An Interview with Alec Peters
By Vice Admiral Jon Lane
There have been two Kickstarters so far for Team Axanar. The first, which took place in March of 2014, generated $101,000 in fan donations…the proceeds of which went almost entirely into the filming of the Prelude to Axanar short film. Prelude to Axanar served as a proof-of-concept to help build excitement and enthusiasm, along with encouraging donations for Axanar’s second Kickstarter, which took place last summer and was intended to fund (or at least start to fund) the full-length Axanar feature film. That Kickstarter was a huge success, taking in more than $600,000 in donations in just 30 days!
Now Team Axanar is planning to hold a third Kickstarter to (hopefully) complete the funding for their feature film. But fans and donors have been asking a number of hard-hitting questions about production costs, spending priorities, and even perk fulfillment. Executive Producer Alec Peters has promised full transparency on this entire project, and he has responded elsewhere to the tough questions. But now it’s STARFLEET’s turn to ask some upfront questions of our own, since many of our members have donated to the first two Kickstarters and want to know where our money is going.
Q: Alec, your Kickstarter last summer took in an amazing $638,000 in donations. But when all was said and done, you didn’t actually receive all that money, did you?
A: No. By the time we paid for all the costs of the Kickstarter itself, we had about $446,000 left over.
Q: What do you mean by “all the costs of the Kickstarter”?
A: Well, the folks at Kickstarter have a business model where they get 5% of the money you raise as a commission. So, about $32,000 of the money we raised went immediately to Kickstarter. Another 5% (approximately) went to Amazon for payment processing fees. So subtract another $32,000 for that.
But it doesn’t end there. We learned during our first Kickstarter (which allowed us to make our short film, Prelude to Axanar) that producing perks for the donors is not cheap! Even things as seemingly small and simple as patches, posters, and t-shirts can really add up. And then there are shipping costs, which have really skyrocketed over the past couple of years. When all is said and done, then, you can tack on an additional 20% for perk production and fulfillment/shipping.
So, by the time we got around to spending our Kickstarter money on what we’d planned to spend it on, nearly a third was already gone! Not that we’re complaining, mind you; it’s just the cost of doing business if you’re crowd-sourcing. And we’re so happy to provide the donors with great perks because they’re so supportive of us in the first place. Perks also help us spread the word about Axanar and build excitement about the project, and that’s very important for Axanar’s ultimate success.
Q: Speaking of perks, many donors haven’t received their items yet, and it’s been nearly a year since the previous Kickstarter. Why the delay?
A: There are two reasons why fulfillment has taken longer than we planned. First, we decided to delay our international Prelude to Axanar shipments until we had all the items in a kit available to mail together. This was because sending multiple packages—which to foreign countries is super-expensive—would have taken money away from the project. So while it has been frustrating to some overseas donors to have to wait a year to receive their items, we literally saved ourselves (are our donors) tens of thousands of dollars in shipping costs by holding everything until all the items were ready to ship in one package.
The second reason for the delay is because we’ve had to wait until the last of the Prelude items–the soundtrack CDs and the DVDs/Blu-rays–were finished. Both of these projects were considerably more involved–and thus, took more time–than we could’ve imagined! The amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into producing a high-quality disk–not just the content, but also the design, cover art, captioning, formatting, etc.–is incredible. In addition, most of the people working on the disks had other professional commitments that had to take priority, so they were only able to give their time to our projects when they had time to do so.
But I’m happy to say that both the soundtrack CD and the DVD/Blu-ray are finally both completed and being printed as I answer this question right now. The copies should arrive here in our offices within the next couple of weeks, and as soon as we receive them, we’ll start packing up more than 10,000 shipments to finally get all of our donors what they’ve been patiently waiting for.
I’m happy to say, though, that both the CD and the DVD/Blu-ray are finished, and being printed as we speak. They should arrive in our offices within the next couple of weeks, and once we receive them, we’ll begin the process of packing up all those remaining Prelude to Axanar shipments to get them out to happy donors!
Q: I’ve noticed that, in discussing perk fulfillment, you’ve been careful to say Prelude to Axanar, which was your first Kickstarter back in March of 2014, and it had about 2,600 donors. But last summer you held your second Kickstarter that made $638,000, and that had more than 8,500 donors. When will they get their perks?
