Process and Reception of Fan Films: A Promising Future
Before YouTube’s launch in 2005 it was commonplace to find fan created videos available for download on the server of fan websites, where only those intensely into their respective fandoms would go. Parodies, recreated trailers and unofficial music videos are usually what comes to mind when the word fan film crosses anyone’s screen. Nowadays one can sift through a large pool of such content on any given fandom and be entertained for hours on end. Little Kuriboh’s infamous Yu Gi Oh Abridged series (2006) inspired hundreds of similar series from every format imaginable, and video games have their fair share of cinematic style machimina’s, an artform in of itself. The official Star Wars website has been hosting fan film awards annually since 2002, one of the only fandoms that appear to do so besides the newly budding Independent Star Trek Fan Film Awards, and these sorts of competitions are becoming more popular at conventions, in a similar vein to short film festivals. As much fun as it is to plow through multiple seasons of Chad Vader: Day Manager on Youtube, one may question if it is worth giving fan films the same attention and respect as projects made by major studios.
The Importance of Crowd Funding
Nowadays, it is common sense to think that original content doesn’t make the money it used to. Many short film makers rely on their own savings to create their movies, even though this is not ideal. It costs thousands to create a twenty minute film, money the film makers will never get back, although some capable of understanding the stock market occasionally manage to gain funds this way. While your average person may be trying to save up for a car, a film maker is saving away for a movie.
For the same reason Marvel, DC and Star Wars movies will be made into the next decade, because basing a movie off an already existing franchise guarantees an audience. Crowd funding is a valuable tool and it can not be emphasized enough how determined and motivated these creative artists are. Their hard work goes above and beyond those of major studios as often the cast and crew go unpaid for their time. Kate Madison created the feature length prequel to Lord of the Rings, Born of Hope (2009) depicting the story of Aragorn’s father with the help of world wide donations of £25,000 and hundreds of volunteers. Although it gained media attention and over a million views on YouTube to date, Madison told The Guardian that Peter Jackson had not made any comment on the film. It is unclear he had seen it. She mentions to The Observer, “we stopped calling this a fan film a long time ago”. Clearly, the line between fan film and not is blurry, and becoming more so all the time.
With the launch of Kickstarter in 2009 projects have become more ambitious, had broader exposure and greater access to funding. One of the first projects to display the immense power of fandom was the Veronica Mars Movie (2014), an entirely Kickstarter funded feature length film with a budget of $5,702,153 from 91,585 backers. It is a marvel of the 00s and gave a taste of what exactly a large group of dedicated fans can do. The movie can be understood with little background knowledge of the series, and it is a surreal experience to know Hollywood had not been behind it and see the movie in local DVD stores among everything else. For big Kickstarter projects the studio in question has to have some decent material to display to convince backers to empty their wallets. This is the case with Severus Snape and the Marauders, an exciting to-be-released Harry Potter prequel by Broad Strokes. They relied on their success of the earlier Harry Potter movie The Greater Good (2013) to gain support, as well as displaying their casting choices.
Veronica Mars is one of the lucky contenders that does not need a variety of flashy effects to be accepted by its fan base as it is set in a modern world with ordinary characters.
The Screenplay & Copyright
If a fan film is based off an already existing work it can bring a new host of problems to the table. While asking permission from the rightful owners to use the material is a must, some of these corporations are incredibly difficult to get in contact with.
Severus Snape and the Marauders gained so much momentum that the Kickstarter page gained the attention of Warner Bros and was taken down for a copyright dispute, although the project has been permitted to continue so long that the film makers do not make a profit. Many are more fortunate with their ability to contact the original authors. Legacy of the Force, an upcoming 20 minute Star Wars project to depict the last confrontation between Jaina and Jacen Solo, features an all adult cast and is due to be released at the same time as The Force Awakens. It was partially based off the novel Invincible and received positive feedback from the author Troy Denning.
