Episode 40: Axanar [Lawsuit Intensifies]
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.
Things to read or listen to before you listen to this! It’s especially important that you read up a little, since this episode was recorded right before the suit settled. The following links will help you get up to date and make sure you have both the backstory and the facts about what happened after we recorded.
[00:00:05] Intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.
[00:01:20] Episode 25: “Lawsuit at Axanar,” feat. Sarah Jeong!
[00:02:15] Rob Burnett on IMDB.
[00:05:29] The Conlang Institute’s Axanar page.
[00:06:14] The Paramount rules for fan films.
[00:10:38] The interstitial music is the intro music for Star Trek: The Original Series.
[00:13:38] Free Enterprise is a masterpiece and Flourish will fight anyone who says otherwise.
[00:25:21] Just one of GRRM’s posts about fanfic.
[00:33:15] The great Han Solo fan film referred to is Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Trade.
[00:33:50] Before recording, Flourish and Rob were arguing about the Star Trek novel Black Fire (Flourish hates it, Rob is nostalgic). Three words: Space pirate Spock.
[00:39:12] Rob particularly admires “Lolani,” from Star Trek Continues.
[00:39:47] Sadly, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is no longer.
[00:56:09] I’M NOT CRYING. YOU’RE CRYING.
[00:58:59] The fight music from “Amok Time.”
[01:12:48] The essay Elizabeth is referring to is “The Unbearable Solitude of Being an African Fangirl,” by Chinelo Onwualu. The author lives in Abuja, Nigeria.
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 40. The title is “Axanar,” bracket, I can't believe I have to say this out loud, bracket, “Lawsuit Intensifies,” close bracket.
FK: [laughs helplessly]
ELM: I love, you literally just waved your hands in delight.
FK: It’s because I find the title so delightful! We’re so smart.
ELM: NO! That, oh, woah, don’t oversell it. [FK continues laughing] OK, Axanar is the, you might remember—when did we do that episode? In the summer at some point, right, of last year?
FK: Yeah, I believe it was Episode 26, but now that I’m thinking of it I am not looking at what episode it is, so let me pull that up.
ELM: I’m gonna say it was Episode 25.
FK: We’re gonna find out who’s right… [ELM sings the Jeopardy theme] Oh, God damn it, it’s Episode 25! You were right!
ELM: YEAH! Victory is mine!
FK: All right.
ELM: Sorry, Orlando. Episode 25 was called “Lawsuit at Axanar” and we had journalist Sarah Jeong on to talk about this lawsuit, which if you didn’t hear that episode, this was the case where a Star Trek fan film was being sued by CBS and Paramount, right?
FK: Yes. Yes. So actually it’s a really good idea for anybody who hasn’t to go back and listen to that episode with Sarah, Episode 25, because although the case has progressed a lot, pretty much everything we say there still applies. So go listen to it.
ELM: Those are the foundations of it.
FK: Those are the foundations.
ELM: And we’ll talk about the details of it right now in the intro, but first we should say who our, just…the reason that we wanted to do another episode is because there have been developments in the lawsuit which we’ll talk about. Our guest is Rob Burnett, who was the director.
FK: Yeah, he was an editor and a producer on Prelude to Axanar, the first proof-of-concept fan film they made. And then he was set to direct, you know, the big Axanar fan film that they were Kickstarting for and that has been sued.
ELM: OK. So we’re gonna talk to him, we’ll give you all the background before we do, excited to talk to him about his perspectives on this. He’s not involved in the, he’s not named in the lawsuit.
FK: He’s not named in the lawsuit. They sued Axanar Productions, which was the company set up, and he wasn’t in charge of Axanar Productions, so while he’s probably gonna have to go testify and so forth he’s not actually himself being sued.
ELM: Gotcha. OK.
FK: Which is why he can come on this podcast.
ELM: Right. Perfect. OK. So before we talk to him, very quickly, backstory. OK wait. Let me see…something about this, I have this mental block where I’m like “What were the details? I don’t…” so let me see if I can actually do this.
ELM: So, some Star Trek fans who also worked in the entertainment industry made a film called Prelude to Axanar.
ELM: It was a Star Trek fan film. And was that Kickstarted?
FK: It was Kickstarted for like 10,000 bucks. So not really that big of an amount.
ELM: That’s substantial.
FK: Considering how much it costs to make a movie.
ELM: We’re not raising 10,000 dollars!
FK: It’s substantial—we are not raising 10,000 dollars! But in terms of what it would take to make a movie, it’s big but not that big.
ELM: Right. OK. Obviously. So they raised that and the people really liked it, right?
ELM: So they did a Kickstarter to make a feature length film, cause that was a short.
FK: Yeah, exactly.
ELM: And they raised, it was more than $100,000, right?
FK: Yes. In fact, in total I think to date maybe they’ve raised up to $1,000,000? It’s a lot of money.
ELM: Woah! I thought it was like $100,000.
FK: They’ve done a couple of funding rounds, right.
FK: So they raised the initial amount and they were like “Holy crap, now that people are into this we can push this further,” right.
ELM: OK. So I know they had shot some of it and they had all these people in Hollywood who are fans but also professionals working on it, and CBS and Paramount, who own Star Trek, sued them and they had to stop production.
FK: Right. Exactly.
ELM: OK. So when we talked to Sarah, which was last summer, right, or maybe last spring, what was the…the case that's going on now is new, right? Something else was going on then.
FK: Well, it’s all basically the same case. But what was happening at that time was, that Paramount and CBS had sued Axanar Productions over basically saying, asserting copyright. And the weird thing about that was because the Axanar film was not set with any characters that existed in the Star Trek universe, it was just set in the universe, right? So they were having to assert that they had copyright over things like the Klingon language and Vulcans having pointy ears.
ELM: Ears! Which is like, good luck guys.
FK: Right. And this led to a lot of comedy legal proceedings, for instance the Conlang Institute put in a brief entirely written in Klingon to illustrate that you can’t copyright a language.
ELM: Conlang, in case people don’t know, is the people who construct languages, like Dothraki for…and some other languages for Game of Thrones.
FK: Anyways, so this was a whole comedy thing.
ELM: People speak Klingon, right?
FK: People speak Klingon. So there was all this back and forth, it was apparently from a lawyer’s perspective it was all very funny. Then J.J. Abrams said that the lawsuit would be dropped because J.J. Abrams was promoting the next Star Trek movie, etc. Guess what lawsuit was not dropped? Because J.J. Abrams is not actually one of the people who gets to decide that.
ELM: I thought he was on the Supreme Court.
FK: [laughs] So then a couple of other things happened…
ELM: I’d put him on the Supreme Court. Gotta put someone on there. FINE.
FK: So Paramount then released a series of rules for fan films, which we talked about in the last episode that we did on this subject. They had issues. But of course, again, they’re not legally binding, it’s just what Paramount would like fan film people to do.
ELM: Right. The one that stuck in my mind, that I remember, was the one where they said that if you have ever worked on anything at CBS ever, right? Then you can’t be involved in any of this. Which is ridiculous because it’s a massive company with a lot of different moving parts, right? So…
FK: Absolutely. So you could be working at a little local CBS affiliate news station and you would still be barred from doing fan films.
ELM: You could be working on CSI! It creates this really weird, unnatural division between fans and professionals, which I don’t think reflects reality.
FK: Right. 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.
ELM: 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, all right, sure.”
FK: Also, having run a con I can officially say that anytime someone’s giving you a lot of money and they know you have a big budget, they’re gonna assume that you're rolling in cash even if you’ve spent every penny plus some of your own money. So.
ELM: Why are you embezzling from the good people of the Harry Potter fandom Flourish?
FK: OH MY GOD. If I were paid for every God damn hour I have put in con running, like, and I am the least of it…!
ELM: Why do you want to be paid for anything, why are you rising above your station!
