Thursday, 31 December 2015

Axanar Battles Off-Screen

Usually on New Years Eve I drop a post looking forward to the best of Star Trek in 2016 but the last 24 hours have left something of a bitter taste.

If you've been strolling around the corridors of Twitter and Facebook in particular then the news that CBS/Paramount are suing Axanar will come as no surprise. What is a surprise is that it's happening in the first place.

To fill in some gaps quickly, Axanar is a fan funded production that tells the story of Garth of Izar and the battle which changed the course of war with the Klingons.  The stunning and award-winning Prelude to Axanar arrived early in 2015 but with the exception of a teaser scene in the summer we've been presented with very little else.  Now it seems that CBS aren't too happy with the production,  noting that it appears to infringe on (and I quote from the Hollywood Reporter article that broke the news) "The Axanar Works infringe Plaintiffs’ works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes...", which doesn't make them too happy. Not only that but suspiciously Renegades has vanished from YouTube in the last day or so which could mean bigger things are in motion.

Question one has to be why it's taken up to now for them to realise this after the Prelude was released many months ago is worrying but let's not forget that back then there was no suggestion that a new Star Trek would be launching on CBS' subscription TV service in January 2017. Do they see Axanar as a threat?  Do they think it will ruin the landscape for their new flagship sci-fi series when they haven't been an issue in the cinematic shadow of both the '09 reboot and its muddled sequel, Into Darkness.

Fans are, understandably enraged that the much-touted movie could now never see the light of day and that almost certainly production will come to a grinding halt while legal proceedings take place. A lot of fans including myself have donated to Axanar and this shutting down of the production will most likely mean that those funds will account for nothing except a warehouse and some half-built sets. The #istandwithaxanar tag (used here as the article header but not an endorsement) has been lashed across social media as fans turn to back the project and attempt to dissuade CBS from continuing on its mission to seemingly kill off the "original vibe"  of Star Trek if you will. While there was no Star Trek on TV fan films flourished and kept the dream and the vision of Gene Roddenberry alive -  but at the smell of a new series the claws are apparently being sharpened.

But is everything OK in the Axanar camp either?  Not really. The loss of Tony Todd four months ago marked unease especially when there were suggestions of dissatisfaction between the actor and Axanar. Just reading back over tweets from Todd and also from those high in the Axanar echelons is certainly eye-opening in relation to acting abilities, time taken to produce the movie and I suspect a lot more material that hasn't entered the public domain. In fact this exchange was getting quite heated last night.

Now I totally get why fans are rising to support Axanar but do we truly know the whole story?  Was permission asked and/or granted in relation to using the Star Trek moniker (apparently yes)?  Where has all the money gone exactly? Have donors been kept truly and honestly informed?

These are just some of the very pressing questions that have been aimed at @StarTrekAxanar on Twitter in the last day with Alec Peters, Robert Meyer Burnett and others joining the conversation as it has increased in intensity to defend the production, reassure fans and express hope that there will be some form of middle ground reached so that Axanar will be completed. You can read Alec Peters' (who runs the Propworx auctions and does sell replica items from Star Trek) statement in full over on the production's Facebook page which does now suggest Axanar to be a fan film rather than an independent after all the hype indicated the former. 

But what does this all really mean?  Are series such as Continues and Phase II now in serious danger?  What of Anthology or Farragut as in all four cases I would say they are even closer to the original ethos and even the look of The Original Series.  Are these going to be told to cease and desist?  What of fan blogs, resource sites, YouTube pages and the like?  And why are they not heading after the fake merchandisers and those making revenue from the franchise with no link to CBS or permission? Why now is Axanar being made the scapegoat that is to be brought to its knees?

It definitely has an incredible vision and the Prelude took fan films to another level so that might be making CBS hot under the collar but this action as we are just days from the start of the 50th anniversary year  may well threaten the release and profits of a certain Star Trek Beyond with fans boycotting the film and turning 2016 into a terrible year for Star Trek. BUT as the article notes, Paramount and CBS have encouraged fan productions over the years but Axanar did something very different, it proclaimed itself as the first independent Star Trek movie. Certainly a bold statement and CBS/Paramount commented further stating: "Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect."

