A fan film is a film or video inspired by a film, television program, comic book or a similar source, created by fans rather than by the source's copyright holders or creators. Fan filmmakers have traditionally been amateurs, but some of the more notable films have actually been produced by professional filmmakers as film school class projects or as demonstration reels. Fan films vary tremendously in quality, as well as in length, from short faux-teaser trailers for non-existent motion pictures to full-length motion pictures. Fan films are also examples of fan labor and the remix culture. Closely related concepts are Fandubs, Fansubs and Vidding which are reworks of fans on already released film material.
The earliest known fan film is Anderson 'Our Gang, which was produced in 1926 by a pair of itinerant filmmakers. Shot in Anderson, South Carolina, the short is based on the Our Gang film series; the only known copy resides in the University of South Carolina's Newsfilm Library. Various amateur filmmakers created their own fan films throughout the ensuing decades, including a teenaged Hugh Hefner, but the technology required to make fan films was a limiting factor until relatively recently. In the 1960s UCLA film student Don Glut filmed a series of short black and white "underground films", based on adventure and comic book characters from 1940s and 1950s motion picture serials. Around the same time, artist Andy Warhol produced a film called Batman Dracula which could be described as a fan film. But it wasn't until the 1970s that the popularization of science fiction conventions allowed fans to show their films to the wider fan community.
In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, there were many unofficial foreign remakes of American films that today may be considered fan films, such as Süpermenler (Superman), 3 Dev Adam (Spider-Man), Mahakaal (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (Star Wars).
Most of the more prominent science fiction films and television shows are represented in fan films; these include Star Wars (see Category:Fan films based on Star Wars), Star Trek (see Star Trek fan productions), Doctor Who (see Doctor Who spin-offs), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (see Unofficial Buffy the Vampire Slayer productions). Because fan films generally utilize characters and storylines copyrighted and trademarked by the original filmmakers, they are rarely distributed commercially for legal reasons. They are exhibited by various other methods, including showings at comic book and science fiction conventions, and distribution as homemade videos, ranging from VHS videocassettes to CD-ROMs and DVDs.
Filmmaker Sandy Collora gained much notoriety in the early 2000s for a series of fan films he produced featuring DC Comics heroes Batman and Superman. Batman: Dead End premiered at the 2003 San Diego Comic-Con, while World's Finest was prevented from showing in 2004 due to copyright claims from Warner Bros.
Some fan film productions achieve significant quantity and or quality. For instance, the series Star Trek: Hidden Frontier produced 50 episodes over seven seasons - compared to only 34 episodes for the 1970s sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica and Galactica 1980 combined.
Star Trek: New Voyages started as a fan production, but has since attracted support from several crew and cast members from the different Star Trek series, as well as a wide audience.
Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, a Finnish feature-length spoof of both Star Trek and Babylon 5, attracted over 4 million downloads and has been released on DVD in several countries, making it possibly the most successful Finnish movie-production to date.
The Legend of Zelda with its loyal base had a fan film called The Hero of Time which received a strong following of fans. The movie premiered in Atlanta, GA in 2009 and online in December 2009 only to be shut down by Nintendo on January 1, 2010.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game features a small nod to the fan film Return of the Ghostbusters by way of a drawing posted on the wall[dead link] in the Ghostbusters firehouse headquarters. The child's drawing of a Ghostbuster is signed by a fictional character created in the fan film.
John F. Carroll's Masters of the Universe trilogy began with The Wizard of Stone Mountain in 2011 and has premiered at conventions in Germany and the US. Other films in the trilogy will be released on the internet in 2013.
Also, lawmakers strengthened fan activities in recent years by extending fair use cases; for instance, in 2012 Canada's Copyright Modernization Act explicitly added an exemption which allows non-commercial creation of fan film material. A 2013 US court ruling Lenz v. Universal Music Corp. acknowledged that creative fan activities on copyrighted works might fall under fair use and requested that copyright holders check and respect fair use before doing DMCA take down notices.
The explosion of fan productions brought about by affordable consumer equipment and animation programs (Prosumer equipment) with the digital revolution, along with the ease of distribution created by the Internet and Web 2.0, has prompted several studios to adapt their official policies and programs regarding fan films.
