It's been over a year since the don't-call-it-a-fan-film Prelude to Axanar, set during the four-year war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, raised over $100k on Kickstarter. The entirety of that prequel has since been released and more Kickstarters (and now an Indiegogo campaign) have cropped up to raise more money for a feature-length Axanar film.
Several members of the Blastr writing staff have written about this project with enthusiasm, myself included. But as the latest in their fundraising campaigns is about to come to an end, it's natural to raise the question - is Star Trek Axanar still worth it?
Nothing about Axanar is an easy sell. There's already a third in a new series of official Star Trek movies being made,the previous two of which made serious bank for CBS. For some of us those movies may be STINO (Star Trek In Name Only) but that doesn't make them unpopular with the moviegoing public. And the reality is that, even though Paramount has been pretty game so far (provided Axanar doesn't make any money off distribution), they could always change their minds at any time and squash the project.
Yet despite all that, the support is still pouring in. With over $450k already raised this go around and a cast flooded with a who's who of Trek and sci-fi greats, it's hard not to get caught up in the hope that Axanar might just be the best Star Trek movie in decades. So we reached out to the crew behind Axanar to find out how things are going, what challenges they're dealing with, and to see if this trek is still one worth taking.
So I started with the obvious - Why is Axanar worth working on? For Line Producer, Michael DeMerritt, it's about setting a new standard in fan filmmaking. "Axanar desires to bring the best of the two worlds to one place, a fan production but professionally made, with established actors, professional crew, and high production ideals. I believe this trend is growing and as a dedicated DGA member I would like to see my union follow in the footsteps of SAG-AFTRA and start to organize these productions - the one's that seek to be something greater than a fan film, more of a professional endeavor (and by Professional I mean cast and crew being paid like any other job, that is to say it is your profession)."
"The pattern budget for a Star Trek Episode in my 11 years on the series (all of Voyager and all of Enterprise) was north of $2.3M -- and that's not adjusting for inflation."
It doesn't take much looking around to see how small productions, fan works, and kickstarted projects of any size can go awry. It's all too common for hard work to go unpaid and uncredited. As stunning as it may be to see the multiple fundraising campaigns for this one fan project, part of that hopefully means that the people doing the work are getting compensated.
Surprisingly one of the most interesting things we talked about is production costs. DeMerritt worked on both Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, so he's got a lot of experience with how much money needs to be spent on what. Or, in some cases, how the cost of certain effects has changed.
"The pattern budget for a Star Trek Episode in my 11 years on the series (all of Voyager and all of Enterprise) was north of $2.3M -- and that's not adjusting for inflation. We are trying to reach that level of quality on a fragment of the budget. The series amortized sets over years, all our sets have to be paid out of the money raised - which was why [Executive Producer] Alec [Peters] needed Pre-Production budget and Production Budget to be funded separately. He is trying to make a fantastic project on less money than we spent just to build the Voyager bridge set. Way less.
To his advantage is that the cost of some things have dropped -- a phaser beam on Voyager cost more than $2,000 each. If you saw a guy shoot and another guy get hit in two shots, that was $4,000+. Now its a few bucks. Green screen and tracking was very costly in the 1990's, now you put up some tracking marks and tell your computer to follow along. Very different world in VFX."
Speaking of Exec. Producer, Alec Peters, we asked him what about Axanar got him excited and he, once again, was very specific about the talent on board, specifically Babylon 5 vet (annd Emmy-Winning Production Designer) John Iacovelli.
The Axanar production crew strike an ironically inverse tone from what we've heard out of Bad Robot over the years. In 2009 especially, there was so much focus on nostalgia during production of the new Star Trek. We had pictures of Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto standing side-by-side, talk of remianing faithful to what came before, and a plot that acknowledges the original shows without erasing them. But the movie itself, while fun, owed more influence to the sci-fi action of Star Wars than the exploration of humanity of Star Trek.
Meanwhile, the folks at Axanar, a fan film, are far more focused on talking about the bones of their project as opposed to the fandom side of things. When you ask them what gets them excited, it's not just the actors from the past who are coming back, it's also finding out there's a way to affordably gets top-notch hair and makeup.
Is Axanar still worth it? That's the question. And it can't just be answered in the affirmative because this Trek might be more faithful. We've already seen Prelude to Axanar and, yes, that does feel more like the Star Trek many fans grew up with than the fast-paced lens flare extravanganza that is the official relaunch. But far more assuring is the mundane questions, the how's and the whom's for all the little pieces that make up a production.
So as this final Indiegogo campaign winds down, it's the transparency of the production, I think, that matters most. But you tell me -- have you or would you put your money on this horse? And when you look at the production for Axanar, what do you see?
Axanar begins filming in January 2016.