The most recent of Star Wars fan films to reach screens is The Old Republic: Revan (2015), a 116 minute film based on the Drew Karpyshyn novel of the same name. It is unclear whether the film makers received the green light from Karpyshyn, although they also took some creative liberty with the screenplay. The movie acts as a transition between the Bioware Role Playing games Knights of the Old Republic 1, 2 and the Massive Multiplayer Online game, the Old Republic. Fans of the games scorned the book for leaving out the majority of the game cast and for the unfavorable fate of a playable character. The screenplay adaption of Revan by Andrei Shulgach changes the fate of that character, removing at least half of the problems game fans had with the novel. Although one may think its essential to have played the games to enjoy the movie, some Amazon reviews suggest this isn’t the case. On the contrary it may be possible to enjoy it more without the hundreds of preconceptions of how the movie should be executed. Although hours of character details are lost on new viewers, the main set up is plainly summarized in the famous word scroll after the ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’ and behaves as a solid introduction to The Old Republic lore. Choosing to change the ending of the novel is one place where fans feedback was taken into account and for the better.
Props, Sets and Special Effects
Fan films with limited budgets dominantly receive feedback from the toughest audience of them all: the internet fandom, especially when it comes to props, special effects and sets. The quality of these aspects depend heavily on the quantity of crowd funds, although there are examples of exceptional work on the internet today. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter fan films have the insurmountable challenge of trying to mimic high quality aesthetics with very little. It’s been a little over a year since LucasArts President Kathleen Kennedy declared that the new Star Wars films will deviate from expanded universe (EU) canon in order to “give maximum creative freedom” and maintain the “element of surprise and discovery for the audience”. Even though the EU has been treated with respect, like the reference of a Star Map from the Bioware role playing game, Knights of the Old Republic in Disney’s animated Star Wars Rebels, fans are still outraged by the allegedly poor business decision. Perhaps that’s why so many Star Wars fan films are being made.
Lead by producers and directors Andrei and Jonathon Shulgach Revan raised $5030 from 64 people in 2013. After years of hard work the movie completely sold out at its Bel-Air Maryland premier 24th July 2015. Criticisms of the film include the props, notably the use of masks, although it is important to keep in mind that the crew was incredibly small. The armor was made by a young Ben Klopcic in his bedroom with materials like paint, foam, fiberglass and leather while the masks were made by Jonathon Shulgach with acrylic paint and latex. In the Phantom Menace masks were made of silicon, had electronic components and were completed with special effects. Purchasing replicas or requesting a custom made mask would have cost up to $1000, which was not doable given the budget. Revan relied heavily on green screen and compositing, in contrast to Legacy of the Force which fabricated its sets from scratch much like the original Star Wars trilogy, an immensely taxing and expensive task.
The special effects in the Italian Dark Resurrection (2011) series by Riviera Films are perceived as some of the most impressive in a fan film to date, matching the quality of films today even though the main team only consisted of four people. Talent was requested from all over the world so some sources claim that the post production crew consisted of hundreds. The films were screened on television they were so well received. The special effects team of Revan consisted of two people. The team had to work around their college classes and normal day jobs in order to film and edit the movie, an experience that the Shulgach’s mention in the opening text has “changed their lives”. This is not an unusual feat for fan films although the end product looks quite polished and believable.
With a range of quality films being released the future for fan films is a promising one, as more people get on board and contribute some funds to improve them.
Fan Film (2015). Making of a Fan Film Audience Choice and Best Non Fiction. Retrieved 30th July 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHTGiNEEl8U
Lamont, T. (2010). Born of hope -- and a lot of charity. Retrieved 29th July 2015 from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/mar/07/born-of-hope-lord-rings
Limitless Productions (2014). The road to Revan: Part 4. Retrieved 30th July 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEViAkpD11I
Limitless Productions (2014). The road to Revan: Part 5. Retrieved 30th July 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCp30N2Qo3c
Star Wars (2015). The Beginning: The Making of Star Wars episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Retrieved 30th July 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=da8s9m4zEpo
The Guardian (2010). The making of Born of Hope, a fan made Lord of the Rings prequel. Retrieved 29th July 2015 from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpjMQG_n3cA
The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page, retrieved 26th July 2015 from: http://www.starwars.com/news/the-legendary-star-wars-expanded-universe-turns-a-new-page
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