Submitted to the Graduate College of Bowling Green State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
MASTER OF ARTS
Jeffery Brown, Advisor
All Rights Reserved iii
Jeffery Brown, Advisor
(1981). This remake would dominate their summer vacations for the next seven years. Over thirty years later in January 2020, brothers Mason and Morgan McGrew completed their shot- for-shot live action remake of Toy Story 3 (2010). This project took them eight years. Fan remake films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) and Toy Story 3 in Real
Life (2020) represent something unique in fan studies. Fan studies scholars, such as Henry
Jenkins, have considered the many ways fans are an example of an active audience, appropriating texts for their own creative use. While these considerations have proven useful at identifying the participatory culture fans engage in, they neglect to consider fans that do not alter and change the original text in any purposeful way. Sitting at the intersection of fan and adaptation studies, I argue that these fan remake films provide useful insights into the original films, the fans’ personal lives, and fan culture at large. Through the consideration of fan remake films as a textual object, a process of creation, and a consumable media product, I look at how
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life reinforce the fans’ interpretations of the original films in a concrete way in their own lives and in the lives of those who watch.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page
INTRODUCTION ...... 1
My Background ...... 3
Choice of Texts ...... 4
Previous Research ...... 5
Methodology ...... 8
Chapter Outline ...... 9
CHAPTER ONE: FAN REMAKE FILMS AS TEXT ...... 11
Introduction ...... 11
A Unique Aura ...... 12
Classification of Text ...... 13
Remake ...... 14
Adaptation ...... 17
Fan Films ...... 19
Swede ...... 21
Parody vs. Pastiche ...... 23
What is the Difference? ...... 27
Lexicon ...... 28
Syntax ...... 36
Style ...... 37
Extratextual Elements ...... 40
Conclusion ...... 41
CHAPTER TWO: FAN REMAKE FILMS AS PROCESS ...... 42 v
Introduction ...... 42
Dissolving the Audience/Author Binary ...... 43
Why Remake? ...... 47
Maintaining a High Standard ...... 53
Creativity ...... 56
Escape and Performance ...... 60
Conclusion ...... 62
CHAPTER THREE: AUDIENCE RECEPTION OF FAN REMAKE FILMS ...... 63
Introduction ...... 63
Receiving Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life ...... 64
Previous Knowledge Required ...... 67
Fans ...... 70
Critics ...... 76
Creators ...... 78
Copyright Owners ...... 80
Movement and Impact ...... 82
Conclusion ...... 84
CONCLUSION ...... 86
Fan Remakes as Pedagogy ...... 89
The Future of Fan Remakes ...... 91
Final Thoughts ...... 93
WORKS CITED ...... 95 vi
LIST OF FIGURES Figure Page
1 Screenshot of Toy Story 3 (2010) taken by author ...... 30
2 Screenshot of Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020) taken by author ...... 30
3 Screenshot of Toy Story 3 (2010) taken by author ...... 31
4 Screenshot of Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020) taken by author ...... 31
5 Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author ...... 33
6 Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author ...... 34
7 Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author ...... 59
8 Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author ...... 59 1
Imagine a remake of a popular blockbuster film featuring a cast made up of entirely children and teenagers, homemade sets and costumes, and filmed on non-professional equipment. Would it be worth watching? Fan remake films not only exist but are continually being created. This fan practice relates to two distinct features of our current popular culture landscape. First, media production is evolving into something almost anyone can do. Second, media content is becoming increasingly recycled, reused, and remade. In the age of the Internet where most smartphones feature video capabilities, people are able to create their own media content and post it online with relative ease. In professional film industries, films are rarely exclusively original, with large companies producing feature films based on previously established properties, as evident in the recent influx of Disney’s live action remakes of their animated catalogue, including Cinderella (2015), Beauty and the Beast (2017), and Mulan
Naysayers in line with the Frankfurt School agree with the criticism that “culture today is infecting everything with sameness” (Adorno and Horkheimer 96), mourning the lack of creative and unique content. Despite these criticisms, fan remake films stand as a unique phenomenon that emerges from these two features of our popular culture landscape. The DIY nature of this practice allows anyone with video capabilities to remake their favorite films, trailers, music videos, and more and share with fellow fans online. Instead of passing off these heartfelt fan creations as the reductive content the Frankfurt School believes the culture industry creates, this thesis seeks to look at fan remake films as texts that reveal to those who watch the creativity and power that comes with actively engaging with popular texts. 2
A significant example of this fan remake phenomenon is Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation (1989). In a small Mississippi town in 1982, eleven-year-old Chris Strompolos commissioned his friends Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb to remake his favorite film, Raiders of the
Lost Ark (1981), shot-for-shot, where he would be playing the hero, Indiana Jones. This recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark would dominate their summer vacations for the next seven years. The boys spent these years wrangling neighborhood kids to act as extras in the film, asking for different props and costumes as Christmas and birthday gifts, and constructing elaborate sets in their parents’ living rooms and garages. The finished film has dismal camera quality and the actors disjointedly jump up and down in age throughout the film, as these young fans filmed scenes out of order during their pubescent years, with Indiana Jones at times being eleven-years-old and at other times eighteen-years-old. Despite these technical shortcomings, the finished film is a clear labor of love that surpasses the time and effort of many other fan creations. Perhaps the biggest, most complex films of its time did not require a low budget remake starring young children. However, this group of young boys saw this time consuming, hands-on project to be the ultimate way to connect to their favorite film.
Over thirty years later, brothers Morgan and Mason McGrew released a similar feature length shot-for-shot remake of their favorite film, Toy Story 3 (2010). Their eight-year endeavor led them to replicate the animated film in “real life,” using a combination of claymation, stop motion animation, puppetry, and live action. They titled their finished product Toy Story 3 in
Real Life (2020). The attention to detail in this fan remake film is staggering, with different chips in the toys’ paint jobs matching the animated toys with exactness, children’s paintings replicated with remarkable accuracy, and posters in bedroom sets resembling perfectly the posters in the 3 animated film. Morgan and Mason’s project allowed them to pay tribute to their favorite film and experiment with their passion for stop motion animation at the same time.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life are demonstrative of how far fan practices can go, resulting in feature length films made by kids with the limited resources at their disposal. There is significant meaning made in the way that these films are consumed and created. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to understand what these finished films communicate as a text, the motivations and processes these fans go through during the production process, and the audience reception of fan remake films. In doing so, I argue that fan remake films are not only a unique practice not previously theorized in contemporary scholarship, but a phenomenon that reveals how popular culture audiences consume and create their own media in unprecedented ways.
Like many fan scholars, my own fannish tendencies drive me to study the phenomena that occur in these particular subcultures. What initially drove me to this particular research is the way in which I personally have embarked on the journey of remaking my favorite pieces of media. When I was a teenager, I started a web series in which my friends and I remade a series of
Fall Out Boy music videos originally titled The Young Blood Chronicles (2013–2014). We cleverly titled our project The Younger Blood Chronicles (2014–2016), ultimately succeeding at recreating all eleven music videos for a finished product that ran at about a fifty minutes with an all-teenage cast and gender bending most of the significant roles. In order to achieve shot-for- shot accuracy, I would take screenshots of every shot in the music videos and construct elaborate shot lists detailing camera movements and blocking for the actors. It was an extensive project 4 that taught me a significant amount about filmmaking and collaboration that assisted me when I would go on to produce my own student films at university.
Throughout my deep dive into fandom spaces at this time in my life, I found myself needing some sort of outlet to express my love for the films, books, and music that I enjoyed.
More classic examples of fan creations, such as fanart and fanfiction, never appealed to me.
Instead of using creativity to construct new stories with previously existing characters, I learned that my particular personality was better suited for a more organized expression of fan engagement. Framing, dialogue, costuming, soundtrack, and shot order were all predetermined in my shot-for-shot remakes. My creativity would come into play to figure out how to accomplish all of the predetermined elements using the limited resources at my disposal. This is why I am so fascinated by the fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3 and believe they are worth careful study. Not only are these young fans expressing their love of media in a similar way that
I did in my youth, but they spent many more years than I did in my dive into amateur film recreations. While my own youthful pursuits of remaking certainly inspired my choice to look into this phenomenon, I hope to use my current perspective as a popular culture scholar to more fully comprehend the significance of fan remake films.
Choice of Texts
I have chosen to analyze Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real
Life specifically for several reasons. First, both of these films were created by a similar number of filmmakers over a similar length of time, with the Raiders of the Lost Ark remake taking seven years to complete by three filmmakers and the Toy Story 3 remake taking eight years to complete by two filmmakers. This makes the two texts easier to compare, as the time, effort, and scope of the two projects resemble one another. Second, I choose to only look at feature length fan 5 remake films, as there are many examples of shorter forms of media being remade, such as music videos, trailers, and scenes. These shorter form remakes tend to resemble parodic imitation rather than the way feature length fan remakes are extensive labors of love. Third, professional remakes are a common filmmaking practice examined by scholarship, so I am narrowing my focus to remakes that are not produced professionally or by a studio. Lastly, I choose these particular films due to the length of time between their releases, with Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation being released in 1989 and Toy Story 3 in Real Life being released in 2020. This demonstrates how these fan practices are enduring, existing before and after easy access to smartphone cameras and Internet video sharing sites. These two films share similar enough attributes that I am able to analyze them as the same phenomenon while also varying enough in their release date to illustrate the enduring nature of the practice.
These fan remake films lie at a unique intersection of fan, adaptation, and parody studies in ways that are underexplored in contemporary scholarship. While many of these fields provide useful frames for theorizing fan remake films, they do not engage with the phenomenon directly.
This is the gap I hope to fill throughout this thesis, exploring where the study of fans, adaptation, and parody productively explain the phenomenon and where they fall short.
Fan studies proves a useful jumping off point for a discussion of fan remakes due to the way these fans represent an active audience who appropriates elements of popular culture for personal use. Going back to the origin of fan studies, I turn to Henry Jenkins’ text Textual
Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. In this text, Jenkins explores many methods television fans go through to connect to the original material. Jenkins acknowledges the many forms fan participation can take and how “fan culture is a complex, multidimensional 6 phenomenon, inviting many forms of participation and levels of engagement” (2). He effectively outlines the different ways fans engage with texts, such as fanfiction, fan videos, cosplay, and more. In the final sentence of the book, Jenkins concludes, “Fandom does not prove that all audiences are active; it does, however, prove that not all audiences are passive” (287). The practice of fan remakes is a definitive example of this active fandom; however, Jenkins falls short when it comes to looking at shot-for-shot remakes specifically. This is primarily in the way that Jenkins’ focus remains on how fans transform the original material rather than how they replicate it. Jenkins also focuses on a certain tension between audiences and authors that is absent in the fan remake phenomenon. He describes a somewhat fraught relationship between producers and fans, saying it “is not always a happy or comfortable one and is often charged with mutual suspicion, if not open conflict” (Jenkins 32). This potentially uncomfortable relationship is played out in many of the fan creations Jenkins discusses throughout his book in the way fans explore unrealized possibilities in the texts they are fans of. In the case of fan remakes, the original film is deemed so perfect, the fans have no complaint, and thus, nothing to change. As will be explored throughout this thesis, these fans express nothing but undying admiration for the original film and spend much of their time and effort doing the original justice rather than making improvements through alterations to the source text. I want to fill in these gaps in fan studies and find what is significant in this underrepresented fan practice.
Remake and adaptation studies also provides a useful theoretical framework as they explore a text’s relationship to some sort of source text. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life both openly announce their status as being based on a source text, primarily through their titles. Adaptation and remake scholarship not only contributes to an understanding of the texts’ relationships to the prior works on which they are based, but 7 additionally helps theorize the audience reception of such films. Linda Hutcheon in her text A
Theory of Adaptation posits that the pleasure of engaging with adapted works “comes simply from repetition with variation, from the comfort of ritual combined with the piquancy of surprise” (4). Adaptation and remake theory demonstrate how audience enjoyment of fan remake films is a combination of the familiar and unfamiliar as audiences examine what is similar and what is different.
Despite what remake and adaptation studies bring to the table when theorizing fan remake films, they often fall short when considering creator intent. Leo Braudy in the afterword of Play It Again Sam: Retakes on Remakes explains how “to remake is to want to reread– to believe in an explicit (and thematized) way that the past reading was wrong or outdated and that a new one must be done” (332). This differs from the creator intent of fan films in the way that the creators of these remake films are fans and find the original films not worthy of change.
Braudy additionally posits that remakes and adaptations seek to update and change the original material as they are “concerned with that its makers and (they hope) its audiences consider to be unfinished cultural business, unrefinable and perhaps finally unassimilable material that remains part of the cultural dialogue–not until it is finally given definitive form, but until it is no longer compelling or interesting” (331). Where fan remakes differ is the way in which they try to keep dialogue, stories, sets, costumes, etc. as close to the original films as possible instead of updating it to engage in the “unfinished cultural business” Braudy describes. In this way, any changes made are incidental due to lack of resources and skill. It is this gap in remake and adaptation theory that I hope to address in this thesis.
The study of parody is additionally useful in the theorization of fan remake films. While not explicitly parody, fan remake films deal with a relationship between a source text and a new 8 text in a way similar to parody. Dan Harries in Film Parody defines parody as “the process of recontextualizing a target or source text through the transformation of its textual (and contextual) elements, thus creating a new text” (6). As just discussed, fan remake films make minimal changes, with any transformations being unintentional. While I conclude these fan films do not cross over into the realm of parody in the next chapter, parody theory is useful in the way it articulates exactly how the similarities and differences between work and its source text communicate with an audience, playing on their previous knowledge and allowing them to view things in a new way. Scholarship surrounding fans, remakes, adaptations, and parody may not directly engage with fan remake films, but they all provide useful perspectives for understanding the phenomenon.
My methodological approach is multidisciplinary, drawing on a range of theoretical frameworks and grounding itself in textual analysis. As discussed above, I draw on elements of fan studies, remake scholarship, adaptation theory, and parody studies, utilizing approaches found within all of these disciplines as well as exploring where they fall short. I will be combining several research methods throughout this thesis. First, I will be using a film studies textual analysis approach to the films themselves. Second, I will be drawing on the filmmakers’ motivation for creating the material as well as the nature of their production process based on interview and documentary footage of the filmmakers. Third, I will analyze audience reviews posted on various social media platforms to understand the audience reception of fan remake films. I believe this multimethodological approach will give me the fullest picture of this particular fan practice, as I can approach the films through the text, their production, as well as their reception. 9
Chapter one considers fan remake films as texts in their own right. I begin this discussion with an extensive look at the textual classification of such films, considering labels such as remake, adaptation, fan film, swede, parody, and pastiche. This is in order to comprehend how this fan practice fits into and deviates from these various categories. Next, I consider key textual differences between the remake and its source text. This will include a discussion of the lexicon, syntax, style, and extratextual elements in these fan remake films. The primary purpose of this chapter is to classify the texts and see what meaning emerges through the textual elements of these films.
In order to comprehend fan remake films as a process, chapter two considers the production process behind these remake films. I first consider the unique ways the process of fan remaking dissolves the boundaries between audiences and author as well as the unique ways commercial film industries have reappropriated the practice of amateur film remaking. Then I consider the several reasons fans have for remaking, looking at the choice of text, the inspiration behind each project, as well as their desire for cultural capital. Lastly, I consider the actual process of remaking and the way these fans hold themselves to a high standard, creatively overcome obstacles, and escape their everyday lives through performance. The process of fan remaking provides unique insights into the fans’ personal lives, their perception of the original text, and their role within participatory culture at large.
In my next discussion of fan remake films, chapter three considers the audience reception of these fan films. This will primarily be done through an analysis of the reviews of the films posted on the Internet. In this discussion, I begin by considering the viewing process of experiencing a fan film, as audiences must have some sort of previous knowledge of the original 10 film in order to fully comprehend its remake. Next, I consider the fans and enthusiastic audiences surrounding fan remake films, looking at the various reasons people find enjoyment viewing fan films such as this, including the audiences’ own nostalgia and admiration they have for the dedication displayed by the fan filmmakers. I continue this discussion with a consideration of alternative audiences of fan remake films, such as critics, original creators, and copyright owners. Lastly, I utilize Greg Urban’s theory of metaculture to examine the ways in which these fan films can move through time and culture.
