The Fan Film Guidelines Breakdown – Part 5

In part four, I discussed, guideline 4 

“If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.”

Guideline 4, was one that caused a lot of resentment among numerous people in their interpretation of how it was worded, however, with what was covered in the last blog, I am hoping it has become clear that in no way did this guideline mean you must use only official props, uniforms etc in your productions, but you may continue to do what makes us Star Trek fans so great and that is our skills to be resourceful and make things ourselves, just do not buy cheap knockoffs.

As a result of all the information provided, anyone wanting to make and use their own props, costumes and sets are allowed to continue to do so and stay within the guidelines.

In this part, we are going to look at guideline 5,

“The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed in any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.”

I have to admit this blog is going to be tricky as it is full of possible interpretations as to the motives behind CBS & Paramount’s choice to include this one, one person has called it against California state non-compete law (which it is not since you are not employed on a fan film, and even if you were I am 100% sure no one in their right mind would contest this as even under the guidelines Fan Films are still a form of copyright infringement ), others say it is a result of Axanar and Gary Grahams portrayal of Soval that was the straw that broke the camel’s back as this caused big brand confusion.

However since the early fan films, many in the past have used many Trek Alumni in their productions some examples would be George Takei in New Voyages, Walter Koenig and Tim Russ in Renegades and more recently in the troubled production Axanar, J.G Hertzler and Gary Graham were to star, (and may still do, but who knows as of yet the guys at Axanar have not released any info in the casting of their 2x15mins).

Nonetheless, it is not just Trek Actors that have helped on fan productions, the likes of Doug Drexler have helped on STC & New Voyages, D.C. Fontana, Michael and Denise Okuda helped on New Voyages. Renegades had John Eaves and Rick Sternbach and as we all know Axanar was touted as a fully professional production full of countless professionals, although with the exception of David Gerrold none of these professionals had worked on past Official Trek productions.

So why include this guideline at all, the answer is kind of simple, Fan Films are meant to be just that “FAN” films done by volunteers and not paid professionals furthermore fan films are not meant to compete with the official product produced by CBS and Paramount, the use of industry professionals on your production blurs the line between amateur and professional somewhat and it also creates a big divide within the fan film community, as John Van Citters said in the Engage podcast “productions started spiralling larger and larger there’s something of an arms race about how many Hollywood names could be attached” because of this many potential fan film producers never stepped up to the plate as they would see all these big names and think why to bother mine will never be as good.

As for using paid actors, well I recently spoke to Equity the British form of SAG and after a lengthy conversation with a representative there about fan films and the guidelines set out by CBS and Paramount, the conversation was just as interesting as I thought it would be, nonetheless the conclusion was exactly what I predicted it would be.

As per SAG although not as strict in some of their rule, Equity has the same stance on their actors being a part of non-commercial productions, the actors must be paid (at least UK Minimum Wage of £7.50 Per hour) and must be compensated for their time, also they are extremely against any of their registered actors partaking in illegal activates such as copyright infringement and if CBS and Paramount have stated that no professionals are to be used in any Fan Film then as per their rules they would not allow it.

Consequently not only do Equity say actors must be paid or at least compensated for their time unless it is for a charity, such as raising money for a good cause, they also do not allow any actor to go against the wishes of the rightful owners of any IP and commit illegal activates of any kind.

Since I am based in the UK I cannot say how SAG or other acting guilds would react to this guideline but if it is anything like Equity I am certain it would be the same and would not condone their members participating. (if you are a member of SAG and know anything different then please feel free to comment below to correct my assumption)

So in short the answer to this guideline in regards to actors or professionals being “hired” by a fan film, although it is not directly aimed at them it is clear that it is not in their best interests to be involved if they think they may be at risk in any way, and the bulk of this guideline only really applies to the fan film producers. In addition, of course, the important thing to remember is, these are guidelines, not rules, not laws. They are essentially a friendly proposition that IF the guidelines are followed the copyright holders will not take legal action. The producers remain perfectly free to hire pro actors or industry professionals if they wish, and the actors and alike are free to take the job if they wish and it satisfies their union rules. But the producers do so in knowing there is a risk and there might be consequences for both the production and for the actors/professionals involved. It is worth noting that the guidelines do not supersede law and they are only addressed to the fan filmmakers them self.

It should be noted the Fan Film Guidelines DO NOT affect anything but Fan Films, this means Audios dramas and alike are not bound by them.

“The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed in any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.”

Randy Landers – Potempkin Pictures

  • What is your interpretation of this guideline?

