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Firefly Fan Film Roundup

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Re: Firefly Fan Film Roundup

Postby pennausamike » Tue Nov 28, 2017 5:08 pm

Browncoats Forever

Firefly fan-film, Browncoats Forever, written and directed by Jeffery James Bucchino.
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It's been eight years since the infamous Miranda Broadcast. The notorious crew of the Serenity have long been in hiding. Civil unrest is rampant in the core planets. The rest of the 'verse continues to limp on in its daily struggles. Among those working to survive are former Independent soldier, Captain Jonathan Reeves, and his scattered crew.

This is to be a teaser/proof-of-concept for crowdfunding to make a Short film and possibly a web series.
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Re: Firefly Fan Film Roundup

Postby pennausamike » Tue Nov 28, 2017 5:08 pm

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Re: Firefly Fan Film Roundup

Postby pennausamike » Tue Nov 28, 2017 5:28 pm

UPDATE: Some thoughts on where fan films may hopefully be heading:

Firefly fan films ARE slowly evolving in a way that may make them a sustainable activity. I feel that for FFF to be taken seriously as a contribution to the 'verse (and not just the target of internet trolls' amusement,) not only does the quality of the filmmaking and the acting need to come up (which has been happening), but new stories need to be told. At the time I wrote my article in December of 2010 for The Fan Film Follies, I noted that "At this point, every Firefly fan film, (even the ones that introduce new characters), mimics the show, most nearly beat for beat." An older ship…with a ragtag crew…secrets…rebel past…character with an opposite sex name, etc., etc. Over the last six years we are starting to see a LITTLE break out of that mold. Two films have explored Firefly characters' pre-show lives ( the finished "Cache" and "Shadows On The Wind" in post-production) and three have actually boldly gone where...oops wrong franchise; but, "STAND", "Browncoats: Independence War" and "Faithful Companion" are telling stories related to Firefly, but they are not mimicking Firefly. It is a tough thing to pull off because some fans will ONLY watch something that feels exactly like the source material, whereas others (like myself) like to see the source material as a jumping off point to new characters and stories. I think the biggest changes we will see are more announced projects actually being completed, and at a higher level of quality.

What makes that tough, is that no fan film taking place in a studio owned IP can ever be more than a curiosity. The filmmaker spends his own money to make a movie that can not even make back its own budget and is under constant threat of a Cease an Desist letter or even a lawsuit; NOT a sustainable business model. Also, at least for now, the masses still associate "movies" with "big budget". Even when Hollywood makes a little "indie" film, they still cost millions. Alan Tudyck starred in a little indie film called "Tucker and Dale Versus Evil" that was made for five million bucks. Part of those large budgets, for what are essentially simple films, is the hiring of large crews to handle the thousand and one small details that go into making a film. In over simplified form, a studio film can have a 100 person crew, where a fan or indie film will come down to one to a dozen people who have to handle everything from transportation to filming to post-production to making sandwiches to feed the cast and crew. It will take them many more spare time hours to finish compared to studio employees and contractors working to a schedule and a budget. It is easy to see why these independent and fan film projects stretch out over years. With these kinds of concept to release schedules, with very few exceptions, fan and indie films will never unseat the studio films. They might surprise them now and again, but they won't replace them.

Unfortunately, the BEST thing about fan films probably can't happen because of the WORST thing about fan films. The WORST thing about a fan film is that it lives in the shadow of the fact that it can stake no legal right to work in someone else's Intellectual Property. I get that the folks who invested in the creation of the original idea want to control and profit from that idea. In days gone by, that was good enough for audiences because they couldn't realistically play in the IP holder's story world. But the world has changed. No longer is a TV show seen twice a year and then never seen again unless it makes syndication. With the advent of home video players (video tape followed by DVD's) the mass market sharing of these created worlds, and now social media and crowd funding, has moved large numbers of people from passive viewers to active participants. The original Star Trek series, to my eyes at least, really marks the jumping off point of audiences wanting to become participants. Fan fiction became a real thing from the early days of Star Trek, but that was really no threat to the studios in the pre-internet days. (I wonder how many people reading this interview will not even know what a mimeographed fanzine even IS?) Now in the 21st century, the very technological leaps that empower audience participation, are also the biggest threat to shutting it down. A 500 copy mimeographed fanzine is no meaningful threat to a studio property, but a well made video that can reach a worldwide market; yeah, that gets the studio legal departments in an uproar.

