Vic Mignogna of ‘Star Trek Continues’ Tells of Good, Litigation Free Fan Fiction…
By Brad Weisberger
It's no secret that Star Trek fans are unique. Consider that NASA’s real Orbital Vehicle -101 was to be named the US Constitution in honor of the bicentennial of the nation’s founding charter. However, so passionate was the write-in campaign of Trek fans, that when the first Space Shuttle rolled out of Rockwell’s Air Force plant, in September of 1976, it was named Enterprise after the fictional vessel piloted by Captain James T. Kirk and the crew from Gene Roddenberry’s 1960’s television series.
When the concept of a feature-length Star Trek fan film entitled Axanar, using online crowdsourcing websites such as Kickstarer.com and Indiegogo.com emerged, it's not surprising that Trek fans and others enthusiastically supported the cause to the tune of over $1,000,000.00. Commentators said that CBS and Paramount, owners of the Star Trek intellectual property rights, who had long turned a blind eye to past fan work, had no choice but to defend their IP and indeed they filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in US District Court against Axanar Productions Inc. for “unauthorized exploitation” of their franchise. In 2017, that litigation was settled and going forward, CBS published Fan Film guidelines for amateur filmmakers who wish to stay in good stead with the owners of the Trek intellectual property.
Actor, musician, and voice-actor Vic Mignogna however, was very careful to steer clear of similar controversy and also released 11 award winning web episodes, all based on the characters and situations found in the Star Trek Original Series (or “TOS.”) The work of Star Trek Continues is shared on the website startrekcontinues.com as well as YouTube. Two standouts among the highly entertaining series are “Fairest of Them All” which continues where the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” leaves off (this is the one that featured an evil Spock with a goatee) and “Lolani" where a beautiful but dangerous green alien compromises the safety of the Enterprise crew.
Mignogna’s said his fan film series episodes, all of which last nearly an hour, were made as if Gene Roddenberry had created another season of classic Star Trek and is focused on the original crew, using TOS style uniforms, sound effects, and even a full sized replica of the original Enterprise sound stage.
AN EDUCATIONAL MISSION To help accomplish his vision of following the original characters before the time period that Motion Pictures begin, Mignogna created a tax exempt 501(c)(3) with the Internal Revenue Service, kept meticulous accounts and invested $100,000 of his own money at the start of the project. “The IRS does not hand nonprofits out very easily,” Vic added. He also also said all the money raised went towards production.
Professionals such as scientists, psychiatrists, engineers and teachers wrote testimonies in support of this sometimes reflecting how the classic television show inspired their career choices.
“I loved the sense of adventure and the absorbing stories that were so dramatic and so meaningful all at the same time,” said Stephanie Hall, MD, Louisville, Kentucky, in her testimonial in of support of the non-profit. Some of the goals of the Trek non-profit include the promotion of literature, film production skills, human rights advocacy and even fighting stereotypes.
A FULL-SIZED ENTERPRISE BRIDGE In Southern Georgia, Vic and his team created a massive and stunning 18,500 square foot soundstage complete with the Enterprise bridge, corridors, turbo-lifts, crew quarters, sickbay, transporter, engineering and even a shuttlecraft set. Their website states that the sound stage was “precisely” constructed using the blueprints from the original. The Star Trek Continues website features an interactive video tour of the set.
“A lotta work and a lotta love has gone into this project,” Vic said.
Vic is said he was disappointed with the actions of the Axanar team. “For 10 years, CBS [and Paramount] have been very gracious of allowing fan films as long as they did not cross the line and profit personally.” Although not mentioned in the CBS complaint, a 2015 Annual Report put out by Axanar Productions noted one of the crowd sources received a salary of $38,166.57.
“Since someone else owns Star Trek, as long you don’t make money on the name Star Trek and pocket it or profit personally, CBS [and Paramount] allowed fan films to exist,” Vic said.
Some of the new Fan Film Guidelines say that these films may no longer be more than 15 minutes nor more than 2 films for a total of 30 minutes and that fundraising effort may not exceed $50,000.00 per episode.
Vic said that the Star Trek Continues team came together very organically. “I had been involved with acting and film production for forty years. When I decided I wanted to do this, I contacted friends of mine who were sound or camera guys or makeup people or fellow actors,” and asked them to join the project Vic said.
“We came together and made the first episode which I funded out of my love for Star Trek and wanting pay homage and the series and grew from there, Mignogna said. “We have a wonderfully family who came together twice a year for this.”
With all 11 episodes of the Star Trek Continues series complete, Vic said he is not sure what will happen the massive Star Trek soundstage they created. “Every day it is there, and we have to pay rent on the building.” However, Vic said they no longer receive money as the series is essentially complete.
Vic said he may venture into directing or producing other projects, however he also said he has a pretty full plate at present with voice acting, convention appearances and the winding down of the affairs of Star Trek Continues. He advises potential fan film creators to “do it for love, not money” and abide by the CBS guidelines.
“Better yet, “he suggests, “create an original idea and pursue something that is entirely your own.”
Bullies in the industry. We hear of them all the time. They come in the form of overbearing directors, casting agents, and others who just want to get their leg up the ladder so will use your head to get there. There is another bully in the film industry and they pat themselves on the back as they do it and you applaud them. Who is this bully? They are none other than SAG/AFTRA they claim to work for their members but are nothing short of an old school protection racket run by the mafia and called a Union.
Whenever you hear bad news, it is always a good idea to go and do some research online before you create a social media post and ask the same question 100 times.
So here it is… This year at Sundance, Netflix and rival Amazon bought exactly zero films each from indie filmmakers at the festival. Last year in 2018, Netflix picked up 10 films and Amazon bought 5 films. So, why were indie films overlooked this year? It may not be all doom and gloom as we all seem to hear it is.
Netflix was chasing Laura Dern’s "The Tale" but was outbid by HBO who bought it for $7 million. Next up, Amazon was reportedly very interested in Sam Levinson’s "Assassination Nation" but were outdone by Neon and the Russo Brothers’ AGBO offer to the tune of $10 million. So, let's dismiss the first rumor that there was no interested in buying indie films. Buyers went with very specific films in mind.
Netflix released Will Smith's film "Bright" which cost a whopping 90 million dollars and has been in deals with Paramount Pictures to obtain international rights for films such as Natalie Portman’s eco-thriller “Annihilation.”
Amazon Studios has increased their budget for in-house productions and will be creating a new science fiction series and a series which is being hyped as the most expensive TV production in the world, "Lord of the Rings.”
With all of the above said and done, attention has proven to be elsewhere and both major streaming platforms were not afraid of being outbid either. In fact, when you realize HBO streams on Amazon, you can see why that they are in no rush to bid amongst themselves.
All in all, there are fewer spots provided by Amazon and Netflix for indie filmmakers. This just means an alternative will arise the ashes. I mean, I still use Hulu...