A common complaint about the current state of cinema is that the creators are just in it for a quick buck. They figure out what will sell and create films around the lowest common denominator to ensure ticket sales. However, there are some bright stars in the sky surrounding the world of film, and we call these ‘Fan Films’. A Fan Film is created for the purpose of allowing fans to create additional story lines to the stories they love, without the possibility of profit. Enter Hank Braxtan, director of ‘Return of the Ghostbusters’. This film blew my mind! To imagine someone putting this much time and effort into something for free is beyond admirable. It truly is a film made by fans for the fans. My fellow Larvae allow me to introduce… Hank Braxtan.
Well let’s start off with the basics, what originally got you into film making?
I started watching scary movies when I was about 4. My mom explained that monsters weren’t real–they were special effects made in Hollywood. So I became very interested in special effects–I would watch documentaries about it, and try to create my own. Then when I was in 4th grade, “Predator” came out. I thought it was the best thing in the world. We had a jungle-esque canyon behind my elementary school, and my parents had a video camera. So I decided that my friends and I were going to make “Predator 2” (before the actual movie was announced). Although we never shot anything for the movie, I did write a story and work out most of the stunts and special effects, including firing bottle rockets as the creature’s shoulder canon. Without shooting even a second of footage, I was hooked on filmmaking.
You have quite the artistic range, what were some of your influences?
I can’t say for sure what or who has influenced me more than others. I know that I loved Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Predator, Aliens, Terminator…just imaginative stuff. The more special effects and fantastic, the better. But I also love westerns and comedies. So I guess any style I might have comes mostly from those things. By the way…thanks for suggesting that I have range! Ha ha ha!
Even though you collect no money for your fan films, have you ever run into trouble for using others intellectual property?
No. I did get a call from Dan Aykroyd’s agent back in 2005, warning me not to make “Return of the Ghostbusters”. That was quite a shock for a bright eyed youth in film school. I was shaken a little at first…but I think he assumed I was making the film for profit, which I wasn’t. I have always figured that they can’t sue me for what I don’t have. My biggest fear was getting a cease and desist order before the film was finished–all that work, and nobody would even be able to see it. That would have been awful. So a big thank you to all the copyright holders and studios who didn’t stop me, when they easily could have.
I would imagine one of the perks of making a fan film is your ability to use anything you want without worrying about copyright infringement… which I think holds back a lot of artistic vision. What are the other perks to making fan films?
You get a built in audience. Nobody is going to watch my quirky independent film or groundbreaking new horror film unless it’s advertised and hyped up, which costs millions of dollars. If I make a film called “Freddy VS Ghostbusters”, word of mouth will spread. It’s such a silly concept, people have to see what it’s like.
You mention making Staff Sergeant in the US Army, Did you find your training helped you in the process of making movies?
I suppose so. I’ve always been a leader…barking orders, organizing people, and providing direction has always come natural to me. I can’t stand to be a follower. Maybe that comes from ego, I can’t be sure…but I’m not afraid to admit my shortcomings. My service in the military certainly refined those qualities and taught me many valuable lessons.
You mention on your website the initial reasons for making comedy, and I quote “I guess the rationality was this: scary movies, dramas, action flicks, and the like require good special effects, lighting, equipment, etc. However, a comedy could still be funny, no matter how crappy the technology. In fact, the crappy technology often added to the charm.” Now with ROTGB you have taken a huge step into the technical world including CGI. Can you briefly describe the journey between cutting on multiple VCR’s to full out computer editing and effects?
Wow, I don’t think I could describe that briefly too well. 20 years of evolution for me–learning all over again. It’s strange to think about now, but 10 years ago, codecs and non linear editing were a mystery to me. I never went to school for it (at least at the time), I just experimented with trial and error. Figuring out the best resolution to record footage in, edit in, etc…later on I learned color correction and sound mixing…all through necessity.
The learning curve in the digital age is so much steeper. With the analog stuff, it was simple–you learn the basics very quickly and then you add new techniques as you discover them. With digital, it was a whole new ball game. It took a long time to learn the basics, and then it keeps changing. Every year we see new cameras, new codecs, new work flows. You’re constantly learning a totally new way to work.
But the biggest difference is simply precision. Digital gives you complete control over your project, from image quality to timing of cuts.
You made both Freddy vs Ghostbusters and ROTGB on an almost non existent budget, would you share some of the ways you were able to keep cost to a minimum?
Well the easiest way is to get as much as you can for free. Make people understand that you’re doing this for the love of it, and that there will be no profit. Usually people are turned off to giving you free help if they know you’re going to turn around and profit from it.
Start with the script. Write a story around what you have access to and people who want to be a part of it.
It seems fair to assume that making these films takes serious dedication, would you please explain some of the trails and tribulations of making a fan film?
You need to have very little shame. People are going to say things like “didn’t they already make that movie?”, or “you’re wasting your time”, “make something original”…and maybe they’re right. It’s tough to make people see that sometimes people make stuff because they love to do it, not because they’re trying to get rich. That’s very rare.
For me, they got easier as I went along. My first few films I had very little help on. But as my “reputation” grew, it became easier to get people involved. When people know that you make decent stuff, and more importantly, that you finish what you started, they are more willing to jump on board. A lot of people talk the talk…but not many walk the walk. Nobody likes to waste time on talk.
You co-wrote Freddy vs GB and ROTGB with Tim Johnson, care to give us some background on your how you two began working on these projects?
It’s kind of funny. When I started film school in late 2003, this kid Tim Johnson walks into class and sits a couple rows up from me. I remember seeing him and thinking he looked like Egon Spengler from The Real Ghostbusters. I saw some of his work and thought he had some real talent for story telling, and the rest is history.
With Freddy vs Jason vs Ash being shelved because of ownership issues (among other things I’m sure), would you or have you consider making it yourself?
Not without Bruce Campbell and Robert Englund.
Is the Ghostbusters SUV still on the road? And if so how do I arrange a ride in it?
It’s still on the road somewhere in Burbank, California. But it’s just an SUV now. No more decals…
I know the makers of the Ghostbusters video game (Best game ever! I actually refer to my roommate’s PS3 as the ‘Ghostbusters Machine’) gave you guys a mention in the firehouse, do you know if Dan Aykroyd and/ or Harold Ramis have seen the films?
I’m not sure, actually. I can only assume they’ve heard of them…but who knows. They may have no idea how to watch videos on youtube for all I know.
I’ve fallen in love with several of your short films and would like to make note of a couple in particular ‘Artsy Fartsy’ and ‘Indie Film Adventures’. Could you tell us a little bit about the production and what inspired you to make them?
Both of those films were drawn from my failures and rejections. Basically they’re parodies of the types of films I always lose out to.
You have recently moved on to shall we say… larger scale productions including television and film, what can you tell us about the transition?
You have to look out for yourself and keep people you trust around you. The professional world is full of slimeballs. Remember that. There are a lot of people out there who would like nothing more than to use you up and spit you out. Even peers will step on your head to get to the top. That’s the nature of people, I guess. There are exceptions, of course…but money and power have a funny way of changing people.
When money is involved, a fun hobby can quickly turn into a stressful job.
Describe yourself with a Haiku.
Too much work
Haikus make no sense
confuse monkey pants