Whoa. Haven’t done one of these in a while.
Let’s get to it.
2016 is going to be a big Trek kind of year. New movie. New Series. 50th Anniversary. New collectibles. I’m sure there’ll be some kind of celebratory thing at comic-cons. Yep. Big stuff coming up all over the place, including possibly, the fate of fan-films, specifically ‘Axanar’.
If you don’t know about ‘Axanar’, you’ve clearly been off the internet. ‘Axanar’ is a crowd-funded fan film that has raised crazy money, fan expectations, and the ire of CBS/Paramount, who filed a lawsuit against the production a couple of days before New Years. As with comedy, legal action is all about timing.
The gist of the suit is that ‘Axanar’ has violated CBS/Paramount’s copyrights and is making use of their intellectual property without permission. Which they are. But then again, so have a lot of fan-Trek films (every one ever made), including two projects that continue the original 5 year mission, Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase 2. Heck, several productions even use actors from the various show reprising their roles. That’s not theft? Seems pretty cut and gray to me. How all this will play out is, in a word, ‘fascinating’.
I am not a lawyer. Like many commenters on this situation, I’ve had to rely on the legal expertise of Ya-Google, Wiki and Bing, the same fine folks who have helped WebMD users self-diagnose the flu, or cancer, for years. In other words, mostly garbage. So I’m not going to to comment on the lawsuit other than to say it’s probably about money because it’s always about money and that’s why you sue for damages. Beyond that, it’s up to the courts to decide. I’m out of this fight.
But I can say how I feel about the situation, which is mostly disappointment.
Firstly, I’m disappointed that CBS/Paramount felt that they had to resort to a lawsuit. I understand the need to protect one’s intellectual property. If you don’t protect it, you lose your rights to it. CBS/Paramount is totally within their rights to file suit, but in light of the all the things that could be great in 2016, they tripped. I believe they could have handled this better from a PR standpoint.
Secondly, I’m disappointed in my fellow fans who’ve retreated to their various corners of the internet to bad mouth the parties they disagree with. Don’t like ‘Axanar’? Fine, don’t like it, but don’t gloat over every misstep either, telling everyone that you knew it was going to fail. No one likes a know-it-all. Same goes for those in the fan community who already think CBS/Paramount have done a lousy job protecting ‘Gene’s vision’. They're arrogant, not evil. I, too, think that they’re mismanaging the brand trying to make it more Star Wars-y, but they are giving us something new to complain about. For better or worse, they are keeping Star Trek alive.
Thirdly, I’m disappointed that we might not get to see a full-length ‘Axanar’ film. Love him or hate him, Alec Peters is making something people want to watch. I was blown away when I saw ‘Prelude to Axanar’. It was the first ‘anything’ that got me excited enough to open my wallet and support a Kickstarter campaign. I loved everything about ‘Prelude’, from the story, to the actors, to the quality of the finished product. Hell, I even dig the Ares despite it's resemblance to a waterbug. The documentary style...brilliant. All the backstory you’re going to need, neat and tidy in one little package. Now the movie, should it get made, can hit the ground running. Kinda sad if this doesn’t get made in some form.
Fourthly (is that a word), I’m disappointed by what this could mean for other fan films. I admit that I enjoy watching fan-made productions, even the awful ones. The bad ones make me want to watch the good ones. The good ones make me want more. I look at Star Trek Continues and New Voyages/Phase 2 and am amazed at the attention to detail. The sets, the costumes, the lighting and music...unbelievable. That’s a level of OCD you have to tip your cap to. Special effects are much better than expected and the stories are pretty good, even though they’d be better served with stronger direction and tighter writing. But most importantly, both productions have ‘the feel’ of TOS. Depending on how this all shakes out, it’s entirely possible that these shows, and others like them, will stop altogether. And that would be a shame. Quality aside, I feel that these all of these films (including the bad ones) do a lot to keep fans invested in the brand, especially when there is no new content from CBS/Paramount. How many years between Enterprise and the reboot? Too many. Star Wars filled the gap between trilogies with a couple of animated series. Star Trek did ….? Yeah. All of that.
No one, including the armchair attorneys of Ya-Google, Wiki and Bing, knows how this lawsuit is going to pan out. I like to think that it will end well, with ‘Axanar’ getting made and CBS/Paramount providing a clear set of guidelines for fans who want to make their own Trek films in the future. It would be nice if Corporate Trek and Fan Trek could co-exist and even benefit from one another, but that’s the kind of stuff you think when you’re drunk on Romulan Ale. Either way, good or bad, I bet we don’t see a settlement until July 23, the day after Star Trek: Beyond hits theaters.
It is all about timing after all.