Two very different fan productions

Karen Hellekson's picture

1. Introduction

[1.1] Two fairly high-profile transformative fan artworks hit my radar a while back, and I’m finally getting around to blogging about them. Both are firmly within fannish traditions, but they have very different sensibilities: “The Hunt for Gollum” and “Battlestar Redactica.” I encourage everyone to view them both, to compare and contrast. Both fan productions are available to view for free.

2. The Hunt for Gollum

[2.1] Chris Bouchard’s “The Hunt for Gollum” is a 40-minute live-action vid (it calls itself an “independent film”) with a cinematic feel and a mostly male production team. Gollum comes out of the Lord of the Rings film fandom, as opposed to the book fandom, and the production is geared to evoke Jackson’s films. Indeed, the production values are fabulous: wonderful acting, great costumes, original incidental music, the whole nine yards. The script fills in some missing time: Aragon tracks Gollum to find the truth about the Ring. The plot elements are pulled from Tolkien’s Appendices.

[2.2] As a fan artwork, this is in the relatively unusual genre of live-action fan vids [1], and it’s further rarified by being incredibly slick, more pro than fan. In fact, this short film straddles the pro/fan divide. On the pro side, it’s clear from remarks on the Web site that the people on the team are either professionals in the film industry or they want to be, and the level of excellence reflects these aspirations. Their dedicated URL also signals their serious intent. Further, Gollum’s Web site notes that the production team came to some sort of unexplained understanding with the Tolkien estate. All these signal professionalism.

[2.3] On the fan side, the story it tells is pure missing scene, a well-known fan genre whereby the fan artwork seeks to fill in a gap in the canonical source, usually in terms of story or character—here, story. Further, the cinematographic sensibility is clearly meant to evoke Jackson’s films; the final shot of the film only clinches it. The fannish transformation is of an original cast and script into a Jackson-esque tag, yet it is clearly a derivative story (because from Tolkien) told in a derivative way (because channeling Jackson). Also embedding it in the fan realm is its disclaimer, which, in fannish tradition, emphasizes the nonprofit nature of the endeavor.

[2.4] One important thing about Gollum is that it can be viewed completely independently of the films and it makes perfect sense. Like all derivative texts, it gains extra layers of meaning when viewed in conjunction with the primary source, although in this case, the story isn’t really crucially necessary. The extra meaning I obtain upon viewing isn’t some insight into Aragon’s or Gollum’s characters, or some “aha! so that’s how they found out that information!” moment that made explicable a formerly confusing bit of the film. Rather, the meaning I obtain has to do with faithfulness to cinematography and world building. For me, it’s a primarily visual fan artwork about world building meant to dazzle—more homage than site of extratextual meaning. A die-hard fan embedded in the LOTR film fandom might read it completely differently (and more usefully).

3. Battlestar Redactica

[3.1] CVM_Productions’ “Battlestar Redactica” is a rerendering of the last half-season of Battlestar Galactica, created by a single person who recut clips together, thus greatly changing the story. The artwork is made up of two vids of recut aired footage: part 1, “Battlestar Redactica: A Fan-edited Mutiny” (1:46:34), and part 2, “Battlestar Redactica: A Fan-edited Resurrection” (1:09:12). Short-form fan recuts—particularly of silly TV or film trailers—are popular on YouTube. Longer fan recuts such as this are rare. In the long-form genre, the best-known example is undoubtedly Mike J. Nichols’s 2000/2001 The Phantom Edit, a fan recut of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace that hit the media hard and itself spawned a thousand edits [source].

[3.2] CVM_Productions credits several people who helped her by providing feedback, but this artwork was not created by a team of people, as was Gollum. Rather, it was created by a fan embedded in her larger fan community, and like many such artworks, it itself has resulted in at least one derivative fan work: a music vid about Redactica’s version of Kara Thrace, one of the characters whose story is greatly altered. Further, CVM_Productions has placed her Redactica-specific site on LiveJournal, a friendly home to various fan communities. In short, Redactica feels fannish to me in a way that Gollum does not.

[3.3] Where Gollum is additive to story, Redactica is transformative of story: the tagline of the Web page associated with the artwork reads, “I reject your Battlestar and substitute my own!” CVM_Productions took the last half of season 4 of BSG and recut it to a preferred reading. Certain plot elements, notably the romance between two major characters, are excised altogether; other elements are downplayed. Some scenes are reordered to place certain plot elements next to each other, or to indicate altered reaction. CVM_Productions has posted extensively about the journey she took creating the two vids that comprise the Redactica, thus providing valuable insight into her artistic process, and I recommend reading the text associated with the artwork after viewing it.

[3.4] One big change in Redactica is the ending: CVM_Productions ran out of footage to articulate her desired ending, so she obliquely hints at it through montage. Of this new ending, CVM_Productions writes,

[3.5] The fan-edit closes to a new montage of modern technology and our relationship to it designed to offer a more balanced look than simply dancing robots. This is not intended necessarily to clarify the nature of our relationship to the Colonials (although it may do, if you choose), but rather to acknowledge there is one, even if purely metatextual, because their questions are also ours. [source]

[3.6] Redactica can be watched on its own and will make sense, but on the download page, CVM_Productions clearly indicates that the recuts ought to be viewed in context. She places the fan vids in a viewing sequence with extratextual elements. For example, for part 1 of Redactica, she suggests that first one watch 4.11 “Sometimes a Great Notion,” then watch the “What the Frak Happened Official Recap,” and finally watch the fan recut. Informed watchers will get far more out of the recut because the point is that it is different. The reworking of the character of Kara Thrace is particularly audaciously delicious when held against the canonical version.

4. Conclusion

[4.1] I can’t help but notice a big gap between these two fan texts, both of which I love because of the obvious care and thought that went into them. Both of these artworks prove that derivative fan labor is a labor of love. Of the two, I prefer Redactica because I understand the context and community it came out of. It’s speaking to me as a fellow fan, not really the larger world. It privileges my knowledge of the canonical text. It assumes I have baseline knowledge, and it unapologetically builds on that. It’s…well…private.

[4.2] Gollum, on the other hand, is public: it is meant to be viewed, in isolation, in a public forum, and although knowledge of the films and the story add a layer of meaning, ultimately, this fan artwork is just an extra. Yes, it’s a beautiful extra, but it doesn’t tell me anything new about Jackson’s films, or about Aragon, or about Gollum. Perhaps it gives me some context, but I think that at the end of the day, I’m okay without the context. Redactica, on the other hand, transformed me by transforming the text: it showed me new possibilities inherent in the canonical narrative.

5. Note

1. I have personal experience with live-action fan vids: I was (sort of) a member of Mini-UNIT Minstrels (MUM), who followed Chicago’s The Federation in silly derivative sensibility (think Doctor Who meets the Monty Python crew). I published a paper about these vids after interviewing the cast and crew, a very grad student–y “let’s apply Jenkins’s textual poachers theory to these artworks.” (In my defense, I was a grad student.) Until Gollum, live-action fan vids had fallen off my radar, maybe because nobody has asked me to play the crucial lynchpin role of “secretary,” as I did for MUM, but now I find myself intrigued again. Please comment if you know of any current fan-run production teams who are working on live-action fan vids!

This text is copyrighted under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. It was originally written on August 14, 2009. It may be freely copied anywhere. If you read this document a site other than its original, I may not see any comments you might append, and I’d love to hear from you. Please comment at the original blog post if you wish me to see your remarks.

Posted in essay

Karen Hellekson

Publication date (from feed): 

Sat, 15 Aug 2009 02:29:50 +0000