I Have Some Gut Feelings About CBS/Paramount vs Axanar (Alec Peters)
My goal is to act on impulse out of nothing but pure bewilderment, curiosity, and activism to share my story as a fan of Star Trek, Axanar, and as an observer of the media and speculation around events unfolding every day concerning these subjects.
Let’s talk about Star Trek for a bit before I get into my own wild ideas and theories. First, let’s take a moment to remember our favorite franchise’s creator Gene Roddenberry and all of the wonderful things he did to shape the landscape of television and film for years to come as well as the philosophies explored, exploited, and shared from his vision for humanity.
Most Star Trek fans have their favorite series or movie, but let’s take things back to the series that started it all and the fans behind it that more than likely gave birth to some of you who are 2nd or 3rd generation fans including myself. We are in a unique time as fans. In the time since the first episode aired in 1966, we’ve endured the start and miserable finish of the space race, the first and last men on the moon, a revolution and end to segregation, a shift from exploration to battles and wars in space with Star Wars, HIV/AIDS, Led Zeppelin breaking up, All of the Beatles solo careers, Richard Nixon, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and whatever the Hell else is going on at present day. In all of that time, Star Trek fans have grown to a crazy new level of dedication with the rise of fan films and fan fiction as a way to tell their own story in a universe that seems familiar, but is far different from our current state of affairs as people from Earth. It’s the ultimate form of flattery and provides an endless sense of wonderment and satisfaction for the creators as well as the fans of Star Trek and the many takes on Gene Roddenberry’s ideas and vision. It’s truly a spectacle to behold and embrace, but some people unfortunately don’t see it that way.
Okay, got that out of the way. I feel like it’s almost cliche to even mention those things as someone writing about Star Trek, but nevertheless, we’re talking about a phenomenon 50+ years in the making, so maybe it should weigh heavy on the minds of all of those involved in licensed productions as well as fan-made projects alike.
I am about to give you a first hand account of my experience working with Alec and a few others directly and I hope this sheds some light on a subject that is often misconstrued and misunderstood by common folks, fans, and even media outlets. Consider this a somewhat biased, but also objectionable viewpoint from someone who is physically located miles away from Hollywood, but who has a deep spiritual connection to the work put into Axanar as well as other fan films. There will be people that don’t agree with some of the things I am about to say, but my goal is bigger than that. My goal is to act on impulse out of nothing but pure bewilderment, curiosity, and activism to share my story as a fan of Star Trek, Axanar, and as an observer of the media and speculation around events unfolding every day concerning these subjects.
Over the past few years I have been more than a casual fan of Star Trek. I have a lifetime subscription account to Star Trek Online, I own several blu-rays and DVD’s, and I have recently become interested in props and memorabilia collecting by someone who loves Star Trek so much that he has risked his reputation, finances, and the ability to sleep at night to pursue his dream of playing Garth of Izar, a lesser known character from a single episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. If you’ve read anything since December of 2015 related to Star Trek, there’s almost always at the very least a footnote about Alec Peters and a production collectively titled Axanar which, unless you’ve been living under a rock, is the subject of much controversy in addition to the lawsuit filed against Axanar and Alec himself, but I don’t want to get into those details right now. There are plenty of places you can search for yourself with wildly varying ideas and speculation on the matter. I am here to give my opinion as an outsider on the inside.
Contrary to common belief, it wasn’t Alec Peters that set the precedence. It was those productions before him including Star Trek Continues, Star Trek Phase II, Renegades, and more.
How I Got On The Team
Before the lawsuit was announced I was already deeply involved in promoting Prelude to Axanar and sharing the amazing 20 minute film with all of my friends and family. After some time, I began to see the team (Alec and Robert Meyer Burnett) opening up some of the production and artwork to fans. I consider myself a pretty decent print and web designer so I thought I would try my hand at some of the contests and pursue opportunity.
I worked and worked on submission after submission and began to gain some attention. Whether through talent, sheer determination, or a combination of both, Robert and Alec decided to use one of my submissions as artwork inside of the Blu-Ray/DVD case under the disc. It was truly one of the most exciting and fulfilling moments in my life as a creative and as a fan of Star Trek. The fact that a design I made was going to be distributed with the perks in a Blu-Ray/DVD case, accepted and arranged by Robert Meyer Burnett, an award winning producer of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-Ray Restorations and newly minted director of the Axanar feature. I was thinking to myself, “Here I am in Arkansas, contributing to an ambitious love letter, in the form of a feature length film, addressed to Star Trek.” It was truly a great feeling, but it didn’t stop there.