My solution? Studios that are making millions, and sometimes billions of dollars from the entertainment that they produce, would, in my opinion, be well served by creating departments that combine legal and creative talent to foster audience participation. Up to and including creating a sign-off procedure for the production of fan films. We are seeing an inkling of that concept happening in the Star Wars universe; humorously under the Disney company, who have been one of the most ruthless copyright protectors of all time. I think George Lucas and those who have taken control of his Star Wars franchise, realize the sheer marketing power of a fanbase enmeshed in the entertainment they love. Once the legal shackles have been loosened (and I didn't say removed, because it isn't reasonable to ask IP holders to give up control of their properties) I would like to think we would see the BEST aspect of fan films; unfettered creativity to produce content the studios can't or won't make. A fan film can explore a story idea for the joy of seeing where it goes without concern for making back an investment. A failed fan film was a fun experiment. Too many failed studio movie projects, and a studio is out of business. And who knows, maybe if the reins were loosened on fan films, they could become the proving ground to try out new ideas for the studios that OK'd their production. If a fan film sparks notable interest in its limited release format, perhaps that would lead to a bigger budget re-do for general theater release? Remakes of new ideas interest me far more than retreads of already successful studio films. I'd also like to see authorized DVD releases of fan films; the good, the bad and the ugly. Keep the packaging simple, put up a website to support the release, and I think that the studios would find they had a nice little niche market. In today's environment, fan films are something of an exercise in frustration. I can envision a world where audience participation in the creation of the entertainment they love reaches the whole next level, and it is my hope the studio movie producers see that as well. Then fan films, including Firefly fan films, will be the best that they can be.
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Re: Firefly Fan Film Roundup

Postby pennausamike » Thu Apr 05, 2018 4:54 pm

After I wrote my quick captions for “Browncoats: Independence War”, describing what I thought was an incredibly well done fan film, and frankly, a pretty darn good film period, I searched for some links to B:IW on video. I found the IMDB page and was surprised to see a one star rating from 17 reviews. Three of the reviews are actually positive, with one reviewer saying he gave it an 8 because he viewed it relative to other fan films. Another of the positive worded reviews noted that B:IW was a standard to judge other fan films by. Of course I wondered why the negative reviewers scored the film at the lowest rating possible? A 1.1/10 rating versus the technically less accomplished and more “fannish” Browncoats: Redemption which has a rating of 4.9/10. Reading the negative reviews is an eye-opener to be sure! The reviewers actually attack every aspect of the production values of the film (including those elements that are obviously strengths, like camera and stunt work), the director/ creator personally and by name, and outright lie about the attendance at convention showings. Wow, that’s a whole lotta hatred for an obvious work of passion by a large group of dedicated people. I have to wonder how much is professional (jealousy, competitiveness, feeling threatened, etc) and how much is Browncoat self-anointed keepers of the True Faith (if it ain’t Joss, it ain’t Firefly). Or, as one of the positive IMDB reviewers noted,

Watcher187 16 May 2017

Update-v1: I have looked at all the low ratings and I figure it is one of two things. Either they are idiots, or they are jealous of the work that this crew put in. There is no way that this movie rates anything below a 5. And should be an 8 or above.

Update-v2: I read several of the 1 star reviews. In spite of having different names, it's the same person. It's the same writing style, they just pulled up a thesaurus and replaced derogatory words with something similar. If the person were a true critic, they would have offered advice outside of attacks. It's one jealous failed person attacking others when they cannot perform themselves.

In any case, very strange, and frankly, very nasty; to revile, for such dishonest reasons, the product of so much hard work.

So, to address the elephant in the room; how do I feel the various Firefly Fan Films stack up?
Yeah, even that isn’t an easy question, so I tend to break even that question into categories.

1. Is the film a feature or a short film?
2. How well does a fan film capture the look of the universe it takes place in?
3. How does the acting and the story/dialog draw the audience into the ‘verse?
4. Do the technical aspects of the film (sound, picture, camera work, editing) distract from the story being told?
5. If there are any, do the visual effects (VFX) or stunts take away from the story being told; or maybe even make it better.
6. And finally, availability.

For all the words that follow, it is only possible to touch on some of the attributes that stand out about each of the films already made.

The contenders I chose are-features:

Into The Black (unfinished)
Bellflower (in process)
The Ruins of Du Khang
Browncoats: Redemption
Browncoats: Independence War

And short films:

The Game
Apache Kid and the Browncoat Rebels
The Verse
A Faithful Companion

For features in the second category, how well does the fan film capture the look of the universe it takes place in?

