So what exactly is a fan film? Well, as the clip below will show, different people will have different definitions. For me, I suppose the simplest definition is that a fan film is a movie of whatever length (though, admittedly, they are usually shorts, simply due to budget constraints) that either use previously established characters or are set in a previously established universe and are made without studio funding or most of the time, without the backing or explicit permission of the rights-holder. (Though often times those rights holders will simply turn a blind eye to the films, as long as the film makers do not try to make money off of their creation. Thus, something like Judge Minty (which I wrote about here) would be considered a fan film, because it is set in the same universe and uses characters from the comic strip Judge Dredd, but So Pretty and So Dark (which I wrote about here) wouldn’t, because rather than using previously established characters or settings, they create their own.
Now, a lot of people might consider this “cheating”, or even “stealing”, and I can see where those arguments could be made. And there have certainly been times where studios or rights holders have shut down or otherwise made sure certain fan productions The difference to me is, I suppose, that these films are, as my friends across the pond would say “exactly what it says on the tin”. They are films made by fans for fans, and they are usually made with a love and respect for the original creations that can often go beyond a lot of the “remakes” or reimaginings” that are coming out of the official studio system today. (No, I won’t bother naming names again, but we all have our favorite dogs to kick in that category).
Which brings us neatly to the documentary Backyard Blockbusters. Created by Z-Team Productions, and more specifically written and directed by John E. Hudgens, himself a fan film creator, the movie explores the worlds of these creators, what guides and motivates them, and how influential they have and can become. Especially in this new digital age, where the costs of producing one of these films becomes less prohibitive by the day, and the production quality can equal that of many much more high budget films, it seems in many ways that these films and film makers may very well be hiding the next George Lucas or Joss Whedon or… well, take your pick.
Backyard Blockbusters made its debut last year at the 2012 DragonCon, and has been making the rounds of various film festivals while looking to make a deal with a distributor so that it can be seen by more people. (They are also considering some form of self-distribution, but that appears to be on hold for now.) In the meantime,they’ve posted the first 12 minutes from the documentary online, just to give people an idea of what a fan film can be, and what the doc is going to be like.
For more information about Backyard Blockbusters, be sure to visit their website.
Also, while we’re waiting for a chance to see the full film, I thought I’d spotlight some of my own favorite fan films.
Batman: Dead End, was created by Sandy Collura, and came out at a time before the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy had people thinking about a real Dark Knight. Plus, it features Batman fighting some surprising opponents in a way that could only happen in a film like this.
As you’ll see in the Backyard Blockbusters excerpt, one of the first Star Wars fan films was Hardware Wars, a parody/homage to the original trilogy:
Another parody film (and I’ll admit that this one really does kind of straddle the line between fan film and outright parody, but I’ll give it a pass just because its so much fun) is a take-off on the 1968 George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead, although in this case, it’s not zombies that the unfortunate souls trapped in that farmhouse have to face. No, in this case it’s something much much worse:
Finally, here’s one especially for you Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fans out there (or really for any fantasy fans out there, perhaps especially those who think Peter Jackson’s takes on them are too overblown and stretched out. Elfquest is one of those properties that has been around in various forms for decades, but has never successfully made it to the big screen. And though this particular fan film is set up as a trailer rather than an actual film (a route many take, actually) it shows the promise of the property along with showing why, should someone want to purchase the rights to make an actual movie from the concept, they might want to consult with these creators first, because they have definitely captured the magic and beauty inherent in the material. Plus, it serves as the perfect antidote for those who might think that fan films (or even studio made fantasy films) are generally too male-oriented.
As you can see, fan films can run the gamut. Some of them, admittedly, show their amateurish roots more than others, but even those, quite often, also showcase the heart that went into their making, and in the end, it’s really that love for the property that makes these little movies worth seeking out and enjoying.