Last year, I ended up watching a really brilliant “Blade Runner” fan film that was made for just $1500. The surprising thing was that it actually seemed to capture the general atmosphere and tone of the original “Blade Runner” in a slightly better way than the film’s official sequel did.
Naturally, this made me think about why fan-made things can sometimes be better than their official counterparts. And, after some thought on the matter, I’ve come up with a few possible reasons:
1) Money: Generally-speaking, fan works have a totally different relationship with money when compared to “official” creative works. The most obvious element of this is that fan works are usually only tolerated by major studios, game companies, publishers etc.. because they are non-commercial (plus, they’re both free advertising for the official thing and a way to maintain fan interest too).
Because of their non-commercial status, fan works don’t have to focus on things like appealing to a mass audience, finding big-name talent, advertising or any of that nonsense. So, they can focus more on the really important stuff like creativity, imagination and enjoyability. Because they don’t have marketing people or executives trying to meddle with the creative process, people making fan works have a lot more creative freedom.
In addition to this, the budgets for fan works often tend to be a lot lower. What this means is that people making fan works have to be more creative in order to counteract this. Since they can’t always dazzle the audience with famous names, special effects that cost millions etc.. they have to dazzle the audience with things like storytelling, interesting characters, creative design choices, acting, music etc.. instead.
Their low-budget status often also leads to more of a focus on small-scale drama too. Small-scale drama is something that is often missing from large-budget films, blockbuster novels, mainstream comics etc.. these days. So, this alone can make fan works seem a lot more interesting and creative than their “official” counterparts.
2) Refinement: The whole concept of “fan works” is a relatively new one. The distinction between “official” and “fan-made” works only really came into being with the invention of modern copyright law (and things like the printing press, cameras, sound recording etc..). Prior to this, no-one really “owned” stories, songs etc…
What this meant was that pre-existing stories and songs would often be refined over time by different people coming up with their own interpretations of them. For example, Shakespeare often based his plays on pre-existing stories. But, he’s revered as a famous playwright because of what he did with these pre-existing stories.
So, fan works can often carry on this tradition. Since they don’t have to do the hard work of making something completely new, they can focus a lot more time and effort on improving a pre-existing thing.
You can also see this in fan works’ more respectable (and legitimate) counterpart – original works inspired by other things. Computer and video games provide some really good examples of this – like how the original “Resident Evil” from 1996 is considered a classic of the survival horror genre, even though it was at least partially inspired by a game from four years earlier called “Alone In The Dark“.
The two games have a similar underlying concept (eg: escaping a monster-filled mansion) and similar gameplay mechanics, yet “Resident Evil” did some interesting new things with the template established by “Alone In The Dark”.
3) Expectations: This one is probably pretty self-explanatory. When a new official thing is made, then fans will often tend to have extremely high expectations of it. Likewise, it will often be hyped up by months of advertising and pre-release publicity too. All of this means that official works have to be especially good if they want to meet these sky-high expectations.
On the other hand, people’s expectations about fan works tend to be a lot lower. After all, there’s a lot of crappy fan-made stuff out there, plus fans often don’t have anywhere near the budget that official creative works do. As such, if a fan work is good, then it will seem even better because the audience’s expectations are a lot lower.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