The highest profile of these programs has been Lucasfilm's Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards, launched in 2000. The awards formerly permitted only documentary, mockumentary, and parody entries, while prohibiting serious fan fiction. However, this restriction was lifted for the 2007 awards. Lucasfilm's limited support and sanction of fan creations is a marked contrast to the attitudes of many other copyright holders.
Some copyright holders opened up for the idea of fan films: DC Comics was known to actively discourage the creation of fan movies in the 1990s. In 2008, however, DC Comics changed its tune when its president, Paul Levitz, gave provisional permission to fan filmmakers, stating definitively, "We’re against anything that monetizes our assets and our copyrights without our permission. We are not against things where people use our assets if they don’t do anything monetarily with them." Similarly, Paramount took a more welcoming stance towards fan filmmakers in the 2000s.
Unlike many American TV shows, the British series Doctor Who allowed its writers to retain the rights to characters and plot elements that they created - most famously with Terry Nation's Daleks. While the BBC has never licensed the character of the Doctor for use in fan films, a number of the writers have consented to allow the monsters and supporting characters they created to be used in direct-to-video productions (see Doctor Who spin-offs).
The creators of Red Dwarf sponsored a fan film contest of their own in 2005, inspired by an earlier fan film production in 2001 called Red Dwarf - The Other Movie, with a fairly wide remit ranging from fictional stories set in the Red Dwarf universe to documentaries about the show and its fandom. The two winning shorts were featured in their entirety as bonus features on the Series VIII DVD release, along with a montage of clips from the runner-up entries and a short intro clip from Red Dwarf - The Other Movie. This made them among the first fan films to be commercially released by a property's original creators.
Fox Studios is known to shut down fan productions, for instance they used in 2008 a cease and desist letter to close a Max Payne short that was in production. MGM has been known to force internet-distributed James Bond fan films offline, too.
Paramount Pictures actively pursued legal action against Star Trek fan films in the 1980s, such as the animated film series Star Trix, and a never completed fan episode spinoff tentatively titled Yorktown: A Time to Heal starring George Takei and James Shigeta.
From 2010 to 2015, animator Matthew Gafford developed "Star Fox: The Animated Series", a webseries based on Nintendo's Star Fox game franchise. However, after a cease-and-desist from Nintendo based on the usage of the Star Fox intellectual property, Gafford reinstated the series under a new moniker, A Fox In Space. The first episode of A Fox In Space was released online in April 2016.
As media scholar Henry Jenkins points out, fan films are shaped by the intersection between contemporary trends toward media convergence and participatory culture. These films are hybrid by nature—-neither fully commercial nor fully alternative. Fan films represent a potentially important third space between the two.
Similarly, Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig argued that for the first time in history, creativity by default is subject to regulation due to growing intellectual property rights like copyright and trademark. This trend results in artists (like the fans mentioned in this article) needing the permission of the copyright owner to engage in mashups or acts of remixing. In Lessing's view, this new phenomena limits creativity. To help artists mitigate the chilling impact of copyright law, Lessig founded the Creative Commons and proposed the Creative Commons licenses.
Canada is one of a few countries, if not the only one, to have introduced into its copyright law a new exception for non-commercial user-generated content. Article 29 of Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act (2012) states that there is no infringement if: (i) the use is done solely for non-commercial purpose; (ii) the original source is mentioned; (iii) the individual has reasonable ground to believe that he or she is not infringing copyright; and (iv) the remix does not have a “substantial adverse effect” on the exploitation of the existing work.
in 2013 a district court ruled that copyright owners do not have the right to simply take down content before undertaking a legal analysis to determine whether the remixed work could fall under fair use, a concept in US copyright law which permits limited use of copyrighted material without the need to obtain the right holder’s permission (US District Court, Stephanie Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., Universal Music Publishing Inc., and Universal Music Publishing Group, Case No. 5:07-cv-03783-JF, January 24, 2013).[...] Given the emergence of today’s “remix” culture, and the legal uncertainty surrounding remixes and mash-ups, the time would appear to be ripe for policy makers to take a new look at copyright law.