owlmoose: (lady business - kj)
[personal profile] owlmoose posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Not everyone in fandom is a Trekkie, but if you participate in Western media fandom, there's no escaping the influence of Star Trek. Although Star Trek wasn't the first media property to have an active transformative works culture based around it (there are fair arguments to be made for Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., among others), it's safe to call it one of the largest and longest-lasting. Star Trek fandom was the source of much of the culture of Western media fandom, particularly the common terminology (including "slash" and "Mary Sue"). It was also one of the first Western media fandoms to be based largely in the writing and sharing of fanworks and one of the first to consist mostly of women. So it's no exaggeration to say that Western media fandom as we know it today would not most likely not exist without Star Trek, and Star Trek fandom would not have been able to flourish and grow if Gene Roddenberry and the original IP holders had come down hard with guidelines about what could and couldn't be written.

So it came as a bit of surprise, and a big disappointment, when CBS Studios and Paramount recently released a draconian list of "guidelines" for fan films, with the implication that they can sue anyone who violates them. And the threat of lawsuits isn't theoretical -- in December of 2015, CBS and Paramount filed suit against a planned feature-length fan film, Star Trek: Axanar, which is a crowdfunded followup to the short film "Prelude to Axanar" (also crowdfunded -- they asked for $10k on Kickstarter and got $100k; the resulting film premiered to strong reviews at San Diego Comic Con in 2015). Although J.J. Abrams announced in May that the lawsuit would be dropped (thanks largely to pressure from Star Trek: Beyond director and long-time Trek fan Justin Lin), as of this writing, the suit is still active, and the implication of the publication of guidelines is clear: the producers of Axanar, and anyone else thinking of getting involved with fan productions, had better toe the line, or the lawsuits will continue.

There is some question of whether these guidelines would be enforceable in court -- the OTW weighs in on that question here -- but the potential chilling effects are undeniable regardless. How many fans have the resources to fight a lawsuit, even one without merit? Much easier, and safer, to not fall afoul of the IP holders in the first place. But the consequence is that fan productions have to be on a much smaller scale, and never reach the audience they otherwise might. For an instructive comparison, take a look at Star Wars fandom, and [personal profile] litomnivore's article about how its growth was limited by Lucasfilm's tight control on which fanworks could see the light of day. People wrote fic that didn't conform to the rules -- Han/Luke slash, in particular -- but such stories had to be passed around in secret, certainly not operating as openly as the Kirk/Spock fanzines of the '70s and '80s.

So, what effect will these guidelines have on the fan film community that's built up around Star Trek? Although not as long-standing as the fanfic community, the explosion of easy access to video and film editing technology has allowed many people to make films that expand the Star Trek universe. And it's not just the fans -- professional Trek actors and production crews have also gotten in on the act. Tim Russ, who played Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager, directed a three-part miniseries called Star Trek: Of Gods and Men in 2006, and he reprised the role, along with numerous other actors from The Original Series, including Walter Koenig (Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), and Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand). This was followed by a web series, Star Trek: Renegades, which involved many of the same cast and crew. A number of professional actors from Star Trek and other sci-fi properties are also involved in Axanar, including Richard Hatch (Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica), Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh on the BSG reboot), J.G. Hertzler (General Martok on Star Trek: DS9), and Tony Todd (several Star Trek guest appearances). The CBS/Paramount guidelines specifically prohibit actors and crew who have ever worked on official Star Trek properties from being involved with fan productions, and this rule alone could bring large portions of Trek fan film community to a screeching halt.

There's also the issue of money. Leaving aside the question of whether fans ought to be profiting off their productions, such films still cost money to make. Actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild are not allowed to work for any production that doesn't abide by union rules, and other production unions have similar regulations. Simply put, most professionals can't do film production work for free without risking their livelihood. If potential fan filmmakers aren't allowed to crowdsource, charge admission, or sell discs or downloads just to break even, fan films will become financially out of reach for the vast majority of fans.

