the way 'Star Trek' inspired me.
"There could be no better way to spend my hard-earned money after paying my bills. What better way to spend money than on something that gives you great joy and great pleasure. And that's what 'Star Trek' always gives me."