FAN FILM FRIDAY: INTERVIEW: Clive Young talks about the Fan Film Subculture

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Welcome to Fan Film Friday here on the ‘Bot. Ordinarily, we showcase a fan film for you, but today we’ve got a special treat: An interview with Clive Young, one of the few authoritative voices in the emerging Fan Film subculture. Mr. Young is the creative force behind the excellent Fan Cinema Today website ( http://fancinematoday.com/ ) and he also wrote the best book I've ever read on the subject, "Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind the Camera," which we reviewed some months back, and which I can't praise highly enough ( http://www.republibot.com/content/book-review-%E2%80%9Chomemade-hollywoo... )

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Clive, thank you very much for being with us today! We're big, drooling fans of your work!

CLIVE YOUNG:
That explains the puddle! Thanks for having me here on the site; I always dig the interviews on Republibot, so it’s cool to be part of one.

REPUBLIBOT:
So tell us a little bit about yourself, Clive, what's your day job? How did you get in to all this? I know you had a website prior to Fan Cinema Today...

CLIVE:
I work as an editor for a pro audio trade magazine and website, where a lot of my job is to interview concert sound engineers. So for instance, if U2 hits the road, I talk with their sound guys and find out how they mix the show to make a 90,000-seat stadium feel intimate.

As for how I got into fan flicks? Back in 1998, I started Mos Eisley Multiplex, the first fan film website; it got written up in USA Today, the LA Times and other cool places, and I kept at it until around 2000, when I gave the site to another fan film fan. It doesn’t exist anymore, but the upside is that I interviewed a ton of fan filmmakers for it, and I kept all that material, so when it came time to write Homemade Hollywood, I had lots of research already done.

REPUBLIBOT
What is your personal favorite fan film? What's the one you can watch over and over and over again, that just has some kind of power over you?

CLIVE:
I lean towards short comedies like “Batman’s Bad Day” or “Beagle,” which is Snoopy flying an X-Wing. For longer fan films, I’m a big fan of “Reign of the Fallen,” which is almost like a small indie movie on IFC about relationships; the Star Wars aspects are nearly besides the point. Another great long one is “Tomb Raider: Ascension;” everything that Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft movies got wrong, this one gets right. In fact, I had the weird honor that the review I wrote for Fan Cinema Today (http://fancinematoday.com/2008/09/22/tomb-raider-ascension-fan-film-is-a...) was used by some P2P bootlegger as the info for a Torrent file he made of the film. Back in July, 2009, the torrent suddenly became the most downloaded movie on The Pirate Bay for a week, which meant that the fan film review--which he didn’t credit me for--is likely the most widely read thing I ever wrote.

REPUBLIBOT:
That bastard! Are there any genres of fan films that you personally gravitate towards? Any that you traditionally try to avoid?

CLIVE:
One of the cool things about running FCT is that it forced me to watch fan films that I otherwise wouldn’t watch on my own, so I got to take in--and appreciate--a lot more flicks than I might have expected. That said, I’m not much for horror movies, so I don’t watch many horror fan films either.

REPUBLIBOT:
If you were going to make a fan film, what's your dream project? What franchise to you long to bring your voice to?

CLIVE:
I made a fan film for class in the late 1980s, loosely based on Neal Stephenson’s “The Big U” (I got an A-), but that was as far as I’d like to take it. I’d love to see someone else make a Journeyman fan film though; that was a great show. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journeyman_(TV_series) )

REPUBLIBOT:
In reading your book, a lot of stuff that I'd kind of suspected going in to it was really true: Spiderman fans are crazy, Trekkies are disturbingly culty, most of the people doing this sort of thing clearly have more money than brains, and so on - and yet somehow you transcended that. You didn't exactly defy any of the stereotypes attached to the movement, but you managed to qualify them and give them scale, kind of explain them. I found this kind of fascinating, and I got to wondering if it might be possible that fan films are a kind of road to self-actualization for people who, for whatever reason, didn't quite take to normal society. Do you think this is the case?

CLIVE:
Well, one of the things that drove me to write the book was to find out who these people were: What kind of person swings off a building dressed like Spider-Man, and how do you get to the point where that seems like a good idea? I wrote on the first page, “The fans who make these movies aren’t psychos,” but a handful are definitely willing to take risks most of us wouldn’t consider, like taking out a second mortgage to finish a film--or setting themselves on fire.