After proving myself to the team, Alec and Robert along with Jon lacovelli, renowned production designer of Babylon 5, Peter Pan, and a personal favorite of mine, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, began assembling the art production team for Axanar. It was a collective of volunteers ranging from product designers to fantasy UX/UI designers, sketch artists to fashion designers, and hopeful fans including myself. We worked furiously and around the clock for weeks retconning UI/UX elements, props, consoles, set pieces, command interfaces, storyboards, mission patches, all with the idea in mind that TOS imaginatively takes the next step in Federation technology after Enterprise. It’s a difficult task, but we made it happen and we were getting really close to wrapping up practical effects and props while venturing into CGI, animation, and a fusion of the two using fully colored video monitors for the red alerts, ship sensors, displays above each console, environmental controls, navigation and communication monitors and so on. It was getting really fun and then our legs were knocked out from under us.
Rather than take a kick in the nuts and roll over, Alec took a kick in the nuts and kicked back.
To give you an idea of what fans can do together, and why this film is/was most definitely a fan film despite touting it as an indie production of Star Trek, you have to realize that prior to the lawsuit it was perfectly okay in the mind of the populus to create fan films with little to no interference from CBS. It had even become perfectly okay to raise money via crowdfunding to do so. Contrary to common belief, it wasn’t Alec Peters that set the precedence. It was those productions before him including Star Trek Continues, Star Trek Phase II, Renegades, and more. They had all asked their fans for money to produce their shows complete with perks delivered for contributing. The Axanar Production team along with the Art Department consisting of at least two dozen rabid fans ranging from raw, untapped, and talented newbz of showbiz to seasoned veterans with a vision in mind. To create and tell the story of Axanar because we wanted to. Because we signed up to volunteer our skills in the best way we knew how to make it happen.
So what was it like? It was tough at times. Feelings were hurt, things were thrown out, things were rehashed, things were refined, and things were ordered at short notice. What’s that like for a team consisting of a selected pool of volunteers? It was prescribed Hell at times, but it was rewarding. What was it like working for Alec? It was balls to the wall madness. Pure adrenaline pumping madness. You had to have a thick skin at times, but you also had to have traction and a backbone to stand up for your ideas. After all, you were chosen for a reason to represent the look and feel of the movie, and we weren’t rehashing The Original Series. We were creating new costumes, new variations on a consistent theme, we were creating the familiar yet new look and when you’re working for a man who volunteered himself to curate the entire catalog of props and clothing from the 5 series and 12 movies, you better know your shit. You better be ready to give reason for why you did what you did and back it up. For us, everything was designed to look as if it actually functioned in real life. So really though, what was it like working for Alec and his team? I have no other project to compare it to, but I hope that it is what working on a Hollywood movie feels like. Keep in mind, I am still in Arkansas and far from Hollywood. In fact, there were people from Germany, Australia, England, and the USA working on the movie sets, digital art, clothing, and props. We are all fans. The movie was being created and visualized by fans for fans with an eye for detail and a story that would well fit into the Star Trek universe.
Everyone assumes that it was all done by Alec Peters, Bill Hunt, and Robert Meyer Burnett, but truthfully, it was being done in conjunction with these men by fans like themselves. It was done with love, compassion for the source material, and lots of caution. Everyone wants to blame Alec for “ruining” fan films, but it wasn’t Alec that ruined fan films.
It was fun and I miss it.
So What Happened? What “Ruined” Fan Films?
It was every fan film ticking like a time bomb that “ruined” fan films if you want to call it that. It was bound to happen whether you call yourselves the First Independent Star Trek production or gasp, a “Pilot” episode for review by CBS like others claimed. Fan Films were beginning to run amuck with no consequence and not a single blip on the radar of legal action from CBS. Which is why it all seemed like a big surprise to all of us when CBS brought suit against Alec and Axanar. After tons of back and forth behind closed doors, CBS announced fan film guidelines in what I considered to be a PR move to save face with the various small budget fan films and their fan bases to prevent Star Trek Beyond from becoming a complete flop at the box office, and you know what, it may have worked for that purpose, but I don’t think it was due to the guidelines. I think that Star Trek fans, whether new or old, were going to see the movie regardless of any PR stunt because we’re fans and that’s what fans do. Even the main crew at Axanar encouraged all of us to go and see the movie because they liked it and they would also like to work out details with the studios to allow Axanar continue. After all, JJ Abrams said the suit would be going away soon and so we as fans would have been in bad taste to bad mouth the new movie and all the work that their talented and creative staff put into it, when it is something we all love so dearly. Fan films were ruined by fan films, but more importantly put to a stop, at least for now, because Axanar was hitting WAY too close to home for CBS and their newly announced Star Trek Discovery.
