The Axanar Settlement


STAYING ON? The Axanar settlement appears to allow Robert Meyer Burnett to stay on as director but he hasn’t decided whether he’ll take the reins of what now will be a 30-minute short film.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Loose Threads in Settlement’s Wake, Including Whether Peters Actually Admitted Copyright Transgression

Although settlement of his copyright lawsuit cleared the way for Alec Peters to finally produce Axanar, albeit as a short film rather than the feature film promised to donors who coughed up $1.4 million, the new path to production still has some obstacles to navigate.

Concessions

Like any settlement, both sides give up something in order to end their legal dispute. In Axanar’s case, its concessions heavily constrain the production. Meanwhile, plaintiffs CBS and Paramount Pictures allowed Peters to produce something using cast and crew who would’ve been unavailable under the fan film guidelines CBS published in June 2016.

In most respects, however, the short version of Axanar will have to follow those guidelines. In the days since the January 20, 2017, settlement details emerged about what Peters will be permitted to do, even as fresh questions were raised.

‘Axanar’s separate release didn’t contradict what was labeled as a joint statement; it just omitted Peters’ admission he ran afoul of copyright, pointing supporters to the alternative fact Peters admitted nothing.’The Upside for Axanar

Within days of the settlement Axanar began equivocating about one of the its central terms — Peters’ admission he ran afoul of copyright law. That acknowledgement appeared in what was released as a joint statement by both plaintiffs and defendants:

Axanar and Mr. Peters acknowledge that both [Axanar] films were not approved by Paramount or CBS, and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law.

On Facebook, where Axanar supporters worked to characterize the settlement as a qualified victory by a lone brave man facing two giant corporations, one fan raised public doubts about whether Peters in fact acknowledged the copyright transgression, calling it conjecture. When asked to confirm Peters’ admission, Axanar’s spokesman oddly equivocated.

« Hey, any fight you can walk away from. … Okay, Axanar is taking a black eye on length; but the story gets told. »Axanar fan Keith Clarke

Axanar supporter Colin Krapp, had posted on Facebook:

We have no idea what was actually said [by Peters] … only what CBS and Paramount said in their release. Anything else is conjecture.1)
Axanar spokesman Mike Bawden with producer Alec Peters

Krapp substantiated his claim citing Axanar spokesman Mike Bawden:

I checked with Mike Bawden. … According to him, the “joint statement” came from CBS and Paramount and was “shared” with Axanar Productions by [studio attorneys] Loeb & Loeb, and it was decided that Axanar Productions would draft their own release (apparently with no objections from L&L). So it wasn’t as “joint” as you’d like to think.2)

Alternative Facts

AxaMonitor contacted Bawden to confirm Peters’ copyright admission, and the conversation went like this:

AxaMonitor: My understanding from you was that the additional statement contained information meant only for donors; it wasn’t an alternative statement to that from CBS/P. It’s either a joint statement, with all parties agreeing to the wording therein, or it’s not. Can you clarify for me, please?
Bawden: I can’t comment on internal details related to the suit or how it was resolved. … I can say there was a statement sent out by PR representatives for the plaintiff and there was a separate statement Axanar Productions released to the press and posted to social media. There was also a more detailed statement provided to backers. That’s really all I have to say on the matter.
AxaMonitor: The statement names all the parties — including Alec and Axanar Productions at the top as the sources. That’s either true or it’s not. If you don’t subscribe to what that statement says then why allow it to go out with the defendants’ names on it? If that statement does not accurately reflect what all the parties agreed to publicly disclose then why allow it to mislead the public? I can’t imagine why you’d want this to be unclear.
Bawden: I can’t understand why you can’t/won’t/don’t understand my comment on this. You’re almost five days late to the party. The statements went out last Friday. I imagine if either party felt the statements of the other were untrue or inaccurate, they would have said so by now. The statements are what they are. Let it go.

The Upside for Axanar

Except Axanar’s separate release didn’t contradict what was labeled as a joint statement from all parties; it just omitted the admission. So while neither statement is inaccurate, Bawden could point supporters to the alternative fact Peters admitted nothing in Axanar’s own separate statement.

Out of Money

Why would he do so? Bawden refused to say more on the topic, leaving only speculation that this was an effort to minimize the damage to Peters’ and Axanar’s reputations as they need to appeal to supporters once again to raise money for the short film. According to Axanar’s own court documents, all $1.4 million raised to make Axanar is gone.

« You’re acceding to everything you were initially against and calling it a “win.” It’s not a win, you just caved. »Axanar fan Leonard Epema

No Payments?

Also left unclear was whether Axanar managed to avoid paying the studios any sort of damages. An Ars Technica article by Megan Geuss, widely shared on social media and quoted by other news sites, stated unequivocally:

A spokesperson from Axanar told Ars Technica in an e-mail “we’re not paying anything,” with respect to the settlement.3)

Almost immediately, Bawden denied Axanar had claimed it had avoided any payment to the studios.

I have no idea where that statement came from; the official spokespeople for Axanar Productions didn’t provide that information and won’t confirm or deny it now. Sorry. We just can’t talk about it.4)

Mistaken

Axanar’s other spokesman, Morey Altman, later told AxaMonitor he was Ars Technica’s source but that he was mistaken:

I was the one who told [Ars Technica] that Axanar wasn’t paying damages. However, my information was incomplete having not been privy to the settlement agreement. … I spoke out of turn. This information is known only to the litigants and their legal representatives.5)

Director on Board?

The guidelines proscribe the use of professionals to produce a fan film, especially including actors and crew who have previously worked for CBS and/or professional Star Trek. However, the studios appeared to grant an exception regarding some specific personnel, among them director Robert Meyer Burnett.

