Image/Star Wars: Shrouded Destiny Kickstarter

Star Wars Fan Film Makes Axanar-Like Kickstarter Appeal

An enthusiastic fan of a decades-old scifi franchise posts an impressive-looking teaser-trailer seeking Kickstarter funding for “a jaw-dropping team of industry heavyweights and newcomers” to produce something no one outside the studios that own the franchise has had the “scope and ambition” to make.

Sound familiar, like the pitch Star Trek fans heard from OWC Studios head Alec Peters four years ago for his feature film, Axanar?

Star Wars: Shrouded Destiny

It’s actually from a new Kickstarter by Danish actor-director Shahbaz Sarwar, who aimed to raise more than $31,000 by August 9, 2018, for his pilot episode of a five-season Star Wars series.

The Citadel is built to imprison unrepentant Jedi.
THE STORY Star Wars: Shrouded Destiny is set 500 years before the Star Wars films and tells the story of a schism in the Jedi Order, with rogue Jedi pursued by bounty hunters on behalf of Jedi “consulars” tasked with either bringing the wayward knights back into the fold or imprisoning them.

Sarwar wants to direct and star, hoping to get Lucasfilm and Disney to pick up the tab for the full series. The project passed its goal on August 8, ultimately raising $32,705 the following day when the campaign concluded.

The pilot, Star Wars: Shrouded Destiny, is described in the Kickstarter as “Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Raid movies and The Wire wrapped in Star Wars.”1)

However, Star Wars fans are seeing some familiar red flags in this project that — in the wake of a copyright lawsuit and Axanar’s failure to produce anything with the $1.7 million it raised from fans — has presented obstacles in the filmmaker’s pursuit of crowdfunding.

Industry Calling Card

Sarwar is up front about his goal in making the planned 45-minute pilot. His Kickstarter campaign touts the project as “the world’s most ambitious job application!”2)

PROGRESS The independent website Kicktraq monitors the project’s progress. The dollar equivalent for the goal amount is $31,000. Chart updates upon refresh.

“We’re outsiders trying to get a meeting with [Star Wars’ owners] Disney and Lucasfilm to get them to take us on,” Sarwar says, “a meeting that will lead to the creation of a five-season series that will rival the very best of drama, fantasy and sci-fi that the Golden Age of TV-shows has to offer. … So yeah, this is a job interview for an opening I’m attempting to create myself. ”3)

During its crowdfunding campaign, Axanar’s FAQ used similar language in answer to the question, “Why are you making Axanar?”

Because we want to make something so spectacular, that it serves as a résumé and calling card for our work in the industry.4)

And like Peters, Sarwar has cast himself in the lead role, insisting this is not a “vanity project.”5)

Not a Fan Film

Sarwar describes Star Wars: Shrouded Destiny as something much more ambitious than a fan film:

We’re not looking to make a simple fan production that will help us get a little taste of Star Wars magic. We want to create Star Wars magic on an official basis.6)

TEASER This nearly seven-minute video is part of Shrouded Destiny‘s Kickstarter pitch.

Departing From Disney

In muffled tones, Sarwar’s Kickstarter takes issue with the direction in which Disney, since buying Lucasfilm, appears to be taking the Star Wars franchise:

Disney owns Star Wars. … With a world inhabited by so many Star Wars fans spanning different generations, cultures, and tastes, I figure that telling stories in only a PG-setting is limiting the possibilites of the property. So I want to present Star Wars to the older generation. To the adults. Because for how long can adults keep insisting that the “Clone Wars” animated show is among the best Star Wars out there? There’s a whole audience type out there that isn’t being catered to by the Star Wars franchise.7)
Shahbaz Sarwar

‘I know that Alec Peters really screwed things up, but I don’t want to go down that road.’ Shrouded Destiny’s Shahbaz Sarwar

That sounds similar to the impetus behind Axanar, which was to make up for Paramount’s reboot of Star Trek in 2009 following the failure of Star Trek: Enterprise on television. Director J.J. Abrams raised the ire of many fans by leaving behind the so-called Prime Universe in which so many had invested themselves. Axanar was meant to appeal to nostalgic fans:

Axanar is the first fully-professional, independent Star Trek film. While some may call it a “fan film” as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew — many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself — who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trek that all fans want to see. For you, the Star Trek fan, Axanar is a return to the type of Star Trek all of us grew up on.8)
STAR Lars Mikkelsen is slated to appear as Jedi Knight Okana Vidai.

'Industry Heavyweights'

For its part, Shrouded Destiny, also worked in its crowdfunding campaign to establish its professional credentials: “We have a jaw dropping team of industry heavyweights and newcomers ready to make a mark.”9)

Among the industry professionals touted by the campaign are:

  • Actor Lars Mikkelson, whose Star Wars experience comes from voicing General Thrawn in the animated Star Wars: Rebels. He is also known for his role as the Russian president in Netflix’s House of Cards and Charles Augustus Magnussen of the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes.
  • Cinematographer Daniel Stilling, whose Hollywood credits include The Martian, Scrubs and Criminal Minds.
  • Sound designer Troels Rohde Jørgensen, who has two daytime Emmy nominations for his work on Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures.
  • Actor Laûren Okadigbo a stunt performer in movies such as Wonder Woman, Justice League and Ready Player One.
  • Stunt choreographer Joon Poore leading a team of international stunt performers with credits in such productions as Vikings, Hardcore Henry, Lilyhammer, as well as many video games and live performances.
  • An SFX-team working to create realistic alien masks and hands; professional costume designers; an experienced visual effects team; and an award winning playwright consulting on the screenplay.10)

TREK VS. WARS While CBS provides only guidelines for Star Trek fan productions to avoid litigation, Lucasfilm issues strict rules governing entries into its official fan film contest, which limits productions to only five minutes. An AxaMonitor report compared the guidelines and the rules.

“Veterans and newcomers alike, the standard is set incredibly high and the team is only getting bigger,” Sarwar says.

The Difference One Lawsuit Makes

Appealing to fans for money to produce something running counter to the copyright holders’ plans for their intellectual property is a formula that got Axanar into trouble by 2015, when it was sued by CBS and Paramount Pictures.

The fan production, Star Trek: Renegades, also advertised itself in its crowdfunding campaign as a pilot,11) a claim CBS forced it to quickly retract. Meanwhile, over a series of crowdfunding campaigns Renegades raised north of $700,000. In the face of CBS’ fan film guidelines, however, Renegades’ producers decided to strip all overt Star Trek elements from its final production.

Like Axanar, Shrouded Destiny sought to reassure potential donors about its unauthorized use of intellectual property it does not own. This exchange appeared in the Kickstarter’s comments section:

Brendan Coffey: So, I’m sorry to be that guy, but just to be clear: you do not have any license or rights to make a Star Wars show, right? You’re making this in the hopes that you DON’T get hit with a cease and desist? Because I don’t think Disney is particularly non-litigious.12)

Sarwar: Any fan will always be making something like this hoping that they don’t get a C&D [cease and desist letter], but it hasn’t happened to many fans who have made much more direct films that include actual characters of Disney, and all of my work is original material. But yes, Disney do own the rights for this and that’s why we’re all working as volunteers.13)

'Infringing Less' Than Others

Peters, too, tried to claim that Axanar’s use of less copyrighted material would somehow protect his production from legal repercussions. “We violate CBS copyright less than any other fan film,“ Peters said in a 2016 interview quoted in court documents.14) A federal judge’s ruling in Axanar’s copyright lawsuit turned aside that argument.

Early on Peters, too, tried to similarly assure donors of CBS’ benign intentions towards Axanar:

Alec Peters admitted he infringed on Star Trek copyrights.
Star Trek: Axanar is an independent project that uses the intellectual property of CBS under the provision that Axanar is totally non-commercial. That means we can never charge for anything. We will never sell the movie, DVD’s, T-shirts, or anything which uses CBS intellectual property. … If you work in the film & television industry and want to be part of the crew, please understand that everyone is working for free. 15)

Under the guise of “donations,” Axanar, however, did end up selling DVDs, Blu-rays, T-shirts and other merchandise in its Donor Store. It also ended up paying many of the professionals who worked on its productions, Peters even going so far as saying he was entitled to a salary because he was working full time on his fan film.

“Charities,” he told doubtful Kickstarter donors, “pay salaries to their full-time employees.”16) Axanar, of course, was never a charity.

Low Goal, High Returns?

Like Peters did in all three Axanar crowdfunding campaigns, Sarwar set his Kickstarter goal much lower than his expected actual production costs. Sarwar explains:

The reason we set the number “so low” … is because of the psychological effect. If we set the number low and get some big donations in quick, the donation bar fills up quicker.

Sarwar likens this tactic to advertising a new restaurant. “If you walk past a restaurant that is full,” he says, “you’ll be inclined to walk in and try it out, since so many others are doing the same.” He hastens to note, however:

We are not here to manipulate or lie to you. The art of illusions is something reserved for storytelling and everything outside that NEEDS to be REAL and HONEST. So the more money you decide to give, it will quite literally translate into a better episode.17)

Nearing the end of its Kickstarter, Shrouded Destiny wasn’t expected to meet its goal but the campaign rallied in the final two days, eking out just enough to keep the money backers pledged but still far short of what organizers hoped for. (Click image to view full size)Chart/

Moving Goalposts

In its website FAQ, Axanar similarly explained how its goalposts moved once it started bringing in more money than it had asked for, creating mission creep Peters later said he regretted.

With the enthusiasm behind Axanar telling us fans wanted to see something spectacular, the scope of the original production grew past the original budget level.18)

Sarwar admits he’s counting on raising twice as much money as the goal he’s set, and that even that amount won’t cover the real budget. He says he is “chasing down a lot of private investors [who] will be providing the majority of the budget.”19)

No Returns

Despite his use of the term “investors,” Sarwar isn’t offering to repay anyone since he cannot legally earn revenue on a fan film. In a Facebook post on August 6, he explained:

The investors are actually only asked to invest in it in the same way that an artistic grant would work: I cannot promise investors money back, since this fan film/pilot is to be released online on YouTube for free.20)

Prospects for Success

In Axanar’s wake, those kind of appeals may not hold the sway they once did, nor are some potential donors drawn by Sarwar’s unabashed career-building goals. As of the posting of this article, the independent Kickstarter monitoring site, Kicktraq, was not optimistic Sarwar’s campaign would meet its target, much less the $62,000 goal for which he was actually aiming.21) On August 8, the campaign eked past its published goal.

Beat Expectations

UPDATE Shrouded Destiny rallied a total of 316 backers — at least 122 in the final days — to beat expectations and pass its goal on August 8, one day shy of the end of the Kickstarter. By campaign’s end the following day, it had raised USD$32,705.

'Gained Perspective'

After several days of exchanges with skeptics on the AxaMonitor Facebook page, Sarwar said he’d gained perspective based on where he believed Peters had gone wrong:

As I engaged some of the people critical of my project and me personally in this group, I gained some much needed perspective and I feel that I’m better suited for further debates on my project, in part, because of you guys. So thank you for that. I know that Alec Peters really screwed things up, but I don’t want to go down that road. Neither for the Star Wars fan community, but also for myself. I want this to be a project that inspires people to pursue dreams and do them with honor and transparency.22)

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