Homemade Hollywood: book about fan-films and the obsessives who make them

Clive Young's Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind the Camera is a loving, exhaustive history of the fan-film, going all the way back to the grifters who conned small-town America into paying to get their kids into fake Little Rascals movies to the YouTube era, and everything in between.

Young picks out several case-studies to explore in depth, including such old favorites as Hardware Wars, Robbins Barstow's Tarzan movie, Troops, and plenty others that you've encountered online (and several that you'll want to seek out after reading the book). On the way, he brings the obsessive personalities to life, giving us a peek into the kind of person who'll spend years painstakingly recreating the entirety of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark. Plenty of these people grew up to be famous in their own right (including Tommy Ramone, who participating in a truly hairy early Spiderman fanfilm).

Homemade Hollywood delves into the technique, meaning, and creativity behind fan films, showing how imitation can be original, and how great creative people get their starts copying the things they love. Young also explores the love/hate relationship copyright holders (especially big studios) have with the fans who knock off their goods.

When Young hits his stride, this book is great, a long tale told of obsessives swinging from buildings in Spiderman suits, of melted Lego figures, of children recreating the flaming bar in Raiders of the Lost Ark by setting themselves and their basement on fire, and keeping the camera rolling the whole time.

That said, there were parts of this book where I found myself skimming over a little too much detail — it's clear that Young's every bit as obsessive as the fanfilmers themselves. The production values here were also a little rough — the text changes typeface at random intervals, and there are more typos than usual scattered through the text. And even though Young makes several mentions of fair use and defends a liberal copyright regime, he often repeats the fallacy that noncommercial use is fair use, and that commercial use is infringing (neither of these statements are necessarily true, and some of the most important fair use cases in history hinge on, for example, commercial use being fair, or noncommercial use being infringing).

But setting aside those quibbles, this book's a real treasure, an inspiration to amateur filmmakers everywhere.

Homemade Hollywood: Fans Behind the Camera