For me, the winner is B:IW. The entire cast, except for a handful of refugees, are in Independents or Alliance uniforms.
The props and sets are all firmly rooted in the ‘verse. I’m especially thinking of the attack fighter and tent interiors with their gadgets and graphics. While much of the look of B:IW was created by pure no budget ingenuity, professional film industry resources were available in other instances. The individual Browncoat characters’ kit is likewise rooted in the ‘verse.

I found the costuming (more or less in order of success) Bellflower, BC:R, Into the Black and Ruins of Du Khang to run the gamut from, “pops right out of the ‘verse” to “sure, I’ll buy that they would wear that, but it tells me nothing about the character”.
Likewise the sets. Into The Black, Bellflower and BC:R all built credible ship interior sets. I’d say Bellflower has utilized their ship set the best, but all three created a living space, not just a movie set. Western towns are popular ‘verse sets but Bellflower also built a space station bazaar interior set.

For short films in the second category, how well does a fan film capture the look of the universe it takes place in?

The head and shoulders above the rest effort is The Verse.
This semi-official, sponsor backed effort is definitely still a fan film, but the “fans” are largely filmmaking veterans, and it shows. The costumes and locations are about on par with the best of all the Firefly Fan Film efforts, but they used the Firefly “Bushwacked” settler ship set at Laurel Canyon Stages! Hard to beat that for “in-the-‘verse” cred.

Of the remaining shorts, Reaverized and The Game are home movies, and the costumes, sets and locations are more implied than detailed. Cache and Apache Kid and the Browncoat Rebels were film festival entries, and were presented in a way that relied more on dialog and incidental visual cues to place them in the ‘verse. A Faithful Companion likewise relies on story and prop clues to place it in the verse, with a little VFX to guide the impression along.

Acting, story and dialog; okay, this is often the fan film killer category. Shoot, this is often a “real” film killer. Just a note before commenting on the films themselves. To me acting shares a common problem with Computer Generated Images (CGI); the uncanny valley. The concept was identified by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori. Mori's original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot (or CGI-my notation) is made more human, some observers' emotional response to the robot (CGI) becomes increasingly positive and empathetic, until it reaches a point beyond which the response quickly becomes strong revulsion. However, as the robot's (CGI) appearance continues to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels*. (Think, “Polar Express".) In acting, especially acting before a camera, the uncanny valley is the transition from an actor playing a fictional character to that leap were the actor IS the character, and we in the audience are watching them “live their experience” as opposed to watching an actor “playing a part”. (Although one might say that in my acting example, it is the “uncanny Plain” which surrounds the top acting “plateau”.)

Bad acting, wooden acting, overacting; all these things can pull the audience out of the fictional world that the filmmaker is trying to immerse them in. By its very nature, low budget fan filmmaking doesn’t always have the resources to populate the story with top actors who “are” characters rather than “playing” characters. I, as a reviewer, always have a hard time calling out bad acting because I know the folks in a fan film worked really hard for little reward to produce something they hoped would be cool. Actually that reservation to be too critical applies to all involved, except for the occasional self-important egomaniacs who denigrate others to elevate themselves. But, I digress…

For the third category, how does the acting and the story/dialog draw the audience into the ‘verse?
The feature winner again is B:IW, which is even more of an accomplishment given the size of the cast. Because for contrast, I feel the acting in the short film The Verse is the best of ALL the Firefly fan films. There were no acting or dialog moments that pulled me out of the film. But, the maker of The Verse only had to find a dozen folks to put before the camera. Contrast that task with the need to put dozens-plural of believable characters on screen as in B:IW or BC:R; or even the larger casts of Into The Black, Bellflower, or Ruins of Du Khang. Fan-acting is an issue in all the Firefly fan films except The Verse, but to many varying degrees.

I think Cache took a wise approach in casting their film. They had only five people on screen and only two of those characters had to carry the story. As a light-hearted note, one of the two (non-speaking) Alliance troopers was actually the lead actress's father, there to make sure the project his daughter answered the ad for, was legit. A Faithful Companion took a similar approach in keeping the actor quality high by keeping the character count low.

Bellflower is releasing their film bits at a time, and I continue to be amazed by the work done by this group that, to the best of my knowledge, has no other filmmaking experience to their credit. I like all the people who inhabit their 'verse; a credit to the actors and their presentation of the story.

