Fan Film, Fan Films

Ain’t It Cool News’ Anti-Fan Film Stance

“Moriarty” (AKA Drew McWeeny) has always been one of my favorite writers on Ain’t It Cool News (AICN), not merely because I tend to agree with his observations, but also because he tends to temper his reviews. On a site that never met an exclamation point it didn’t like (which is part of its charm), he’s one of the voices given to dialing back on the hubris, taking a well-reasoned POV instead. So it was something of a surprise to read his recent review of book, and find this grisly nugget hidden away in there:

These days, the thing that depresses me most is seeing how many people spend massive amounts of time and energy creating fan films that are all about someone else’s copyright. If those same fans took that same energy and passion and poured it into telling stories of their own creation that still tapped into those same fun types of iconography, who knows what the blockbuster landscape might look like? Because maybe those original shorts, even if they are cheap and handmade, would be enough to convince some studio to take a chance on one of those original voices. As it is, there aren’t a lot of development execs chomping at the bit to sort through hundreds of hundreds of hours of bad lightsaber duels on the off-chance that there’s a great natural filmmaker waiting to be discovered. So all of that energy is expended on doing something someone else already did instead of creating something new. If Lucas and Spielberg had done that, we would have never had Indiana Jones.

There’s a few different ways to take this—and I will—but first I have to say that I generally agree with him. Raiders worked primarily because it used the feel of the old serials rather than the material itself. If they had tried to retrofit an old franchise, it might have been good, perhaps even great if they were lucky, but it’s doubtful that the result would have resonated as deeply as Raiders did when it hit theaters in 1981. So, yeah, absolutely; thank goodness that they invented Indy instead of buying up a name that had no relevance to younger generations.

But I respectfully disagree that fan filmmakers are wasting their “energy and passion” when they could be changing the face of movies.

First, most of the fan films that get the most attention—such as by Sandy Collora, with whom which Moriarty had a bone to pick way back when—are made by aspiring Hollywood insiders who definitely want to get in and alter the movie landscape forever, no question.

However, the vast majority of fan flicks are made by hobbyists with no intention of trying to break into Tinsletown. They want some bragging rights at their next sci-fi convention, or to see what they’d look like kicking ass in a Spiderman costume, or—God forbid—to have some fun with their friends. Revolutionizing cinema? I suspect most fan filmmakers are content to leave that to James Cameron.

Secondly, the number of people who’ve made it from fan films into the professional production community is incredibly small. Anyone behind a high-profile fan film will tell you that it is not the EZ-Pass to helming a blockbuster; all it does is get you a bit of notice. Sure, they could have made original movies—and many of them did—but working with an established franchise made those impossible-to-reach development execs slightly more open to spending five minutes watching the work of an unknown quantity. Case in point: Collora. Ever seen Batman: Dead End? If you’re reading this, the answer is probably “yes.” Ever seen his first movie, Solomon Bernstein’s Bathroom? I bet the answer is “no.”

Finally, in a lot of cases, fan films are first films; they’re moviemaking with training wheels. People who make a flick based on Halo 3 or Star Wars don’t have to do as much creative work because the template is already worked out for them. They’re using someone else’s creativity as a framework to explore their own creative impulses. If they have a good time making a fan film, maybe they’ll make another movie, and another one after that. Give them some time and they might eventually come up with their own original material, to the point where they eventually go pro.

Come to think of it, that’s exactly what happened with a kid who spent his teen years making homebrew versions of Pieces and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even though, by Moriarty’s definition, he was a fan filmmaker whose energy was “expended on doing something someone else already did instead of creating something new,” he kept at it, and eventually started shooting his own original work. In fact, his first indie movie, Cabin Fever, made him a standard house favorite for the crew at Ain’t It Cool News, and they’ve loved everything he’s made since then. Ya gotta hand it to Eli Roth, writer/director of the Hostel franchise; the guy gives hope to both AICN and fan filmmakers alike.

Like this story? Tell the world:

Comments are closed.

RSS for Posts RSS for Comments