‘Star Trek: Axanar’ Producer Speaks on the ‘Fan Films,’ Production & Lawsuit Troubles

By February 2, 2016

There’s been quite the scuttlebutt over the production of a non-licensed, non-sanctioned Star Trek movie currently looking to go before cameras in the form of Star Trek Axanar. The movie has been targeted with a lawsuit by CBS Corp and Paramount Pictures which caused many fans to call foul. Because of the high production values found in the already produced short called Prelude to Axanar, fans were noticeably upset thinking CBS and Paramount wanted to squash a quote-unquote ‘fan film’ from happening. No one was more unhappy than producer Alec Peters.

From the very start of all this, Peters wanted to make a compelling, professional looking Star Trek ‘movie,’ and for that reason, justified the $1.1 million dollar price tag needed to produce the movie. Peters went to fundraising and did, in fact, raise that much money – proving that Star Trek fans wanted this movie to happen.

There is a fine line between the two kinds of thinking here – on one side, we have someone who considers himself a ‘professional’ and wants to make a ‘professional’ looking Star Trek movie. On the other side is CBS and Paramount who, according to Peters, believe it’s his professional movie that is the reason they are coming after him with a copyright infringement claim that could, essentially, shut down the production from ever starting.

From an exclusive interview with Peters by Star Trek site 1701 News, Peters fights back at those claims made by CBS/Paramount, saying:

There’s a reason why ‘Prelude to Axanar’ and ‘Axanar’ look like professional movies, because we have professionals working on them,” Peters said. “These are professionals. They do this for a living. They’re not fans who are voice actors, or Elvis impersonators who have a hobby and have always wanted to play Capt. Kirk. That’s not to knock fan films. I’m just saying, if you want volunteers, you get a certain quality. You want professionals? You’ve got to pay for them. It’s real simple.”

It’s an understandable way of thinking, at least from Peters point of view. He is, however, not considering his Trek film as ‘fan made’ rather, a real thing – held to the highest of standards. There’s that line I was talking about and, it seems on both sides, Peters and CBS/Paramount, are not going to fall on either side without a fight.

So what is a fan film? Peters elaborates on what he thinks is a ‘fan film’ and it has everything to do with quality,

“It’s real simple: Because of our quality,” he said. “‘Star Trek Continues’ is a fan film. Amateur actors, beautiful sets, well-done photography. But it’s a fan film. There’s no way you take that for a real TV show.’

The Star Trek Continues he references is indeed a ‘fan series;’ more to the point a ‘web series.’ And done very well, in my humble opinion. It’s premiered in a number of web film festivals and seems to be very popular and loved by the fans. So when Peters goes at the series commenting on the actors, sets and photography using a less than subtle word to describe the actors as ‘amateur,’ it seems to be out of place. Couldn’t I describe Peters and his crew as amateur? There’s that line. To each his own, I always say, it’s a big sandbox for fan films and just because you say yours’ is professional – by whose standards? I think Star Trek Continues looks very professional… But I’m splitting hairs here.

The main thing here is that pesky lawsuit that is, for now, stopping the filming of Axanar. Here’s what was detailed in a statement released to 1701 News:

In a statement released to 1701News, the two companies called Star Trek a “treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of ‘Axanar’ are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional, independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.”

This is Peters beef with the studio – why not take the other ‘fan films’ to court? This is what Peters’ team of lawyers will defend in court. And the line continues to blur.

So Peters brings up Continues again:

The two studios “already said that it’s OK, basically, letting these guys go,” Peters added. “‘Star Trek Continues’ has raised $400,000, and you haven’t said anything about that. ‘Star Trek: Renegades’ has raised $800,000, and they use characters from the original too. In essence, by not going after those other productions, CBS and Paramount have waived their rights to go after “Axanar,” Peters concludes. And he’s ready to use that against them.

Peters then adds that Continues is going to Kickstarter again to raise more funds so that their Star Trek web series can, well, continue.

“It’s going to have no effect on fan films,” he said. “‘Star Trek Continues’ is starting another Kickstarter. Which is going to be real interesting because that Kickstarter, if that isn’t stopped by CBS, we can use that against them in court. That’s good for us because one of our arguments is waiver. They waived their rights because they let this go on for so long.”

Since I am not familiar with copyright law, perhaps they have a point and in the end, Axanar can continue ahead. Not so fast, according to intellectual property attorney Suzi Marteny :

“If you got a copyright, there is no obligation to go after every infringer,” said Marteny, an attorney with Shumaker Loop & Kendrick in Tampa, Florida. “But from an equitability perspective, if you’re targeting one person, they could have an argument that you’re specifically targeting them and never enforce these rights on everyone else. They could have an argument, but I don’t know how much that would carry the day.”

