Big Studios Willing To Let Fan Fiction Fly?

from the one-hopes... dept

We recently had a discussion about the legalities of fan fiction, and how some authors were adamantly against the concept (even if their views were on shaky legal grounds). While it is true that certain derivative works can be stopped, that also doesn’t mean it’s a smart thing, from the perspective of cultivating fans. Reader Eilieen now points us to the news of a fan-made film that builds on Joss Whedon’s Firefly TV show and Serenity movie:

Browncoats: Redemption was made by the fans for the fans,” director Michael Dougherty explained to by e-mail. “But we view this as an independent film; we had Firefly fans travel from all over the U.S. to volunteer their time as extras and other supportive roles in its production. Without them, this film would not exist, and it will only be successful with their continued help and support.”

Unfortunately, the article at Wired totally leaves out the question of whether or not the copyright holders know about this particular fan film, and if they’re okay with it. Plenty of movie makers — such as George Lucas — are perfectly happy with fan flicks, even to the point of encouraging them. But, in this case, it’s not clear if this is, in any way, sanctioned. While the filmmakers say they’re doing this for charity, that still suggests they’re hoping to make some money from the film to give to charity — which often is the trigger that sets off Hollywood lawyers.

Whedon, for his part, has always been good about cultivating super-loyal fans, and at the same time, of experimenting with smart business models. But, not everyone associated with Firefly/Serentiy have always been so sharp. Back when Universal Studios tried to market Serenity via its biggest fans, the lawyers at Universal (apparently kept separate from the marketers) tried to demand licensing fees from the fans that the marketing department was urging to promote the film.

Looking over the site of the movie itself, it does suggest that they were able to secure permission from everyone necessary — including both Universal and Fox (who ran the TV show) along with Whedon himself:

So here’s how it is, we’ve reached out to FOX, Universal Studios, Joss’ agent at CAA, and even Mary Parent who is now at MGM. Everyone we’ve dealt with has been extremely helpful and completely blown away the stereotype of what the Hollywood experience is like. And much to our surprise, we even have the blessing of Joss Whedon himself. We’ve reached out to both Fox and Universal to get a greater understanding of the legal permissions we needed to make this a reality and we set out to complete it. And thanks to mighty fine Browncoats like yourself…we have.

That’s slightly cryptic, but it sounds like all the legal permissions were granted, and perhaps this fan film will go ahead with all the official blessings. While it’s silly that such a permission-based culture is necessary, just to make a film celebrating something that people love, at the very least, it’s nice to see some Hollywood folks recognizing that fan fiction and fan films aren’t inherently bad things.

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Companies: fox, universal

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Comments on “Big Studios Willing To Let Fan Fiction Fly?”

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Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Firefly & Fox

Fox should have had their rights stripped with regards to Firefly. When they originally aired it they aired the series completely out of order, which gave the initial viewers confusion about the over-arcing story plot.
I completely blame Fox for Firefly only having one season. It is pretty much a travesty too seeing as it is hands down the best series I have ever seen. The only thing that comes close is Dexter. But Dexter is still not as good as Firefly. The chemistry between the entire crew as well as the great overall plot with the individual episode plots was just fantastic. I believe i have seen Firefly more times than any other series. Although that may be in part because I only have one season to go through. Oh well. Can always hope that one day, somehow it will be continued for a few more seasons. I fear that is just a pipe dream though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Firefly & Fox

Hands down the best series? Wow, that’s big praise. I think you could make an argument for another series or two if you really tried.

I would say that I really enjoyed Firefly, but I don’t think I could say it’s hands down the best series I’ve ever seen. I really enjoyed the show though. It’s a huge shame that it fell apart so quickly.

The One True b!X (user link) says:

Re: Firefly & Fox

“Fox should have had their rights stripped with regards to Firefly. When they originally aired it they aired the series completely out of order…”

I’m afraid you misunderstand who owns the rights. FOX the network aired the show and made all the decisions about episode order and cancelation.

