Today, things got weird for anybody who wants to make a Star Trek fan film, as the official Star Trek website released the Star Trek Fan Films Guidelines. Here’s the good, the bad, and the unclear.
Recently, it really looked like the legal kerfuffle over the Star Trek fan film Axanar was headed toward a happy ending when J.J. Abrams unexpectedly announced that he’d convinced Paramount to drop the convoluted lawsuit against the fan production ASAP.
Overwhelmingly, the fan film guidelines seem to be a situation where Paramount and CBS are as James T. Kirk put it once “fixing the barn door after the horse has come home.” The genie of big crowd-funded Star Trek fan films is out of the bottle, and it seems like this is an attempt to retroactively lay out the ground rules. Most of the stipulations (seen below) scan as fairly reasonable, if you consider this is coming from a powerful conglomerate who has great financial interest in protecting a copyrighted franchise that’s potentially worth billions.
Still, the stipulations range from mildly comical, to vague, to the point of being useless. Here’s a breakdown of the trickier stuff. (Text from the actual guidelines is in bold)
“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.”
So, based on this, the title of your Star Trek fan film is allowed to be the following: “I Hate Big Corporations: A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION BECAUSE THEY MADE ME SAY THAT.”
“The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants, must be amateurs.”
What this means, is the wildly popular Star Trek fans films that have already been made, like Star Trek: Of Gods and Men(which stars Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and several other legit Trek actors) are now against the rules. Paramount and CBS are being totally clear: we want your Star Trek fan films to suck and not remind people of regular Star Trek.
“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…”
Wow. Okay. So essentially, Star Trek fan films have to be like Disney cartoons? Considering the original series was often banned or censored for accusations of not being family friendly, this seems to sort of thumb its nose at the transgressive nature of what Star Trek is potentially all about. Not to mention, people in regular Star Trek swear all the god damn time. I mean, damnit Jim, are these fan film guidelines or the god damn Spanish Inquisition? Also, does the mention of pornography mean Paramount and CBS are gearing up to go after “This Ain’t Star Trek XXX?”
“CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production…so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000…”
And here it is: the biggest and most controversial problem with these guidelines. Theoretically, this whole dust-up exists because of Axanar, which raised over a million bucks for its production. Under these new retroactive guidelines, Axanar is in direct violation of these guidelines because its way over the 50,000 mark. Is there any hope? Maybe. Because right at the end there’s this disclaimer:
“CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time at their own discretion…”
Well. This could be the relief Axanar needs and also could be the loophole through which all pre-existing fan films in violation of these guidelines might pass. Maybe what’s being said here is: “Okay everybody, these are the new rules. We’re going to let everyone else off the hook with this last clause, but going forward, this is the deal.”
If CBS and Paramount are truly offering these guidelines as a show of good faith to the various Trek fan communities, then it’s possible we could be getting an announcement of the Axanar lawsuit actually being dropped for real any day now.
On June 29, there is set to be a discussion of these new guidelines on Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast. Perhaps additional announcements will come out then. But for now, Star Trek Fan Films are safe, just so long as they do and say exactly what regular Star Trek says.
Meanwhile, the crowd-funded folks responsible for Axanar, including director Robert Meyer Burnett, haven’t seen the lawsuit actually vanish.