So they could have an argument? Is the fact that Peters has raised over 1 million dollars reason enough to prove the studio is going after him and only him? Appears that way, right? I do have to ask in the interest of being un-biased – why haven’t Paramount/CBS gone after Continues or for that matter, other productions?

Seems to be a question for the courts. Because Peters does claim he-

-At least tacit approval from CBS representatives during a sit-down the two sides had last August at Creation Entertainment’s official Star Trek convention in Las Vegas.

And an interesting addendum to that point is when Peters tells 1701 that the studio said they WOULD go after him if he “crossed the line.” Over 1 million dollars raised might be crossing the line – in the studio’s eyes I gather. Again, I’ll leave that to the lawyers.

The biggest point of contention here, from the fans and most likely, CBS/Paramount – the fact that Peters made money off the production.

Whether or not it violates what Peters said was CBS’ directive to not make money, one of the larger criticisms coming from fans was the fact that Peters revealed he collected a $38,000 salary from the “Axanar” crowdfunding. However, Peters defended that move. I’m not volunteering my time,” he said. “I can’t do this for free. If I make minimum wage, I’m lucky. The fans who donate? They understand. They don’t have any problem with me paying myself.”

I posed the same question to my colleagues here at GeekNation – wouldn’t he need to pay himself something in order to bring a production of this magnitude, fan film or not, to the public? I would think so… And Peters thinks so as well, claiming the “donors” are aware of it and “don’t care.”

There’s that line again.

The rest is a lot of back and forth, Peters defends his right to shoot this – claims he has to pay his cast and crew because they are professional and need to work for a living. Peters asks if it’s wrong to pay people? And to further prove he is not violating copyright, adds that he not using the ‘chevron’ of characters, not even the uniforms.

“We violate CBS copyright less than any other fan film,” he said. “‘Star Trek Continues’ and ‘Star Trek: New Voyages’ violate more than we do.”

“Axanar,” Peters said, doesn’t call itself “Star Trek” anymore, nor does it use iconic characters like Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

“We don’t use the chevron,” he added. “We don’t use the uniforms you’re used to seeing. We don’t use (the Original Series) bridge or sets. Those two productions (‘Continues’ and ‘New Voyages’) are entirely copyright infringement.”

This is a very intense and intricate interview – and I would add that if you want the whole story, and an interesting read, head on over to 1701 News for the meat of it. Cause I could go on and on with this…

It seems more news and fallout is coming Peters’ way. They have stopped moving forward on Axanar and are awaiting the legal side of things, hoping for a settlement. Which is understandable. But what of the new controversy?

Now online, are back and forth’s with fans where Peters felt his interview was “highjacked” by 1701 News and because of this claim, 1701 posted their rebuttal; what appears to be a full transcript of the interview so there can be no questions.

So in the ensuing days after this interview, fans have gone after Peters it seems. A Reddit thread added fuel to the fire with some fans saying they stopped following Axanar because it was too “toxic.”  This really is something when you consider both sides now are fighting mad. And I’m not entirely sure which side is which anymore. In researching this article, I’m trying to grab everything in the hopes of presenting both sides – with all links designated here in this article and source.

For in the end, Peters felt he needed to have the final say on what went down and so, he took to Facebook. In which a fan in the closed group for Axanar, shared this statement:

Alec PetersAs I have mentioned so many times throughout this article, it is a fine line and I’m sorry, I see both sides while also being confused as to the whole point of it. Frankly, having seen both sides as best as possible, it seems both sides have a point. My only opinion has to do with Peters statements on “fan films” and his “strong” feelings that he expressed about the other “fan films.” In my opinion, he was a little harsh on the other series and his statements can be viewed as mean or petty. But that’s no reason to be sued.

We’ll be watching this all very closely. Peters has his thoughts, the good folks over at 1701 News have their points and thoughts, and certainly, the fans have their points. So much so one fan in particular created this funny video:

Now you can weigh in. What do you think of all this? Is Alec Peters in his right to produce Axanar? Is CBS/Paramount in their right to sue? Is this really a “fan film” or something made purely for profit? Because what seems to be missing from all of this… is the love of Star Trek. The line has blurred for sure and now, it’s all out war between the makers of Axanar, CBS and Paramount and the fans. It will be interesting to see how it’s resolved.

Make sure you check back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.

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Mark Reilly
Born a geek a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away - Tustin, CA - Reilly is a seasoned writer and producer with over twenty years experience in the film industry. He is the co-host of 'Far, Far Away' here on GeekNation as well as 'Meet the Movie Press' on the Popcorn Talk Network; which airs live every Friday morning at 9am pst. Tweet him at @Reillyaround
  • David Johnson

    So He admits this isn’t just a Fan Film, how many people (especially him) are making a living off the Star Trek Franchise!