FK: OH MY GOD. Anyway. Point is though, the reason that we’re talking right now is that there is a court date set, for this trial, for January 31st, so it’s not just…it’s like, before our next episode, basically.
ELM: Oh yeah! All right. That’s true.
FK: So we’ve got Rob coming on to talk to us, and I guess we’ll find out what happens. There’s still time for them to settle, but they could also be going to court! And there’s, obviously there’s a lot of back and forth right now in that space. They’ve been talking about, well, what witnesses will be allowed to come in, what evidence will be accepted, et cetera, and if you want to there’s a lot of coverage on that. It gets pretty nitty-gritty and I’m not sure that there’s, I’m not sure that’s the most interesting thing for us to cover.
ELM: I would say if you want more details about it, definitely go head in Sarah Jeong’s direction, because I know she says she’s gonna be covering the trial and just seems to be on top of it, you know. So.
FK: Totally. And maybe we’ll have her on too.
ELM: Can we do it by Nina Totenberg?
FK: No, because they’re not allowed recording from inside the trial.
ELM: Flourish, you clearly don’t listen to NPR, you don’t know what I’m talking about!
FK: I don’t know what you’re talking about at all.
ELM: You can’t record in the Supreme Court either, well, now you sort of can but I think historically you couldn’t, I think there’s rules for this now? So Nina Totenberg, Nina Totenberg, chief justice or legal affairs correspondent for NPR, for decades, has read the transcripts. Every single Supreme Court story she reads the transcripts. And she does incredible, I’ve heard people calling them “dirty reads.” I’ve heard her asking about it once.
FK: Now that you say this, I know what you’re talking about. I didn't know what you were talking about when you said it, even though we’d talked about it before with Sarah Jeong—
ELM: Did we talk about it then?
FK: And what’s funny is then I got the reference, so obviously my brain just isn’t working very well today!
ELM: Justice Pryor, would you say so? No, they’re so good, I love them so much.
FK: Oh God. Dear listeners, I wish you could see Elizabeth right now cause she's waggling her head side to side like a bobblehead doll or something. It’s great.
ELM: That’s right. That’s right.
FK: She’s making the whole camera shake!
ELM: Let’s, if we don't call him now I’m going to continue imitating Nina Totenberg imitating Supreme Court justices.
FK: OK, let’s call him.
FK: All right, let's welcome Rob to the podcast!
Rob Burnett: Well, hello! It’s a great honor to be here. Thanks for asking me.
ELM: Thanks so much for coming on.
RMB: Absolutely. By the way I think the name of your podcast is the coolest name of any podcast ever.
RMB: “Fansplaining” is so funny!
ELM: It’s so good, excellent!
RMB: I love that!
ELM: Thank you! Well, OK. I think it might be helpful if we do, very briefly, a little bit of your background. Like, you in particular. And then we can talk about how that intersects with the project and, you know.
RMB: My background is, for whatever reason since I was a little kid—and I mean five-years-old—I’ve been a science fiction, fantasy and horror film fan in all of its forms. Whether it’s cinematic, on television, comic books, literary…I was into all of it. I demanded my parents enroll me in the science fiction book club when I was 10, Star Wars came out and changed my life when I was a little kid, to this day Star Trek is sort of my religion, which led me to things like Planet of the Apes, The Twilight Zone, I basically have a life-long love of the genre.
And all I ever wanted to do was make movies, so I went to film school in college, moved to Los Angeles, started working in the industry when I was 22, the first thing I ever worked on was Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III that Viggo Mortenson was in and Ken Foree from Dawn of the Dead—which was exciting for me because Dawn of the Dead is one my favorite, Romero's Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite films of all time. So for the last 25 years I’ve been sort of eking out a meager existence in the entertainment industry, and I’ve done things like I was a producer on the Agent Cody Banks movies, and I produced a horror film called The Hills Run Red, and I spent 15 years producing DVD special editions. I worked on the X-Men movies, and Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia, and Superman Returns, which was fun cause you could travel to foreign countries and live for a year.
And then I also wrote and directed a film called Free Enterprise, which is the unfortunately only movie that I’ve written and directed, but it starred William Shatner and was sort of a celebration of all the things that I loved.
FK: It is delightful. It ends, for those of our guests who have not seen the movie, you should go out and watch it right now, it ends with William Shatner performing a musical version of Julius Caesar where he plays all the parts. With rap backup. It’s amazing.
RMB: It was, that might be my crowning achievement in life. I hope not. But we had something in the script for Free Enterprise 2, which was two days away from production before we lost our financing, that would have topped that. So I’m hoping to do that again.
ELM: All right. And so how did you come to Axanar?
RMB: 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, 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 pre-production in September of 2015, and on December 30th 2015 we were sued by CBS and Paramount.
FK: Obviously one of the big points in the Axanar case has been that so many people who work in the entertainment industry, worked on previous Star Trek things, have worked on other big budget projects, were involved in Axanar. Not just actors, but also crew, including yourself. And that’s been one of the things that people have said has set Axanar apart from other fan films—most other fan films, not every other fan film. But could you talk a little bit about that? What is it, it seems like that…it occupies an interesting space between the totally, completely amateur “I just made this in my mom’s basement” and the literal $22 million, $222 million in some cases, giant film.
RMB: What’s sort of interesting is, unlike people that say, don’t live in Los Angeles, filmmaking was not only a calling but it’s also my profession. I’m gonna do it anyway. For instance, if a friend calls me and says “Hey man can you come hold the boom on this shoot I’m doing this weekend,” I’ll be like “Sure dude, if you need help.” There’s been this esprit de corps that we have in Los Angeles that goes all the way back to film school. What I would try and do is find the best people for the job. You don’t want to have anybody that can’t do anything less than 100% great work. And that’s just, to us, that’s what you do. You find the best people for the jobs.
No one ever thinks of what they’re doing as being amateur in Los Angeles. Because you’re competing…when someone sits down and watches a movie, they don’t care whether they’re watching Apocalypse Now or Hardware Wars. They wanna be entertained. And what you, what I, what my responsibility as a filmmaker is is to provide the best entertainment possible. So to me, there’s no such thing as “amateur” or “professional,” there’s just great work. And you try and do the best work that you can. And because we live in the entertainment capital of the world, when I hire somebody, even if it’s on a student film, when I hire somebody who is bringing in thousands of dollars worth of sound equipment or whatever, you’ve gotta pay people because you can’t make movies—your camera costs money, your microphones cost money, somebody’s paying for that. It comes from somewhere.
So to me, making movies, you have an obligation to your audience to try and give them the best experience possible. I don’t want people to see my home movies. If I’m showing somebody something, I want it to be great. And I’m not gonna show people movies of me and my friends playing dress-up unless those movies are great. Cause then you’re wasting the audience’s time, and that’s where I think…is that a snobbish way to look at it? Maybe, but I think a lot of fans don’t think of…they’re not filmmakers professionally, so they’re not thinking along those lines. But I am. And if I’m not showing somebody something great, why would I show it to them? Even if I’m working on something that costs ten cents, I'm trying to make it the best ten-cent movie that you’re ever gonna see.
And I think that was…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.
FK: 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.
RMB: 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 from 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. And I’ll tell you, nothing convinced me more of that than…I worked on Prelude to Axanar literally up until the eleventh hour. I got on a train at 6:00 in the morning after staying up all night finishing the film, the file, and I carried it down to San Diego and 8:00 or 10:00 that night it was projected in a gigantic movie theater. And that was the first time anyone had seen it finished, was at that premiere.