I conclude with a consideration of the future of fan remake films, starting with a discussion of the pedagogical potential of fan remake practices. While I have focused exclusively on projects constructed primarily by white, American males, fan remake projects are not limited to this particular group. Women, people of color, and fans all around the globe are constructing shot-for-shot remakes, especially in the wake of increasing use of video sharing platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. This phenomenon is not new and appears to have an extensive future as production and exhibition of amateur work becomes increasingly accessible. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to answer the following: What do these fan remake texts look like? What does that production process look like and what motivates these fans to pursue such a project? Why do audiences watch an amateur version of a film that already exists? In my attempt to answer these questions, I find that the study of fan remake films is a worthwhile endeavor, teaching us about the relationship between popular culture texts and their audiences.
CHAPTER ONE: FAN REMAKE FILMS AS TEXT
Fan remake films, including the feature length fan films Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation (1989) and Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020), evade conventional textual categories.
Because of this, no singular theoretical approach can fully comprehend fan remake films. This chapter employs fan studies, adaptation and remake theory, and parody scholarship in order to understand fan remake films as their own textual category. In order to do this, it is first important to consider fan films as texts in their own right. Henry Jenkins in Textual Poachers articulates how “fan-generated texts cannot simply be interpreted as the material traces of interpretive acts but need to be understood within their own terms as cultural artifacts” (223). In order to interpret fan films on their own terms in this way, I consider Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and
Toy Story 3 in Real Life through their aesthetics, structure, style, and how they differ from their prototext.
First, I consider fan remake films in the context of Walter Benjamin’s “Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction” and how these films represent unique cultural objects with their own aura. Second, I examine the textual classification of fan remake texts, explaining why I utilize the term “remakes” while also considering other potential classifications, such as adaptations, fan films, swedes, parody films, and pastiche imitations based on the films’ textual elements. Third, I will analyze the similarities and differences between the original films and their remake through the elements of the lexicon, syntax, and style. Lastly, I will consider how the text announces its remake status through extratextual elements. Throughout this chapter, I argue by considering these texts as cultural artifacts worthy of analysis, the fans’ admiration and interpretation of the 12 original films is reflected in their remake texts through this combination of theoretical frameworks.
A Unique Aura
Fan remake films inherently differ from the original works which they are based on, allowing them to make meaning in a way that is separate from the original film. This gives them a unique Benjaminian aura. While fan remake films reconstruct the films they are based on in many ways, there are many practical differences between the original and remake due to the nature of the practice. As much as a fan remake film wants to replicate the original film in exactness, their budgets require practical changes in actors, sets, costumes, cameras, and more.
Walter Benjamin’s “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is useful here to explain why these differences are significant and allow us to view these fan films as cultural objects in their own right. Benjamin begins his text explaining how “a work of art has always been reproducible” (38). He describes a time when Greeks could only reproduce a limited amount of goods in quantity and “others were unique and could not be mechanically reproduced”
(Benjamin 38). Fan remake films function in a similar manner to the unique objects manufactured by the Greeks. Since the fans are not able to remake the original film in its exactness, the remake represents a unique object.
Benjamin goes on to explain what is lost in art in the age of mechanical reproduction: the aura. He describes the aura as the object’s “presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (Benjamin 40). In this way, fan remakes stand as their own unique cultural artifact with its own aura as they are not mechanically reproduced, but instead replicated using limited resources. Linda Hutcheon confirms this in A Theory of Adaptation, explaining how “adaptations are never simply reproductions that lose the Benjaminian aura. 13
Rather, they carry that aura with them” (4). Its unique presence in time and space is not lost as it stands as something different than the original film. This unique aura allows us to analyze fan films as their own unique textual object.
All films carry with them their aura created by their unique presence in time and space as
Benjamin discusses. However, fan remake films have a differing aura to the fiction films on which they are based. The original films communicate unique themes that emerge from audience engagement, with audiences gleaning messages concerning adventure, doing the right thing, accepting change, and embracing childhood. Instead of fan remake films simply reflecting those themes in exactness, they communicate two things: the original films’ themes through the eyes of young fans and the fans’ love and dedication for their favorite films. The aura of fan remake films is unlike their source texts in the way that the themes are refracted through the eyes of enthusiastic youth. Additionally, the process behind the film is apparent in the finished text through its amateur execution. It is because of this unique aura that fan films should be carefully analyzed as unique cultural objects with their own aura.
Classification of Text
Now that these fan films have been established as unique cultural objects with their own unique aura, it is important to consider how exactly to classify these texts in order to analyze them through the appropriate theoretical framework. A myriad of categories can potentially encapsulate these fan remake films, including remake, adaptation, fan film, swede, parody, and pastiche. I will begin my textual analysis with defining these categories and considering which category these fan films fall into based on their textual elements.
The importance of classifying these particular fan texts is twofold. First, these fan texts have been largely underexplored by a variety of disciplines, including fan studies, adaptation 14 studies, parody theory, and more. This is primarily due to the fact that these texts allude classification, thus rendering them more difficult to analyze through a singular mode of scholarship. By classifying the text and figuring out what exactly these films are (and are not), we are one step closer to fully comprehending the fan remake phenomenon. Second, even though
I primarily refer to these fan films as remakes, parody and adaptation theory remain useful tools in order to comprehend the meaning these fan remake films create. Throughout this chapter, I will consider Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life in terms of the following categories: remake, adaptation, fan film, swede, parody, and pastiche.
I have currently been employing the term “remake” to describe these particular fan films.
This is for a few reasons. First, and most obviously, these works are created in the intention of replicating an original film by literally remaking the elements that constitute the film. Second, the category remake is a nebulous, shifting category leaving it more open to classify these films as remakes. Remaking can constitute many things. Heinze and Krämer argue that “remaking is always more or less transformative, it comes in numerous and quite diverse variations, and can be propelled by a host of different motivations and reasons” (12). Because remake films come in these “numerous and quite diverse variations,” there is flexibility in its definition, allowing us to bend these films into fit into the remake category.
While the flexibility of the remake category is flexible, scholars disagree on what subcategories of remakes are out there. Constantine Verevis in his text Film Remakes outlines the various subcategories of remakes scholars have created over the years, starting with Michael
Druxman in one foundational text on remaking, Make It Again Sam. His three categories of remakes include: 15
1. the disguised remake: a remake that is updated with little changes or uses new settings in
order to not “draw attention to its earlier version(s)” (Verevis 7);
2. the direct remake: a remake that does not attempt to hide the fact that it is based on an
earlier work, even with making minimal changes (Verevis 7);
3. the non-remake: the film is almost entirely new with the exception of its title (Verevis 7).
While being one of the establishing texts on remake films, Verevis himself finds Druxman’s categories inadequate in the way that they “do not operate without the kind of overlap and exclusion that often attends taxononism” (7).
In order to consider remake classifications with more nuance than Druxman’s three categories, Verevis turns to other scholars, including Harvey Greenberg, who expands
Druxman’s ideas to include motivations for remaking, “modifying Druxman’s commercially grounded remake categories” (Verevis 8). Greenberg, similarly using three categories, identifies the following:
1. the acknowledged, close remake: the film is essentially replicated with minimal change
2. the acknowledged transformed remake: the remake keeps the original narrative mostly
intact and makes “substantial transformations of character, time and setting” (Verevis 9);
3. the unacknowledged, disguised remake: remakes where “the audience is not informed of
the original film version” (Verevis 9).
Greenberg is useful in the way he takes a more authorial approach to remaking, considering the motivations of the filmmaker. This, however, still is not the final say in the type of remake films that exist. Verevis continues his dive into the subcategories of remakes by turning to Tomas
In a third attempt to classify remake categories, Leitch considers both the intention behind the remake and the relationship between the remake and its source text. Leitch poses the following four categories:
4. true remake (Verevis 12–13)
I find Leitch’s remake categories the most useful for comprehending fan remake films, so let us define Leitch’s remake categories further. In his text “Twice Told Tales,” Leitch defines readaptation as “a well-known literary work whose earlier cinematic adaptations the remake ignores or treats as inconsequential” (142). An example of a readaptation would be Denis
Villeneuve’s upcoming cinematic adaptation of the novel Dune, which he has claimed will take no inspiration from David Lynch’s Dune (1984) (Sharf) or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation
(which was halted in pre-production and never made) (Jodorowsky’s Dune). In this way, it is adapting a text but functions independently of preexisting film adaptations. Leitch’s second category, the update, still treats the original as a classic and attempts to be a faithful adaptation yet tries to “transform it in some obvious way” (143). An example of this would be the film
Clueless (1995), which takes the classic novel Jane Austen novel Emma and places it into high school in the 1990s, giving it an obvious update. The homage, Leitch’s third category, adapts a text and very purposefully does not try to be better than the original. Finally, Leitch describes the true remake, which is the only category that does not attempt to displace the earlier model in some way (145). True remakes, according to Leitch, “depends more on the other three on the triangular relationship among the remake and its two sources” (145), typically one source being a 17 film and the other being literary. Sticking to these definitions, it appears that homage is the most appropriate category for these particular fan remakes.
An important aspect of homage is the way the remake’s “primary purpose is to pay tribute to an earlier film rather than usurp its place of honor. Like readaptations, homages situate themselves as secondary texts whose value depends on their relation to the primary texts they gloss” (Leitch 144). Fan remakes fit into this category well, as they simply do not even have the resources to be considered in a position to usurp the original film in the popular culture canon.
These fan films are low budget, often self-distributed on platforms such as YouTube, or in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a physical videotape. Based on the DIY nature of the practice, fan remakes are inherently secondary texts to the original films. However, one way these fan films differ from Leitch’s definition of homage is how homages “present themselves as valorizations of earlier films which are in danger of being ignored or forgotten
(144). It is safe to say that years from now, if anything is to be forgotten, it would be the fan remake films rather than the blockbuster originals. Despite this deviation from the definition, I argue that a homage remake is the best textual category to place these fan films. This is useful as it considers the intent of fan remake films; fans remake these films as an act of pure love, not attempting to displace the original, but instead honor it to the best of their ability.
While remake appears to be an adequate category for these fan films, it is also useful to consider the term adaptation, especially as Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation self-identifies as an adaptation through its title. Linda Hutcheon’s A Theory of Adaptation is useful for defining the term, as she explains that adaptations “are examined as deliberate, announced, and extended revisitations of prior works” (xvi). This definition appears to coincide well with these fan films. 18
Their relationship to the original film is overtly announced, even in the films’ titles as well as extratextual elements that will be discussed later in this chapter. Despite this apparent coinciding definition, the phrase adaptation is conventionally used to refer to a text being adapted into a new medium. Typically, this shift to a new medium is from a literary text to a cinematic one.
Hutcheon explains that “because adaptations are to a different medium, they are re-mediations, that is, specifically translations in the form of intersemiotic transpositions from one sign system
(for example, words) to another (for example, images)” (A Theory of Adaptation 16). Our consideration of fan films as adaptation is somewhat complicated by this, primarily because the original film is being replicated into the same cinematic medium.
This complication of fan remake films being adapted into the same medium is a gap filled by remake scholars. Michael Brashinsky in Play It Again Sam: Retakes on Remakes argues that the remake being made in the same medium could be considered a strength rather than a weakness:
But unlike the stage production of a play or the film adaptation of a literary work, the
remake interprets the work of the same medium and thus bares its own secondariness. It
skips the act of meta-aesthetic transition in which, according to the widely accepted
modernist prejudice, originality begins. This, of course, is what the remake should be
praised rather than blamed for. It provides us with countless clues to the medium, the
culture, and ourselves that would be eclipsed by the study of what the original material
has gained or lost in passage from one medium to another. (Brashinsky 163; emphasis
In this way, adaptation theory focuses on what is lost in the translation process between one medium to another, leaving remake theory the space to focus more on the similarities and differences between two works of the same medium.
Adaptation theory is additionally complicated by fan remake films as adaptation conventionally involves some sort of transformation. Hutcheon further expands her definition of adaptation, explaining that “Adaptation is repetition, but repetition without replication” (A
Theory of Adaptation 7). This again calls these fan films as adaptations into question as they replicate the original in many ways, oftentimes using the exact same script, camera angles, character names, cuts, and more. Despite these complications, adaptation theory remains useful in the analysis of fan remake films in a number of ways. Adaptation theory, first, takes adapted works seriously on their own terms and, second, involves a process of considering two texts simultaneously, something that will be explored further in chapter three. Hutcheon argues that
“an adaptation is a derivation that is not derivative– a work that is second without being secondary. It is its own palimpsestic thing” (A Theory of Adaptation 9). In this way, adaptation theory legitimizes fan remake films as a practice that might otherwise be thrown out as a meaningless, amateur copy. Additionally, while Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy
Story 3 in Real Life more closely resemble remakes, adaptation theory is a useful tool to consider the similarities and differences between the remake films and the originals. In this way, adaptation theory is a useful tool for the analysis of fan remake films despite them more aptly fitting into the remake category.
As the title suggests, I not only consider these films as remakes, but also fan films. In
Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins outlines the many unique attributes of fan films. Raiders of the 20
Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life both resemble and deviate from Jenkins’ analysis in numerous ways, but I will first consider how these remakes resemble Jenkins’ definition. First, Jenkins explains how “fan video is first and foremost a narrative art” (233).
With these fan films being feature length narratives gleaned exactly from the original films, it is safe to say that the art of fan remake films is narrative. Second, Jenkins articulates how “fan video evokes the cultural competency and shared knowledge of the fan community” (237). As will be examined later in this chapter, both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy
Story 3 in Real Life demonstrate the cultural competency that Jenkins discusses in the way they reflect the fans’ admiration and interpretation of the original films. Third Jenkins explains the way fans, despite their limited home video equipment, “seek a level of technical perfection”
(239). Both fan films resemble this in the way that the filmmakers have perfected the art of filmmaking to a striking degree of professionalism as will be explored further in chapter two. A final way these films fit in with Jenkins’ discussion of fan videos is how “the creation, exhibition, and exchange of videos creates the conditions for a communal artform, one contrasting with the commercial culture from which it is derived in its refusal to make a profit and its desire to share its products with others who will value them” (249). Raiders of the Lost
Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life both exhibit themselves in very noncommercial ways, with Toy Story 3 in Real Life premiering on YouTube and Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation distributing itself through the passing around of a physical videotape. In this way, these fan films fit into the not-for-profit communal nature of the fan films Jenkins discusses.
Despite many similarities, these fan films differ from Henry Jenkins’ fan film model in one important way: the attitude the fans have towards the original film. Many of the fans Jenkins discusses throughout Textual Poachers have a relationship that “is not always a happy or 21 comfortable one” (32) as was discussed in the introduction. The way fans cope with this conflict is through the rearranging, rewriting, and appropriating of the material. For example, many fanfiction writers engage in slash fiction to examine unexplored romantic and sexual relationships in their favorite texts, oftentimes between two male characters. This is often an expression of the frustration of the lack of representation of same sex relationships in popular films and television. By rewriting the material, fans can cope with their frustrations and construct alternative narratives in order to better suit their preferences. However, in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life, these fans find the original so worthy of admiration and praise, they attempt not to change the original films much at all. Despite being a fan film in many regards, fan remakes differ when it comes to attitude.
Swede, like fan films, is a second category that takes into consideration the lack of professional resources that go into fan remake films. Sweding is a term for amateur film remakes that originated in the film Be Kind Rewind (2008). This film follows a failing video rental store in Passaic, New Jersey that is threatened with being demolished to make room for luxury condos, primarily due to the fact that the owner, Mr. Fletcher, rents out VHS tapes instead of DVDs. One day while Mr. Fletcher is out, his employee Mike and Mike’s friend Jerry accidentally erase all of the tapes in the store. In an attempt to keep the video rental store afloat, Mike and Jerry produce short, low budget remake versions of popular Hollywood films to rent out to the community to replace the erased tapes. The term “swede” comes from the idea that these films were “specially imported” from Sweden, making them “sweded” films. These films typically have a short runtime, only feature people in the community as actors, and are created using homemade props, costumes and sets. 22
To define swedes further, let us consider the “Eight Rules of Sweding” found on the official Be Kind Rewind website:
1. Must be based on an already produced film.
2. Range 2–8 minutes in length.
3. Must not contain computer-generated graphics.
4. Based on films less than 35 years old.
5. Special effects must be limited to camera tricks and arts ’n [sic] crafts.
6. Sound effects created by human means.
7. Hilarious. (Arcadian)
Swedes, in many ways, do not adequately describe fan remake films. Most specifically, swedes are typically produced in a short amount of time and also have a short runtime when it comes to the finished product. The filmmakers behind Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy
Story 3 in Real Life, on the other hand, spent years perfecting their creation. While swedes fall short when we consider the production of fan remakes, it remains a useful category to analyze the amateur aesthetics of fan remake films.
