Entertainment companies traditionally try to keep fans at an arm’s distance or farther, but they’re increasingly finding that doing so could hold them back. Fans offer unique perspectives, and they put in the huge amount of time and effort that can only come from true obsession. Plus, their sheer numbers mean they can’t be beat in terms of volume of content. As Valve founder Gabe Newell put it, his company “could not begin to compete with our fans.” Among those groups of fans, the following ones went so above and beyond that the very things they admired changed due to their involvement.
10Homoerotic Star Trek Fan Pairing Becomes Official, Briefly
Almost from the original Star Trek series’s first run, a popular joke about the show’s fans was that some of them wanted to see the characters James T. Kirk and Dr. Spock in a relationship. Supposedly, female fans liked to imagine the two in romantic situations but didn’t want to imagine either with another woman. In 1985, fanzine contributor Della Van Hise was able to release the officially sanctioned novel Killing Time, which dealt with the subject. While ostensibly about a conflict with the Romulans, that was not at all its most attention-grabbing aspect.
For all of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s ideals of the ethnic diversity of the Enterprise crew, he was infuriated by the notion of such a story being an official Star Trek property (never mind how he would have felt if one of Della Van Hise’s more graphic stories had been published). It only saw the light of day at all because he’d had such disinterest in Star Trek novels up to that point.
Roddenberry had the entire first edition destroyed, ordered 52 alterations to remove all gay references, and from then on took a much more active role in proofreading all future Star Trek books (at least until he hired an assistant to do it). Imagine all the other daring directions Star Trek novels might have gotten away with if not for Killing Time compelling Roddenberry to actually read them before approving them.
9The Lego Fan Who Influenced The Lego Movie
Between 1985 and 1989, Australian Lindsay Fleay worked on a stop-motion movie where Lego toys find a way out of a self-contained Lego world using a magic portal. This magic portal lends its name to the 16-minute film, which involves such absurdities as two Lego men and a clay creature driving around a human shoe.
Despite receiving funding from the Australian Film Commission, Fleay did the project without any permission from the Lego Corporation. In fact, when they became aware of it, the initial effort was to squash the film: Lego’s lawyers came after Fleay with a cease and desist order after he let the company know about the project.
Nevertheless, the movie was eventually allowed to be distributed and inspired countless other stop-motion Lego movies. By far the most famous one is the surprise hit The Lego Movie, which explicitly acknowledged its predecessor’s influence by both featuring a way for the main character to pass from a self-contained Lego world to the human world and by labeling that object “The Magic Portal.” Not many unauthorized fan films can claim something like that.
8Sex Pistols Record A Tribute To A Groupie
A patient known as “Pauline” at an asylum in Birmingham had much more stimulating contact with the band Sex Pistols than most. In the 1970s, she first got in contact with Johnny Rotten through a letter sharing some of the bizarre and unpleasant aspects of how she claimed to live. Supposedly, she spent most of her time not in a cell but living up in a tree house she’d made on the sanitarium’s grounds. She also claimed she had sex with and was impregnated by some of the staff, being something of a nymphomaniac.
When she escaped, it was claimed that she had sex with members of the band, the most notable time being when she arrived at Johnny Rotten’s front door while wearing a plastic bag. Other members of the band were reluctant to talk about her at all, let alone confirm having sex with her.
Rotten paid her tribute in the 1977 song “Bodies,” which made explicit references to aspects of her life, such as mentioning that she lived in a tree. That particular song was included on the album Never Mind the Bollocks, and considering that Rolling Stone declared it one of the greatest debut rock albums, it’s a pretty great way for a fan to be immortalized by her band of choice.
7E.L. James Puts A Stop To New Twilight Book
The best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey was initially Twilight fan fiction, but the character names were changed for publication. Initially, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer went on record as feeling fine about E.L. James’s massive success. She claimed she hadn’t read the book, but of the author, she said, “Good on her.” Since then, something came up that probably left Meyer a little bitter.
In 2008, Meyer was working on a new Twilight book entitled Midnight Sun when early, unpolished chapters of it leaked online. Midnight Sun was intended to retell the story of Twilight from Edward Cullen’s perspective instead of Bella Swan’s, and the leaked version was so rough that she was embarrassed it saw the light of day.
Eventually, after writing a book called The Life and Death of Bree Tanner, Meyer felt like returning to the Midnight Sun project. But in October 2015, she said she canceled the project again when she learned of E.L. James’s book “Grey,” which was going to be the equivalent of Midnight Sun since it would be the story of Fifty Shades of Grey told from Christian Grey’s perspective instead of Anastasia Steele’s. This is probably the first time a fan has unwittingly and single-handedly canceled the release of a book for a series they liked.
6Fan Inspires Pixar Character That Helps His Favorite Sport
Cars is widely regarded as one of the lesser Pixar films, but it meant a lot to John Lasseter and was very useful to the American racing sport NASCAR. Indeed, in 2006, CNN reported that NASCAR was not doing well with younger viewers and was hoping the movie would help them out. An infamously rabid NASCAR fan, Douglas Keever, played a big part in making that work out for everyone without even meaning to.
In 2001, while researching NASCAR events, Lasseter encountered Keever under a tent and received a beer as Keever introduced himself by his nickname, “Mater.” He went on to explain that it was “like tuhmater, but without the tuh” and espouse how he’d never missed a NASCAR race. Lasseter was taken enough by the guy that he modeled the main character Mater on him, complete with his colorful way of introducing himself. He also had Keever do a cameo in the movie as a car who says, “Dip me in axle grease and call me slick!” It was a line he improvised.
