Anyone who knows me knows my love for Star Trek.
As a child, I remember my parents introducing me to Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, and the Enterprise, these complex characters and graceful-looking starship soaring from planet to planet. I think some of the weekly aliens scared me, especially when they flashed them up at the end of the credits. (Balok, anyone?)
I didn’t understand the cerebral and more thought-provoking parts of the episodes because, as a child, you usually don’t have those parts of your brain developed until you start hitting adulthood. So it was good to watch as something fun as a kid.
It was one of my introductions to science fiction, and one I will always be grateful to my parents for introducing me to it.
When I was in 8th grade and in my last year of junior high, Star Trek: The Next Generation came on the air. It was with a new crew, a new Enterprise, and a new time-period: 80 years after the original Star Trek. It aired on Saturday nights at the same time as we went to church some weekends, so I’d have to try to remember to record it on the VCR.
By the time I got to high school, I met like-minded friends, and Star Trek: The Next Generation started to get into full swing. There were quite a few non-nerds at the school who liked it as well. I even remember one block party at my parents’ place where one of the neighbours said he and his son couldn’t wait to find out why Sela looked like Tasha Yar in the season finale a few months earlier. It became a big hit show.
My friends and I had a running joke, one which I think I may have discussed in an earlier post. Our friend Jenn had a crush on Wil Wheaton, who played the ever-so-annoying Wesley Crusher, so my friend John and I came up with an idea of our own Star Trek comic strip called Star Trek: The Way Jenn Wants It To Be. We threw our sense of humour into it and didn’t make it too terribly serious. It started out that we were all stationed to the Enterprise-D as well.
One running gag was about a friend in the periphery of our group (she was involved in theatre as well but she didn’t hang out with us all the time). She was rather accident prone, so every strip would start off with her standing at the curb, looking both ways before trying to cross a street. Once she set foot on the street, a shuttlecraft, a satellite, even an asteroid would collect her, so the next time the reader would pick up the comic, the poor girl had more and more bandages on her.
As it progressed, our storylines became more serious, and we got our own ship (the name of which would eventually change to the USS Prospect, long after I moved to New Zealand).
The love affair with Star Trek continued into university and beyond. I knew and had seen nearly every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We had a party with the “Group”, my close friends from high school, even though most of us were in university, to watch the series finale at my house.
(There’s a funny side story that I’ll share in a different blog. It ends up with: “Shut up, George!”)
In university, I had to quit drawing so much due to my hand which had been broken in a few places when I was younger. This saw me change my major to English, where I started getting seriously into creative writing, and I started writing out Star Trek fan fiction, starring my friends and me as another crew on another ship during the time period of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
This continued after I moved to New Zealand, and I got so involved in it that I created a Web site for my third fan fiction series, Star Trek: The Cantabrian Expeditions, based around Noel and me and our friends here. This was when the Web was emerging as a new medium for the public to use and explore.
So my writing started to take off with this and the other stories that were down on paper but I never exposed to the general public; having a Web site gave me that option.
Then the Powers That Be at Paramount (the owners of Star Trek) began a rampage against the fan community.
There were cease and desist letters, threatening to sue fans right, left, and centre if they didn’t stop using photos and concepts from Star Trek.
We lost quite a few good Web sites and a lot of good comrades in that fight.
It put me off Star Trek for a while, to be honest. Soured the sweet taste in my mouth.
TPTB realised their rampage left them haemorrhaging as well, so they backed off and let the fans be fans again. This, sadly, would emerge to become a recurring theme for TPTB and the fans. Kinda like dealing with an abusive alcoholic parent: beating you when the firewater runs thick through his veins, crying and begging for forgiveness once the blood thickens again.
This has always stuck in the back of my mind, but I returned to Star Trek eventually, even though the quality started to diminish in the final two series, Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. Even the movies featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast weren’t as good as they could have been. But it was my Star Trek, and it had always been a part of my life.
I started to get more involved again. Searching the Web, there was a group called the Trek Writers Guild, full of like-minded writers who, like me, liked sharing their stories and their characters. Some of the writers, characters and stories were very inspiring.
My fan fiction writing rebooted so I had more freedom with the characters. Even though they were based on my friends, now, I had more chance to expand their stories without affecting the real-life people I cared so much about.
With the advent of YouTube and online streaming and social media, I started connecting more and more with others. The online wikia Star Trek Expanded Universe started to build up the different characters and worlds fan fiction writers and fan productions created, a sort of nexus of Star Trek. My writing skills created scripts for various productions, albeit some of which were not successful. Watching others’ efforts on their Star Trek fan films on YouTube really inspired me to get even further involved. I dusted off my acting chops and started portraying characters in fan audio dramas, the largest character being Ken Kato on Star Trek: Henglaar, M.D.