None of the people I met, however, fit the stereotype of the inarticulate nerd in a sweat-stained “Han Shot First” t-shirt. The typical fan filmmaker is a fairly well-rounded person—he has more than a passing interest in fandom, but his feet tend to be grounded in reality. I think they would have to be, because a fan’s passion will only get you so far when it comes to filmmaking; you also need to have organizational abilities, patience and leadership qualities. Those are skills that can be applied to any aspect of “normal society,” from your job to being a parent, so if making a fan film develops someone’s abilities in those areas, then sure, that’s self-actualization.

REPUBLIBOT:
I don't know if you ever saw "Scanners" or not, but there's a place called "The Cathode Ray Mission" in the movie, where the homeless and the improperly-socialized are plopped down in front of TV for hours a day to watch old sitcoms and cop shows under the theory that one's subconscious can't tell the difference between entertainment and reality, and so by watching this stuff, people would gradually be re-programmed in to society. I got to wondering if, on some level, Fan Films might be a reversal of that. For instance, as a kid, I watched way the hell too much SF, to the point where I got indoctrinated in to a nonexistent world, rather than the 'normal' one that my friends got in to. Is it possible, do you think, that the process of making a fan film is a way for obsessive, aspergery fans to shift focus from their dreamworld to the more mundane concerns of how to actually *make* it real - set construction, script, costuming, scheduling, blah blah blah - and thereby bridge their way in to the 'real' world?

CLIVE:
I think I answered most of that in the last question, but generally speaking, some “obsessive, aspergery fans” face additional hurdles when they take on projects like fan films, because moviemaking requires a lot of social engineering. A film, at its heart, is a form of communication, and the filmmaking process, too, is based around group interaction, so if making a fan film can help socially awkward people hone their ability to connect with others, that’s a great thing.

REPUBLIBOT:
My favorite sections of your book were the ones that went in to the psychological underpinnings of the movement - why some people gravitate towards some kinds of films, why women tend to be on the writing and acting end, but not so much the production end - and so on. I was particularly struck with your notion that the more obsessive Star Wars fans tend to be kids from broken homes in the 70s. That's a connection that I never would have made in a million years, but totally, totally tracks with my own SW-obsessed friends. Were there any other associations like that that you've noticed that you didn't have room for in the book, or maybe that just weren't nailed down enough to mention?

CLIVE:
I wish I could take credit for that brilliant observation, but it was Cris Macht, who directed the fan documentary, “The Force Among Us,” who said it. As for my thoughts, the last chapter of the book goes pretty in-depth with ideas about the nature of fandom and fan creativity, and what they ultimately mean. I’ll let the chapter speak for me.

REPUBLIBOT:
One aspect of Fan Films that's really interesting to me right now is how ghetto-ized it still is. Everyone's heard of it, but even with YouTube and all, few people outside of the folks making them really know what it's all about. We've tried to expose our readership - which is obviously mostly conservative - to it, and we've brought it up on a few other conservative websites just to get discussion going - and few seem to care. I've even spoken to some SF authors who seem kind of mystified by the whole thing. It's still kind of like Rock and Roll in 1954 - everyone's heard of it, but it hasn't really crossed over yet. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage for what's being produced at the moment?

CLIVE:
Most people see fan filmmaking as the bastard son of Cosplay and Fanfic, two already maligned hobbies. The burden, then, is on the fan filmmaking community to reframe the discussion as “this isn’t fat guys in Batman and Robin costumes enacting slash fiction; this is modern-day community theater, replacing the high-school gym with YouTube.”

The only way to change society’s perception, then, is to make quality films and publicize the hell out of ‘em. There seems to be one “big” fan film every two years or so—most recently, it was “The Hunt for Gollum”—and they tend to do a great job of engaging the media. The more “Gollums” that are created, the more dialogue is created within the media and the public at large.

REPUBLIBOT:
I've noticed that there seems to be kind of a progression for the groups making these things - they do one or two, and somewhere during the third, they start to feel really hamstrung by playing according to the rules of someone else's game. They start to get the idea of telling their own stories in their own original 'universe', without being tied down by some show's backstory or what have you. And yet very few of these projects seem to actually come to fruition. Any ideas about that?

CLIVE:
One would hope that, yeah, fan filmmaking would be a stepping stone to making original movies—that’s what happened with Eli Roth, the director of the Hostel movies: He made remakes of Pieces and Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a teenager before making his own flicks. But there’s a big difference between recreating someone else’s vision with a fan film, and creating your own vision with an original picture. Some people make the jump and others don’t—and a few discover that they don’t really care anymore; that they got what they emotionally wanted out of the fan filmmaking experience, and find they want to move on to something else.

