Thursday, 7 July 2016

Has the Battle of Axanar Just Got Started?

It never rains but it pours.

For the first time in a long time I'm really disappointed with the Star Trek fandom to a point where, at one stage this week I really wondered if it was really all worth the effort. Let me clarify that everything I say here is from my perspective and my opinion.

Firstly there was all the hate for Rhianna admitting to being a Star Trek fan. OK, I can see why people would be a bit cynical and I was myself because it did appear to come out of absolutely nowhere alongside her single Sledgehammer which is, of course, featured heavily in the promotion for Beyond but it goes much further than that.

In a year where we are supposed to be celebrating the 50th anniversary the increasing negativity is making fans look like fools. In fact it's like a bad political election gone even more wrong. It's the sci-fi equivalent of Brexit for us Brits (or whatever we are now). There's hate for Beyond (mainly that first trailer), hate for the upcoming series because "it won't be Star Trek" and I can kind of understand the skepticism in both cases after the way the franchise was treated by Into Darkness. While a box office success it's principles didn't sit well with the bulk of the fandom. Then there's Axanar.

I've valiantly tried to avoid talking about the thorn in the side of the Star Trek franchise but I don't think it's possible to any more. Even when I went through the fan film guidelines I was loathe to give Axanar (formerly Star Trek: Axanar) much column space because of how I felt about its place with two very opposing groups of fans within the same fandom bubble. Let's be honest, it got nasty very quickly which is bizarre when you think about the whole Star Trek ethos. But apparently accepting all viewpoints isn't always necessary. 

But I don't think you can avoid it. It's the Star Trek white elephant and it's not going away. I've attempted to avoid giving a firm opinion on the project but as someone who did donate to one of their Kickstarter campaigns, there's always a voice nibbling away at me saying that I should just take my stand and say what I feel so here it is. 

I was actually inspired, bizarrely, by a tweet from Robert Meyer Burnett who, it seems is looking to produce a documentary on the story of the rise, fall and whatever it is now of Axanar. In fact a tweet I've reproduced here just for clarity. I replied and was told to blog about it. When I replied again to ask about that interview I got no response. I'm still waiting.

So thanks Robert for pushing me to write about Axanar because the lack of response might have been the kickstart I needed. So let's begin.

Right back when Axanar kicked off I was a strong supporter of its work and its vision. This would be a huge project as near to Star Trek as it could possibly be but made by fans for fans. Kickstarter went crazy producing one of the biggest totals it's ever seen and leading to the filming of Prelude to Axanar; a military documentary style teaser film explaining the build-up to the Battle of Axanar itself.

Directed by Christian Gossett, Prelude had an incredible cast including Tony Todd, JG Hertzler, Kate Vernon and Gary Graham plus Peters himself as Axanar hero Garth of Izar. The 15 minute film looked and sounded amazing, peaking fan interest and beating a firm path to begin production on Axanar itself.

The perks for donating were awesome. Everything from patches to ship models, set visits and all points in between but as the process developed, Axanar was being publicised as independent rather than a fan film. There began to leak stories that all was not well behind the scenes with staff being fired or leaving. Indeed the recent - and excellent - interviews of Christian Gossett recently by the G&T podcast and the Trekzone Spotlight have highlighted precisely what was going on.  If you want another opinion, just trek back over Tony Todd's Twitter feed to see his opinion on the activities around Prelude. The ship was not steady and then the court case hit at the end of 2015. A court case that, even though JJ Abrams publicly said would be going away at the Beyond fan event is still running with a counter claim for losses and damages now coming from the Peters camp.

The last seven months have been a horribly revealing time for the Star Trek fandom as fans spoke out in favour or against the production. Those that spoke out seemed to get the bum deal being banned from fan groups and not receiving answers about what was happening with perks that are still not shipped (I'm waiting for mine).  Now there are a set of stifling fan film guidelines which could well bring an end to series such as Continues and New Voyages and have already caused Renegades to remove all Star Trek references so it may survive as a web-series in its own right.

There are still stories and swipes coming from both sides of the battle be it that anyone against is a "hater" or that the money has all gone and been sunk into Ares Studios which was "actually" the real end goal of the production, not the Axanar film. Indeed that studio was intended to be made available to other productions after the Axanar feature was completed.

From my perspective that's where my beef with the Axanar stable lies. There was a very open admission that money would be made off the back of Axanar and set Peters and co up for years to come. How come Alec and others were paid pretty decent salaries? Was some of the donor cash used to jet across the globe to fan events to promote the movie? A lot of cash would be made off selling merchandise such as the resin model kits of the Ares but there was a problem in that which was skated over - it was all unlicenced and incurred the wrath of CBS and Paramount.

I personally found Alec very easy to interview (via email) and he answered my questions very well and extensively. In fact whenever I wanted a comment from him in relation to Axanar he was more than accommodating so on a personal level I cannot fault his attitude however then you start hearing stories of what was happening and what had gone on with Propworx, its bankruptcy, speedy return from the ashes and another apparent lack of transparency. Again this is all from what I have read across the internet for which there are again for and against sides to assess. Now seemingly viewed as either the sole, flag-waving hero of Axanar and the right to make whatever you want from someone else's IP or the ultimate villain to give Khan a running, Alec Peters is a very visible figure within the Star Trek fandom. Heck, there were rumours that the Axanar story was going to be incorporated into the new series, that he'd offered it to CBS for nothing and even that he was holding out for an "inevitable" role on the new show. If that latter had happened could you honestly see Axanar not being dumped off?