And it was a packed premiere and I was watching this thing that I'd been working on for two and a half months looking at it on my computer screen, literally on my laptop, on this gigantic movie screen and I was like “THIS IS AWESOME.” I mean I worked on this and I’m listening to this gigantic thunderous 5.1 surround sound mix and watching this green-screen, these effects, and it was great! And I was like, this is what—I felt like a fan watching the very thing that I’d been working on for the last two and a half months and it was awesome. I’m like “Wow. I—good for all of us.” You know? [all laugh] And I felt that we had done right by the donors, I felt that we had done right by the fans, and anybody who would watch this thing is gonna look at this and go “Wow, these guys, they really put something together that was pretty cool!” And that’s all that I wanted. And so, I think that that’s something that’s been lost in all of this lawsuit rigamarole, is that at the end of the day we were just trying to do something cool, man! That all Star Trek fans would be like “That was rad, dude!” [all laugh]
ELM: It just makes me think, and I think you see this across fanworks, that when you talk to people who aren’t fans, a lot of people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the idea that you could…that there could be a reward in any of this that’s not monetary, right?
RMB: 100%. I agree with you 100%. And you know what, if you don’t—I love making movies. I love editing. You take two disparate images and you put ’em together and suddenly meaning is created in the juxtaposition of those images that didn’t exist before. And that is like, it’s like cutting from Luke Skywalker to the twin setting suns of Tatooine and hearing John Williams’ theme rise up, that French horn. And suddenly your heart is wrenched out of your chest. You understand that Luke wants to get the hell off that planet, if there’s a bright center of the universe Tattooine is the place where it’s furthest from, you know? You know what that all means. And that’s the beauty of cinema. And if you can do that, that is something that’s…it’s like being Rumpelstiltskin, it’s spinning straw into gold. And that’s the goal! That’s the reward that I get.
I haven’t made a whole lot of money in my career because I keep working on these independent projects that interest me rather than, like, go for the big projects. Hopefully one day I’ll get one of those. [laughter] Nobody understands—and I think part of the Axanar case is that Paramount and CBS didn’t understand. These guys must be making money! They raised a $1.5 million! But I’m like, “Yeah, but we needed $150 million to make the kind of movie to compete with—so.” But nobody gets that. And it’s a difficult thing to explain to people. People also think that you just hit a button and a movie’s edited, now. “Isn’t it digital? Can’t you just…” My mom’s like “Why do you spend so many hours in the edit bay, it’s all computerized, isn’t it?” Yeah Mom, why do painters—how long did it take to paint the Sistine Chapel? The guy’s got brushes and an easel and paints…whatever. [all laugh]
ELM: Yeah, I just…I’m thinking about, like, George R.R. Martin’s writings about fanfiction. And he seems to be, I don’t know how he feels now, but a couple years ago anyway when he was writing about this on his LiveJournal he seemed to be convinced that people were ripping him off with the intent to publish—Flourish, would you agree? You’ve read these Livejournal posts, right?
FK: Yeah. And I think that sometimes part of the issue is, one of the issues with it is the…so, for sure it seems like George R.R. Martin had this idea that people were ripping him off, plagiarizing him, and then they were gonna make money off of his own worlds.
ELM: And that the only reason why you would do it, though. That’s the vibe I get from some of these critiques, similar to the vibe I get out of CBS and Paramount. Why else would you do this if it wasn;t to threaten us by copying us and then making money, right?
FK: And one of the other things that becomes weird with this, right, actually gets back to Star Trek too. The way that the Star Trek novel program started was from basically republishing existing fanfiction. So it’s an interesting case where on the one hand, it’s completely…there are so many people who it’s ridiculous to even have to say it, but most people who write fanfiction have no intention, certainly not of publishing that story and making money, but most of them don’t even intend to make money on any story. Same with fan film creators, I’m sure. Then on the other hand, you look at those first Star Trek novels and you’re like, “Well, they were officially published and they did make people money and they did launch some careers,” and so then you go, “Oh shit, maybe that’s where they get the idea? That you’re gonna break in?” But then…eeh. But that’s not right.
ELM: But who cares? Then you have more talent to pull from when you’re making the next giant Star Trek movie, you know? It's not like a Star Trek fan has, like, $5 and they can only send it to one place. It’s pretty likely they have $10, in fact, and they just want more. That's why I don’t, you know.
RMB: A lot of people, in the court case, if you read one of the things, they’re going “Well, they’re going to profit off of”—people accused me at one point, like, “Why are you doing this?” And the idea is that any work that you do, you hope is gonna be good, and you hope people will look at it and hire you to do more stuff. But the funny thing about, what people don’t really understand, is they only hear about the top 1% of Hollywood products. There’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of movies made every year, but there’s only like 20 or 30 that you hear about making a hundred billion dollars. Most of the movies, look at Netflix. Look at how many low budget horror and sci-fi movies are on Netflix that look like they cost not a whole lot of money. And people are basically getting paid not a living wage to make those movies. They’re being paid a day rate and they’re making some money, but they’re not making a ton of money.
I’ve worked on movies for big studios, and you get one paycheck and that's it. It's a buy-out. The idea that somehow, look, I’ve loved Star Trek my whole life. I would work on a Star Trek movie of the quality of Prelude to Axanar whether I got paid or not. I'll tell you something else: the Blu-Ray for Prelude to Axanar we owed our donors, I was like, “I’ve been producing Blu-Ray Special Editions and DVD Special Editions for 16 years. I’m not gonna give our donors a Blu-Ray that just has the movie on it in a paper sleeve. I wanna make it look like it’s real.” So I had menus designed, I had it professionally authored, I recorded audio commentaries, I did a 40-minute documentary and I ran a contest to create the cover for the DVD and the Blu-Ray amongst our donors and fans. Cause I wanted to have a product that we could send our donors that they could hold onto and go, “Wow. This looks like it’s a real professional thing.” I didn’t get paid a dime to do that. But I wanted it to be cool. And people are like, they look at you and they’re like, “Why would you do that? Why would you spend all that time making something cool?” And I’m like, “Well, because it will look better on the shelf next to my other Star Trek things!”
FK: Because it’s cool!
RMB: At the end of the day, when I got those Blu-Rays back from the printer for the first time and saw them, it was the same thing like seeing Prelude in the movie theater. It was like “Wow, this is rad.” Then you can hand it to somebody and go “Hey isn’t this cool?” And then they go “Yeah man, this is awesome.” And it feels real! I would rather make something that feels real than something that doesn’t. And a lot of people don’t—unless you’re a fan yourself or you truly love something for its own sake, a lot of people don’t get that. Because in a way, it’s sort of a luxury, contemplating this as opposed to wondering how I’m gonna feed my kids or I gotta get a new job. The fact that we can spend any time at all thinking about the fact, to make fan films in the first place, most people don’t understand why would you possibly spend time doing this. What do you get out of it? And you get the joy out of it like, I like—I get joy making things. Whether it’s a model rocket which I’ve got on my kitchen table right now, or a fan film. I just like to make stuff.
ELM: I don’t think it's even necessarily a question of, I mean, obviously—we’ve talked about this a lot. But I think that the discussion of fan labor being a privilege in itself obviously—
ELM: Is an under-discussed thing. People are like “Fanfiction’s free, fanart’s free, blah blah,” 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 12 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.
FK: Well and I don’t think there’s a moral good to creating or consuming fan things, but I think it’s definitely a leisure thing that some people like to do. And if we like to do it—
ELM: I’m not saying it’s a moral good! I’m just saying my friends are really annoying. [all laugh]
FK: I just think it’s easy to say…this is not about being productive or unproductive or whatever, just about actually making choices about what you actually wanna do in your off-time. And for people who like to do things like, I don’t know, produce podcasts…
ELM: Flourish, we’re asking for money for this, we can’t talk about it that way.
FK: In their off-time…well, we can still talk about it that way, we’re not getting paid a wage.
