Fan Film noun -a motion picture created in homage to a particular film or series of films. Differentiated from a remake or copy as the often nonprofessional filmmakers create an alternate or secondary storyline set in the fictional world created by the original film.
Ok, honesty time here… I made a fan film. It was a Star Wars fan film called The Noblest of Elements. Here’s the trailer.
What drives someone to make a fan film? There are two primary reasons which can clearly overlap.
- Passion for the source material. Imagine you’ve just come out of the theater after watching the most exciting film ever. You’re with your friends and everyone is talking about how amazing it was. Perhaps someone is miming a move one of the characters made in the film. You don’t want the experience to end. You want to visit the fictional world created by the movie. It looks like a lot of fun. So why not create your own film.
- You just want to make a movie. This was the case for me and my college roommates. I had a video camera and wanted to make a movie. Rather than invent a completely new world and story, I wrote a new story set in the world of Star Wars. We were all fans, but not crazy obsessed fans (the type who went to midnight premiers of the prequels in stormtrooper garb). Basically it was an excuse for us to get together after we graduated and blow stuff up in my back yard.
Some fan films are clearly better made than others. Some have invested hundreds of hours and thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
When a fan sits down and decides to make a fan film, one of the first steps it to look at your assets. Now I don’t mean just your bank account, but what resources do you have available. Locations, actors, cameras, props, people with editing and CGI knowledge.
What were we good at? Well, after seeing fan films like Art of the Saber I knew we couldn’t hope to compete with the action sequences.
We didn’t have anyone who knew anything about computer animation, so animating CGI space ships was out. So we couldn’t compete with films like Broken Allegiance.
We also only had 3 (and sometimes 4) people to be in our movie. So we couldn’t do big cast productions like Bounty Trail.
We didn’t have classic period costumes available because we had almost no budget. I think our final tally was under $100. So we couldn’t compete with a production like Reign of the Fallen.
We’re not comedians and wanted to make a serious film, so we weren’t going the route of Troops.
So what did we have?
- An appreciation for quality filmmaking. We all loved films and were willing to do what we could to make the best movie we could. We experimented with angles, lighting, camera movement… basically it was boot camp for video production.
- Location. We had over 1,000 acres of fields and woodland to choose from. There were streams, swamps, fallow fields, fallen oak trees and all where we wouldn’t be disturbed. We even blew up a tree for one shot; we lit a huge bonfire(flames 50+ feet in the air) with 5 gallons of gasoline for another shot that lasts less than 5 seconds!
- Pyrotechnics. Almost all of the fan films I looked at before we started used some kind of digital effect to simulate explosions or blaster hits. We used black powder… lots of it. Electrically triggered pyrotechnics!
- An in-depth knowledge of mythology, classic literature, history. We’d read (and understood) books like Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and The Power of Myth; John Milton’s Paradise Lost; Beowulf; and everything Shakespeare ever wrote… so our plot could be more than just a simple action story.
- We knew Star Wars fairly well. As I said earlier, I’m not a crazy fan of Star Wars, so I did a bunch of research. Since we couldn’t get “classic” costume elements or stormtrooper armor or anything else from the movies we had two options. 1. Set our film way before the events seen. This was problematic as we were working before the prequels came out. We didn’t know how early they might go. 2. Set our film way after the events in the movies. We went with this option. It explains why the costumes are different. It gives us a chance to refer to the events in the movies, without calling them current events. They are legend.
In the end our film took nearly 3 years off and on to complete. It expanded from an 8 page outline–which I had thought we could film in a single weekend–to a 52 minute movie. The very first day we got together to film we worked for 8 hours. Such was our knowledge at the time that only about 40 seconds of that day’s work exists in the completed film. I won’t say The Noblest of Elements is a great film. It’s fair. There are moments which work well and others which I would love to go back and fix. But what I learned about making movies through those struggles is invaluable.
Want to learn to make movies? Go make one. Be honest about it’s faults. Then make a better one, and another and another. We learn by doing.
I’ve gone on to make other movies, and I don’t think I’ll make another fan film. It was limiting and the best I could hope for was sharing it with friends. There was no film festival at the end (like the Sundance Film Festival) or a paycheck after selling it to a distributor.
I did write a 90 page script for a sequel to The Noblest of Elements, so who knows…
But in the meantime… here’s the full movie if you are interested.