Fanfilms have been around for a while. The Internet has made it easier for audiences to find them. Prior, tapes needed to be circulated and copied, with screenings done at conventions and club gatherings. Today, well, YouTube exists. It’s easier today to stumble across a fanfilm.
Let’s go back to 1997, twenty years after the release of Star Wars. The Galaxy Far Far Away feels inviting. For the longest time, there wasn’t much done with the setting, not after Return of the Jedi. Fans created droids, built model starships and snubfighters, and dressed in costume. Once home video got inexpensive enough for the masses to own, coupled with editing software, fanfilms started to take off. This is where the fanfilm “Troops” comes in. Created by Kevin Rubio, “Troops” crosses Star Wars with the popular reality series Cops. Have a watch.
Lost in Translation has covered Star Wars many times, the latest being The Mandalorian. Cops got touched upon briefly during a discussion of Machinima. To expand, if one hasn’t seen an episode of Cops, the series was built around the idea of having a camera crew ride along with an officer or deputy of the featured police department. The only dialogue comes from the officer, talking about how he or she became an officer and notes about where the filming is taking place. The series is still running, now on the Paramount Network, and has clips on YouTube.
Rubio’s “Troops” follows stormtroopers on Tatooine following up on calls that tie into events of Star Wars. A Grand Theft Droid call leads to the destruction of a Jawa sandcrawler, but the droid is safely recovered, if a little far from home. A domestic dispute call that goes tragic after a farm couple get into argument about why their nephew ran away from home. And even a disturbing the peace call from the Mos Eisley cantina to start the end credits. This is Star Wars, behind the scenes and a few paces behind what Luke does on screen.
The filming, though, follows the style of Cops. The camera is handheld, isn’t steady, and has to keep up with the troopers. The cameraman remains silent, letting the troopers provide the narration and dialogue. The camera is there in the action as an observer, getting close to the stormtroopers. The segments are introduced by the callouts from dispatch. The troopers themselves have accents that come out of the TV series.
Star Wars has opened itself to a wide range of storytelling techniques. The original movie takes its queues from The Hidden Fortress and The Dam Busters. Other entries have taken inspiration from a wide range, including spaghetti westerns with ronin influences. Slipping in Cops, especially on Tattooine, isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Kevin Rubio added a dash of humour while the characters treated the situation seriously. The result is a fanfilm that still stands up over time.
Fans can get creative. Sometimes, fans can create an adapation that surpasses anything that professional studios can do. Sometimes, though, the creativity is willing, the skill level isn’t quite there. Or maybe there’s a time crunch. It’s not an issue for fans who are building up their skills, be it writing or drawing. Animation, though, is skill- and time-intensive. For those fans without the skills, there is another way.
Machinima, technically, is the use of any pre-existing computer graphics engine to create images. The most popular graphics engines used by fans just happen to be video games. Rooster Teeth wasn’t the first, but may be the best known thanks to Red Vs Blue, a series using Halo about the men on enemy armies defending a critical box canyon from the other side. Several video game engines have been used, including Quake, Halo, and The Sims 2 and later versions. What the games have in common is a sandbox mode that allows for free play and being very customizable by players.
Example time. First, though, let’s take a look at a TV series to be adapted. COPS is on its thirty-second season, having started in 1989 and only off the air for a couple of seasons while switching networks. COPS is a reality show, with camera crews riding along with American police officers on patrol. The series made an appearance on an episode of The X-Files, effectively becoming a crossover when the camera crew started following Agents Scully and Mulder. The draw of the show was that it was unscripted. While edited, the show wasn’t staged for viewers.
How does one recreate a reality show, especially one that relies on the unpredictability of life? Enter Grand Theft Auto V, the life of crime simulator from Rockstar Games, with the mod LSPDFR, allowing players to be the police on patrol. Jeff Favignano has been using this combination, plus other mods, to produce his own series of role play, styled after COPS.
While he has monetized his YouTube channel, the work is still by a fan. There’s also the limitation of the game engine. The goal Favignano has is to approach the events generated in game with proper police procedures. As far as GTA V allows, he succeeds. Each episode of his LSPDFR is stylized as an episode of COPS, with a few call outs in each. Surprisingly for GTA V, there aren’t many shoot outs. Favignano aims to end each call peacefully, only escalating when the characters in-game do.
The adaptation works well, until the game’s engine starts going wrong. The pathing AI often sends traffic the wrong direction, through a crime scene, pushing past or sometimes through police vehicles and officers. When things do go off, it’s the game, not Favignano. However, even the game acting up adds to the feeling of the original TV show, where a pursuit and its aftermath weren’t predictable.
Fans will create. It’s the nature of fandom. Today, there are ways to express creativity that weren’t dreamt of even thirty years ago. The results are varied, but do get to the heart of the original works.