Friday, November 13, 2015


Part 2, as promised... (For Chapter 1, click here.)

Chapter 2:  Extratextual World-Building

In November 2004, Albin Johnson’s young daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with cancer (Figure 7).  Johnson is the founder of the 501st Legion, a worldwide group of Star Wars fans who build their own stormtrooper armour and make charity appearances.  They are also frequently called in to help at official Star Wars events.  Johnson, reflecting on a scene in Episode II where the droid R2-D2 watches over Senator Amidala at night (Figure 8), wanted Katie to have an R2 unit, too – a pink one – to watch over her while she was ill.
Johnson’s wish came to the attention of the R2 Builder’s Club, another group of fans who build R2-D2 replicas from scratch – a time-consuming project.  Member Jerry Greene called for donations of parts to build an R2 unit especially for Katie, but as it was felt that Katie’s time was limited, another member, Andy Schwartz, repainted his blue R2-D2 unit pink and shipped it to Katie to have while her own was built.

Figure 7:  Katie Johnson after her cancer diagnosis.

 Figure 8:  R2-D2 watches over Senator Amidala at night.

The 501st Legion also rallied around Katie; the Japanese garrison even arranged a ‘get well’ video message from George Lucas and Hayden Christensen (who played Anakin Skywalker).
Katie died on 9 August, 2005, and her R2 unit, christened R2-KT, was finished in July 2006 and presented to her family.  R2-KT is used for charity work, paying visits to other sick children (Figure 9).  She is also now an official part of the Star Wars world, having made appearances in The Clone Wars (Figure 10) and Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles[1].  She has her own, official action figure that raises proceeds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.[2]

Figure 9:  R2-KT visiting a children’s hospital in-patient.

Figure 10:  R2-D2 and R2-KT finally meet.

In this example, the extratextual world of the fan community is connected to the textual world of Star Wars by the activities of fans.  Fans appropriated an aspect of the textual world and repurposed it for the benefit of sick children.  Although R2-KT is used for charity, her appearances and action figure bring attention (free advertising, effectively) to the textual world.  Additionally, the textual world was expanded by her animated form.  R2-KT’s story will likely foster loyalty to both the textual and extratextual worlds in those who are emotionally affected by it.
Fans help to build the textual world, extend it and advertise it.  World-building is a collaborative process between producers and produsers, and respect for fans and their views is therefore vital.  Hence, the title of this paper is We Are Groot – a reference to a moment in Guardians of the Galaxy where the character Groot affirms that he and the other Guardians are finally ‘one’ – working as a team.
Jenkins has noted that, historically, media producers were dismissive of fans’ opinions, viewing them as ‘unrepresentative of general public sentiment.’[3]  However, recent marketing and advertising manuals, he writes, ‘point to a world where the most valued customer may be the one who is most passionate, dedicated and actively engaged.’[4]  Produsage is increasingly viewed as important to the value of the world as an intellectual property (‘IP’).  Grant McCracken, an anthropologist and marketing consultant, says,

Corporations will allow the public to participate in the construction and representation of its creations or they will, eventually, compromise the commercial value of their properties.  The new consumer will help create value or they will refuse it.[5]

Eleanor Baird Stribling lists four categories of fan activities that ‘contribute economic value’:
1.    Watching, listening, or attending
2.    Purchasing primary and secondary products
3.    Endorsing
4.    Sharing and recommending.[6]

