The fuss has hit the fans about CBS and Paramount Pictures releasing guidelines on making fan films. How they are going to enforce it is anyone’s guess, but let’s pretend they can for the sake of the article.
The guidelines are pretty standardesque. You can find them here, but they are basically don’t make money; don’t distribute it; don’t make it so it looks like it could be a part of the ‘Star Trek’ brand and dilute it; don’t make it over 15 minutes long. Standard. Right. Okay, the last ones are a bit weird.
Oh right. This is a thinly veiled reaction to the lawsuit with ‘Star Trek: Axanar’. This isn’t really aimed at the average ‘Star Trek’ fan-film maker. It’s aimed at ‘Axanar‘, the amazing fan film that is placed very directly in the canon that has done some questionable things with the money they crowdfunded to make it. Notably, from what the hubbub is all about, investing the money funded for the fan film into a studio that can be used for for-profit films. And what’s worse, it actually looks professional, so it could be easily confused with the actual series while you are trying to sell the new ‘Star Trek’ show on CBS All Access. That’s a marketing nightmare for a series that never had a paywall if it’s going up against a beautiful, in-canon, fan-film that they can access for free.
I get it. They want to protect the brand. They don’t want anyone making money off of something that is their intellectual property. Seems simple enough to me.
Even though I totally understand this, I’m still sitting here with a sour expression on my face because I keep thinking who the hell cares if someone makes a fan-film?
Fan-films are how fans tell shows that they want more of the series; that they want to be a part of it; that they want to engage in it. Fan-works of all shapes and stripes do nothing but serve the brand. Why else do you think ‘Supernatural’ is going thirteenth. It’s not because it’s good (excepting seasons 1-5). It’s because fanon made an entirely new universe to be happy in, and they’ll take any extra canon they can get. Canon keeps fanon going, which keeps canon going even long after they thought of plotlines for the series.
Nobody makes or watches a fan-film and stops buying things for the series they love. If ‘Inception’ had more than a movie, I would give it all my money. But I can’t, so I write fic. I read fic. I play crowd-funded board games based on it. If there were books, I’d keep spending money on it. But there’s not. By the way, can we have ‘Inception’ books? Please? If you need a writer, I’ll write the hell out of it for you. I have a great story about Cobol catching up with Dom because they never really tied up that glaring loose-end.
Tangent aside. It’s because of fan-works that I stay interested in the movie, so if they ever do anything else, you bet I’ll be first in line for it. Hell, I know people who started watching a series because of fan-works. There is so much high quality ‘Gundam Wing’ fanfiction that people are still going out there and trying to find the DVDs. In fact, I’m still buying Shenlong models… all because fan-works keep me engaged enough to look for the Gundams and make them.
Let’s make no bones about it. ‘Axanar’– which looks awesome, and hello ‘Star Trek’, could you take this as a hint and make something like ‘Axanar’ please- is not your average fan film. It is in a far murkier area, and one that I don’t have the legal expertise to comment on. Though, it seems it doesn’t have many de jure legs to stand on.
What I can comment on is ethics, artistry, and who owns culture.
Let’s think of Japan, where there are entire stores dedicated to doujinshi (fan-comics). Not only is it legal to make money selling it, it’s legal for used books stores to buy and resell it. There, these fan-works are a form of flattery and respect, and the art is considered yours. No one questions if doujinshi dilutes the brand because readers are smart enough to know this an author/artist’s interpretation of the story. No one questions if it takes money away from brands because it doesn’t. People are still buying everything ‘Prince of Tennis’ related, as well as the fan-works. Why? Because they love it (enough to suffer through the awful vocals of the first musical casts). And the know the difference between the two.
All I can say is your currency is your fans, and the more engaged they are, the more they spend, and the better the culture surrounding your brand is. It acts as a way to include everyone who is interested in the show. Furthermore, audiences are not so stupid that you can’t trust them to know the difference between a fan-film and the original. And if they like the fanon better… maybe take that as a guideline for where to take your series next. *cough* Get Bashir and Garak together please *cough*.