Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hurt Locker, Indie Films, Financing TV - Part I

I'll cut this long post into two parts again as an experiment.
The topic here is "If you want to understand the world, follow the money." And by following the business model and financing sources for the fiction delivery system, we might understand things well enough to boost the Alien Romance field's respectability. So here is a history lesson in financing fiction, followed by how that historical root has shaped what's happening now and reveals what might happen next. If you anticipate what's going to happen next, you can turn a profit on it.
Part I

The world of commercial fiction has been turned inside out, upside down, and backwards by the advent of the Web, and especially Web 2.0 with Web 3.0 and even 4.0, all going mobile.

iPhones, iPads, TV sets that hook up to your home network and let you fish for TV shows and films posted online, with or without a fee, nevermind Kindle and now iPads that can access Kindle's library.

The result of all this technology is a world which closely resembles the world STAR TREK fanzine writers really wanted to create.

And I don't mean in their fiction. Most portrayals of The Enterprise in STAR TREK fanzine stories was less futuristic than the 1960's TV show itself.

I mean in the ability to participate in joint story creations, to communicate instantly, to collaborate and share, all to the purpose of expressing in fiction what is nearest and dearest to the heart. To share universes.

In order to create and purvey their pastiche fiction based on a TV show, fan writers invented an entirely new world.

But they didn't do it all by themselves out of nothing.

Here's how it happened, and I'll show you below what all this has to do with The Hurt Locker (the film about a bomb squad in Iraq that won an Academy Award in 2010).

This also relates to the transformation of the artist's business model by the re-defining of "copyright" erupting from the whole Open Source software movement, and Creative Commons Licensing.

And that copyright issue can be traced back to Star Trek fanzine writers too. Oh, what a tangled web!

Before 1966 and Star Trek, in the 1930's, science fiction magazines connected readers of science fiction and basically invented modern SF as well as SF fandom. In fact, the very people who invented modern SF and created that community (called First Fandom) actually invented the word "fandom" out of "fanatic" and "domain" or "Kingdom."

Science Fiction fans, a bunch of guys, mostly in New York and Philadelphia, got together (physically met in one physical place), and kept meeting regularly and irregularly and created "conventions" as the events where the most of them would turn up.

They admired the writers in the magazines and the very few books. As it became hard to get together physically, they began writing to each other about the stories in the magazines and books, and about the writers, and about each other, and about the most recent gatherings. They invented an entire language to discuss these matters.

There came to be more and more of them, so they needed many copies of their letters to each other, and invented "fanzines." At first these were a few pages filled with letters and essays, copied on a spirit duplicator (which printed in purple ink), and later on mimeograph (decades before xerox copiers were invented), and stapled, then mailed to each other via the Post Office. Yes, snail mailed.

The letters would typically be a few weeks or a few months old by the time you got to read them.

At first, nobody charged money for these fanzines. You got them by contributing a letter or article. The publisher footed the expense out of pocket.

Some 'zines became so large that publishers asked non-contributors to pay a fee for paper, printing and postage. Audiences grew.

I have a fanzine of this variety with a letter from me in it, and my contributor's copy took more than 3 years to catch up with me, what with all the forwarded addresses.

I joined SF snailmail fandom when I was in 7th grade and have been a member of the N3F ever since (National Fantasy Fan Federation - founded by damon knight who also founded SFWA, the profession SF writer's organization where I'm also a Life Member).

Into this world of SF Fandom, Star Trek was born. The show captured the attention of SF Fen (the plural of fan is fen). They discussed it in fanzines.

Devra Langsam and some other New York fen who were captivated by Star Trek started a Star Trek fanzine called Spockanalia -- on mimeo, paper now totally disintegrated, ink faded, and I still have my copies. I had an article MR. SPOCK ON LOGIC, in the 4th issue.

The idea caught on, and suddenly Spockanalia was publishing fiction.

SF 'zines usually didn't publish fiction except as send-ups, spoofs, farces and gotcha's.

But suddenly, dozens of Star Trek fanzines were publishing fiction and articles and letters of comments on the fan written fiction and articles. A whole new world of Star Trek was born.

And Star Trek conventions where fanzines were sold, and story ideas concocted for more fanzines.

I created the Star Trek Welcommittee (modeled on the N3F Welcommittee which had welcomed me into fandom)to answer fan mail from STAR TREK LIVES! ST Welcommittee connected thousands of new and isolated Star Trek fans to the snailmail network. It's being reincarnated on facebook by another fan now.

Today that snailmail world of fanfic and letters of comment on fanfic lives and grows online. Last week here (May 4th, 2010) we derived a writing lesson in SHOW DON'T TELL from a bit of fanfic based on the TV show White Collar published on fanfiction.net.

What has SF Snailmail Fandom to do with Indie Films?

Star Trek fandom produced (is still producing) billions of words of fiction derived from a TV show. It connected thousands of writers and readers in a network that spanned the globe and discussed life in terms of fiction.

The content of that fanfiction violated all the "rules" and requirements of published SF, but was in most cases actually SF.

