Friday, February 26, 2016

May the Fan be With You: Star Wars and Empire Uncut

                Last week, I covered some of the most well-known fan productions in the Star Trek Universe.  The love of people for the series is quite evident.  The other major science fiction franchise is not without its own fan productions.  This post will cover one of the Star Wars franchise’s most well-known fan productions, Star Wars Uncut and its sequel, Empire Uncut. 
                In 2009, Casey Pugh was a developer who specialized in interactive online experiences.  He cofounded the Video Sharing Community VHX, which finds and shares videos from around the web and as of 2012, helps filmmakers release their projects online.  Casey, a Star Wars fan, saw the potential to create a huge project with other Star Wars fans.  He had the idea to “crowdsource” Star Wars: A New Hope, that is, ask Star Wars fans to make their own, low-budget version of Star Wars.  The clips would be no more than 15 seconds in length. 
                Casey asked the Star Wars community for the 15-second clips of individual scenes from A New Hope, and the fans responded with just fewer than one thousand individual clips.  Some of the clips were filmed using creator and their friends and family, including clips featuring children.  Some of the clips used hand drawn animation or simple computer graphics.  Many of clips were used with objects found around the house, like cardboard or trash cans.  Some of the clips were stop motion or used Lego bricks.  Lucasfilm knew about the production, and rather than stop it, decided to help (though the extent of its participation is unknown). 
                Next Casey had the task of editing all of the clips into the full-length movie.  Casey Pugh finished the completed project in 2010, and his efforts won him a 2010 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Fiction and his project was covered in the New York Times, the LA Times and Vulture.  The completed fan project was screened at a festival in 2010 before finally being released online to the public in 2012.
                After the Star Wars Uncut was finally released to the public, Casey went back the Star Wars fan community to ask them to crowdsource a version of Empire Strikes Back.  They received about double the clips as last time, almost two thousand.  The quality of the clips went up because lowering prices of HD technology.  Casey Pugh released Empire Uncut in 2014.  Making a version of Return of the Jedi is one of the most frequently asked questions on the site, but there are no current plans to do so.  AMC borrowed the idea to crowdsource a recreation of the pilot of its series Mad Men using scenes submitted from viewers and was released on May 13, 2015.  Time will tell what the next big crowdsource production will be. 

                Unlike the high-quality recreation of the style of Star Trek, the clips shown in the Star Wars Uncut are showed more of the personality of the creators of the clips, giving a personal feel for the love that each individual fan had for the Star Wars movies.  With nearly three thousand individual submissions from around the world, this is one of the ultimate Star Wars fan productions.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Where No Fan Has Gone Before: Star Trek Fan Productions

                While Fan Productions probably exist of any media, the Star Trek fan productions are among the most well produced.  Entire sets have been recreated to give the series an authentic feel.  Both Original Series and the Next Generation Era (including Deep Space Nine and Voyager) have fan production made about them.  The “seasons” (if they are called that) have at most nine or ten episodes, because fan production is either completely out of pocket or through crowd-funding such as kickstarter.  Here are some of the most well-known of the Star Trek Fan Productions.
                The longest running fan production, as well as with the most episodes, is Star Trek: Hidden Frontier.  The concept for the show takes place in the post-Deep Space Nine/Voyager era after the Dominion War featured in Deep Space Nine.  In Hidden Frontier, the USS Excelsior and Deep Space 12 live in the “Brier Patch” region of space (known for a nebula with unusual properties) and battle against an advanced species called The Grey, along with Tholians and an Andorian.  The show received some criticism for relying almost completely on green screen/CGI sets instead of physical sets.  The series starred David Dial as Rear Admiral Ian Quncy Knapp of Deep Space 12, Rasha Denney as Captain of the USS Excelsior, and Larry LaVerne as Captain Tolian Naros of the USS Helena (and a former Executive Officer of USS Excelsior).  From 2000 to 2007, 50 total episodes were produced.  The show also has several spinoffs, some of which are completely CGI. 
                The miniseries Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, is notable for having many original Star Trek actors participating in the fan production, including Nichelle Nichols as Captain Nyota Uhura, Walter Koenig as Captain Pavel Chekov, and Alan Ruck as Captain John Harriman from Star Trek: Generations.  Tim Russ, who played Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager, directed the three-part miniseries and also had a supporting role as Tuvok in the miniseries.  In this story, set in twelve years after Star Trek: Generations, the three captains converge for the dedication of Original Series-era Enterprise, set up as a museum for the era James Kirk’s 5-year mission.  Unfortunately, the ship is the closest to respond to a distress call from the planet M-622, which houses the “Guardian of Forever” and meet Charlie Evans a human with extraordinary but uncontrollable mental powers, who blames Kirk for his imprisonment for forty years.  He goes into the Guardian of Forever and travels back in time to kill Kirk’s mother before he was born, which alters the timeline for the worst.  It’s up to the three Captains and their crew to set the timeline right.  The first 30 minute part was released in December 2007, and the second and third parts were released in 2008. 
                There are two fan productions which are set in the Original Series era, both of which purport to be during the “missing years” of the five year mission which the original series, only last three seasons, failed to reach.  The first is Star Trek: New Voyages, later called Star Trek: Phase II (named after the first planned sequel series, which never premiered).  Many of the episodes were reworked episodes from the original series or from Phase II scripts, with Star Trek writers finishing writing the original scripts for the first eight episodes.  The most recent 10th episode, The Holiest Thing, was released in January 2016.  The second fan production is called Star Trek: Continues, featuring instead wholly original stories, premiered in 2013, and is notable for being filmed and edited in the style of the original series, including the same aspect ratio and act breaks.  This production has released five original episodes so far. 

