Put Some Remix in My Trek
Last time I wrote about missed opportunities and the importance of having a strong story editor to spot those opportunities. Fan films either don't employ story editors or have story editors who aren't very good at their jobs. But that hasn't been the only thing bugging me about fan films lately. No no, there's something bigger than just having a story editor that is slowly choking the longevity of these productions — the inability to leap beyond pale imitation.
Creative types all get their start by imitating those they admire. Aspiring comic book artists (and I was once one) try to replicate exactly the pencil strokes of their favorite comic book artists — Jack Kirby, Curt Swan, whoever. Aspiring writers imitate the voice of their favorite writers. When I started taking an interest in writing, I tried to imitate Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury or whoever I was currently reading at the time. Years later, as a working writer, I hope my voice is clearly my own (although I can still easily see the influence of those writers on my work even today).
But there comes a point when imitators must move beyond copying and transform their work.
In other words, they must leap beyond imitation. If not, they risk failure and stagnation.
Copy, Combine and Transform
I'm a fan of Kirby Ferguson's EVERYTHING IS REMIXED
. Kirby argues that everything is remixed, from music to art to movies to whatever. He's right. Even the products we use today are remixed from the past ... that's how innovation begins. Like the iPod, which was influenced by the Kodak camera of the 1920s
. Kirby even gave a talk
on the subject.
For Kirby, there's three stages of remixing — copy, combine and transform
Copying, however, is only the baby step
of the creative process, but one that fan films seem to be forever stuck in. Fan films, especially those set in TOS, are great at copying sets and costumes, exact replicas copied from the original 60s show. Copied. Replicated. But they rarely take their stories beyond mere imitation of the original show and its spin-offs.
Let's be frank, TREK storytelling over the decades, until the Abrams' movie, had become stale, stagnant junk food. Fan films stories are often nothing more than fast food, recipes copied from a steady diet of TREK and nothing more.
Take STAR TREK: PHASE II. It had the chance to move beyond imitation, beyond a copy of a copy in its two episodes "To Serve All My Days" and "World Enough and Time." Both episodes showed sparks that PHASE II was willing to take risks and move beyond the STAR TREK formula. However, since those two episodes, it's begun a slow decline into entertaining simulacrum, even so far as to using canned music from TOS rather than original scores.
What's needed for fan films is to combine and transform their works. And not in the fannish, fan fic manner that PII has recently gone toward — i.e. trying to knit into the broader "canon", introducing Mary Sue characters such as Peter Kirk (and Chekov has also become a Mary Sue) and pseudo-character arcs that substitute for strong dramatic storytelling.
Like George Lucas and the first STAR WARS or Abrams in his TREK movie, fan films should look to other shows, movies and books for inspiration. TOS fan films should study and dissect other shows from the 1960s (like THE OUTER LIMITS, I SPY, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE), other movies, books and history for inspiration. Learn other literary languages that they can combine with TOS as Lucas combined Japanese films, WWII air battles and myth to create STAR WARS.
More than that, they need to transform their works, break free of the STAR TREK format, the STAR TREK formula. STARSHIP EXTER's unfinished episode is the closest example of this. EXTER moved beyond mere imitation. Although, it doesn't quite go as far, it attempts to truly transform the format.
In so many words, fan films need to transform themselves or risk slowly dying off. Tell stories that matter, not just film episode after episode where stuff happens, but nothing really actually happens. No longer can they rely on canned music, snazzy CGI, pretty sets and costumes to carry them. If they don't, they'll find that fewer and fewer people will want to donate their time, money and travel hundreds of miles to make these things. Nor will anyone want to watch their treks.