Sweding is a useful defining term in the way it describes the community aspect of a film’s production as well as the celebration of amateur aesthetics. In her analysis of sweding as a useful pedagogical tool, Lyndsay Gratch articulates exactly what sweding reveals about the filmmaking process:
Sweding exemplifies an art that not only overlooks but embraces amateur aesthetics.
Sweded movies show us that if you want to make something, you don’t need money,
cutting-edge technology, a lot of time, or even experience. What you need is creative and
crafty thinking, a bit of planning, a willingness to play, and a couple of co-creators. Most 23
importantly, you must accept in advance that your sweded movie will probably not be
very “good.” But it will be, and ideally it will be watched, shared, discussed, critiqued,
and possibly even celebrated. (Gratch 113)
This is a useful lens in which to consider fan remake films. These fans lack all of the means to professionally produce a film, thus making do with what is immediately available to them.
Because of this, the finished texts exhibit an aura of resilience, creativity, and love of film.
Sweding also highlights the community aspect of fan remake films, as both Raiders of the Lost
Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life spend a significant portion of their credits thanking friends, family, and members of the community. While the amateur aesthetics might not be qualified as “good” when it comes to a question of taste, fan remake films still are something worth watching, discussing, and analyzing.
Sweding is a useful category in the way that it embraces amateur aesthetics as a form of an expression of love for films and filmmaking. However, swede is not an ideal category for fan remake films in the way that sweding focuses on short form remakes of films and tends to lean into the hilarity of the DIY nature of it all. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story
3 in Real Life, on the other hand spend years committing to feature length products executed to a professional degree, at least, as professional as teenagers with limited means can possibly get. In order to more fully comprehend the way in which these fan filmmakers choose not to lean into the humor and more parodic aspects of their recreation, I will consider if fan films are more aptly described as parody or pastiche.
Parody vs. Pastiche
With remake, adaptation, fan film, and swede categorizing these films with various degrees of accuracy, what remains to be considered is the parodic nature of these films. Are these 24 remakes a parodic reading of the original film or are they simply reconstructing the original texts without critical thought, rendering the films pastiche? It appears to be that the central concerns surrounding the parody vs. pastiche question are twofold: first, is the question of the subversive and critical nature of the transformations of the original text and, second, is the consideration of the attitude the creators have towards the original text.
Parody scholarship finds its focus in how parodic texts transform original texts in order to reveal how they operate. In his book Film Parody, Dan Harries defines parody as “the process of recontextualizing a target or source text through the transformation of its textual (and contextual) elements, thus creating a new text” (6). In this definition, fan remake films are creating a new text through transformation in this way. However, there is one element missing in order to truly classify these films as parody. Linda Hutcheon in A Theory of Parody argues that irony must be present in order for a film to be a parody, saying, “Ironic ‘transcontextualization’ is what distinguishes parody from pastiche or imitation” (11). Jonathan Gray reiterates Hutcheon’s point of irony being present in parody as he explains, “Parody attacks a particular text or genre, making fun of how that text or genre operates. Pastiche merely imitates or repeats for mildly ironic amusement, whereas parody is actively critical” (17). Fan remake films do not necessarily take elements of the original film and recontextualize them into an ironic twist. Instead, the fans reconstruct the film without much purposeful change, acting as more of a nostalgic homage than a biting critique.
Another important aspect of parody to consider is the attitude towards the original film.
Hutcheon and Harries offer two points of view on this matter:
Hutcheon has suggested that parody might be conceptualized as exhibiting an attitude
situated between disdain and admiration – one which is ‘a more neutral or playful one, 25
close to a zero degree of aggressivity toward either backgrounded or foregrounded text.’
Although parody may not demonstrate an over-aggressivity toward its prototexts, it is far
from ever being neutral in its attitude. The mere choice of a target text constitutes an
attitude. (Harries 35)
While Hutcheon describes a more ambiguous attitude parody has towards its source text, Harries argues that a choice in text itself reflects an attitude; however, he fails to mention if that attitude is positive or negative or perhaps differs depending on the circumstance. In the case of fan remakes, the filmmakers’ attitude towards the original film is clear: it is that of undying love and admiration. This is seen most clearly in the extratextual components of both Raiders of the Lost
Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life.
The Toy Story 3 (2010) fans, Morgan and Mason, as well as the Raiders of the Lost Ark
(1981) fans, Chris, Eric, and Jayson, all express their admiration for the original films through the various extratextual elements in the fan film. When it comes to making connection between the original film and its remake in remake films, Constantine Verevis argues that “the audience is encouraged to recognize the original and its remake in a variety of textual and extra-textual ways” (86). These extratextual components can be many things, such as onscreen credit, marketing materials, interviews, titles, and more. In the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation, their love for the original film is clearly seen in the extratextual component of a title screen before the film begins, which reads:
giving birth to what we consider to be the ultimate adventure film. It is because of their
genius that a film exists with such an enduring nostalgic and adventurous spirit… It is to
them we give our thanks for the work they have wrought which has left a permanent 26
impression upon the direction of our lives. It is through them that we have discovered our
love for film. (Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation 00:00:00–00:00:45)
Far from being a feeling “between disdain and admiration,” these filmmakers use extratextual elements to demonstrate their admiration for the original material, putting its status as a parody into question if we follow Hutcheon’s definition of parody. Not only does this admiration move these fan films away from parodic intentions, but it also pushes these fan films towards pastiche.
Sotiris Petridis explains how one major difference between parody and pastiche is the fact that parody mocks while pastiche imitates with affection (732). Based on the love the fans express towards the original film, it is safe to say that mocking is not the goal of fan remake films, but instead loving homage.
This leaves fan remake films pastiche rather than parodic in nature. In order to define pastiche, we must consider its origins in postmodern thought. Pastiche, according to Fredrick
Jameson in “Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” is “like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse” (17). Pastiche shares some of the mimicry attributes of parody but lacks the critique that is present in parody. Jameson elaborates further, saying pastiche is “blank parody, a statue with blind eye-balls” (17), or in other words, lifeless parody. Jameson clearly sees pastiche as less effective than parody.
Following these definitions, film remakes appear to be in the pastiche category, as fans reconstruct the material using the materials and access they have, but do not attempt to deconstruct the film or genre in any significant way. They are fan creations born from love of the original films, thus making the aim to imitate with admiration rather than mock with critique. 27
Fan remakes lack the “satiric impulse” Jameson describes, thus rendering them lifeless imitation if we follow postmodern thought. Because of this, pastiche is often looked down upon by scholars and is often criticized for being an “indiscriminate appropriation of elements which lacks depth and coherence” (Harries 31). However, I would argue that even if fan remake films are pastiche, this does not necessarily mean they are devoid of life and meaning. Meanings, whether intended or not, are found in the slippages between the original film and its fan remake.
What is the Difference?
Although fan remake films are not actively critical, rendering them pastiche, parody theory remains useful to analyze the texts themselves, as it considers both similarities and differences between the two texts in its analysis. In his analysis of parody, Harries borrows Rick
Altman’s three elements of film used to analyze film genre: lexicon, syntax, and style (Harries
8). According to Harries, parody plays with making each of these elements similar or different depending on the need through the process of reiteration, inversion, misdirection, literalization, extraneous inclusion, and exaggeration (Harries 37–38). Even if fan remake films do not quite fall into the parody category, an analysis of the similarities and differences between the lexicon, syntax, and style still remains useful if we want to understand the meaning created in the relationship between the fan remake film and its prototext.
These similarities and differences are significant in the way that these texts create meaning. As much as these fans would like to replicate the film with as much accuracy as possible, pure logistics make this impossible. As Linda Hutcheon explains, “Just as there can be no such thing as a literal translation, there can be no literal adaptation” (A Theory of Adaptation
16). Through the differences between the original films and the fan remakes, we get a glimpse into how these young fans interpret the original films as well as their admiration for the original 28 films. While the postmodernists may argue that pastiche is lifeless and devoid of meaning, I argue that the amateur execution of these films give us a unique window into the fans’ interpretation of the original film through a hands on, active, and creative approach. In the words of Henry Jenkins, “Fandom celebrates not exceptional texts but rather exceptional readings”
(284). These cultural artifacts may not necessarily be polished, but still represent the impact
Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Toy Story 3 had on the minds of these young fans. In an attempt to understand this new aura, I will analyze the similarities and differences between Raiders of the
Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life and the original films through the lexicon, syntax, and style and how they reflect these fans’ attitudes towards their source material.
The lexicon, Harries explains, are the elements that comprise a film’s iconography, such as the setting, characters, costumes, etc. (8). In the case of fan remakes, much of the lexicon attempts to be preserved to the best of the filmmakers’ abilities. The characters are the exact same, costumes are mimicked with the materials the fans have access to, and settings are constructed to match as closely to the original as possible. Despite many similarities, the lexicon does differ when it comes to some execution of the setting as well as the actors. I will consider the set design and actors of both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real
Life and inspect where they replicate or deviate from the original films.
Toy Story 3 in Real Life in particular does a remarkable job mimicking elements of the lexicon as closely as possible, with sets in particular resembling the original with an unbelievable degree of accuracy. A specific example of this is most clearly found in the recreation of the set of
Andy’s room. Andy’s room is filled with a variety of posters, stickers, bulletin boards, and furniture pieces typical for a college bound boy. In a side-by-side comparison between the 29 original film and its remake, the fans are careful to recreate these elements to the best of their abilities. Clothes in the laundry hamper are arranged exactly as they are in the original. The books on the bookshelf are arranged with similar looking books, sometimes with the same colors and titles being featured. Posters in Andy’s room are exact replicas in the fan remake (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). The most impressive replication in the fan remake is the replication of a bulletin board in Andy’s room. One scene features a close up of Woody looking at an old picture of him and Andy on this bulletin board. The elements on the bulletin board are recreated with precision, including an envelope to a university with the exact address and angle of the envelope pinned to the board matching that of the original. Post-It notes with the exact handwriting are replicated.
Calendars featuring the same events and times are featured in both films (see fig. 3 and 4). The set of Andy’s room presents an example of the precision with which these fans recreated the settings in their remake.
Despite the incredible painstaking work Morgan and Mason took to replicate the animated world of Toy Story 3 as closely as possible, amateur levels of execution are occasionally visible and do vary in some set design. Two examples of these “seams” in the otherwise remarkable set recreation are found in both the wallpaper in Andy’s house and
Sunnyside Daycare. First, there are scenes that take place in the hallway in Andy’s house that feature distinctive wallpaper. For this hallway setting in the remake, the wallpaper appears to be created from printing and taping together many pieces of office paper featuring the blue floral wallpaper featured in the home in the original film. This choice is significant as the amateur execution draws more attention to itself then, for instance, a blank wall would. However, this choice reveals that replicating the design of the original film, even in a very DIY way, was more 30 important to these filmmakers than a polished set. This choice reflects a level of respect for the details the original animators put into the film.
Fig. 1: Screenshot of Toy Story 3 (2010) taken by author
Fig. 2: Screenshot of Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020) taken by author 31
Fig. 3: Screenshot of Toy Story 3 (2010) taken by author
Fig. 4: Screenshot of Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020) taken by author
A second location that differs from the original film in several ways is the set of
Sunnyside Daycare. The main reason for this appears to be the fact that the daycare was a 32 borrowed location. Due to this limitation, Morgan and Mason have to make some creative decisions while still balancing a homage to the original film. In Toy Story 3 in Real Life, the location that represents Sunnyside appears to be St. Mary’s Preschool as thanked in the credits of the film. Because this location is a functioning facility, the filmmakers assumedly did not have free reign to replicate the daycare to the same degree of accuracy as they were able to in the controlled environment of Andy’s room. While these deviations are apparent in many elements of the set design, I will only focus on a select few. One slight difference is featured in Ken’s dream house. While the filmmakers were able to find a mansion-like doll house somewhat resembling the one found in the animated film, they could not find one constructed with an elevator featured in the original. Instead, the filmmakers constructed a DIY cardboard elevator with the intricate designs found in the original drawn out with a pen.
A second deviation from the original film and its remake are the toys featured at the daycare. While Morgan and Mason were able to purchase exact replicas of the more prominent toys in the film directly from Pixar, many background characters had to be altered. For example, in the first scene the many toys at Sunnyside are introduced, there is a set of toys that resemble a burger, fries, and a soda present. In the recreation, these toys are not only much smaller than they are in the original film but appear to be homemade. The burger toy appears to be a small plastic burger with eyes and a mouth attached, with the fries and soda toys appearing to be constructed with paper. Despite these variations in the daycare set, the recreators attempted to mimic the original film in ways they could control. One example of this is a child’s drawing of a rainbow and a turtle on one of the doors in the daycare. The fans were able to replicate this painting using the same shapes and colors featured in the original drawing and both appear to be drawn with 33 markers. These small attentions to detail reflect how knowledgeable the fans are about the source text as well as how much effort they are willing to put into such a project.
In the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, other smaller logistical changes to the lexicon also had to be made throughout the remake. For example, Chris explains, “In the original [film], there was a monkey. And for some strange reason, there was a shortage of monkeys in Mississippi in the 1980s, so we used a hound dog. He was sort of a terrier”
(Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:39:55–00:40:05). This use of Chris’ dog, Snickers, in the remake indicates a sense of love and inclusion of the boys’ families in their new film (see fig. 5). Another small change made was a scene where an enemy character is featured on a motorcycle. In a humorous twist, we see a young boy on his regular bike (see fig.
6). This bike reminds the audience of the young age and limited resources these young boys had at their disposal. These practical changes are not only humorous and endearing but act as another reminder of the fans pulling off an astonishing accomplishment.
Fig. 5: Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author 34
Fig. 6: Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author
Both these similarities and deviations from the original set design does give audiences an idea of the attitude the fans have towards the original film. The great care Morgan and Mason took to replicate the sets of Toy Story 3, even if it meant printing out 50 pages of “wallpaper” and taping them together, demonstrates the admiration and respect they have towards the artists who created the sets in the first place. The differences in the daycare, specifically, reveal the limitations the filmmakers had as well as their creative solutions. Even when a daycare was not available to the fans, they were able to work with the community as well as find creative ways to mimic the original film in the aspects in their control. This act of replication is a demonstration of devotion, getting to the heart of fan creations.
Despite the similarities in the lexicon found in the set design, there is one significant way the lexicon elements of fan remakes differ from the prototext: the actors. This is most prominent in Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, which features an all pre-teen/teenage cast instead of 35 the actors matching the age of the characters. An example of this is Alan Stenum, the young boy who was commissioned to play Sallah in the remake film, who explains how he was cast in the role: “They needed someone to be Sallah, which, as a, you know, eleven-year-old with a really bad haircut, kind of gangly, and they wanted me to play this portly Egyptian digger with a beard”
(Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:19:04–00:19:18). This is just one example of the film’s use of a young cast. In Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, all of the actors used were between the ages of eleven and eighteen, with the cast of the original film featuring almost exclusively adults. The actors’ incongruence with the characters they play are reflective of the limited resources as well as the stage in life where people are able to make these remakes, utilizing their time out of school and not having a steady job to dedicate themselves to their craft.
While most live action fan remakes cast actors who do not match the original characters out of necessity, this issue is complicated in the case of the Toy Story 3 remake. Since all the actors in the original Toy Story 3 are voice actors due to the animated nature of the film, Toy
Story 3 in Real Life has the unique ability to poach the voices of the original actors and even feature their names in the credits. For all human characters, they use actors (most of which appear to be friends and family) that appear to match the ages of the characters, with Morgan
McGrew himself playing Andy. This provides a unique opportunity for the fans themselves to participate in the film alongside some of the original voice actors.
Perhaps the most incoherent part of the actors in both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life is the fact that they were shot out of order over the course of many years. Because of this as well as many of the actors being in a stage of life where they physically change quite significantly every year, the actors’ ages jump up and down as one 36 watches the film. The most obvious example is in Toy Story 3 in Real Life with the character
Bonnie. Bonnie is one of the daycare children who becomes the recipient of Andy’s toys at the end of the film. Bonnie appears significantly in three scenes. In the second scene where she is playing with toys in her room and the final scene of the film where Andy gifts her his toys, she appears to be a child matching the age of the character. However, in the first scene she is introduced, the actress playing Bonnie appears to be in her pre-teen years. These age jumps throughout the film is one of the seams where the amateurism as well as the length of time it took these fans to complete their project is revealed.
