The Merriam-Webster Dictionary added the word “fanboy” last year, and they list its first usage as 1919. Sadly, they don’t provide any examples for that usage. Curly Lambeau founded the Green Bay Packers that year in Wisconsin, but I don’t think he had throngs of fanboys around him just yet. For the record, Merriam-Webster defines a fanboy as, “A boy who is an enthusiastic devotee (as of comics or movies).” Interesting that they don’t include the term fangirl, which I hear all the time. Can’t a girl be just as enthusiastic as a boy, Merriam-Webster?
Although fanboys really came into common usage when it applied to comic book fans, since the 90s it’s come to cover enthusiasts of movies, video games, TV shows, music, and anything else people seem to line up for. It’s also grown out of its original usage as a derogatory word used to conjure up images of people like the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, and has become the marketing demographic that every company covets.
Given the rise of the power and size (no pun intended) of fans, it’s only normal that film cameras would start turning the other direction to document the phenomenon of fandom. First you have films that generate fans, then fans start making their own films, inspired by their fandom, then films that are made about the fans, and finally fictionalized movies depicting fans of fictional shows. It’s come full circle, and in today’s GeekBomb we explore the world of films about fans.
Although fan-made films like Hardware Wars and Moonraker ’78 stand as a testament to the influence of fans, Trekkies really provided an eye into their world with a documentary focused on the people behind the love of Star Trek. The movie began life in 1991 when director Roger Nygard worked with Denise Crosby (of Tasha Yar, Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) on a low-budget comedy starring Steve Odekerk. Crosby and Nygard kept in touch after the shoot and kept discussing a way to document the fandom of Trek, and when producer Keith Border came on board, they had a movie.
If you’re never been to a Star Trek convention, it’s hard to convey the passion that some people have for the series. Costumes, fan-made replicas of a weapon that appeared briefly in a movie or television show, followers to trek from convention to convention like they’re follow the Grateful Dead are all part of this world, and hadn’t been seen by outside eyes before. While they do capture the passion of the fans, some of the more memorable scenes are the truly wacky ones, like juror Barbara Adams who showed up in court in her full Starfleet costume, or the dentist in Florida who has decorated his offices to look like a starship.
Trekkies was actually distributed by Paramount Picture, who wasn’t afraid of offending their massive Trek fanbase. Vice Chairman of the Paramount Motion Picture Group William Friedman said at the time, “We’ve done a lot of homework on that front. Star Trek fans love it. It’s not condescending, it’s a celebration.” Rather than loathing it, it was so popular amongst Trek fans that a sequel was made.
Seven year later, Nygard, Crosby, and Border re-teamed to delve back into the world of Trek, this time highlighting the global appeal of the series, and how it has touched fans all across the world. One of the more memorable moments is the tour through Tony Alleyne’s flat in England, which he’s turned into a tribute to The Next Generation. If you thought bringing a girl back to your place where she might see your action figure collection, imagine this guy’s conundrums.
Trekkies 2 didn’t have near the impact the first film did, and it was a direct to DVD release. However, that DVD is packed with tons of extras, including over an hour of additional footage. It’s really just a companion piece to the first movie, and if you haven’t seen them you might consider viewing them together for a double dose of Trek fandom. The film does have a nice segment on “filk,” which is fan music based on whatever they’re fannish about and it tends to be folk music. The documentary team winds up meeting five different Star Trek tribute bands in Sacramento. I thought I’d have to wait a long while for someone to make an entire documentary about “filking” and the influence that’s had on fans. Turns out I was wrong.
We Are Wizards
Last year at SXSW, I caught this documentary about bands that have popped up around Harry Potter, including Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, The Whomping Willows and others. Although they term their music “Wizard Rock,” it’s similar to filk with the addition of a lot more rocking going on. Although the film wasn’t released theatrically, you can order it on DVD. If you’re a Harry Potter addict who wants to see how for musical ability can get you in fandom, this movie is for you. Plus, it’s highly entertaining as well. I’m not the world’s biggest Potter fan, but some of this music was actually damn good.
