Friday, June 26, 2009

(239) Learning About Fan Films.


To prepare this website, I watched a lot of fan films and fan film trailers. I also followed a lot of dry holes trying to find fan films that didn't exist.  I decided to post my findings to save others this trouble.  I have a few thoughts on this exercise. [NB:  THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN 2009 and has NOT been updated.]

FAN FILM MAKER'S RIGHTS AND LIMITATIONS:  NOTE: Beneath this essay STARTING IN RED  I have posted a post by Patty Wright she posted in October 2012 concerning the position of CBS and Paramount on fan films and legal rights.  Patty Wright is not a lawyer, nor is she the leader of Phase II, the group she works with to create fan films.  However, the information, if true, may be of great use to filmmakers.

Fan Film Makers

Different types of distortions seem associated with different ages. Most Teens don't understand the idea of the 'Star Trek Universe.' They throw in other ideas from other Sci Fi and Fantasy shows, although mostly from Sci Fi shows. They also love the 'Previously on...' often unable to control the amount of recap. Beyond that, the writing, acting, and editing are very uneven. Some are shockingly good, others just as shockingly bad.

Many of the failed adult fan films seem to have gotten hung up on making great CGI stuff. Gee wiz CGI. But they never get to, say... the characters... the PLOT. Their enthusiasm does not alway extend to acting. You want to match Star Trek: Lexington out of Alabama (all CGI, no story) with the teens doing Star Trek: Unity (written by Luke Sutton) out of Applemore College in Hampshire, England. The teens are all story and acting, the adults are all CGI and polish. Impressive CGI, but I'm one of those who is happy to look at a series of kid-drawn stills of a space battle and I get the idea... the story advances, thank you. The perfect shadows falling from a space dock onto a star ship is impressive, but to me, it may be art, but that's not entertainment. Give me the teen's stuff any old day. I like a story!

And then there are the most puzzling group of all, the show biz pros who do this. Not only is most of their stuff great, but some, like Cawley, seem determined to help other groups produce great stuff as well. That may explain why so much of the best fan films are TOS films. No one has built a full set of sets for a TNG type ship, let alone shared it with other clubs as Cawley and Phase II does. Cawley is a phenomenon, and if he were half as famous as he deserves to be, I'd love to read his biography. But many of the worlds most interesting people aren't famous.

Fans v. Pros on diversity

One of the differences between the fans and the pros is on one of the biggest points in Trek... diversity. The Pros and the best of the fan films retain a diverse cast. Phase II, Star Trek: Intrepid, Starship Exeter, have a diverse human cast. The teen films completely lack diversity in their casts. Then there's the in-between group. Starship Farragot's top three characters are all White Americans, but they have a few African-American actors in more junior positions.

Learning about myself.

I find myself just as interested in finding these films as in watching them. Locating them has itself become a game. I guess my ancestors were hunter-gatherers after all.

Feeling like a little kid.

When I watch a top flight professionally produced dramatic production, I just get carried away with it. When I turn to fan films, I feel like a child pulling on the sleeve of an adult saying, "Please tell me a story. I want a story!" And the fan film does just that. Most of them don't have the slick values of professionally produced TV or movies, but they have a warmth and intimacy which makes these Trekkies I've never met feel like old friends, and me like a kid being indulged with that finest of all gifts... a story. Trekkers to those who think Trekkies is a bad name, although I thought "Trekkies" implies that you dress up in costumes or pretend to be in the Star Trek world,... and isn't that what these fan films are?


Courage is one of the primary centers of issues in stories. This summer, I faced two things for the first time. One, documented in this blog, was the world of Star Trek Fan Films. The other was cancer.

I never saw the whole Star Trek fan film thing coming. Cancer, on the other hand, is a family hazard. I had two preliminary tests which showed the possibility to two unrelated types of cancer. But I had a wonderful distraction... Star Trek fan films. If I got too hung up to get the things done I had to get done to get the medical tests and help I needed I turned to my new Trekkie friends I had never met to indulge me. I watched a fan film... or three. I hunted, I classified, and I organized. Then I hunted some more. By the time I went to bed, I was relaxed enough to get a good night's sleep, and do what I needed to do the next day to save my own life.