The set design of these recreated films exposes the time and care these young fans took to pay homage to some of their favorite films, through both the ways the sets resemble the original and differ. The difference between actors in the original and the remake demonstrates the length of time the fans took to complete their work as well as the limited resources they had at their disposal. These similarities and differences demonstrate the dedication and admiration these fans feel towards the original films.
The second film textual element to consider is syntax, which Harries describes as “the narrative structure in which the lexicon elements reside” (8). Some remakes, such as the update as posed by Leitch, opt to alter the narrative of the original film in an attempt to bring it into a new social context. In the case of fan remake films, narratives are kept exactly the same, using exact dialogue from the original films and poaching the exact pacing as established by the original editor. The most significant way fan films follow the originals’ syntax is through the script and through the editing. 37
In many fan remake films, fans will take the exact script from the original film and use it as the blueprint for the project. Both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in
Real Life go so far as to credit the original screenwriters of the original films in their credits. Toy
Story 3 in Real Life is even in the unique position to borrow entire chunks of recorded dialogue from the original film, rendering the narrative a literal copy of the original film. Editing is another crucial cinematic component for guiding audiences through the narrative of the film. Toy
Story 3 in Real Life and Toy Story 3, when played side by side, both cut at the exact same moment throughout the entirety of the film. This stands as an example of the shot-for-shot nature of many of these fan remake films. In these ways, fans poach literal manifestations of the original films’ syntax for their own use.
This is a significant way that fan remake films do not transform the material. This stands in contrast with the fan creations in Textual Poachers discussed in the introduction, as fans “try to articulate to themselves and others unrealized possibilities within the original works” (Jenkins
23). When it comes to the films’ narratives, fan remakes uniquely differ from the transformative nature of other fan works in the way that they do not transform the syntax at all. This again reaffirms the uncritical admiration the fans have towards the original film. The syntax is the most significant way fan remakes replicate elements of their prototext.
Style is the final film element that is altered in fan remakes. Harries explains that the style is essentially everything else outside of the lexicon and the syntax “to add additional sets of expectations based on that particular type of film text” (8). Style is the primary difference between the original films and the fan remakes. The style of these films differs primarily through 38 image quality and choice of medium. The style reveals both the limited resources the fan filmmakers had at their disposal as well as their motivation for remaking in the first place.
One of the biggest ways the style of the fan film differs from the original is the image quality. In the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, the camera they used was one borrowed from one of the fan’s father’s work. Eric’s mother describes the camera Chris’ mother was able to get for the boys: “She was married to Jimmy Love who owned the channel 13 station and that allowed her to borrow a camera for the boys” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan
Film Ever Made 00:17:17–00:17:28). The resulting borrowed camera was a small Betamax used over the course of the seven years. The resulting image quality is abysmal. The dark scenes are indecipherable, simply due to the poor image quality combined with the lack of proper lighting equipment. Oftentimes characters are indistinguishable from a distance because the camera quality blurs their faces, although this does come in handy when you have a singular actor playing many different roles.
Image quality is also an issue in Toy Story 3 in Real Life, with Morgan and Mason shooting on an iPhone. The problem with shooting on an iPhone over the course of eight years is the fact that new iPhones with an improved camera would come out frequently. Because of this, we can see jumps in image quality throughout the film, as it was shot out of order. A specific example of this is found in a comparison between the opening scene and the scene in the vending machine where Buzz is captured. The film opens with an impressive stop motion and claymation sequence of the toys on a rescue mission with crisp image quality, professional lighting, and overall an impressive execution. The vending machine scene, on the other hand, is dimly lit in an attempt to mimic the original film. It appears to have been shot at a much earlier point in the filmmaking process, with the image quality appearing grainy. Another example of this is the way 39 that in earlier scenes that were shot, the toys move primarily through strings attached to their limbs, mimicking a marionette rather than the impressive stop motion Morgan and Mason master later on in the filmmaking process. Throughout the film, we see these seams where the improvement in quality and the passage of time are apparent through the film’s style.
While the style of these fan films most definitely have a DIY aesthetic due to the lack of access to professional filmmaking equipment, this can actually be of great value to fan remake films. Throughout this chapter, I argue that the changes between the original film and its fan remake are full of meaning and are overall reflective of the fans’ relationship to the original film.
I believe the amateur aesthetics are the biggest contributor to this. Here, I turn to Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand and their discussion of amateurs:
The tactical media practitioner explicitly prefers amateurism to experthood since...
amateurs have the ability to see through the dominant paradigms, are freer to recombine
elements of paradigms thought long dead, and can apply everyday life experiences to
their deliberations. Most important, however, amateurs are not investing in
institutionalized systems of knowledge production and policy construction, and hence do
not have irresistible forces guiding the outcome of their process such as maintaining a
place in the funding hierarchy, or maintaining prestige-capital. (qtd. in M. Butler 178)
In other words, the fans being free of industrial film practices work to their advantage. They can demonstrate their understanding of the world around them to a greater extent than the original films because they are free from industrial business practices that might otherwise hold them back. Amateurism might be one of the biggest reasons fan remake films make meaning rather than a detriment to their message. These amateur aesthetics are a primary way the remake films adopt a different style than their prototexts. 40
One aspect of the texts I have yet to consider are the ways the texts function outside of the films themselves. This is primarily through the extratextual elements surrounding the film, including titles, YouTube descriptions, trailers, and other supplementary material. These function mostly as a way to connect the remake to its source text. Linda Hutcheon argues that parodies and adaptations differ from each other in one significant way, explaining, “Like parodies, adaptations have an overt and defining relationship to prior texts, usually revealingly called
‘sources.’ Unlike parodies, however, adaptations usually openly announce this relationship” (A
Theory of Parody 3). This is very true of both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation as well as
Toy Story 3 in Real Life. Most obviously, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation tells you everything you need to know in the title itself: it is adapting Raiders of the Lost Ark. Toy Story 3 in Real Life remains more elusive in its title, but openly announces its status as a remake in the
YouTube description: “Toy Story 3 in Real Life is a fan-made shot-for-shot recreation of Pixar’s
Toy Story 3” (Toy Story 3 in Real Life). Through these films opening slates, supplementary videos, and interviews, the audience has a clearer understanding of the context surrounding these fan remake films.
The reason extratextual elements are important to consider when it comes to meaning making is it gives us insight into the fans’ relationship to the original text. As stated earlier,
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation begins the film with a title card expressing admiration to
Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan for the inspiration and influence their work had on the young fans. In these ways, extratextual markers in fan remake films not only establish its relationship with the original film, but also demonstrate the admiration the fans have towards the original text. 41
I have established that Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation as well as Toy Story 3 in
Real Life can fit into a variety of textual categories, such as adaptation, swede, parody, and more, concluding that the most appropriate textual categories are remake, homage, fan film, and pastiche. Despite the way scholars criticize pastiche, fan remakes still create a new aura based on the way they differ from the text they are recreating. Borrowing from parody theory, an analysis of the similarities and differences in lexicon, syntax, and style reveal the intended (and unintended) meanings and reveal the fans’ interpretations and attitude towards the original films.
Next, I will discuss how the process of recreating and the performance of these characters further contribute to the meaning created by fan remake films.
CHAPTER TWO: FAN REMAKE FILMS AS PROCESS
These fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Toy Story 3 (2010) are prime examples of audiences who are active participants in the popular texts they consume, making the process of remaking just as important to consider as the finished product. Fan studies provides a useful jumping off point when discussing fan remake films as a process. Henry Jenkins in Textual
Poachers explores many methods television fans utilize in order to better connect to their favorite series. Jenkins acknowledges these many forms fan participation can take, explaining how “fan culture is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon, inviting many forms of participation and levels of engagement” (2). Throughout his text, he effectively outlines the different ways fans create, using examples such as fanfiction and fan videos. In the final line of the book, Jenkins concludes, “Fandom does not prove that all audiences are active; it does, however, prove that not all audiences are passive” (287). Jenkins is useful here, as the fans of
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3 do not simply watch films but are active participants in meaning making.
While these fans are representative of an active audience, they differ from Jenkins’ analysis of fans in the way they replicate popular texts rather than poach from them. This term
“poaching,” borrowed from Michel de Certeau, describes “fans as readers who appropriate popular texts and reread them in a fashion that serves different interests as spectators who transform the experience of watching television into a rich and complex participatory culture”
(Jenkins 23). When it comes to poaching, these television fans pick apart their favorite texts and reassemble them in order to create new meanings for themselves. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation (1989) and Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020) are similarly a process in which watching 43 a film turns into this rich and complex participatory Jenkins discusses but perhaps in a different way than Jenkins originally intended. Instead of changing the original films by writing original stories or remixing video footage, these fans instead replicate the original films in their exactness to the best of their ability. These fans engage in participatory culture through a process of reconstruction rather than a process of poaching and reassembling texts.
A consideration of this replication process is significant in the way that it reveals fan texts’ fraught relationship with commercial film industries, the social and cultural influences behind the remake films, and the fans’ interpretations of the original films’ themes. In this chapter, in order to fully comprehend fan remakes as a process, I consider several aspects of the filmmaking process. I first examine the way the remaking process dissolves the boundaries between audience and author and how fan remake films oppose the commercial film industry.
Second, I will look at the inspiration behind these fans’ long-term projects and how that inspiration manifests itself in the texts. Lastly, I will consider the process of remaking films and how creativity and performance can act as a way to reinforce the original films’ themes in a very concrete way in these fans’ lives. The process of fan remaking provides unique insights into the fans’ personal lives, their perception of the original text, and their role in participatory culture.
Dissolving the Audience/Author Binary
A significant part of the remaking process is the fact that it steps outside of the realm of conventional film viewing and turns audiences into active creators. The boundaries between audience and author are complicated in all fan creations and fan remake films are no exception.
Henry Jenkins explains how in the creation of texts, “fans cease to be simply an audience for popular texts; instead, they become active participants in the construction and circulation of textual meanings” (24). In this way, fans do not resemble conventional film viewers and instead 44 become filmmakers themselves. The immense amount of time, effort, and creativity that goes into fan remake films dissolves the conventional boundaries typically painted between audiences and authors.
This idea that the roles of audience and author are complicated in this way plays directly into Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque. According to Bakhtin, carnival is a time that “celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms and prohibitions” (10). In carnival, normal social order is suspended, allowing certain roles and hierarchical structures to be reversed, acting as a time to be free of the conventions of everyday life. This can be applied to the concept of fan remake films, as the idea that audiences are passive and filmmakers are active are similarly reversed. As Jenkins has established, fans represent the active audience, taking what they see on the screen and utilizing it in tactile and concrete ways in their lives. Fans represent an unusual kind of audience that is not only a viewer, but a filmmaker as well. In the Bakhtinian sense, fan filmmakers disrupt the social order in a similar way to carnival.
This disruption is complicated further by the way some commercial film industries have picked up on the practice of amateur remaking and have found ways to capitalize on it for their own gain. Due to intellectual property concerns, many fan remake films are unable to make a monetary profit as will be discussed further in chapter three. Despite these copyright troubles, some argue that the general attitude towards fan made works is being relaxed in a legal sense.
Michel Gondry, the director of the film Be Kind Rewind (2008) discussed in chapter one, argues that “fan adaptations are no longer usefully viewed as copyright infraction, as they are more rightfully understood as engagement with and promotion of a prior project” (qtd. in Hutcheon, A
Theory of Adaptation 193). In other words, fan films are starting to be viewed as potential 45 promotion rather than plagiarism. Some properties have even gone so far as to use fan film aesthetics as a means of promoting their media products. This is most evident in the examples of
The Empire Strikes Back: Uncut (2014) and Home Movie: The Princess Bride (2020).
Star Wars: Uncut (2010) is a feature length fan remake of Star Wars: Episode IV – A
New Hope (1977) posted on the video streaming platform YouTube. It is primarily characterized by its collaborative nature, with hundreds of fans each taking a fifteen second segment of the film to remake on their own. This large-scale collaboration results in different pieces of the film ending up in different mediums, such as live action, claymation, animation, and more. In his discussion of Star Wars: Uncut, Martin Butler describes the project and its opposition to commercial film industries:
It gathered amateur movie segments from all over the world, was heralded by academics
and nonacademics alike as an example of the democratic appeal of the Internet, especially
in times of social media, which according to web enthusiasts, would allow fans to
become creators of media content, thus actively engaging in processes of cultural
production and challenging the alleged monopoly of the media industry. (172)
This DIY, fannish behavior is very reminiscent of the fan remake films discussed throughout this thesis through its amateur aesthetics and the way it challenges conventional commercial film industries.
What is interesting about the Star Wars: Uncut project is the fact that four years later in
2014, a second collaborative full length fan film was released for the subsequent film Star Wars:
Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). The primary way these two Star Wars fan films differ is the fact that The Empire Strikes Back: Uncut was released via the official Star Wars
YouTube channel. This is an example of a democratic fan creation being reappropriated and 46 distributed through official media industry channels. It appears that commercial film industries have found a way to repurpose the oppositional nature of fan remake films for their own purposes, gain, and promotion.
A second example of the reappropriation of fan practices and aesthetics by commercial film industries is found in the streaming platform Quibi, which specialized in movie quality television designed for smartphones (“Quibi Our Story”). In 2020, Quibi released a serialized remake of The Princess Bride (1987) featuring several popular Hollywood actors, such as Joe
Jonas, Sophie Turner, Tiffany Haddish, Common, Josh Gad, Hugh Jackman, Jack Black, Patton
Oswald, Jon Hamm, Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, and more. The motivation behind this remake was primarily driven by the stay-at-home orders put in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 in California, preventing many filmmakers and actors from leaving their homes. Because of this, the purpose of The Princess Bride remake was to have these actors film individual scenes from the film utilizing equipment only found in their homes. Jason Reitman, the filmmaker behind the project, explains in an interview with Vanity Fair the inspiration behind the project:
The week that the stay-at-home order came through in California, I just woke up one of
the first mornings, I think like most people did, feeling as though, All right [sic], I need to
be able to do something of value. I just thought, Can [sic] we remake an entire movie at
home? And I had seen that a fan-made Star Wars had been done. I just started reaching
out to actors I knew, saying, ‘Is this something you’d want to do?’ And the response was
kind of immediate and fast. It was like, ‘Oh—that sounds like fun.’ (Breznican) 47
This Princess Bride remake is representative of a commercial product that was directly inspired by the fan product of Star Wars: Uncut, further revealing how industries are learning to reappropriate and capitalize on the success of feature length fan remake films.
While the finished product of The Princess Bride endeavor certainly leans towards parody rather than pastiche homage, such as a scene featuring Joe Jonas portraying Buttercup and Sophie Turner portraying Wesley in a humorous gender-bent manner, it is still significant to consider the ways the aesthetics of amateur remake films, which exist to oppose the commercial film industry, being reappropriated for the purposes of financial gain (i.e., Quibi’s streaming fees). While amateur filmmaking in its many forms can directly go against the culture it borrows from, there are some interesting examples of the film industry borrowing amateur aesthetics for its own gain. Despite this reappropriation by commercial film industries, fan remake filmmakers are representative of the active audience Jenkins describes, dissolving the conventional boundary typically placed between filmmakers and their audiences.
Fan filmmakers represent a unique kind of film audience, but what remains to be considered is the motivation behind these practices. Fans must have their reasons for committing so much time, effort, and resources to remaking an amateur version of a film that already exists.
Since financial gain is not a major factor for remaking for fans due to the trouble they run into with intellectual property laws, it is important to consider the reasons why fans do remake these films, spending a considerable amount of time, effort, and funds with no obvious financial reward. According to Jenkins, a possible reason fans create despite not making a monetary profit is because fans want to make something that will be appreciated by other fans. He explains how
“the creation, exhibition, and exchange of videos creates the conditions for a communal artform, 48 one contrasting with the commercial culture from which it is derived in its refusal to make a profit and its desire to share its products with others who will value them” (Jenkins 249). While the value of other fans enjoying the text is certainly a reason to remake, I will consider three other elements that contribute to the choice to remake a film: the source text, the inspiration for creating, and the role of social capital.