In terms of story and dialog, I think most of the Firefly fan films have done a decent job of presentation. BC:R tried a little too hard to squeeze fannish references into their script, and there were a few squirmers, like the boy genius engineer trying to explain why the ship was like a girl. B:IW's introduction of the Nazi trenchcoat, eye patch, evil villain was their over-the-top moment, and Bellflower's ship mechanic's mumbling dialog about his trash can robot gets my vote for their cutting room floor moment. Please note that I'm not picking on these fan films. Many, many high budget Hollywood films written by top experienced writers have their moments that played well on the pages of the script or on the soundstage, but don't work in the film. Two that were edited out of the BDM Serenity were Inara bringing a bow-and-arrows to a Reaver fight, and fireworks at the funeral scene. But let's face it folks, we can all name those moments in "real" films that made us as the audience go "WHAAA...?!" (The Joker shoots down the hi-tech Batplane with a rubber barreled revolver, anyone?) In my mind, B:IW did a good job of juggling varying levels of story and character intensity in both acting and dialog. I think nearly all the films have done a good job of telling us who their characters are, and I say curse The Verse for doing such a great job OF MAKING US WANT MORE!

In terms of technical excellence, top marks have to go to The Verse and B:IW. Both films have a very "rich" look (like chocolate, not money) despite being starkly different. B:IW is vibrant while being dark (how do you DO that?!) and The Verse is very dynamic, whether shot on the ship's set or outside in the desert. Both teams used their cameras to help tell the stories; long shot, group shot, back and forth, close ups; the audience was kept IN the action. Oddly enough, two of the more ambitious projects, BC:R and Ruins of Du Khang, were the ones who most fell short in using their cameras to involve the audience and tell the story. The shooting schedule for BC:R was too short to allow the number takes and angles that might have helped up the energy of their story telling, and Ruins was kind of confusing with too many look alike characters and places, that the camera work didn't help clarify. Adding to BC:R's technical woes, they had serious sound problems that were never straightened out, even in the follow-up special edition. To the credit of all the short films, they might have looked like home movies or video, but I was always in the action and I knew what was going on. I have a disagreement with an online Browncoat friend as to the quality of the look of Bellflower. To his qualified eye it is lacking, but viewed through the lens of my love for Firefly fan films, I really like it. To me, it has the look of found footage; and no, I don't mean like "shaky-cam" that was briefly so popular. Once again, for total newbies, I think Bellflower has done a good job of showing their world, combining it with the VFX, keeping the audience in the action, highlighting the visual clues that the story takes place in the 'verse and moving the (actually rather slowly developing) story forward.

At this point, I think Bellflower is the VFX top of the heap, with The Verse and B:IW in second and third. The fact that Bellflower takes place on a spaceship that lands and takes off, flies and re-enters, visits planets and a space station, and even disgorges passengers; means there is a LOT of CGI, especially for a mostly one man show. In contrast, the CGI of BC:R was limited to mostly donated insert shots from NEO FX. The Verse made fair use of VFX, but with less than fifteen minutes of story to tell, no comparison. For all the professionalism brought to the table by the B:IW team, they mention in their special features that VFX was something of a learn as you go experience for them. And even at that, B:IW does a nice job of using VFX to increase army size and depict an Independents air strike. Ruins of Du-Khang tried to use physical models with some kind of green screen. The complexity of the models didn't work with the limitations of green screen, and I think their story would have been better served if they had tried really old school of shooting light colored craft against a black backdrop. But, yunno, props for trying.

In terms of stunt work, B:IW is the undisputed champ. They blew up stuff, (heck, they blew up PEOPLE), they fired thousands of rounds of blanks, there was bludgeoning and bayoneting and knife fighting. Yeah, I don't think anyone is topping this one any time soon. The Verse threw a punch or two, but I think the runner up might be the main character fight scene in BC:R. The peripheral characters fights aren't quite as realistic, but since that was my rather expensive Alliance armor out there, I'm rather biased to breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn't TOO intense. But boy, the good guy-girl and the bad guy really let each other have it; and additionally, the special features on the training that went into the fight scene is pretty good, too. The fight scenes in Ruins of Du Khang were pretty well choreographed, as well. The fight scene in The Game, where Jayne single-handedly takes out every bad guy was entertaining in its own right.