What we learned with our first Kickstarter for Prelude to Axanar last March was how much work it is to fulfill all those perks AND how expensive it is to ship them. So we decided a couple of things before we even began the first Axanar Kickstarter last summer: 1) we would only ship out donor packages when the perks for each kit were complete for everyone (regardless of whether they were domestic or international), and 2) that we would also most likely hold off on shipping the perks kits from our first Axanar Kickstarter until after we’d held a second one, so that—when the perks were eventually all ready—we could ship out kits from both together (to all the donors who donated to both campaigns).
Keep in mind that one of the main perks from the Axanar Kickstarters last summer and this summer is, of course, the DVD/Blu-ray of the finished movie. So we’ve got to make the movie first, right? Since this major perk can’t be produced until after we have the finished movie, we can save a lot of money—money that can be put to use making the movie, instead—by combining the perks shipments for both Axanar summer Kickstarters.
Q: In your previous Kickstarter last summer, you said the 90-minute feature film would cost between $650,000 and $750,000 in total. And it seems like you’re already two-thirds of the way there. You’ve said you want this next Kickstarter to generate $250,000 on the first day and wind up with a total far above the last Kickstarter. Doesn’t that put you far over your projected feature film cost from last year? Why does Axanar need so much money?
A: When we held our Kickstarter last summer, we made sure in the executive summary on the Kickstarter page to be very clear and upfront about two things:
1) We didn’t have a good budget estimate because there still were a lot of unknowns, and we wouldn’t know the final budget until we could hire on an experienced line producer to run a budget for us. In fact, in the top section of the Kickstarter page, I even said the $650-750,000 estimate would likely climb, and it did. It is now $850,000 – $950,000 after we had our line producer, Mike DeMerrit (who worked on Star Trek for 11 years), break down the script.
2) The Kickstarter last summer explained that we were raising money for the studio first. We listed those expense estimates: $125,000 for rent (it wound up being $ 182,000), $50,000 for renovations (we have already spent $70,000 and haven’t even finished yet!), $100,000 for set construction (it will wind up being more than that), and $50,000 for pre-production costs.
So the building of Ares Studio is what the first Kickstarter really focused on, and we have done a pretty good job with that. But everything cost more than we thought, which isn’t unheard of in Hollywood (Star Trek: The Motion Picture actually ended up costing more than TWICE as much as it was initially budgeted for). Once you begin the process of retrofitting a huge, empty warehouse to be a functional soundstage (think: floors, walls, soundproofing, electrical, and HVAC, for starters), the costs just keep adding up! But I think a lot of people are very impressed at what we have done, and we are setting the stage for not just Axanar, but more Star Trek and science fiction projects in the future.
Plus, remember the Kickstarter math above: of the $ 638,000 we raised last year, we only have $446,000 for production after expenses.
We’re doing everything the RIGHT WAY, though. Getting all the necessary permits and licenses takes both time and money, but it’s how we’re making sure Ares Studios will be a professional environment where we can produce great things, now and in the future!
Q: So what are some of the things that you’re planning to do differently and/or better for this newest Kickstarter that you didn’t do last time?
A: The biggest change is we have been developing the best Kickstarter fulfillment program in the country. With Diana Kingsbury working full time helming fulfillment and donor relations, and Chief Technology Officer Terry McIntosh developing cutting edge technology in Ares Digital, our digital fulfillment platform, we are making sure we can deliver donor perks more efficiently than ever. Even Kickstarter has expressed how impressed they are with the process we have created.
Plus, for the next Kickstarter, we want to get the whole Axanar fan community involved with promoting and supporting the new campaign! Launch parties, local events, contests…we have some really great things in the works that we think will be a LOT of fun. By the time this Kickstarter ends, we want every Star Trek fan to know about Axanar!
Q: What does the future hold for Axanar? When will filming begin, and when will the final feature film be finished? And what happens after the Axanar film is finished?
A: We are looking at a shoot during the final quarter of 2015, hopefully October/November. After that, of course, we’ll go into post-production, so a spring 2016 debut of the finished Axanar is our goal. Since 2016 also happens to be the monumentally important 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, we think our timing couldn’t be better.
Once we’ve finished Axanar, it will be on to other projects. One fun thing is our plan to host a Sci-Fi Film School at Ares Studios, where fans will be able to learn from industry professionals for a few days and then use our sets to film their own student projects. Of course, we’re looking at creating more Axanar pieces to further expand upon this era of Trek history. And there are also some other really interesting and exciting sci-fi stories out there that we can’t wait to tell!
NOTE: In the two months since this interview was conducted in May, Team Axanar has decided to host their next fundraiser on Indiegogo instead of Kickstarter. They have also announced that patches will be mailed out to donors from last summer’s campaign immediately rather than waiting until the full Axanar movie is completed.