Prior to remaking, fans must first choose a source text. Linda Hutcheon in A Theory of
Adaptation explains how “adapters are first interpreters and then creators” (18). Because interpretation is the first step of creation, fans must first consume the source text and then deem it worthy of a homage remake. This choice of text gives us insight into Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3’s positioning in the popular culture zeitgeist. As mentioned in chapter one, Dan
Harries believes that the choice to adapt a certain text reflects an attitude towards the original film. I argue that the choice of text reflects this attitude towards the source texts as well as the original films’ cultural significance in popular culture.
One significant aspect of the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3 remakes that reflects the cultural significance of the original films is the length of time between the release of the original film and the fans choosing to remake them. Typically, official, big budget remake films only exist once the original has established itself into the cinematic canon in some way.
Fan remake films differ, however, with fans choosing to remake the films merely a couple years after their release. There is a somewhat significant amount of time between the original films and their fan remake (eight years in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark and ten years in the case of
Toy Story 3) but this is simply due to the fact that fan remakes take many years to create (seven years in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark and eight years in the case of Toy Story 3). This calls into question the canonized nature of each of these source texts, as they did not have years to 49 fully be integrated into the popular culture canon. This short time span between the original films’ release and the fans’ decision to remake the films demonstrates the immense impact the original films had not only on the fans, but on popular culture audiences in general.
Another way the choice of text is significant is the way it reveals the fans’ attitudes and values. The choice to pick Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3 was not an arbitrary one.
Henry Jenkins explains that there are many texts out there for fans to appropriate. The choice to adapt one particular text can give us insight into the fans themselves:
Fans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely
because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-
existing social commitments and cultural interests; there is already some degree of the
ideological commitments of the fans and therefore, some degree of affinity will exist
between the meanings fans produce and those which might be located through a critical
analysis of the original story. (Jenkins 34)
While these personal reasons for creating certainly exist, Linda Hutcheon explains several other factors that go into the choice to adapt and how those factors can manifest themselves in the text itself:
In the act of adapting, choices are made based on many factors, as we have seen,
including genre or medium conventions, political engagement, and personal as well as
public history. These decisions are made in a creative as well as an interpretive context
that is ideological, social, historical, cultural, personal, and aesthetic. And that context is
made accessible to us later in two ways. First, the text bears the marks of these choices,
marks that betray the assumptions of the creator – at the very least insofar as those
assumptions can be inferred from the text... Second, and more obvious, is the fact that 50
extratextual statements of intent and motive often do exist to round out our sense of the
context of creation. (A Theory of Adaptation 109)
In other words, the motivations behind an adaptation are multiple, reflecting both personal and cultural reasons. This is very true of fan remakes, with each fan having their own personal history with the original texts, influencing their choice to adapt. To understand these cultural interests the fans possess that lead them to choose these particular texts, I look at both the textual and extratextual markers of the fan remake films and what they can reveal about the context surrounding the fans choosing Toy Story 3 and Raiders of the Lost Ark as their prototexts.
In the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, the choice to remake occurred upon Chris’ first viewing of the film. In an interview in the documentary Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015), Chris describes being deeply moved by Raiders of the
Lost Ark during this first viewing:
I saw this movie and it just split me in half… God, he had a bullwhip and hat and a
jacket. He was just badass and could fight and… stood for something. I was like, ‘This
hero is awesome.’ And from that first viewing, I was like, ‘I have to remake this movie.’
I have to create a playground for myself just to see if I can do it. (Raiders!: The Story of
the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:07:06–00:08:03)
Not only does this quote reveal how deeply affected Chris was by the film, but also illustrates how the choice to remake the film for him was the most obvious way to play in this new and incredible world he had just discovered.
For Chris, Eric, and Jayson, the choice to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark stemmed from a desire to explore a fictional world. In the case of Mason and Morgan, the Toy Story 3 in Real Life project began first as primarily a filmmaking exercise. Mason explains that their journey to 51 recreate Toy Story 3 started out as primarily a way to experiment with varying filmmaking techniques back in 2011:
At this point in time, Morgan and I were just messing around, having fun recreating a
couple scenes here and there, experimenting with filmmaking and stop motion animation,
but we didn’t have this goal to recreate an entire film yet. It wasn’t until a year later,
2012, when our heads came together to release… a very amateur recreation of the Toy
Story 3 trailer that we released to announce that we were going to recreate as many
scenes from the film as possible and then upload them to YouTube. And thus, Toy Story 3
in Real Life was born. (“Toy Story 3 IRL | The Film You Never Got to See” 00:01:03–
While the Raiders of the Lost Ark fans chose to remake as a form of performance, play, and exploration, the Toy Story 3 fans chose to remake as a means to experiment with filmmaking.
This further indicates that the Toy Story 3 fans saw remaking as a pedagogical tool rather than a form of play.
While there are many extratextual elements that express the reasons fans have for recreating their favorite films, such as interviews and YouTube videos, traces of their decisions can also be found in the text as well. As Hutcheon describes, the “text bears the marks of these choices” (A Theory of Adaptation 109). Specifically, Toy Story 3 in Real Life demonstrates the choice to adapt through its textual markers of the opening slate and choice of medium.
The most obvious textual marker in Toy Story 3 in Real Life that demonstrates the inspiration behind the project is found in the opening slate: “8 years ago, two brothers set out to explore filmmaking by recreating their favorite film. The following is the product of that endeavor” (Toy Story 3 in Real Life 00:00:00–00:00:08). This reinforces the idea that the choice 52 to remake for these fans stemmed from a desire to practice filmmaking. A second textual marker that reveals creator intent in Toy Story 3 in Real Life is through its choice of medium. Hutcheon addresses this question of adapting in a new medium, saying, “It is obvious that adapters must have their own personal reasons for deciding first to do an adaptation and then choosing which adapted work and what medium to do it in. They not only interpret that work but in so doing they also take a position on it” (A Theory of Adaptation 92). The fact that Toy Story 3 in Real Life is an exercise in filmmaking, according to Morgan and Mason themselves, puts the fact that the film is made in a variety of mediums into context. The choice to experiment with claymation, stop motion, and live action demonstrates the filmmakers’ desire to learn how to tell stories through several mediums. In this way, traces of the inspiration for recreating are found on the text itself through the way the mediums vary throughout the film.
A final motivation for remaking I have yet to discuss is the desire for social capital.
Pierre Bourdieu theorizes social capital as an “aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (21). In other words, social relationships can act as an almost cultural currency to give one a leg up in society. What do these relationships do for people? According to Bourdieu, these relationships can “secure material or symbolic profits” (22). Social capital is the manifestation of the importance of “knowing the right people” and having “friends in high places,” as the social capital generated from these relationships can have numerous advantages.
This social capital typically plays out in the audience reception of fan remakes. These fan filmmakers have millions of YouTube views, numerous interviews with news stations and magazines, and the Raiders of the Lost Ark fans even got their own documentary. Most 53 significantly, these fans were eventually recognized by the original filmmakers, which will be discussed further in chapter three. While this recognition is certainly one reason for remaking, motivations to explore fictional worlds and practice filmmaking skills all contribute to the motivation to remake a feature length film.
Maintaining a High Standard
After considering the multitude of reasons fans choose to undertake the remaking process, I now consider the remaking process itself and what it reveals about the fans’ personal histories, dedication to the craft, and interpretation of the original films. This process is primarily characterized by the way the fans hold themselves to a high standard in terms of the execution of their films. While both of these fan films are certainly characterized by an amateur aesthetic, it is important to note that these fans still maintained a high level of perfection for their projects. Both
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life had times where they were unhappy with the result of their footage, resulting in reshoots until it met the filmmakers’ standards. This high standard the fans held themselves to demonstrates the dedication these fans have for their craft.
In the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, this level of perfectionism is most evident in the way they completely reshot large chunks of the film because they were not satisfied with the way it looked. Eric explains a time they reviewed the footage, saying, “We were two years in at this point? And it was unwatchable... There’s no nice way to put it. It stunk”
(Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:28:33–00:28:56). One reason for this dissatisfaction with their footage was due to the Betamax camera imprinting a letter “A” in the corner of all of the footage. The cameraman, Jayson, explains, “A camera can type letters on it. I didn’t realize it was on the footage for the first three years” (Raiders!: The Story of the 54
Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:29:04–00:29:09). Because of this, Eric decided to reshoot everything they had done prior. This anecdote reveals how the filmmakers were not satisfied until their footage looked as polished as they could possibly make it.
Morgan and Mason in the process of creating Toy Story 3 in Real Life similarly reshot large chunks of the film due to the execution not being up to their standards. Mason himself explains the reasoning behind reshooting much of the film:
Our attention to detail just wasn’t the best. The techniques we used were chosen by
convenience instead of by which was best for the scene. Our understanding of lighting
was basic as well as shot composition and it never really felt right. The footage of this
version of our film felt like we were just doing it to do it. It didn’t feel like we were
bringing anything new to the table, hence why we decided to reshoot some shots. (“Toy
Story 3 IRL | The Film You Never Got to See” 00:02:10–00:02:38)
It is clear how Morgan and Mason felt that creating a mediocre remake would not be a good use of their time. In their eyes, it would only be an acceptable and consumable text if they reached a certain degree of professionalism.
Both of these films choosing to conduct reshoots shows that even though these films are made by amateurs using limited resources, both groups of filmmakers still maintain a high standard for their finished products. This is significant for two reasons. First, along with the fans’ extreme attention to detail, the patience to reshoot a project that already takes many years to complete demonstrates the pure love and dedication these fans had towards their craft. Second, these reshoots are evident in the polished nature of the final products for both of these fans. As
Walter Benjamin says about storytellers, “traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel. So too do the traces of the adapting interpreter- 55 creator cling to the adaptation” (qtd. in Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation 111). In this way, the old versions of these fan remakes are not simply something to be disregarded. Each iteration influences and improves each subsequent version. Mason himself expresses this, saying that
“even though you may not have seen the footage that we scrapped, you’ve seen the soul of it in our final product” (“Toy Story 3 IRL | The Film You Never Got to See” 00:07:19–00:07:25).
This level of perfection the fans place on themselves demonstrate their dedication and also shape the final product of the film.
Even though these fans held the quality of their work to a high standard, it is important to consider how making a perfect replica of the original film is not the ultimate goal. As explained in chapter one, an exact replica of the original film would erase the Benjaminian aura which gives the textual object a unique presence in time and space (Benjamin 40). Morgan specifically explains why making a “perfect” movie was not the goal of their particular project:
When it comes to Morgan and I’s [sic] story, it took eight years to get to a point where
we could say ‘Hey, this is what we’re capable of and this is how much we love this film.’
But there’s also a line in the sand we had to draw because, yes, we wanted to recreate the
film shot-for-shot in real life the best that we could, but the final product shouldn’t and
couldn’t be one hundred percent perfect. It couldn’t all be the best that we’re capable of.
That perfect version already exists. That’s Pixar’s Toy Story 3. If every shot was perfect
in our passion project, it wouldn’t have had any value because it wasn’t just about
recreating our all-time favorite film the best that we could. It was about learning how to
create something like our all-time favorite film with the resources that we had available
and the people willing to join us along the way. (“Toy Story 3 IRL | The Film You Never
Got to See” 00:06:15–00:07:06) 56
In this instance, the fans are not attempting to dislodge Toy Story 3’s cultural positioning, much like Leitch’s remake category of homage discussed in chapter one. While they maintain a high standard, the fact remains that there is a point in which the fans have to resign themselves to the fact that they are amateurs remaking the film, not to perfection, but to a high standard.
While this high standard is crucial to the production process, perhaps the most significant way that fan remake films make meaning as a process is through the creativity exercised by the fans to overcome production barriers. Both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy
Story 3 in Real Life were severely limited by budgetary constraints, access to locations, lack of willing actors and crew, and more. Because of this, fans were required to come up with out of the box solutions to all of the barriers in their way. I argue that these creative and adventurous undertakings taken up by the fans, particularly in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation, are a way to perform and explore the adventurous spirit the fans find in the original film.
The process of making a nearly two-hour film with very limited resources is in itself an adventurous undertaking. Traces of these adventures are found in some of the textual markers in the film, most specifically in the ending credits. Throughout the process of making the Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, the boys encountered a run in with the police as well as two trips to the hospital. Both of these incidents are included in the credits of the film in the “Special
Thanks” section: “Harrison County Police Departments for not arresting us despite our many disruptive filmings” (Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation 01:38:34–01:38:51) and “Ocean
Springs Hospital for our director’s broken arm and plastered face” (Raiders of the Lost Ark: The 57
Adaptation 01:38:54–01:39:12). These loving inclusions are indicative of the unspoken adventures these boys undertook during their production process.
Another striking example of the adventurous spirit created in the process of making the film is the recreation of the gunfight scene in a bar in Nepal, where the whole bar eventually lights aflame. One would think the boys would think of a clever workaround in the remake to avoid any potential fire hazards, but in reality, they use very real fire. After seeing the footage of the fire, Chris’ mother explains, “my then spouse who was really not an advocate of this project at all, decided that it was time to shut the production down” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest
Fan Film Ever Made 00:20:52–00:21:02). This parental roadblock is reminiscent of the conflicts found in the original film. For example, Indiana Jones is consistently foiled by French archeologist, Belloq, throughout the film. Not only does Belloq reclaim the idol from Indiana
Jones at the beginning of the film but acts as his main adversary as Belloq works for the Nazis in their quest to claim the lost ark. In this particular instance, the fans’ parents act as the force stopping them from “capturing the idol.” Through the process of production, their reality starts to mimic moments from the original film. After much pleading and negotiating, the fans were permitted to film once again, this time with adult supervision. Funnily enough, the one adult they found to supervise was not much of a responsible supervisor. As Eric puts it, “We found an adult even less responsible than we were” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
00:30:50–00:30:53). Their adult supervisor, Peter, helped the boys add more and more fire to the scene until the entire room was filled with impressive flames. This incident captures the adventurous spirit and resilience the fans demonstrate in capturing the original material. Because of their passion for the film, they were willing to commit even to a point of potential danger. 58
This willingness to take risks is very evident of the way they see the character Indiana Jones and they wanted to reflect this attribute through the work of their remake.
A second example of the film production process acting as an adventure itself can be found in the process of remaking a scene featuring a car chase. Being familiar with the original film, I suspected a lot of cheats and workarounds in the remake when it came to the famous scene where Indiana Jones steals a truck holding the ark, attempting to drive away from the
Nazis. However, the fans manage to recreate the scene with remarkable accuracy. Fist fights in moving vehicles, extras being thrown from cars, characters jumping out of trees into moving vehicles are all present in the remake. Most impressively, the remake is able to depict Indiana
Jones hanging off the front of a moving vehicle (see fig. 7) and being dragged behind the moving truck as he holds onto his whip (see fig. 8). The truck itself proved to be very dangerous in the way that it had no brakes and no engine. The boys had to use an elaborate pulley system that caused the truck to break to a stop, which Chris explains was “scary when you’re hanging off the front of it, let me tell you” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:36:12–
00:36:16). These moments capture how the fans take the creativity and danger they found in the original film and find a way to translate it into their real lives. Albeit quite dangerous, Chris,
Eric, and Jayson were able to recreate the spirit of adventure found in the film simply through the process of production.
Ultimately, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life are able to demonstrate a passion for the original film as well as articulate what they see the themes of the original film are through the creative workarounds during the production process. These creative workarounds and dedication even to the point of potential danger indicate the lengths these fans are willing to go to connect to the original films. In this way, art begins to imitate life as the 59 process of remaking begins to mimic attributes of the original films in concrete ways in the fans’ lives.
Fig. 7: Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author
Fig. 8: Screenshot of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) taken by author 60
Escape and Performance
While expressing creativity is a crucial part of the production process, two very important elements of the production process yet to consider are the roles of escape and performance, specifically in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. This remake process is an example of fan practices being utilized to cope with everyday life by escaping into a fantasy world. First, I will consider how the actual process of making the film acts as an escape for the fans’ problems at home. Second, I will look at how performing the character of Indiana Jones acts as a means of performing ideal masculinity for these young fans.