                There are other notable fan productions, including Starship: Farragut (an original series sister ship), Star Trek: Renegades (A pilot for a new Star Trek series made by fans) and Prelude to Axanar (short film) and Star Trek: Axanar (an Original series era feature film that was unfortunately hit with a copyright lawsuit).  If you are a Star Trek fan, check out these fan productions, and admire the talent of these non-Hollywood creators honoring one of their favorite television and movie franchises.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

Three (Failed) One-Season Spinoffs Shows

                In the beginning, there was a popular series.  This popular series brought in the ratings, had an established fan base, and had been a success for several years.  Now, the executives and/or creators of the original show believe they can find lightening in the bottle again.  However, the success in the one series does not mean success with the other series.  There are several factors for the failure of the spinoff, the most important one being the concept just wasn’t as good as the original series.  Other factors include a bad timeslot and proliferation of previous spinoffs (too much of a good thing).  Here are four One-Season spinoffs.
                Cheers was a very successful show centered almost completely around a bar.  The bar owner, the employees and the bar patrons make up the central characters of the series.  Sam Malone and his volatile relationship with Diane Chambers was the central theme for the first five seasons.  One of the most consistent supporting characters was a character named Carla Tortelli.  She had a sarcastic sense of humor and was a divorced wife and mother.  Her ex-husband, Nick with his new trophy wife, Loretta, made several appearances on Cheers before, in Season Six, the Nick and Loretta were given their own show.  In the show, The Tortellis, Loretta leaves Nick to go to Las Vegas with her divorced sister Charlotte.  Nick (and his two teenage kids) follows Loretta to get back together with her.  Loretta and Nick get back together, and Nick tries his hand at TV repair.  The show was roundly criticized by critics for its portrayal of stereotypes of Italian Americans.  The show premiered to low ratings in January of 1987 and lasted one season and 13 episodes.
                Law and Order was a very successful franchise, having 20 seasons from the original series two spin off series lasting 10 or more seasons (Law and Order: Criminal Intent lasted 10 seasons and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is currently in its 17th season).  Law and Order had a unique concept of being both a police procedural and legal drama in one show.  The first half the police would investigate the story, and the second half the lawyers would prosecute the story.  The show was known for its “ripped from the headlines” storylines, which gave it a very realistic feel.  In March 2005, in the original show’s 16th season, another spinoff was announced, called Law and Order: Trial by Jury.  The show focused on the preparation for a trail, including the defense and the prosecution, as well as jury selection, and all of the legal dealings outside of trials, and using the same “ripped from the headlines” storylines.  The show premiered opposite Numb3rs, which was a huge hit at the time.  Due to the fact that, with the exception of a crossover episode, Law and Order: Trial by Jury was regularly beaten in the ratings by Numb3rs, it lasted one season and 12 episodes on NBC, with one more episode airing on Court-TV when the cable network re-aired them. 
                Once Upon a Time was a show about Fairytale Characters living in a small Maine American town named Storybrooke.  The show, while not a powerhouse in ratings, regularly won its timeslot and is a fan favorite.  Initially, the characters have their own, separate lives in Storybrook, because of a curse which kept them from remembering their Fairytale lives.  The show provides its own view on Fairytale characters, some of which twist the story in new and interesting ways.  In the series, the Mad Hatter and Wonderland made a few appearances in the series.  In 2013, the third season of Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland premiered.  Alice falls in love with a genie named Cyrus, and loses him to the Red Queen.  Alice, then back at her original home, Victorian England, is put in an insane asylum.  But the Knave of Hearts, along with the white rabbit, save her and bring her to Wonderland, and Alice begins her quest to get Cyrus back.  Meanwhile the Red Queen and Jafar have an uneasy alliance to get the genie and his lamp and gain power from it.  The show premiered on Thursdays to low ratings, suffering from being against established series like The Big Bang Theory.  The show lasted 1 season and 13 episodes. 

                The Tortellis had the unfortunate distinction of being released before DVD or instant steaming, and obviously the show was never popular enough to be brought back to one of those formats (though you can find clips on YouTube).  Law and Order: Trial by Jury can be found on DVD, while Once Upon a Time in Wonderland can be bought from steaming services like Amazon Instant or ITunes.  Check out these one-season spinoffs, if you so desire.