Team Axanar, CBS/Paramount Settle their Differences

If you have been following last December’s lawsuit between Axanar Productions and CBS Studios, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation, the official word has been issued:

Valencia, CA – Friday, January 20 – Axanar Productions is pleased to announce that we have reached a formal resolution to the lawsuit brought against Alec Peters, and the fan film production, AXANAR, by CBS Studios, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. Terms of the settlement agreement include an agreement to allow Axanar Productions to continue showing PRELUDE TO AXANAR commercial-free on YouTube and to allow Axanar Productions to produce the AXANAR feature film as two fifteen-minute segments that can be distributed on YouTube (also without ads).

This response is not what most Star Trek and Axanar fans wanted and definitely not the expected plucky come-from-behind victory we have come to expect from watching Star Trek. It is, however, well within the newly established parameters for fan films as per CBS’ film guidelines released late last year.

Of particular note, this first clause: The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.

On the strength of that sentence alone, Team Axanar lost.

This meant the best they could hope for, was to create something of the same length as a decent episode of Steven Universe, minus the commercials. Instead of the 100 minute extravaganza the Axanar crew wanted to make and in contrast to the already existing 21 minute trailer Prelude to Axanar, they’ll be allowed to create a single 30 minute event (broken into two 15 minute segments) with no further serialization, and no further production on that story as per studio guidelines.

So what did Axanar get out of this arrangement?

Team Axanar doesn’t appear to get much from this settlement other than their continued existence. As it appears, CBS wins out in terms of maintaining creative control of their property and by establishing harsh guidelines determining what can be done by fans in the future.

Fan films have existed as long as fandoms have. They are a way for fans to stoke the fires of their love while the properties’ owners create Great Works for the fans to consume. Axanar was not the first fan group to create derivative works based on Star Trek. However, Prelude to Axanar’s production quality easily eclipsed anything previously done, and stood comparatively to the VFX by the J.J. Abrams team who was working on Star Trek: Beyond when this lawsuit was issued.

Hype by Alec Peter’s aside, this would seem to be a Pyrrhic victory, at best. Team Axanar’s only coup in this is they may not have to come up with $150,000 per infraction as the initial lawsuit would have required (the supposition that Axanar will be paying nothing has not been officially confirmed). The fact that they have been allowed to continue is, from a production standpoint, validation of their efforts.

If I were to hazard a guess, nothing hurts your pride quite like an “amateur” project looking as good as your professional work. In my opinion, it was the high quality of the Axanar visual designs which initially brought them to the attention of CBS. Star Trek had been out of production for over a decade since the last episode of Enterprise, which ended in the fourth season. Protests to the contrary, the first two reboot movies (Star Trek: 2009 and Into Darkness) were not the smash hits Paramount would have wanted.

However, in the lawsuit CBS explains:“[Axanar] have raised over $1 million so far to produce these works, including building out a studio and hiring actors, set designers, and costume designers. The Axanar works are substantially similar to and unauthorized derivative works of [Star Trek].”

As in almost all things Hollywood, this was about the perception of money being made. Pure and simple. CBS felt the fundraising success of Axanar meant they were potentially infringing on the economic viability of the Star Trek franchise, particularly as it was going through a major reboot with the “Kelvin Timeline.” This is the name given to the restructuring of the Star Trek universe under J.J. Abrams. With Axanar set in the previous timeline, with actors reprising roles, this challenged Paramount’s choice of the Kelvin Timeline direction.

Where does this leave Team Axanar?

It hasn’t been confirmed whether there will be any financial ramifications for Team Axanar. While Ars Technica reports there will be minimal reprecussions beyond legal fees, I cannot as yet confirm the validity to that statement.

Contributors to the film have already been sent expanded statements indicating the Axanar crew will be allowed to maintain the professional talents of actors they have utilized thus far but will not be able to pay them. One such expanded statement indicated:

The Axanar fan film WILL be permitted to use Gary Graham as Soval! (Wow.) It will ALSO be allowed to use the other professional actors who appeared in Prelude to Axanar (J.G. Hertzler, Richard Hatch, and Kate Vernon… Tony Todd has previously announced he would not remain with the production).

Axanar will also be allowed to continue making subsequent works, although whether it will be within the Axanar story framework remains to be seen. They will no longer be allowed to create public fundraising programs but private ones will still be allowed. This might have the effect of killing Axanar as a project, so the lenience they granted Team Axanar on the casting decisions are mostly meaningless.

I think CBS/Paramount lost something when they decided to pursue an adversarial relationship with a group of highly talented, highly motivated individuals who, on the strength of their love of an idea pursued it and produced something so excellent, the creator of the show would have stared in awe. Axanar’s production values were better than the Original series by leaps and bounds and might have challenged the quality of the Enterprise four season run.

While I recognize CBS needs to make money, I believe there should have been a way to bring such amazing talent to bear in a way they could have expanded the reach of Star Trek both in the Kelvin Timeline and in the Original Star Trek working with Team Axanar and others who took the time to acquire the skills and made an effort to produce professional level work.

Is this a win for Team Axanar?

I have been reading the notes for Axanar’s adventures on Facebook for about a year. In the last few days, their ardent fans seem despondent over the end results and consider this a loss of what they saw as a beautiful product and a fine representation of Star Trek they way they knew and loved it. Yes, it could have gone much worse. Axanar and its allies could have been destroyed by the CBS and Paramount machine, rendered down to their component molecules, bankrupted and left for dead. Maybe the executives at CBS/Paramount realized this might not be the best result they could hope for.

I wonder: Is this the best CBS and Paramount could do for fans, whom without their love, this franchise would have been dead and moldering decades ago, a single three season run, lost to the annals of history? Fans who ceaselessly come to conventions, promote memorabilia, love their celebrities, write amazing treatments and put on costumes retelling variations on their heroic theme, decade after decade?

From where I sit, CBS and Paramount might want to take better care of their fans. They might want to find new ways to relate to them. Because Disney is going to be creating a whole lot of Star Wars movies, animations and may even delve into live-action television in the foreseeable future. The House of Mouse is never too big that it can’t absorb a fandom failed by a short-sighted franchise.

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