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At the Las Vegas Star Trek convention this past weekend, CBS and Star Trek New Voyages fan film series Producer James Cawley announced the creation of a Star Trek Film Academy equipped to train interested creators and produce future fan films.

“Learn the art of Star Trek filmmaking from those who made it,” said Cawley. “From gaffing to costuming to special effects, fans will work side by side with talented Star Trek artists to create short vignettes from beginning to end.” This format is in keeping with the new fan film guidelines released by CBS, intended to prevent fans from creating anything like a formal narrative.

James Cawley’s “New Horizons”

Still, this is the first time in Trek’s 50-plus year history that CBS has reached any kind of cordial legal agreement with Star Trek fans about, well, anything. CBS’ reputation in the courtrooms with respect to fans has consisted pretty much exclusively of flattening fan efforts, even when it was to their own detriment to do so.

The academy will open for business in the fall of 2017, with the first films expected in Spring 2018. By contrast to CBS’ fan film guidelines, films done through the Star Trek Film Academy will be able to employ people who’ve worked on professional Trek productions.

Filmmakers at the Academy will have access to the New Voyages sets and facilities. Cawley produced the fan series between 2008 and 2015, doing about an episode per year. Sets were constructed for New Voyages and became licensed as a “Studio Set Tour” beginning in July 2016. The Academy is presumed to be starting operations in Ticonderoga, New York, as that is where the New Voyages sets are currently located.

The Film Academy is operating on what seems like a different planet entirely from the very ugly and public litigation between CBS and the Axanar project, and its producer Alec Peters. The opponents fought in court for nearly a year and a half before finally arriving at a settlement.

While mistakes were made on both sides, and it was looking like CBS was going to get the upper hand from a legal standpoint, they were also running the risk of having a fair amount of their intellectual property rights over Star Trek either substantially weakened or voided in the process. Even their claim of copyright over the Klingon language was up for debate. CBS finally apparently realized how much damage they were doing to themselves and backed off just enough to let Peters off the hook with respect to penalties, yet arranged for the feature that Axanar was meant to be to never see the light of day. Public perception has been that Axanar was singled out by CBS because it was themed on the ten years prior to James T. Kirk’s assumption of command of the Enterprise, and had accidentally stumbled on the very storyline CBS was exploring for the struggling Star Trek: Discovery series.

James Cawley is to be congratulated – he was negotiating all his advances during the time CBS was advancing their case against another somewhat similar organization, and succeeding in such a legally hostile atmosphere is no mean feat.

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