Free Minds & Free Markets

Axanar: The $1 Million Star Trek Fan Film CBS Wants to Stop

Star Trek fan films have existed for almost as long as Star Trek has. But what happens when they are actually good?

Since its launch in 1966, Star Trek has inspired intense devotion from generations of fans with five live-action television series spanning 50 years and a sixth set to launch in 2017. And this month's release of Star Trek Beyond, helmed by Fast and Furious director Justin Lin, will mark the franchise's 13th feature film.

And that's just the official Star Trek product. From almost the very beginning, Star Trek inspired creativity amongst Trek fans.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry expressed deep gratitude for the fans and encouraged their work, once writing this in the foreword to Star Trek: The New Voyages, a compilation of fan-written stories:

It is now a source of great joy for me to see their view of Star Trek, their new Star Trek stories, reaching professional publication here. I want to thank these writers, congratulate them on their efforts, and wish them good fortune on these and further of their voyages into other times and dimensions.

Fan-created stories, comic books, and art soon evolved into fan-made film and video productions. There was the carpet layer from Michigan who spent $2,000 to build a replica of the Starship Enterprise bridge and produced Paragon's Paragon, one of the first serious Star Trek fan films, in 1974. In 1985, a fan convinced George Takei, who played Sulu on the original series, to reprise the role in Yorktown: A Time to Heal. In subsequent years, putting original cast members in fan production became increasingly common, with Walter Koenig ("Chekov") and Nichelle Nichols ("Uhura") starring in the 2007 feature length film Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.

"The fan films were just getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger," says Jonathan Lane, creator of the Fan Film Factor, a blog dedicated to analyzing and promoting Star Trek fan films.

And the whole time, Paramount and CBS, the Star Trek rights holders, took a tolerant, hands-off approach so long as the films didn't portray Star Trek in a negative or obscene light. That all changed with Prelude to Axanar, a professionally shot, produced, and acted short fan film that received almost 2.5 million views on YouTube. The success of Prelude to Axanar allowed writer-producer Alec Peters to raise more than $1 million through crowdfunding sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo. They snagged Richard Hatch, who played Captain Apollo in the orginal Battlestar Galactica, to play their antagonist. Suddenly, Axanar looked less like a benign fan film and more like competition.

Peters and his team claim that fan films do nothing but promote the Star Trek brand and say that Axanar is covered by the Fair Use clause, which allows for use of copyrighted work when that use is "transformative." Watch the video above to hear arguments both from the Axanar cast and crew and CBS and to learn a bit more about the history of Star Trek fan films and Fair Use.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Alex Manning and Justin Monticello. Music by Chris Zabriskie, Podington Bear, and Twilight Tipi.

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  • Rasilio||

    Except for the fact the Prelude to Axanar was better than anything that has been produced for the Star Trek universe in at least 15 years

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    From Hell's heart, CBS stabs at thee.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    By Grabthar's Hammer, wh-what a savings.

  • Matchstick||

    Great reference to the best fan-film of all time!

  • ||

    Double dumb-ass on them!

  • Wizard4169||

    They should really lay off the LDS.

  • Rhywun||

    CBS stabs at thee.

    Yeah, by teasing a new series on the mothership and then burying it on some shitty streaming service.

  • spqr2008||

    Really shitty streaming service. It can't run better than 480p on anything less than a 15 mbps connection. I usually only get 720p, and their server connection is so bad, that after commercial breaks (oh, yeah, the commercial streams work great, audio is clear and crisp, btw), it reverts to something below 480p, and the audio drops in quality significantly. I've never seen audio quality drop on streaming video like that before. Even on my parents super slow DSL (max 4 mbps, terrible latency because of long run from distribution box and old copper wires), Hulu and Netflix, when they work at all, have great audio quality.

  • The Fusionist||

    Just let the studio wet its beak. Negotiate favorable terms for a license.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'm going to guess that there's no way the makers of this film could get within 10,000 nautical miles of being able to afford whatever terms the studio declared "favorable terms for a license".

    To put it bluntly, the license alone would probably tens of times greater than the budget of the entire film.

  • ||


  • Conchfritters||

    Have Vito tell Clemenza and Tessio about CBS's demands, and then only give them $100.

  • SoCal Deathmarch||

    nerds, Nerds, NERDS!!!

    *In the voice of Ogre*

  • Citizen X||

    You make Star Trek fan films?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It's going to look like you're talking to SoCal Deathmarch when that gets deleted.

  • The Hyperbole||

    It will still make sense.

  • Citizen X||

    My thoughts and prayers are with me.

  • Suicidy||

    Naked ones? With a lot of baby oil?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Star Trek fan films have existed for almost as long as Star Trek has. But what happens when they are actually good?

