Homemade Hollywood & Fan Films


(Full disclosure: a review copy was provided for this post, originally presented in longer form on Comic Related. My thanks to Chuck Moore and Continuum Books for their assistance.) 

There’s a soft spot in my heart for fan films. Done usually on relatively small budgets, with no hope of financial compensation, they’re a great way for fans to “play in the sandbox” with their favorite characters. Like comics, fan films have not been taken as seriously in the past, usually seen as a kind of “junk culture” – disposable, irrelevant, and momentary, with no sense of history or perspective.

Thankfully, Clive Young has done enough work to warrant writing a history of fan films entitled Homemade Hollywood, released by Continuum Books (who, in an unrelated note, also put out an excellent series on classic albums ), and which deserves to be read

As a fan film blogger , Mr. Young knows his stuff, and Homemade Hollywood appeals not just to the fanboy, but those who enjoy good books about film making. Being a relatively serious-minded historical account, Homemade Hollywood provides strong background, encompassing almost eighty years of history, a wide range of source material…and some key changes in technology.

Homemade Hollywood starts with possibly the first “fan film” focusing on some rather unusual source material, but also demonstrates the unique nature of fan-created media. In his book, Young discusses a couple of Spider-Man-based fan films (including the story of one filmmaker who, dressed as Spider-Man, freely swung from an abandoned building in order to get the shot). Young also focuses on several key “franchises” that are the focus on fan films, including super-heroes, James Bond, and most notably, Star Wars. Fan filmmakers, including Blinky Productions, Sandy Collora , and James Cawley, are prominently featured, along with some lesser-known individuals. Take the group of friends who made a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark over several years. The teens that attempted to make their own James Bond film. The real story behind the infamous Hardware Wars spoof. Or even the couple that made a dramatic Star Wars fan film that was later denied a fan film award…because it wasn’t a comedy. (You’ll have to read the book for the background behind that factoid). Young touches a lot of interesting pop cultural touchstones – the rise and fall of Cinemagic magazine (during a time when movie making equipment was becoming increasingly accessible); how home video and computer technology impacted the making of fan films…but more importantly, how major media (like Lucasfilm with Star Wars or Paramount with Star Trek) supported these fan creators, and in term, helping these franchises maintain a consistent fan base….

…but that’s also part of the problem with the book. There is a huge emphasis on the “big two” science-fiction franchises, and not enough on some of the smaller, more independent-minded efforts. (I’m sure that most intrepid readers can think of their own examples). The great thing about Homemade Hollywood is that it straddles the line between being a strictly academic study and a more fannish appreciation of these efforts. But there are some missed opportunities (and perhaps this might make a volume 2) that can demonstrate not just that fan films can be a great way for fans to share their love…but as a stepping-stone into full on immersion.

But that’s ultimately what Homemade Hollywood succeeds in doing – promoting the idea that behind this “hidden cinematic subculture” is that people do this for the love of the characters. They do it not for fame, or even for publicity….but because, in the end, it’s done because they want to do it.

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