How Fandom Documentaries Help Hollywood

By  · Published on August 31st, 2015

Don’t Quit Your Day Job Productions

There’s another new Ghostbusters movie on the way. In addition to the official reboot arriving in theaters next summer, there’s a documentary also aiming for a 2016 release. It’s called Ghostheads, and it’s the latest in a long line of fandom-based docs that have taken over a chunk of the nonfiction film market. Surprisingly, this one is not raising awareness and money through a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo (not yet anyway). I heard about this one from the writer and director of the reboot, Paul Feig, who retweeted the new teaser trailer for the doc last week.

There’s an interesting synergy involved in that simple social media support. Feig is obviously helping the doc by blasting its existence to his 1.44m followers. But the doc is also helping Feig and his movie by ensuring and celebrating the fanbase for the property they’re resurrecting. In his tweet, Feig admits that he’s a member of that fanbase, that he’s a “Ghosthead,” which is all about him selling himself as the right man for the job specifically to its most hardcore fans. He loses me, though, by saying the doc – which seems the sort primarily just highlighting fans of something saying they love that something – looks great. If he genuinely believes that, I’m worried about his Ghostbusters movie.

Ghostheads is described as being about fans and made by fans. It should also say it’s specifically for fans, because that’s a large demographic. The thing about Ghostbusters is that it’s not a cult film. It was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1984. And last year it was re-released and, at three-decades old, was still one of the top 200 movies of 2014, taking in more money than Veronica Mars, The Raid 2 and Obvious Child. The movie has a lot of fans. It’s just not all of them dress up in costume let alone belong to a region-specific fan club charter, which is part of the focus of the doc. There’s no need for a film to uphold its popularity.

When the king of fandom docs, Trekkies, came out in 1997, Star Trek was still a relatively niche property, or so it seemed based on its representation through its most loyal and participatory enthusiasts. For better or worse (i.e. for the sake of ridicule), the doc was more geared to audiences who didn’t attend conventions or understand why people wore costumes based on their favorite sci-fi program. That was before cosplay, Comic-Con, geekdom and especially nostalgia rose up into the mainstream, or close to it, in part through the internet. Trekkies were a real, bewildering phenomenon then. Ghostheads are a subculture at best, but they’re not a phenomenon any more than sports fandom is.

When you look at the kinds of fandom docs making their way to audiences now, mainly through crowdfunding, they’re not about obscure movies and their cult fan bases. They’re for Back to the Future and Star Wars. And I’d include docs that are part of the trend of spotlighting unmade movies, such as those about Superman Lives and George Miller’s Justice League, because they’re similarly geared to the fans. A common thing about these docs is they can be easily linked to actual Star Wars, Superman (possibly including a Man of Steel sequel directed by Miller, due to the resurrected interest in his take on the DC universe), Justice League and Ghostbusters movies on the horizon. Back to the Future can’t get another movie, but its rights owners have had plenty of other things to sell lately thanks to it turning 30 this year. The more cameras covering the occasion the better.

Of course, these docs do better than others because they get written about more, because their subject matter is an easy sell to readers. But when they are covered on the movie sites and they can be connected to a highly anticipated upcoming Hollywood product, they wind up serving as part of the hype. To write this new Ghostheads teaser without also mentioning Feig’s reboot, maybe even (preferably, to Sony) including the release date, would be bad reporting. It becomes another way of reminding people about next year’s Ghostbusters or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on the days we don’t have a new trailer or set photo to share.

Other than that, Ghostheads doesn’t seem to have much of a reason to exist. Like too many other fandom docs, it’s not likely to reach or be appealing to the millions of non-extreme fans let alone total outsiders. It will tell a number of hardcore Ghostbusters fans things they already know about themselves and their beloved movie. It will give a lot of them screen time in a way that’s basically a form of selfie cinema, especially if they’ve also contributed to the production (while not on a crowdfunding site, the filmmakers are currently selling t-shirts to raise money for their film). That’s fine for them, as extreme fans do like the familiar when it comes to the things they’re fans of.

Don’t be surprised if soon we hear about new fandom documentaries related to other 2016 movies – X-Men and Harry Potter seem obvious choices. And maybe we’ll find out there are Troll Doll conventions so the DreamWorks Animation feature Trolls can have a doc equivalent the way The Lego Movie has A Lego Brickumentary. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the studios start encouraging, maybe even secretly contributing to the crowdfunding of docs that in turn foster and support fans and enthusiasm for their upcoming slates. If nothing else, they might later on be cheap pickups to throw onto their Blu-ray releases of the original or new version of their respective properties.

Check out the teaser for Ghostheads below. The Ghostbusters reboot hits theaters July 15, 2016.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.