Tim Walker: 'Most people who try to make a fan movie get bored or get a job instead'

The Couch Surfer: Having the motivation, the stamina and, crucially, the equipment to make a full-length fan movie is exceptional.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The past year has added two new chapters to the tale of Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull cost $185m to produce and topped the box office charts. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, was made for $5,000, and took more than 25 years to reach a single British cinema.

Raiders: The Adaptation is the work of three boyhood obsessives – director Eric Zala, producer Chris Strompolos and cinematographer Jayson Lamb – who, in 1982, aged 12, decided to remake their favourite film using the meagre facilities available to them. The finished feature – sanctioned by Steven Spielberg, who watched it twice – just had its first (perhaps only) British cinema screening. It's that rare thing, a fan-made film that's acquired a cult of its own.

Of the two new films, Raiders: The Adaptation is perhaps truer to the spirit of the original. Thanks to the green hue of the older sections of VHS footage, some desperately inadequate sound mixing, and the fact that its actors aged by more than a decade during filming, it's also unwatchable. But at least it doesn't have any rubbish CGI monkeys in it.

Type the search term "sweded" (which has its too-complicated-to-explain-here origins in the movie Be Kind Rewind) into YouTube, and you'll find countless no-budget, two-minute versions of popular films. Yet having the motivation, the stamina and, crucially, the equipment to make a full-length fan movie is exceptional. Most who try are youthful non-professionals, and either get bored or get jobs before completing anything.

Fan-made films aren't produced for mainstream consumption, nor in pursuit of fame. They're made for the love of the original, for the enjoyment of their makers and maybe, just maybe, the approval of the heroes they're imitating.

If not for its distinctly middling reviews, the exception might have been last year's US cinema release, Fanboys, by Star Wars fanatic Ernie Cline, a former IT customer services rep. Set in 1998, Fanboys tells the story of a group of Star Wars cultists who break into George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch to steal a preview copy of The Phantom Menace for a terminally ill fellow fan, so that he can see the movie before he dies. (Whether watching The Phantom Menace is actually a fate worse than death is not an idea that the film explores.)

Like Raiders: The Adaptation, Fanboys was endorsed by Harry Knowles, the film blogger and super-fan behind the website Ain't It Cool News, whom Cline cast as a wise, Yoda-like mentor figure. With Knowles' help, the filmmakers roped in Star Wars actors Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams for cameo roles, persuaded Harvey Weinstein to fund them, and gained access to the real Skywalker Ranch for filming.

When you're a pre-teen, your critical faculties are far from fully-formed, so your shaping cinematic influences run the risk of being less spectacularly brilliant in hindsight. Zala, Strompolos and Lamb were lucky enough to come of age during a decade of classic adventure movies, book-ended by Raiders (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

Unfortunately, the first time I sat in a cinema and thought "Holy crap! Somebody makes these things, and they're awesome!" wasn't until 1991. I was 10. The film was Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. After seeing it for the sixth time, I hunted down every one of Kevin Costner's movies (yes, even Fandango) and scoured Our Price for all the Bryan Adams albums that pocket money could buy.

My friend Martin suggested we remake Prince of Thieves using his dad's video camera. Martin decided to play Little John. Our friend Oliver, an aspiring musical theatre performer, would be Robin. I took on the showboating Sheriff of Nottingham's role; Alan Rickman was, no doubt, quaking.

Today, Martin is an architect, Oliver a doctor. Our project hit the skids when Martin's father, Mr Wells, refused to loan his video equipment to a bunch of 11-year-olds who planned to tear through the backwoods of Surrey with it. Had we managed to get the production off the ground, I can’t imagine it would’ve earned Mr Costner’s blessing, either.

In a strange twist of fate, the woodland in which we proposed to film our masterpiece was recently commandeered by Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, who've disrupted my mother's dog-walking routine to shoot their own version of Robin Hood. They may have years of experience and tens of millions of dollars; but they'll never have the innocent, undiluted love that my friends and I were prepared to spend on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The Adaptation.