Welcome, Krypton Radio readers to a new weekly feature: Fan Film Fridays! Each week, I will highlight a fan film I feel is deserving of recognition, based on production quality, great use of characters or anything else noteworthy.
I’ve always felt that fan films an awesome and highly imaginative film genre, that doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. Though perhaps there are some good reasons for that, which will explored in this introductory article.
First, for those who aren’t entirely aware of the definition of a fan film, it is produced content that is usually based on a property created by Hollywood studios. The biggest examples would probably be Star Wars, Marvel/DC Comics and Star Trek. Though of course there are many others. The scripts and characters are more often than not originally created story lines, though often using characters played by different actors. Other than that, the only real guidelines for a fan film is that the producers cannot make a single cent off their content, or the copyright holders will most likely sue them for infringement.
That has led many critical of fan films to even question why anyone would bother to produce a fan film, when they can just create something similar with original characters. That is a valid point, for fan film producers, they are often very passionate about their fandoms, and want to express that through the medium of film. Many of them are professional filmmakers, who want to tell their own stories with characters outside studio oversight.
In fact, some fan film producers have gone on to have success in Hollywood. Since these fan fims already have built-in audiences, they can rack up a lot more views right away, and build up an audience to then introduce to their own original content. Some fan films have gotten so much attention, the producers get offered jobs by the studios.
As a fan film producer myself, I feel that I should start this weekly feature by highlighting my most recent project Green Arrow: The Hunter, so that you can get an idea of my own background and credentials when it comes to writing about other fan films.
Based on the Green Arrow comic books, this fan film follows Oliver Queen’s struggle from selfish billionaire, to learning how to survive on an island by himself.
Like every creative project, Green Arrow: The Hunter started out with a simple concept. I’ve been a longtime viewer of fan films, and superhero movies, and thus for a long time I wanted to produce a superhero fan film. In the spring of 2015, I had created a cosplay based on the title character of the TV show Arrow. My friends in the Media Production program at Boise State University offhandedly mentioned that perhaps we should make a video with myself in the costume.
Ideas were bounced off each other, and a general idea of the video we wanted to make started to come into fruition. Like many fan films, we had a very low budget, so we had to be creative and use what was already around us. Right off campus was the Boise River, with groves of trees between them. We realized this could be used for flashbacks of Oliver Queen on the island. At the time I grew out my hair and beard for a Thor cosplay, and we decided to use it for scenes with Oliver being on the island a long time. Thus, the project became more about Oliver Queen’s struggle to survive on an island.
With all this information put together, I wrote a rough draft for a script, which we used to go immediately into production. I was still a film student at the time, and quickly realized how crucial pre-production is to the filmmaking process. At this stage, the script is broken down scene by scene, and the shooting is planned around needed locations. Storyboards, basically a comic book of the film shot by shot, are drawn around this time period, so the camera department knows how to frame every shot. It also gives a good visual representation of what the final film will look like.
I was so excited to get into production, that I didn’t bother to make a storyboard. Thankfully, Director of Photography Colton Mabry, who donated his own time and camera equipment, believed in the project. He also had a clear vision of what I had in mind, in terms of tone and cinematography.
In place of a storyboard, we did use the graphic novel Green Arrow: Year One as a visual influence. During the screenwriting process, I took light story inspiration from it as all, as it also follows Oliver Queen’s struggles to survive on the island. Despite the fact that we were making a comic book fan film, we actually tried to treat the project like we would any other production. While it was helpful knowing the source material, in my directing and acting, I ignored the greater fandom and just focused on telling the story of this film. I approached it as making an island castaway movie that just happens to star Oliver Queen, and his internal journey of facing himself.
The island scenes were shot over summer 2015. During this time, I cut my hair and shaved off my beard to film the scenes when Oliver first arrives on the island. It helped to film the later badass hunter scenes first, because I knew in what direction I was taking the lost and terrified Oliver.
The last scene filmed for the island was the fight scene against the mercenaries, at the end of summer. At this point, I wised up and drew a storyboard for this crucial scene. Thus, filming went by a lot smoother. The only real difficulty was scheduling around the school, work and family time of several actors.
The fall semester started and I graduated that December. I still had the project on an external drive, but I no longer had access to the student equipment and edit lab. For all of 2016, I held onto the footage while I tried to find work and handled a family medical crisis.
In the beginning of 2017, a fellow professional in the Boise film community named Jesse Cordtz offered me a temporary position at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (JUMP), a non-profit community center of sorts in downtown Boise, Idaho. In exchange for helping them with their video and media needs, they let me have access to their equipment, studio and edit lab for a creative project with my own voice. Thus, because we helped each other out in our way, I was able to complete the fan film after three years.
Around this time, I was contacted online by Jake Lefkowtiz, a film student across the country from myself in Idaho. He saw the teaser posted onto YouTube, and excitedly contacted me and offered to compose the score for the film, because Green Arrow is one of his favorite superheroes. We have never met each other in real life, and all our collaboration was completely online.
As one can tell, fan films are a group collaboration. They are completed because of people’s passions for the fandoms that they are recreating.