“50 Shades of Grey,” “After,” and “The Immortal Instruments” all have one thing in common: they’re works of fanfiction that have been turned into movies! Sometimes written as fanfiction, fan fiction, fanfic, and fic, these stories can be defined as fictional writing created by fans of an existing fiction work such as a movie, book, or television show. Today, I’m talking diving deeper into the things a screenwriter should consider when writing your own fanfiction screenplay.
What is Fanfiction in the Film and Television Industries?
In television, you might find yourself writing a spec script, an episode you imagine of a (usually) currently airing television show. In film, a story may be an adaptation from another work, such as books, articles, short stories, or even “rebooted” older films.
It’s only in recent years that we’ve talked about how many “fanfiction” films are being made and referred to them as such, but when you think about it, fanfiction films have been happening for a long time now. “10 Things I Hate About You” is a 90’s high school fanfic based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. “Galaxy Quest” is a “Star Trek” inspired fanfic. And “Rick and Morty?” That’s “Back to the Future” fanfiction.
Whether people acknowledge it or not, a lot of our more recent pop culture favorites are heavily inspired by something preexisting. In an industry that loves to reboot, franchise, and spin-off, of course, we have a massive prevalence of works that could be described as fanfiction.
Look into Works in the Public Domain
If you’re like me, and the legalities of writing something based on an existing property make your brain hurt, you might consider writing a script based on something in the public domain.
Look at “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” What is that movie if not a zombie apocalypse alternate universe (sometimes abbreviated AU) fanfic based on Pride and Prejudice? Since Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, its copyright has long since expired, meaning the author of its zombie fanfiction didn’t need to ask Jane Austen’s estate for permission before publishing their work.
There are a few ways past work can fall into the public domain:
The copyright has expired
The copyright owner failed to renew the copyright
The copyright owner intentionally placed it in the public domain
Copyright law does not protect that specific type of work
Popular public domain works include Shakespeare’s stories, Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and more. The number of stories in the public domain is extensive and worth looking into for inspiration!
As of January 1, 2021, books published in 1925, films released in 1925, and other works published in 1925 will enter the public domain.
Change the Names and Other References to the Original
Say you’re taking a crack at writing your own fanfic script. You’re writing about characters from a popular TV series, but what if you want to do something with that script? Is it okay to reference and use those characters from another property?
Let’s take E.L. James’ book 50 Shades of Grey, for example. What started as Twilight fanfiction initially followed Bella and Edward set in an alternate universe where he’s a wealthy businessman, and Bella is a young college student who crosses his path. Due to legal reasons, that quickly changed, and we saw Bella and Edward become Christian and Anastasia in the published book and various films.
While Hollywood is continuously looking for the next big idea, it’s also always rehashing things and making the old new again. Whether you call it fanfiction or an adaption, telling stories inspired by or based on existing works always has and will continue to be popular. Don’t believe it when people tell you fanfiction movies are just a trend! If the Marvel Universe, “Riverdale,” or any other famous work is inspiring you to write about those characters in your own story, do it!
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Don’t be afraid to write and see where it leads you. Happy writing!