WE MADE A FAN FILM
When we decided to start this project I had some concerns. The big risk is that you are making something based on someone else’s intellectual property, so you have no real rights. I did the research and watched the Wonder Woman fan film, the Judge Minty film, read the success stories with the Mortal Kombat fan piece and like everyone else, I watched Dirty Laundry with Thomas Jane and the recent Venom short. Those films in particular had a ton of press support and were posted everywhere, so much so that it seemed like Marvel was supporting them. This settled my nerves immediately.
I figured that as long as we didn’t make a dime on it, and that if the quality was good enough, we would be fine. It turned out to be quite the opposite. The lawyer from Marvel who contacted us claimed that the fans would be confused into thinking that our film was official. Even though the posters read, "fan film" right on them.
“Your actions confuse consumers into believing that they are viewing an authentic Marvel production or one sponsored or licensed by Marvel, when they are not.”
I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, and figured that maybe they were just confused - maybe they thought we were trying to make money, or a feature? I had our lawyer draft up a response right away describing the project as a short fan film and expressing how we were doing it for our love of the character and how we weren’t infringing copyright laws by doing a fan piece. How I wanted to transform the character into something that the fans would love. I even offered to send them the finished film before it was released and offered to just give it to them. None of it mattered. Their response was that we had no right to make it, release it, and that we had to pull it all down.
“Marvel reserves the right to take whatever remedies are available to it at law and in equity, and shall do whatever best protects its interests.”
Who can we show it to? Can you put it in the hands of the folks at Marvel Studios? We know they will love it! We got no response.
This guy didn’t care. It’s not his job to care. It’s his job to protect their property. We were cut off by the legal department at Marvel and with the threat of the biggest studio on the planet suing us, we had a lot to consider. I don’t want to piss these guys off. I love Marvel. Hell I watch and read almost everything they put out.
I couldn’t let our film die just yet. I went online and hunted for the contact info for the creators of the book and sent out emails to Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto. I didn’t expect much, but keep pushing right?
So it turns out that Greg Rucka had seen some of the promotional material online and was already curious about the project. Once he saw the trailer he was more than excited and started posting about it in his blogs!!! He got back to my email right away and told me how flattered he was to have a fan film made based on his work. I immediately sent him the finished film and he absolutely loved it! He wanted the fans to see it! It was at that point that I heard back from the artist Marco Checchetto. His response was:
“HOLY SH$T!!! I'm very impressed!!! I don't know how you did it, but you hit the full atmosphere of my pages!”
Holy shit is right! Both the artist and the writer love the film! Not only is that the ultimate encouragement, but also to have the creator of the book like a film adaption is a rare thing. I got to speak on the phone with Rucka and we dorked out over comics and the Punisher. He was one of the coolest guys and was incredibly supportive. If I ever got to do a web series I would want collaborate with him on it!
Step one: the creators of the book like it, they feel that it properly represents the character. Step two: the fans are drooling over it.
Step three: We gotta get it seen at Marvel Studios. Seen by the folks who hunt for creative people but cracking that egg is practically impossible. I have been trying to get it into their hands for over a month and it has proven to be almost impossible. So now what?
ARE FAN FILMS OK?
This is the big question. With one company now owning all of our favorite films, all of the movies that inspire fan fiction, the question is, do we have the right to tell our versions of the story? Are these stories just intellectual property? As fans are we just consumers, or do we help shape the mythology?
I understand the value of copyright. Being an artist and a professional that tries to make a living off his art, I understand that without that protection there would be no industry. Very much like the music business collapse, the same could happen in film.
If we could download it all for free or worse make money on a product by stealing someone else’s property, it would just destroy the artist's ability to survive.But that’s not what we are talking about here is it? We are talking about a giant corporate machine that is making billions on characters that they have bought from the original artists. Not that this is a bad thing though. Because of the support from this huge company we have boat loads of comic content releasing every year. Love it or hate it they are keeping us all entertained.
However, this same machine promotes how devoted it is to the fans online and at conventions. They want us involved, they want us excited because after all it's the fans that keep them alive. George Lucas embraced fan films. He knew the power in happy fans that felt like they were involved in creating the universe.
The promotion and advertising that comes from people making these films is worth its weight in gold. There have always been artists that embrace this. Stephen King would grant his story rights to young filmmakers who were aiming to hit film festivals. It’s genius. You get to see your material on the big screen, you get to hunt out new talent, and even if your fans hate the film, they will be talking about your content.
So why is Marvel legal hassling us? Is it because I’m not a nineteen-year-old kid in my basement with flashlights and a home video camera? What about all the other professional fan films that are out there? It is all about politics?
It’s about protecting the writer and artist’s right? Protecting intellectual property. I mean what would I do if someone stole my work? Imagine if a comic book company took one of my photos and ripped it off for a cover and sold it for profit. What would I do? Turns out that did happen. Check out the cover issue of a recent Tank Girl comic.
This isn’t new. Marvel, DC, they all do the same thing. They pull stuff right out of films and pop culture for it’s books. When they wrote the Ultimate’s, the character Nick Fury was identical to Sam Jackson before the films. Hell in the Punisher book that inspired us the two cops are a blatantly inspired from Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in Se7en. It’s what happens now in culture. DJs remix songs, films inspire artists, and people make fan films. As long as the creator is making the money it should be ok, right?
I never saw a dime from sales of the Tank Girl book, nor did I get credit (the model did get a free copy signed by the artist). I sent the artist a note saying how awesome the cover turned out. It’s amazing that my work inspired a comic book cover and as the artist I feel like it wasn't a big deal in the long run. All of this was going through my head when I read that letter.