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.

Kristen Bell starring as Veronica one last time.
Kristen Bell starring as Veronica one last time.

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 – Teaser Trailer – Harry Potter Fan Film

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 film makers of 'Legacy' received the authors blessing.
The film makers of ‘Legacy’ received the authors blessing.

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.

Jonathon Shulgach making masks for Revan
Jonathon Shulgach making masks for “Revan”

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.

Works Cited

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

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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29 Comments

  1. Funderburk
    0

    Kudos to the writers and directors along with rest of the cast. Continue on to make more.

  2. I thought the Mega Man film was good enough. In fact, its the length of a standard hollywood film.

  3. I really love the Dr. Who fanfilm, it was amazing and beautiful and was probably created with meticulous effort, it also has so much emotion and feeling into it. Long story short, the doctor lives and has proven himself to be truly epic.

  4. alot of these fan films put big name cinema films to shame

  5. Watching the Street Fighter fan film… It did exactly what it’s meant to do; It really brought those two rivals to life for me.

  6. Dark Resurrection Volume 1 (Star Wars fan film) is an amazing fan film made by a group of Italian film makers. It’s a dark and brooding story set long after the Star Wars movies. A prequel was made too (Dark Ressurrection, Volume 0), and while it’s a lot more polished looking, the story isn’t quite as good (IMO). Both are fun watches though, and lengthy! Y’all should look it up!

  7. Switzer
    0

    Flashy special effects =/= “fan film”. Plus, these are just a bunch of ads for nerd culture.

  8. The Batman and the Punisher movies are really good, those two kids in those movies are going to grow up to be the next generation of heroes.

  9. So glad I’m ill…gives me time to watch all of these fan films.

  10. Youtube: Where dreams make stars and stars make dreams.

  11. Kevin Rubio’s “Troops” is almost old enough by now to legally buy beer, but despite how long ago it was made (way before YouTube), this mashup of “Star Wars” and the TV show “Cops” is still one of the best fanflicks ever made.

    • Classic…I had forgotten about this and it’s still just as good as when I first saw it.

  12. Cherish
    0

    Pretty recent but very decent: Predator:Dark Ages

  13. YsabelGo

    Interesting topic! I never realized fan movies existed.

  14. They need to make these into real movies!!

  15. “Hellblazer” John Constantine fan film is one of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. The visual quality and acting performances are pretty pro.

  16. These films are great for one reason: the heart put into it.

    The problem with big budget movies today is nobody cares. plain and simple.

    • agreed. Most films are only concerned about the financial gains. These fan films are made from the heart

      • I prefer the movies that are made for financial gain. I know they will be made to specifically thrill and appeal to me or make me think or whatever it is they have carefully, and skillfully, crafted to make money off.

    • Bullshit. A few of them are good, but most of them are badly made and acted and the fan films are so orientated towards fan service that it becomes ridiculous to the extreme.

      If you can’t stand the big-budget movies, then say so, but don’t use the fan movies as a way to blast the big movies for ‘defects’ that are mostly in your mind and opinion and because they have to get people to see them other than rabid fans.

  17. Eli Tobias
    0

    I enjoyed the Mortal Kombat Rebirth and legacy videos. Much better than the movies

  18. Some fan films that spring to mind are Power/Rangers and Judge Minty. The first, well, everyone knows about, but it’s worth reiterating that it’s an intriguing adult continuation of the Power Rangers continuity. The ending is a bit goofy, but it’s great nonetheless.

    The second, Judge Minty, may not be as good as 2012’s Dredd (the most underrated movie of the last few years), but it’s still pretty good, taking the focus away from Judge Dredd and instead another Judge who chose to take the Long Walk. It’s a great short if you’ve got 30 minutes to spare.

  19. DClarke

    I had no idea that there is so much that goes into making fan films! Great article to expose all the hard work to people like me!

  20. Aaron Hatch

    Great article. It reminds me why I love fan films because they remind a bit of Hollywood film, but with more freedom. Fan films have a lot of heart, which is mostly because the ideas come from the director him/herself, and not from a bunch of movie executives. My favorite fan film is Punisher: Dirty Laundry, which is probably the best Punisher movie ever made, and it’s only 12 minutes long.

  21. Metal Gear Solid: Philantropy!
    It is an original project, Greatly developed, produced and MINDBLOWING!

  22. The Hunt for Gollum or Born of Hope are great.

  23. Jonathan Leiter

    As a filmmaker myself, and one who is very critical of his own work, I find it hard to imagine setting out to make a short or feature length film without the right amount of money or the right level of quality in the end product.

    I still create projects because I think they’ll be fun. But if I ever wanted to make a project like the ones above, where I wanted to be taken seriously by the rest of the fan base, and have a film that really looked and felt like a million-dollar project, I probably wouldn’t go through with most of them simply because I would have realized quickly that I wasn’t going to achieve a professional-type look in the end. The green screen composites wouldn’t look great because every environment would need a lot of textural details, which takes weeks and months to create in the computer. The costumes wouldn’t be up to snuff because only one or two people would be making them. Alternatively, cobbling them together from bits and pieces is an art in itself. And finding a cast of actors who can sound believable on screen is nearly impossible if you don’t tap the right pool.

    I also don’t think it is ever wise to set out and create a nearly two hour film if you have very little experience creating even short films. And considering how many micro-budget feature films look, it doesn’t appear on the surface that their directors have really had much experience, so why are they diving straight into features?

    Ultimately I don’t wish to come off a mean spirited or insulting towards these fan projects. Every one of them took a lot of dedication, time, sweat, and day to day effort for more than a year or two in some cases. It’s just that I see so many fan films that turn out looking rough and somewhat incomplete, and it saddens me a bit each time because I feel like these filmmakers and film crews could be doing so much better if they simply employed more craft, and did more research into what it takes to make each shot and each camera move look as good as possible. Because it honestly takes a lot less than one thinks. And with cameras as good as they are today on the lower-budget ends, there’s less of a reason why certain fan-films and micro-indie films should look as rough and amateur as they do.

    • Jordan

      Hi Jonathon! Thank you for your thoughts. I agree, the quality of the end product is of utmost importance. This is why I think fan film creators should be trying to use Kickstarter and set the budget as high as they need it to be, and not cutting themselves short just to get a film together. Also, it would be far smarter for budding film makers to spend a lot of time making a short film, and THEN tackle a feature if that short film is successful, than just go into a feature straight away. The comparison between the Revan Fan Film and the Legacy of the Force one is a good way to look at this. The Revan and Legacy films had very similar budgets. They both had small crews. Revan’s crew were fairly new and trying to get their foot in the door. Legacy’s crew were already from a well established company that had many other projects under their belt. As a result, the Legacy fan film has turned out much higher quality than Revan, possibly because 5~ grand was poured into 20 minutes, rather than a 1 hour and a half feature. This is not dismissing the efforts of the Revan staff. I still enjoyed their film but it does not match high budget productions. Legacy came out a few months after this article was published and is probably one of the best fan films I have seen, I highly recommend you check it out. It’s absolutely fantastic.

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