This has kept me calm and focused. People have thought me far braver than I am. Like Captain Janeway, I was just trying to find the best way home. As the captain of my own ship, I needed to keep my crew... my friends and family... happy and focused as well. I could not allow them to waste the time they felt they owed me in self-indulgent crying or whining. I needed real help. When they tried to get overly emotional, I told them, "We have no time for this. I'm facing a real crisis. When it's over, you can cry all you want, but for now, I'm in the fight of my life, and it's RED ALERT, all hands on deck. Shields up, photon torpedoes loaded, phaser banks fully charged. Stay alert, crew. And when you are not manning your stations, get your rest and exercise, because you'll need to be at your best on your next shift."

OK, I admit my friends and family aren't, for the most part, Trekkies. I didn't really say that. But that's how I dealt. When one doctor's office just lost all my information, I retargeted my weapons on another doctor for the surgery. When they would neither return my calls nor give me a surgery date, I attacked their communications headquarters with a combination of threats and promises. When a crew member started panicing two days before the battle (surgery) I replaced her on that shift. When another attempted a coup the night before the battle (surgery) I launched a swift and effective assault to retain control of my ship.

One type of cancer proved to be a false alarm. (The Klingons were not breaking the truce). For the other, I had major surgery August 5, 2009. Tomorrow, I'm supposed to find out if it was Stage 1 or Stage 2, if it's all over until the Romulans attack again, or if it's just a moment of silence in the ongoing battle. So far, there is no sign is systematic involvement, stage 3 or stage 4. We are not dealing with the Borg. It could be, each of us will retreat to our side of the neutral zone for decades to come.

But I have to thank my companions through this, Captain Hunter at Star Trek: Intrepid; Captain Shelby at Hidden Frontiers; Captains Lewis and Puto at Star Trek: Unity (England); Captain James Tiberius Kirk, at Phase II; Captain John Quincy Garrovick at Starship Exeter; Captain Carter, Aboard Starship Farragut; their crews, and the many, many others who, in shorts and quick peeks just for gross classifications, have helped me keep a steady hand on the helm of my life under fire.

I am truly grateful to the fan film world for providing me with exactly what I needed this summer. Stories of courage, honor, (honour for you Brits and Australians), strategy and focus.

Next stop? Three stars to the right, and strait on 'till morning...

UPDATE: September 30, 2009
Three of the top Fan Film Production Groups... Phase II, Hidden Frontier, and Intrepid, are all working on non-Star Trek films which they can sell and play with commercials. It's not yet clear if any of the fan groups which are working on films but have produced none will do so.

The following is a post by Patty Wright taken from the thread, "Paramount IP Enforcement."  The entire thread can be read here

Mallory, the head of CBS legal, is in contact with James and I constantly; and, frankly, "they" are on our website and forums on a daily basis. She is the "recently new sheriff in town" and since she took over, spent some time going through sites one at a time and contacting the folks involved. If you run a fan film that is currently in production and have not heard from her, expect to.

Because of our visibility, New Voyages/Phase II actually faces stricter standards than other fan films...and we are happy to comply with every one of their requests. Every contact with them has been overwhelmingly pleasant.

In general, the guidelines are:

- you cannot use the word "Official" in anything with the words "Star Trek" in it.

- you cannot use ANY elements from the movie directed by JJ Abrams. That includes uniforms or the universe established by it. (In other words, if you are talking about Pike and George on the Kelvin in your fan film, they are going to yank it.)

- you cannot sell DVDs, posters, or other merchandise with the word "Star Trek" on it. Giving such things away is a grey area that fan films would do well to avoid.

- you cannot use any images from the licensed franchise. ("free use" clips not included.)

- you cannot use anything that Desilu/CBS/Paramount/Viacom/etc has paid for at any time in the past. The franchise is alive again and they may want to use it themselves...even if the script or concept drawing is 50 years old. (That's why you'll never see James Cawley selling the patterns Bill Theiss willed him.)

