My FAN Attic

I used to think that fan films and what they generally call "fan fiction" were wastes of time and energy for anyone serious about their skill and their career chances, especially given how hard it is to get a reputable agent for one's original work. Then, it occurred to that a LOT of working screenwriters spend much of their time adapting or reinventing material originating in any one or more of a range of mediums. With studios relying so heavily upon the built-in appeal of prequels, sequels, and film and TV franchises, a screenwriter unable to effectively work in someone else's creative sandbox could find his or her careers handicapped. I thus reasoned that at least some fan fiction could be beneficial as practice works so long as there are reliable people out there to PRIVATELY read and critique the works... but there is still one glaring problem. IT'S ILLEGAL!

Fan Films: Their Fickle Fate and Fathomable Future from Woodlane Ventureson Vimeo.

How long and to what extent it will remain illegal, however, is another question - albeit a valid one under the circumstances. Like most of our laws, the legal protection of intellectual property is not exclusively about the infringement, itself, but about whether or not it inhibits the ability of the original creation's owner to fairly and legally profit from original work.

As is covered in the video, Paramount and CBS' lawsuit against the makers of the would-be, feature-length STAR TREK fan film AXANAR - which raised more than $1 million via crowdfunding online - had as much to do with the production's competitively high quality as with its unauthorized use of copyrighted elements. Angry fans pointed out that STAR TREK fan films had already been prevalent online for years without significant studio objection, but the legally relevant issue had to do with AXANAR's potential to unfairly lure audiences away from paying to see legally produced material like 2016's STAR TREK BEYOND. The lawsuit's seemingly unique outcome, however, involves Paramount and CBS issuing somewhat unprecedented guidelines for future STAR TREK fan films rather than finally or specifically outlawing them altogether.

With so many highly skilled and talented people unable to get career boosts with otherwise good original works, it's easy to see why so many would choose to make fan films and other forms of fan fiction, especially if they think they could benefit from the attention it attracts with its built-in appeal. I think more studios should set guidelines and embrace the really good fan films as promotional tools as well as ways of potentially making money on a property without so many production costs. In truth, probably 80% or more of the fan films online are so cheap and of poor quality that their potential to lure audiences away from the real thing is negligible, at best. However, almost everyone making fan films is content not only to give the material's original creators and owners full credit, but to share their works for free.

For those few fan filmmakers and their fan films of a truly competitive quality, a deal in which the studios allow their work to exist and even be exploited, albeit in a limited and supervised fashion, in exchange for the right to use the finished product(s) as it pleases might help generate the sort of professional attention and opportunities that such films' cast and crew probably want and deserve. In terms of older franchises whose appeal to the broader, general audience might be waning despite a loyal, yet fairly stagnant (not growing) fan base, embracing such works could be opportune for the studio, not only giving them inexpensive product and promotional tools, but also some valuable insight into how they might launch a larger, official project intended to reinvigorate overall interest in the property.

- JD Moores, February 2017...