In screenwriting class, we were taught that there are different iterations of things. First, a screenwriter can take a short story, then put it into Final Draft, add some of his own lines and lengthen it to 120 pages. This first iteration is sent off to the place where scripts go. Wherever that may be. Now it’s in a producer’s hands, he gives it to his director-friend. This director finds something, maybe only a single line of dialogue appealing, and decides he wants to hold on to it. He hires another writer to rework the script. Second iteration. Now that the director is appeased, shooting can start.
But this director has a vision that he wants to manifest on the screen. This goes beyond the text on a page, it’s in the mise en scene. Third iteration. Don’t forget the actors! They too have their own way of conceptualizing the script. Fourth iteration. Shooting is complete, but do we now have a film? Certainly not. The directory ships the raw material to an editor who nips and tucks the footage. At the very least the final product an audience sees is the fifth iteration (or interpretation). To think that all of these versions sprang from one short story—and who knows how that story came into being? *
Now let’s try to think of fan fiction similarly. I know, it’s readily assumed that fan fiction is “pilfering of another’s work” (Rowett), but let’s take a deeper look at this practice a bit.
John Doe loves said show. He loves it so much that he writes about it. But he just doesn’’t write his opinions, he fills in narrative blanks, tests out alternative plot twists, changes the context, extends and retracts this show. Is this not iteration? John Doe posts his work on the web, his friends and other lovers of the show read his work. Wait John, you forgot about this…. So Jane writes her version that does things a little differently than John’s. Second iteration. The shows producers realize something vital in John/Jane’s work after an intern scopes the web between transcriptions of yesterday’s footage. “We can use that” or “let’s not kill him off just yet” or “Man, people like this, let’s throw it in there.” More iteration. So then, who is to say fan fiction shouldn’t be taken seriously?
*Disclaimer: This is not a how-to-get-your-screenplay-sold guide. This is just an example… for the sake of conceptualizing a broader idea, because broad ideas need to be conceptualized.