Monday, 1 September 2014

The Success of Our Time: Axanar Powers On

Are we heading into a new golden age of Star Trek spurred on by fans and their passion for the subject?

From our perspective it seems like it after the first Star Trek: Axanar Kickstarter campaign closed last weekend smashing it's $100,000 target and reaching $638,471 by close of play on Sunday 24th August. The highest stretch goal they had accounted for was at $400,000 so this was massively unexpected and incredibly $200,000 was added in the last 24 hours after one George Takei promoted the film and showed his support for the project.

But what is it about this independent Star Trek production which has inspired not just fans and backers but members of the show's various casts to not only promote Axanar but want to be in it as well? What is it that has made this the Star Trek film every fan this side of the Bajoran Wormhole is talking about?

"I first saw mention of the Axanar project on Doug Drexler’s Facebook page. I can’t recall if he posted or commented, but the reference was to Tobias Richter doing some design work for a pre-TOS project." said friend of SKoST and franchise fan, Dan Foster; "I went to their Facebook and have been watching closely ever since. I was really impressed early on with references to the FASA game timeline (which was really the game that pushed me over the edge from “casual fan” to “Trekkie Acolyte”) and that Richter would be borrowing some influence from the Alternate Original Series (AOS) timeline, popularly known as the JJVerse."

For Dan though, what's drawn him in and might be the same for many fans is the work of that graphic designer: "I think Mr. Richter did an incredible job taking the best of the two design philosophies.  I am a sucker for “nacelle porn” and he was really delivering.  Then they started talked about the Prelude film and cast and I realized this was more than just a fun fan production; this was the next step in Star Trek’s evolution."

Interesting points there because those designs by Richter are simply spectacular and have taken the outer space experience to another level that makes CGI from the latter Star Trek series look amateur on occasion. Having Richter among those involved steps up the game for Axanar and shows they are 110% serious about delivering the ultimate Star Trek experience that fans want.

"I am a fan of the Abrams films," continued Dan,  "- we can have that discussion another time - but have watched the available technology available to any fandom reach a point where the studios are no longer really necessary for new features.  If a show was cancelled too soon, OK.  That show’s fandom can now take it a run with it.  I know Star Trek isn't dead (the box office on the last two movies proves that) but since Star Trek has always lent itself toward alternate versions or histories or different takes on canon, it is a great platform to showcase the professional level fan production.  Axanar seems to be doing just that.

In the end, I will pay for good entertainment.  I go to movies, buy videos; now instead of a movie ticket I just give to Kickstarter.  I can live with my money going there rather than CBS or Paramount (though I wonder how long those companies will be comfortable with it) and Paramount never sent me a cool uniform patch for buying a ticket!"

Can't argue with any of that at all. It seems to be the way forward. We hear a lot more about great series, films and more finding their audience before they even get made through the power of these funding campaigns - if you can't raise it, no-one wants to see it. Fans can keep projects alive and series going by having them funded and put elsewhere. Ripper Street in the UK is a good example - axed by the BBC and picked up by Netflix; Renegades from Tim Russ and co is also crowd-funded and looking for a web-series after the pilot if it's a success. Would Firefly have continued for instance if Kickstarter or Netflix had existed back in the day?

Anyway - the crucial thing with Axanar is that it's returning Star Trek to the fans and back to its origins that have also welcomed series Phase II and Continues to name but two.

And what about why fans have given their cash so freely to the project? Is it because of that? "I think some is a nostalgia for the pre-JJ days," continued Dan, "but I also think the obvious care and passion the producers of Axanar have for this project is what sways a lot of people. We like to support people who enjoy what we do, and as much as I defend the Abrams movies, he is the guy who said in interviews he wasn't a fan."

Aaron Gallo from the Starfleet Escape Podcast, who interviewed Alec Peters early on before Prelude had been filmed, thinks it might be down to the exec producer as to why Axanar has been a killer success with fans; "I think a lot of it has to do with the enthusiasm of Alec Peters. The way he pitches the story to the world makes you think, "Hey this could be something great." I think it will borrow a lot of the grit from the Dominion Wars and add a sense of realism to the battles that we have not seen before in Star Trek. There seems to be dedication to keeping this in line with what is canon in the "prime" universe which I think fans care about."

Aaron and the Podcast team recently discussed the Prelude and were clearly blown away as we all were - even suggesting a campaign of #archerforaxanar via Twitter - which makes sense seeing as the former NX-01 captain was present at the launch of NCC-1701.

"Fans have been saturated with crowd funded projects recently." said Aaron; "I myself never imagined fans would raise the amount of funds that they have in the past year. Is that sustainable? I honestly do not know. Axanar might be special in the fact that they produced a quality 20 minute feature that gave fans a taste of something they've never seen in the realm of independent Star Trek productions. Would another Kickstarter campaign from Axanar reach the same levels that this one has? I don't know. I find it hard to see that happening without a second short production being produced in the interim to entice new donors to the table."

