Friday, 24 June 2016

There'll Be Fan Films But Not As We Know Them

After weeks of speculation, Paramount and CBS have unveiled their guidelines for the future of fan films.

The list of points have been posted most prominently on the star site and have sparked a great deal of response due to their apparently severe restrictions which will change the face of fan films as they exist. It's also key to note that these are termed as "guidelines" and not rules - however woe betide anyone who would dare to side step their words. 

If we go back to the very end of 2015 we can see that it was the still ongoing legal battle between Paramount/CBS and the Axanar production which has led to the introduction of these guidelines. I for one totally understand that Paramount and CBS have every right to be invested in the use of their intellectual property but the lawsuit against Axanar certainly stirred the pot and devisely split the Star Trek fandom - were you standing with Axanar or against? That was the question most fans were asking each other as we entered the 50th anniversary year.

While I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of the court case, it is worth saying that even though JJ Abrams announced at the Beyond special event that the suit was going away it is still rolling on with Axanar now counter-suing for losses as well. Oh the fun. However, part of the disagreement did focus on the introduction of fan film guidelines that would stop such instances of productions skirting far more close to the line than the IP holders were happy with as seems to be the case with formerly independent production Axanar.

I'm not a lawyer (yes, honestly I'm not) but the case is still super interesting and certainly the mudslinging, name calling, fan-banning and parody accounts has kept Twitter (and some relevant forums) very entertaining even if it has made the Star Trek fandom look utterly ridiculous at times.  

With the new guidelines announced there was a lot of hate thrown in the direction of Axanar. Whether it's justified or not, the last few months have not been kind to anyone associated with it. Former players have talked out against the project and even persons asked to become involved perhaps through inappropriate means have voiced their concerns about the project. Is the studio being rented to to other productions? What was Peters being paid? What happened to all that donor money - was it spent jetting around the globe to events? Let's not speculate on all the "news" that vomitted out of the original case but the rather scrappy trailer produced recently as well as the latest one minute polished teaser seem to have left fans speechless and shocked at what was promised and what has been produced. As someone who donated I really don't know where I stand going forward or if I will ever see any of the perks promised. Heck, with these new guidelines can Axanar actually be completed? I would say not because there will need to be changes made that will possibly make the project in-viable and what's going to have happened to all that cash?

So to the guidelines.

Well they will certainly mean the end of Axanar as it currently exists and may well have a big effect on series such as Continues, New Voyages and friends of Some Kind of Star Trek, Anthology and Dreadnought Dominion.  Let's break them down and air my thoughts...

1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than two segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.

Being only 15 minutes in length for a single story or 30 for a segmented story plus they can only be one offs. This kills the series such as Continues immediately which has hour long episodes and uses standing sets for repeat productions. Say farewell to your long running fan series which will immediately overrun this rule in one go. Just think about Renegades which has only just started filming its second film.

2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.

The removal of Star Trek from the title isn't a big thing for Axanar for example but think of the impact for shows such as Continues or New Voyages for example - it's a part of what they are. The inclusion of "A Star Trek fan production on the title card is pretty fine and I don't see there being many issues over that. No shock that you can't use the word "official".

3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.

Basically it's got to be 100% original material and if you don't own the copyright to it you're going to need to ask if it's not a Star Trek property. You can't reproduce anything, copy anything or use anything (clips) from the show or movies. Wondering if this also encompasses using any characters from the show such as Apollo in Continues' Pilgrim of Eternity?

4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.

So fan productions can't be making their own uniforms or any items that you can buy in a shop. Surely a sign that Paramount and CBS are looking to reap some sort of financial benefit from the shows because a percentage of those item sales will obviously go back to the IP holders at some point. Could push fan films into designing their own props, clothes and accessories but then does that mean it's not Star Trek anymore...?

5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.

So no paying cast to star in your movie anymore. This also puts paid to getting Star Trek actors to guest on your show as has happened in a few of the New Voyages episodes for example (Sulu, Chekov...). This probably comes off the back of Axanar paying its cast to appear - and remember that three of the gents in their Prelude were former guest cast for Star Trek (JG Hertzler, Gary Graham, Tony Todd) so there's another nail in the coffin (yes, Todd has since left the production). Axanar made a lot of its own uniforms, patches and a lot more. Also productions like Renegades may now have to grind to a halt in light of using a plethora of Star Trek actors and making their own props for the film. 

6. The fan production must be non-commercial:

CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.

The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue.

The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.

The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.

No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.

The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.

