EGGING ON Hollywood producer Lukas Kendall says publicity keeps defense attorneys from encouraging Axanar producer Alec Peters (pictured, center) to admit defeat in the lost cause of his copyright lawsuit.

Commentary

Endgame

See also: Endgame II: The Settlement

A Hollywood producer, friend and associate of Axanar director Robert Meyer Burnett, lays out how he believes the production’s endgame will play out.

Lukas Kendall worked on Burnett’s 1998 Star Trek fan-based comedy, Free Enterprise, and has produced a number of albums and box sets of Star Trek music for CBS.

He posted a lengthy essay on the discussion board, TrekBBS, in which he described the constraints preventing quick resolution in the lawsuit brought by Star Trek owners CBS and Paramount Pictures against Axanar Productions and producer Alec Peters.

Producer and actor Lukas Kendall

Kendall wrote on TrekBBS:

People get swept up in the colorful legal motions being filed by both sides. Those are just theater. What is important is behind the scenes. This conflict, far from possibly facilitating the official licensing of Star Trek fan films, is holding them up — badly, wasting everybody’s time and hurting regular people.1)

He explains why, prior to the Axanar suit, CBS turned a blind eye to fan productions. “It was legally and bureaucratically the only way to let them exist.”

Axanar's Principal Problem

‘They want him to vanish off the face of the earth. That’s how much [CBS] loathe and distrust [Peters]. ’Producer Lukas Kendall’s post on TrekBBS

For its part, Axanar and its producer, Alec Peters (whom, curiously Kendall does not mention by name, preferring to call him “the Axanar principal”), managed to find any way it could to “abuse CBS’ goodwill,” Kendall said, “and then some.” He continued:

This is something they and their followers will dispute…but please.
• They raised over a million dollars in multiple efforts.
• They used their donor funds to lease a warehouse … and turn it into a soundstage which they bragged would be a base for ongoing commercial ventures.
• They attempted to cast their film through the Hollywood agencies with professional talent.
• They shamelessly ran a store for bootleg Star Trek merchandise under the guise of “perks” for “donors” (like Axanar coffee—not making that up).
• They fostered an atmosphere — or at least did not discourage it — that Axanar was true Star Trek and the J.J. Abrams films were dogshit.
• They got in fights with other fan films.
• They built a cult of personality around the principal.
• Lately, they’ve taken to censoring negative comments on their official website and forums like a bad parody of a communist state.2)

Kendall notes that Peters himself lies at the center of Axanar’s problems:

By his own admission, he paid himself a salary because Axanar is his full-time job. Sorry, but this is the opposite of what making a fan film is supposed to be. Axanar is not a hobby, it is a profession, allowing him to enjoy the lifestyle of a film producer and specifically a Star Trek film producer: adulation, creative fulfillment, travel, glamour and attention, paid for by Star Trek fans.3)

‘I’ve read [the final draft] and sorry … it’s not very good. It’s basically a fan film, servicing fan ideas, repetitive and shallow on any real level. ’Producer Lukas Kendall’s post on TrekBBS

Why Axanar's Fighting Back

Kendall explains what Axanar may gain from its vigorous defense in the suit:

  1. Peters and his pro bono attorneys can keep the case embroiled in the courts “for months, if not years.”
  2. Bad press that embarrasses and annoys CBS and Paramount.
  3. Use discovery to turn up unflattering facts about CBS and Paramount’s finances, business deals and ownership of Star Trek.4)

Indeed, the defense motion to dismiss signals Axanar law firm Winston & Strawn‘s intention to do just that should the judge rebuff the dismissal.

