The relationship between creator and spectator, especially as it relates to film and television shows, is an interesting one. After pouring blood, sweat, and tears into a project, it is then released to the public for consumption, and the creator no longer has any control; including how the project will be received. Given the amount of media that gets released, some titles get lost in the mix, others are lambasted upon arrival, and some change the face of popular culture forever.
Since its 1966 premiere, Star Trek has launched an ongoing franchise, with six live-action shows, one animated program, several movies, with current talks to bring a new show forth as well (alongside the currently airing Discovery). It’s official convention, which takes place in Las Vegas, That is quite the impressive feat for a show whose pilot had to be reshot entirely. Then, of course, there’s the ongoing Star Wars saga, with its TV show spinoffs and massive toy sales, it changed the landscape of blockbuster cinema forever.
So, what happens when you want to become more than a spectator in one of these (or a different, yet equally viable) fictional universes? Some people cosplay to become those characters, some write fan fiction to actively engage in that world, and some create fan films. Traditionally, a fan film is short (but not always) and is set within a given property’s world, but does not necessarily take place during the main action of the beloved title.
Backyard Blockbusters, from writer-director John E. Hudgens, turns its sights onto those folks that make fan films. Hudgens has intimate knowledge of this world, as he has made several well-received movies of this ilk such as The Jedi Hunter and Crazy Watto. This understanding of the sacrifices made for fan films comes across onscreen in a caring, empathetic way. The documentary never looks down on its participants for creating their (typically short) passion projects; quite the opposite actually, as the film admires these people and all the hardworking they are putting into their passion projects.
“…turns its sights onto those folks that make fan films.”
Talking to luminaries of the fan film world such as Sandy Collora, the man behind the well-known Batman: Dead End short (in which Batman fights the Predator and a Xenomorph), Dan Poole who created a Spider-Man short, and the creators of Ryan Vs. Dorkman, Ryan Wieber and Michael Scott, Hudgens covers several of the most prominent eras of fan filmmaking. Troops is fondly remembered by those who saw the Cops-style parody about Stormtroopers, and it ingrained itself so much that some folks only think of Troops when the theme song from that long-running show is heard.
Of course, context is everything, so the fan filmmakers aren’t the only people interviewed. Rounding up actors such as Walter Koenig and George Takei to discuss their thoughts on fan films, as well as film critics and pop culture experts like Harry Knowles and Clive Young (and Film Threat founder Chris Gore). This not only sets the stage for what was available at the time of a fan film’s inception but also allows for the fan films to be placed in the larger universe properly by those who were there.
The level of detail Backyard Blockbusters provides for each title is exhaustive, and given the affectionate tone the filmmakers take, the movie proves cute and delightful. However, that same eye for detail also proves to be a bit of an issue. Trey Stokes gets interviewed several times about other titles, and different interviewees name drop his Pink Five series, long before the audience is told about the movie.
Pink Five, which is a trilogy of films, is about valley girl Stacey, a Rebel fighter pilot. The first film became such a hit that creator Trey Stokes finished off the series with Pink Five Strikes Back and Return Of Pink Five. It became so popular, that was eventually put into canon, via an official Star Wars book (I believe this was before the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm). Audiences and peers alike seem to love it and based on the clips, its production, and set design looks stellar.
“…Hudgens clearly loves the fan film community and understands what they sacrifice to produce a fan film.”
But not knowing this, at around the one hour mark, does mean that when Pink Five is discussed against other titles, earlier in the documentary, the comparisons don’t work. This is a recurring problem, that means some points those being interviewed are making don’t always hit. However, it does not hamper the film too much.
As by the time the movie sits down to talk with Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, the audience will be taken aback by the impressive dedication everyone on camera shows; especially those two though. When they were 11 and 12 respectively, the two friends set out to make a shot for shot remake of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Their segment here is a microcosm of everything discussed before. They made the film during the summers, with virtually no money and no formal training of any kind. The filmmakers throughout discuss the time and money it takes to make something, even five minutes long; so imagine what it took for kids to make a full remake of one of the most popular action-adventure stories of all time.
Backyard Blockbusters does not quite hit all the marks, as it just cannot give all the details about every movie at one time. This does mean that specific conversations don’t always make sense. However, director John Hudgens clearly loves the fan film community and understands what they sacrifice to produce a fan film. Couple that with the engaging interviewees, who run the gamut of fandom, and you have a solid, fun, sweet documentary.
Backyard Blockbuster (2018) Directed by John E. Hudgens. Written by John E. Hudgens. Starring Chris Albrecht, Trey Stokes, Dan Poole, James Cawley, Chris Gore, Sandy Collora, Paul Dini, Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala.
8.5 Gummi Bears (out of 10)