You cannot pay anyone for their work on or in your fan film. Period. We never have. We never will. You cannot use “real” actors nor can you use any Star Trek actors. That being said, many of our cast and crew have gone on to become professional actors. Some of those continue to appear in our films although unpaid. This is a challenging situation for all fan films. At what point does an actor become professional, and cannot a professional actor be unpaid and still appear in a fan film? For example, Jeffrey Green, who plays Captain Grigory on Project: Potemkin, is a professional actor and drama instructor at a university in Georgia. He is also a Star Trek fan and has appeared in more than 30  Project: Potemkin films pro bono. Is his involvement with our productions suddenly forbidden? In the strictest sense, yes, it is. Jason Carter of Babylon 5 appeared in one of our films because he wanted to. We didn’t  pay him. He did it for fun. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Lastly, we’ve filmed in Georgia, and now we’re filming in Alabama. Both states are right to work states, and prohibitions against actors from donating their time and appearances may be in violation of that precept. If we get a letter from Paramount or CBS, we’ll re-evaluate at that time.

Nick Cook – Intrepid

  • What is your interpretation of this guideline?

It’s not illegal because no one is being told they can’t work on a fan production. The studio is saying that if we do not follow this limit we are not guaranteed the protection of the safe harbour they have provided. It’s not a legal requirement; it’s a guideline for staying in the clear. If people want to violate it they can, but they increase their chances of either being C&Ded or sued (which is the studio’s right). Essentially they’ve given us a safe space to work in. No one is being forced, legally or otherwise to remain inside it.

Vance Major – Melbourne

  • What is your interpretation of this guideline?

Well, I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. Look, I work 60 to 72 hours a week at my normal job and I am a producer on several fan films on top of my independent film projects. Total of 13 projects. I deal with that on my breaks. But with the fan films, usually, I take the hit, losing vacation days from work and missing time with family, and taking up so much of my break times on the phone. I’ve never received a dime. My CGI artists never paid then either, nor would I ever. The makeup artist, I’ve given the money they’ve spent on makeup because that is an expense, but not paid them for services. This is pretty clear-cut. I can tell you, one of the productions that are out there is paying a hefty price for CGI and it makes me sick. The budget for the CGI is more than the entire Melbourne film and the first valiant film. That says something. But, I’ve kept my mouth shut, I simply don’t support the fan film. That’s where we are these days tho, ppl are worried about CGI and being better than the next guy and I’m just like “whatever” with that. All that shit comes across as condescending to me. I do my fan films for passion. My team does their work for passion. These ppl who have a start price for CGI and rates, blah. Call me crazy but I’m not on the same page as that. And I’ve seen some really good ppl out there who are really good that are just as capable. Passion doesn’t come with a price tag

Justin Burton – Former member of the Lexington production. 

  • What is your interpretation of this guideline?

Well Duh Most “fan films” have been doing this for years It is only when Of Gods of men came along that Actors started coming on for roles in “fan films” And I guess that is when the others decided oh crap we have got to up the bar .. USED to be if you had a good film fans would just send you stuff to help you out props costume pieces gift cards etc… This happened in Hidden Frontier and in the early days of New Voyages. Then Crowdfunding started I think Renegades kicked it off with their multiple fundraisers then New Voyages chimed in with theirs and Star Trek Continues and along came Alec And Axanar who proved a business could be started with fan donations. So I think this is a good one to have it keeps people from abusing fandom for money and keeps scams from happening.

Ray Tesi – Starship Republic

  • What is your interpretation of this guideline?

This is certainly fall-out from some specific fan productions who used professional actors and crew. I’m all for fan productions to be a product of fans and not professionals. No issue here.

Robin –  Dark Armada:

“The guidelines set by CBS are just what they are…….. Guidelines, as it was explained in the podcast they’re not supposed to be rules and CBS isn’t going to inspect every single fan film about these guidelines. The Star Trek Fan Film community used to live by a certain code or ‘unofficial rules’, until some decided to break that code and all hell broke loose. But it’s really just common sense: making a fan film means you play with someone’s intellectual property and in our case, CBS and Paramount have graciously allowed us to do that for over a decade. The risk that they would ask you to stop is always present, so do you think it’s wise to sell DVD’s, ask for money/donations, build a studio, pretend to be official Star Trek? Only a few thought it was. Most fan productions followed a few simple rules: don’t make a profit, don’t sell DVD’s or similar merchandise and make clear it’s a fan production. The only difference today is that these rules are now officially presented as guidelines by CBS. Follow them and you’re safe from any legal action. Most important about these guidelines are that your intentions are good (the common sense stuff I mentioned before), that it’s a production by the fans for the fans out of love for Star Trek (and of course…. don’t pull an Alec). My advice would be not to try to desperately work around the guidelines, but realise that they are a way for CBS to allow us to play with Star Trek as fans. Some of these guidelines weigh heavier than other. I think I don’t have to explain that collecting more money is a worse guideline to ignore than the one about the length of your film. Whether your film is 15, 30 or 45 minutes long, make sure your intentions are good and put a lot effort, a lot of work and a lot of love into it”

