Fansplaining: Axanar (Lawsuit Intensifies)

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Podcast Episode
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Episode Title: Axanar (Lawsuit Intensifies)
Date: January 25, 2017
Fandom: Star Trek
External Links: Fansplaining—About, Archived version

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Fansplaining: Axanar (Lawsuit Intensifies) is a podcast by Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkel. It is a follow-up to their 2016 episode Fansplaining: Lawsuit at Axanar. Rob Burnett, the director of the Star Trek fan film Axanar, was a special guest.

For others in the series, see Fansplaining.


"Elizabeth and Flourish discuss Paramount v. Axanar with Rob Burnett, the director of the planned full-length Axanar fan film. The conversation, recorded days before the lawsuit was settled, covers what might happen with the lawsuit, the problems with crowdfunding a project, the pleasures of fan filmmaking, and whether there are or should be divisions between amateur and professional fan productions. Then they discuss some listener feedback from the last episode, on anime, Yuri!!! on Ice, and transcultural fandom."[1]


Topics Discussed


Flourish Klink: So then in the meantime, this has all been continuing onward, and we’re inching closer and closer to a trial. There’s been some, of course, as with anything, people have formed into camps. There’s people who are in the strongly pro-Axanar camp who feel like this is CBS and Paramount stomping all over fan films, then there’s the anti-Axanar camp, there’s a lot of people who don’t like some of the people involved in it or think they’re misusing the money, which frankly I think that while those conversations are important they’re also kind of boring to me? Personally? Not because I know anything about how they’re using the money but just because, like, whether they are or aren’t this is a legal question. Not a question about whether this fan film is any good.

Elizabeth Minkel: Well, isn’t it always like that when it comes to fanworks…elevated fanworks, one might say? I feel like there’s a trail of wank that follows where you’re like, “well, in theory it’s fine but THESE people in particular are the scum of the earth.” right? And you’re like, eh, alright, sure.

Minkel: Alright. And so how did you come to Axanar?

Rob Burnett: Well, I—Christian Gossett, who I had known for many many years, had asked me. He was the director of Prelude to Axanar. And he and Alec Peters had this project and I had not really met Alec, I had heard of him cause he was in Star Trek—he sold props and he did the Battlestar Galactica auction for Universal that was actually very cool. But I’d never met him. And then Christian introduced me and they asked me to edit Prelude to Axanar. So I basically did my DVD thing where I shot behind the scenes footage when they were shooting the live action material, and then I edited the movie together. And they gave me a lot of creative leeway. So, they really trusted me. And it was a lot of fun!

And I, I thought it was a really cool project because I grew up reading Star Trek fanfiction and reading, I mean, I have every Star Trek novel ever published, and I thought the whole idea of it was great. And everybody that was involved was pretty A-list as far as their talent goes. And it was a great, enjoyable project. They crowdfunded it in April, we shot principal photography in May and we debuted it at Comic-Con in July of 2014. So it was two and a half months all in, really. Three and a half months if you include the crowdfunding campaign. And then we were always going to make a feature film, and they ran a second crowdfund and made 600,000 dollars, which was insane. And we started building an apparatus that we hoped would continue on beyond Axanar to make other fan films, not just for us, but anybody who wanted to come and use what our donor dollars were buying, which was our sets and things, would be available to use for other fan filmmakers. And then we hoped to make other movies and things in this facility that we were trying to put together.

Eventually Christian left the project as the director and I had to shoot a scene to test my chops out, which was the Vulcan scene that’s been very controversial, and then once I did that I took over in July of 2015 as the director of the film. And we really started in earnest preproduction in September of 2015, and on December 30th 2015 we were sued by CBS and Paramount.

Burnett: I didn’t make a dime working on Prelude to Axanar. I worked on it on my spare time, on the weekends, at night, on my own equipment, and I wanted it to be the best Star Trek short film it could be, because I thought it was really cool. And it’s, you know, I build spaceship models on the weekends and I want them to be the best spaceship models I can make too! And I think that that’s something that has been lost, is that the people who work on these projects were all friends with one another and you all want to come pitch in and bring what you can bring. Now, if I was working full time, which I was going to be doing on the Axanar feature film, I was going to make money, but that’s because I had to work full time and I was making enough money to cover my rent, my car payment, and incidentals. I mean that’s what it is. I wouldn’t be making a lot of money, literally I was making enough money to cover my expenses for the month.

Klink: Right. So what you’re saying then is basically that, for you, there’s no…there’s nothing about being a fan that requires that you do something in an amateurish way, that if you happen to be a professional at this thing you can still do it as a fan as well. There’s no contradiction there.

Burnett: No, because by definition the movie that we’re making cannot make money. It can’t generate any revenue. We’re putting it up on YouTube for free. There are no residuals. If you’re a writer or an actor on a TV show, you can make money for years form your work. There’s no money to be made, there’s no back end on this at all, and I’m certainly not getting paid my rate as an editor or anything like that. I just did it cause it was cool! I mean ultimately everybody was working on the Axanar project because it was gonna be cool.

Minkel: But I think that the discussion of fan labor being a privilege in itself obviously—

Burnett: Absolutely.

Minkel: Is an under-discussed thing. People are like fanfiction’s free, fan art’s free, bla bla, but also you spent a lot of time. You have that luxury of time. But I don’t even think it’s necessarily that bifurcated in the sense of like, I have friends who’ll be like “I don’t have time to write fanfiction.” And I’m like, you just told me you spent all weekend watching that show on Netflix! [FK laughs] Sat there for literally twelve hours and you’re like, tweetin’ about how you made soup and you’re watching a show for 12 hours. You could have been writing fanfiction that entire time. So I just get a little frustrated with the idea that, like, it’s some sort of extravagance to devote your leisure time to creating stuff or consuming fan stuff.

Burnett: Yeah. Star Trek fans do not matter to Paramount because they already have us. We’re already gonna buy what it is they’re selling. We’re gonna show up the first day. But the problem is there’s only a finite number of fans for anything, and unfortunately what they need is to break out beyond the fan base to make money. They wanna get a four-quadrant movie, they want Star Wars numbers. Or Marvel Cinematic Universe numbers. You know? They want everybody to go see these things. And the thing about Star Trek was, it’s always been niche. It’s never going to be mainstream. Because at the end of the day Star Trek is about people that are excellent doing amazing things that require science, require intelligence, require you to be the best you can be, it only appeals to a certain cross-section of people. That’s why Star Trek was a fringe thing: it’s always been a fringe thing. It’s never gonna be mainstream like Star Wars. When you use the words, “are you telling me a fan film raised 1.5 million dollars?” that’s all they hear. Somebody raised a million dollars, a million and a half dollars, on their name. What they own. That’s all they’re thinking about. And they’re like “we have to go quash these people.”


  1. "Episode 40: Axanar (Lawsuit Intensifies)." Posted on January 25, 2017. Accessed on April 7, 2018.