Friday, 1 July 2016

Star Trek Fan Series: New CBS/Paramount Restrictions follow up

The author of the new fan Trek guidelines, John van Citters, has discussed the intent behind the rules, and some of my concerns have been assuaged. Obviously we don't know what all his colleagues think, nor the limits imposed on him by studio management, nor how people other than van Citters will try to impose the guidelines in future, but I'm prepared to accept that his intentions are good, at least.

The main concern he mentions, which you can hear in more detail in the podcast above, is the indirect (presumably unintended) escalation in commercialisation of fan Trek productions over the years. Every impressive new step that anyone takes raises the stakes for other fan productions (at least, the ones with competitive personalities), and it's not hard for CBS/Paramount to point to examples of this getting out of hand, with fan donations going to things other than essential production costs. You could argue that the examples so far aren't that serious, but combined with the trend of escalation, it's not unreasonable to act to cap this trend before it gets too silly.

I think that's fair. I'd hold up Star Trek: The Romulan War as an example of a fan production that didn't let serious underfunding get in the way of making something shitty-but-good. Fan productions shouldn't be about having expensive, expert-quality resources bought right off the shelf, with no personal effort by the creators. The DIY aspect is clearly an important element of a fan production.

I'm even coming around to really approving of rule 7, the way van Citters intends it, though it may be the hardest to enforce. One of the most frequently recurring complaints you'll see in my list of fan Trek reviews is the problem of stories that go directly against the core ideals that Star Trek is built around. And I don't mean testing the limits of these ideals in interesting and creative ways, I mean just flatly rejecting or ignoring them. Violence is the most obviously common of these, and you can read in detail all of my objections to mindless shooty pew-pew without any attempt at diplomacy. Many fan productions also have problems with the inclusivity Trek has (almost) always pushed for, and this is trickier, because sexism, racism, and other such discrimination isn't usually as immediately obvious on screen as phasers blasting and things exploding. It takes more focus and concentration to identify problems like that.

But the point is that rule 7 is aimed at keeping fans on track a bit better in these ways. It's going to be very difficult to say what is and isn't "real" Trek morality, and edge cases may be very difficult to judge. What I think is good here, though, is that rule 7 puts the burden on fans to think it over for themselves, because that's what I think has been lacking from the worse fan scripts: They're not intentionally malevolent, probably, they're just written by people who've not been critical enough of their own ideas, not stopped think exactly what it is they're communicating. And if you don't like a lot of stopping and thinking, then maybe Star Trek isn't really for you after all.

The rule I still have the single biggest problem with is rule 1, the 15 minute time limit. Van Citters argues in the podcast that fans shouldn't limit themselves by thinking that Trek has to be a certain length, and I'd turn that back around at him: Why does it have to be the certain length of 15 minutes? I've seen some great shorts, it's true. But I've also seen plenty of great longs that would be really hard to cut down. If there were a really good reason given for why there needs to be a time limit at all, I might concede that it could even be good for fan writers to be challenged to fit things in that tightly. But since there doesn't seem to be any clear motive for the time limit, then why bother with it at all? A longer run time doesn't favour anyone unfairly, it doesn't escalate the funding problem. Long productions have been part of fan Trek for as far back as my records go.

What's also still unclear is what the line "no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes" is supposed to mean. The Potemkin Pictures people have interpreted it to mean only episodic series are allowed, with no sequels to specific episodes, no ongoing unlimited strings of episodes to get around the 15-minute limit. I hope that interpretation is right, for now, though even that I'm not certain is really a good restriction. If the 15-minute limit goes, then that part ought to go too.

Rule 5 is an interesting case. It can be argued both ways pretty well, and I'd suggest the solution is to have a separate third category between official productions and fan productions; call it 'alumni productions'. Ring-fence those professional-amateurs in their own separate play pen, so we can still see their ideas, but make it clear that they're not pure amateurs. I can see that getting more complicated, as they need to bring in non-alumni to help out, but since these professionals are the people the studios can speak to directly most easily, I'm sure they can work it out between them.

I'm now less concerned than last week, and I still don't trust the upper management of CBS and Paramount (who, after all, let Abrams fuck with the integrity of their IP way more than any fan production could). But I'm optimistic that at least there's someone there who'll be fairly fair and open to corrections.
no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.   - See more at: