Fan Film, Fan Films

Interview: Fanimatrix Auteur Rajneel Singh, Part 4

Steven A. Davis (left) and Rajneel Singh play back their latest take while shooting <I>The Fanimatrix.</I>

Steven A. Davis (left) and Rajneel Singh.

Welcome to the fourth (and easily my favorite) installment of our epic interview with Rajneel Singh, director of the classic Matrix fan film, .

If you’ve already seen his 16-minute flick, you know it’s a pulse-pounding action flick made on a non-existent budget; if you haven’t seen it and you happen to dig Keanu Reeves’ second-best franchise, then you owe it to yourself to check this fan film out. After you do, come back and find out how they did it with this installment of our multi-part chat with Singh (and I’ll add that many of his comments below are among the smartest fan film advice I’ve ever come across—heed these words).

You landed real-world film work from a fan film, which is pretty unusual even though a lot of fan filmers hope that they’ll break into the industry. So—how did you make that happen? Any advice for others as to how to try and make that leap?

I think that people make fan films for a large array of reasons and the few people who are making them to become filmmakers already know the amount of work required to make that dream come true.

My first suggestion is Do not get comfortable with just using your dad’s handycam and puttering around in your basic home editing suite. Filmmaking is about being ambitious and keeping up-to-date with technology and the sooner you can step away from your backyard productions and realize that there’s a world of specialized gear, technology and jobs that you still don’t understand, then the faster you will progress.

In my experience, I’ve found that fan filmmakers are notoriously bad researchers when it comes to filmmaking outside their immediate field of vision. Fan filmmakers will know the ins and out of every pro-sumer camcorder and every home-edition editing and visual FX software…but when you talk to them about 16mm or 35mm film or the various HD standards, when you talk to them about different kinds of lenses, about professional lighting, about After Effects, Maya, 3DS Max, about Final Cut Studio and Avid, about production management, call-sheets, insurance for your shoot, about dealing with professionally trained actors and cinematographers and understanding proper post-production workflow—they often come up short. Understanding these elements is vital to bridging yourself from fan films to original films. They are also vital if you wish to improve the quality of your fanfilms as well.

The film industry rarely has time for people who have loads of talent, but which don’t have the training to do the work. Research, interning on professional film shoots, making contacts in the local film industry, and reading, reading and more reading are all vital to this. Unless you have a professional producer onboard who will guide you through these areas, making fan-films will generally not teach you this very important side of the industry. Ideally, use your amazing fan film to get yourself onto film sets and into post-production houses and learn. Experience and contacts are what the film industry is all about; talent only becomes important after you’ve got your first paying job in the industry, not before.

The other major element is to understand that fanfilms will show off your ability and talent, but will rarely get people excited about you as a creative person. The main drive behind the film industry in any country is the quality of your original work. Thus, at some point, you will have to put the leather trenchcoat and the lightsaber down and accept that you have to make original work to really capture the attention of the industry you’re trying to break into.

For better or worse, fan films have a stigma, and that stigma will prevent the door from being opened the whole way–at least for the moment. I’ve produced an original short film—Big Bad Wolves—which has gone to open even bigger doors for me than The Fanimatrix ever managed to; now I’m working hard in the production of music videos and television commercials while scheming in my evenings about our first feature-film project. Without these projects, I would not have progressed.

My last suggestion is linked to my earlier comment about production value: Make your fan films look like the movies you are basing them on.

Cinematography, lighting, costumes, art direction, props, color-grading and the rest; if these are seamlessly blended into the original subject matter, then people will psychologically respond very strongly. Make your fan films look as good as the commercials you see on TV and the movies you see in the cinema. Don’t settle for just beating the fanfilm community—take on the big leagues on television and in theaters!

If you don’t have the resources to do that, then make sure that one or two elements in your work is strong enough that they bring everything else up to that level. In the case of The Fanimatrix, it was the martial arts, the stunts and the atmosphere (thanks to the usage of borrowed music, sound effects and the dark, industrial look of the film); they helped audience members forgive the film’s low-budget look and the lack of story. In the case of Kevin Rubio’s Troops, it was the visual effects and the quality of the writing and voice-acting. In the case of Sandy Collora’s Batman: Dead End, it was the costumes and the cinematography. Take whatever it is that you do best and show the world why you’re so damn good at it. If you’re creative, resourceful and you’ve done your research right, fan films can be a boon and not a burden to the young filmmaker.

Come back next Friday for the final segment of our chat with Rajneel Singh!

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