Fan films. They have been around for a LONG time. But now we are at a point where they can be every bit as good (and in some cases better) than the name brand product it represents. One of the biggest contributors to this effect is crowd-funding. This allows individuals the ability to have a say in what fan productions get made by financially backing the projects of their choice. Many times this financial backing earns you swag (Stuff We All Get) or incentives, but often the best reward is the gratification that comes with knowing that you as a fan helped get a production made.
There has been no new Star Trek on Television since May 2005. There is a hunger for new Trek from its millions of fans. Sure there are the Nu-Trek movies that are coming out, but those have never felt like true Star Trek. Certainly those films are great action movies, but in this humble writer’s opinion they have not been great Star Trek movies. Star Trek has always been science fiction in its truest form. Good science fiction is not about space fights, explosions, lens flares and shiny starships, it’s about examining the human condition from an outside perspective.
In comes Axanar. This has become one of the most successful crowdfunded film projects in history. This studio-quality project promises to be the Star Trek we’ve been waiting for. This film is being produced solely through crowdfunding efforts. What we’ve seen so far has been completely stunning. They debuted Prelude to Axanar: The Four Years War, last year and it recently hit 1,000,000 views. Below this paragraph is a link to that 20(ish) minute documentary film, laying out the story for what is to come. Liken it to something the History Channel will produce in about 300 years.
Robert Meyer Burnett, Producer and Director of Axanar, has had a life-long love of all things Star Trek. Speaking to Word of the Nerd about the fans’ passion and creativity regarding the object of their devotion, he says:
“Genre fans have a long history of being industrious and using their talents to celebrate those things which they love. When I was growing up as a young TREK fan in the 70s, I was always sending away for fan-made starship blueprints, stickers, reference books and props. People loved TREK so much they were compelled to create these things. So I see the current crop of fan films as a very logical progression of that fandom from 30 years ago. But instead of blueprints, we’re now able to get full-blown episodes or even feature films which celebrate the love fans have for their franchises, and the level of these productions seem to increase at an almost exponential rate. STAR TREK PHASE II and especially STAR TREK CONTINUES are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.”
Speaking of the fact that these fan-made productions are almost, “indistinguishable from the real thing,” as Burnett says, brings up a good point. There is a hunger and desire out there for Star Trek in just about any form. Due to the skyrocketing popularity of crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo, we are now at a point where we are no longer dependent on the studios to get new Trek productions. Legalities regarding intellectual properties aside, there is now precedence for this.
“With the astonishing progression in both computer graphic power and digital capture technology, the tools now exist to make it possible to create a film rivaling almost any studio production,” Burnett says “But these tools aren’t nearly enough. One also needs professional level talent at all key positions to pull this off. From the writing, visual effects, cinematography, music, direction and especially acting, unless you have A-List ability, you’re never going to surpass the kind of product coming out of Hollywood and be forever related to ‘fan film status.’ Personally, I think it’s great. Making any film, much less a GREAT film, remains a very daunting and rare prospect with much to be learned. From managing assets and manpower, meticulous planning, intense cooperation, practicing respect for others and their abilities and especially how to navigate the minefield of creative egos, filmmaking teaches so much, on so many different levels. If you’ve never before made a film, I highly recommend it. You’ll learn more about yourself than you could possibly imagine.”
There may be unlimited energy and creativity, but Burnett cautions about a lack of oversight with projects such as Axanar:
“I do believe in some kind of oversight and regulation of this unfettered creativity. The integrity of the core brand must be upheld. As much as I encourage the fan film movement…I can’t abide seeing BAD films. After Kevin Rubio’s enormously popular TROOPS and the deluge of STAR WARS fan films which followed, Lucasfilm made the smart play and got out in front of it…they laid down a list of regulations, made certain sound fx available and went so far as to recognize the best of these films with their Fan Film Awards. In a stunning move, even included the best of these films as part of their Six Disc Blu-Ray package.”
When the fan has the opportunity like this through crowdfunding, to step into the role as producer and say, “This is a quality product. I’d like to see more of it. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is,” this has to be gratifying. When asked how this make him feel, Robert has this to say:
“There are few more satisfying feelings in the world then knowing your intended audience likes what you’ve accomplished. I was fortunate enough to get a taste of this while traveling around the world to various film festivals with my first feature, FREE ENTERPRISE. There’s nothing better than seeing and FEELING an audience respond to what you’ve written and directed. The reaction to the first scene I directed from the AXANAR feature has been overwhelmingly positive, which is great. The donors make the entire thing possible…so when they’re happy, it’s a great feeling.”
The title of this two-part feature (You can find Part One here) is Star Trek Axanar: The Grand-Daddy of all Fan Films. There was a bit of backlash at this title as Axanar is a professional studio production that easily (based on what’s been released thus far) holds its own against any sci-fi project out there. But if one looks at it this way you might see where this writer is coming from: the very nature of this production makes it a fan film in the truest sense. From the ground up it involves fans on every level. The fans alone are putting up the money for this. If you ask Mr. Burnett and anyone else involve on the production end of things, they’ll tell you that this is truly a labor of love for them. Legally they can make no profit from Axanar. One could go so far as to say that with all the blood, sweat and tears they are pouring into this project, that they are recapturing, in some small measure, that feeling they felt as young people designing their own props, blueprints and stickers. For them as well as us, this is a truly beautiful thing.
Star Trek Axanar has just kicked off its most recent crowdfunding effort on indiegogo.com. They are asking for the fan’s help once again to help create Star Trek Magic. To celebrate this campaign they have released a special introduction scene from Axanar featuring a VERY familiar Vulcan to Trek Fans. Below this paragraph is that scene. Please give it a watch and if you love it as much as all the other fans have, you should consider donating to the campaign. You can go directly to the Star Trek Axanar campaign by clicking here.
When asked what the fans can expect from the finished Axanar feature, Burnett responds:
“We’re looking to make a serious mediation about warfare, friendship, honor, duty and responsibility set within the STAR TREK universe. To me, it reads like a great novel. I’m using TOS episodes like “Balance of Terror,” “Errand of Mercy,” “A Private Little War,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” and even a little “Savage Curtin” as my references. I’m also looking to feature films like MIDWAY, TORA, TORA, TORA, APOCALYPSE NOW and PLATOON for ideas. Another HUGE influence on my take is MASTER AND COMMANDER. There’s great WRATH OF KHAN-esque starship combat action in the film, but framed by very tense dramatic personal conflict. I want audiences to feel they’ve just experienced a story which really MATTERS to the TREK Universe.”
When contributing to Axanar’s Indiegogo campaign, you take an active part in saying in a loud collective voice, “WE BELIEVE IN THEIR EFFORTS! WE LOVE WHAT WE HAVE SEEN, NOW MAKE THE REST!” This promises to be epic Trek storytelling, and in addition to the gratification you get from helping them, “Boldly Go,” and finish a project like this, there are also some pretty exciting incentives they are offering.
There can be no better way to close this article than to finish with a quote from the “Great Bird of the Galaxy,” the creator of Star Trek himself, Gene Roddenberry. When speaking about the Meaning of Star Trek, he felt it had monumental thinks to say to humanity and its future. Axanar promises to carry on this legacy…
“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
Until next time fellow Trekkers, “Live Long and Prosper,” and don’t forget to, “Boldly Go!”