I take my filmmaking efforts seriously. Almost every movie that I undertake has this reflection of quality in it which showcases the desire I have to successfully make a name for myself in the industry. That is why I have an issue with the people who shoot fan films.
Fan films represent a labor of love for both cinema and whatever franchise the filmmaker’s fanhood lies with. And some are pretty good, telling a particular franchise’s story more accurately and respectfully than a studio adaption probably ever could.
But what does a director of a fan film look to get out of their work?
They don’t own the franchise, so therefore they can’t profit off of their fan film. The most a director can do is upload it online, share it with the right community, and hope for the best. And in some cases, it has paid off. Dan Trachtenberg, director of “Portal: No Escape,” based on the popular “Portal” video game franchise, was offered the chance to work for the studios and deliver a film adaption of the comic book series “Y: The Last Man.” While that deal fell through, Trachtenberg also directed commercials for Nike and Coca-Cola, and just this past March saw the release of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” which starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman under his direction. Other directors have found similar success thanks to their fan films, including Tim Smit, whose “Half-Life”-esque fan film “What’s in the Box?” got him a phone call from interested parties over at 20th Century Fox, and Sandy Collora, whose cross-over fan film “Batman: Dead End” paved way for him to make his own original movie, the sci-fi tale “Hunter/Prey.”
Now consider what I just said – “original movie.” This is where my confusion with fan film directors lies, and where a line must be drawn to separate the hobbyist and the filmmaker. If you make movies as a hobby, then it doesn’t matter. Make as many fan films as you like, because it’s something you just do for fun when you’re not working your day job. But when you’re a serious filmmaker, the type who idols the proverbials like George Lucas or Terrence Malick, you really should stop and think about what you’re doing before you set out to direct a fan film, especially if you’ve already spent thousands to go to film school. This is what you want to do with your hard-earned education?
Think about your creative potential, and realize that you’re honestly limiting yourself to just the confines of a franchise and not your own original story, one where you can do whatever you want and impress audiences with something new and not something that they’ve already seen or played before. This is my conflict with fan film directors – of all the things you could have done with your imagination, you chose this? Someone else’s imagination?
Mind you, I’ve seen some really bad fan films too. Ones that taint a franchise’s reputation instead of adding to it. Those are the films that really make me wonder “why did you even bother?” In some ways, this is a worse mark than that of a director who made their own original movie that ended up being horrible. Because at least with one’s own film, they had nothing prior to work with, so what you see is only theirs. They made it all up themselves. But with a bad fan film, you had a whole slew of characters and plot elements to choose from (a.k.a. the things that make the franchise successful) and yet you still screw it up? That’s just insulting to the creators of the thing you love the most in my opinion.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m being biased here, that my personal model of storytelling is to be as original as possible so that you have a better chance to stand out amongst all the rest of the competition. That way is the most rewarding. Seeing that, who’s going to stand out more, the guy who made a killer film with an original story, or the guy who directed yet another “Star Wars” fan film that, at best, is better than “Episode I?”
I’m not hating on fan film directors, I’m just trying to make a point for them to realize that they should push themselves further. It’s better to be inspired by your favorite things that allow you to mold your own unique characters that are fused together with the ones you love, instead of you just blatantly stealing them for your own hopes towards success.
We live in a world of exceptions, though. Do fan films work? Sometimes they do. That truth can’t be denied. Becoming successful in this field is a crap shoot no matter what you opt to film. So if you think a homebrew “Doctor Who” film is your formula for success, then go for it I guess.
A local Cleveland filmmaker and co-owner of 5chan.org.