Fan Film, Fan Films

Should Fan Films Go Pro? The Pros & Cons…

C.E. Dorsett over at Project Shadow brought up one of my favorite fan film debate topics recently in his fun essay, Dream of a Fandom Economy, arguing that studios, publishers, etc. should cherry-pick the best fan-made efforts and release them professionally.

It boggles my mind how many companies want to hold to their existing business models rather than reaching out to find new ways to make money.

Many of the fan trailers and music videos are far better than the official ones. So what does the company do? They send a DMC take down instead of licensing the fan content and using it instead.

I both agree and disagree with this, and there’s lots of other folks who have ideas about the usefulness—and future—of fan labor.

It’s probably no surprise that this is one of the topics I explore in “The Future of Fan Films,” the final chapter of my book, Homemade Hollywood. Overall, I think there are many uses for fan films, and in some cases, it might be acceptable for pro outfits to pick up fan-produced efforts for release (like the Indiana Jones parody, Doom Raiders, that I wrote about the other day). However, there’s a lot of hurdles to be jumped over, from money/contract issues to the credibility issues associated with fan efforts. One of the comments I make in the book is:

Licensing is certainly an interesting idea, but it takes such efforts out of the realm of fan production, making them more akin to independent contractors. Would a studio license out its intellectual property if the money was right? Could a franchise survive an avalanche of sub-direct-to-DVD product if people were asked to pay for it? Perhaps, but if money is involved, then they’re pro productions, regardless of how qualified the cast and crew may or may not be. Professional work is measured on a very different scale by studios and viewers (not to mention unions), so if a studio holding the purse strings is saying ‘no,’ it likely has its reasons, whether it’s that the franchise is too valuable, or that even top-shelf amateur work just isn’t pro enough.

Or, it could be that the best financial move is to keep a high-profile amateur production at arm’s length. After all, it’s free publicity that adds value and interest to a brand without costing a cent. A “brand ambassador” like New Voyages got 30 million people to watch new episodes when none were being officially produced, restimulating interest in a franchise that had been left to go fallow. If the amateur effort proved to be a gentle reminder to viewers—‘Hey, remember how you used to like Trek?’—the fans’ next move to rekindle their own interest would probably make Paramount a few bucks, whether it involved buying a DVD set, toys or something else. For doing nothing, that’s a great return on investment.

So while getting picked up for a ‘real’ release might be exactly what a fan filmmaker wants (“Ooh, pick me, pick me!“), it doesn’t necessarily benefit the copyright holder that much.

The topic of getting paid for free fan labor is nothing new, however; it was the subject of a popular panel last year at MIT’s annual conference (This year’s Futures of Entertainment3 is being held Nov. 21-22, about a mile away from the New England Fan Experience convention—Nov. 22-23—where I’m doing two days of fan film screenings/author talks, so hey—why not go to both and make a weekend of it? J/K).

Now, Andrew Keen, who wrote (which I reviewed here on Fan Cinema Today ages ago), is predicting that hobby labor is about to become history, thanks to the economy’s collapse:

“The hungry and cold unemployed masses aren’t going to continue giving away their intellectual labor on the Internet in the speculative hope that they might get some ‘back end’ revenue. ‘Free’ doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesn’t warm anyone up.” (Internet Evolution, by way of GalleyCat)

OK, so what do YOU think? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.

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4 Responses to “Should Fan Films Go Pro? The Pros & Cons…”

  1. You bring up some very interesting things, each of which need a great deal of thought. I posted my ideal scenario over at dashPunk.

  2. Christopher Moshier

    HMMMMM…I don’t think the license holders should have any relationship with the Fan Film. I think it is cool for the license owners to hire someone who did a Fan Film and I also think it would cool to see say a Hulk Fan Film as an Easter Egg on the next Hulk DVD. The average person still doesn’t know what the hell a Fan Film is nor do they care. I don’t know. I guess I am torn.

  3. Personally I like the fan audio drama model made popular by Darker Projects and Pendant Productions – develop a fanbase for your work with tribute productions and they will probably patronise your original work.

    They’re staying true to the letter and spirit of fan production whilst getting a foot into the door of Indie production.


  1. Fan Works and Creative Commons | dashPunk
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