Read the full transcript here >

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right right which leads us to the point of things fan films, what you’re talking about is officially licensed quote unquote work somebody out there that wants to do the Wesley Crusher story their way he had nothing to do with you guys that is a totally different ball of wax as they say well at my bag of self-sealing stem bolts so what I which leads us to guidelines for fan films I let’s just sort of cut to the chase and say why now and what is the impetus of putting up.

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What we’ve seen an explosion of fan films in recent years and we know that these come from averting a place of a very deep love for Star Trek and the  technological advances that have happened in the last years have enabled fans to tell their stories with more ease and more detailing and do some really amazing things and for many years we’ve used a simple guideline both the CBS and Paramount and in you know cooperation on this which is a Star Trek fan film is a is a is a fan creation that’s non-commercial while we thought that this was simple enough and help filmmakers understand the separation that we need to keep between professional content and fan films it’s becoming increasingly clear that not everyone is understood where that line is between non-commercial and our professional efforts and we decided to issue a set of guidelines that that should help give some shape to this and standardize our approach and the approach that fans can take to non-commercial fan-generated content.

Now I’ve seen some muttering online about this that the guidelines are you know how this is this is intended to end fan films that are not the case at all that’s not what we’re trying to do here they’re not intended and fan films but with the explosion of crowdfunding abuses have very definitely crept into the process for many it became more about the item that you were donating to get then it was about supporting a fan production for its own sake the production Started spiralling larger and larger there’s something of an arms race about how many Hollywood names could be attached how many people that have previously worked on Trek how many famous actors could you involve and that’s not really in the spirit of fan fiction, not the not the fan fiction that I grew up with and that many people I grew up with which was more.

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Would you say that it can even sort of creating a barrier of entry for people who wanted to?

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I’ve spoken with some people in including some people that have been involved preferably with fan films that that it that it has created a bit of a barrier of entry to some people because they’re Star Trek fans all over the world and they don’t necessarily have the ability to access Hollywood actors and people, and even meet people that have worked on Trek unless they are able to travel to one of the larger conventions so for a lot of people they felt like well I, I can’t get at this actor that actor I can’t get these people to tell my story I don’t know if I should bother I because I just can’t compete on the level that these other guys are playing at and that’s that’s unfortunate because regardless of what someone else is doing I would think it  would be great for fans to show their  passion, however, that is,

At Star Trek  Star Trek Las Vegas in  the costume contest last year we  Started offering a you know different  levels for the for the costume contest  because there are a lot of people that  were intimidated by the amazing costumes  that you see in there like I don’t know  if I want to enter the costume contest  I’m just going to get killed by this guy  that’s been working on this Borg for 10 years,

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Right and what’s unfortunate is that sometimes some of the most creative ideas actually

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They come from anywhere

{} Jordan {}

Right -they- I know the guy I know some of these Borgs  who come every year they’re amazing they  work in the garage a year and they are  absolutely remarkable and they have  discretionary income and they’ve got the  time and they make it and it’s beautiful  and then somebody will have a very sort  of ah fun metaphorical almost like Wow  why didn’t I think of that but very  simple costume and it’s not a level  playing field well I would not say a level playing field but  it’s great that you have the different  categories for those different  costumes

{} JVC {}

I’m going to go to the  Ratatouille card here since that’s one  of my favourite Pixar movies but the  idea that anyone can cook  that you can get great things from  any corner and I truly  believe that about Star Trek fandom  we’ve got fans all over the globe in  every corner that you can imagine and  they have some terrific ideas and inspirations I want to see more fans  involved and I think the guidelines that  we that we have will make it easier for  more people to enter it will make it  easier for more people to complete films  with the shorter length that’s involved and we won’t see things spiralling off into the direction of how  many cool t-shirts or ships or things like that can I get for donating instead  of donating just because this person has a great idea for a film and I want to  see that story on screen.