I’m fond of telling my kids, when they say they want to watch something on YouTube, about the hardships I had to endure to watch the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace back in 1998. I hit them with stories of dial-up internet connections that tried to download a Quicktime file — a process which could be interrupted at any moment if someone called the phone in my dorm room.
“I’d start playing it, pause it, go down and have dinner and then come back up and it would mostly be ready,” I say. This is my generation’s “walking uphill to school both ways in the snow.”
Contrast that with 2015 and the trailers for The Force Awakens, which were available instantaneously on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes and just about anywhere else that supported video uploads (a broad swath of players at the moment).
What really gets me, though, is not the ubiquity of online video or the evolution of the format over the last 17 years (yikes). Instead it’s how quickly derivative content now floods the feed in the wake of the release of original material.
Even four years ago it was probably a month between the release of an official trailer for some highly-anticipated movie and the first notable fan version popping on YouTube. Sometimes that was a LEGO-ized video. Sometimes it was a “sweded” version, with people using zero-budget props and cardboard-cutout animation.Two years ago that was probably down to two weeks. Thanks to improved tools, now it’s down to a matter of days. So with each new The Force Awakens trailer we’ve seen fan versions pop up inside of 48 or 72 hours. And it’s not just everyday fans that are doing it; recently the United States Air Force put out their own version of one of the trailers.
Not only are these fan-created videos becoming more and more prevalent, they’re gaining serious media traction in and of themselves. Part of that is the race by news sites for “viral” content that will play well when shared on social platforms. With something that interests such a large segment of the public, like Star Wars, these sites are looking for any beat related to that theme, regardless of how it may push the definition of being news.
With these fan creations going relatively wide, then, it’s all the more refreshing that Disney/Lucasfilm hasn’t had all their lawyers scouring the web taking all these videos down as soon as they’re uploaded and identified. Instead they — and other studios before them for the most part — have at least tacitly endorsed them and let the videos thrive.
Surely this is not only a recognition that these clips likely fall well within “fair use” statutes but also that they are serving the overall marketing machine in ways the official releases either can’t or don’t. They are essentially elements of fan word-of-mouth, as the fans have co-opted the official marketing and run it through their own voice before re-releasing it back out into the wild.
These are just one component of engagement today. Some people will Tweet their excitement about an upcoming movie (or play, or record or TV show) and some people will create derivative videos based on existing material. It’s all fruit of the same tree: fan excitement. And above all, brands must not dampen that excitement, even if there are legal or other restrictions around officially acknowledging it.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge and applaud the people who are so amped up for a movie that they enlist their friends not only to go see it or talk about it but also to create their own content around it. These are the people whose passion runs so deep it can make or break a new product. They deserve the respect and attention they’re getting, all of which is possible not just through the latest and greatest set of technical tools and abilities but the patience and understanding of companies who manage the IP they’re using to express their fandom.