But Kendall warns that none of those reasons actually gives Axanar much leverage:

All they are doing is making CBS dig in their heels. Legally, politically and in every possible way, CBS will never agree to a settlement that allows Axanar to be made. It would be a massive humiliation and an admission that they can be abused and bullied by people they perceive to be thieves.5)

Why Axanar Can't Win

Kendall doesn’t bother to pick apart court motions, believing Axanar can’t win because it would upend copyright law:

It would basically [mean] there’s no such thing as copyright. I would be shocked if they got as far as depositions, let alone trial. Just watch the principal’s web appearances (or don’t) — what lawyer would allow him to be deposed?6)

Kendall said he believes Peters is fighting the lawsuit because he can’t see any other way out:

To some degree … the principal is delusional, and he found a law firm that loves the publicity and is egging him on. … He just wants to postpone the disgrace of admitting he has failed his donors.7)

What CBS Wants

Kendall suggests a phone call from Axanar to CBS could end the lawsuit by offering to:

  1. Wind down operations completely.
  2. Refund donors’ money.

He also believes CBS would insist on a third condition: That Alec Peters “accept a lifetime ban on any commercial involvement with Star Trek. We’re talking Pete Rose-banned-from baseball.”8)

That would include Peters’ planned documentary about Axanar, memoirs, selling props or signing autographs at conventions, he said, adding:

They want him to vanish off the face of the earth. That’s how much they loathe and distrust him.9)

Unfortunately, Peters isn’t likely to agree to that final condition, Kendall wrote, which leaves both plaintiffs and defendants stuck in litigation for the time being.

I would bet anything that CBS would accept this — but CBS cannot propose it legally. Axanar needs to propose it and have CBS accept. … Will Axanar do that? No. Not right now. It’s too painful for the principal.10)

Kendall called for public pressure to get “Axanar to throw in the towel, refund the donor money and accept humiliation and punishment.”11)

DISAPPOINTED DONORS should at least get a copy of the August 2015 “final draft” screenplay, suggests Lukas Kendall, who’s read it.

Aftermath

An end to the lawsuit leaves some hanging threads however, which Kendall addresses:

Disappointed Donors

He suggests soothing donors who will never see the movie by giving them the script, even though he admits, “I’ve read it (the final draft) and sorry…it’s not very good. It’s basically a fan film, servicing fan ideas, repetitive and shallow on any real level.”12)

Donors may be hurt, but the script may let them nurse their wounds. Kendall observes:

Axanar successfully made their donors think they were getting the best thing since sliced bread. When they eventually read the script, some people will still believe that. But most will go, “Oh…Okay.”13)

Ares Studios

The assets Axanar built out in its leased warehouse, which it refers to as Ares Studios are currently up for sale to a secret private investor group. This poses a problem even if the lawsuit ends, Kendall noted:

That [sound] stage has a significant “burn rate” that will exhaust the donor money and get Axanar evicted—unless Axanar leases it for commercial use. Both options are problematic. The stage cannot be liquidated (dismantled) in order to repay the donors, but clearly somebody—be it the landlord or the next tenant—is going to benefit from the donors’ largesse.14)

What are the options? Kendall observed:

  • CBS won’t let Peters or any of the unnamed defendants operate the studio; they “cannot be allowed to benefit from their bad actions.”15)
  • A trustee of some sort could operate the property in order to earn back donor money sunk into the studio.
  • Possibly, a public auction of the rights to operate the studio.

“Yuck, what a can of worms,” Kendall added.

Speaking Out

Finally, he explained his reason for speaking out:

As much as I love hate-watching Axanar, I empathize with all the people being hurt by this fiasco: Primarily, the Star Trek fans who gave their money. But there are also the makers of the other fan films (now in jeopardy), the CBS executives dealing with this shit (better people than anybody realizes), and even the John Does at Axanar who just wanted to make a Star Trek film.

This needs to end.

Lukas Kendall is an award-winning producer and actor, known for Lucky Bastard (2014), Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music (1997), in addition to Free Enterprise, in which he is credited for providing additional voices. He is also known as the editor and publisher of the film music appreciation newsletter and website, Film Score Monthly.

His Star Trek credentials include producing most of the recent collector’s edition soundtrack CDs, including the 15-disc La-La Land Records TOS box set. He also assisted with the publication of “Return to Tomorrow,” the oral history of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In 2015, he wrote a seminal essay for TrekMovie.com, “The Future of Star Trek: It’s the Story, Stupid,” examining the franchise’s fundamental appeal and the reasons why J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot is so polarizing.16)


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Some of Kendall’s biographical information adapted from TrekMovie.com.