I've been struggling to avoid blogging about the Star Trek/Nebula controversy for the past week, because it seemed so silly, and I was sure it was blowing over. But now it seems like the controversy that will not die. In case you missed it, an episode of fan-made Trek show Star Trek: Phase II got nominated for a Nebula Award, but some science fiction boffins are upset that an "amateur" production has gotten a nod. So why does this controversy keep rattling on?
Let's ignore the easy answer: Because there are lots of bloggers (like me) with too much time on our hands. The more complicated answers involve copyright law and the changing nature of TV/movie production.
First of all, copyright law. The latest twist in the kerfuffle comes from the makers of Phase II arguing amongst themselves. Marc Zicree, who had directed the Nebula-nominated episode, had issued a statement saying Phase II is a professional production. The scriptwriters were paid, and so were some of the cast and crew. And he says the show has tacit approval from Paramount, which owns the copyright to Star Trek.
But now, Phase II producer James Cawley has retorted that the production is definitely not professional, by any means. Apparently Cawley is worried that if Phase II starts claiming "professional" status (which is a vaguely worded requirement for Nebula inclusion) then Paramount will change its mind about approving of the production. He'd rather face the wrath of a few snippy science fiction writers than Paramount's hordes of blood-thirsty lawyers.
But then there's the issue of the changing nature TV/movie production. It's only going to get easier and cheaper, from here on out, to put "amateur" productions online that look almost as good as "professional" productions. In 20 years, the line between "real" TV shows and "fan-made" ones may be much, much thinner. And a fan-made movie, on the Internet, may be better than the latest Roland Emmerich disaster. So it's in the interest of the Nebulas, long term, to recognize productions which may not meet every requirement for "professional" ones. (I'm not saying we're there yet. But in another decade or two, we may well be.)
The real reason why people are so worked up about this issue? Because of the words "Star Trek" and "fan film." Either one of those phrases by themselves would be enough to get people tweaked. Together, they're like your serious writer person's worst nightmare. But just consider that past Nebula script nominees have included the first X-Men movie, Shrek, an episode of The Dead Zone, The Butterfly Effect and The Devil's Arithmetic. I think they'll survive one Trek fan film. Concept art from the original Star Trek: Phase II from TrekMania.net. [Den Of Geek, via SF Awards Watch]