The fascinating world of fan movies

Maybe I’m being optimistic when I say that most fans have heard of fanart and fanfiction.  At the very least if you put in a Google search with these terms, you’ll get many, many results (not all strictly benign).  Some of the sites turned up by such a search are well-structured, well-presented, well-funded and well-known.  (Take WattPad and deviantART, for example).  Both fanfiction and fanart have a large and well-established digital following; both are easy points of access for creators and consumers alike – there are few barriers to producing fanfic or -art, few hurdles to jump through in order to get exposure to a wide audience, and (thanks to the many great repositories available on the internet) very few hassles for the consumer searching for something they’re interested in.

But what about fanmovies or -films?

The bar is set rather higher for fanfilms because of production costs and perceived low returns.  Nevertheless fanfilms appear to run the gamut from good to bad to worse in the quality stakes.  Taking a little stroll through fanfilms.net, most of what one tends to find are the creative endeavours of a small group of friends or family, put together over a weekend.  Others are of higher quality, with decent acting and a good appreciation of cinematography off-setting the low (or non-existent) production costs.  And a few are surprisingly high quality.

My first brush with fanmovies was The Bentley Bros.  A small group comprising four brothers and their friends, their initial foray into filmmaking was with the Resident Evil franchise.  Whilst the equipment available to these amateur filmmakers was originally basic, I was surprised at the solid scripting, great editing, depth of vision and great comic-timing displayed by what were essentially kids.

Fast forward a few years and I got round to watching my next fanfilm – the rather aptly-named Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy (based on the series of games by Hideo Kojima for Konami).  Even if you have no interest in Metal Gear or even in fanfilms, I highly recommend watching at least a few minutes of this fan-made movie, just as an example of what produsers and participatory culture can achieve. Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy started out as a no-budget project by Hive Division, a group of Italian film students.  Yet the end-product is a high quality piece of cinema, complete with soaring soundtrack and state-of-the-art special effects.  Testimony to the impressive achievement of its creators is the fact that the project stalled several times, yet, through the passion and dedication of the filmmakers it finally made it to general (online) release in 2009.

What is doubly amazing about MGS:P is the fact that the creator of the franchise, Hideo Kojima, endorsed it.  To quote him through the group’s Facebook page:

“[…] It’s awesome. I felt like crying for their love towards Metal Gear. It’s also a well made movie. I can’t wait to see next part.”

In fact, MGS:P was so celebrated that it got enough encouragement (and funding) for a second installment.  One wonders if a Western production would get the same kind of endorsement from intellectual property rights holders.

That isn’t to say that it’s plain-sailing for everyone who wants to start up their own fan movie or mini-series based on Far Eastern franchises.  When Square Enix got wind of a planned kickstarter for a fan-made series based on Final Fantasy VII, they quickly squashed it.  But considering stories like this, it’s impressive what actually does get through.  Some even get specific permission from the rights holders to use their intellectual property.  A case in point – earlier on this year Japanese games giant, CAPCOM, granted a group of fans the rights to film their fanmovie based on the Street Fighter franchise, after the trailer became something of a hit on YouTube.

Then there are projects like Castlevania: Hymn of Blood, which attract actors such as Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis of Star Trek: TNG fame:

Increasingly, getting into the whole fanfilm business is likely to give you substantial returns (and not just in social capital) if you manage to hit the right beats.  Last year, News Corp’s IGN – which has long been an aggregator of fan news and information, as well as user-generated content – launched their IGN START YouTube channel, which aims to cater to the “neglected” videogaming demographic.  Several of their long-running series (including Castlevania: Hymn of Blood) and featured shorts are the creations of fan produsers who are working on little to no budgets and a lot of passion for their chosen fandom.  Examples from their channel include Y: The Last Man and Splinter Cell.

So what’s the reason for me writing all this?

Really it’s just to make the point that now appears to be a good time to be a produser.  User-generated content is contributing to (and not merely remediating) pop culture, and it’s getting noticed too.  Make your own fanmovie, and you might just get a spot on IGN START or Machinima too.  Good luck (and let me know if you make it).

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