All that is left is the availability of the Firefly fan films that have been made so far.
Making a fan film available to a mass audience can be a challenge, because the better and more available a fan film is, the more likely it is to attract the attention of the Intellectual Property (IP) holders and their sometimes overzealous lawyers.

It pains me to put Into The Black in last place because I don't think it will ever BE available. This was one of the pioneer Firefly fan films; either Into The Black or Bellflower is the first , and I'm not sure which, but Into The Black was the first one I was aware of. What content was released is still to be found on Youtube, so all is not lost. It is a shame to think of all the hard work that went into making Into The Black, knowing that the digital video tape is languishing (and likely deteriorating) somewhere.

Bellflower is still slowly progressing, and the segments are available to view on Youtube as they are finished. The early trailers and some behind the scenes videos are still out there as well. I didn't include Shadows On The Wind because there is so little content to view, but I believe at this point, they will likely join the roster of finished Firefly fan films before Bellflower. This is a shame and a blessing at the same time, as I believe Shadows on the Wind will be an upper tier quality film, but I REALLY want to see Bellflower cross the finish line.

All of the short films are available as videos online at this time except A Faithful Companion. I'm not sure what the release plans are for that one, outside of its availability to the project backers. Small projects have a habit of disappearing off the web, so I recommend committing any films you want to keep to DVD or a hard drive. In looking for links for this fan film roundup, I could not find the Across The Black project online. But I still have my copy on DVD. The Verse is likely to available for quite sometime because of its quasi-official status. But even at that, merchandise licenses expire and content can disappear. At this time, I have committed all the online Firefly fan film content to DVD. One of these days, I need to throw a Triple F shindig and watch them all!

Of the features, only Bellflower is on the web. As of now, the two main issues are legalities and, in the case of the two earliest features, incompleteness. Short films usually ride under the original IP holders' radar, but the more ambitious a project becomes, the more likely it is viewed as a threat to the original IP holders' rights. In my view, fan films should be viewed as marketing and a way to keep a franchise in the public eye at no cost to the original IP holders. Maybe the problem is that the studios are churning out such regurgitated drek, they have a right to think people would rather watch fan films. Oops, did I say that out loud? (coughJJTREKcough) Anyway, on that train of thought, I'm glad to see that the new generation of Firefly fan films are moving away from the, "broken down ship-crew's got secrets-character with an opposite sex name" model, and starting to tell original tales from the 'verse.

To wrap up, the quality of all the fan films lies strictly in the eyes of the beholder. If you are a believer that there is no Firefly but Joss Whedon's Firefly, you're not going to like any of these Firefly fan films. If there is no movie but a big budget Hollywood movie in your eyes, only The Verse has a chance of passing muster. Yeah, sorry, but that's the truth. As good as B:IW is, it is still a $30 million dollar movie made for $30 thousand. Ingenuity and a dedicated, talented crew might make it look like one hundred times what it cost, but all the heart in the world won't close a $27 million dollar gap. (of course, a Hollywood movie that HAS a $30 million dollar budget and ends up making half the movie of B:IW, really has no excuse.) For the "there is no movie but a professional movie" viewer, what chance does a thousand dollar backyard fan film have? None, frankly.

I can speak only for myself, but I watch fan films with an understanding of, and empathy for, the circumstances of the filmmaker. In thinking about it, I even do this to a degree with Hollywood movies. (I still marvel that the movie "The Losers" was made for twenty-some million bucks.) I look at what I think the creators were trying to achieve, and applaud however close to that vision they were able to achieve. As a semi-insider (very semi; more like peering in the screen door) I think it is important that fan fiilm and low to no budget filmmakers support each other. Whether professional or hobbyist, fan film making can best serve the accepting audience by being a cooperative rather than a competitive venture. And at this point, I'd like to thank Francis Hamada of B:IW, Julian Higgins of The Verse, Cliff Ackman of Cache, Frank Fradella of A Faithful Companion, William Pace of the Utah Brownvcoats, Matt Black and the 2017 BCB committee, and Adam Newall of Titan Books for letting me be, to varying degrees, just a little closer to the creative side of the Firefly 'verse.
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Re: Firefly Fan Film Roundup

Postby taimdala » Thu Apr 05, 2018 5:38 pm

AWESOME REVIEW, Mike! :thumbsup:

We need to post this online outside this forum. More people need to read this!
"Never, never, never give in ... except to convictions of honor and good sense."
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