Categories 1 and 2 contribute economic value in direct and more readily quantifiable ways – product or ticket sales, for example.  Categories 3 and  4 give a more indirect ‘payoff’ to producers, as these types of activities recruit new fans, ‘enhancing both the short- and long-term value, and thus the sustainability, of their projects.’[7]
In many ways, activities in categories 1 and 2 lead directly to activities in categories 3 and 4.  Operating within fan communities is what Sarah Thornton calls ‘subcultural capital’[8].  Value is placed on ‘being there’ or ‘liveness’ (‘I was there when…’).[9]  ‘Insider’ knowledge of production processes accords power within the community.  Fans derive pleasure from the participation and enthusiasm of their fellow fans at group viewings.  Therefore, making production and casting announcements, providing glimpses ‘behind the scenes’, and exclusively screening film footage at events like Comic-Con in San Diego serves two purposes.  Firstly, it rewards fans for their loyalty with advanced knowledge; secondly, fans will share knowledge with other fans and, with increasing frequency due to social media, non-fans.  This advertises the IP on behalf of producers and increases anticipation for new releases – important to studios reliant on strong openings at the box office.  (Likewise, merchandise gives opportunities to fans to recreate and extend the world through play while they simultaneously market the IP, particularly when using objects of conspicuous consumption such as t-shirts or bumper stickers.)  ‘Exciting your fans makes them contagious,’ writes transmedia writer Andrea Phillips.[10]
This potential was not always recognised by the media industries.  In 1976, when marketing director Charley Lippincott took Star Wars to a small convention called San Diego Comic-Con, he marched into a valuable new territory.  Lippincott’s strategy was to get the science-fiction and fantasy community talking about Star Wars well before its release.  Accordingly, he visited conferences and conventions, speaking about the film and its characters, showing the costumes and attempting to sell posters.  At one conference, he was heckled for promoting a film.  However, he persisted, making deals for Marvel and science-fiction publisher Ballantine Books to publish comics and a novel based on the film.  The novel, ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, was released six months before Episode IV, in December 1976.  It became a best-seller, was sold out by February and was serialized in the Los Angeles Times.[11]  Jenkins, Ford and Green note that, in the early days of Comic-Con, attendees were asked not to share their exclusive knowledge.[12]  Post-Lippincott, Comic-Con is an important point of call for marketers.  ‘It is widely accepted that the convention’s early adopter audience can make or break a franchise,’ writes Taylor.[13]
The popularity of social media makes ‘evangelism’ by fans particularly effective.  Fans will attend events like early screenings and post their opinions on platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  These posts have the potential to be seen by millions, and ‘suddenly the importance of recommendations from “the average person” have become a renewed priority, and word of mouth, the original form of marketing, is treated as a new phenomenon….’[14]
Of course, this makes it imperative that producers maintain positive, transparent relationships with fans, as negative experiences or instances of disrespect for fans may be spread just as visibly.  Jenkins writes that in December 2005, LucasArts announced that significant changes were to be made to its massively multiplayer online role-playing game (‘MMORPG’), Star Wars Galaxies.  The game had been designed by Raph Koster with the involvement of the fan community and it incorporated extensive user-generated content.  Koster’s view was:  ‘It’s not just a game.  It’s a service, it’s a world, it’s a community.’[15]  However, when Nancy MacIntyre, senior director of the game, announced the changes, she was dismissive of fans’ skills and creative contributions.  ‘Thanks to the social networks that fans have constructed around the game,’ notes Jenkins, ‘soon every gamer on the planet knew that MacIntyre had called her players idiots in the New York Times, and many of them departed for other virtual worlds….’[16]
Social media is an effective tool for producers to keep aware of the fan community’s tastes and demands.  Marvel has to date shown itself adroit at discovering and responding to fans’ wishes.
The power of social media was exemplified when, on 12 May 2014, Sophie Caldecott blogged about her father Stratford, an MCU fan who was dying of prostate cancer.[17]  Stratford had been too ill to see Captain America:  The Winter Soldier in the cinema.  Doctors had given him only 12 weeks to live, and the DVD release wasn’t until the August.  Sophie wrote that she would like to contact Marvel to arrange a screening of the film at Stratford’s home, and hoped to get the stars of the MCU to send messages of support via Twitter.  Mark Ruffulo (The Hulk), was the first to Tweet a message, directing Marvel’s attention to the cause.  His colleagues soon followed suit, as did many fans.  Within 48 hours, Marvel had contacted Sophie Caldecott to arrange the screening.