It is excruciatingly painful to watch a franchise you love being torn apart from the inside and once more hurting fans while. Star Wars slaughters just about every box office record in existence and creates a few new ones at the same time.  But CBS must have a good case, they must have good reason to launch such a case against Axanar. It does make me increasingly dismayed with the direction that JJ Abrams, Robert Orci, Bad Robot, CBS, Paramount and everyone else on the bandwagon have decided to take Star Trek. It isn't Star Wars and it's not Guardians of the Galaxy. If I want to see either I will but what I want from Star Trek is,  fuck me,  Star Trek. No lens flares, no Fast and Furious action, no cussing Beastie Boys -  you get the picture -  and with Axanar and Renegades we at least got something that at its core wanted to exude the power of that Roddenberry vision and ensure it was nurtured,  respected and encouraged to grow into the next half century. I fear that should this case be won then the golden age of the fan series,  the fan site and everything else non-profit-making that has kept the magic of Star Trek alive will be in danger of disappearing virtually overnight.

However, saying all that and defending Axanar is all well and good but what about looking at this from the perspective of CBS/Paramount? For years, yes, fan films have flown the flag and kept the franchise alive on a shoestring budget but have Alec Peters and co gone that step too far from critiquing, honouring and commenting on Star Trek to effectively making Star Trek itself. Y'see this has always been hyped as an independent movie rather than a fan film with the team promoting the fact that this is as close to Star Trek as they could get without it actually being the real thing. Maybe there's a sense of Icarus here and Axanar and potentially Renegades have flown a little too close to that sun and have now been burnt.

I tend to think that other fan series, blogs and the like will be OK since they are not set up as the commercial business model that Axanar appears to be (heck it even had an annual report) but this may well be a warning to other productions in the future not to get too cocky and remain firmly in the fan-film circle rather than starting to play games with the "big boys". As friend of SKoST, Rob Clements noted there have been a lot of "fair use" films such as Of Gods and Men and two early episodes of Phase II which critiqued Star Trek but Axanar actually wanted to BE Star Trek. Indeed their very production was a group of fans and some camera equipment whereas Axanar went all out and even has its own Ares Studios. 

Of course if fans now turn against Paramount and CBS over this matter (and I can definitely see both angles) then at least the studios will have an argument if the third movie, Beyond, now tanks at the box office - fans boycotted the movie because of this lawsuit. To be fair though that first trailer hasn't done them any massive favours with the fanbase anyway. I doubt that it will, as I've seen on a few message boards and through the Axanar page on Facebook, "kill Star Trek" although it certainly won't be doing it any favours in the eyes of fans across the world.

The scary thing is that CBS and Paramount may actually be in the right here because of the way in which Axanar has been marketed and produced. Alec Peters has also stated in the last 24 hours that he and the team were prepared for this possibility even though he met with CBS to cover what they were doing and they seemed to be happy at that time.

It seems therefore unlikely that we'll be seeing much of Axanar in 2016 as this battle rages. Are there two sides? Is one of these parties obviously in the wrong? I think there are points that either combatant can make to justify their position but it'll be lawyers rather than starships which will be battling it out. Personally I would love to see Axanar completed and I genuinely hope that the mud-slinging and sniping can be pushed aside so that it can be made. Is there a middle ground so that, as Alec hopes, the matter can be resolved in a "fair and amicable manner". After writing this my initial thought that the studios see this as a threat has dissipated and now I believe it is more to do with the use of intellectual property and the like. I would like to think so although there may have to be concessions and I would think those will have to come from the Axanar camp rather than the studio behemoth of Paramount and CBS.

Thanks also to @robclements for his help and input with this article.

What are your thoughts on this delicate new twist to the franchise? Who is right? Is there a correct perspective or are Paramount and CBS totally within their rights to go after Axanar

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