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A fan film is a film or video inspired by a film, television program, comic book or a similar source, created by fans rather than by the source's copyright holders or creators. Fan filmmakers have traditionally been amateurs, but some of the more notable films have actually been produced by professional filmmakers as film school class projects or as demonstration reels. Fan films vary tremendously in quality, as well as in length, from short faux-teaser trailers for non-existent motion pictures to full-length motion pictures.
According to media scholar, Henry Jenkins, fan films discussed represent a potentially important third space between the two. Shaped by the intersection between contemporary trends toward media convergence and participatory culture, these fan films are hybrid by nature—neither fully commercial nor fully alternative. They are an example of fan labor.
The earliest known fan film is Anderson 'Our Gang, which was produced in 1926 by a pair of itinerant filmmakers. Shot in Anderson, South Carolina, the short is based on the Our Gang film series; the only known copy resides in the University of South Carolina's Newsfilm Library. Various amateur filmmakers created their own fan films throughout the ensuing decades, including a teenaged Hugh Hefner, but the technology required to make fan films was a limiting factor until relatively recently. In the 1960s UCLA film student Don Glut filmed a series of short black and white "underground films", based on adventure and comic book characters from 1940s and 1950s motion picture serials. Around the same time, artist Andy Warhol produced a film called Batman Dracula which could be described as a fan film. But it wasn't until the 1970s that the popularization of science fiction conventions allowed fans to show their films to the wider fan community.
Most of the more prominent science fiction films and television shows are represented in fan films; these include Star Wars (see Category:Fan films based on Star Wars), Star Trek (see Star Trek fan productions), Doctor Who (see Doctor Who spin-offs), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (see Unofficial Buffy the Vampire Slayer productions). Because fan films generally utilize characters and storylines copyrighted and trademarked by the original filmmakers, they are rarely distributed commercially for legal reasons. They are exhibited by various other methods, including showings at comic book and science fiction conventions, and distribution as homemade videos, ranging from VHS videocassettes to CD-ROMs and DVDs.
Filmmaker Sandy Collora gained much notoriety in the early 2000s for a series of fan films he produced featuring DC Comics heroes Batman and Superman. Batman: Dead End premiered at the 2003 San Diego Comic-Con, while World's Finest was prevented from showing in 2004 due to copyright claims from Warner Bros.
Some fan film productions achieve significant quantity and or quality. For instance, the series Star Trek: Hidden Frontier produced 50 episodes over seven seasons - compared to only 34 episodes for the 1970s sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica and Galactica 1980 combined.
Star Trek: New Voyages started as a fan production, but has since attracted support from several crew and cast members from the different Star Trek series, as well as a wide audience.
Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, a Finnish feature-length spoof of both Star Trek and Babylon 5, attracted over 4 million downloads and has been released on DVD in several countries, making it possibly the most successful Finnish movie-production to date.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game features a small nod to the fan film Return of the Ghostbusters by way of a drawing posted on the wall[dead link] in the Ghostbusters firehouse headquarters. The child's drawing of a Ghostbuster is signed by a fictional character created in the fan film.
John F. Carroll's Masters of the Universe Trilogy began with the Wizard of Stone Mountain in 2011 and has premiered at conventions in Germany and the US. Other films in the trilogy will be released on the internet in 2013.
Authorized fan films
Fan films once operated under the radar of the commercial operations, but the explosion of fan productions brought about by affordable consumer equipment and animation programs, along with the ease of distribution created by the Internet, has prompted several studios to create official policies and programs regarding their existence.
The highest profile of these programs has been Lucasfilm's Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards, launched in 2000. The awards formerly permitted only documentary, mockumentary, and parody entries, while prohibiting serious fan fiction. However, this restriction was lifted for the 2007 awards. Lucasfilm's limited support and sanction of fan creations is a marked contrast to the attitudes of many other copyright holders, such as Fox Studios, which used a cease and desist letter to close a Max Payne short that was in production, and MGM, which has been known to force internet-distributed James Bond fan films offline, too.
Nonetheless, some copyright holders have been known to change their positions concerning fan films. Paramount Pictures actively pursued legal action against Star Trek fan films in the 1980s, such as the animated film series Star Trix, and a never completed fan episode spinoff tentatively titled Yorktown: A Time to Heal starring George Takei and James Shigeta. DC Comics was known to actively discourage the creation of fan movies in the 1990s. In 2008, however, DC Comics changed its tune when its president, Paul Levitz, gave provisional permission to fan filmmakers, stating definitively, "We’re against anything that monetizes our assets and our copyrights without our permission. We are not against things where people use our assets if they don’t do anything monetarily with them." Similarly, Paramount took a more welcoming stance towards fan filmmakers in the 2000s.
Unlike many American TV shows, the British series Doctor Who allowed its writers to retain the rights to characters and plot elements that they created - most famously with Terry Nation's Daleks. While the BBC has never licensed the character of the Doctor for use in fan films, a number of the writers have consented to allow the monsters and supporting characters they created to be used in direct-to-video productions (see Doctor Who spin-offs).
The creators of Red Dwarf sponsored a fan film contest of their own in 2005, inspired by an earlier fan film production in 2001 called Red Dwarf - The Other Movie, with a fairly wide remit ranging from fictional stories set in the Red Dwarf universe to documentaries about the show and its fandom. The two winning shorts were featured in their entirety as bonus features on the Series VIII DVD release, along with a montage of clips from the runner-up entries and a short intro clip from Red Dwarf - The Other Movie. This made them among the first fan films to be commercially released by a property's original creators.
Fan films made without official authorization exist in a legal grey area.
- Jenkins, Henry. "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
- Young, Clive (2008) Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind The Camera, Continuum Books, New York / London
- Holtreman, Vic (2004-07-23). "Sandy Collora’s World’s Finest trailer is out". Screenrant.com. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
- Masters, Tim (30 April 2009). "Making Middle-earth on a shoestring". BBC News (BBC). Retrieved 1 May 2009.
-  Fan Cinema Today.[dead link]
- Quirk, Justin (2002-06-09). "The Real Adventures of Spider-Dan". The Independent (reprint ) (London: Independent News & Media).
- "Master of the Universe: The Fan Trilogy". The Wizard of Stone Mountain. February 5, 2013.
- Botwin, Michelle (2000-12-01). "Lucasfilm Backs Site for 'Star Wars' Fans' Shorts". Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles: Tribune Company). Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- Max Payne Fan Film Shot Down By Fox - fancinematoday.com, May 8, 2008
- MGM Kills Historic James Bond Fan Film - fancinematoday.com, June 5, 2008
- Art Binninger's Star Trix: Of Clay and Cardboard
- Superman The Super 8 Movie Stills - fancinematoday, September 10, 2008
- DC Comics Officially OKs Fan Films - fancinematoday.com, April 24, 2008
- Suellentrop, Chris. "To Boldly Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before". Wired. December 2005
- Sydell, Laura (30 April 2009). "High-Def 'Hunt For Gollum' New Lord Of The Fanvids". All Things Considered (National Public Radio). Retrieved 1 May 2009.