With the lull in official Star Trek coming out, we were making our own, many of us doing a damned fine job of it. The rich Star Trek universe was growing richer and richer through our writing, our films, our audio plays, our art, and our acting.
Along came Axanar, an amazingly well produced, slick fan production. It really would push Star Trek fan films to a higher level. And TPTB at CBS and Paramount, the now-legal owners of Star Trek, I believe felt threatened and tried to shut it down by slapping a lawsuit on them.
(You can search the Web if you want to read all about it. It was a rather vague lawsuit on CBS and Paramount’s part, in my humble opinion.)
The fans again were under threat. And it put me off Star Trek quite a bit again.
In my opinion, TPTB were attempting to cut off their own limbs again. And they were over-the-top, heavy-handed trying to “protect” their brand, which, if you know anything about the brand, was saved by fans over and over again.
(In contrast, Star Wars owners Lucasfilm and now Disney encourage fan productions but with set guidelines in place.)
Two current well-known people involved with the Star Trek movie reboots, J.J. Abrams and director Justin Lin, stepped in, at first behind the scenes, and then publicly. They managed to convince TPTB at CBS and Paramount that alienating the fans by threatening them, especially in the 50th anniversary year of Star Trek, with a new movie coming out and a new Star Trek series on the way (this one on a paid subscription service on the Web), was not a way to win them over. So TPTB backed off and everyone thought that was that. Lesson learned: we don’t piss the fans off.
It wasn’t learned, and it wasn’t the end of it.
A few days ago, TPTB at CBS and Paramount announced Star Trek fan film guidelines. And fandom isn’t happy.
I don’t want to speak for all of fandom, but as someone who has been involved in writing for and acting in Star Trek fan productions, these guidelines are very over-the-top and almost draconian.
The largest gripes I have with the guidelines are these:
The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.
When has there ever been a Star Trek episode less than 15 minutes in the history of the franchise? When has there ever been a stand-alone Star Trek movie or self-contained story? How does one skilfully manage to tell a cerebral or pertinent story like Star Trek usually does in 15 minutes?
Almost all the Star Trek fan productions I know are either movies or series. This means none of them can continue.
If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
Because we’re all rolling in money, especially in places where the US Dollar is so much stronger than our own local currency.
(I do kinda get this one because they are trying to protect the licensees who make their products, but their products are not readily-available in markets outside the USA sometimes.)
Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
When a writer or creator owns the right to some elements, which I believe they would in this circumstance, TPTB at CBS and Paramount really have no legal right to dictate what you can do with those elements (characters, alien species, et cetera) as far as I can tell, especially when they are legally distancing themselves from the content in the production itself.
When I saw these guidelines, I was angry as a fan, not only for myself but also for my friends I’d made over the years who put so much time and effort into their series. I was astounded because I couldn’t believe TPTB were that incredibly stupid to try to cut off their nose to spite their face when they faced such a huge backlash weeks and months prior with the lawsuit against Anaxar.
And I was disappointed and sad in that bittersweet sort of way because I realised I was absolutely done with Star Trek. This was the last time I would be abused by TPTB.
I was willing to continue playing Ken Kato on Henglaar, M.D., because it was fun and it never felt like a chore. Sure, it was Star Trek in name but it never really seemed like it to me.
This morning, I woke up to find Henglaar, M.D. has ceased productions in light of these guidelines. Our executive producer is contacting CBS and Paramount to find out if the guidelines established do indeed cover fan audio dramas too (as the guidelines are called “fan film guidelines” but then continue with the more ambiguous “fan productions”), but we all have the sinking suspicion that they do cover us as well.
Last year, the cast recorded a mammoth script, a really good one that was going to be split up over two to three parts. We all worked very hard on it, and, as a part of a series, I loved to see my character grow. David and Mark gave me a heads-up on where my character was heading, going from a rather minor one to a relatively major (or even supporting) character, and it was a journey I was looking forward to taking with Ken Kato and the rest of my wonderful cast-mates and production crew.
As many of you who have been following my blog know, I’ve been recovering from a dissociative disorder known as depersonalisation. One of the hardest emotions for me to reconnect to has been sadness. I’m at the point now where I can cry when I see something unrelated to my personal life that makes me sad (not all the time but some of the time), but every time I try to let it all out when I’m upset and it’s something personal, nothing happens. The emotion bounces around, and I feel the pressure inside me building, but I can’t get any further than that.
This morning, reading the news about Henglaar, M.D., I nearly cried. It was the closest I’ve come to crying about something in my life for a while.
So I guess, even in that aspect, I am done with Star Trek. My 40-odd year love affair, full of its twists and turns, with such a wonderfully rich universe, made even more richer by the fans and the people I’ve met who shared my love and passion for it, is finished.
And I have a feeling I’m not the only one calling it quits on the love affair with Star Trek.