The Dungeon Masters
Last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Keven McAlester’s documentary about people who are fanatics about Dungeons & Dragons premiered, and hopefully it’ll get seen by more audiences this year. If you’ve ever sat down to play a pencil and paper roleplaying game, or fired up the computer to run around inside the World of Warcraft, then you’ll appreciate this movie. It easily could have just mad fun of its subject, and at times it does, but in the end you get an intimate look into the lives of people who are fanatic about their gaming.
People haven’t begun documenting the fanboy gamer as much as they have other genres, but World of Warcraft definitely has a huge share of rabid fans. Each time a new game or expansion is released, people line up around the block in order to purchase it as early as possible and head home to check out the new content. Second Skin looks at some of those gamers, charting their highs and lows. Over the course of the film, some people stop gaming, others fall in love, and you see how hardcore players remain glued to their screens.
Filmmaker Dennis Przywara and friends took video cameras out to Mann’s Chinese Theater in 1997 to document the rerelease of the original Star Wars movies. As they met some of the characters waiting to see the movies, they decided that a documentary was in order, and Starwoids was born. The director and crew actually waited in line for 42 days (!) to get their footage. Although Przywara points out that this was done in shifts, and that they didn’t actually wait in one spot for 42 days. That sounds like a bad Fox Reality show.
The film documents two different front-liners waiting for the movie. In Westwood you have Daniel Alter, a student who finished school early just so he can wait in line, and at Mann’s Chinese Theater there’s Lincoln Gasking and his CountingDown.com group. Although it devolves into a Daniel vs. Lincoln battle at times, and feels like CountingDown is just there for the publicity, it’s a fun movie that also offers up interviews with people like the actor who played Uncle Owen, a Jawa, and a guy who painted his car to look like an X-Wing.
Although he didn’t have this idea in time for The Phantom Menace, director Michael Rotman lined up alongside fans in 2002 to document the six weeks worth of line-waiting for Attack of the Clones. The result is Star Wait, which is actually a documentary made up of nine different “episodes.” According to Rotman they would shoot in line, then edit footage together the next day. It’s a bit uneven and feels like it was cobbled together by a few guys waiting in line for a Star Wars movie. Er, which it was.
There are a couple of geek highlight moments, like when Elijah Wood visits the line, or when George Lucas actually calls in to a nearby payphone to thank people for giving him even more money. But the real value here is on the DVD. There are more extras here than you’d expect, including a commentary track from Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, and J. Elvis Weinstein of Mystery Science Theater fame, Samm Levine and John Daley of Freaks and Geeks, Dana Gould from The Simpsons, actress Paget Brewster, comedian Paul F. Tompkins, and others. If that’s not enough, there’s another track with some of the guys who waited in line, one with the filmmakers, and one with Amy Allen, who played Aalya Secura in Episodes II and III. Oh, plus there’s 70 minutes of deleted scenes. Considering the film is only 80 minutes long, it’s like getting a free sequel.
The best quote about this movie is from Eric Campos at Film Threat: “It’s actually more entertaining than the film they’re all waiting to see.”
Of course, the movie that inspired this GeekBomb gets buried halfway down. Why? Because I really wish it would have been better. It’s a great concept, but it feels pretty dated at this point, given the fact that it’s nearly ten years since The Phantom Menace came out. There are some very funny performances in this movie about fans who want to let their dying friend see Episode I before it comes out, and the real punchline is that the worked so hard to see something that sucked so bad.
Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, and multiple performances from Seth Rogen are the best thing about this movie, besides seeing Kristen Bell in a Princess Leia slave girl outfit. I just had a hard time buying the premise, and the fact that this movie was continually shelved and tinkered with just made things worse. If you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan, you’ll probably love this, but I have a feeling there was a better movie buried in here. Heck, even a fictionalized version of Starwoids or Star Wait might have done the trick. Or a movie about fans so enraged over the horror of the prequels that they invade Skywalker Ranch and take it over.