    That explains why no one is suing Abrams.

  • But Enough About Me||

    Ouch. Also, ^this.

  • BYODB||

    Abrams is great at making standalone films to reboot a franchise, but he's getting lazy and expects follow up directors to fix all his gaping wide, idiotic plot holes that your typical moron either doesn't care about or doesn't notice. He ruined the first film and negated all of essentially everything in the Star Trek universe as soon as they invented transporters that could beam you across the galaxy.

    Who needs a Starship when you can just beam there, eh? He aborted the franchise before it even really got started. Pretty amusing, really. This is why they have to ignore wide swaths of whatever he did in second or third films. It's just sad, really.

  • Sir Doombringer of SexBot||

    No he's not great at making films, they are all creative and narrative train wrecks. He's a franchise cockroach with, nothing more. Take away the existing branding, and there's nothing holding his movies up. Any so called creativity is just rote tokenism.

  • Trump's Penis Logo, Jr.||

    CBS is worried about our embassy on Qo'noS getting attacked over over this.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "Let them die."

  • Ted S.||

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

  • Azathoth!!||

    because you can't write in pIqaD on reason.

  • lafe.long||

    We need more Firefly fan films.

  • Bob K||


  • Crusty Juggler||

    Sulu's not gay!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Gene Roddenberry was a homophobe of the first order that kept his crew in the head they belonged!

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Yeah! Neither was Liberace.

  • Suicidy||

    They have a cure for that in the future.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    The reason CBS is taking a hard line on this is pretty obvious. The fan film displayed better story telling and plot development than Star Trek has managed to muster in at least a decade.

    Watching it makes clear what a botch CBS has made of it.

    The smart alternative would be to buy out the makers.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why would you buy out the makers when you can just sue them until they go away?

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Because you make a shit-ton of money on one and lose money on the other?

  • JWatts||

    "Why would you buy out the makers when you can just sue them until they go away?"

    Because paying Lawyers $1,000 per hour is actually more expensive than just buying out the makers of a film that cost $125,000.

    Oh wait, the Lawyers are all related to the Execs at the studios. Ok, never mind.

  • Tony||

    JJ Abrams was a self-described non-fan and he made two pieces of utter shit, so clearly Paramount just wants to go in another direction.

  • Sir Doombringer of SexBot||

    Even the franchise he was a fan of, was ruined in the exact same ways.

  • 10RingPunch||

    IMHYDAO, 'Prelude to Axanar' is excellent by any cinematic standard. It screens as the True Believer's love letter to the Star Trek franchise that it is.
    Unfortunately, it would appear as though CBS has no time for True Believers.

  • Game||

    The heck with CBS. What are they going to do about it? Get Nora O'Donnell to scream in someone's face?

  • Rational Exuberance||

    I really don't see why people are so enamored with Star Trek; it seems like a stifling technocracy to me, the kind of society only a progressive would dream of.

  • utabintarbo||

    Well, it's utopian as it is post-scarcity. So yeah, it's a progressive's dream. And as such, is totally unrealistic.

    Still makes for a good story, sometimes.

  • JWatts||

    "Well, it's utopian as it is post-scarcity. So yeah, it's a progressive's dream."

    But it's a statist's nightmare. And that's always been the group of progressives that are dangerous. Without taxes and gobs of Federal money there's very little control to be had. The bulk of the Federation budget probably goes to Star Fleet. There's no need for vast amounts of redistribution when the basics are so cheap that a trivial amount of work can provide housing, food, education and medical care.

  • Suicidy||

    It's hard to control everyone when replicators are ubiquitous, and energy effectively unlimited.

  • BYODB||

    Honestly if you lift the hood of the Star Trek universe, you start to see it for the authoritarian regime it really is. There's a reason why virtually every Admiral in the Star Trek mythos turns out to either be an evil fuck vying for more personal empire or a mind controlled vessel of some infinite evil. The Captains of ships are pretty much the rank where you stop advancing unless you've either exterminated 'X' number of alien cultures, or shown a true hunger for power.

    It's really not terribly surprising that highly individual societies have a really awful time with Star Fleet. Most of the enemies of the Federation during the Roddenberry years believe in individual autonomy if you really look at it. Who are the real bad guys when you look at it in that light? (After Roddenberry things get less clear, but he was probably a socialist of some stripe so this isn't surprising.)

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Honestly if you lift the hood of the Star Trek universe, you start to see it for the authoritarian regime it really is.

    I agree. While Roddenberry seemed to be somewhat enamored with technocratic government, the internal logic of such government meant that the Federation never came across particularly well in any of the episodes. That is, if you think about the political system and the opportunities people had, it's pretty clear that being a Star Trek Captain was probably one of the few jobs having any degree of liberty, and even that could obviously be taken away at any time.

