In the beginning, comic books and TV shows relied on their creators to tell the stories. The likes of #StanLee, Jim Starlin and Bob Kane would create a character and regale us all with tales of their adventures. Now, a new breed of writer has emerged: one who has a deep, personal connection to the characters as well as an encyclopaedic knowledge of all of their trials and tribulations — the superfan!
The world has changed dramatically since then, thanks to a little thing called the internet. Now fans aren't just an audience; we're a community. Social media in particular has been a big help in this. Nowadays, Twitter will be rife with reactions to huge TV shows as they happen (which can often, unfortunately, make it a breeding ground for spoilers!) and fans across the globe can share their experiences on opening day.
Because of this, we perhaps value certain things that previous generations of fans could overlook: continuity, easter eggs, authenticity to the source material, and the general sense that this entertainment is produced with us, not just for us. As Hollywood stays focused on sequels, prequels and reboots, studios may bring back original creative teams — such as Ridley Scott directing Blade Runner 2049 and Steven Spielberg directing the next Indiana Jones adventure — or turn to an increasingly popular alternative: someone who transcends the line between fan and filmmaker, such as J.J. Abrams taking the Star Wars reins from George Lucas.
As fans use our blogs and Twitter feeds to offer opinions and information on our favorite characters, and you never know who might just take notice...
The Man Behind 'Doctor Strange': From Fan Blogger To Screenwriter
It's safe to say that #DoctorStrange has been a success for Marvel, but it's also a success for fans in a sense — did you know that the co-writer, C. Robert Cargill, started his life as an independent online film critic? Yes, back in the year 2000, Cargill wrote his first article, a review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for a website called Guerilla Films. This article was met with huge success, and gained 50,000 hits, which was a tremendous achievement back then. It also got him a permanent job writing film reviews online. From there, his influence grew online and he began writing under a number of different pseudonyms for various different websites, most famously as Massawyrm for Ain't It Cool News (which is still his Twitter handle).
All the while, he harbored a desire to be a fiction writer, and used his own reviews as a learning experience, taking particular note of his feedback in an attempt to improve his work. He said:
"I considered every film another day of classes and writing a review a homework assignment and it was graded by everyone who wrote nasty comments on the internet."
After building a portfolio of film reviews, Cargill decided to branch out and expand his writing. He met with his friend, Scott Derrickson, and pitched his first film idea. Derrickson was suitably impressed by his pitch for the film, which turned out to be Sinister, and urged him to move into screenwriting.
From there, Cargill changed his career and became a screenwriter and novelist. This all culminated in the release of Doctor Strange, which Cargill co-wrote with Scott Derrickson. Finally, he had achieved his original dream of going from fan to creator.
Sometimes Pointless Knowledge Goes a Long Way — It Can Even Get You Hired!
Superfans have superpowers — yes, it's true! The knowledge they possess about their favorite superhero allows them to guess upcoming storylines. Taking #Supergirl Season 2, Episode 4 ("Survivors") as an example, many superfans had the knowledge to guess the twist with Miss Martian's character. That doesn't take anything away from the storytelling; if the story is told well, fans will appreciate the show.
The reason I use this particular episode as an example is not just because of the twist ending, but because of something that Kevin Smith revealed while he was showing people around the set of Supergirl in a Facebook Live video. He met with Eric Carrasco, the co-writer of the episode. After exchanging pleasantries, Smith asked the young man to tell the story of how he got his job. Turns out, Carrasco had in fact been offered the job after correctly guessing that it was Mon-El in the pod at the end of Season 1:
"So I'm in the meeting [with Executive Producer] Andrew Kreisberg and I go, 'Who was in the pod at the end of Season 1?' And Andrew says, 'Who do you think is in the pod?' And this is the test and I know it's the test. So, he puts me on the spot. I rattle off a bunch of things. 'Can you use Green Lantern characters? Can you use Sodam Yat?' Can you use this? It could be a Legion thing.' And I finish with, 'Or just go the easy route and maybe it's Mon-El.' Yeah, I got there the first day and he goes, 'You get a gold star. That's why we hired you—was because of the piece of trivia. You figured out what we were going to do with the pod all along.'"
Carrasco went on to say: "My wasted life was not a waste." It's amazing where one piece of trivia can get you in life!
The Original Superfans: Kevin Smith And Quentin Tarantino
Though the two examples above — Cargill and Carrasco — are fairly recent, we can trace the superfans currently operating in Hollywood back to a couple household names. The aforementioned #KevinSmith certainly falls into this category. Though he initially made his name as the director of Clerks, Smith is a HUGE comic fan who has written for both DC and Marvel. His passion for the characters is immediately obvious on the page, whether it is the Daredevil storyline "Guardian Devil" or his 15-part run writing Green Arrow. Hell, his daughter is called Harley Quinn for god's sake!
Check out this video Kevin Smith shared from the set of Supergirl, in which he geeks out about Supergirl flying:
Smith directed arguably the best episode of #TheFlash so far, "The Runaway Dinosaur," towards the end of Season 2. This episode featured Barry Allen trapped in the Speed Force after trying to restore his powers, and it was a subtle and emotional episode. Smith was able to draw out a brilliant performance from Grant Gustin, as Barry explored the true nature of his powers and finally came to terms with the guilt he harbored over his mother's death.
The fact that Kevin Smith understands the characters so well enabled him to get the best out of his actors. He will be returning to direct Episode 7 of Season 3 and will also be directing the upcoming Supergirl episode "Supergirl Lives" — and if his first foray into the #Arrowverse is anything to go by, it will definitely be worth watching!
Another well-known superfan is Quentin Tarantino. His whole career has been based on essentially being the ultimate fan-turned-director. His filmography has encompassed genres from westerns to war films to martial arts. He wrote his first script at age 14, Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit — and since then, Tarantino has gone on to be one of the most influential directors in Hollywood.
Tarantino's success came from the fact that he knew all about films before he ever actually made one. He is arguably the world's biggest film-buff, so he understands what we all want to see — if he enjoys one of his movies, so will the audience.
Filmmaking Is Changing, And So Are Studios
When Tim Miller's test footage for Deadpool leaked online in 2014, fan reaction was enormously positive — this version of the character was so obviously made by a fellow comic book enthusiast, as opposed to the Wade Wilson featured in the first Wolverine solo film. It's no coincidence, in our current fan-driven zeitgeist, that Deadpool went on to become the biggest R-rated blockbuster of all time.
It's also fair to say that the boundaries between professionals and amateurs are becoming increasingly blurry in technical terms. Nowadays, pretty much everybody has the capability to film HD video in their pocket, and video editing software is becoming a staple of modern computers. Because of the ease of access to this technology, anybody can now easily create their own works of art.
More and more fans are starting to create their own content in a variety of forms. This ranges from short films or podcasts to film blogs or even their own video games. The developers at Sega have recently hired some of the developers of the most successful Sonic web games in an attempt to revive the franchise.
There is hope for fans that they can start to influence their idols — it just takes one person to notice them!
Can you think of any other superfans who've hit it big? Let me know in the comments!