Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Fan Films Foreshadow Future

My last 3 movie recommendations have focused on fan films. I had intended to write a post commenting on how technological developments have made it so much easier to make and distribute reasonable quality movies that groups of fans can now do for fun what was once the domain of multimillion dollar studios, and that soon local movie productions will be as common as local theater groups. Unfortunately the Instapundit beat me to many of the points I was going to make; but not all of them. I will, therefore, take my post on fan film trends in a different direction.

I think that fan films like the ones I have recommended demonstrate not only a trend in the democratization of filmmaking, but also a trend in avocations.

One desire people have that is often overlooked is the desire to experience things. In his book The Next 200 Years thinker Herman Kahn predicted that an increasingly wealthy population of the First World would make tourism a much larger industry. Smart people in the tourist trade have already figured out that tourism isn’t about selling travel, it is about selling experiences. People don’t just want to look at a pretty landscape as a passive observer. They want to go on their own safari, or sift the dirt for fossils of early man. They want to play at being Hemmingway or Leakey. This desire is not limited to brief vacations and I think fan films are part of the hobby trend resulting from that. As productivity increases from technological development and capital investment allows ever higher income for the average person, we will have more time and resources to spend on just having interesting experiences.

In Roman times, all the average person could do is listen to stories and daydream about what other times, places, or occupations might be like. By the time of the Late Unpleasantness, printing presses and widespread literacy at least allowed the average person to read* history, fiction, or travelogues in what free time they had. But now the common man has enough free time and disposable income that groups of ordinary men who are fascinated by these previous times can afford to equip, train, and spend their weekends “living the life” of their Roman or 19th Century predecessors. It is a tremendous extravagance that we take for granted. I think this trend is fortunate, since without the hobbyist desire to experience the past we would lose some of our ability to understand our own history as technological development separates us ever faster from a past driven by the cycles of nature and the speed of a horse.

It is more than just the spread of wealth and leisure time that rising productivity gives us that will likely drive the spread of experience-oriented hobbies. Technological innovation also reduces the difficulty and cost of what were once extravagant undertakings available only to a few. It took backing by a superpower to send Columbus across the Atlantic, but now a very large percentage** of American adults could probably arrange their own transcontinental sailing expedition if they wanted it badly enough. It is not just that we are richer than Queen Isabella, but that building, sailing, and navigating boats has become much easier. Very soon the same will be true for a trip to outer space. Making your own movies is one of those areas where technology has lowered the difficulty by introducing relatively cheap digital cameras and computer f/x & movie editing software. Do you wish that you could have been the actor cast to play a Federation starship captain, comic book hero, or Jedi? Well, now you can be. In the future you can be a space explorer or just play one on TV, all without quitting your day job.

If you want to know what people in the future will do for fun, just ask yourself:

What do people wish they could be?

So, you wanna be a rock and roll star? A crusading journalist? A crusader? A pistolero? A race car driver? You can be, in your spare time. Even things that are too dangerous or too impossible for hobbyists to really do can be simulated with increasing sophistication. You can dabble a little in many fields to get just a taste of a lot of experiences, or you can immerse yourself in one favorite. You probably (though not certainly) won’t be the first or the best at something that you only do as a hobby, but still there’s a lot to be said for talented amateurs. Just ask an astronomer.

Making and distributing high quality fan films are one part of a much larger trend of new experiences which technological innovation and improved productivity are just now opening the doors to for the common man. Now, can anyone name a hobby that is getting harder to experience instead of easier?

*The technology (and motive) for role playing games seems to have existed for a long time before they were popularized. I wonder why they weren’t developed sooner.

**Some blogger in the recent past had a post about this. If anyone remember who, I’d appreciate the link to it.

Update: Welcome carnival goers. If you like this post, I encourage you to look around at the rest of the blog. If you haven't already done so, take my Transporter poll; I need more data points.

Update 2: Yes, you could consider being a "brave revolutionary" to be a modern experience-oriented hobby.

In a way, I find fan films sad.

All that effort, ingenuity, etc., and they play in someone else's sandbox/universe.

Why not create their own worlds, their own storylines? Then they can start to compete for mindshare with mainstream movies by coming up with fresh and compelling things that haven't been seen (or can't be made) in Hollywood.

While I think commenter Jonathan has a point, I also agree with this:

"Fan fiction is a way of the culture repairing the damage done in a system where contemporary myths are owned by corporations instead of owned by the folk." -Henry Jenkins, in ‘Textual Poachers: Media Fans and Participatory Culture’

I find that occasionally writing fanfic helps me stretch my writing muscles by trying to keep the characters canon. It's a good challenge.

Plus, given the utter crap that was Enterprise (I refuse to call it "Star Trek" anything), fan films are the next best thing.
Excellent post!
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