Presumably, that was a big concession on the studios’ part, but Burnett himself wouldn’t commit to helming whatever the shortened form of Axanar will be, telling AxaMonitor:

I’ve been out of the loop on the actual settlement. … I don’t really know. I’m cutting a feature right now, and then I start work on a series plus I have more special feature work coming up.6)
COMPLETED EFFECTS by VFX wizard Tobias Richter may comprise a big portion of the shortened Axanar.

Making an Axanar Short

Were he to take up the reins of the shorter Axanar under the constraints of the settlement, Burnett speculated it might look like this:

I’d like to make the first half-hour of the [originally planned feature] film. Most of the effects are complete, there’s been some music composed, etc. I’d cast some great actors, etc. Then just end it with “To be continued…” and see what happens…7)

In his own “Captain’s Log” on the Axanar website, however, Peters imagined differently:

It is possible the two 15-minute episodes will be two more episodes of “The Four Years War” documentary [like Prelude to Axanar], as that is a great story telling format, which we have proven ourselves able to execute.8)

Peters said he would meet with other production team members in the following two weeks to settle on how they planned to produce Axanar under the settlement’s terms.9)

Fan Reactions

Fans’ reactions varied, with some proclaiming victory at the chance of seeing Axanar onscreen in any form, even as a short film:

Hey any fight you can walk away from. … Okay, Axanar is taking a black eye on length; but the story gets told. OK OK some folks are complaining about Axanar Productions not delivering … but … ya can’t always get what you want but if ya try sometimes you just might find you get what ya need (Rolling Stones). AXANAR tried, Prelude is amazing and is now a standard for independent sci-fi movies.10)

Others, however, bristled at the constraints to which Peters agreed:

You’re acceding to everything you were initially against and calling it a “win”. It’s not a win, you just caved, lowered your expectations to levels you wouldn’t lower it to at first. At first you were absolutely against guidelines like the two 15-minute parts thing. I was proud to follow you. Now you got fucked and you’re asking for more. Not only that, but you sent out the signal that other companies like CBS/P[aramount] can do this too. What a disgrace.11)
DESPITE ACTOR Gary Graham appearing as Soval in canon Star Trek, the settlement permits Peters to employ him and a few other professionals in the shortened Axanar.

Professional Actors

The guidelines prohibit the use of, and paying for, professional actors to appear in a fan production. The settlement, however, made specific exceptions in the case of actors Richard Hatch (who was to play the Klingon, Kharn), Kate Vernon (Capt. Sonya Alexander), J.G. Hertzler (Admiral Sam Travis) and Gary Graham (reprising his canon role as Vulcan ambassador Soval).

However, none of those actors publicly stated whether they would appear in a much-shorter Axanar, and fans weren’t sure the constraints would allow for the best use of the talent:

While I’m glad they can still use the intended actors, what exactly will they get to act? With the limit on time and the “have to follow the guidelines” BS, there is nothing for anyone to really act at all.12)

Delivering Perks

While CBS’ fan film guidelines explicitly forbid productions from offering physical perks if they want to avoid copyright litigation, Peters reassured donors Axanar would be able to fulfill the rewards to which it committed:

Donors will get the DVD/Blu-rays as promised! All perks are allowed to be delivered after we complete making Axanar in the revised format.13)
A BLU-RAY disc originally offered as a reward for the 2014 Prelude to Axanar Kickstarter campaign was later offered as merchandise for a $60 “retroactive donation” in the Axanar Donor Store.

Looking for a Loophole?

Peters also moved to assuage fans’ disappointment and anger over the limitation of Axanar‘s story to 30 minutes, hinting at a loophole enabling him to deliver more than that. Peters responded to one Indiegogo contributor who demanded a refund because of his inability to deliver the promised feature film:

Axanar will be providing 90 minutes of content as we said we would. Because we can only produce 30 minutes of new Star Trek Fan Film content under the legal settlement, we will be providing other Axanar content as well. The details of which will follow.14)

He elaborated on his own blog:

While we’ll comply with the requirements of limiting our fan film to two 15-minute segments, there will be more content that we know our fans will love on the DVDs/Blu-rays. While adhering to the settlement agreement — we will only post the two segments to YouTube — we want to do what we can to make Axanar fans happy and be as close as possible to what we said we would deliver.15)

Devious

On the Axanar blog, another fan asked Peters if had plans to get around the settlement’s strictures over content length:

The Axanar Team has something in their sleeves, right? There could be something like another 2×15 minutes fan project with just rendered space battles between the Federation and the Klingon Empire in the Axanar timeline. Nothing wrong with that, right? And if some anonymous fan would edit these two together in a way that they were fitting… hmm…16)

Peters’ winking reply:

I can neither confirm nor deny that we think as deviously as you. 🙂17)

Financial Review

Meanwhile, the promised report from what Peters called an “independent financial review committee” remained pending. While he has not seen a draft yet, Peters nonetheless confidently stated it would exonerate him from allegations he used donor funds to pay for lavish personal spending, including cellphone bills, restaurants, new tires and car maintenance, health insurance and gasoline for his then-girlfriend’s car.

AxaMonitor reported that committee members admitted their review only examined the financial records Peters gave them, which he described as only a “subset” of Axanar Productions’ total finances.18)

Expected Scrutiny

Given the limited scope of the committee’s review, its report was sure to face heavy public scrutiny amid Peters’ efforts to raise the required private funds to make the shortened Axanar since the $1.4 million he had previously raised was all spent with only two minutes of footage released.


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