All three of the Indiana Jones fans had the experience of their parents getting a divorce in the 1980s. Chris’ parents describe a turbulent divorce happening in their home at the time the boys were filming their remake. Chris’ father says, “I think and believe, that yes, the Raiders thing was a total fantasy that pulled him away from all of his reality” (Raiders!: The Story of the
Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:06:51–00:07:00). Chris’ mother expands on this, saying, “We just kept saying, ‘Dysfunction breeds creativity, apparently’ because these young boys are coming through this dysfunction with just a rousing need to build and do and create something that is lasting, and they did” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:51:42–
00:51:58). While the process of viewing Raiders of the Lost Ark provided an escape for these young fans, they are able to extend this escapism by living the film.
A final way Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation creates meaning through the process of remaking is the way the fans construct masculinity through performance. Judith Butler explains how gender is always something that is performed, saying, “The action of gender requires a performance that is repeated” (140). Our perceptions of gender are reinforced and solidified by a series of repeated behaviors. What do these behaviors look like? According to 61
Judith Butler, “The effect of gender is produced through the stylization of the body and hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and styles of their various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self” (140). In other words, we must perform gender in mundane ways in order to appear as a gendered being. In the case of the fans of Raiders of the Lost Ark, these mundane, everyday performances of masculinity were complicated through their strained relationships with absent and unfaithful father figures. I argue that because these mundane opportunities were lacking in the young boys’ everyday lives, they were forced to perform masculinity in a more unconventional and theatrical way than what
Judith Butler describes.
Not only did all of the young filmmakers come from broken families, all express strained relationships with their fathers. Chris describes his stepfather as an alcoholic who was abusive
(Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:50:42–00:50:50). Eric also expresses a troubled relationship with his father, saying, “My dad and I are very different. He was financially irresponsible. I want to be financially responsible. He was unfaithful. Being faithful and true is very important to me” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever
Made 00:50:51–00:51:04). Because these fans lacked a strong father figure to look up to, they had to turn to the world of fiction. Chris explains how Indiana Jones almost acted as a father figure in his childhood, saying “We all grew up with daddy issues and I think we are all constantly searching for this male figure to emulate and we pick up pieces of different men that we meet in our lives as father figures and we assemble them into what we think we need to be”
(Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 00:51:24–00:51:36). In this way,
Indiana Jones was representative of a father figure for these teenagers, as well as a means of escape from their troubled homes. 62
Because these young fans lacked a masculine figure to emulate, they had to turn to the world of fiction, literally acting out the heroic and masculine duties of their hero: Indiana Jones.
Through the process of producing their fan film, the remake allows them to perform their ideal perception of masculinity in a literal way in their lives. The actual process of remaking the film acted both as an escape, as well as a means to construct an ideal father figure for these fans.
Fan remake films should certainly be considered as texts in their own right as established in chapter one. However, the actual remake process for these fans reveals the themes of the original films in the eyes of the fans and demonstrate the admiration and dedication the fans have to their craft. The process of remaking a film as a fan complicates the usual boundary between audience and author in many respects. Even with this complication, commercial film industries have found ways to appropriate and embrace fan traditions for their own use, such as Star Wars:
Uncut and Quibi’s home movie version of The Princess Bride. Because financial gain is not a primary factor for remaking films, fans have other motivations for creating, such as personal history, social capital, a desire to explore fictional worlds, a need for a filmmaking exercise, and more. The fans’ choice of text reveals the way the text is situated in popular culture as well as reveal the values of the filmmakers themselves. The creativity demonstrated by the fans gives audiences a glimpse into the fans’ interpretations of the original film. Finally, fans are able to emulate their ideal perceptions of masculinity through performance. The actual process of production reveals the fans’ attitudes towards the source text as well as reveal the original films’ impact on society at large. Next, I will consider the audience reception of these fan films and what it reveals about audiences and authors alike.
CHAPTER THREE: AUDIENCE RECEPTION OF FAN REMAKE FILMS
I watched this and said, ‘Wow. It’s Raiders. It’s really Raiders.’ Sure, it might be
cheap and amateur and cheesy, but this is true cinema. The film is there. It wholly
accomplishes what it set out to do. It’s simply brilliant. It’s crafted with so much love,
that it’s impossible not to be won over by its charm. Every moment had me smiling in
glee or gasping in astonishment at what these kids had created. This is one of the most
inspiring things I’ve ever seen, and I feel privileged to have seen it. Bring it on, film
–@jw_hendricks on Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989)
The dedication in your journey is admirable... I still can’t get over how lovingly
you paid tribute to a film I adore so much. It feels like a fever dream when I watch it, a
story I’m so intimately familiar with suddenly looking brand-new. You took an intangible
experience we all enjoyed on a screen and built it from the ground up yourselves. You
made a collective dream the world shared become reality. From your perspective for a
while, you were just moving those toys around like Andy. But much like the beginning of
[Toy Story 3] itself, we got to see that playtime come to life. Well done.
–Brian Koch on Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020)
Now that I have discussed fan remake films as a text and as a process, a central aspect yet to be discussed is the audience reception of these films. Why would anyone watch essentially an amateur version of a film that already exists? Not only do people watch these fan films, but they are blown away by the efforts and creativity demonstrated by these fans as illustrated by the quotes above. Despite these fan films’ many praises, they are not without their critics, including 64 a radio host featured in the documentary Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever
Made (2015), who remarks, “They wasted countless hours of their lives making a bad version of
Raiders. I think Spielberg should sue them” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever
Made 00:13:43–00:13:50). Despite these naysayers, these fan films manage to find extensive and enthusiastic audiences. These fan films have found a way to lodge these young fans’ interpretation of the original films into a text that can be consumed by audiences.
In this chapter, I first explore what happens when audiences encounter fan remake films, starting with the initial reception of both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story
3 in Real Life. Second, I will discuss how fan remake audiences are somewhat limited, as previous knowledge of the original films is a requirement for viewing. Third, I will look into why fans enjoy fan remake films, including nostalgia, anticipation, and recognition of passion.
Fourth, I will consider audiences outside of fans, such as critics, original creators, and copyright owners. Lastly, I will look at fan remakes’ movement and cultural impact utilizing Greg Urban’s theory of metaculture.
Receiving Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life
The context of the reception of each of these remake films is necessary to my analysis of audience reception, as it “is just as important as the context of creation when it comes to adapted” (Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation 149). Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and
Toy Story 3 in Real Life made their way into their audience’s consciousness in very different ways. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation was completed in 1989 before the invention of
YouTube and other Internet video sharing platforms. Because of this, the film was mostly circulated on a videotape format until finally finding a wider audience after its screening at the film festival “Butt-Numb-a-Thon.” Toy Story 3 in Real Life, on the other hand, was consistently 65 advertised via Morgan and Mason’s YouTube channel starting in 2014 as they updated their audience with the film’s progress up until it premiered in January 2020. Although these releases differ, both fan films were widely received, circulated, and embraced by fellow Raiders of the
Lost Ark (1981) and Toy Story 3 (2010) fans.
The most significant audience screening that really brought Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation into the limelight is its screening at the 2002 film festival Butt Numb-a-Thon in
Tape” from a friend and passed it along to film festival organizer, Harry Knowles. Harry explained to Eli that his twenty-four-hour movie marathon was booked up except for a forty- minute window during breakfast. They decided to screen a portion of Raiders of the Lost Ark:
The Adaptation during breakfast in order to fill the time. The audience was captivated, particularly because, as Annie Bulloch who was present at the screening explains, “People were in the perfect frame of mind for it because nobody was expecting it, but it’s two hundred of the most hardcore film fanatic people that you could get into a room” (Raiders!: The Story of the
Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 01:10:57–01:11:08). Eli Roth confirms the enthusiastic nature of this audience, saying, “pretty soon, people start applauding, because everybody in that room knows this movie shot-for-shot, so they’re thinking about the next thing going, ‘Okay, are they going to pull this off?’” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 01:11:18–
01:11:27). The makeup of this particular audience is a significant contextual component in the overall reception of the fan remake film.
Audience members eventually started booing the projectionist when they shut it off in order to show a pre-screener of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002). Jeremy Bulloch, another fan present at that famous screening, considered viewing the rest of Raider of the Lost 66
Ark: The Adaptation instead of the new Lord of the Rings film, saying, “It was a Sophie’s Choice moment. A lot of us went, ‘Well, you know, Two Towers is going to be out in a week or two”
(Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 01:12:27–01:12:35). Debating whether or not to delay the viewing of a new Lord of the Rings film alone is a testament to the kind of power these fan remakes can have on an audience. Eric Zala explains how this event “well may be the best bit of flattery we’ve ever received” (Backyard Blockbusters 01:23:23–01:23:26).
Because this audience was full of film fans with extensive knowledge of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark, audience members were able to truly appreciate the dedication and effort put into the remake film. This screening experience demonstrates the types of audiences generated by fan remake films as well as the enthusiastic reception of them.
Unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, Toy Story 3 in Real Life originally premiered on YouTube in January 2020, making the consumption of it much more readily accessible for audiences. Morgan and Mason continually posted about their progress since an initial sneak peek of the project posted in July 2014, which allowed them to slowly build up an audience over the course of five and a half years until the film’s premiere in January 2020. The response to Toy Story 3 in Real Life has been overwhelming ever since, with the film standing at nearly twelve million views as of January 2021, a year after its initial release. Morgan and
Mason have been interviewed and featured on several news stations, websites, and magazines, including Nerdist, The AV Club, Screen Rant, POPSUGAR, Fandom, No Film School, and more.
Both fan films, despite their differing releases, both demonstrate the market in popular culture for fan remake films of this nature. Although the audiences behind these films can be extensive and enthusiastic, they are somewhere limited by the previous knowledge required to fully comprehend and enjoy these films. 67
Previous Knowledge Required
Viewing a fan remake film is not a singular process; it is complex and often requires extensive knowledge of the original film. Something so unique about viewing a fan remake film is the way in which audiences engage with two texts simultaneously. As Linda Hutcheon explains in A Theory of Adaptation, “If we know that prior text, we always feel its presence shadowing the one we are experiencing directly” (6). This multifaceted engagement is part of what audiences enjoy so much about fan remake films; however, this enjoyment can be limited depending on how familiar audiences are with the original source material. Because of this, previous knowledge of the original films is a requirement for audiences to engage meaningfully with fan remake films.
Any film viewing experience involves some basic understanding of film language in order to be able to read a film text. As Ien Ang in Watching Dallas states, “A reader has to know specific codes and conventions in order to be able to have any grasp of what a text is about” (27).
In other words, film and television viewers must have a decent previous knowledge of film language in order to comprehend what the moving images on the screen mean. John Biguenet confirms this, explaining how “filmmakers demand of their audiences a knowledge of the history of cinema” (132). In this way, all film viewing experiences require previous knowledge of film language to a certain extent.
Fan remake films take this understanding of film language a step further, requiring fans to have previous knowledge of a source text as well. Despite fan films not being actively parody, it has been established in chapter one that parody theory remains a useful tool for analyzing fan remake texts. One thing parody requires to be successful is previous knowledge of the genre or text the parodic text is poking fun at. Dan Harries explains how “one’s previous experience with 68 the targeted logonomic system is typically needed in order both to sufficiently generate expectations based on that system and to notice the discrepancies generated from the target”
(108). Fan remake films, like parody, require the audience to know the original film in order to understand the discrepancies Harries describes. This base level understanding is a significant factor in the enjoyment of fan remake films. As Horton and McDougal explain in Play It Again
Sam: Retakes on Remakes, “the remake invites the viewer to enjoy the differences that have been worked, consciously and sometimes unconsciously, between the texts” (6). Because parody and remakes revolve around these differences, it is crucial for the audience to have a foundational knowledge of the original films in order to distinguish those differences. Not only is knowledge of film codes required, but previous knowledge of the original film is key for a fulfilling viewing experience when it comes to viewing fan remake films.
This previous knowledge requirement is primarily made known through the way the film is presented to its audience. Heinze and Krämer in the introduction of Remakes and Remaking explain how the label of remake functions like a genre label, creating an “implicit contract between producers and consumers that establishes the possibility to engage with more than one text simultaneously” (8). In this way, fan remake films are presented as an invitation to enjoy both the original film and its fan remake. It is very unlikely that a viewer will unknowingly watch either Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation or Toy Story 3 in Real Life simply in the way that they are explicitly marketed as amateur remake films and do not pretend to have significant value outside of that context. Because of this, the previous knowledge requirement is almost always met.
While I argue that fan remake films are oftentimes consumed by its intended audience of people who have knowledge of the original film, the longevity and effectiveness of these films is 69 limited due to the previous knowledge requirement. To understand this limited longevity, I move to Fredric Jameson’s discussion of nostalgia films in “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of
Late Capitalism,” as he identifies a key piece required for the audience. Jameson identifies the importance intertextuality plays when it comes to audience nostalgia:
The word ‘remake’ is, however, anachronistic to the degree to which our awareness of
the pre-existence of other versions, previous films of the novel as well as the novel itself,
is now a constitutive and essential part of the film’s structure: we are now, in other
words, in ‘intertextuality’ as a deliberate, built-in feature of the aesthetic effect, and as
the operator of a new connotation of ‘pastness’ and pseudo-historical depth, in which the
history of aesthetic styles displaces ‘real’ history. (471)
While not strictly an attempt to portray a glossy version of history in the nostalgia film that
Jameson describes, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life similarly rely on built-in intertextuality in order to be effective. In other words, knowledge of the original is a requirement for the enjoyment of the remake, thus limiting its audience.
Some argue that the remake text standing alone despite its preceding texts is a marker for a successful remake, such as Hutcheon, who states simply, “For an adaptation to be successful in its own right, it must be so for both knowing and unknowing audiences” (A Theory of Adaptation
121). Fan remake films, contrarily, are unable to stand on their own as its own cultural product as the enjoyment from understanding the similarities and differences between the fan remake and its prototext. I argue that fan remake films can be successful in the way it utilizes that previous knowledge to its advantage, making it a key component of the enjoyment process for audiences.
Despite this argument, I will acknowledge that an unknowing audience does have the ability to derive some pleasure from these remake films. The amateur aesthetics and youthful 70 enthusiasm for filmmaking do have their own sense of charm in and of itself. In addition to this, the Indiana Jones and Toy Story franchises are widely known in popular culture at large, with iconic scenes such as the boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark being familiar to audiences even if they have not necessarily seen the film. Because of this, I posit the idea that there may be tiers of enjoyment levels based on the audiences’ previous knowledge of the original film. As illustrated in the Butt-Numb-a-Thon screening, audiences who are more familiar with the film are able to appreciate the small details and how the fan filmmakers are able to accomplish various camera angles and stunts that match the original film. A less knowing audience still has the ability to derive pleasure from the fannish, youthful dedication demonstrated by the fans, but may not appreciate the details as much as a knowing audience would. Ultimately, previous knowledge of the original film does have a direct impact on the audience reception of fan remake films. Next, I examine the types of audiences that consume fan remake films.
The first audience members I wish to discuss are the fans and individuals who appreciate and celebrate fan remake films. Despite the occasional haters, it is clear that many (perhaps most) audiences enjoy fan remake films. In order to establish why fan remake films are so enjoyable for these audiences to watch, I examine several themes that emerge in the reviews, comments, and reactions to these fan films, including viewer nostalgia, the anticipation of how fans will pull off certain scenes, and appreciation of the passion demonstrated by the filmmakers.
Many audience members cite nostalgia as being one of the key factors for enjoying these fan remake films. This nostalgia comes in many forms. Some audience members reminisce about their first time watching the original films. Many discuss the times they would recreate some of their favorite film scenes as kids. Others express disappointment that they were not motivated to 71 do something as creative as these fans when they were in their youth. As one reviewer of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation puts it, “This was my early teenage dream played out on glitchy videotape” (@britishdominion).
Many viewers brought up their own love of the original films in their reactions. More specifically, many viewers discussed their experiences watching the original films for the first time. Some even want so far as to say the remake films made them feel a similar way as when they watched the original films for the first time, such as Letterboxd user @toteschris, who says,
“That it makes me feel like I’m falling in love with Raiders all over again with every moment of its hundred minute run time is a miracle” (@toteschris). This type of reminiscing is one form nostalgia takes when watching fan remake films.
Another major theme throughout the reviews I collected is the fact that remaking films as a kid and teenager seems to be a relatively common experience among audience members. Many cited their own experiences with early filmmaking:
Seeing [Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation] reminded me of all the video ‘films’ my
friends and I shot during the early 80s. Though not comparable in length, they were
certainly comparable in zest for the medium. (@blueghost)
Watching [Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation] reminded me of my childhood (I'm
sure all of our childhoods) and how we’d re-enact favourite films and attempt to get the
hair and dress correct as well. (@0ona)
Of course [Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation] is a project, that will remind every
film buff of their own attempts of making a movie when they were teenagers.
