The LIEF Erikson

Friday, June 10, 2005

New Voyages - Beyond Survival

Perhaps the simplest and most common "Fan Production" is Fan fiction. We've done this ourselves with "Magellan's Luck", writing a story that contains avatars of ourselves within the Star Trek universe.

However the peak of creativity would have to be making your own video production, either a TV programme or a movie. For most of us it is only a dream, since it takes great skill, dedication and resources to make a reasonable video. Viewers today expect acting, special effects and production values that are frankly beyond the grasp of non-professionals. That doesn't stop amateurs from trying for, and in many cases achieving, amazing results.

There have been amateur films since the early part of the last century, but it has been the availability of increasingly sophisticated video and editing facilities and the use of the internet as a distribution and advertising medium that has led to the explosion of increasingly professional productions. Perhaps the earliest landmark was Kevin Rubio's "Troops", a Star Wars spin-off, in 1997. In fact Star Wars has dominated the Fan Film medium ever since, perhaps because of the stated leniency shown by George Lucas to those who wanted to emulate his creations without seeking to make money. Gene Roddenbury died in 1991, long before the boom in Fan Movies but I'm pretty sure that he would have encouraged a similar tolerance if he were alive today.

This is not to say that Paramount are hawks when it comes to protecting their copyrights - compare them to Disney, who are renowned for pursuing litigation and even successfully lobbied to change the law to keep the mouse (Mickey) in the house when his copyright expired in 2000! Paramount on the other hand has always taken the tack that fan creativity is a form of free advertising.

Star Trek does have a sizeable foothold in the fan movie arena though with long-standing production companies such as Starship Exeter, whose "Savage Empire" was started way back in 1995 and released in 2002. They have recently released a trailer for their second film "The Tressaurian Intersection" which is due out on July 1st.

Jack Marshall rose to fan fame in 2002 when he used his editing skills to improve the 1989 "ST V: The Final Frontier". Surgically removing "deadwood" from the movie he left a "fan's cut" that caught the attention of aficionados around the country. At the time Marshal, his wife Pearl and a group of friends had just founded Cow Creek Films as a non-profit film company with the goal of partnering arts projects with charitable organizations.

The following year, in between projects, Marshall made the acquaintance of James Cawley, a professional actor, and an Elvis impersonator, who just happened to be the owner of a recreation of the original Enterprise bridge! With Cawley’s props & acting experience and Marshall’s production company all that was needed was a CGI master in the form of Max Rem, visual effects and makeup artist, and the result was the genesis of ‘Star Trek; New Voyages".
They are very much the stars of the Trek fan movie movement at the moment with two episodes produced in January and October of 2004 and another two planned for filming later this year.

There is considerable conjecture as to the future of fan movies. Pessimists expect the worst, that Paramount will close down any production that looks like being more popular than the movies & series they have produced themselves. Optimists believe that, as long as they continue to play by the rules, there is no reason for Paramount not to continue to tolerate them as long as they do not seek to make a profit.

Is there a step beyond survival though? Producing these fan movies is a labour of love at the moment. What you get at the end of the movie is an immense sense of achievement and a big hole in your pocket where a couple of thousand dollars used to be. Could there be some kind of arrangement that could be arrived at between the movie makers and Paramount that could allow the movie to recoup some of it’s costs and Paramount get a return for it’s dormant copyright?

Between June and August last year Mike Carano gained a licence from Viacom for a stage production of "Spock's brain". My daughter tells me that this type of thing is quite common for amateur theatrical companies to pay for a licence for the duration of a production. Would it be possible to use this as a precedent for negotiating a limited/modified theatrical licence for fans to make a movie or mini-series that does not cost them an arm and a leg?

Consider this quote from James Cawley on the CBC.CA Arts & Entertainment website ...

It's Cawley's belief that Paramount may eventually be convinced to license selected fan films, as it has done with fan fiction in the past. If the studio let him charge users a dollar per download in the future, he says he'd be willing to give Paramount 75 per cent of the money raised.
Just imagine what they could do if they could get their costs back!


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