The Fan Film Strikes Back
(article originally contributed to the CELL C blog April 2012)
Trekkies, Potter-Heads, Twi-Hards. Fans. Every generation has them, and the relationship between pop culture trends of film, television, comics and books, and their fans is a passionate and often ardently obsessive one. At comic book conventions, midnight screenings and online, these fans gather to share this passion, and none more so than through the creation of fanfiction, and in particular, the fan film.
The fan film is one of the more definitive pop culture artefacts of the technological age, by virtue of consciously blurring the distinction between the mere consumption of the products of pop culture, and being an active and creative participant in not only the expansion of these narrative universes, but also, on a philosophical level, de-constructing and re-interpreting the ideas of the original authors. Simply, the fan film, and its precursor, fanfiction, is the most extreme form of fandom, the act of being personally involved in continuing a legacy.
By no means a completely modern phenomenon (fans of Cervantes’ Don Quixote were adding to the canon when the author had long abandoned it in the 17th century, while Warhol, during the 1960s, crossed the legends of Batman and Dracula in a film that many consider the first modern example of the fan film), the art of the fan film has been greatly aided by advances in video and internet technology over the last ten to fifteen years. While originally conceived within the realm of science fiction, largely the Star Trek and Star Wars canons, today fan films can appropriate any genre, from the fantasy of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, teen dramas like Twilight and The Hunger Games and even, more popularly, the DC and Marvel comic book universes.
A random search of Youtube brings up thousands of examples of fan films, from the direly amateurish to the slickly professional, in all shapes, lengths and forms, from full length recreations such as Star Wars: Uncut (see below), original short films like Apocalypse Oz, a blend of Apocalypse Now and Wizard Of Oz narratives skewed through a distinctively Lynchian lens,re-cut and re-imagined trailers such as the legendary Shining As Romantic Comedy re-edit that turned Kubrick’s icy psychological horror into a light-hearted family romp, thanks to some cleverly edited voice-overs and Peter Gabriel’s uplifting Solsbury Hill as a soundtrack.
The most ambitious, and possibly the most participatory project of the fan film genre, is Star Wars: Uncut, the 2010/11 fan film remake of Star Wars: A New Hope (the original 1977 film), a shot-for-shot recreation made from 473 fifteen-second segments created and submitted by fans from across the world.
Star Wars creator George Lucas has throughout the years had a love-hate relationship with fanfiction. With a firm foundation for the Star Wars universe already created through the six official films, a shrewd Lucas has only signed off on various limited legitimate offshoots and explorations of his creation through books, games and TV series, but has been known to criticise and vehemently embargo most unofficial fan-made films and fictions, particular those that use his most famous character, Darth Vader. However, in recent years and due to the sheer volume of interest and fans’ willingness to add to the canon, Lucas has cooled to and even embraced fans’ contribution, not only offering a set of official rules and guidelines (most notably, the strict no-pornography rule) for fanfiction, but amazingly, even creating the Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards in recognition of some of the more worthy and original efforts. While other film studios and publishers continue to cry foul over copyright infringement and the legality of fanfiction and film, this high profile endorsement by Lucas has gone a long way to legitimise the genre as a whole.
Star Wars: Uncut was conceived by developer Casey Pugh, recruiting fans to submit recreations of specific 15-second scenes from the Star Wars film. Rules were simple: maintain the original dialogue and script direction, but everything else was fair game and free range. The response was overwhelming, and each segment a gem. While some contributions seem more professionally produced, using either computer or stop motion animation, or faithful live action recreations, the most enduring parts of the film are the everyday fans’ idea of how a Star Wars should look like. Every conceivable concept was used, from kids using moms painted gold to play C-3PO and the family vacuum cleaner as R2D2, grown men and women dressed in tin foil and swinging cardboard tubes around as light sabres, to more high-brow homages to and parodies of other recognisable pop culture iconography, like Tarentino films, the Beatles and American Idol. Whether deliberately crude and low-budget, or unintentionally Humourous and fun, the film is a joyous affair for not only the makers, but for the viewer, particularly Star Wars fans.
The film won a creative arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media in 2010, and has enjoyed over three million views on Youtube; not bad considering the film is a lengthy two hours. While George Lucas has yet to comment on the film, many consider it the Citizen Kane of fan film art, going a long way to bring the concept to the general public. Versions of Empire Strike Back and Return of the Jedi are currently in production and awaiting contributions at: http://www.starwarsuncut.com/