OTW Guest Post: Donna Davies

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From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Today’s post is an interview with Donna Davies, the writer, director and producer behind the documentary Fanarchy. The documentary explores how new affordable technology is allowing fans to threaten the Hollywood system by producing the films they want to see in quantities Hollywood can’t keep up with. It premiered July 9 on Epix Drive-in.

What inspired you to make this documentary?

I made a documentary about the Hollywood film industry that featured some pretty high profile directors and discovered that several had made their own homemade tributes to the stories and movies they loved when they were kids. I was intrigued by the fact that these individuals were all inspired by the TV shows, books and movies they loved as children and were really still fans at heart. I wanted to look deeper into the idea of fandom as artistic inspiration.

What is your personal history with fandom?

I’m a fan of the old Hammer horror films, like The Curse of the Werewolf, Horror of Dracula, etc. I’m also a huge fan of Dylan Thomas. Not really a fan of superhero movies, although I did love the Super Chicken and Underdog cartoon superheroes.

What was the biggest revelation when you were making Fanarchy?

I was amazed by how powerful fans have become. As a result on fans and their desire to be part of the world they love, the entertainment industry has completely changed. It’s become less passive than in has been in the past. It’s become more of a participatory sport.

What has the reaction to Fanarchy been, and what surprised you about that?

I had imagined the San Diego Comic-Con crowd would relate to the film, but I didn’t expect to have so much interest from the those who aren’t involved in the fan community. The idea of ownership of story and copyright is clearly more relevant now then ever before in history.

How do the philosophies of the OTW (such as that fanworks are fair use, female spaces and representations should be encouraged) fit with what you found?

Early on in the process of making the film, I interviewed [OTW Legal Staffer] Rebecca Tushnet. Rebecca provided insight into the legal implications from the fan’s perspective. I also interviewed media expert Jeff Ulin, a lawyer who had worked for Disney and Lucasfilm, where he managed worldwide distribution including the franchise sales for Star Wars. These two experts gave me insight into of the vast divide that often exists between the fans and the copyright holders.

I was worried at the start of making the film, because, although I had dealt with fair use in previous docs, I had never pushed things this far before. Although the fan films featured in the doc have been available on the Internet, until now they haven’t been broadcast on traditional television. Here’s hoping I don’t end up in jail.

In all seriousness, I think we’re making huge progress in the area of fair use in documentary film. I can do things today that were not possible just 10 years ago.

As for female spaces, while fan culture is absolutely rooted in female culture, I think that has primarily been the “story” side. The “film” production side has traditionally tended to bias towards males. However with accessible distribution methods and affordable technology that is changing.

My film is really looking primarily at fan films and TV shows, not literature or vidding. I’m totally fascinated by that side though, so maybe that’s my next film!

The main character of Fanarchy is Maya Glick, a black woman from Texas who, through the making of my doc ends up achieving her goal of making her own fan-film tribute to [Marvel character] Storm. I also feature several other female characters, including Brea Grant who, after much success acting in Hollywood films and TV shows like Friday Night Lights, Heroes, and Dexter, went on to write her own comic book, then engaged with her fans to eventually make her own feature film.

There’s also Stephanie Thorpe, who, along with her producing partner Paula Rhodes, made a loving fan tribute to their favourite childhood comic book series, Elfquest, and then used that fan film to convince the copyright holders to give them the rights to make the Elfquest TV series.

In addition to Rebecca Tushnet, the film features other female experts such as film critic Maitland McDonagh and journalist Heidi Honeycutt.

What are your thoughts on the monetization of fanworks?

This is a tricky area to navigate. Some fans just want to play with the stories and characters they love. I believe that these fans should be able to do so freely. And I think that this has become more and more acceptable.

Copyright holders are beginning to understand that these fans are not harming their franchises. It’s very difficult to prove that these homages take away money from the original works. However fans still have to be careful. They have to walk a very fine line between freedom to express their fandom and directly profiting monetarily from that fandom. The fans who want to use their fan works to build a fan base can easily do so. Doing a fan film about Batman enables the filmmaker of that fan film to reach out to other fans, and gain an audience for an original film that they can legally profit from.

Things are evolving very quickly. Some fan films are becoming so professional it is impossible to tell them from the original. Fan filmmakers who are doing these super pro films are hoping that they can eventually make a deal with original copyright holders to share in any profits that could be made from the fan works.

They are always going to be fans who just want to do this for themselves as a labour of love on the one hand and on the other hand those who want to use the fan work as a calling card to break into a career.

Finally, how can fans who’ve missed the previous airings watch Fanarchy?

The film will be broadcast on Epix Drive-in throughout the summer. It will be available on Netflix in October.

We’re also doing the film festival circuit now and broadcasting in Canada in the fall.