Well that's a big one. Axanar is clearly the precedent for this one as it raised somewhere in the region of $1.2million which has been spent in a variety of ways (none of which I wish to speculate on here I would add again!). The ceiling of $50,000 is interesting because I think this means it remains on a "shoestring" budget rather than moving into some serious TV/movie level budgets that Axanar was certainly prodding at with its seven figure fundraising balance. The perk DVD/Blu-ray has now been eliminated by the guidelines effectively reducing the output to the production's website and maybe to YouTube BUT you can't make any money off it whatsoever. Not a shock really with this guideline because it's protecting the IP and making sure only the licence holders are making money off the item that they own.

This extensive point also ensures that the sites can't even have advertising to bring in revenue or offer any items for sale or as tempters to donate money. For a lot of fan productions the ability to give away items is what has made the difference. Again look at the perks from Axanar including those DVDs, uniform items, ship models and the combadges and rifle props that Renegades offered as a further example.

I think we can all understand this is purely the owners making sure there's no cash being pocketed on the side.

7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.

No brainer. It's making sure that the Star Trek brand is kept in good repute and I think all fan productions will be able to adhere to that without any effort at all. One thing they all want is to portray the franchise effectively on the screen and for the enjoyment of the fandom.

8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production: 
Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
Pretty much the same as the "A Star Trek Fan Production" line that has to be added at the beginning of the movie. Just another subtle reminder to all and sundry who is in charge of the show at the end of the day. I can't pick at this one. Straight forward. 

9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.

Fair play. You would be a bit silly trying to copyright something that's already copyrighted and owned by someone else.

10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures

These last few points don't do anything that's not logical really do they? If it's fan made and glaring says so as per points 2 and 8 then there's no reason why you should be implying the last point here. I guess that Axanar's independence and then comments around the IP holders being absolutely fine with it all must be reasons for this to have been included as the final line.

Commented exec producer for Dreadnought Dominion, Gary Davis when I dropped him a line shortly after the guidelines were announced: "...this is a "gut punch" to stay the least." he said, "These guidelines will bring to an end the Fan Film era as we know it. Under these guidelines any future plans for Dreadnought Dominion would be severely hobbled. The guidelines seem to be aimed at giving consent, yet making it virtually impossible to produce any semblance of a show worth watching.

"We all understand that CBS/Paramount have the right to protect their intellectual property. We further understand that the producers of Axanar overstepped the accepted bounds of crowdfunding, compared themselves with the current Star Trek productions calling themselves a "professional" film rather than a Fan Film, THEN deriving personal income FROM the crowdfunding."

It's good to see that productions - on the whole - recognise the privilege they have been allowed to play in the Star Trek universe but there is recognition that the game has changed and it's a big move by the IP holders.

Continued Gary, "However, just because there was one bad apple, shouldn't mean that CBS/Paramount cripples everyone from producing Fan Films when everyone in the past was adhering to the unspoken "rule" of Fan Films by "not making any money". Its a shame, a travesty, and will really put a bad taste in the mouths of the fans who come to enjoy the genre of Star Trek."

There we have it. A very different day for the fan film community. I like the point that these are guidelines and not RULES but you would be a bit idiotic to ignore them and incur the wrath of Paramount and CBS. Perhaps this won't be the final version and we will see the more prominent productions stepping forward and speaking to the owners about how these rules can be amended. If not then I think we can guarantee an end to the recurring webseries and the more exotic fan films such as Renegades.

It also seems that it will take some time for these rules to fully sink in and it could lead to our favourite web-series existing in a very different format. 

Wrote Vic Mignogna on the Star Trek Continues Facebook page: "Hi everyone, thank you all for your tremendous outpouring of concern and support. First and foremost, we have the utmost respect for CBS and their right to protect their property as they see fit. As soon as we know for sure how the latest developments will impact Star Trek Continues we will most certainly share it with all of you. Star Trek Continues was created purely out of love and tribute, not a desire for profit or self-promotion. Thank you again for all your support. Vic"

Did Axanar become too big? Did those involved believe they were bigger than Star Trek itself? Was it wrong declaring independence? Has it angered people who donated? I think all of those questions aren't as straight forward as they may seem depending on where you sit and that's what's really damaged the fan community - there seems to be no definitive right or wrong when it comes to the people who would be watching the end result.

This will not be the last time we'll hear about these rules as their introduction sends shockwaves across the moviemakers out there. How this announcement will affect productions currently being made or edited is also something that will have to be considered since they were in process before the guidelines were announced. What happens, for example, to the episodes of Continues that are in post-production? I hope that the issues Axanar has thrown up in the last six months do not mean an effective end to fan films but right now I'm very, very uncertain as to what the future holds.

How do you feel about the new guidelines from CBS and Paramount? Is it the end of the fan film?

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