Karen Hellekson

August 14, 2009

Two very different fan productions: “The Hunt for Gollum” and “Battlestar Redactica”

Filed under: essay — Karen Hellekson @ 11:29 pm

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, based on TV shows, are more rare, although there is a site dedicated to mostly movie recuts, Fanedit.org. 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. I like both of them for the obvious care and thought that went into creating 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!

Post slightly updated on August 15, 2009, to add fanedit.org URL as per comment below.

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.

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5 Comments »

  1. Thank you so much for letting me know about this! I read and very much enjoyed your article. I am indeed a she and I neither object to being profiled nor feel that you have misrepresented me in any way. :)

    In fact I’m very touched to read such a thoughtful response, very honoured to be compared to The Hunt for Gollum (I agree with everything you so eloquently say about the differences between the projects, though I’m not sure I’d class this as a high profile project; certainly not to the degree that Gollum is!), and thrilled that you enjoyed the changes I made. It’s also great to know that you enjoyed the various additional context posts on this LJ. I mean, quite honestly, I’m a list-maker and loved typing it all up just for myself, but it’s nice to know it added something to the experience for someone else.

    The only thing I feel the need to comment on is your assertion that longer fan edits are rarer than shorter YouTube projects. This is actually true. But – and you may already be aware of this – there is a subsection of fandom dedicated to them.

    http://fanedit.org/

    It’s not somewhere I hang out that much mainly because I think that their sensibilities and fannish community is very different to mine; as you aptly point out in your essay, my project is firmly rooted in the context of not only the original canon but also my community. And this one is more based around standalone movies with a far stronger focus on technical image/sound quality, not to mention the aesthetic of the community in terms of the changes they make to the films are often not in line with mine. So I keep tabs on it but don’t end up interested in as many of the movies as I wish I were.

    In terms of your call for information on fan productions, I’m afraid I don’t know of any current projects (because, well, I’m not part of that community!) But – and again you’re probably aware of these already – Star Wars has quite a large number of “iconic” fan produced live-action vids. Two I’d particularly recommed are:

    The Dark Redemption.

    It’s fairly noteworthy for being a project similar in scope to Gollum in terms of adding story content, using well-established Star Wars (Expanded) Universe characters, and having amazing production values for a fan project released in 1999. In addition, an actual minor SW actor reprises a role as an Imperial Officer, and if you’ve ever seen Farscape, the actor who plays Durka in it is…essentially here playing Durka again.

    More recently, Reign of the Fallen was released which is a mini movie set at some point in (I think) Star Wars’ distant past and thus is extremely standalone, but has – like Gollum extremely high production values and is part of the current trend of the increasing professionalisation of fan productions.

    Thank you again for such a thoughtful essay.

    Comment by cvm_productions — August 15, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

    • Thanks, CVM_Productions, and I’ll go in and amend my post with the fan-edit URL you provide. I agree with you: the fanedit.org folks come from a totally different sensibility than your fan edit, plus you did a TV show, which again, strikes me as more rare than even a film recut. Fanedit.org likes them their movies. (I also am intrigued by their requirement that you own the DVD in order to view the recut.)

      Thanks for the heads up for these slick fan productions. In addition to the ones you list, there’s a new LOTR one coming out with more women on the production team, called Born of Hope.

      I think with the new technology coming out in the film/recording/CGI world, we’ll see many more of these slick fan productions.