Cars went on to be a huge success for Pixar, to the tune of billions of dollars of merchandise sales. None other than Mater became the widely acknowledged breakout character for the movie, even becoming the main character for Cars 2. Most important to a NASCAR fan like Keever, Cars became an unofficial flagship movie for the sport. And, by close association, so did Keever. Not bad for a country boy who was just introducing himself over a brewski.
5Fan Song Gets Animated By Disney
The Disney show Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja premiered in 2012 and has since had 100 episodes. One of those has a huge stamp on it from 22-year-old fan and Auburn University student Morgan Prude. She wrote an acoustic tribute to the show called “Ninja of Norrisville” and posted a video of herself performing it. She didn’t have much of a YouTube following, so she expected the song to just be a brief lark that maybe her friends would see.
She lucked out in a big way when the show’s executive producers Scott Thomas and Jed Einoff saw the video. Scott Thomas assigned cast member Laura Marano to do a cover of the song for the show, which her character Rachel sings onscreen. As he put it, the entire episode was written around that song, since it gets Randy Cunningham to hang out with her for the day. Other fans should take note of this: Sometimes, you should do fan tributes for less famous projects since the creators are more likely to find it and be more grateful you have little competition.
4George R.R. Martin Fans Become Collaborators
Martin has sometimes had a slightly contentious relationship with his fans, such as flipping off ones worried that he’ll die before finishing his most famous book series. Two fans he most certainly does not have issues with are Elio M. Garcia and Linda Antonsson. In 1998, a year after the first entry in the A Song of Ice and Fire book series was published, the couple he had met in 1995 made a fan website for Martin’s book while they were waiting for his permission to adapt the book into a tabletop game.
In 1999, they started Westeros.org to archive all the books’ information. Martin later admitted they knew more about it than he did, and he regularly consults those fans about things he’s writing, making theirs probably the only fan nitpicking an author appreciated. In 2010, they reached the high point of cowriting the guide to the series, The World of Ice and Fire, with Martin himself. That collaboration was published in 2014 and became a New York Times best seller.
It’s been no easy feat for them. Updating the information on the site, linking relevant sites, and moderating forums sometimes takes up as much as 30 hours a week of their time.
3Sarah McLachlan’s Stalker
Like the Sex Pistols, McLachlan had to deal with an insane fan on a personal level. (McLachlan’s, however, was much more insidious.) The fan was Uwe Vandrei, a computer programmer who developed an obsession with her in 1991 when she was 24. The letters started out flattering and cloying but then turned disturbing. He also began stalking her, and McLachlan hired a bodyguard and got a restraining order. After two years, she released the song “Possession” as a single and part of her hit album Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, obviously based on her interaction with Vandrei and told from what she envisioned to be his perspective.
Because he felt that the song was unduly influenced by some of the poetry he’d included in his disturbing letters, Vandrei filed a lawsuit against McLachlan for plagiarism. Along with the expected demands of money and credit for the song, he demanded being able to meet her in person as part of the settlement. Legal proceedings came to an end on November 3, 1994, when he was found dead in woods in Ontario from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was one of the most chilling displays of how horribly wrong fan interest can go.
2Kids Get Their Fan Story Produced
While countless children dreamed of producing a script for their favorite show, Renee Carter of Waynesboro, Virginia, was more determined and capable than most. Getting her friends Sarah Creef and Amy Crosby in on it, they drew storyboards for an episode of the popular Warner Bros. cartoon Tiny Toons Adventures in 1991 and then sent it in. Since they were all only 13, they didn’t have enough money of their own to even mail the script and had to get Carter’s mother to do it.
The storyboards found their way to the desk of executive producer Steven Spielberg himself, who liked it well enough that he had the authors brought to his studio to shape it into an episode called “Buster and Babs Go Hawaiian.” The initial plan was to pay them $250 for the episode premise, standard for pitched stories, but this was bulked to over $3,000 since their storyboards were used (a good reason for all aspiring writers out there to consider learning to draw).
The episode is full of jokes about how it was made, with Spielberg appearing in it as himself and the three young authors appearing as well when the main characters complain about the quality of the scripts. It ends with a title card that effectively says if viewers have any scripts they’d like to submit, they should send them somewhere else.
1August Derleth Creates Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos
For all his acclaim and influence, horror writer H.P. Lovecraft died in obscurity, critically ignored during his lifetime. But he had an admirer in one August Derleth, who collected every piece of Lovecraft writing after the author died. To keep them in the public eye when Scribner wouldn’t publish them, Derleth created his own publishing house. It was certainly not an easy cash grab on Derleth’s part. He lost $25,000 over 10 years trying to make Lovecraft posthumously popular.
Derleth coined the term and concept of the “Cthulhu Mythos” and made Lovecraft’s gods into part of a shared universe instead of a bunch of characters who only appeared in one story before Lovecraft was done with them. Many found his methods at odds with Lovecraft’s views. Derleth was supposedly more about grouping them into a “good guys vs. bad guys” dynamic, while Lovecraft’s nihilism would’ve rebuked such dichotomies. He even took some of Lovecraft’s unfinished stories and completed them, such as “The Shuttered Room” (which was made into a movie starring Oliver Reed) and “The Lurker at the Threshold” (a collection of 1,200 words that Derleth expanded into a 50,000-word book) but put Lovecraft’s name on them. How many fans can be credited with doing that much for another writer’s prestige?