Despite a long list of high profile films ranging from cult-hits (Dredd) to award season darlings (Lone Survivor), producer Adi Shankar is best known for high-profile unauthorized short film interpretations of popular movie and TV franchises. Dubbed the “Bootleg Universe,” Shankar has delivered alternate, not to mention very R-Rated, takes on everything from Venom to an animated Dredd spinoff series titled: Judge Dredd: Superfiend. However, recently, the producer/filmmaker has kicked his short film releases into overdrive – releasing two separate Bootleg Universe entries in the span of a single week: Power/Rangers (a NSFW take on the beloved kids TV show) and James Bond: In Service of Nothing (a 007 parody adventure starring an animated Sean Connery).
Within hours of their respective premieres, each short film had racked up millions of views and, thanks to social media, the videos became viral hits – reaching movie geek die-hards and casual internet browsers, alike. Yet, with all that attention came an equally strong response from creators, talent, and studios behind official versions of the Power Rangers (Saban Entertainment) and James Bond (MGM), respectively – armed with takedown notices and threat of legal action against Shankar and his team. For Saban and MGM – not to mention a long list of studios/networks before them – projects like Shankar’s Bootleg Universe represent unlawful use of licensed properties. But while the producer and legal teams battle over where to draw the line between artistic expression (as it pertains to fair use) and blatant theft, we’ve got several reasons why studios should love (and openly promote) fan-made short films.
There are plenty of reasons why creators should be protective of their properties – especially in a time when anyone with a camera and internet access can create a viral fan film. Ultimately, the creators or owners of a franchise, character, or idea, are the guardians of the original concept – the people responsible for ensuring that any future iteration stays, at some level, true to the spirit of the source material and/or maintains the long term profitability of the brand. To that end, it’s understandable that a fan-made viral video of Mickey Mouse spewing racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs would require a swift response from Disney lawyers; yet, most fan-made videos walk a more careful (and respectful) line – while stimulating interest in franchises that, frankly, could use some fresh ideas and buzz-worthy press.
NOTE: While there are countless fan-made films that studios and creators should love (and promote), in the interest of staying focused, the majority of this editorial will use Shankar’s Bootleg Universe for examples – since the producer has become especially notorious with rights holders in recent months. That said, feel free to list your personal favorite fan-films in the comment sections after reading the post!
Free Promotion: Making the Old Cool Again
At the very least, fan-made short films rekindle nostalgia and interest in brands that have entirely flatlined or fallen under the modern pop culture radar. Even if reaction to a bootleg video is mostly negative, it still gets people talking – and, in a lot of cases, keeps fans excited at the prospect of new franchise installments. Taking Power Rangers as an example: before Power/Rangers hit the web, when was the last time that anyone over the age of twelve was genuinely excited about a new Mighty Morphing adventure?
Some die-hard faithfuls were, understandably, interested to hear that Saban Entertainment was in the process of bringing Megazord action back to the big screen; however, given the increasing cost of theater admission and number of must-see event films hitting theaters in the coming years (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), how many former fans would ultimately shell-out cash for tickets – especially if the film aims toward the pre-teen/teen audience (or takes too many liberties with the source material)?
Power/Rangers: Unauthorized & Hardcore
Modern Saturday morning TV watchers may have followed the show from Power Rangers Samurai to Power Rangers Megaforce/Super Megaforce and on to Power Rangers Dino Charge, but each one will eventually outgrow the children’s program – and trade-up to meatier hero properties. Understandably, Saban Entertainment does not want the current Power Rangers audience seeing Shankar’s violent take on the series, but the short film succeeded in reminding an entirely separate subset of fans – specifically twenty and thirty-somethings – that the franchise still has the potential to be cool and relevant – even in an industry filled to the brim with CGI blockbusters.
At the end of the day, studios (in this case Saban Entertainment) should ask: are viewers more or less interested in Power Rangers (and the prospect of a big screen relaunch) after seeing the fan-made short film? Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the bootleg video – especially the opening Megazord fight – it’s clear that even if Saban doesn’t like Shankar’s movie, the short film reignited interest in their brand.
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