On the Importance of Fan Films as a Genre

The following is a guest post from Robert Jenner.

Did you see that new Harry Potter film, you know the one that’s all about Voldemort and tells his origin story?  No, well what about that Star Wars film, no, not The Last Jedi, the one where Darth Maul takes on like five jedi alone and beats them down as if they were nothing but younglings?  No, really, well I am sure you must have seen that Punisher film, the one where all he wants to do is wash his clothes and stay out of trouble, right?  

What would you say if I told you that all of these films really exist? Well they do, however, they were not written and directed by a well know director like J.J. Abrams or distributed by any of the big studios.  In fact, most of them are made with budgets smaller than a Key Grip’s salary; they are some of the best examples of one of the most underappreciated genres of filmmaking, the fan film.  Voldemort: Origins of the Heir by Tryangle Films already has over 12 million views in just over a month on YouTube, Darth Maul: Apprentice has over 16 million views in a little over two years, and Dirty Laundry actually has Thomas Jane from the 2004 ‘The Punisher’ film reprising his role as Frank Castle in this Fan film with over 9 million views on YouTube.  

These and thousands of fan films exist because fans want to create and see more stories, characters, and worlds than what has already been seen, written or released.  There is one really, really big hurdle.  These filmmakers, well, they don’t actually own any these characters, stories, or worlds, and technically, they are breaking all sorts of copyright laws.  This is why the fan film is such a interesting genre.  A fan film maker cannot make a single cent off of something that they do not own.  Instead they write, direct and act in these films out of their love for the story, not profit.

I personally feel that fan films should be thought of and praised in the same way that cosplayers are these days.  After all, both are playing in somebody else’s sandboxes and with someone else’s creations.  Think about this, there are probably millions of players and fans of the first person shooter game Halo.  At just about any of the major Comic Conventions you will always see at least one Master Chief cosplayer, many of them surprisingly accurate, however, there has never been a live action studio-backed Halo movie made (there have been some comics, animated movies, and a television series.)

Now if you do a search on YouTube, you will find several amazing Halo fan films including The Fallen which has over 300 thousand views and tells a really interesting story (and was made by a group of veterans).  Almost any popular franchise, be it movie, TV series, video games, comics both DC and Marvel, or book has a fan film.

Fan film’s range run the gamut from something simple, made by a group of friends for fun and a laugh to the professionally made film with both amazing sets and costumes.  There are fan made trailers promoting a non-existent film that they would like to make some day, or full length films with multiple characters and story lines and a well written script. 

Some of the best are made by film students as their final project, and many tell a story that you will never see in a comic or in a theatrical release, and with the rising popularity of crowdsourcing platforms like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, film makers can raise money to finance and make their films, though many are made on a shoestring budget paid for by those involved.

All of this is to say that there is a world out there that is not known by everyone, and my goal is to share.  It is a world where we can watch The Joker and Harley Quinn going to couples therapy (Check the fan film Committed), or maybe you would prefer to see the origin story for Dr Doom (Check out Von Doom – Unofficial Dr Doom fan film).  Maybe you just want to see more Star Wars (and lets be honest, can we ever get enough Star Wars?), There are thousands of Star Wars fan films with more being made every day.  Wherever your tastes are I am sure that there is a fan film of some sort for you. I dare you, fall down the fan film rabbit hole, you won’t regret it.

Robert is one of the hosts on Fan Film Boyz Podcast, a Podcast that discusses, reviews and helps promote fan films!  For in-depth discussion and interviews with directors, writers, actors, and actresses, keep your eyes peeled for future columns and check out their show.