Now I'm probably just covering over the issues very lightly and there are many more sites which deep dive into all the finer points much more precisely but in a year that should be celebratory we find fandom split. Perhaps not all of the fandom but maybe the more hardcore followers either stand for it or are against. There seems to be no mid-ground and anyone who speaks out is ground into the dirt. It's a very unhealthy place to walk with strong views on both sides.

In essence it comes down to intellectual property and who owns what. In simple terms and if you look at it from the outside, CBS and Paramount are clearly in the right. They own Star Trek and therefore can say what happens. IP is IP is IP. Fact, close the book, job is done and there's zero debate possible. 

Looking from the inside its not so simple because fans have been playing in this yard for a long time - at least 15 years - without hindrance but it could be said Axanar did an "Icarus" and flew too close for CBS' liking especially with a film and a series coming out in close succession to each other. Fan films have kept Star Trek on the radar for the best part of two decades especially thanks to YouTube and have been abided because of that retained interest. Why shouldn't Axanar do what everyone else has been doing but just make it damn near studio quality? In the very nature of becoming 100% transparent to its fans and supporters it stepped over the line it seems morphing from fan production into what could be deemed as a professional business even running its own annual report which detailed everything and may have contributed to its very downfall.

Whether or not Axanar was garnering more attention than the "real" Star Trek productions can be debated for eternity but all I'll say on that is take a look at the YouTube views for each and see which has pulled in more fans. In that respect I'm not sure if Paramount and CBS are quaking in their boots if fans of Axanar do choose to boycott the new series and movie in defiance of the lawsuit - just check out @startrekaxanar's Twitter feed for the support they have in this respect.

I honestly have tried to steer clear of this ongoing story but it has affected so many more people than just a group of fans making a fan film in the US. A lot of fans' money has gone into a studio and one scene (the Vulcan scene) that has been shot for the final movie. There are no answers as to when the perks will finally get shipped and the updates sent out via email - once very regularly - have now dried up. Only this week it was dredged up once more that the production might have run out of cash already in light of a conversation between Alec Peters and Terry MacIntosh who ran the donor platform but has since parted company with Axanar over payment that would have to be in shares rather than cash. Whether there is or isn't cash in the bank I can't actually confirm but apparently there is...maybe.

Out on social media there are clever little parody accounts getting a lot of views alongside very public slagging matches from numerous people once on board with Axanar. Just how much of all the stories, reasons for sackings, the state of the donor funding system, personal attitudes or agendas is true I can't be sure because of the volume, the counter arguments and because, frankly, I haven't spent the last few years with those involved.

However, I'm bitterly disappointed. Very bitterly disappointed in fact. I wouldn't say I'm a hater but I'm really sorry for all the other fan film makers who will be affected by the new guidelines in the wake of the Axanar case. I'm annoyed for fans, like myself, who may never get to see the result of our donations or even the perks we have been promised but ultimately I'm angry at how this project has divided the fan base at what should be such a happy time in the history of Star Trek. Maybe more than that I'm horrified by the vitriole that is launched by supporters of either side. Each appears blinded by its opinion, closed off to even the hint that there might be a second opinion. Things aren't right on either side and the more we hear, the more strands are revealed and the more we have to try and align be it true, false or just chucked in for the hell of it.

Axanar inspired fandom, it put a bomb underneath the fan film genre, promising so much and through Prelude, delivering exactly what was promised and more. How the film - if it ever gets made - will produce the same quality is again a debatable factor since a lot of the team have moved on. Those two trailers, all the firmament wave jokes and their rather hurried nature have not instilled hope into the hearts of even some of those who have steadfastly supported the project through these dark times.

One thing is certain, Alec Peters has ensured that Axanar will be remembered by Star Trek fans for decades to come because of the effect it's had on the franchise in its 50th year. I would love to see the movie produced if anything just to put an end to this saga but the guidelines have pretty much nailed that door shut at this time.  Prelude genuinely looked amazing and ticked all the boxes but with a lot of those talented individuals no longer on board, can the same be said for the full film (or the 15 minute short it might now have to be sans all that stellar Star Trek alumni cast). I expect that Peters and the Axanar team will fight against it and the battle will rage on. As my title suggested this is one fight that doesn't seem to have a clear end in sight and potentially no end at all.

I think that Peters' heart is in the right place. I think that Robert Meyer Burnett also has his heart in the right place but are they now so blinkered to the end goal that they don't see what this is doing to fandom as a whole? Do they want to rip the fabric of the franchise apart from the inside out and leave a bad taste in the mouths of all involved? I don't believe for a second that's their goal although how it will do anything else after such a long running feud seems impossible.

Personally I just want the actual story out in the open, perks to be shipped and a line to be drawn (here, no further...) because this is dragging on and we have other things to be dealing with. By the time Axanar gets made I'm not even certain we will want to see it and maybe the legend around it and its evolution would actually be better than the end result. That still doesn't account for the ton of cash already sunk in by fans and I'm unsure as to whether we'll ever get the full, right and definitive story.

On a side note, there is also a new Axanar project out there looking to do something similar - but its Twitter account has already been suspended. By whom and how remains a mystery.

As to Robert and his documentary, please drop me a line. You suggested a blog post on my thoughts to help promote that work, so here it is. I'm available and I'd love to chat Axanar pros and cons for as long as you want. Heck, why don't you come on the podcast and we can both use the chat?

Pro or against we all have an opinion. What do you think the future holds for Axanar?

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