A few months ago, Maya and I went to a convention at which someone was showing their latest fan film effort. I won’t say which con or which fandom, but it’s well-known. I remember many thoughts going through the filmmaker side of my brain while the other half sat back to be entertained:
“Wow, the production values are stunning. Good job on them getting the talent and funding.”
“How did they get that guy to show up? Are they that well-connected, or did he just think it would be fun to be in a random fan thing?”
“This story’s kinda weird, but that fits the universe in which this is set, so okay.”
But most importantly: “After going to all this trouble, why can’t the lead performer act worth beans?”
Now, I’m no award-winner when it comes to acting. I’ve done community theater, no-budget film, and sketch comedy on stage. Humble stuff, yet I’m proud of it. But one of the things I do know about acting is that in 2015, any computer can read lines. But if you are playing a real, live person, everything you say has emotions, opinions, history, and personality in it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a single line: this is how human beings behave!
Here’s a line: “Well, I’m going to order pizza.” Alone, that line means nothing. But think of all the different ways you might say that in real life! Perhaps you haven’t had pizza in a month, and now you can order your favorite. Perhaps you are bored by pizza, but you know it’s the only thing the rest of the room will agree on so you’ve given up. Perhaps you’re defiant, because the rest of the room is ordering Chinese, but screw them. Perhaps you are a Vulcan, and you must act like the ordering of pizza means nothing to you but inside, pizza reminds you of the mother for whom you could never properly express love. (Now we’re getting into the tricky stuff.)
Too many fan film actors just read lines as if that’s enough. Since the character speaking isn’t real, there is no need to consider who they feel about the line, what they are thinking inside, the context of the situation and the others nearby; it’s just typing on a script page. And it doesn’t matter if your Kickstarter collected a million dollars and you got Benedict Cumberbatch to appear, if you just read the lines, your film is going to suck.
And that, by the way, is why I’m not naming names. Even the cheapest fan film represents a massive outlay of time, resources, and effort on the parts of multiple people. I can’t just sit here and sneer at that hard work. I celebrate it, and I hope they learn and they get better, because that kind of dedication will always beat “Oh, I always wanted to make a fan film, but I somehow never got around to it.” That really sucks.