When the Budget Counts

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler


Fan films are growing like wildfire.  I love the idea of fan films.  I think it’s cool that you want to share your version of something that you love so much.  But that doesn’t mean you should be sloppy about it.  A couple of weeks ago, a Darth Maul fan film came out and I criticized it in my weekly podcast (Episode 3 of “The Good, The Bad, The Action”).  For all of its production value, I found the film to be very unprofessional.  So how do you make your budget count on a movie?  How do you make it more than just something that “looks” professional?  The answer is simpler than you think.

The Darth Maul short film is almost 18 minutes long, yet I have no idea who any of the characters are.  As far as I know, they are just random Jedi.  Although the action “looks professional,” the story is non-existent, which causes the fight scenes to suffer (just like the Nightwing web series).  The biggest, and most common, problem with fan films is they assume you know who everyone is.  Sure, 90 percent of your audience will know who the characters are, but you should still introduce your story as if it’s a completely new idea.  Remember: nobody has seen your version of the universe, so you should build it up. 

When I watched the Nightwing series, I saw characters who added nothing to the show, such as Joker, Barbara, Bruce Wayne, and Tim Drake.  In a fan film, less is more when it comes to story.  Since your budget is low, you should not make a series with so many characters that none of them have a story.  The Maul film makes that mistake.

For the entire movie, we see Maul fight random Jedi henchmen.  I remember Savage Oppress, in season 3 of Clone Wars, being built up as a brute.  Then, he was assigned to take down a small Jedi fortress in two minutes by himself.  Each time I watch that scene, I am left wanting more. 

Back to the fan film.  Darth Maul is a dominating Sith, but in this universe we do not know that.  The filmmakers should have given a more detailed introduction to Maul, by showing him watching his prey.  By spying on them, we would have been introduced to the Jedi as well.  Anticipation would have been building as we became oriented with the universe.  Therefore, it would have made the first fight scene much more exciting.

The excuse I hear too much about fan films’ overall lack of quality is “it’s low-budget”.  Here is the thing: you don’t need any money to have a good story and interesting characters.  It’s funny that as movies became more expensive, their quality dropped.  Can you honestly say that the $200 million dollar Force Awakens had a better story and characters than any of the original three Star Wars, which were each budgeted between $10 million and $32 million?  Can you honestly say that the $230 million-dollar Amazing Spider-Man had a better story and characters than the $140 million-dollar Spider-Man?  Remember Kevin Smith—the rebel filmmaker?  His first film was Clerks, which cost $27,000.  The movie is in black and white, barely changes angles within its scenes, and features only a handful of characters.  And you know what?  That movie is considered a landmark in independent filmmaking, not because of its technical professionalism, but because of its creative professionalism. 

As movie fans, we should look past the surface of costumes, makeup, (both of which were nailed by the Maul film), and the fact that it was shot with a RED camera.  We need to think more critically about the movies we are being given, by both fans and Hollywood alike, because story and characters are everything.  Try this on the next hot fan film: instead of just clicking the “like” button, view it for what it is and critique it for its story and characters.  In the end, you will actually be helping out the filmmakers, instead of patting them on the head for serving you mediocrity.

One thought on “When the Budget Counts

  1. I love the idea of fan films as well, but more often then not the fans focus on such specifics that the film has less appeal to the general audience, and doesn’t break out. For example, I think Darth Maul Apprentice is well made, but I am so tired a lightsabre battles in fan films. There was SO much more to Star Wars than light sabres.

    A teaser for my own fan film, coming in June…


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