For a point-by-point breakdown of the potential effects of the rules, including the two I mentioned above, see this article by Nick Armstrong, posted to the Fort Collins Comic Con community. Although Armstrong takes a fairly strict interpretation of those rules, and it's possible that CBS/Paramount didn't mean to be so draconian -- particularly in the area of prohibiting the use of handmade props and uniforms instead of commercially-available replicas -- the fact is that the rules, as written, can be interpreted this way, and what's to stop CBS/Paramount from doing so?

It's no coincidence, I think, that CBS/Paramount is getting jumpier about fan productions in the wake of fan dissatifaction with Star Trek: Into Darkness and the largely negative reaction to the first trailer for Star Trek: Beyond. That trailer premiered in December 2015 -- as did the Axanar lawsuit. CBS is also actively ramping up production on a new TV series that will initially be aired only on paid subscription services, and although fans are more optimistic about its prospects (showrunner Bryan Fuller is certainly saying all the right things, it's understandable that CBS and Paramount might be nervous. Why would fans shell out their money to see official productions when there are fan productions that better fit their vision of what Star Trek ought to be? Of course, from my position in fandom, their perspective is exactly backwards. Fan films and fan fiction helped keep fans engaged with the canon for the long years between movies and TV series, and fandom kept Star Trek alive when it otherwise might have been a one-season TV series, lost to history. CBS and Paramount should be encouraging the fan creativity that effectively serves them as free advertising, not treating fans as the competition. Or, if they must see fan films as competition, they should take the incentive to produce better content. Heavy-handed tactics like lawsuits and prohibitive guidelines will only drive loyal fans away, while providing no value to attract new ones. Don't squash the fan films: let a hundred flowers bloom, and watch your audience grow.

Date: 2016-07-20 12:16 pm (UTC)
kass: kitten face (Default)
From: [personal profile] kass
Don't squash the fan films: let a hundred flowers bloom, and watch your audience grow.


Date: 2016-07-20 04:55 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
This is a lesson corporations have to learn over and over and over because new generations of law and MBA students don't, apparently, learn this from their elders (or just from watching the Internet) and have to screw things up. They all think they can somehow do better than people who learned not to quash their fans the hard way.

Date: 2016-07-20 09:07 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Just to be nit-picky... Sherlock Holmes fanfic goes all the way back to when the original stories were being published in The Strand. That's not today's visual media, but it still counts as media IMO.

Date: 2016-07-21 12:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingtheend.com
Excellent breakdown, madam! It's so frustrating to see corporations behaving like this, because of course I can't help thinking that it's fan videos and Paramount now, but it'll potentially be other companies with restrictions on all forms of transformative works in the future. It's disheartening for sure.

Date: 2016-07-22 02:11 pm (UTC)
lucifuge5: Black Converse Sneakers with Rainbow Laces (Default)
From: [personal profile] lucifuge5
I understand the point you're trying to get across and do agree with the opinion that CBS and Paramount are being total boneheads in their move to curb fanworks.

That said, Fandom will do whatever Fandom wants. I remember back when the WB send Cease and Desist letters to people who wrote BTVS fics or other types of fanworks (including remixing of soundclips). Although it's true that it caused some concern within the fandom itself, it didn't stop people from creating and sharing said fanworks. And this was a decade ago when technology wasn't at the same level it is nowadays. Nowadays, in addition to journaling platforms and archives, there's social media. Oh, and YouTube.

Things have gotten, well, weird between Fandom and TPTB. Especially in the last 6 years or so as the media and TPTB tried to interpret (not understand) what Fandom is, i.e. the "mainstreaming" of Fandom. To TPTB, it's all about the business and keeping the canon within a v. specific set of parameters. But they can't limit how people interpret said canon.

It sucks that CBS and Paramount are going after the same people who they are catering to. Hopefully, this suit will be dropped. Considering the dislike you allude to (I've got 0 idea of what Star Trek fandom is like), it's a counterproductive move.


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