An interesting Harry Potter fan film is on its way to YouTube, but beyond the excitement that comes with it, this is an important moment for fans because of Warner Bros.’ approach to it.
While we’re all talking about Fantastic Beasts, Tryangle Films is working on a live-action prequel of their own focused around Tom Riddle and his journey to become Lord Voldemort, a story with huge potential to add to our collective headcanon.
But making a film is no easy feat, and when it’s a project made by a fandom, and for a fandom, it requires significant campaigning to get adequate funding. And as Tryangle Films found, crowdfunding for a fan movie isn’t easy. Warner Bros. quickly stepped in and shut it all down. The campaign was suspended.
It’s a familiar story, and one that usually ends with the project permanently scrapped. But this time, things went differently. Voldemort: Origins of the Heir director Gianmaria Pezzato told Polygon:
“We had a private and confidential discussion with Warner Bros who contacted us during the period of the crowdfunding campaign. The only thing we can say is that they let us proceed with the film, in a non profit way, obviously.”
The new fan-made prequel is on its way to YouTube, and you can watch the trailer here.
It’s no secret that Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling are probably the scariest people to have come after you about copyright issues. It’s not necessarily a bad thing: copyright exists for a reason, and authors (and studios) have every right to protect what is theirs so others don’t profit from it without permission. It’s certainly not fair when fans can get away with selling content that profits more than the original work.
But rules become hazy when it comes to content like Harry Potter fan films. While they’re certainly allowed to create what they want using names or characters from the Harry Potter books, as long as they aren’t profiting from them, rules can still be limiting. How do you fund a more ambitious project if you aren’t allowed to receive money in its name? How do you distribute or advertise something without a lawsuit, pure as your intentions may have been?
Out of all the world’s biggest fandoms, Harry Potter is possibly the most behind when it comes to fan films. While we’ve produced overwhelming amounts of fiction, art, music (Wizard Rock is its own genre), and theatre (the latest production, Puffs is currently playing!), there really isn’t as much film content available.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any. The OMEn Chronicles, a project by Wren Weichman that was seemingly discontinued, was one of the first glimpses at the potential for fan creation in film. And last year, Broad Strokes amazed us with the impressive Severus Snape and the Marauders, a 25-minute fan film about the last encounter between the Marauders, Snape, and Lily before they left Hogwarts. They also made The Greater Good, a 17-minute film about the battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore that ultimately ended in Ariana Dumbledore’s death.
Broad Strokes also faced the same crowdfunding dilemma. Director Justin Zagri said: “They did contact us. They did not shut down the film. They just asked us not to raise any more money. The movie will still release.”
But the fear seems to still be there. Comparing Harry Potter to other fandoms, it seems years behind in this field. The Lord of the Rings fandom brought amazing high-quality movies such as The Hunt for Gollum and Born of Hope to life, while The Hunger Games’ fans brought us the Finnick and Annie web series, and films like The Second Quarter Quell and the incredible Cirrus Quell. Star Wars and Star Trek have an even longer history of producing excellent movies that expand upon canon (although Star Trek is fighting a battle of its own, with CBS setting severe limits for fan films).
It’s all rather bizarre; although young in comparison to Lord of the Rings or Star Trek, Harry Potter fans have had much more time than Hunger Games to create films, but have yet to rival them.
Warner Bros.’ decision to allow Tryangle Films and Broad Strokes to move forward with a Harry Potter fan film is a powerful statement. Perhaps they’re finally confident enough that fan-made films can never be a detriment to the source material, or perhaps they’ve just been waiting for the right moment to let it happen, being done with the main series of movies and confident that Fantastic Beasts can only profit from the free advertising.
Either way, it’s a relief to creators who may have previously felt apprehensive of dabbling in the Wizarding World. Maybe it’s time that the Harry Potter fandom, comprised of millions of talented young people who are eager to put their skills to a universe they love, get a chance to shine.
But why does it matter?
It matters because fan creation is what makes a fandom. It shows us how content is being perceived, and expands upon it. It helps people find their place in the Wizarding World, and feel like they have a part in its creation, even if that part is not canon-compliant.
Most importantly, it’s a gateway for fans who don’t see themselves represented in the content they consume. In fanfiction and fan art, the sheer abundance of LGBTQ+ pairings, interracial pairings, race-bent characters and female-centric stories point to a desperate need on the fandom’s part to see itself reflected in the universe it loves.
It’s also a simple way for creators to get practice in their fields, and to gain an audience. Sometimes, it’s even a means to propel directors, writers, photographers and actors to stardom — people who will eventually become priceless resources for the studios themselves.
But this space is never allowed to flourish if fan creation is stifled. Our fear of attack from Warner Bros. over copyright issues has held us back from being as creative and expressive as other fandoms, some of which are even smaller than Harry Potter.
So maybe you don’t enjoy watching fan-made films, or consume fan-made content at all. That’s okay. But you absolutely must support the amazing precedent that has just been set by Warner Bros. in dealing with Voldemort: Origins of the Heir. It’s a step towards opening Harry Potter up to fully becoming the cultural phenomenon it wants to be.
These fans are making new stories that are free for the public, with no monetary gain for themselves. They’re a testament to the fact that Harry Potter can bring people together to do what film studios cannot: create a piece that is completely independent from monetary aspirations, that is made purely out of love, for those who love it.
Whether the film is good or bad, whether it blows us away or leaves us wishing the budget had been better, or the actors more talented, or the writing more skillful… always support fan-made content that is created out of love for the universe, and not for profit.
Encourage those who want to make creations of their own, and if you like their work, keep watching, even when they venture out beyond the worlds you know. These are the filmmakers (and the writers, and the artists, and the actors) of the future.
What other Harry Potter fan films would you like to see?
Update 06/15: Warner Bros. reached out to Hypable with a statement in reference to the Voldemort: Origins of the Heir production mentioned in this article:
“This is not a J.K. Rowling storyline and of course J.K. Rowling is the only person who truly knows the real origins of Voldemort. The production is neither official nor approved by Warner Bros. and is not being treated any differently to any other Harry Potter fan film. We contacted the makers of this fan film, as we usually do, to ensure that they work within appropriate parameters – including that it is made clear this is by fans for fans, reflected in time and budget, not commercial – which includes no paid cast or crew, no crowd-funding, no ads, no theatrical release, no competitions or festivals. Such guidelines enable us to maintain our fan-friendly approach.”