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If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area this weekend you may want to check this out!
This coming Saturday (September 17th, 2016) there will be an event that no one has ever seen before: The joining of forces between a “Can’t Stop The Serenity” event and a Comic Con. Between the two of them, they’ve brought us an amazing Firefly-themed day during Long Beach Comic Con at the Long Beach Convention Center.
There’s a wonderful panel on Con Man with Nathan Fillion and producer PJ Haarsma, and then later, on the same stage, a Firefly Panel with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, and Sean Maher. That’s a huge cast gathering that Firefly fans will love to see.
After the Firefly Panel, Can’t Stop The Serenity - Los Angeles 2016, will screen Francis Hamada’s Epic Fan Film, Browncoats: Independence War. This is a feature length movie, dealing with the tales of various soldiers on the last night of the War, at that place called Serenity Valley. This film dovetails directly into the first ten minutes of the Firefly pilot episode, so the event got permission to screen the wartime flashback scenes from the Firefly pilot immediately after the film.
In addition to the Firefly cast and the screening of Browncoats: Independence War, there will be a CSTS Charity Auction, raffle ticket drawings with door prizes, and a Firefly-themed Cosplay Contest.
(Event courtesy of Long Beach Comic Con, Screening brought to you by Fandom Charities® and Whedonopolis™ in affiliation with California Browncoats. Prizes generously donated by QMx™ and Lootcrate™. )

So to herald this coming event, we’ve sat down with Francis Hamada and asked him a few questions about Fan Films and how they are made.
One quick question, Why did you title your film “Independence War”?  Most canon refers to the war as the “Unification War”.

I’ve always had problems with the term Unification War. It sounded (rightfully so) like a title that was created by the Alliance. They coined the phrase Unification War because they won, and the breakaway planets were forced to re-unify with the Core planets. I always thought that rebels, who wanted their own independence, would call it something else. The British Empire back in 1776 didn’t call the breakaway by the 13 colonies as “the War for Independence”… the Crown called it “War of the American Rebellion” at the time, though now most Brits call it the same name as us Americans do. Again, it’s the victors who get to write the history books.
So, what is a fan film?

Well, the textbook definition of a fan film is that it is a film (or video) that is inspired by an existing property or show (either motion picture, television series, comic book, graphic novel, video game, or sometimes even toy lines) that is a labor of love, created by people who follow or love the original property.
The fan film can either be a remake, a reboot, a satire or parody, or an original work that is based heavily or lightly on original material (i.e. intellectual property). They can use existing characters or create new ones but, by most people’s definitions, a fan film is a visual media project that creates new stories or retells existing ones in a new fashion as an attempt to expand the universe that the original show created. What keeps it from being an actionable violation of copyright is that it must be not-for-profit and must not damage the brand in any way. That’s no guarantee, but that formula has historically protected most fan films.
Fan films come in all flavors. Some are animated. Some are live action. Some of them are zero budgeted home movies that were filmed in someone’s backyard, made by amateurs (and those are still great fun to watch). Some of them are more ambitious ventures, seeking to match (as closely as they can), the feel or production values of the original show. Most fan films are self-funded or funded from other like-minded fans on sites like Kickstarter™, but now there have been some bigger-budget projects which push the envelope of what most of us consider an actual fan film.
There are those “fan” projects that had huge budgets and large corporate sponsorship, and with that amount of money, they can hire professionals to do most of the heavy lifting. I’ve seen some epic big-budget shorts based on existing Video Game properties that were actually produced by professional production companies with pretty hefty money behind them. And then I’ve seen small productions with very limited funds create something on par with a major motion picture.
It’s all over the map. But what’s good is that it’s happening, and more and more people are engaging in fan film creation than ever before.

Why did you choose to make a fan film set in the Firefly universe?

There are tons of fan films being made for other fandoms like Star Trek and Star WarsFirefly is an underserved fandom, and us Browncoats are arguably one of the most fanatic and loyal fans in all of fandom. This hit me when 2012 came around and it was the 10th anniversary of Firefly. I was like “Hey! How many fan films are out there about Firefly?” I tracked down as many as I could and watched all of them but there aren’t many. There is a wonderful listing of them at Firefly Fan Film Roundup, but the number of Firefly related fare is few compared to the sheer volume of fan-created content for other fandoms, so I decided to do my part to change that.
The only other feature-length project, Browncoats: Redemption, was released in back in 2010, so I figured it was high time for another fan film based in the Firefly Universe.
What are the difficulties or differences in making a fan film that sets it apart from a regular film?

Money is one difference. Not necessarily raising it, but there are restrictions on how you use it. Now it’s difficult to do any film project without funds, and the best way to proceed, without attracting the ire of the copyright owners’ lawyers, is that the filmmakers must not personally profit from the project, since it’s technically someone else’s IP (intellectual property). Even the hint of profiting off of a studio property will garner you unwanted attention from Studio Legal Departments. Though we can raise funds to cover general costs, the creators, cast and crew are all volunteering their time to make the film. That’s the hard part. Giving up days, months, or weeks of paid work to actually do the fan film project. That’s why these things tend to take a long time.  It has to be done on evenings and weekends in order for people to help and still be able to work their day jobs.
How long does it generally take to make a fan film?

There is no real answer to this. A fan film is like all other indie projects. They come in all shapes and sizes. Sure, some folks have done indie film projects, so many times, they already know how long they’ve taken in the past, but when you’re starting out, the only thing you can have is a goal of how much time you want to take. And then of course, it always takes much longer than you expect it to.
The biggest influences on time, is the script, the length, what’s in the story, how many characters are in it, what locations, how many days you need to film it, how much post production is needed? etc.
Some shorts can be filmed in an hour at one location and then edited in one weekend.  My feature film had 67 shoot days (all Saturdays) with an entire year spent on Post production. We started in the Fall of 2012, ran out of money by Spring 2013, ran very successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns in 2013, decided in 2014 to use the money we raised for a 24-minute short and stretch it to a 98-minute feature and finished the project on the very last day of 2015.
Remember the saying: “You can have it Fast, You can have it Good, You can have it Cheap ….. Pick Two.” I opted for Quality and had no other choice when it came to Cheap, so what suffered was Time. But I consider the time a worthy sacrifice to make a feature film that people are proud of.
Would you do this again? Will you make another in the same setting or choose a different one?

We would love to but who knows what tomorrow will bring? The reality is that I, and my fellow Firefly fans, sacrificed three and a half years with no pay, to do a project. Sure, it’s a wonderful project and we loved doing it, but it’s hard to survive when volunteering that much time (mostly because I and others are wearing multiple hats, hats that a decent budget would allow others to wear). If I do another fan film, it won’t be another feature. It may be a definite short, because those don’t take so much out of you. My hope is to continue making films that I like, with original (or licensed) IP. That way I don’t have to be careful, at every stage of the production, to avoid doing anything, that would incur the wrath of studio lawyers, plus the product can be released, broadcast, and sold (basically made available to anyone who wants to see it). If I can tell tales that entertain the kind of fans that are drawn to Firefly, well then, that’s a dream worth pursuing, don’t you think?
So, perhaps an original movie for the SyFy Channel? I visualize a giant shark wearing a large brown coat … Haha.

By: Mary McKay-Eaton

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