Fanicide is a term meaning an action or decision which leads to the abandonment by the fanbase. Fanicide happens either deliberately, when power- or money hungry entities make a call that completely disregards the wishes and needs of the fanbase, or indeliberately when trying to renew, change or modify the direction of the IP, or policies, but execute the changes badly. Famous examples are Star Wars prequels, Queen’s Hot Space -album and Finnish politic party True Finns decision to go to the government.
When we released our first film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, I spent the next year every morning in fear when clicking open my email. I was awaiting the letter the producers of the fan film Star Trek: Axanar received yesterday: a formal charges by Paramount Pictures, the owner of the Star Trek IP. That letter never came, thankfully, and neither did it land on the desk of the producers of Star Trek: Of Gods And Men, Starship Exeter, Star Trek Continues, Hidden Frontier, Intrepid, Phase II or any of the other, countless Star Trek fan films.
When Universal, the biggest competitor of Paramount, picked Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning for distribution, we did go through the one-year trouble of changing all the rendered VFX shots into original design spaceships, just to make sure there was no copyright infringements left when going ‘pro’ – releasing the film under the monstrous name Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning – Imperial Edition.
But why now? Why is suddenly Star Trek: Axanar being sued after so many years of tolerance from the IP owners? And will this lead into charges by Disney on all Star Wars fan films, which are an even bigger phenomenon? Lucasfilm tolerated, even cherished the fan films, but will it change now that Disney is in charge? Does it mean an end to the whole fan film – and possibly, on a larger scale – fan art culture?
I don’t think so. I think Paramount is pulling a massive asshole move in charging Axanar, and it might very well lead into alienation of the hardcore fans, but at the same time, I partly understand them and their actions.
The dilution in this case means the theoretical fear of the lawyers that in case they are not suing those using their trademarks and IP without their consent, they are not enforcing the trademark enough, and in some theoretical future day a judge might decide they’ve given a silent approval of the use of the trademark.
And they have approved the use of their trademarks for so many years now, as long as there has been the fan art culture around Star Trek. But now, as the business is getting too real from their perspective, they are forced to do such moves. The main reason is not that suddenly Star Trek: Axanar – produced with 1/150th of the budget of the actual, proper Star Trek franchise products – would surpass or take over their market share, but the fear that maybe one day Universal decides to make their own Star Trek movie, and when these giants get into courtroom, they don’t want to give any possible opening for the competitor to strike back.
Having said that, the producers of Axanar are quite vocal on challenging the Paramount studio quality with their products.
“While some may call it a ‘fan film’ as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew — many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself — who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trekthat all fans want to see.”
The problem here is that there’s no moderation between a major studio and a fan filmmaker here, in the eyes of the lawyers at least. Ideally, there would be a legal exception which would defend IP owners from major infringements, but allow “unofficial” fan art being produced, even with a little bit of money involved in it.
IT’S GETTING PROFESSIONAL
The other “mistake” Axanar producers made was that they let their production become too professional, meaning there was too much real money involved (they’ve raised over $1 million so far from the fanbase using crowdfunding) and – also – too many a real actors casted.
The problem with real money is, I believe, that Paramount had defined a sweet spot, and when that had been crossed – meaning, over 1 million was being invested in the production of the fan product on their IP without their involvement – they would move to sue. Before this, all these fan films were made with quite small amounts of money – Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning was produced with 15k€, for example – but now we’re talking of real money, and raising over 1 million, Axanar people went too far in the eyes of Paramount.
But let’s be realistic at the same time. That 1 million dollars will be sucked into the production in no time, and probably the filmmakers will be even left with a debt after the film is done. Axanar will be released for free, so there’s not a lot of profit in it, even though they may be selling a handful of Blurays and T-shirts. This is real fan activity: from fans, who are willing to put years of their life and a lot of their own money into the production. What’s the point in punishing them? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of solidarity when it comes to the IP worth of hundreds of millions…
The cast issue has to do with the trademark dilution: when too many professional actors join the cast, a real confusion can happen between the official productions and a fan film. Instead of your friend, his hot girlfriend, your mom and brother’s jiu-jutsu -trained army buddy, Axanar has actual actors involved: Richard Hatch played Tom Zarek in Galactica, Tony Todd – a horror legend, and even actors who’ve played roles in the original Star Trek TV series, reprising their role on this one.
The lawyers are, again, worried to lose the integrity of their trademark when things get too professional. But still, it’s an overprotective act – we are talking about a product that’s being made with 1/150th of the budget of new Star Treks. It may be good, but it will never be mixed with the actuals.
Or will it?
THEY DON’T NEED THE OLD FANS
Unfortunately, the hardest fact, though, is that Paramount or CBS don’t really need the old fans anymore. With JJ‘s help, they’ve renewed the whole series, introduced it to a whole new moviegoing audience who were 16-20 when the 2009 Star Trek came out. To them, the old TV series are ancient history, to them Star Trek is all about Zachary Quinto, Beastie Boys, cool motorcycle jumps and that weird hand sign which has something to do with William Shatner, or something like that, used mostly to prove that although I’m cool I’m still a bit geeky y’know. None of these people have ever even heard the name of Gene Roddenberry.
Previously, Paramount has been clearly worried about angering the fans, but the biggest service JJ did, in addition for a bunch of quite successful films, was that they were finally free of the old fandom and are free to build on a new one.
And that’s quite clear, looking at the new trailer for the upcoming Star Trek. Very little of Roddenberry’s legacy is left there. One might even say that the last, best hope for Roddenberrian Star Trek are nowadays the fan films, so for the sake of that bit of cultural history, they should be left alive.
When we made Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, released in 2005, it was a whole different world back then. Internet video was new. We became the first ever feature length film released on the Internet, the first ever feature length fan film and the first ever crowdsourced and -funded feature film. None of this had been made back then, and although fandoms existed and fan art existed, it never really became so popular as it did with In the Pirkinning.
Nowadays, fan films are becoming and established art form, one which can not only entertain the fans, but also keep franchises alive through dark times. And right now, Star Trek is heading deep into an uncharted, dark territory, where no fans want to follow it anymore. It may be that Paramount needs Axanar more than it realizes.