These reviews are indicative of the way these audience members upon viewing the film were nostalgic of their own youthful filmmaking practices. It also indicates that amateur remakes are not an uncommon practice, specifically for children and teenagers. It is perhaps even a relatively common occurrence amongst youth growing up with increasing access to technology.
A final way nostalgia plays a role in the audiences’ viewing process comes in the form of regret. Many viewers explain how they wish they could have achieved a similar accomplishment when they were kids. Annie Bulloch who was present at the Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation screening at Butt Numb-a-Thon explains, “Every single one of us immediately was that eleven, twelve-year-old kid, who was like, ‘Gosh, I wish I could do that.’” (Raiders!: The
Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made 01:11:37–01:11:43). Audiences are able to relate to their childhood selves and regret that they could not experience something similar to the fan filmmakers. Some fans even go so far as to say that they feel as if they had wasted their own childhood upon viewing the film, such as Letterboxd user @bobhoveyga who saw Raiders of the
Lost Ark: The Adaptation, as he says, “It’s an inspiring piece of work that makes me feel like I wasted my childhood” (@bobhoveyga). All of these reviews indicate the powerful way nostalgia plays into the enjoyment of fan remake films.
One phenomenon many audience members cite as being part of the pleasure of watching remake films is the anticipation of seeing exactly how the fans execute particular scenes as illustrated by the following reviews:
I remember when I first watched [Toy Story 3 in Real Life] thinking ‘How are they gonna
[sic] pull off the trash compactor scenes?’ It really looks like it was one of the most
intensive parts to animate out of everything. (@elgeeie) 73
We, the audience, watch [Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation], knowing what scene
comes next, and not wondering *if* these kids will do it, but trying to figure *how* they
will do it. (@zbigniew_krycsiwiki7)
The challenges that had to be overcome are astonishing, considering that in the early 80s
you couldn’t just get a copy of [Raiders of the Lost Ark] to study, and you couldn’t just
add special effects to your movies with a few clicks of a button on your computer either.
[Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation] is filled with such fannish joy and devotion and
ambition and resourcefulness that it’s even more thrilling than the original. (@mharbour)
These reviews indicate two things. First, the enjoyment of fan remake films appears to be less about what the fans recreate and instead about how they recreate it. Second, it appears that the amount of admiration is somewhat dependent on a viewer’s familiarity with the original film. It is much easier to anticipate what these fans will do next if an audience member knows what scene is coming up next. This anticipation is a major factor for why audiences watch fan remake films.
This anticipation relates to Linda Hutcheon’s concept of interpretive doubling. In her text
A Theory of Adaptation, Hutcheon explains that viewers of adapted works are taking part in a very active viewing process by involving “an interpretive doubling, a conceptual clipping back and forth between the work we know and the work we are experiencing” (139). When undergoing the process of interpretive doubling, audiences must have the original work constantly in the background of their mind as they consume the remade work, continually flipping back and forth between the two. This process is apparent in the way that audiences are constantly anticipating how the fans will pull off future scenes, as they draw from the work that 74 they know as they continue to watch the remake. One Letterboxd reviewer in particular explains how “Everytime [sic] I thought ‘there’s no way they’ll be able to pull this scene off’, they do.
The flaming bar, the car chase, the legendary opening, it’s all here” (@tomneo2001). Leo
Braudy in Play It Again Sam: Retakes on Remakes explains how this anticipation generated by remakes is something so unique to these particular texts, saying, “Like genre itself, remakes emphasize the clash between principles of continuity and principles of innovation in film history
– the constant interplay between the desires of artists and the desires of audiences. We’re all well schooled in thinking retrospectively and nostalgically, but few if any can translate that into predicting what is to come.” (333) This is part of what makes this aspect of audience reception of fan remake films so unique. Not only are they able to play off of audience nostalgia, but they are able to generate in the audience anticipation of the future in the way Braudy discusses.
Audiences find it thrilling to anticipate what complicated scenes are coming up as they utilize the interpretive doubling process.
Despite the enjoyment found in nostalgia and anticipation, many audiences who review the film feel as if they had to consider the remake film on terms other than objective aesthetic value, such one Letterboxd user, who says, “It doesn’t seem right to make part of this judgment on the film craftsmanship simply because it is a fan/imitation film and it is a bunch of kids doing what they can to re-create a film that’s important to them with a non-existent budget”
(@paddymacd). For these audiences, the passion and dedication of the fans vastly outweighed its professional filmmaking shortcomings. One reviewer even goes so far as to say, “the video and audio quality of the film is quite low, and the age of the actors changes from scene to scene, but literally none of that matters” (@pileofcrowns). What does matter in the eyes of these audience 75 members is the sheer accomplishment of remaking a feature length film, with reviewers making the following comments:
Yeah, it's obviously not as well-executed as the original, but you have to admire the
dedication and energy. (@rzajac)
The flaws may be there, but the heart is there as these guys were able to get this movie
finish and they have finally accomplished. (@moviemattb26)
Sound is inaudible, sets are cobbled together in basements and garages, and actors age
years from scene-to-scene (and sometimes shot-to-shot), but the sheer accomplishment is
While these audience members discuss not including the amateur aesthetics in their consideration of the quality of the film, some viewers contrarily think that the amateur nature of the productions helps reveal the filmmaking of the original films, such as Letterboxd user @ckollars, who claims, “One thing this amateur recreation does is let the viewer focus closer on the story itself; it becomes more obvious how the story is put together and how it works” (@ckollars).
These reviews demonstrate the way that many audience members who enjoy the remake set aside its shortcomings in order to admire the dedication demonstrated on the part of the fan filmmakers.
Ultimately, there is no singular reason for why audiences are drawn to fan remake films.
For some, the pleasure lies in nostalgia and reminiscing. For others, the anticipation of how exactly the fans will pull off certain scenes is why they enjoy watching. Many audience members cite the feeling that they must put aside the lack of professionalism in fan remake films to instead critique the films on the basis of passion and heart. As these reactions demonstrate, there is an extensive and enthusiastic audience for these types of fan remake films. 76
Although the majority of vocal reviewers react positively to fan remake films, there is a less positive audience yet to be considered: critics. Of course, these films are not always celebrated and are instead deemed a waste of time by some. As one Letterboxd reviewer of
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation states simply, “Proof that Americans have too much time on their hands” (@elilm). Fans and fan practices have always had a somewhat tenuous relationship with culture at large, oftentimes being deemed an unfavorable way of consuming media. Henry Jenkins explores this idea, stating, “Taste distinctions determine not only desirable and undesirable forms of culture but also desirable and undesirable ways of relating to cultural objects, desirable and undesirable strategies of interpretations and styles of consumption” (16).
Jenkins’ analysis of taste and how it relates to consumption appears in fan remake films in the way that some audience members see spending years remaking a beloved film as over the top, a waste of time, and “too much.” This, in turn, has an impact on the fans’ personal lives in the way that “one’s taste is interwoven with all other aspects of social and cultural experience, aesthetic distaste brings with it the full force of moral excommunication and social rejection” (Jenkins 16).
This causes fans to resist their critics in order to avoid this social rejection Jenkins discusses.
The most common criticism these fan filmmakers face is tied to the amount of time they spend on such a project. One YouTube commenter on Toy Story 3 in Real Life says, “I feel like you demoted [sic] your whole lives to doing this and not doing anything else” (Bibisi). This audience member makes the assumption that if someone spends years creating remarkably accurate recreation of a film, they must not have much time for anything else. Another reviewer scathingly remarks, “Hey! It’s me, Woody, from Toy Story. Just kidding, Andy, your whole life shouldn’t revolve around a children’s toy. Grow Up” (@fukbirds). These criticisms tie directly 77 into the fannish stereotypes Jenkins outlines: “the fan still constitutes a scandalous category in contemporary culture, one alternatively the target of ridicule and anxiety, of dread and desire”
(15). These critics’ reactions reflect the ways in which some do not view the fan practice of film remaking as a worthwhile enterprise; instead, they view it as overly fannish, a waste of time, and taking media consumption too far.
There are several instances where these fan filmmakers resist these types of criticisms.
The creators of Toy Story 3 in Real Life retorted the YouTube comment above, explaining, “It actually took 8 years because we didn’t devote our whole lives to this. We achieved so many more things than this film in that time” (Toy Story 3 IRL). This stands as an example of fan filmmakers resisting the fannish stereotypes that they take their love for the film “too far” and assert that they do in fact “have a life.” Morgan and Mason both aspire to be filmmakers professionally and cite the Toy Story project as being a major way they learned to be better filmmakers, describing the project as “an eight year long crash course on how to tell a good story, something a lot of people wouldn’t commit to or stick with as long as we had” (“Toy Story
3 IRL | The Film You Never Got to See” 00:05:46–00:05:54). Morgan and Mason explain how this sort of project was educational, making it useful to them and their professional goals, thus defending that the project was not a waste of time.
The Raiders of the Lost Ark fans similarly express the benefits of remaking a film in its entirety, with Eric specifically saying, “In some ways, Raiders might have been a refuge, you know? Something to throw myself into” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever
Made 00:51:36–00:51:43). For Eric, Chris, and Jayson, the project was a way to spend time with friends and escape troubled homes as discussed in chapter two. Not only was it true for the main three boys, but other kids who also were recruited into the project also express this sentiment, 78 such as Alan Stenum, who says, “These kids had a really hard time. But they didn’t when they were out there with Chris and Eric” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
00:51:58–00:52:05). While critics deem such a fan practice an unfavorable form of media consumption and a waste of time, these fans actively resist such criticisms in the way that they claim their remaking does not consume their entire lives and relates to their professional goals and personal development.
One audience that is very much intended by the fan filmmakers is the creators of the original films that they admire so much. This is evident in the way that fans actively seek validation and recognition from the original films’ directors. As established in chapter one, these fans express their appreciation and admiration for the original directors (Steven Spielberg for
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3 specifically) through elements of the fan films, including slates, credits, and external interviews. These fans believe that their tireless efforts to recreate a popular film must warrant an acknowledgement from the original filmmakers in some way. This is most evident in the way that Chris from Raiders of the Lost
Ark: The Adaptation expresses his desire for Steven Spielberg to see the film. Chris’ mother recalls, “When we finished that movie and it was on a VHS tape, Chris begged me. He said,
‘Mom, we’ve got to mail it to Spielberg’” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever
Made 01:01:21–01:01:30). This demonstrates a desire on the part of the fans for their heroes to see and acknowledge the hard work that these fans put into their creation.
Both groups of fans eventually get noticed by their heroes. In the case of Raiders of the
Lost Ark: The Adaptation, the trio of filmmakers, Eric, Chris, and Jayson, all had the opportunity to meet the director of the original film, Steven Spielberg, in Los Angeles at Universal Studios 79 after Steven Spielberg was gifted a copy of the tape by director Eli Roth. Chris explains how
Steven Spielberg told them, “I got your tape and I watched it and I just wanted to meet you and tell you that it inspired even me” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
01:27:28–01:27:34). Eric reacts looking back at the event, saying, “Steven Spielberg likes our film that we spent our entire childhood doing!” (Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film
Ever Made 01:27:39–01:27:46). This stands as an example of the fans’ desire to be noticed and acknowledged by their heroes becoming a reality.
For the Toy Story 3 fans, this moment of connection to the original filmmaker occurred in the form of a tweet. Morgan McGrew reached out to the original director of Toy Story 3, Lee
Unkrich, by tweeting, “Lee, my brother and I spent 8 years on and off recreating Toy Story 3. It was an incredible experience getting to practice our skills with our favorite film. Thank you and the TS3 team for such a beautiful and poignant work of art. @leeunkrich” (@thepixarist). In return, Lee Unkrich quote tweeted Morgan, saying, “I can’t decide if this is brilliant or insane.
Both…? In any case, I certainly admire the dedication and appreciate the love for the movie.
Lesson to be learned: If you start something, finish it!” (@leeunkrich). Morgan and Mason were excited to be noticed by one of their idols, as is apparent in the way Morgan retweeted this response by Lee Unkrich.
This exchange of tweets reveals two things: the desire to be noticed by the original filmmakers and the ambivalence some feel towards massive fan practices such as remaking a feature film. First, the fact that Morgan tagged Lee in a tweet linking him to their project on
YouTube indicates a desire for the original filmmakers to acknowledge their hard work in some way. Second, Lee’s response citing that it is unclear if the project is “brilliant or insane. Both...?” reflects that although these works are impressive, there is an element of ambivalence, as some 80 perceive that feature length fan remake films go too far and perhaps enter into the “insane” category, as established by the critics above.
While the fans dream of the original filmmakers seeing their film, they must also grapple with a more sinister imagined audience: copyright owners. One danger of the high visibility of these fan films is the fact that they are more susceptible to copyright infringement issues. Not only does copyright prevent these fan filmmakers from making any significant revenue off of their creations, but they are also under a constant threat of legal action from copyright owners.
While I have explored audience reception at the fan, critic, and creator level, the implied audience of copyright owners is a final audience worth consideration.
Why do these fans run into such big problems with copyright laws? This is for a couple of reasons. First, fan remake films partially run into problems with copyright because of the way they announce themselves as being based off of prior work. Sotiris Petridis explains how “The current approach to determine a possible copyright infringement is to question whether an
‘ordinary observer’ would think that one work was copied from the other” (730). In the case of these fan remake films, the copied nature from a previous work is announced in a number of extratextual ways as discussed in chapter one, including the fan remake films’ titles. In this way, fan remake films do not really have the defense that they were merely “inspired” by the previous work due to the open nature of their relationship to the original. Second, copyright laws tend to side with producers rather on the side of audiences as Henry Jenkins explains how “much contemporary discussion of copyright starts from an assumption that authors have rights while readers do not” (qtd. in M. Butler 176). In this way, the rights fans have to their own work are trumped by the rights of the original films. 81
A common copyright defense for specifically parody films in U.S. law is covered by Fair
Use. According to the Fair Use law, “the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright” (qtd. in Petridis
730). In this way, parody and satire often are not considered to contain copyright infringement because of the way they criticize or comment on the work. As we have established in chapter one, these fan films are considered pastiche rather than parody, as they celebrate the original material rather than criticize it. Petridis discusses the difference between parody and pastiche when it comes to Fair Use, eventually concluding that “Pastiche is an imitation of the original work with no intent to satirize it. Therefore, we cannot say that pastiche is a fair use because there is no criticism or comment on the previous copyright-protected work” (733). In this way, fan films are not considered protected under Fair Use. Intellectual property laws prevent fan filmmakers from making any significant monetary revenue and perhaps open them up to the threat of legal action.
One way to combat this particular audience is through the use of disclaimers. Disclaimers are often used by fan creators, whether it be fan videos, fanfiction, fanart, and more, in order to explain that characters, plots, ideas, etc. are not owned by the fan, but instead the author.
According to copyright lawyer Rebecca Tushnet, “Disclaimers were never intended to inform other fans... Rather disclaimers were directed at an imagined audiences, the copyright owners/original creators–disclaimers often included the request ‘Please don’t sue’” (65).
Disclaimers are one example of how fans communicate with this implied audience of the copyright owner to protect their work. We see this specifically in the case of Toy Story 3 in Real 82
Life, where Morgan and Mason continually affirm the original copyright owners throughout videos on their channel, including a trailer for Toy Story 3 in Real Life, where they explain,
“Remember, this is not a studio film, nor is the project in any way backed by Disney/Pixar... We do not own Toy Story 3. This is simply a project inspired by the incredible film and studio that is
Disney-Pixar” (“Toy Story 3 IRL Trailer 2”). These filmmakers even go so far to credit original voice actors and filmmakers in the credits of their fan recreation. Disclaimers are one way for fans to communicate with the implied audience of copyright owners.
While fan remakers hope that their idols see their film, the invisible threat of copyright owners looms over them. While more and more commercial creators are learning to embrace fan creations, fans remake films still face the threat of removal, as their protection utilizing Fair Use remains unstable. Because of this, fans often utilize disclaimers to keep these copyright owners at bay. Fan remake films have multiple audiences, from fans to critics to creators to copyright owners, all of which view fan remake films differently.
