If you ever wondered what a Metroid movie could look like, check this out. It’s only 11 minutes long and certainly worth a watch. Even if you’ve never heard of the game itself, it’s a fairly neat low-budget sci-fi short by an obviously gifted Mr Sam Balcomb.
Aren’t fan projects fascinating? No matter whether it’s shipper fan fiction, drawings, cosplay, replicas, or making shorts or even whole movies, it’s a great, harmless, and fulfilling way for people to combine both expressing themselves and expressing their love for a franchise. Critical voices might find that it’s a childish waste of time, that true art should always be original, or most of all, that celebrating corporate products feels wrong on many levels. However, they’re wrong to judge creators. Whatever you wanna do, do it. If cosplaying as Ben Tramer is your thing, great. While I’m personally not into fan projects, I love the passion and would never look down on such work. I happily encourage you to create, as long as you just wanna express yourself, because
MAKING FAN FILMS DOESN’T HELP YOUR CAREER.
Sure, you might find people who could help you on actual projects, maybe it’ll help you later on to get sponsors for an actual project, and yeah, you do gain experience shooting something. Let’s imagine you wanna make a critically acclaimed adaptation of id Software’s Doom to show off your skills as a director. Your aim in life: to get business recognition and eventually make big studio movies. Should be a good plan, right, soldier?
Here’s what you might presume:
– brand recognition is huge: everyone knows the game, and there’s a new entry coming out
– the first movie adaptation wasn’t exactly good
– it’s mostly set on dimly lit space stations and hell, should be easy to do with green screen
– as the games aren’t deep, people won’t expect depth. Just needs to be fun
Frankly, there aren’t that many arguments for making an original short instead. If people have to decide, they’ll always go for something they already know about. And everyone knows: most original shorts on Youtube are cheaply made, terribly acted, terribly directed. Why should anyone give your project a chance? Adapting a well known property makes it easier. Plus, there are certainly thousands of fans out there who’d love to see a Doom short made as well as the Metroid short above. But they don’t mean a thing, for several reasons.
Studios won’t buy the vision of an outsider and then just run with it
It is possible that the owners of the Doom movie license watch your short and like it so much that they invite you, but they won’t ever let you make that approach into a movie. What might happen is that they offer you the opportunity to turn their own ideas into a movie. A notable example is Kevin Tancharoen. Guy made a slick looking Mortal Kombat short called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. The studio loved it, but while they didn’t back his plans to make a feature length movie out of it, they allowed him to create a web series, Mortal Kombat: Legacy. But did you see it? All of a sudden, all of the realistic aspects of the short, you know, everything that made his pitch original, were gone. Monsters, magic, and Outworld were back on the table. Because Tancharoen had to bow and Warner wanted a traditional approach, not his. Later on, they even took down the official version released on IGN US and tried to make us forget it ever existed (although they seemingly forgot about the Spanish version of IGN, so watch it here).
So, why changing your promising vision, especially when it already worked as a short? Even if your vision seems flawless, every studio needs to feel that they’ve been a major part in developing the pitch and tone. Otherwise, all eventual praise would directly go to the director, and only the director. That means, to you. And that won’t happen.
Studios don’t want passion
This will hurt a lot, but your passion can be a problem. If you really spent a lot of money and time on your film, you’re bound. You know what’s good about the property and how it should be presented, and that makes it really hard for others to bring in their own ideas. Especially if that means stupid ideas. If a producer wants Halo’s Master Chief to take off his helmet for the duration of the movie, he simply won’t care whether you have played all the games and read all of the extended universe novels.
Sure, you can try to convince him, but why should he listen? It’s his reign to make a movie, he has no responsibility to please actual fans, and he has all the power to add/change whatever comes to his mind. A passionate director/writer will obviously be crushed by any demand that steers away from an ideal vision. It’s way easier to have a director who doesn’t mind changes, who has no history with the franchise, who doesn’t care as much as a Guillermo del Toro does (man, I love Guillermo del Toro).
Also, studios don’t care about accuracy
Fans love it when fan films respect details. For example, many liked the Punisher fan film Dirty Laundry, because Thomas Jane finally got to kill goons in brutal ways. In that movie, killing was reduced to a minimum, to appeal to a larger audience (which kinda worked, just compare the box office numbers of the Jane version with the super brutal, superior Stevenson version). Sure, gamers would have loved to see hell in the Doom movie. However, the movie already cost $60 million to make and only grossed $55 million worldwide. Adding a hell chapter, or hell, even just Cacodemons to it would have raised the budget considerably, but it’s hard to imagine that it would have made four times more than the actual release as a result of having those additions.
While you can never pinpoint what it is that makes people decide to pay for a movie, it’s never the details. A movie needs to be professionally looking and it needs to be entertaining. For producers, the director needs to be easy to work with, and he needs to be able to cope with lots of pressure and all sorts of interference. That is the highest priority.
Studios don’t want arrogance
Even if you don’t mean it that way, but any Doom fan film kinda implies that you can do it better than Andrezj Bartkowiak. It doesn’t matter that his movie bombed and stands at 5.2/10 on IMDb. He’s 65, and during his career he was quite successful. One of the two writers wrote Godzilla 2014. Hate it or love it, but they’re respected business professionals. Without hard proof, it’s just a terrible position to imply that you can do a better job, especially if your approach is just slightly different.
The brand will distract from you
So you’ve made the most awesome Doom movie ever. Great, now everyone just talks about how Doom can apparently work as a movie. No one will talk about your skill as a director. Remember Joseph Kahn’s gritty Power/Rangers short? Now he has said that he never wanted to make an actual movie, and I do believe him, but did you see Kahn getting any offers for similar gritty versions of other brands afterwards? He’s obviously one of the most successful music video directors ever, a cool guy, and obviously still highly in demand (Taylor Swift, anyone?), but it’s not like he’s suddenly getting invites to helm, say, Marvel or DC productions. (plus: the Power Rangers license holders actually started production on a new movie, not keeping Kahn’s approach. It’s not going to be gritty, there won’t be any NSFW content, no Power Ranger will snore cocaine, and James Van Der Beek doesn’t star. Bummer.)
If you’re an aspiring director and you do want more than creating cool stuff for the Youtube community, be inspired by the careers of Neill Blomkamp, Fede Alvarez, Gareth Edwards, and Patrick Hughes. These guys were discovered by their original shorts (search Youtube for Alive in Joburg, Ataque de Pánico!, Factory Farmed and Signs), and who went on to direct Alien, Evil Dead, Godzilla, and The Expendables. That’s the way to go, not by making Alien, Evil Dead, Godzilla, or The Expendables fan films. Right now, there are new 20something Guillermo del Toros, James Camerons, Steven Spielbergs, and Sam Raimis out there, pondering whether they should direct a tribute to their favorite franchise.
Dare to aim higher!