And there Aaron has hit the nail on the head - Phase II and Continues as well as Brit Star Trek project Ambush have done very well from crowd-funding (and there are a lot that have failed) but it's been near impossible to get away (not that we want to) from Axanar. The campaign has been spectacular and the transparency of how the money will be used has been exceptional from the off. The recently concluded first fundraiser raised almost double it's top stretch goal and seeing if this is sustainable to the end is going to be well worth the wait. I think Axanar will make the grade because fans want to invest in it. Prelude showed what could be achieved on a fraction of the budget and still be a unique and professional production. It made us believe to a point where even we donated to the cause which never happens.

For me the detail that we know about the background of Axanar is key to fans buy in as they understand what the aims of the project are coupled with some brilliant perks for those willing to part with their cash. At the end though there was one massive hand that helped push the funds to another level as exec producer Alec Peters adds; "Without a doubt, the two posts by George Takei on his Facebook page, and his Tweet, gave us a huge boost on the last day. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude."

Not that it needed a big boost but having the social media powerhouse of Takei behind them can't be a bad thing. There again is another winning factor - the Axanar team have created something that people directly linked to the franchise's 50 year history are proud to discuss and shout about - it's that good. So good that even as we roll towards the time to get sets built and film the adventure, even more names are getting linked to the production.

And how about a word from the latest addition to the Axanar cast who will be playing the role of a Klingon commander? None other than one of the most accommodating actors we've had the pleasure to chat to, a man who was intrigued by the chance to play a member of the classic warrior race; Garrett "Harry Kim" Wang; "I think it is a climate of hope for new Trek television content. It's been 9 yrs [and] I think it's the choice of actors like JG Hertzler finally playing a human character; my playing Klingon for the very first time..."

He's not wrong - and we've still to see Michael Hogan in front of the screen to add to the Roll of Honour that makes up the exceptional cast. For every cast and production there has to be someone conducting that orchestra so to speak and in this instance it's Christian Gossett.

Taking a few moments from his busy schedule, Christian also shared his thoughts on why Axanar has gone from strength to strength: "First you have Alec, for whom this is a do or die project of love and vision. Secondly, there is Alec's choice of director and writing partner(!)"

While that point might have been made with tongue firmly in cheek, Christian is a key element in the whole process, bringing Alec's vision to the screen and making sure it holds true to the page. In fact the director's perspective here is really interesting, looking more about how the team has worked behind the camera to bring this production to life - a team of stellar talent who truly believe in Axanar and have decades of experience between them.

"I'd have to say that the professional network of co-producer Jhennifer Webberley was absolutely critical to our success. Thanks to her we brought on Carter Smith, a veteran camera professional to assemble a world class camera, lighting and electric team. This alone put us on par with world class productions. It also allowed us to take full advantage of the incredible cast we had. Actors are very important to me, and I wanted them shot right, made up right, taken care of correctly, to be involved in the making of their characters and dialogue. This was possible because of Jhennifer and Carter, both veterans of the industry.

The next element for me is director of photography Milton Santiago, who 
sculpted the light so beautifully on the faces of our actors and gave us a look that matched the unique and incomparable 3D action of Tobias Richter, without whom everything Alec and I dreamed of becomes much more difficult if not impossible."

Richter has had a massive impact on the imagery of the project as noted already. His creations are not only iconic but an essential part of the Axanar experience. "I'll give Alec the lion's share of the credit here as he approached Tobias and earned his interest. Every time I think of Tobias, I breathe a sigh of gratitude and relief. His love for Star Trek is expressed in his work and his work is, I will repeat, incomparable."

On that note we just can't wait - the more we do though, the more calibre actors we see added to the impressive "Who's Who" line up. As we noted, the perks for supporting are amazing - posters, t-shirts, fleet patches, scripts, (and for the more financially stable) set visits and production credits. A donor store is due to open soon if you've missed anything from the earlier campaigns that might have tempted you to open the wallet. Star Trek: Axanar is a force to be reckoned with and that's not to question because 8,548 backers can't be wrong. Set construction is now funded and as well as donors getting a nice Andorian patch extra, the team can modify their warehouse for the film and pay pre-production costs. I would also suspect the additional funds over that total will be well-used to make the final film even more stunning and well-produced. We're in for the long haul and wish every success to the team.

Why do you think Axanar has been such a runaway fundraising success? Have we got it right? Why not comment below...

Thanks also to all those who contributed to this article!

You can view the brilliant Prelude to Axanar via the official site NOW

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