RMB: But I think it also does come down to, to there are people that are creative and people that aren’t creative. You know? There are people that, it’s like there are people that enjoy house painting for its own sake. Or people, like my mother really liked to garden. She really liked to be out there with her hands in the soil and planting things and watching them grow, and there’s other people that just would prefer to hire a gardener to do it for them. And I think that when it comes to this, I would like to be making movies all the time. But making movies is such a difficult thing that if I have an opportunity to do it whether I’m gonna get paid or not, if I think it’s worthwhile, I so love the process of filmmaking that I want to be doing it. And if it’s something like, you know, I made up stories with my Star Trek action figures. I would spend hours, days, with these long adventures I would make up in my head. Because I wanted to tell these stories, if only to myself. And now we have the technology to make them for the masses, and if we can make them really well…
I’m a snob about this kind of thing. If you're gonna make a movie, why shouldn’t it be the best movie it can be? Why does anybody put up with something second-rate? If you’re not recording the sound and it doesn’t sound great, get a better microphone. Get somebody who knows how to do the sound. Otherwise, why are you doing it? Why make it not good? We have the technology now that you can do amazing things! I watched just that Han Solo fan film that came out a month ago or something, I was like “This is great!” It was beautifully shot, it was really well done, I mean, this is really really cool. Somebody spent a lot of time and effort making this great. Why can’t you do that? And then it’s a joy to watch, and in my own mind—in my own headcanon—great fanfiction can be great. Why shouldn’t it be real? I don't subscribe, if I read a great Star Trek story, I don’t care where it came from. If it’s great and makes sense to me, it’s part of my headcanon, period. Even that part of Black Fire with those bridge modules.
FK: NOOOOO! NO!
ELM: For context, they've already fought over this Star Trek novel, Black Fire.
FK: Yes. Which I think sucks and he likes. But I accept it, yes, I accept it.
RMB: But to your point Elizabeth, the idea of writing fanfiction’s—really hard! Writing anything is really hard. You face a blank page. And then it’s like OK, you’re gonna write fanfiction, what’s the first scene? How do you set your scene? Even that’s hard. You can think about that for five minutes and then think “I don’t know what the first scene is, I’d rather go watch the show.” It’s really hard. Any kind of whether you’re writing fanfiction or drawing a comic or making a film, it’s all really hard to do. It’s not easy, especially to make it good.
ELM: Well, that’s the barrier, right? There’s tons and tons of fanworks that aren’t, I mean, from an…I don’t know. We had this conversation in one of our very first episodes, I was like “A lot of fanfiction is not very good.” Because it’s not! Because the barriers are, there’s no barriers to publish, and so people of all abilities write it and put it out there. That’s one of the great things about the internet. But it doesn’t matter. If it was an enjoyable experience writing it, you know. I definitely understand the wanting to make it as good as possible. This is part of the reason why I’ve never actually published my fanfiction is because I don’t think it’s as good as it could possibly be.
FK: [laughing] We’re gonna get you over that, Elizabeth.
RMB: You know what I think, if you think about it, don’t think about it as fanfiction, just think about it as writing.
RMB: And all writers go through a process and it takes a long time, whether you’re gonna write professionally or not, to become…it’s a hard road to travel. And if you wanna make it a profession or it’s your calling, you want to get better at it, even you say just now, you want your fanfiction to be better. But if you didn’t write it at all, you wouldn’t have an opportunity to be honing your craft of writing! And your writing helps you with podcasting, your writing helps you with every facet of your life.
ELM: It's just, for me it's a question of…I mean, I’m a professional journalist. So I have to publicly put things in the world, writing constantly in the world. And part of the ease of that for me is that there are deadlines and it is what it is and you’re like “Here you go.” I think some of the stuff I’ve written has been good! Some of it has been filed relatively close to the deadline, not always on the deadline, but the difference with fanfiction is because there is no deadline—
FK: Elizabeth, you are Captain Deadline, you really are.
ELM: You mean Captain Missing Deadline.
FK: Yeah, but you love deadlines, cause if there’s not one it won’t happen, and if there is one you might miss it but it’s gonna happen.
ELM: Oh yeah. This is why I’m a J in the Myers-Briggs. [all laugh] That’s what I learned, the J versus the P…which one…oh, I’m a P.
FK: You’re definitely a P and I’m definitely a J because it drives me nuts when you miss a deadline.
ELM: But that is like the fundamental shift of the P versus J. Right? Is Ps like deadlines.
ELM: And they like doing things at the last minute, and Js like…ANYWAY.
FK: But it explains so much, Elizabeth!
ELM: With fanworks, because there’s no deadline and because there also is kind of no…because the structures are really different in terms of the sort of feedback you get is very different than you get in the professionally published world, I don’t know if you find these distinctions between the fan films that you’ve made and the “non”-fan films, put that in scare quotes.
RMB: You know, I was having a conversation just the other day and somebody was telling me “Your Vulcan scene sucks,” somebody in the industry. And I was like, “Why did it suck?” And he started comparing it to Attack of the Clones, Star Wars Episode Two, and I was like, “You’re comparing the Vulcan scene to Attack of the Clones and I’m supposed to say you’re telling me that it sucks? You’re comparing it to a Star Wars movie?”
FK: You think that Attack of the Clones was good? That’s the bigger question. Attack of the Clones is a good example?
RMB: I think from a technical standpoint, people are like “Oh you just did a walk and talk.” But we live in this world now where people think that putting actors in virtual environments like that where you’re having multiple cuts, where you have a depth of field that has to be designed and everything in it, is something that’s easy to do and that everybody can do it. And I think the Vulcan scene was designed to be a walk and talk. We had to show what two people would look like in a virtual environment because we’d only shown in Prelude to Axanar people sitting in a chair against a green-screen. They’re not even moving. It was like, “Could we do this?” And I wanted to see if the team could do it. So it was sort of a proof-of-concept anyway.
And it’s really interesting how like, with fanfiction, people will just write it off and go “Oh this sucks.” A lot of people, I really liked Star Trek: The New Voyages and Star Trek Continues, I really enjoy watching them, because look—I understand that the actors might not be the best, though I think Star Trek Continues does have professional actors and I think Star Trek Continues is doing a great job. Where Star Trek Continues falls down for me frequently is the writing, but I look at some of those episodes, like “Lolani” is great.
FK: I was just gonna say, they can’t all be “Lolani.”
RMB: I thought “Lolani” was really interesting because it wasn’t a sequel and it wasn’t referring to other episodes and it really was an interesting exploration into the Star Trek universe. I really thought it was great. And when it all, I really liked the…“Here There Be Dragons” or whatever, I don’t know the actual title. I thought that was great too. And when the writing and the technology and the talent all sort of coalesce, you can have great fanfiction. And I've read some great novels and great fanfiction, written fanfiction, the Star Trek: The New Voyages contest that they run now, Strange New Worlds contest, for decades they ran a short story contest where fans submitted Star Trek short stories and they published them in these beautiful volumes. And a lot of writers got their start that way, and there was some incredible writing in those stories.
FK: One of the things that I’m taking from what you're saying is that in a fan film, much as fanfic might have slightly different goals, like there may be different goals in a fan film than there would be in a professional movie. In a fan film maybe one of your goals is, “Let’s test out this totally shoestring ability that we have to do a walk and talk.” Another goal might be, like, “Everybody who sees this film is going to know all about Vulcans, so it doesn’t matter if we get into the minutiae of what Vulcan society is like, cause that’s the point.” It’s not gonna work in Attack of the Clones because no one cares what—I don't know—one of the races, the alien races they just introduced in Attack of the Clones, a very small proportion of the audience for that movie is gonna care. But this is a fan film, we can do the tiny little detail stuff. So that’s really interesting, I think.
But it’s also back to this idea of what can fan films do and what are fan films and fanfic and so forth, what are they doing that can’t be provided, maybe, by the mainstream entertainment industry. Right? Which I think is implied in a lot of this discussion. What’s the gaps?
