Fan-films have always been intended for fans to express their love in Star Trek. But in recent years — with the advent of stronger production, fundraising and distribution tools to average people — some fan-films have gone too far.
Because of that, CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures have released a new set of guidelines for Trek fan-films which one CBS executive says will end what has become an "arms race" in terms of fundraising, attracting big-name talent, and outright commercializing the Star Trek brand.
"A lot of the impetus for this is what we had seen happen with fan-films in recent years, and what we felt needed to be done in order to protect fan-films for the long term," John Van Citters, the vice president of product development for CBS, told podcast host Jordan Hoffman early Wednesday. "It seems a little counterintuitive in putting some form of restriction on fan creativity. But it's something that needed to be done in order to cure some abuses that have been out there, and kind of refocuses this around the fan experience and creating more stories."
The guidelines, which were released last week, came in in the wake of both CBS and Paramount suing one fan-film, "Star Trek: Axanar," for copyright infringement. Although CBS and Paramount are negotiating settlement terms with Axanar Productions and its principal, Alec Peters, there also was an issue of fan-films stretching out a little more over the line for each production. Because of that, it was time to rein it in.
The guidelines, the studios say, are not intended to provide any type of license to fan-films. Instead, they are designed to help fans avoid objections or even legal action from CBS and Paramount.
Among other things, the stories will now be limited to 15 minutes, or two connected 15-minute segments, with no additional episodes or seasons. Everyone involved must be amateur, meaning no one — not even actors — can be compensated. Fundraising is limited to $50,000 per 15 minutes — which allows some $3,300 per minute.
But these guidelines are not intended to be rules, Van Citters said. There will be no pre-approval process from the studios, and those in compliance with the guidelines will likely never hear anything from the studios. Also, these guidelines are for fan-films only. That means other types of fan expression, like in audio dramas and written stories, would not have to follow these guidelines.
"What we are doing is creating a set of guidelines that are out there, and enable people to know that if we stick within the guidelines, we are not going to hear from CBS, and we're not going to hear from Paramount," Van Citters said. "And we have nothing to worry about."
The good news for existing fan-films is that the studios are not going after productions that were released before the guidelines came out. That means existing episodes of "Star Trek Continues" and "Star Trek: New Voyages" are safe. Also, the guidelines allow $50,000 to be raised for every 15 minutes, so a fan using the two-part option will be able to raise $100,000 total for the project.
The money limits, however, are restricted only by crowdfunding. If someone wanted to self-fund a fan-film project, they are free to put in as much money as they want, Van Citters said.
Also, fan productions won't be required to buy official merchandise when available, although the guidelines seem to specify just that. Fans can still make their own costumes and props. But if they decide to buy them instead, the studios want them to go through official channels, like Anovos, for instance.
Some fans have found these new guidelines to be restrictive, Van Citters said, but the studios have worked to find the appropriate balance between allowing fans to express themselves, and protecting the intellectual property that is Star Trek.
"It's become increasingly clear that not everyone understood where that line is from non-commercial and our professional efforts," he said. The guidelines "are not intended to end fan-films. But with the explosion of crowdfunding, abuses have very much crept into the process.
"For many, it became more about the item you were donating to get than it was about supporting a fan production for its own sake.
"And that's not really in the spirit of fan-fiction, not the fan-fiction that I grew up with, and what many people grew up with."
To hear John Van Citters' complete interview with Jordan Hoffman, listen to the "Engage" podcast by clicking here.