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Fan-Film Guidelines: This Is What Compromise Looks Like

A few think they are harsh, but really, it could’ve been worse

Growing up, and even through most of my adult life, I’ve never been the biggest fan of rules. I’m not sure why … in a way, non-conformity is one of the things that, in my mind at least, makes us human and separates us from the rest of the animals.

When CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures released their fan-film guidelines last week, that first instinct of rebellion first popped up. Restricted to 15 minutes. Crowdfunding limited to $50,000. You can’t use anyone who’s been employed by CBS or Paramount.

As I was reading through all this, however, I realized one thing — It could’ve been worse. Far worse.

CBS product development vice president John Van Citters appeared on the official Star Trek podcast “Engage” Wednesday, and he made a point that I hope doesn’t get overlooked — CBS and Paramount are the first media companies to ever have wide-ranging guidelines allowing fan-films. And he’s right, it’s never been done before.

Sure, some companies like Lucasfilm have put together some guidelines, but they were for a contest. Here, Star Trek fans can continue to make films, without there needing to be a contest, without there needing to be pre-approval, and without there needing to get a phone call from Van Citters himself.

Unless you do something wrong.

The fact is, CBS and Paramount have every single right to say “no more fan-films.” That would be harsh. But it also would be understandable, considering how “Star Trek: Axanar” crossed the line, and some other fan-film productions were pushing the line. Right after Axanar was sued for copyright infringement, its principal (and also co-defendant) Alec Peters cried out there needed to be fan-film guidelines.

Except, be careful what you wish for.

Van Citters was quite engaging, and I see why he has such a good reputation, especially with those who work in the fan-film community. He’s a huge Star Trek fan who takes his job seriously. And the last thing he wants to do is impede other Star Trek fans from enjoying this tremendously amazing franchise.

And for years, Van Citters and his team made fan-filmmaking simple: It needs to be made for love, and it can’t be commercialized. That was easy in the early days of “Star Trek: New Voyages” and others like “Star Trek: Hidden Frontier.” There was no crowdfunding platforms back then, and the more advanced filmmaking technology had not quite yet made it to the consumer level.

That has changed. And sure, one could say that if Axanar hadn’t crossed the line, someone else would have. And I agree. Except before Axanar, no one had really pushed the limits far enough to get CBS and Paramount to sue.

I know for a fact that lawsuits are the absolute last resort for CBS and Paramount. They don’t regularly send out cease and desists to fan-films. They don’t take each one to court. Instead, you might get a call from Van Citters or someone in his office, with the goal of scaling back a production just enough to keep CBS and Paramount comfortable. They absolutely don’t have to do this — they have every right to issue a C&D or even file a lawsuit — but this is how a company properly treats its fans.

Way back in January, I warned that Axanar could ruin fan-films for everyone else. And in a way, they have. These guidelines make it impossible for some of the major productions like “Star Trek Continues” and “Star Trek: New Voyages” to go on. Luckily for “Star Trek: Renegades,” they had moved in such an original direction, they were easily able to strip out Star Trek elements from their most recent episode.

I am not a fan of mega-corporations. I’m the kind of person who would rather go to a sole proprietorship than a Walmart or McDonald’s. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to disagree with a mega-corporation, even if they go after a sole proprietorship like Axanar. Because Axanar is wrong. They crossed the line by miles, and reportedly ignored warnings from CBS to scale back. Peters might claim that his meeting last August with Van Citters and others discussed nothing of importance, but the fact that less than a week later CBS was issuing a stern warning to Axanar in the pages of The Wrap — sorry, Axanar. But it seems you were warned, and you simply chose to do nothing about it.

I wish CBS and Paramount didn’t have to issue fan-film guidelines, and that the community could continue to flourish as it had. But all it takes is one bad apple to ruin it for everyone else. And that’s what happened here.

But I don’t want to hear how terrible CBS and Paramount are for issuing these fan-film guidelines. I don’t want to hear how they don’t care about fans, and how this will destroy fan-filmmaking.

You can still raise enough money to spend more than $3,300 per minute. That is HUGE for an independent film. I am getting ready to put together an independent limited Web series (not Star Trek-related, it’s completely original) that when put together, will be about 80 minutes long. And we hope to do that for about $65,000 — which is just a little more than $800 per minute.

I would love to be able to shoot my project at $3,300 per minute. So don’t complain about these limits. Axanar raised enough money to film for nearly $14,500 per minute, yet where is their film? At the same time, Tommy Kraft made “Star Trek: Horizon” for $500 per minute, and despite starting his process the same time as Axanar, was able to get his movie out, where Axanar has yet to even start casting.

When you look through these guidelines, remember one thing — CBS and Paramount could’ve taken a much simpler route … no more fan-films. Be happy they put the fans first on this, and although it will change, fan-films will at least continue.

Need to catch up on the “Star Trek: Axanar” copyright infringement lawsuit? Visit our easy-reference guide to all of 1701News’ coverage and commentaries by clicking here.

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