RMB: Absolutely. Paramount and CBS would never make Axanar. Because Axanar by its design is all about the Star Trek universe. It is drenched and soaked in Star Trek minutia. It’s made only for—I shouldn’t say it’s made only for the fans, but there’s so much fan lore in it that people are, look, what they did with Star Trek was the J.J. Abrams movies had to appeal to a much larger fan base. You can’t spend $200 million on a movie and only make it for Star Trek fans. And I think any story has certain universal touchstones that make it great, but with Axanar, the fact that we even have Soval in it, if you've never seen Star Trek before people are gonna be like “Who’s this guy?” Well, he’s Soval, he was on Enterprise. Well, Enterprise is not exactly the most beloved Star Trek series. [FK laughs] But I love that character, so we bring him back 80 years in the future and the thing about the Vulcan scene that I did is, those two characters—you don’t know that yet, but they’re married. And what we’re watching is a Vulcan marital spat. And that would become clear in the finished film.
But there’s so much minutia like, even at the beginning of the Vulcan film you see Mount Seleya from Star Trek III, and you see a flyby into ShiKahr City from the animated episode “Yesteryear.” [FK laughs] In the beginning of the Vulcan scene there's so much minutia in there for fans that nobody who doesn’t know any—even the casual Star Trek fan would not know. “Where have I seen that before?” Well, yeah, the animated show. I mean it was so, putting ShiKahr City for me was cool, and then they did that when they remastered “Amok Time”…Axanar was gonna be a movie that was made by Star Trek fans for Star Trek fans, and you could watch it, I think, and enjoy it if you didn’t know anything about Star Trek, but if you did, it’s so steeped in the lore. And there’s so many little nuggets that you would only really love it if you were a Star Trek fan.
RMB: That’s what fanfiction is. We wanna live, like, I’ve wanted to live in the Star Trek universe since I was five. I’ve spent so many hours of my life imagining myself living in the Star Trek universe. How would I act? Where would I be? Would I live in San Francisco in Captain Kirk’s building? Would I have his apartment, his view? Because he had that great view in Star Trek III. It's a small apartment though. It’s like, “Wow. Captain Kirk lives in a small apartment in San Francisco cause that’s all he could afford. Cause he’s military. He’s Starfleet.” I just thought that was so cool. And I’ve spent my life thinking that way, and when I get to work on Axanar it’s like, “Wow I really am—I’m living out my lifelong fantasy of…” I stepped on our bridge set and you walk around and you’re like “Wow. I’m on the bridge of a starship.” It felt that way! And you get charged out of it. This is awesome! And I think that’s why fans…you wanna touch what it is that you love. You wanna feel that a part of it is yours.
I think that’s really the impetus, the impulse behind fanworks. You wanna make something of it that you love so much, you wanna take it and make it your own.
ELM: So I don’t know if you can, can you comment on the trial at all?
ELM: So I guess one question I would have, I have many questions. But one is, do you think that the people, do you think CBS and Paramount have any sense of what…what you just were talking about. Do you think they have any conception of that?
RMB: No. Because nobody in the business world…they think of Star Trek fans as, like, animals in a zoo. There’s no understanding—fandom to a corporate entity, fans are, they’re people that are always gonna buy their shit, and they’re the people that complain the loudest but are gonna show up on Day One. So they don’t matter.
ELM: Complain a lot, but still pay anyway.
RMB: 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?" that’s all they hear. Somebody raised $1 million dollars, $1.5 million, on their name. What they own. That’s all they’re thinking about. And they’re like “We have to go quash these people.”
And you know what, I would say rightfully so. Anyone who—what they don’t understand is once you have the word “$1 million,” you pass $1 million, you can’t not understand that somebody must be making money from this. Somebody’s somehow profiting off of our thing. But I would say that if you have an understanding of the fan impulse, you would realize that—if you saw what we were trying to do, that isn’t true. But a lot of people can’t wrap their minds around that. They just can’t. And I get it. Where did this million dollars come from? And that million dollars should be our million dollars! I think that there was no Star Trek TV series announced when the Axanar project began. And I think as a result of not just us, but Star Trek Renegades, Star Trek Continues, Star Trek New Voyages, they saw that there were millions of dollars to be generated by Star Trek fans paying for online content. The idea that “Oh, we can do a new Star Trek TV series and have the fans pay for it, and we can start our own streaming network, we can have CBS All Access and it’ll work that way.”
Unfortunately there’s a bigger picture to grapple with. It doesn’t just work that way. And I think it will be interesting to see how Star Trek: Discovery does. I know they suffered severe sticker shock when they were making that show because a Star Trek television show by definition is very expensive, cause everything has to be created, from costumes to sets to props to visual effects, and I know that the original budget for the pilot of Discovery caused a lot of consternation [laughs] at the executive level.
ELM: This was the one that…was Bryan Fuller…?
FK: Yes, it’s the one that Bryan Fuller was helming at first and he’s stepped down now from.
ELM: He stepped down. OK.
FK: But I think his stamp is pretty well on it.
ELM: That’s gonna be on TV at a…
RMB: In North America it's going to be streaming via the CBS All Access app. You have to subscribe to that.
ELM: It’s not going to be on TV at all?
RMB: No, only the pilot is going to be on TV. And then it’s going to be a Netflix show in the rest of the world.
FK: I have to confess that I am the fan who they’re completely gonna get me. I will pay them, I will grudgingly pay [laughs] for CBS All Access, which I don’t want, but…
ELM: It’s pretty likely! It’s not like you have $5 and you’re like “Where am I gonna send these $5.” You probably have $10. You probably have $20 to spend on the thing you…I mean, obviously not everyone has money to spend on stuff, but I don’t know. You know how much I hated The Cursed Child but I still shelled out—I’m a Harry Potter fan, just for context. I still shelled out my $30 to buy it, right? Of course I did. I still have, you know.
RMB: We will, like, the new Star Trek encyclopedia that the Okudas were putting out. This beautiful hardcover slipcased book. As soon as that went up for preorder on Amazon, click! It’s not like I’m not gonna buy that! I get really excited. They put out a new Star Trek model kit, you know, I'll pre-order that. QMX does 12-inch action figures of Kirk and Spock, I’m like, “Click! Pre-order that shit right away!” They know that we’re going to buy these things, but what’s interesting is even amongst Star Trek fans, there’s a lot of Star Trek fans that have never read a Star Trek novel. Nor would they. They don’t understand, they’re like “That’s not real.” I’ve never made a distinction that Star Trek novels are somehow not real, because—well, they were being published! They’re coming out. Great Star Trek novels to me are just as real as a great comic book story or a great episode. And this weird idea that, well, it’s only canon if it’s on TV…I’m like, I’ve never felt that way because when I was a little kid reading Star Trek: The New Voyages at summer camp in ’76, that was the story Spock Must Die that James Blish wrote. That was real! How come that’s not real! And it never occurred to me that things were canon or not. Like, what’s canonical and what isn’t? Well, whatever I say as a fan is canonical, is canonical to me.
ELM: We fought over this before. And it sounds like you’re on my team. Flourish is team canon.
FK: When you say I’m Team Canon that suggests that I am—
ELM: Slavishly devoted to the Powers that Be?
FK: I wouldn’t, I don’t think I’m as Team Canon as that makes me sound.
ELM: No, all right. But between the two of us you are closer to Team Canon.
