For the last two and a half months, I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that would explain to CBS and Paramount that fan films like Axanar aren’t the enemy. But it’s gotta be quick and pithy because Hollywood has a short attention span. Pitches are supposed to go something like, “Okay, it’s Oceans Eleven meets The Lord of the Rings!” (Hmmm…not a bad idea!)
This morning it hit me: fan films are like free commercials for the Star Trek franchise!
Think about it. In this media-saturated world, there’s a crazed competition for eyeballs to be watching and interacting with your product. CBS and Paramount would love for Star Trek to be the “hot” content on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, etc…especially come July with the release of Star Trek Beyond and in January of next year when the new TV series launches. And I’m certain their advertising and marketing blitz will be quite impressive as the premiere dates approach.
But let’s face it; Paramount and CBS can’t afford to advertise like that 365 days a year, every year. No one can. And so, during those “gaps” between major Star Trek media launches, eyeballs start wandering over to other hot properties like Star Wars or Deadpool or Batman/Superman or X-Men or Captain America or…you get the idea.
In today’s cluttered and chaotic media environment, thoughts of Star Trek can all but disappear from the minds of fans for months or even years on end. The last major Star Trek media blitz was in 2013. And Paramount and CBS have to hope and pray that interest in their tent-pole property has only gone into hibernation rather than faded away completely.
If only there were a way to keep Star Trek alive and exciting during those “gap” months and years. If only the studio could find a way to keep fans loyally talking about Star Trek rather than just getting distracted and moving on to some other media franchise.
Enter: the Star Trek fan film! It’s not just a free commercial for Star Trek; it can be a social media explosion that can last a few weeks or even months until the next fan film release starts the cycle all over again. Look at Star Trek: Horizon. It has nearly a half million views on YouTube in just 17 days! Tommy Kraft is doing dozens of interviews and podcasts. Horizon reviews and articles are all over the Internet, and links to his fan film have spread across Facebook and Twitter. And what are all these fans getting so excited about? Star Trek, that’s what!
How much would it have cost for Paramount and CBS to generate this kind of grass-roots social media buzz for their star franchise? Actually, it doesn’t matter what it would have cost them because I’m going to tell you what it did cost them: absolutely NOTHING!
Now, Paramount and CBS are probably worried that a great-looking, professional-quality fan film like Axanar (or Horizon or Renegades or Star Trek Continues or New Voyages) will somehow “damage” their property by being mistaken for “real” Star Trek. Of course, if one follows that trail of logic, where exactly would the damage come from? Are they thinking that a fan would watch Axanar, suddenly have their fill of Star Trek, and decide not to watch Star Trek Beyond or subscribe to the new All Access Trek TV series?
That seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? After all, for fans to even find these fan films, they need to already be pretty well engaged in and loyal to the franchise. If anything, a fan who watches a high quality fan film is more likely to get really amped up about Star Trek in general, talk more with their friends about it, and share the excitement when the next big Star Trek release premieres. It’s hard to imagine a fan watching Axanar or Renegades or Continues and then thinking, “Okay, well that’s enough Star Trek for me! Time to find something else now!”
It doesn’t really matter if these fan films look as good as the real thing. In fact, it’s even better if they do! These are free commercials for Star Trek that get fans engaged and excited. And the better they are, the more fans will check them out and share them with others. Hundreds of thousands of engaged fans? Millions? How much is that worth? And remember: it’s costing the studios nothing! And if Paramount and CBS are really afraid of fan films being mistaken for the real thing, then just require them to carry a 5-second disclaimer at the beginning and the end of each fan film. Problem solved.
The last thing a studio should do right now is to sue the folks who are making free commercials for them…especially 6-figure and 7-figure commercials. And let’s take a look at how the other studios are handling this. Disney is embracing Star Wars fan films and reaping all the benefits while not suffering any kind of loss of interest or perceived value of their intellectual property. Warner Brothers is happy to have fan-made Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Nightwing videos on YouTube. If CBS and Paramount remove Star Trek fan films from the online social media equation, they’re just leaving more room for the competition to expand into that vacuum while Star Trek goes dark and silent.
Unless CBS and Paramount have a better and less expensive (like, less than zero dollars) way of generating excitement and fan engagement for Star Trek during the “gap” periods, they should really embrace this amazing trend of the future (fan films) rather than trying to stifle and kill it.