I am putting my tinfoil hat on now
Rather than take a kick in the nuts and roll over, Alec took a kick in the nuts and kicked back. CBS likely assumed that Axanar would just go away, but rather than go away, Alec was offered Pro-Bono counsel from a top ranked IP firm, Winston and Strawn, because the case seemed to interest them and they were also fans of the work that had been done.
I promised you my gut feelings on things, and here they are laid out somewhat chronologically from my memory. In December 2015, Axanar was sued and Star Trek Discovery was announced. Before one iota of footage was shown, I have been saying that DISC was a prequel to TOS and sequel to Enterprise. My hunch started to grow legs once Tommy Kraft was asked to halt further production of his newly announced sequel to Star Trek Horizon which would carve out a little more of the gap between ENT and TOS and/or ST2009 (Kelvin) and Axanar would carve out a little space on the TOS end of the prime timeline. Renegades was still moving forward and had not been sued or asked to stop. Why? Because no one gives a shit about the TNG era right now. (Fans will hate on me for that, but it’s true.) It’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, not TNG, and the look and feel of TOS whether Prime or Kelvin inspired is at the height of both CBS and Paramount’s marketing department priority lists. Everyone kept saying the new show would be in the era around Star Trek VI. I called bullshit. That doesn’t make sense and although a show could work there, it’s not relevant from a marketing perspective. What’s relevant is making a prequel that technically fits into the prime timeline for those fans who care about that kind of detail while also fitting nicely in the mind of someone who’s just been introduced to Star Trek via JJ Abrams. If you don’t give it too much thought, the show would work as a prequel to Star Trek 2009 because it’s a different crew, different type of storytelling, and different feel, but it’s somewhat before TOS and Star Trek 2009 if you don’t think about it too hard. It’s a win win for CBS but it’s obviously something they can’t afford to have competition with, especially when their plan is to use the show as their main flagship to get sign ups for CBS All Access. I mean, if you’re CBS and you see the polished look of Tommy Kraft’s work or the polished look of Prelude to Axanar, both of which are free to watch on YouTube, then that poses a problem for your $6/mo fee to watch “authentic” Star Trek Discovery.
Fans are watching and rediscovering Enterprise and it is slowly becoming a cult favorite as well as a newly discovered binge watch experience for people new to Star Trek. If you grew up watching TNG, and I did, you’re most likely obviously going to argue that TNG looks more futuristic, etc. Honestly though, TNG looks as dated and campy if not worse in some places than TOS, especially the men wearing skirts/kilts in the first season. It doesn’t really hold up. It’s 4:3 letterboxed, which I have no problem with personally, and although lovingly restored to 1080p HD (Thanks Robert Meyer Burnett and Team), it is dated, has no longstanding serial story arcs, and is kinda cheesy at times. On the other hand, Enterprise holds value of being natively 1080p with CGI and effects that still hold up very well. It’s relatable to some themes still present in the world today. Star Trek Discovery will be a beautiful refit to CBS’ currently well performing online streaming flagship, the NX-01 Enterprise, which is being used as the gateway drug for newly indoctrinated online viewers. Discovery will likely take a darker tone without the limitations of broadcast television, thus pushing for ratings, pushing the envelope, and leaving no room in its wake for fan films such as Axanar or Horizon which were ambitious full length ideas pitted to close the gap between ENT and TOS.
This is precisely why they could give exactly 2 shits about Renegades, Star Trek Continues, or Star Trek: New Voyages. Although the latter two are direct copies of TOS, they are more for the sake of playing dressup and coaxing one’s ego to be Captain Kirk than they are ambitious films. I do like them both very much, but let’s face it, they’re not mainstream and CBS didn’t give a shit about them even though they seemingly violate more copyrights than Axanar when reviewing claims made in the current lawsuit.
Axanar and Alec Peters, in my opinion, were targeted for inadvertently making a polished fan film take place in the right place, but the wrong time.
My thoughts and opinions are purely speculative in nature and based on my own observances. I do not endorse nor do I refute actions taken by Alec Peters or anyone else named in my opinions reflected here. I am simply stating my thoughts on the matter and I hope the best for all parties involved. I look forward to Star Trek Discovery and I hope that one day Axanar can be revisited and delivered to the fans.