Fan Films. Why?

Hello and welcome to the first ever edition of “Nerd With a Girlfriend”. I’m Larry Longstreth. Just so you know, you might want to check out the short film “Grayson” by John Fiorella before reading any more. See it HERE.

As some of you know, I’ve been around the “fan film” world for years now, though I’ve never quite understood it or fully believed myself to be a part of it. Granted, we’ve made some pretty successful animated fan films and some funny old live-action sketches involving people who thought they were superheroes, but we were never really full fledged fan filmmakers. I say this entirely because we never, ever made a serious one. It was satire, parody, all that stuff. With “Batman’s Gonna Get Shot in the Face” in particular, we were mocking the hardcore fanboys by taking their habit of exaggerating how great their favorite hero is and reversing it entirely. It was fun. It got something off of my chest. I’m a cynic, too much so at times, and this was expression. I’m a comic book geek but I don’t always agree with the world of comic book geeks. So it helped me make my point. That, and it was a stepping stone – because I always knew I wanted to make cartoons some day. More than anything, our fan films were practice. Practice for bigger and better things.

Don’t get me wrong, fan films don’t always have to be satire or tongue-in-cheek. I applaud the efforts of “John Fiorella” and “Sandy Collora”, among others, for their works, but those guys were doing it for a reason. Like us, they were trying to show their stuff – to exhibit their credibility in the hopes that it would lead to bigger and better filmmaking gigs. They were legit, if not entirely legal. If you haven’t noticed, however, those two filmmakers I named haven’t made any more “fan films” over the last few years, and I’m willing to bet they never will again.

I sound like I’m completely against this “art form”, but I’m not. As much as I’ve been just plain weirded out by goofy looking, zit-faced kids in Batman costumes over the years, I get that it’s just another form of crazy fan expression. Times and technology have changed so why doodle a picture of Superman on paper when you can put on a blue costume and nail a green screen to the wall? I get it. It’s fun and you can act out your own fantasies or daydreams and keep them on video forever. If you’re just having fun then by all means, continue on wearing your costumes and filming yourself in the neighborhood with your friends. But, be warned: you’re going to grow up. You’re going to turn 20 if you haven’t already, and then 30, and then 40, and so on. If you want to make films and actually make a living at it, then it’s time for a change. If you ever want to really direct an honest-to-God Batman film for Warner Brothers some day, then for the love of God, stop making fan films NOW.

Forget what you’ve heard about so-and-so, the guy making the Catwoman short film who says he’s “in talks” with Fox. Forget your hopes that someday those guys who made “Grayson” are going to make a genuine version of it for the big screen. Life is not that simple and it’s not that easy. You don’t just do whatever you want to and get rewarded for it. You have to learn to start at the bottom and really, truly learn your craft. No more jumping off of the sofa in the Batman costume and hoping the audience won’t notice it’s not a real semi-truck and that you’re in your mom’s living room. If you want to make REAL “fan films”, the way guys like Chris Nolan get to, then for the love of God it’s time to get real.

First thing’s first. Make a demo if you want to, like “Fiorella” and company did. It can be fun and it can get a lot of internet hits. Guess what, though? “Grayson” was a trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist. OF COURSE it was exciting! It was a series of exciting clips playing really fast. However, the filmmakers did nothing to prove to a studio that they can hold an audience for two hours or keep a film interesting during the slow scenes. They showed us nothing about pacing, acting, or direction. Was it good? Absolutely. Was it sufficient evidence that they deserved to direct a multi-million dollar feature? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, the story line was really clever – but there are hundreds of “what-if” graphic novels that are just as good, if not better. So, using “Grayson” (arguably the best fan film ever) as an example, what did fan films REALLY get the creators? You can be the judge of that, but I haven’t heard anything else about them since the short came out – and that was back in 2004.

So, if you’re going to make a “fan film” as an example to show your stuff, then do it… but be realistic. It won’t take you to the top of the mountain because it’s just another step up on the bottom of the ladder. There’s also one very important downside – you might get sued.

So, assuming you want to get serious about this, then there are a lot of things you’re going to have to do. First off, learn your craft. You wouldn’t believe how many “fan films” have zero lighting, direction, etc. Learn the mechanics. Learn to use the tools before you try to build a house. It makes a world of difference. When you’re ready, then you can move into fun things like getting an LLC or business license, learning about getting investors and how to get their money back to them when you’re done, and all the rest of that stuff.

Also, stop asking fellow fan filmmakers for their opinion on how well you did. The world of fan films is a somewhat small circle of young guys thinking they’re being nice by always saying nice things. When they do say something somewhat constructive, a quick glance at their work may reveal that they really don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. So, it’s not nice but it’s the truth: you need to put yourself out there for the world to see it and learn to decide what advice is legit and what’s either happy-time sugar coating and what’s just some random guy with a bone to pick. When we released “The Greatest Fan Film of All Time”, I was proud of it – despite a few hiccups – but I’d already made myself a pretty hated individual on the fan film scene, especially considering the name of the film. Random people praised it and some told me it was the funniest or best thing they had ever seen. My fellow fan filmmakers, however, generally ripped it apart. I was disappointed – not in the film, but in them. If I had already made the decision to leave the world of fan filmmaking behind, I was even more sure now. YOU MUST NOT ASK THE AMATEURS! Ask people who will remain unbiased and honest. There were a lot of things that could have been done better, and I picked up on them thanks to help from good filmmakers. However, if I’d had listened to everybody, I’d have been a wreck. Even close friends will either want to sound smart or might be mad about something you did or said two weeks ago. Be very careful what advice you heed and learn to throw the rest aside. That goes both ways. Many a fan-filmmaker is praised for work that is subpar, or even just plain awful. I’ve seen it a thousand times. We should never try to hurt each other (after all, hard work is hard work) but we should be honest, especially with ourselves. You can’t get better until you admit that there’s room for improvement. Don’t let a small audience of ten happy people make you feel safe enough to keep making the same bad movie over and over. Be honest with yourself because it’s the only way you will ever grow.

In my opinion, every creator of fan films should be working toward the ultimate goal of making their own original characters and movies someday. However, some of them are not aiming for that. Some people plan on working a day job and making fan films on the side forever. It’s not what I would do, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

After 9 years of hard, unpaid work on live-action and animated shorts alike, I have just now entered the realm of paid, budgeted projects. They absolutely would not be possible without the internet-fame brought upon us by our animated fan films. So, while I advise people to move beyond the fanboy realm, I understand and appreciate it’s place entirely and I hope it brings similar success to all of you as well.

I plan on keeping this article going for as long as I can and I will continue to monitor fan films, indie films, etc and write articles whenever I’m able. I’m also quite aware of recent professional “fan films” making their rounds on the internet and perhaps I’ll get into that later.

Until then, good luck with whatever you choose to do and may you always move forward.

Larry Longstreth

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