      Comment by Karen Hellekson — August 15, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  2. Yes, while I feel I have to disclaim that I’m not as deeply immersed in the culture as many, TV show edits are far, far rarer. In fact I only know of three others. Two (Prison Break eps 1 – 7 and Smallville S1) attempt to distill the season/story arc into a single movie experience rather than attempting to really change the narrative and meaning of the show or incorporate it into a wider canon. Ironically, the project I’ve been able to find most similar to mine in scope is for the original Lorne Green BSG! The same editor has edited together a number of the original series two-parters. Not being a fan of the original I confess I haven’t checked this out beyond a “Hey, interesting!” readthrough during my (somewhat futile) attempts to find other projects similar to mine. But again, from what I can tell, it’s focused quite strongly on restoration rather than transformation, with deleted scenes restored and extra FX shots from the originally proposed DeSanto reboot included. So again, there’s a very different focus there from the narrative changes so common in YouTube mashups and some movie fan edits. Though even there, while there are some extremely original ideas on fanedit.org, including some that involve narrative restructuring, the overwhelming sensibility is more “trim and tone” than “transform the tale”.

    All the above TV edits can be found on fanedit.org; I’ve had very little luck finding anything similar outside that venue.

    In a somewhat dangerously broad statement, I would also say that most of the fan editors on that site are male and there is a fairly “male” attitude toward narratives and editing. I frequently skip over fan edits on that site as I’m not interested in seeing women’s plots reduced because they are “redundant” and the focus should be more clearly on the male lead. Obviously this is a very complex area and this is a simplistic conclusion, and the last thing I want to do is perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes on either side. But I do wonder how much it shows that Battlestar Redactica was the product of a female creative community, and if that accounts for some of its stylistic differences in a male-dominated fannish “scene”?

    The DVD-owning requirement strikes me, somewhat cynically, as a giant fiction they put up there for legal reasons, similar to how they don’t actually host the fan-edits, since the site is quite high profile. I have no legal expertise (even less so for US law since I grew up outside the country), so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a useless “rule” anyway. That said, I’m fairly sure it’s there as an attempt to prove they aren’t condoning copyright infringement rather than any real belief that the majority of their users comply with it.

    Thank you so much for the link to Born of Hope! I was entirely unaware of it and it looks fabulous! It’s an interesting piece of the story to pick up and you’re right, looks absolutely gorgeous in terms of production values. I’ll definitely be bookmarking that site.

    It’s an exciting time for visual fan production right now, I think. I’m still a little amazed that things exist that mean I can make videos entirely through self-training, and I still remember the sense of absolute amazement I felt when I first discovered fan films. I honestly cannot wait for a time when re-editing or refilming stories becomes as easy for the “average fan” as writing fiction. I feel incredibly lucky to be here, watching it happen.

    Comment by cvm_productions — August 16, 2009 @ 8:26 am

    • @CVM_Productions When I drafted this post, I had in mind a male/female divide, but I thought of so many exceptions, and in general got so uncomfy with making such assertions, that I recast it to be more factual. But in this compare and contrast, I was definitely aware of the gender implications. Your transformative production fits my experiences as embedded in Internet fandom (via LJ and elsewhere; my primary fandom is still on Yahoo! lists): primarily women. The Gollum project struck me as mostly male, and the fanedit.org site was so full of testosterone that I did not feel welcome! (I’m sure they’re very nice, but they’re technofetishists, not necessarily story fetishists.)

      I really like your remark about restoration; it reminds me that early Doctor Who missing eps (mostly from the Hartnell and Troughton Doctors) have been recreated by fans from various sources. DW is a valuable property, but as long as they are not sold openly, the BBC seems okay with it. This can be transformative of course; but it seems instead that the fan is trying to create an uber-text in line with the original production’s ethos.

      Thanks for all your long, thoughtful responses! I loved your project and hope it gets all the attention it deserves.

      Comment by Karen Hellekson — August 17, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  3. This is great! Exactly what I needed as I’m in the middle of preparing a course on media audiences and consumption! I must admit I had to read cvm’s “liner notes” to be able to tease out the differences between the official series (which I saw when it aired) and her changes, but I love that she undertook such a, as you call it, “private” project and that nonetheless I (and perhaps my students in a few weeks) can still engage it via the wonders of the internets. :)

    Glad you’re linked in with Media Commons.

    Comment by Brett Boessen — August 17, 2009 @ 5:37 pm


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