For a quick overview of classic Star Trek fanfic and some prime examples you can read free see:


The SF-Romance was, I believe, first explored in one of those fanzines, an Inspirational SF Romance.


Those first classic ST fanzines sold and traded at Star Trek conventions gave rise to the "genzine" -- 'zines that contained not just Star Trek but pastiche derived from other TV shows (Man From Uncle, The Professionals). Then whole 'zines devoted to other shows (Dr. Who, etc).

Today, fanfiction.net has almost every TV show's fans posting fanfic.

These original TV spinoff fanzines had to be non-profit (and able to prove it) because of violation of copyright. At first, Star Trek, and other shows tried to stop fanzines being printed and circulated with actual legal cease and desist notices for copyright infringement.

This led to a clarification of the copyright law called today "fair use" and with a proper disclaimer and proof you make no profit, you can distribute fanfic.

That re-energized the fanfic community, and now a whole generation has grown up with a very different idea of what copyright is and what it's for.

Remember, Star Trek gathered, connected and energized whole communities of very geekish tech-minded young people. Out of that community's attitudes and activities has arisen the "Open Source" software movement and Creative Commons licensing.

Now we have a whole philosophy of life based on the "Open Source" concepts.

Meanwhile, also out of the (mostly) women fiction writers and readers arose another boundary shattering behavior.

The women who wrote TV pastiche wanted SF-Romance, and wouldn't let the traditional publishers deny it to them. They wrote it themselves.

At that time, you could not sell (professionally) any original SF or Fantasy that had even ONE sex scene in it.

Fanzine markets grew explosively after STAR TREK LIVES! was published by Bantam.

Then you could have go-to-black sex scenes in prof SF/F novels but human/non-human sexual relationship was considered, well, ...kinky?

1985, my SF Romance DUSHAU won the first Romantic Times Award for SF. (3rd novel in that trilogy gets right down to the sexual issue)

For Kindle edition and free chapters see

November 16, 1986 issue of The New York Times Book Review published (now famous traditionally published SF author) Camille Bacon-Smith's article SPOCK AMONG THE WOMEN featuring Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Star Trek fan fiction.

Then you could have chaste, non-anatomical-language sex scenes in prof SF/F novels.

Academic books mentioned ST fanfic, other newspapers, TV interviews, the internet -- online fanfic explosion.

And now you can hardly sell SF or Fantasy without fully orchestrated, every detailed action revealed, sex scenes. And prof Romance novels use sex scenes the way SF novels once used action-scenes -- as a pacing, punctuation between plot developments.

As the teen fanfic writers and readers grew up, the professional market accommodated their demand for more sex in their adventure fiction (i.e. mixing genres).

Now the biggest professional market is kickass heroine fantasy with combat punctuated by sex scenes. SF without sex isn't selling so well.

SF Snailmail Fandom formed the basis of ST snailmail fandom which created a market which is now served by traditional publishers.

The Indie Film community is following the same developmental path.

The Hurt Locker is an Indie Film. (Independent Film; not a product of Disney, Warner Brothers, big studios).

It's not even the first Indie to win that kind of major attention. Low budget, non-studio films, have done this before.

And that's not a new path. The women's Gothic Novel, once circulated in handwritten manuscripts woman-to-woman, eventually emerged into professionally printed novels.

What young teen fans do quietly on their own, even privately, eventually (used to take 40 years; now it may be only 10 years) emerges to dominate the adult world.

The Indie Film was essentially a fanzine until recent years, and at some levels still is. Most of the indies made are made by beginners or amateurs just for the fun of it.

YouTube has unleashed a flood of talent among the youngest people, learning to entertain an audience with a video, just as young people learned to entertain readers with fanfic and moved on to become professional writers and editors -- who now publish material with those same quirks professionally.

Recent works, like The Hurt Locker, are blazing a trail for works done as much from love of the subject and the medium as for the profit, are reaching award levels.

You must see this one, starring Nichelle Nichols -- click this link to see all the very interesting awards this film won --

Lady Magdelene's
(if you've got 2 or 3 hours - you can watch it on amazon video on-demand for $3)


Clicking that link won't force you to pay. You can see all about the movie.

This is a well marketed indie film.

I loved it because the flaws don't bother me any more than the flaws in a fanzine. It showed me a lot about what's happening in the low budget, indie film market, and what real professional skill used in a bare-bones budget film can achieve.

And this one won a number of film festival awards besides the one listed on imdb.com

The point here is that Indie Films have become the modern fanzine, even more than text pastiche on fanfiction.net

And the off-beat, violate-all-the-rules content of these films is becoming mainstream because these indie films are creating an audience.

This Indie Film audience is like the readers of SF in the 1970's who stopped buying traditionally published SF to spend their time and money on Star Trek fanzines.

And then, when Star Trek novels were published by Pocket, they might read those novels, but flatly refuse to follow the professional SF authors who wrote those novels into the author's other SF/F universes.

The publishers concluded that Star Trek fans were not interested in SF/F.

They were wrong.

It was the traditional publisher's rules that turned the readers off.
So here I'll cut you off in suspense. Look for Part II next Tuesday.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg