FanLib turns fanaticism into very good will
It’s every hardcore fan’s dream come true: to write an episode of his or her favorite TV show that actually appears on air. But converting that dream into reality is a lot harder than it seems, even though it’s a concept worth trying in today’s highly fragmented media world.
Former Yahoo! executive Chris Williams believes that this kind of fan engagement can be put to good work in the marketing and promotion of TV shows, movies, books, music – anything the media world has to offer.
Williams has diligently worked with TV networks, studios and producers to convince them that it’s good business sense to encourage fans to get intimately involved with the content they love. The more connected fans are, the more they are likely to remain fans and to tell all their friends and family to tune in. Word of mouth is more important than ever, but it’s very hard to generate through marketing alone.
To aid in that process, Williams created FanLib, a web site where the hardcore can get all creative about their favorite shows and share that creativity with their own social networks.
On FanLib, fans submit their works for public viewing and feedback, including written scenes, fan art and video mash-ups. But when it comes to getting networks and studios involved, there’s more to it.
TV studios are legally forbidden to accept any script that doesn’t come accompanied by agency representation (I think this legal clause is called “the agents’ full employment act) so unrepresented fans can send their brilliant scripts to their favorite producers all day long and they will all summarily be tossed into the garbage.
Williams has spent a few years holding studio executives and attorneys’ hands, carefully explaining why this sort of fan engagement makes sense, and how they can allow it to happen legally.
“This works because we pioneered it,” Williams says. “We spent at least 1,000 hours in rooms with media lawyers. The L Word and Showtime were the first to take the leap with us in 2006. Once they did it, it’s become much easier and we continue to execute these flawlessly and without any problems or ramifications.”
Showtime’s L Word has hosted not one but two online contests that encourage fans to write scenes for the show. Last July, the show worked with FanLib to run a contest in which the winning submission would be incorporated into an episode, marking the first time that has happened. After months of winnowing it down, FanLib’s online fan base chose the winning entry, and The L Word’s producers used it to open last Sunday’s new episode, the third of this season. Showtime has a clip about the process up on its Web site.
NYU film student Molly Fisher, 20, penned a scene that was a sort of a show-within- a-show. One of The L Word’s characters is a writer and her work is being made into a movie. The character is reimagining things that happened in the life of the show, now into its fifth season, and those re-imagined scenes are appearing in the show.
Likewise, writers participating in the contest were asked to recreate a scene from season one or two.
“The writer character is kind of self-centered, so I wrote the whole scene around her,” said Molly, speaking from New York. “I made the scene – in which this group of women is watching another woman try to figure out her sexuality — more goofy. I created a Charlie’s Angels theme, so the women were using a gadar gun and other silly ways to try to determine this woman’s sexuality.”
That was good enough to give Molly the win and earn her a trip to Vancouver to sit on the set and watch her scene being shot. If that’s not enough to win a fan for life, I don’t know what is.
Obviously, producers can’t constantly be incorporating fan-penned scenes in their shows. It’s really the word-of-mouth that counts, says Williams.
“One of the best parts of what we do is we empower fans of the show to become ambassadors for these shows,” says Williams. “We incentivize them to spread the word. In the future it’s going to be harder and harder to market a show, which is why a direct connection between a show and its fans is so critical.”