I haven’t exactly been a dedicated follower of fan-films, but as someone who is passionate about Star Trek fandom, I would follow their progress occasionally, and give kudos when kudos were due.
But since CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures filed a massive copyright infringement suit against fan-film producers Axanar Productions and Alec Peters, I have learned far more about fan-films than I thought was even possible to absorb. And a lot of it is good — these are fans, after all, many times playing Star Trek with a YouTube audience. Even Vic Mignogna will admit his “Star Trek Continues” production is simply an extension of his childhood in Pennsylvania, where he would get his friends together and play Star Trek with an 8mm camera.
More often than not, I have watched Star Trek fans plop down insane amounts of money to help feed that passion. Soon after Jeri Ryan joined the cast of “Star Trek: Voyager” in 1997, I attended her first-ever Star Trek convention in St. Petersburg, Florida. Ryan came on stage, taking pictures of the crowd the same time the crowd was taking pictures of her. At this point, we had only seen maybe two or three episodes with Seven of Nine, and everyone wanted to see who this new actress was.
Ryan, however, had a surprise. She pulled out the Borgified glove she wore on her left hand, and said she would auction it right there on the spot, raising money for charity. Without any prompting, the packed house started bidding, with one lucky fan winning the piece of Trek history for more than $1,000, pulling the cash out of his pocket. Encouraged, Ryan pulled out the prosthetic she wore over her left eye.
Same result. Another $1,000 or so raised for charity.
It’s amazing what people will pay for a piece of plastic that probably would’ve otherwise just been tossed in the trash. But passion is an amazing thing, and causes people to do extraordinary things.
That’s why this whole Axanar case bugs me to no end. Whatever the producers’ original intentions, the fact is Axanar kept collecting and kept collecting, until it far exceeded any other Star Trek fan-film ever made, and raised more than $1 million. But instead of producing their pre-original “Star Trek” film, they instead committed to multiple years in an expensive Los Angeles-based “studio.” They paid salaries to people like producer Alec Peters, and covered pricey expenses like thousands of dollars for phones, cars, and trips to conventions around the world.
And that’s if the unaudited “financial report” Axanar released last December can be trusted (and our friends at AxaMonitor say you can’t trust it). But because we hear so many inconsistent statements from Axanar, and some that have later proven to be outright inaccuracies (if not lies), it’s almost impossible to believe anything from the Axanar side, without having about five pounds of salt to go with it.
When Peters decided to inject Axanar into reports that CBS shut down another fan-film, “Star Trek: Federation Rising,” he made what might otherwise be an innocuous statement. He said “Federation Rising” producer Tommy Kraft called him as if, as one fan told me, that Kraft was “reporting in” to a community leader. That didn’t sound right to me. Sure, Kraft did do some work on the “Prelude to Axanar” short with Peters before the studios filed the lawsuit, but many in the fan-film community were keeping a lengthy distance from Peters and Axanar.
So I’m to the point where I won’t leave any potential misstatement of fact unchallenged from Axanar. So I reached out to Tommy, and simply asked what happened. I don’t think Tommy even realized how Peters had characterized their interaction in his blog post, and the story Tommy shared was quite a bit different than what Peters shared.
It’s all detailed right here, so I won’t get into it again. But let’s just say that while Tommy may have reached out on Facebook to see if Peters could answer a simple question, the person doing the calling and digging for information was Peters himself.
This has to be pointed out because the truth matters, even when someone might not think it does. Sure, maybe Peters took a little dramatic license in his statement. But if he’s comfortable with revising history on something like this, what wouldn’t stop him from doing the same thing on much more important issues?
It’s one thing to maybe add a little flare when sharing an anecdote among friends — the Jeri Ryan story might get some added dramatic elements if I shared it with friends over dinner — but there’s no place for it when you are tackling something serious like lawsuits, and how the lawsuit against you is creating negative ripple effects through the rest of the fan-film community.
If there is an unspoken code by fan-films to not speak out negatively against other fan-films, no matter how deserved it is, then Peters missed the memo. In an interview with this very site on Feb. 1, Peters had no qualms dismissing the other fan-films like “Continues” and “Star Trek: New Voyages,” on how “Axanar” was superior, and how the producers of those other productions were just “voice actors” and “Elvis impersonators,” referring to Mignogna and “New Voyages” producer James Cawley, respectively.
And just days after Peters made his “ominous news” announcement lamenting what happened with Tommy’s project, he told an Axanar supporter on Facebook he agreed with the main’s claims that Tommy didn’t show Peters “honor and loyalty” after Peters “helped him.”
“The sad thing is he’s complaining about your ‘professional production,’ yet he was asking $250,000 for [his] next Trek project so he could hire ‘professionals’ to make his movie,” the poster said. “Seems he’s crying over the fact he really wanted that $250,000.”
And Peters simply said, “Good point,” later adding that he was disappointed in Tommy, that he was unprofessional, and that Tommy stabbed him in the back.
Peters later deleted some of those comments, but not before they were seen by a good number of people in the fan-film community.
So let me see if I understand where we are. Axanar is sued by CBS and Paramount, after ignoring a very public statement in The Wrap last August (and likely not heeding warnings from CBS made during their infrequent meetings together) where the studios said they should stop, or feel the wrath of their lawyers. That has now created a fan-film environment where existing projects are not only looking over their shoulders wondering if CBS and Paramount are going to target them next, but even possibly affecting current fundraising efforts, like the struggles “Continues” have had with fundraising recently.
Peters then publicly knocks these fan-films and the people behind it, as an effort to boost his own profile. Yet, if you ask someone in the fan-film community to say something, they will just keep quiet, plug their ears, close their eyes, and hope that’s enough to make it go away.
But that won’t make it go away. If you are really fearful that CBS and Paramount are going to target you next, then why not show you respect the studios’ intellectual property rights? Sure, Mignogna, Cawley and others have made it clear they do respect that ownership through both words and actions. But all of them need to go a step further, and take a full position on Axanar.
And to be honest, I don’t care if it’s for or against. But take a stand. Make a difference. At least do something to stop the ship from sinking, before even using buckets to bail out water is just a waste of time.
I get it, everyone wants to be nice. That’s sweet and all. I like being nice, too. That is until something I love very much is threatened. Then I become a bulldog.
I have become a bulldog in this situation, both with my position on this, and what I hope are solid, informative, fact-filled news stories covering this. But why should 1701News, AxaMonitor, Newsweek or all the other outlets focused on informing the masses about this Axanar case carry all this burden? The fan-film community is yours. The best people to defend it are you. Not me. Not Carlos Pedraza. Not Matthew Miller. Not Jody Wheeler. Not even early fan activists like Michael Cunningham and Janet Gershen-Siegel.
This is your fight, and it’s time to stop hiding, and stand up.
Sure, I’d be sad if fan-films ended, but then I would move on with my life. If you’re involved with a fan-film, can you say the same? I think Tommy is quite heartbroken that he can’t do “Federation Rising.” He wasn’t going to do a sequel, but once he decided he would, he put his heart and soul into it. Now CBS says no, and there likely will never be a second chance.
It’s not going to end with Axanar or “Federation Rising.” So take a stand, prove this community can indeed police itself and protect the intellectual property rights of CBS and Paramount, while still entertaining small but significant segments of the fan community.
Stand tall. Be proud. Express your opinion. At least while everyone is still listening.