The self-imposed radio silence from Axanar Productions has ended after Alec Peters followed up his Feb. 1 interview at 1701News with a "live" discussion on Australia's Trekzone video podcast. The questions, however, weren't exactly what he had hoped for.
Matthew Miller peppered the Axanar producer with questions about not only the fan-film production, but the financial aspects of the project as well in the sometimes heated 30-minute discussion. The key point Peters tried to make, however, was parroting a recently revised frequently asked questions section on the Axanar website, which claimed the production operates as a California non-profit.
"We are doing all the accounting right now for our 501(c)(3) certified non-profit with the IRS," Peters told Miller, referring to the federal tax-exemption recognition typically offered to charities. "Right now we have a table full of accounting that we are going through so that we have audited financials exactly where everything was spent."
"We have operated Axanar as a not-for-profit corporation, and we've done so according to every rule the IRS has out there."
Public talk of turning the project into a non-profit started after CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures sued Axanar Productions and Peters for copyright infringement last December. Peters has maintained Axanar was unfairly targeted after his production raised what he has now revised to $1.3 million to make the film.
Whether or not Axanar is following IRS laws regarding non-profits, one thing it has not done is actually file for the federal status. That's something a different fan-film production, "Star Trek Continues" did last year, actually earning that status last month.
Peters also said no other fan production, naming "Continues" as well as "Star Trek: New Voyages" and "Star Trek: Renegades" specifically, provide the public accounting of their expenditures like Axanar does.
"No one knows where the $378,000 (raised through crowdfunding) went for 'Renegades,'" Peters said. "No one knows where the close to $400,000 went on 'Star Trek Continues.' None of these fan-films produce financials. We're the only ones who produced an annual report that listed here's where the $571,000 we grossed in our first Kickstarter, here's where it actually went."
Except that's not exactly accurate. As part of its 501(c)(3) filing, "Continues" must publicly disclose a detailed and audited financial report. It's known as a Form 1023, and is available by clicking here. On that form, "Continues" details its financials from its inception in 2013, to the present.
That includes both income from crowdfunding, as well as expenses, like studio costs. The report details the nearly $73,000 given to the organization by its main producer, Vic Mignogna, as well as more than $639,000 from crowdfunding. It also reveals that an anonymous donor provided $24,000 to help pay for studio rent in 2014.
As an IRS-registered non-profit, "Continues" will have to continue providing annual audited financials to the public.
The Axanar annual report released just days before CBS and Paramount filed its lawsuit, has been criticized for being incomplete, according to Carlos Pedraza at AxaMonitor, a website designed as a catch-all for everything having to do with Axanar. That analysis found that one of several deficiencies in the Axanar report was how salaries were listed for "employees."
"Few job positions are specified, some employees' wages are bundled together with non-personnel costs, expenses are sometimes vaguely described, requiring additional research to discovery they were actually personnel-related," Pedraza said. "Also, it's not clear whether other personnel were inappropriately paid as independent contractors instead of employees, a common problem among independent film productions."
Axanar spokesman Mike Bawden responded to Pedraza's observations with some head-scratching of his own, saying the report was a "valiant attempt at transparency (that) falls short of providing meaningful financial data."
"Then there's the fact that the report was prepared by management ... rather than an accredited CPA," Bawden told AxaMonitor, referring to a certified public accountant. "I'm sure (Peters) was just trying to save some money, but the appearance of a conflict of interest is as bad as a real one. And the things that were missed, in my opinion, are symptomatic of someone trying to check his own work before publishing it."
Bawden also told those participating in a social media forum about the Axanar case, CBS/Paramount v. Axanar, that he played a role in revising the frequently asked questions on the Axanar website, which said that Axanar operates as a "California non-profit corporation." Bawden has not responded to a request over the weekend from 1701News to provide the documentation that allows Axanar to declare it's operating as a non-profit corporation.
Miller asked about some recent statements from Axanar that although it's already raised $1.3 million for its fan-film — far more than any other fan-film production, ever — it still needs to raise $745,000 more in order to complete the film. Peters, however, was not ready to answer that.
"We don't talk about any of this," he said. "This is all ... you want to talk about the film. When we start getting into stuff that is nothing more than fodder for the critics, we're not willing to talk about it."
Miller accepted that answer, but continued to press, asking later why Axanar needs so much money, close to $2 million, in the first place.
"We are just trying to do something a little different," Peters said. "We are trying to bridge the gap between the quality of fan-film making and the quality of a major motion picture. We are trying to show how far we can go."
Peters added that he wanted to make sure he could differentiate himself from other fan-films.
"Some of the charm (of fan-films), yeah, the acting is not so good, and the sets are weak here and there," he said, adding that he was not referring to productions like "New Voyages" and "Continues."
"I don't think there is any problem with trying to create something that is better than anything that has come before," Peters said. "I think that's how you get the evolution of anything, of people who want to do better. This isn't taking anything away from the fan-films. Again, we love them all."
Trekzone's interview was split into two episodes, primarily because of how Peters responded to Miller's question about banning donors and other supporters from Axanar's social media sites. Once Miller asked the question, Peters "stopped the interview, and got in touch with Mike Bawden," the public relations representative of Axanar. The video teasing the second installment shows Peters demanding they go "off the record."
Miller said he spoke with Bawden, and agreed at his suggestion to split the episode, and give Bawden a chance to speak in defense of Peters. Miller also will bring in AxaMonitor head Carlos Pedraza in a point/counterpoint-type discussion.
To see the full first part of the interview, check out Trekzone by clicking here.