This is an indie movie that stands a testament to the influence of fandom. Director Rob Meyer Burnett, who is actually one of the biggest fanboys I know, managed to turn his love of comic books, Star Trek, and all things geek into a feature film along with co-writer and producer Mark Altman. So what you end up with is a fictionalized account of two fans, and their daily struggles with dating, whether or not Star Trek is better than Star Wars, and picking up collectible toys right when they come out.
It’s a semi-autobiographical look at two adult men (named Rob and Mark, of course) who are dealing with the amount of fanboyism in their lives when they stumble across William Shatner in a bookstore and befriend him. However, he doesn’t turn out to be the Captain Kirk they’d come to love and adore. He has plans to make a comeback as a serious actor by starring in a one man musical adaptation of Julius Caesar. If you haven’t seen this, and love the Shat, you need to check it out.
Galaxy Quest is probably the finest example of the power of fandom, because not only is the entire movie built around a fictionalized TV show, a fan does end up saving the day in the end. That and the entire “crew” of the Protector end up getting stuck back on the air, due to the fans. Well, that and the fact that they crash into their own convention in a real spaceship. Tim Allen also manages to channel William Shatner very well, and Sigourney Weaver’s push-up bra does double duty here.
The marketing for this film included a website meant to look like a rabid fan had created it, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can still Travis Latke’s Galaxy Quest Vaults. Justin Long had his feature film debut as a rabid Quest fan, although they didn’t capitalize enough on the convention setting in my opinion. In an alternate universe, there’s a version of this movie where Jason Nesmith hears what the guys in the bathroom are saying about him, and goes off in search of his soul. Now you know why I’m not directing movies.
Or Cinemaniacs as it’s alternately identified as, is a very dry documentary about five people in New York who are simply obsessed with movies. They aren’t brand-loyal to Star Wars or The Matrix or the latest comic book movie adaptation, but they simply fill most of their hours with going to the theater. These are people like the elderly Roberta Hill who has supposedly seen 1,000 movies a year for over 20 years, although she’s been banned from theaters for being rowdy and has attacked ushers for tearing her ticket stubs incorrectly.
These are people who see two to five films a day, every day. I thought that kind of schedule was pretty hard to keep at Sundance, but imagine doing that every single day. That’s pretty much moved from fandom into OCD territory. But the real star of this documentary is Jack Angstreich. This is a guy who keeps spreadsheets on the movies he’s seen, is obsessed with Rita Hayworth, and keeps a diet that makes him constipated so he won’t have to get up and go to the bathroom. You can wax poetic all you want about people waiting in line 42 days to see a flick, but a guy who makes himself not poop so doesn’t miss a frame of screentime? That’s dedication.
At first glance, this movie doesn’t belong here. But if you watch it again, you’ll see how it’s about true fangirls and fanboys, albeit they’re better known as groupies or “band aids” in here. There’s a scene where they visit the Hyatt Hotel on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and you’d be hard pressed to tell me that Jay Baruchel isn’t playing the biggest Led Zeppelin fanboy of them all.
The movie is autobiographical about Cameron Crowe’s own experiences of being a fanboy turned journalist, but this ventures into musical territory, where fans have there own language, rules, and laws. But the glittery eyes than William has when he encounters Stillwater are definitely those of a fanboy, and if you’re into sci-fi, comic books, or Harry Potter, you can definitely identify with him.
The Achievers: The Story Of The Lebowski Fans
I haven’t seen this one yet, but based on the writeups it has received and the trailer, I’m putting it on the top of the list. The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve attended Lebowski Fest in the past, so saying I’ll go see a documentary about dorks like me is just pure narcissism. The fact that director isn’t just a huge Lebowski fan making this movie makes me want to see it that much more. It’s one thing to see someone make a film that’s fawning over something they love, but the outsider’s eye can often make a better film because it isn’t blinded by fandom.