This year is Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, and should be a high point in Paramount and CBS’ history and relationship with the fans. You’d never know it from what the two rights-holders are doing and saying.
In a page released today on Startrek.com, new guidelines have been published that pretty much spell the end of Star Trek fan films as we know them. Here is the full text of the statement:
What This Means for Trek Fan Films
This document appears aimed at shutting down every Star Trek fan film. There simply are too few Star Trek fan films under fifteen minutes to mention, because of the high hurdle of requiring a bridge set. Productions like the award winning Star Trek Continues, Axanar and Star Trek: Renegades are now expressly forbidden because of their length, their use of actors and other professionals who have appeared in or worked on Star Trek television or movies in any capacity. In fact, the new rules appear specifically aimed at Axanar, Star Trek Continues and Renegades. Apparently these are the productions CBS/Paramount fears most.
Also forbidden under the new rules are the following productions, because of length of episodes, and the fact that each of them is a series. We can assume that CBS and Paramount are expecting all these to shut down:
- Starship Exeter
- Starship Farragut
- Star Trek: Dark Armada
- Star Trek: Hidden Frontier
- Star Trek: Intrepid
- Star Trek: Odyssey
- Star Trek: Phase II
- Star Trek: Phoenix
- Star Trek: Progeny
Filmmakers can no longer actually create their own episodes, just short clips, nor can they cheat by breaking the episode down into four parts, because the series length is now limited to two fifteen minute segments. Essentially you can tell a single half-hour story, and that’s it. Ever. Since you can’t make a series, each filmmaker is now allowed to make two (2) 15 minute Trek fan films in their lifetimes.
Filmmakers also cannot use third party costumes or props of any kind if a commercially licensed source is available. That crappy little half-sized TNG phaser not looking right on camera? Tough. Not happy with the Halloween costumes for your uniforms? Tough. Authenticity is now expressly verboten because of their fanaticism about licensing. They shortsightedly want every penny they can squeeze out of film makers, and appear to have absolutely no concept of the bigger picture and what consequences they will suffer from the fans. In short, it is an arrogance and disdain for the fans that drives their guidelines.
Compare and contrast this with Lucasfilm’s rules for fan films. Oh, sorry, you can’t, because they don’t exist. It’s commonly accepted that one does not do profane or obscene fan films about Star Wars, because it actually breaks the established world you’re working in to do that. There are rules for production of Star Wars fan films, but these only apply to the Lucasfilm fan film competitions held every year. There are rules for decency and length, and you have to use their sound effects, but these all have to do with the contest itself, not Star Wars fan films in general. The fact that this completely contrasting view of fan films even exists is proof that CBS and Paramount’s approach is just wrong.
Under the new rules, every single existing Star Trek fan production is now forbidden. Some of the best Star Trek stories ever made are arguably fan productions at this point. If we were expecting any compassion from Paramount / CBS joint legal, those illusions are now and duly shattered. Under these conditions, why would any fan ever want to attempt to make a fan film ever again? It’s very clear that CBS and Paramount simply hate what the fans are doing, and the lawyers are the curators of the Star Trek franchise.
Also note that last line. CBS and Paramount may redraw any of these guidelines without notice, so the entire statement is rendered moot. Nobody will ever actually know what they like and don’t like. It’s carte blanche to do whatever they happen to feel like doing to the fans, and is the same as having no guidelines at all. The sum effect is to squash any interest at all in creating fan films for Star Trek. They obviously want this problem gone, and they have no interest in keeping their captive audience of Star Trek fans.
What This Means for the Studios
The backlash and outrage from this tone-deaf response by CBS and Paramount are going to ring them like a bell. It basically comes down to Paramount and CBS having this ivory tower attitude. Everything is fine so long as they line up and pay the money, but the moment they express any identity themselves, that has to be squashed and controlled because their business model doesn’t allow for it. It’s the most cynical business model there is.
This is like juggling soap bubbles, not herding cows. Dreams are meant to be shared. Star Trek in particular is all about that. Take that away, and what have you got? So from an IP standpoint, a legal standpoint, CBS / Paramount had little choice. But they got there because they painted themselves into that corner.
Rumors of CBS / Paramount healing their relationship with fandom over Star Trek are most decidedly false. Putting the new Trek TV series behind a brand spanking new paywall created expressly for the purpose is not helping the brand. We predict a profound and lasting abandonment of the Star Trek franchise by its own fans. At this point we have better things — and more fun things — to do with our money.