FK: I’m a little bit more Team Canon than you are. One thing I think is important about this though is I’m sure that your attitude toward it, Rob, is exactly what is making…you know, CBS and Paramount so worried about this. Because if Star Trek is something where we can all define our own canon, then surely they have the concern of “Will people stop looking to us as the arbiters of it? Will we stop being able to make money in the same way?” And I mean, I think that’s a rational concern, but I’m not sure what to…I’m not sure they can do anything about it, right. Because it’s not like they can come into my brain or your brain and be like, “You must forget all of Leslie Fish’s ‘The Weight.’ It never happened. Those things, those characterization things, they’re gone.” You know? They can’t do that! They can’t, fortunately, we don’t have the technology yet to do that. So…
RMB: You know, it’s funny. I made a point to our lawyers, I said, there has been 13 Star Trek movies made since 1979. They’re all the same. They’re all about the command crew of various iterations of the starship Enterprise. That’s it. Yet the Star Trek universe that exists, Axanar was an ensemble films about multiple starships and people we’d never heard of and never met before. A studio would never probably have made that movie. Now with Rogue One being successful, maybe they would make that movie. But the idea of what Star Trek is, in fans’ minds, there’s a gigantic universe of stories to tell. But when you’re spending $200 million on a movie, you’re gonna be hard pressed to try and explain to somebody why you’d want to make a movie about the JAG Corps in the Star Trek universe. You’re like, “Well, there was this great episode called ‘Measure of a Man’ where Data’s put on trial whether he’s property or a sentient being, what if you did a whole show about the Star Trek JAG Corps?” Well, that could be cool on CBS. But—
ELM: Pitch that right now!
RMB: I know right?
FK: You love stories about law!
ELM: Yeah, JAG, do it!
FK: You’d watch that! Yeah!
RMB: But then people would say to me, they’d go, “Well, Rob Burnett, you’ve never…other than Femme Fatales, which is a softcore anthology show you worked on for HBO and Cinemax, we’re not gonna hire you to do a Star Trek JAG Corps TV series.” I would never get that job. The reason I wanted to direct Axanar was because I dreamt of making this Star Trek movie my whole life, but my career would never allow an Ivy-League-business-school-educated creative executive to give me the job. To make a Star Trek movie. I could never do that unless I directed a $100 million epic film first. Even then, if I went in to the Powers That Be at Paramount and said “Hey, I just directed my first $500-million-grossing science fiction movie, I’d like to make a Star Trek movie,” somebody would then go “Eh, we don’t think you’re the right guy.” That’s what the reality of the world is.
If the studio had a slush fund and said “Here, we’ve got, we’re gonna give ten filmmakers $5 million to make Star Trek movies and you can do whatever you want for $5 million, and we’ll oversee them but we’ll see what we get,” I guarantee you you’d have ten filmmakers that could knock it out of the park. But there’s no business—
ELM: But that's a good idea! Why waste all this money on Chris Pine walkin’ around—sorry, no offense, I don’t know if you guys like these new movies but I don’t find them very engaging, so…
RMB: Me neither.
ELM: That’s just me. They just seem very glossy and a lot. You know? They feel like big budget Hollywood movies, which I don’t love.
FK: Beyond got closer to classic Trek feeling, I will give it that.
ELM: I don't have any feelings or attachment to classic Trek. This is me, not you, Flourish. I’m just saying it felt like “Oh, these movies that cost a lot of money.” Why not, how much did that cost to make? $200 million? Is that how much movies cost?
RMB: Yeah. Into Darkness cost $200 million.
ELM: So 20 filmmakers, a diverse group with diverse perspectives, making 20 $10 million movies.
RMB: Why not, it’s really funny, but that kind of thinking does not exist at the executive level in Hollywood.
ELM: Really upsetting to me.
RMB: It is because I think that, look, a Star Trek episode—“The Measure of a Man” basically takes place in a room. Or two rooms. And it’s an incredibly compelling, if you watch it on Blu-Ray it’s 15 minutes longer, we did an extended cut of it. You could do a great Star Trek movie that’s just set in rooms. That has a few establishing shots of spaceships, and it could be great. And people would watch it. Why aren’t there independent Star Trek movies? I once posited that they should make a Deep Space Nine movie and make it Quentin Tarantino-esque.
FK: My God. [laughs]
RMB: But the problem is at the executive level in Hollywood, the thinking is “No, a Star Trek movie is only this thing. It only can be a $200 million J.J. Abrams action-adventure movie.” But the problem is none of his Star Trek movies have broken through. Transformers movies make a billion dollars. The Star Trek films won’t crack half a billion because they only appeal to a certain amount of people. So why not make a Star Trek movie for $50 million, or even less? But there’s this thinking that, “Well, how can you do that?” Nobody knows. Because Star Trek is about, it’s inherently about philosophy. And it’s about feelings and it’s about scientific concepts. And it’s about…not things that are blowing up and not things—
FK: I was gonna say, it’s definitely not about shooting things with phasers! Or not really. It’s only a little bit about William Shatner tearing his shirt off. Only a little bit it’s about that.
RMB: When you look at everyone’s favorite movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, ends with two men separated with a piece of transparent aluminum. One of them is dying and says “I have been and always shall be your friend,” and there’s not a dry eye in the house. Everybody’s affected by that. And that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan did not cost that money. And then you watch basically the remake, which was Star Trek: Into Darkness, it’s $200 million and all they do is replay the same beats, put the same dialogue in other people’s mouths, and you don’t feel a thing. Then it comes back to filmmaking. How do you make an audience feel? How do you make them—you don’t need to give them a lot of explosions. What you have to do is you have to touch their minds and their hearts. Like any great story. Everything else is just window dressing. And that’s what Star Trek is at its best. It’s a story about great human beings trying to do great things to make the universe a better place to live for everyone.
And that’s what Star Trek is at its heart: you use mutual respect and understanding of one another and hopefully people that you don’t understand you try and bring it to them. And try and make the universe a better place to be. And you do that through, not just individual effort, but the effort of the collective group. It’s the ultimate example of what America—and I think humanity—is at its finest. And that doesn’t require gigantic explosions! And that’s why Star Trek has endured, because you watch “The Inner Light,” an episode where Picard lives a second life in the blink of an eye, and it’s the most affecting episode of Next Generation, there’s not a dry eye in the house when he plays his Ressikan flute. There’s no explosions in that episode. There’s one alien probe that does nothing but probe Picard’s mind, it just sits in front of the Enterprise, and you can’t take your eyes off that episode.
FK: That was the most rousing and—
ELM: Very moving!
FK: That was a really moving defense of your fandom and it makes me pleased that we had you on here! Really really.
ELM: Your fandom too, Flourish! Don’t you feel…
FK: I don’t feel like I can have the same…I haven’t read all the Star Trek novels yet.
ELM: Don’t gatekeep yourself Flourish, that’s ridiculous.
RMB: I haven’t read—I have them but I haven’t read all of them. But I still buy them.
FK: OK. OK. OK. All right. Then I consider myself de-gatekept.
ELM: Yeah, un-gatekeep yourself. De-gatekeep.
FK: In any case, it's been so wonderful having you on. This has been really enlightening and we wish you luck with the, you know, maybe settling, maybe having the court date on the 31st, I know you’re not actually a party in the lawsuit but it’s still your baby, so good luck!
RMB: Well thank you, I hope one day…if we could’ve made the Axanar feature film that I think we all dreamed of, it would have been cool. People would have dug it. It would have been fun. I just wish we could have done that.
ELM: It took a sad turn! I was uplifted and now it’s like “Awww. And that’s reality again.”
FK: Well, we’ll see what happens. That’s all we can say.
RMB: As Spock said, as Kirk paraphrased Spock at the end of Star Trek II, “There are always possibilities.”
ELM: Thank you so much for coming on.
FK: Thank you.
RMB: Well thanks for having me! I really appreciate.
FK: I feel so good about being in Star Trek fandom now.
ELM: Yeah you would.
ELM: No, that was very charming. It was uplifting! Americans, nay, HUMANITY! [FK laughs] So good.
FK: Americans, nay, humanity.
ELM: You know what, one thing I think that is…after we talked with Sarah, and this was kind of, I feel like my line of questioning with her was a little myopic but I was just like “What does this mean for fanworks I care about?” You know? But I felt like our conversation with Rob, I didn’t even need to ask it because I felt like those threads were being connected. I mean, I sort of felt frustrated a couple weeks ago when they announced this was going to trial and a few people that we know and are friends with who are perhaps fandom journalists or [laughs] I like that I’m subtweeting people right now.