- anything with the words "Star Trek" on it must also have the following statement on it, or one like it provided by CBS legal. "STAR TREK and all related marks, logos and characters are owned by CBS Studios Inc. “********”, the website, the promotion thereof and/or any exhibition of material created by ******* are not endorsed or sponsored by or affiliated with CBS/Paramount Pictures or the STAR TREK franchise."
If you run any site that has any copyrighted material on it, or deals with Star Trek, you would do yourself a favor and buy endless good will with TPTB by going right now and adding that disclaimer to every page in it. It's the least you can do to show you respect their rights and show that you acknowledge what you owe them.

- you cannot ask or take donations or contributions to generally fund your production, fan film, or studio connected to it. (Hence the "donate here" button C&D from CBS that went out to most fan film sites in the last year.) Frankly, there is no way to prove that you are not making a profit from such donations. (other than a very long accounting process to CBS) 

- you can ask for donations for a specific purpose. "Please help us buy a keg of beer" "please help us pay the electric bill". "Please help us buy a plane ticket". CBS is okay with those. Perhaps because for these kinds of things, if CBS ever wanted an accounting it would be easy to do... "we got $ and here is the bill we paid with it." The PayPal buttons on our site fall into this category. So does our Indiegogo campaign. We are not asking for donations to "fund the production". We are asking for donations to pay very specific bills associated with this one shoot, which can be quickly detailed to CBS legal. (For that reason "Kickstarter" campaigns immediately qualify as a no-no: as Kickstarter requires the campaigns on it's site to be funding an entire project, not just a piece of it.)

I agree with both Linnear and Potempkin Productions. The above guidelines, given by CBS legal, are helpful to share with all fans, and can only buy goodwill with CBS as people that could be contacted comply with them before that email comes.

On the other hand, there have been many conversations with Mallory regarding Phase II or the people involved in it or work that we are doing that are our private business and should not be shared with the public due to confidentiality of the business dealings: except generally as it affects our fans. (Such as the broad statement about not filming Spinrad's script.)

A few things people should remember:

- They own Star Trek. Plain and simple. 

- They are making a considerable profit on it now and do not want competition. (hence the "no JJ stuff" rule.)

- They are not unreasonable. (In fact, one of our artists negotiated a deal to sell a commercially produced and marketed book with his some of his Star Trek art he did for us in it.)

- Mallory doesn't just sit around watching fan film sites and dealings...she is the head of CBS legal. Though Linnear posted her name, she does not want fans contacting her or writing to her. If you are a fan film producer, website designer, etc, and want to reach out to her, contact me through my email and I will provide her contact information: or send yours and your concern on to her. (based on what she's told me to do with each type of request.)

As a P.S. I'd like to clear up two things. 

First, "copyright infringement" in these kinds of cases can only be brought to court when the copyright holder can prove harm to the copyright owner's ability to profit from their product. Including profits you are making (and thus taking them away from the owner) or damage to the product that results in reduced profits. (this is why fan films and fan film producers need to keep any bad blood out of the courts. Having CBS news carrying a story on Trek fan films battling it out in front of a judge would give them bad PR...and, no, not all PR is good for the product.)

Second, as far as the uniforms go...the only thing copyrighted regarding the TOS uniforms is the insignia. Legally, you cannot sell reproduction uniforms on eBay with the insignia on them. You cannot sell the insignia. Do people do it? Yes. CBS let's most of them do it. But it's illegal and CBS could shut them down any time they want, and have in some cases. (You could take them to court and win on a technicality I won't go into, but who has the money to battle CBS?) 

FYI: fashion law is it's own book. You cannot copyright a "pattern" that "defines" a piece of clothing. CBS cannot legally issue a C&D that says "you cannot sell a piece of clothing that looks like the clothing worn on our copyrighted show." Do I believe they said that to Potempkin? Sure. But they can't enforce it and they're banking on the group not knowing that, or not wanting to piss them off. In fact, they did bring a costumer to court several years ago (long before Mallory took over) and the result was the first day of the trail the judge laughed them out of court and advised them to get a lawyer that knew what the hell he was doing.

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