    Note that for a good adventure or exploration story, it isn't necessary to admire the political system that produced the explorers. After all, most adventure and exploration tales involve monarchies as governments.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Well, it's utopian as it is post-scarcity. So yeah, it's a progressive's dream. And as such, is totally unrealistic.

    There is no such thing as "post scarcity". People obviously like to explore, travel around in space craft, and own entire moons, but that's clearly not something most people can do. Energy is limited, space is limited, desirable sex partners are limited, so are luxury goods, art and other things.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Which one?

    There's a hell of a lot more than the Federation.

    And, with replicator tech, you can fabricate a ship, fabricate some fuel, and head out in any direction you want and create your own civilization if that's what you want to do.

    Progressives need scarcity to support their totalitarianism.

  • BYODB||

    You still need materials to replicate, so really the only remaining job is 'miner' unless I'm mistaken. I'm definitely not a guy that has everything memorized but I do know they can't just materialize objects without the base elements that object requires. Several episodes involved running out of space diesel, and they spelled it out. ^_-

  • Rational Exuberance||

    And, with replicator tech, you can fabricate a ship, fabricate some fuel, and head out in any direction you want and create your own civilization if that's what you want to do.

    Replicators consume vast amounts of energy, are limited in size, and seem quite limited in what they can actually produce. Fuel in particular clearly can't be replicated, otherwise mining and dilithium crystals wouldn't be such a big deal. In addition, patterns for weapons and anything potentially harmful seem to be tightly controlled.

    Furthermore, the ability to leave for the frontier doesn't make the Federation free. The neighborhood of the Federation also seems like early 20th century Europe: communists, fascists, and dictators.

  • Roger007||

    Prelude to Axanar was great; Kind of glad CBS semi-backed down by having "standards" for the fan films (no original cast/actors, low budget, time limit, mandatory text on opening titles etc) but they need to let this film go through. They haven't even touched that part of the timeline - which is still canon under NuTrek

  • Long Woodchippers||

    The new Paramount director Lin came out in May saying he wanted the studio to drop the suit because it would cause ill will with fans. People cheered. Then they came out with the guidelines that you mention (and more) that would eliminate well over 90% of the fan films ever made.

    The "Of Gods and Men" cast was almost entirely Trek veteran actors. Tim Russ of Voyager has produced and directed fan films.

    If Paramount follows through with no ST actors, 15 minutes, no serial stories, etc - there will be no fan films as we have or might have known them.

  • jtkerry||

    It comes down to who is in charge of the franchise "Lawyers" or "Businessmen." They had no rules and create them out of thin air - lawyers. They had no rules - find the need for guidelines - create them - and settle the matter with a contract - making Axanar part of the franchise - or buy them out and do it full fledged. the last thing you want to do is disenfranchise the fan and creator - who keeps the franchise alive!

  • Matchstick||

    America has barely any manufacturing left. We are a country of intellectual property. Software, writing, television programming, apps, virtual realities, new technologies, these are all we create and the ownership of these things has to be protected. Star trek has lived for fifty years because the ideas and characters and the intellectual properties created by CBS et al have had an exploitable value. Just because other people claim they love the property doesn't give them ownership of the property any more than your neighbor's love for your car means he can have it. Fans are fantastic, but letting them eat other's intellectual property on the basis of love undermines the whole idea that our economy is based on.
    That said, I recommend "star trek continues" on youtubs.

  • Long Woodchippers||

    Paramount had guidelines, which was basically make no profit and make ST look good, knowing that would promote the overall franchise. Now Axanar is something that appears "professional" and they want to stop it, even if it doesn't violate their previous guidelines.

  • jtkerry||

    Call CBS Shareholders and board members! It just goes to show you, lawyers should not be in charge of franchise rights. Businessmen should be handling this and all other issues of rights to any of the franchises held by the networks and studios. A lawyer sees it as a threat. A businessman sees it as an opportunity. CBS shareholders need to take note, it is their money these yahoo's are flushing. The lawyers need to develop the contracts - if Axanar wants to do this - have them pay the fee and royalties on DVD sales - AND CALL IT DONE!

  • Wrath of Dhan||

    What this story fails to mention is the fact that Axanar is not a fan film like those that have come before it but is a professional for-profit undertaking. Peters paid himself - and many others - a salary. He made money on somebody else's intellectual property. The fact that that is not even hinted at in the story is astonishing. Had Axanar followed the example of other Star Trek fan films, there would have been no lawsuit. But Axanar was created first and foremost as a conduit of personal self-promotion and enrichment by Alec Peters. He raised money in the name of somebody else's intellectual property and then paid himself. That's not what fan filmmaking is all about.

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