FK: You’re completely subtweeting people right now.
ELM: Were like, “This is a huge problem for all fan creators!” And I remember messaging you and being like “Eeeeh, I don’t think it’s…”
FK: Yeah, and I was like “This isn’t good, but I don’t think it's like, the sky is not falling right now.”
ELM: Yeah, obviously setting a precedent like this is not good. But laws don’t only move in one direction either, right?
ELM: You know, you could say “Oh, if they decide in a way that’s not favorable to fans in this case it doesn’t mean the next case…” I mean, obviously lawyers can write in to correct me, obviously, that might make it more likely that future cases would be ruled against fans, obviously.
FK: Well, the thing is that it’s not the law of the land, right. So no matter what happens in this case, it’s not a Supreme Court decision.
ELM: Until it goes to the Supreme Court with Justice J.J. Abrams!
FK: With Justice J.J.!
ELM: Justice J.J.!
FK: Justice J.J.!
ELM: How grim is that? That I said “J.J.” and I immediately thought of Yuri!!! On Ice. I’ve been taken over.
FK: That's funny. Well you know one of the things that was interesting in the court documents is that J.J. Abrams is not permitted to be called as a witness in the trial.
ELM: Oh, why not?
FK: Well, because he might be prejudicial, and I think that people are worried that he would be pro-fan film or say that this was not, like…I mean, the scale is vastly different. Right? And so actually talking about what a movie is, and how much it takes to make a big Star Trek movie, that would have an impact.
ELM: Sure, sure.
FK: In any case, it is sad that you thought of, you know, the King J.J. of Yaoi!!! On Ice.
ELM: One of my least favorite characters.
FK: YURI!!! On Ice.
ELM: —what did you say?
FK: I said Yaoi!!! On Ice, at first. [laughter]
ELM: Yeah! I don’t wanna think about J.J.
FK: Yeah. Well. OK. But we should talk about our last time’s episode, because we got a massive amount of response.
ELM: Good transition!
FK: You’re gonna have to talk about Yuri/Yaoi!!! on Ice a little longer.
ELM: Yaoi!!! on Ice! I finished, since I last talked to you, I finished it. I liked it!
ELM: Groundbreaking. [laughing] I liked it. You know. I’m not joining in the fandom, but I definitely enjoyed it. And I did one of those things, you know when you watch something and then you hit a certain point and you’re like “Never mind, I’m watching all of them.”
FK: [laughing] I KNEW YOU WOULD.
ELM: Watching the last six all in a row.
FK: I knew you would. And didn’t you like, [makes a gasp noise] at a couple of moments in there?
ELM: Yeah, I mean…
FK: Like when they smooched and then with the wedding ring thing…?
FK: That was so cute!
ELM: You’re so cheesy.
FK: It was really cute!
ELM: Anyway, anyway. No. Do you know how much culture I consumed last weekend? Can we talk about this?
FK: Let’s talk about it.
ELM: All right, on Friday I watched like 8,000 Yuri!!! on Ices.
FK: Or six.
ELM: And Saturday, Saturday, it was a lot. It felt like a lot. Saturday I watched HAMILTON!
FK: Alexander Hamilton!
ELM: Literally the coldest take. I was like “Oh that was really good.” [both laugh] Stop the presses!
FK: No no no no, but what’s funny about that coldest-take thing is that I also went to Hamilton last weekend—
ELM: It’s very strange that we both went to Hamilton in the same weekend.
FK: I know. And what was funny about it was I went and I was like, I felt so jaded because I realized I was surrounded by all of these people for whom it was the most special thing that they got tickets and were able to go and do all of this. And it was very special to get tickets and be able to go but I had seen it once before and I was like, “Oh shit. I’m a horrible person for not being as excited as all of these amazing excited people.”
ELM: Flourish. Yeah, I mean I guess…
FK: I had to take Nick to see it…
ELM: I sort of feel like, I definitely got a little sense of that in the sense of like, I’m not in the fandom and in fact I had not listened to the soundtrack, though now I’ve listened to it all the way through. So I was gonna say I did feel a little of that. I was given the opportunity, a friend of ours had a spare ticket, she was going for her birthday and she was going in a big group, and you know what, who cares that I’m not in the fandom? The tickets were within…for Hamilton they were very affordable. You know? And so it’s just like yeah, why not. So it’s similar to a feeling of, when we were at Comic-Con and we were able to see the Marvel presentation and stuff, I did feel like “This isn’t my fandom…”
FK: “I’m taking up a spot that could be taken up by somebody who’d be having a life-changing experience right now.”
ELM: I don’t know. No one’s offering me free things, free spaces to, like, things in my fandoms. So…not free! like, I paid for these things! Anyway, this was a huge aside. Point is I saw Hamilton and then I saw Hidden Figures, which was a freakin’ delight, delightful, everyone in my theater clapped anytime anyone did math—any woman. Any, none of the Sheldon, no, people didn’t clap for him ever. They also clapped whenever anyone made any sort of positive gesture towards dismantling racism and racist institutions. It was like, [laughs] someone said something very like, anti-racist, and everyone was like “YEAH!” it was like, this is a really pure crowd right now.
FK: I had this experience too and it was so nice!
ELM: And then after that I watched Sherlock! So that’s the great quadrumvirate.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: Quad…what would, what’s the word for four things? Like a triumvirate.
FK: I think it IS quadrumvirate.
ELM: Quadrumvirate! [laughing] Um, yeah! That’s all I'm gonna say.
FK: Well, having seen how the Sherlock fandom is melting down right now, perhaps we should talk about something that’s not that.
ELM: I didn’t say a word about the fandom.
FK: I did!
ELM: Nope. Not gonna talk about anything. And I think it’s possible to talk about Sherlock without talking about the fandom, though I obviously think they’re linked, but you can talk about the episodes by themselves. And I have some feelings. But I’m just not gonna make them public.
FK: That seems more than reasonable to me.
ELM: FINE. Fine. Anyway, so that was my weekend of culture, so now our last episode makes more sense to me now that I’ve seen all of Yuri!!! On Ice and I can contextualize some of the discourse. And…
FK: You have to imagine, you have to imagine tildes on either side of “discourse.”
ELM: THE DISCOURSE! No, what’s the—the one I don’t like is the meme with the chef holding the sign that says “discourse.” I don’t know, he makes me uncomfortable.
FK: A lot of things make you uncomfortable.
ELM: It’s true. So we got a lot of feedback on our last episode, and I think some of it, I would venture a guess and say we got some people who are not normal Fansplaining listeners come at it through the Yuri!!! On Ice tag. Which I think may have led some people astray, thinking that for some reason maybe they don’t know that we’re a podcast about fandom and not a pop culture review podcast? You know. We got some people being like, “You didn’t talk enough about Yuri!!! On Ice!” And it’s like, “OK, except for exceptions we don’t usually talk about the source material that much,” right?
FK: Not that much. The only times that we talk about the source material are when it’s directly relevant to something within a fandom that's happening.
ELM: Sure, and in response to one of them you brought up the Star Wars and race episodes. And those were, those were—they were grounded in Star Wars as a cultural property and also in the fandom’s conversations. But obviously those, they went way beyond, you know.
FK: Right. So one of the people who responded to us said that, yeah, said that they felt like we hadn’t talked about Yuri!!! On Ice very much and they expected more and felt disappointed that we hadn’t gotten more into it and, you know, I think that’s about all you can say right?
ELM: A couple of people said that. Yeah. I just think that unfortunately that’s just not what we do, and…
FK: No, fortunately! I’m glad of the type of podcast we have. This is the podcast I wanna make!
ELM: I mean unfortunately for anyone who wants that. And actually we got a couple people I saw saying, they were annoyed and didn’t want to listen to it. More than one person said this. Because, I have to wonder if they assumed that it’s, you know, they’re not—Yuri!!! On Ice is their no, what's a fandom NoTP?
