Richard James Havis
Critic turned filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once said the best way to respond to a movie was to make one yourself. That sentiment lies at the heart of fan filmmaking, the creation of unauthorised works featuring characters from popular films with big cult followings such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
Portal sites such as fanfilms.net are a good way to access the scene, although the links are a hit-and-miss affair. The site illustrates what kind of films are popular subjects for fan work. Way ahead is Star Wars with 303 films; Doctor Who has spawned 123, Star Trek 81, and Spider-Man 49.
The owners of these brands exercise strong control of their copyright, but a degree of leniency is extended to fan films as long as they abide by ground rules: no money should be made from the movies, and they should only be available on the Web, not on DVD.
The fun of making such films seems to come from dressing up as much-loved characters. The makers of Back to 2020, a trailer for a non-existent Back to the Future sequel available on YouTube, have fun with Doc's wig. The Dark Knight's colourfully made-up Joker is a minor fan phenomenon. So does the actor in The Joker In, on spike.com, cut the mean and mad mustard? Not really.
The oft-copied Darth Vader is easier: most performers just buy the costume from a Halloween store.
Some fan films have been so successful they have evolved into Web series. Star Trek Hidden Frontier (hiddenfrontier.com) ran for 50 episodes from 2000 to 2007, inventing its own Starship - the USS Excelsior - and creating new adventures for its crew. Although it's low budget, it looks good and sticks to the Star Trek ethos and style.
British fan film The Hunt for Gollum (thehuntforgollum.com), based on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is similarly impressive. The story is taken from the book's appendix and shot with volunteers. The makers claim the film has the consent of the Tolkien family, even though it's not officially authorised.
Some fan films, such as Batman spin-off Grayson (available on YouTube), look expensive. Why spend money and time on something with no commercial future? Grayson looks like a film industry calling card for the director and screenwriter, and that's one reason these films exist. But generally, they are made for love of the original characters and films.