Movement and Impact
Thus far, I have discussed how one views a fan remake film and who the various audiences are. Lastly, I wish to discuss these fan films’ overall impact and movement through culture. Here, Greg Urban’s theory of a metaculture is useful. Urban’s theory describes how the fans’ ability to internalize the films and re-externalize them through the process of remaking allows these narratives to move through culture. This movement is limited due to the previous knowledge requirement described above. Despite this, Urban’s description of dissemination demonstrates the way in which the fan practice of remaking perpetuates the movement of these narratives through culture and through time. 83
An important distinction to make is between Urban’s use of the words “replication” and
“dissemination.” Urban describes replication, saying, “(re)telling is an act of replication– the creation of a new thing that shares the abstract form of an older one” (42). As for dissemination,
Urban explains, “Externalization, or making public or intersubjectivity accessible, is what I am calling ‘dissemination’” (42). In this way, dissemination is the second half of the process of replication, the part where the internalization is externalized to the public. In order for culture to move through time, Urban explains that it must be externalized, internalized, and externalized again (42). While Urban makes a point to differentiate between these two words, he emphasizes the relationship between them, saying, “Making the cultural element public (that is, disseminating it) is only possible through replication” (43). While the two processes differ, they are dependent on each other. Urban calls this movement of culture from person to object to person “metaculture of newness.”
These fans remaking their favorite film is a prime example of both replication and dissemination. The replication component is clear in the way that these fans are taking part of a retelling of a film. Where dissemination comes in is important. These young fans have taken the entirety of the film (dialogue, characters, settings, costumes, plot, etc.) and have internalized it, just as anyone else who has seen a film would do. Where these young fans differ is after they have internalized the external object, they re-externalize it again through their fan remake. Urban goes on to say, “Proof of internalization is the ability to re-externalize” (43). Their remake becomes proof of their love of the film, as well as their internalization of the film’s themes.
Urban also explains how cultural knowledge can limit a cultural object’s motion through time. He identifies, “What emerges as significant about myth is the space-time constraint on the relationship between dissemination and replication” (Urban 43). While Raiders of the Lost Ark: 84
The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life may not be limited in terms of space, they are limited in time simply because extensive knowledge of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark and
Toy Story 3 a thousand years from now may not exist. As has been established above, previous knowledge is a requirement for the understanding of fan remake films. Urban also touches on this required knowledge, explaining “the new production makes reference to a range of prior and seemingly disparate cultural elements. Without those temporal referents, the new entity would have little prospect of further motion or future circulation. It would simply be incomprehensible”
(5). Because of the knowledge of 1980s adventure films and 2010s animated films may not be long lasting, the meaning created and perpetuated through Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life may be limited to our current popular culture era.
These fan films stand as proof that the original films have moved through time: its themes and messages being re-externalized by its fans and being seen by an audience. Urban explains, “without a test of replication, there is no way to know for sure that culture has, indeed, been carried along with the material object that moves through the world” (63). The fans recreating Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3 prove that the themes and concepts in the original films will live on through the fan object of their own creation. We see this in the way audiences react to the finished remade film. The audience reception of fan remake films reveals attitudes towards the original text themselves and influence the impact fan remake films have as they move through culture and time.
Fans are audiences in their own right. They are active, as they do not simply consume films, but instead actively produce their own works of art based off of the objects of their devotion. In turn, these fan remake films become consumable products that create their own 85 audiences, from other fans, to critics, to original creators, to copyright owners. While Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life had differing release stories, both were met with an enthusiastic and admiring audience. These audiences are required to view the remake films with intimate knowledge of the original films in order to go through the interpretive doubling process as described by Hutcheon. Many fans of these remake films cite a variety of reasons for their enjoyment of the film, from nostalgia, to anticipation for how fans will pull this off, to admiration of the dedication demonstrated by the filmmakers. While many applaud these films as works of pure love, others criticize the films for being a waste of time.
Fan filmmakers face a constant battle between visibility and hypervisibility, where they wish to be acknowledged by the creators of the original films without facing any sort of legal consequences due to copyright infringement. The audiences of fan remake films are limited due to the previous knowledge required, making their movement through culture somewhat limited.
Despite this, fan remake films do have people who will watch and enjoy them. Both Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life have been viewed, celebrated, and shared with thousands of fellow Raiders of the Lost Ark and Toy Story 3 fans.
Throughout this thesis, I argue that fan remake films are something worth looking at in scholarship, as they give us insight into popular texts and audiences alike. This phenomenon has not traditionally been captured adequately in contemporary scholarship. Despite this, fan studies, adaptation studies, and parody theory all remain useful when theorizing fan remake films. A consideration of fan remake films as text, process, and the reception of such films reveals how fan remake films reinforce the fans’ interpretations of the original films in a concrete way in their own lives and in the lives of those who watch. This is demonstrated primarily in the examples of
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) and Toy Story 3 in Real Life (2020).
Fan remake films have their own unique Benjaminian aura, which allows scholars to consider them as their own cultural products worthy of analysis. While fan remake films contain attributes of adaptation, swede, and parody, fan remake films are best classified as an homage remake, in the way that it seeks to pay tribute to the original film as closely as possible without displacing it completely. Adaptation and parody theory still remain useful in the analysis of fan remake films in the way that both theoretical frameworks consider the similarities and differences between a text and its source text. By considering the way fan remakes are similar to and differ from the original films, the audience gets a sense of the devotion and effort put into such projects, specifically through film elements such as the lexicon, the syntax, the style, and various extratextual elements. The fans’ immense attention to detail demonstrates how well a fan can truly know a text, studying its every frame and replicating set pieces, costumes, props, camera angles, cuts, and more in their exactness. Fan remake films’ textual elements reveal author motivation and interpretation through the unintended seams of the similarities and differences between remake texts and their source texts. 87
The process fans go through remaking their favorite films from scratch is just as important as the finished product, as the motivations behind the project and the process of production demonstrate how these fans represent an active audience that Henry Jenkins discusses in Textual Poachers. The process of remaking as a fan dissolves the traditional audience/author binary in a carnivalesque manner, with a group of people who have traditionally been limited to theater seats actively becoming actors and filmmakers in their favorite films. Despite this interruption to commercial film industries, there are examples of commercial film industries reappropriating fan remake aesthetics and practices for their own gain as illustrated by The
Empire Strikes Back: Uncut (2014) and Home Movie: The Princess Bride (2020). The choice of the texts Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Toy Story 3 (2010) not only reveal how much of an impact the source texts have on the creators, but the popularity of the films in popular culture at large. This is primarily in the way that the source films were out for a short amount of time before the fans had their extensive remake projects underway.
The motivations behind fan remake films are multiple, with the Raiders of the Lost Ark fans using their remake process as an opportunity to explore the world of the original film and the Toy Story 3 fans using it as an opportunity for practicing their filmmaking skills while simultaneously paying homage to their favorite film. A final reason for remaking I consider is social capital, as these projects have garnered these fans widespread attention, whether it be from fellow fans, entertainment magazines, and even the original creators themselves. Both sets of fan filmmakers display a high standard of their quality of work, as they would often reshoot scenes that they felt were not up to par. Additionally, the fans’ admiration for the original films is evident in the immense adventurous spirit and creativity that went on behind the scenes, from leaping from moving vehicles to setting rooms on fire. The lack of resources only drives fans to 88 construct creative solutions, oftentimes resulting in charming personal details, such as using a beloved pet dog instead of a monkey. The remake process additionally allows these fans to escape the pressures of their everyday lives and enact their ideal perceptions of masculinity. By being Indiana Jones, the fans are able to be representative of the qualities they admire and respect through performance. The actual process of remaking a film demonstrates these fans’ personal histories, dedication to the craft, and interpretation of the original films.
Fan remake films are not only a process, but they are something that can be viewed and received by an external audience. In order to fully comprehend fan remake films, audiences must have some base level of previous knowledge of the original films. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life came out over thirty years apart, so it is expected that the reception of their initial release differed from each other. While Raiders of the Lost Ark: The
Adaptation was limited in its reception due to its nature of being passed around via videotape,
Toy Story 3 in Real Life was met with hundreds of thousands of views upon its premiere on
YouTube. Despite these differences, both films tend to have a similar audience reception with similar themes emerging from reviews and comments. The first audience of significance of these fan remake films is the fans. These fans cite a variety of reasons why fan remake films resonate with them, including nostalgia for their own childhoods. Fans also cite that the anticipation of how the fans will pull off certain scenes as a significant factor in their viewing experience, playing into Linda Hutcheon’s concept of interpretive doubling, where audiences are flipping back and forth between the text they know and the remake text they are currently watching (A
Theory of Adaptation 139). Fans also feel the need to judge remake films on merits outside of production quality and aesthetic value, judging the works on the dedication and passion demonstrated by the fans instead. 89
While much of the reception of fan remake films is positive, these fan filmmakers are met with their fair share of critics who deem the practice a waste of time. Fans must also negotiate between their intended audience of the original filmmakers and the unintended audience of copyright owners who threaten the existence of the fan remake films. Fan remake films are also limited in their movement through time and impact on culture due to their intertextual nature.
Despite this, fan remake films have an extensive audience that is primarily characterized by their enthusiasm and deep appreciation.
Ultimately, I argue that fan remake films are not something that can be fully comprehended using one theoretical framework. The study of fans, remakes, adaptation, parody, and more all touch on different elements of the fan remake phenomenon. Despite this, much of scholarship has yet to consider fan remake films directly, primarily feature length films, as cultural objects that stand on their own. I believe that the study of this active engagement with popular texts can teach us a lot about fans, popular culture texts, audiences, consumption, filmmaking practices, and more. This thesis is of course not a complete picture of the fan remake phenomenon and there are so many additional elements that exist outside the scope of my research. However, I do wish to allude to the exciting potential of fan films, primarily their pedagogical potential and their future in popular culture.
Fan Remakes as Pedagogy
I believe that there is exciting pedagogical potential when it comes to fan remaking as a practice. As discussed in chapter two, Morgan and Mason in their reconstruction of Toy Story 3 self-described their project as a crash course in filmmaking and how to tell a good story. The
Raiders of the Lost Ark fans similarly went onto become aspiring filmmakers, eventually starting their own production company, Rolling Boulder Films. For aspiring filmmakers and film 90 students, fan remaking can teach important lessons about how film texts are constructed and produced.
This pedagogical potential of amateur remaking is something that I have personally found useful in my own education. In my own personal experience with fan remaking, I have found that it is the ultimate way to understand how texts are constructed. A specific example of this is the way in which I learned so much about nonlinear editing by deconstructing and reassembling various music videos for my personal fan practices. I was able to break down exactly how much screen time each storyline got and which story to cut to and when. This was all due to the extensive understanding of my source text that is required in order to pull off a shot-for-shot remake. What I learned about timing through editing my fan remake content I carried with me when I edited student films further on in my filmmaking career. I additionally learned an incredible amount about shot lists, framing, and directing in my attempts to recreate media content as accurately as possible.
In addition to the ways in which I taught myself filmmaking through my own personal fan practices, an amateur remaking project was assigned to me my first semester in my undergraduate film program. My introduction film production class was divided into groups and instructed to swede a film as discussed in chapter one. My group made a seven-minute version of the entirety of Titanic (1997) with our limited resources and three actors. This similarly taught us a significant amount about shot lists, editing, framing, directing, and more. Not only did I experience the pedagogical potential of fan remaking in my personal time, but in my formal education as well. I believe that there is exciting potential for bringing fan remake assignments into classrooms to better understand how to view a text, break it down, and reassemble it again.
Lyndsay Gratch similarly has experience assigning sweding to her students and argues that “after 91 sweding a movie, you (and/or your students) will have learned some things about creativity, performance, process, technology, popular culture, yourself, and/or your co-creators. When sweding – and truly, this applies to all amateur arts – you can do no wrong if you fully commit to the doing” (Gratch 113). Sweding and amateur remaking have extensive pedagogical potential, teaching students about the way texts are constructed and encouraging creativity and collaboration.
The Future of Fan Remakes
In addition to the pedagogical potential of fan remake films, I believe that amateur remake content is not something that is going away anytime soon as there are multiple contemporary examples outside of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in
Real Life. While I choose to focus on a select few fan remake films, it is by no means an isolated phenomenon and one that is limited to American young white men. A striking recent example is a group of teenagers in Nigeria who recently remade the trailer for the Netflix original film
Extraction (2020). Brothers Muiz Sanni, Malik Sannie, Babatunde Sannie, and their cousin
Fawas Aina posted their remake on Twitter in June of 2020, saying “We so much love this movie and we hope @chrishemsworth and @netflix sees this remake, pls [sic] retweet” (@IkoroduB).
Their remake garnered so much international attention that the boys were invited by the film’s writer, Joe Russo, to the premiere of the sequel once it is released, saying, “This is awesome! We would love to have you guys at the #Extraction 2 premiere...DM us and we’ll get you there!”
(@Russo_Brothers). This trailer example shares many traits of the Raiders of the Lost Ark and
Toy Story 3 remakes I have explored throughout this thesis. For example, the Ikorodu Boys similarly would reshoot any footage they were not completely satisfied with, causing their trailer remake to take a month to complete. As Babatunde Sanni explains in an interview with CNN, 92
“Some days we shoot but end up re-shooting just because we wanted to do our best” (Patrick).
This stands as one example of how the patterns and themes that emerge from the practice of fan amateur film remaking is not limited to white American men.
The phenomenon of low budget media remaking is also becoming an increasing trend on the video sharing app TikTok. TikTok allows users to post original video content between fifteen and sixty seconds long utilizing the app’s extensive video and audio editing capabilities. What is unique about TikTok is its ability to use preexisting sounds for new video content. Because of this, there are instances of TikTok users using preexisting sound to recreate the visuals of popular films, television shows, and music videos. A significant example of this phenomenon is
TikTok user Julian Burzynski. Standing at around 1.7 million followers as of March 2021, Julien posts short clips of him remaking iconic popular culture scenes, from High School Musical
(2006) to I Love Lucy (1951–1957). One humorous attribute in Julian’s videos is the way he himself plays every single character using different wigs and costumes, which oftentimes humorously contrasts with his mustache. A recurring theme in the comments on many of Julian’s videos is other TikTok users pretending that his shot-for-shot recreations match the original exactly, despite the obvious humorous substitutions. For example, on a TikTok video where
Julian remakes a scene from the television show Schitt’s Creek (2015–2020), a TikTok user leaves a comment saying, “You think you could post the original video and we wouldn’t notice??” (@kellywithayy). While these videos definitely lean into more parody and swede territory than the feature length fan remake films discussed in this thesis, they do draw on similar aesthetics and methodologies. These short videos play on audiences’ preexisting knowledge of original content and invite them to engage with the new text simultaneously. This phenomenon 93 demonstrates how fan remake films are something that will continue to occur, especially in the face of new video sharing technologies and forms of social media.
I am only able to touch on a few aspects of the fan remake phenomenon within the parameters of this thesis, most notably, focusing on feature length texts and fans within the same country, racial group, and gender. The Extraction remakers stand as an example of the fan remake phenomenon outside of the United States that share similar attributes to Raiders of the
Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Toy Story 3 in Real Life. Fan remake aesthetics are additionally starting to pop up on contemporary social media as demonstrated by Julian Burzynski’s parodic popular culture recreations. Fan remaking is not an isolated incident and is a phenomenon that appears to have a significant future, a future that I hope scholarship will be able to address.
Especially in the wake of our increasing technology use and globalized world, fan remake films will continue to be made and consumed.
When it comes to popular culture texts, insight into audiences is just as crucial as insight into the texts themselves. The fan remake phenomenon demonstrates the power popular culture texts have to drive popular culture audiences to action. A group of teenagers and friends coming together to remake their favorite films shot-for-shot with the limited resources at their disposal is one of the most extensive examples of what an active audience looks like. These films demonstrate the power of passion, collaboration, and creativity in a way that the average film viewer would never even begin to attempt. As pure acts of love, remaking beloved film texts demonstrates a level of fan participation outside of the scope of conventional fan studies. As acts of replication without promise of financial gain, fan remake films differ from conventional adaptation and remaking practices. These amateurly created texts are worth scholarly 94 consideration as they reveal unique attitudes and practices of popular culture audiences previously not considered. Ultimately, fan remake films stand as an example of how passion can drive young fans to complete even the most extensive projects, even if it takes seven consecutive summer vacations to do so.
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