FK: [laughing] NoTP, it’s like the NoTP of fandoms!
ELM: Obviously I’ve felt this way at times when it’s felt like there’s something in fandom that’s really zeitgeisty and I’m not interested in it, like, UGH.
FK: Yeah, totally inescapable.
ELM: Hamilton for the past two years!
FK: And to be fair, to be fair, we both like, when we were making the Yuri!!! On Ice episode we were like “I guess we need to talk about Yuri!!! On Ice, don’t we?” “Yup.”
ELM: Yeah, and so like…
FK: “I guess we do.” So we feel ya.
ELM: Right. So, yeah. That's fine. That's funny. But then some of the stuff that we got was not about people’s opinions about more Yuri, less Yuri, we got one ask that was asking why we didn’t say “Western fans” when we were talking about anime and Japanese centered media versus, we were talking about people in the West, as amorphous and constructed as that term actually is, if we want to go into my degree in post-colonial studies, consuming products that primarily come from Japan, but you could also say—people talk about this with K-pop for example, or other East Asian media products.
FK: Well and what's funny about it is that I just did our transcript and we actually used the term “Western fans” a fair bit—
ELM: That's what I thought, but I thought your answer was really good. The sense of like, and I have a huge problem with this, is people saying “Western fans” when they really do mean “American.” And I say this as someone who has lived in the United Kingdom for many years, and also as someone who has a fair number of European fan friends, who feel even left out of that conversation and you’re constantly having to orient—orientate, say it the British way—orient yourself, from an American perspective. Right?
FK: Yeah, absolutely.
ELM: People never, I remember taking to some…I was at Fan Studies Network and I was talking to some Italian fans and complaining, we had just seen a transcultural fandom series of presentations, and they were all East Asia and Anglophone, American/UK. And that was it, that was the dichotomy. I was like, you know, it’s weird to me. Obviously there’s more cultures than those two, you know?
FK: SHH! There's literally just two! There’s literally just a single Eastern Culture, whatever that is, and a single Western Culture, whatever that is! Who does Russia count as? We’re not sure. Maybe they’re a third culture! We don’t know. SOMEWHERE.
ELM: What could that be? Somewhere in the middle? Like…uh…
FK: SHHHH! [laughing]
ELM: There’s a really good essay that I included in an early “Rec Center” that was by, ah, I don’t remember where she was from, what country she was from, but it was about “confessions of an African fangirl.” Something along those lines. And she was talking about, it was really good, we should include it in the show notes. A total erasure of her identity within this international conversation. It was like, you know, never…even, one thing I’ve really valued about our conversation about race and fandom is that we had other people from other countries too, because I often feel that conversations about race or sexuality or whatever within fandom can get so ethnocentric American-focused, so.
FK: Totally. And of course we are two white women living in America and we’re upper-middle class and you sort of can’t change those things I think.
ELM: I think we’re in liberal elite bubbles, Flourish.
FK: Yeah [laughs] don’t get me started. Let’s not even open that door. But we can’t change those things about ourselves, but we can at least be specific when we’re talking about things that are specifically, you know, American, or what have you.
ELM: Right. So for the context of this episode and that critique, Lauren definitely was coming at—Lauren Orsini, our last guest, was definitely coming at anime in general and Yuri!!! On Ice in particular from an American perspective. It wasn’t even, you know, talking about things like Toonami on the Cartoon Network and things like that, right.
ELM: Or the way that earlier anime in prior decades, how it came to America. It’s obviously very different than maybe an anime fan in Germany would’ve, you know. I have no idea how they got access to anime in 1987, right? Write in! Let us know! So.
FK: Yeah. So then the other critique was actually interesting, it was sort of a two—we had one person write in to say that they felt like Lauren was really down on yaoi and felt like she was, like, really negative about how yaoi has all of these stereotypes about the seme and the uke and all of these things—
ELM: Problematic tropes, yeah.
FK: Problematic tropes. And they were like “No, this is not what yaoi is really like anymore, most people who like yaoi are not like this at all—”
ELM: Lots of Yuri!!! on Ice fans, lots of yaoi fans fit within Yuri!!! on Ice fandom...
FK: So we had that. Then we had someone else write in to say, “Oh, it was so refreshing to see someone take on the problematic tropes in yaoi!” And we were like “Yeah, great!” So since neither of us are really major yaoi people…
ELM: “Major” isn’t even, I’m not even on the spectrum of minor-to-major yaoi people.
FK: I really don’t know what to say about this beyond “We’ll have lots of people on the podcast I hope and they’ll hopefully have different things to say!”
ELM: When I’m thinking about other controversial topics we’ve tackled, I definitely think that we have…there’s a lot of different perspectives on a lot of things within Western—I put that in quotes—fandom. You know? We have people, the episode to talk about slashtivism and talking about slash as a political construct. The race episodes, there was disagreement amongst our guests. You know?
FK: Yeah, our guests have disagreed. So.
ELM: Right. And these are big topics, all the ones I just named, including yaoi. You know? Including the controversial and so…obviously our first anime guest is going to have a perspective, but our next anime guest will probably have a different perspective, so…I guess…
FK: I don’t personally take a position, the podcast is not taking a position on this issue because we don’t know enough yet and maybe ever!
ELM: We don’t take positions on a lot of things. We’re not gonna sit here and make an official decree on whether slash is problematic. [laughter] You know?
ELM: We could definitely talk about it. I just think, I would encourage people if you disagree with something a guest says to definitely to write in and offer your own perspective and say “Oh, I totally disagree.” But with that in mind, knowing that it’s not the final word. You know? We’re not putting out an official proclamation or feelings on X topic or Y topic. You know. Say, “Oh, I found this something that I wanted to,” you know, “discuss.” Right?
FK: But it was great having so many responses.
ELM: Oh yeah!
FK: To that episode. So please, as before, our Tumblr ask box is open, anon is on, so far we have not had anyone being a jerk, although we did get a bunch of anons, so thank you, people! None of you were jerks! And you can also email us, email@example.com, or tweet at us, however you wanna contact us we are really happy to hear from people. And that’s it! That’s what that is! You should contact us! Oh, and you know, no one has sent in an audio comment in a really long time. But if you wanted to, you could send in an audio comment too, right? Like, record yourself saying something.
ELM: Absolutely! Just be in a quiet place, listen to your audio so you don’t have a ton of static…
ELM: Basic tips! And then, send it in! Final housekeeping business since we’re wrapping up: patreon.com/fansplaining, still there…
FK: We always have to talk about it because it’s really important! And it’s really helpful.
ELM: Yes! And we’ve definitely plateaued in terms of support, we’re incredibly grateful to our supporters, but if you’ve been thinking about it, now’s the time! 2017. It's been awhile since we did our last special episode, so we should probably start thinking about the next one. So those are for people who pledge $3 or more a month get access to the special episodes. Final housekeeping item: iTunes. It would be really awesome, if you are a regular listener, we’ve got dozens of amazing—maybe not dozens.
FK: Stick with dozens.
ELM: We’ve got a number of amazing comments, I don’t know the exact number, and reviews, and if you’re a fan of the podcast we’d love for you to leave a rating and a review because we have no idea if that actually makes a difference in iTunes but I definitely know if we can catch iTunes’ attention then we’ll be exposed to more listeners, which will, you know, be good for us? I didn’t end that in a good way. That’s great.
FK: And everybody! And the discourse. With tildes around it.
ELM: The discourse!
FK: OK. So I think I’ll look forward to discoursing with you next time.
ELM: Can we not turn that into a verb?
FK: No. We have to turn it into a verb. [laughs]
ELM: I’m makin’ a face.
FK: I’ll discourse with you later, Elizabeth!
ELM: I hate you Flourish.