REPUBLIBOT:
Which raises the question of why there are comparatively few original homemade productions. For every "Venus Rises" or "The Black Dawn," there seem to be a hundred "Starship Hoobajoobah" Trek spinoffs and, as you put it, endless kids whacking at each other with lightsabers. Why?

CLIVE:
There are thousands of original homemade productions out there, but most of us have never heard of them. Franchise-based amateur films tend to get more attention and word of mouth, but there’s plenty of people out there making their own flicks—that’s how “Paranormal Activity” came about, right?

REPUBLIBOT:
I guess. I’m not familiar with it. Fan Film seems to be primarily an SF thing. Comics too, but that kind of fits within the SF Purview - Superman is an Alien, after all, Batman fought two aliens in "Dead End" - got any theories as to why people making these films tend to gravitate towards those genres, and we don't really see a fan film about...say...a cloying, heart-filled story about a high school football team defeating the '78 Steelers in a (fictional) expo game? Or some Indians who manage to defeat the Cowboys? Something more 'real-world' like that? Hell, even an "I Dream of Jeanie" fan film would be kinda' cool...

CLIVE:
You’re right about fan films staying locked into certain genres; I haven’t seen any Jane Austen fan flicks recently--like ever! I have two theories about this. The main one is that SF fans tend to be gear heads, and you need to have a technological bent these days to make a fan film, if only so that you learn iMovie in order to edit your flick.
The other theory is that SF has a greater margin of error. None of us have ever seen an alien spaceship, but we’ve all see a police car, so it’s easier to suspend disbelief with one over the other, no matter how poorly the effect might be achieved.

REPUBLIBOT:
What I've always wondered about is why there aren't any Road Warrior fan films. It's a big universe, there's lots of deserts, lots of cars just laying around the place, lots of thrift shops full of leather jackets and guns - why the mad dash to do a squeaky-clean vision of the future, and not something a bit more low-tech and rolicksome? For that matter, why are some franchises vastly over-represented, and others seem to have no representation whatsoever? Aside from "In The Pirkenning," why are there no B5 fan films?...for instance...not that I'm obsessed with Babylon 5 or anything like that....

CLIVE:
A squeaky-clean vision of the future can be done with a green screen in your living room and some third-rate CGI; a post-apocalypse, desert wasteland requires travel, lodging, cars and more. Plus the vast majority of fan films cost less than one thrift-store leather jacket. Your last question is pretty much the genesis of how any fan film gets started, so you, R3, should make a B5 fan film.

REPUBLIBOT
I kind of promised Joe Straczynski that I wouldn’t. I really want to, but alas…So do you feel like there's ever much political motivation behind fan films? With the exception of the last episode of Star Trek: The New Voyages, which was pretty darn gay, I can't really think of too many examples...is it possible that Fan Films are a force for social change?

CLIVE:
Fan films are no more a force for social change than a typical episode of Heroes or any other show that gets a fan tribute--which is to say “No.”

REPUBLIBOT:
Are there any regions of the country that seem to be more or less inclined to the movement? Does New England produce more fan films than Cascadia, or does the South as a whole produce less than Texas? Do any regions seem more conducive to it - cops that'll look the other way, unexpectedly cheap camera rentals, that sort of thing - or is it just kind of evenly distributed?

CLIVE:
Fan films tend to be a suburban pursuit; you don’t see a lot of gritty, urban fan epics coming from Harlem or Detroit. I’d guess that the people in those areas have more pressing concerns, like getting by.

REPULIBOT:
What's something that you've seen entirely too much of in the subculture, that you wish people would avoid? What's your favorite thing that you wish people would do more of?

CLIVE:
I’ve seen too many fan films shot without a tripod. My favorite thing that I wish people would do more of is use a tripod.

REPUBLIBOT:
[Laughing] Ah, yes, the ’cameraman on acid’ school of cinematography, bane of us all. So what's next for you, personally? Where do you go from here? What are you working on?

CLIVE YOUNG:
I am writing a YA novel about teens who have a bad habit of getting drunk in graveyards.

REPUBLIBOT 3.0:
Oooh! Good luck with that! And that's about it, I think. Again, Clive's book is called "Homemade Hollywood," and anyone reading this should immediately run out and buy it, it's well worth the time and money. Also, check out Clive's day-to-day stuff on Fan Cinema Today located here http://fancinematoday.com/ . Clive, it was really interesting talking with you, thank you again for your time, and please check in with us again from time to time, and let us know what you're up to!

CLIVE:
Thanks for having me here, Republibot—it was a lot of fun!

REPUBLIBOT:
For me, too, thanks!

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