But it’s 20th Century FOX Television — the *studio*, not the network — which owns Firefly (and also owns Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse). The studio has mostly done right by Joss and the fans.

Anonymous Coward says:

as long as the fanfic writers are not making money off of it, why not let them build more interest and give free publicity for the show?

millions upon millions of harry potter and twilight fangirls will descend upon publishing houses and movie studios if you stop them from writing DraRry or JacWard smut 😀

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why not let them do it, even if they make money? It’s a strange idea to me that it’s a good plan to try to block them if they start making money. It’s not as though Fox or Universal suddenly starts being harmed when the dimes start rolling in to the independents. And it’s not like that money would have gone to the big studios if the fan film weren’t there.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

I wonder ....

How much did firefly cost to produce?


How much did Browncoats: Redemption cost to produce?

My guess is that redemption cost a lot less than FireFly. This is something that is occuring more and more, technology continues to come down in cost, and the techniques for CGI and virtual sets become easier to use and more avialable to the public at large. Recently the techdirt reported on a 5 minute movie “robots attack the world” was done for $500 USD. The trend is for the production cost on shows and movies to continue to decrease effectively making the 5 million dollar tv episode and the 100 million dollar movie obsolete.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: I wonder ....

How is it untrue? People donated their time, there was no cost. if equipment was borrowed, again no cost. This is where movie production is going. If you are talking about the cost of his computer and cameras he had those already, so no cost again.

As the technology advances it will become cheaper and easier to use. Right now a music studio can be built for about $3000 USD. A mid range video production facility for about twice that.

If you are saying that in hollywood this 5 minute flick would have cost half a million to produce, I agree with you. They would have had to rent the equipment, deal with unionized actors, had legal look it over, pay location fees, and would have farmed out the CGI. On second thought it probaly would have cost a million USD.

Anonymous Coward says:

“While it’s silly that such a permission-based culture is necessary” – not in the slightest. if nothing else, this proves that a group of fans, if they take the right steps, can save themselves a ton of problems later by making sure they have permission to use the various parts that make up the series. it is proof that it works, and heck, if it was facepalm doing it, you would declare it a great business model!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

this proves that a group of fans, if they take the right steps, can save themselves a ton of problems later by making sure they have permission to use the various parts that make up the series.

The part you’re missing is why it worked this time: the studios decided to play along. The “permission based” part Mike is talking about is that any one person in whatever chain of permissions they needed could have put their foot down and stopped the whole project, for any or no reason.

Yes, this is a good result this time. The fact that any time anyone wants to do something like this they have to hope they can get permission from six different people has definite drawbacks.

TraeHova (profile) says:

My thoughts on "Best. Show. Ever." status...

I struggle with where to place Firefly in the pantheon of all-time great TV shows for just one reason: the short run.

I, like most Browncoats, love every episode, the setting, the mythology, the unbelievable cast chemistry (and pure acting ability), the poetry of the writing, etc. Basically, everything you’d expect from an “all-time great” show.

But how much of that can be attributed to the fact that there are only 14 episodes to base a judgement on?

Would the show have suffered a sophomore writing slump like so many other shows? Would the cast chemistry have lasted for years or would people move on? Could it have held Joss’ focus for years or would his creativity have needed a new outlet?

Unfortunately, we’ll never know; fortunately, what were left with is a near-perfect show.

So, to some degree it seems unfair to me that great shows that lasted for years – and who suffered and overcame (some more than others) the potential pitfalls of television – get compared to such a short-lived show like Firefly.

On the other hand, when it comes to love, reason and rationality go out the window. And Firefly is the show I love the best… ever.

Dome (profile) says:

Get Real

Know the facts about whats being done with this Fan Film. This is an amazing piece of work and every possible permission had been asked for and give to let this move forward. Do me a favor and when someone goes to the trouble to do things right, judge the work as what it is, not what somebody in an office thinks it might be. Facts, my friends…it makes many arguments here invalid.

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