If you are a committed Star Trek fan, you probably know that there are a number of Star Trek fan productions out there on the internet, in which fans create their own episodes for the enjoyment of other fans. This has been going on for about 15 years, and the productions have been getting bigger and more sophisticated and, yes, it must be confessed, more professional. And you probably also have heard that last week CBS and Paramount issued guidelines spelling out what is and is not acceptable in a Star Trek fan production.
It must be said first, that until now, CBS and Paramount have been very indulgent with the fan productions. It should also be said that a set of guidelines is welcome. It helps clarify expectations, and give the fans guidance. That being said, the guidelines issued are absurdly strict, particularly in limiting fan shows to 15 minutes, which means telling a story that in any way resembles a real Star Trek story is now impossible. Not to mention, if these guidelines are meant to be retroactive, banning the further distribution of pretty much every Star Trek fan production ever made.
I have a stake in this, because I have contributed, in a small way, to one such fan production, Henglaar, MD, from Hidden Frontier Productions. HFP has been making video and audio Star Trek fan shows since 2000, set in the post-Voyager Star Trek universe, with original characters. And they have been pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. Not to mention that HFP quite literally changed my life for the better.
I discovered Hidden Frontier in 2008, ironically, just as the original show was winding down. At that time, a lot of us Star Trek fans were wondering, after the cancellation of Enterprise and the failure of Nemesis, whether Star Trek was played out. HF and its spinoff shows demonstrated conclusively that there was plenty of life left in Star Trek, if you put it in the hands of the right people. I have often said, and will repeat here, that if CBS wants to create a new Star Trek series, they could do worse than just buy up the Hidden Frontier episodes and re-do the series professionally.
When I was younger, I tried writing science fiction professionally, and after several years and exactly one (1) publication credit to show for it, I gave up. That was in 1997. I pursued a new career in politics. I didn’t write a word of fiction for eleven years after that.
When I discovered HF, I was hooked. Bad. Not just as an audience member; I wanted to play, too. It looked like everyone was having so much fun. I binge-watched every episode of Hidden Frontier in July, 2008. Afterward, story ideas began coming to me unbidden. In August, I sat down to write my first piece of HF fan fiction. I wasn’t sure I even remembered how to write fiction. Strangely enough, I discovered not only that I remembered, but in fact my writing was better than ever. My HF fan fiction was some of the best material I ever wrote. It turns out that when you get older, you get smarter. (Who knew?)
My fan fiction got me an invitation to write for Henglaar, MD, an HFP audio show (a medical mystery series set in the Star Trek universe, believe it or not), and that was a huge thrill. I had never written material for other people to perform before, and listening to talented people bringing my words and ideas to life was…an indescribably wonderful experience.
Of course, I still had a career in politics, so I wrote a few episodes, and that was that. Or, it was until November of 2014, when the voters, as the old joke goes, elected me to return to writing science fiction.
And so now I am back to writing, my own original stories now. I have written two novels (one of which has a gay couple as the protagonists–something else I learned from HF, the first Star Trek fan series, and therefore the first Star Trek, to depict ongoing characters in same-sex relationships) and several short stories. I am shopping them around professionally, but what’s different from 20 years ago is that now I will have the option to self-publish in ebook formats, which I will certainly explore.
Unfortunately, HFP has shut down their production in light of the CBS/Paramount guidelines, as they feel they cannot operate within those restrictions. I agree with the decision (I see no other option), but it is regrettable that CBS and Paramount have clamped down so hard. They are within their legal rights to do so, but legal rights and moral rights are different things. One could also argue that enlightened self-interest would and should lead CBS and Paramount to give fans greater flexibility. We can all hope that they will one day see this more clearly. But that day is not this day.
But I have HF to thank for starting me down this path (again!). So, thank you, HFP, and everyone associated with it, including the fans. You have helped me write the next chapter of my life.
UPDATE: A list of Star Trek fan productions and their reactions to the CBS/Paramount guidelines is here. It makes for grim reading.
UPDATE II: The folks at Paramount/CBS have clarified that audio productions are exempt from their guidelines, and Henglaar MD is back in business. So that’s great news. Of course, the rest of what I said above still stands.