Differences of opinion within the fan community make it impossible for producers to meet every wish and demand, but it is important for them to maintain a dialogue which demonstrates transparency and respect.  Engaging with fans through social media is one method of realising this.
Producers are also beginning to utilise the social networks created by gaming for world-building and promotion, employing user-generated content such as characters, logos and ship designs.
When fans share the use of licensed content and add value to an IP through their labour (which is usually framed as play or competition), Johnson argues that they are placed in similar positions to professional producers, and they become stakeholders, albeit ones without economic claim.  They are, he claims, ‘enfranchised’.[18]  He therefore proposes a new understanding of franchising:  ‘[T]hat which industrially structures, organizes, and imagines shared, networked use of culture, not in opposition to but inclusive of produsage and other new creative patterns.’[19]
As previously discussed, the lines between producers and audiences are steadily being blurred, creating what producer Caitlin Burns calls the ‘final frontier keeping entertainment lawyers up at night’[20].  Jenkins[21] records an incident wherein Universal Pictures sent cease-and-desist letters to Firefly[22] fans (‘Browncoats’) who had successfully lobbied for a feature film and marketed both the series and the film at a grassroots level.  Universal demanded retroactive licensing fees for images the Browncoats had reproduced on t-shirts and posters.  Browncoats collaborated to send Universal an invoice for over $2 million (28,000 ‘billable’ hours), detailing ‘all of the time and labor (not to mention their own money) put into supporting the film’s release.’[23]  The Browncoats recognised, even if the studio did not, the value they had added to the franchise.
The difficulties with trademark laws and the protection of IP appear on both sides of the equation.  Fan-fiction writers have long feared prosecution for their use of trademarks; now producers are beginning to use fans’ creative ideas, calling into question these enfranchised fans’ rights to compensation.  For example, after the season two finale of Sherlock[24], writer Mark Gatiss looked at fans’ theories as to how Holmes had survived falling from a tall building.  He then wrote characters into the first episode of season three who presented some of those theories as possible explanations.  The television series Defiance[25] runs concurrently with an MMORPG set within the same world but a different city.  Gamers create their own characters, which may be appropriated by the producers and written into the television series.  Results of gameplay also affect the direction of the series.[26]
LucasArts’ policies on produsage have fluctuated between collaboration and prohibition, enablement and constraint.[27]  When the company found it could not shut down the sharing of fan fiction, it provided space at for fans to post stories, but imposed strict guidelines regarding content (no slash fiction, for example).  Subsequently, it provided a similar space on for fan films, but stated that those films must either ‘parody the existing Star Wars universe, or be a documentary of the Star Wars fan experience.’[28]  In other words, any ‘fan-fiction films’ were banned.  In both cases, fans who posted their work signed over any IP rights they may have had to Lucasfilm[29], which meant that Lucasfilm could, if it were so inclined, use fan’s ideas or characters in future ‘official’ texts, without giving compensation or recognition.
Behind all of these difficulties lurks the issue of ownership.  Once an IP enters into popular culture, once fans are emotionally invested in it or enfranchised, they feel a sense of ownership that is not reflected by IP law and is often disregarded by producers.  As Brooker states, older Star Wars fans feel an ‘unhappy conflict’ in their loyalties:  they admire Lucas for creating their beloved world but feel betrayed by him for ‘despoiling the myth they grew up with’[30].  Their distaste for the SEs and the prequels caused them to lose faith in Lucas, to the point of reducing, in their eyes, his authority over the canon.  (Although Brooker claims that works written by the original creator trump all[31], there are fans who would consider the Heir to the Empire trilogy ‘more canon’ than, for example, the elements added to the SEs.)  One questionnaire respondent wrote, ‘George is like a mean father[.]  I appreciate the work but we’re better off not maintaining a relationship.’[32]
Of course, there are also fans who consider that, as the creator of the world, Lucas was entitled to do what he liked with it, regardless of fans’ feelings or wishes.

Figure 12:  older fans’ loyalties are challenged by their dislike of the changes Lucas has made.

The positions of the author and the auteur carry weight.  Just as each fan will make a different meaning from his or her own reading of a text, an author/auteur can also be ‘read’ in different ways and may affect a fan’s reading of a text.
A label of genre attached to a text communicates information about the context and tone of that text.  Likewise, the name of an author/auteur ‘work[s] as a shorthand, a tag, an abstract, and a primer for any item of media.’[33]  Joss Whedon’s name attached to a text, for example, communicates to potential audiences or readers that the text will have a feminist slant and will therefore contain ‘strong’ female characters.  It will also contain humour and intertextual references.
Fans will be drawn to a text by their favourite author/auteur simply because it is written/directed by him or her.  Hence, for media with cult potential, the author’s/auteur’s name will be made prominent in the marketing campaign, particularly if he or she has already gained a loyal fanbase through previous work.  Hills writes of the auteur’s ‘extratextual “presence”’, which is partly produced by the fans themselves, but initiated by the creation of this extratextual narrative in marketing.[34]
The notion of the author/auteur also connotes quality and ‘authenticity’, as opposed to ‘unauthored’ and ‘formulaic’[35] works perceived as ‘corporate hackery written by committee just to make a fast buck’[36].  In a media industry that now relies on franchising, there is always a risk that works not directly created by the author/auteur will be rejected by fans, or will be ranked lower in their ‘personal canon’.
Despite this, many Star Wars fans feel that the problems associated with the SEs and the prequels were rooted in the level of control granted to Lucas as auteur, and that his best works (Episode V is a common example given) were made through collaboration with other creatives.  During the filming of Episodes IV-VI, dialogue scripted by Lucas (never the strongest point of his writing) was often changed by the main actors, particularly Harrison Ford (Han Solo).  By the time of the prequels, however, any instances of ad-libbing or creative collaboration were extinguished by Lucas’s complete creative control, made possible by the latest technology and his position of power.  ‘“Now he’s so exalted,” Mark Hamill [Luke Skywalker] lamented in 2005, “that no one tells him anything.”’[37]
Nevertheless, Jenkins writes, Marvel has successfully employed a narrative of ‘centralized control and authorship against the multiple authorship of franchising’[38], and this narrative is often merged with what may be termed a ‘fanboy creator’[39] rhetoric.  Marvel executives have claimed quality and ‘authenticity’ for their productions by aligning themselves with the comic-book fan community.[40]  That community, Johnson points out, is only a small part of Marvel’s audience, but the fanboy-creator rhetoric gives them a niche identity among film producers.[41]
Accordingly, Marvel has also brought in creatives, particularly directors, who identify themselves as members of the fan community.  Joss Whedon is perhaps the most prolific example, having directed The Avengers and Age of Ultron[42].  He has long professed his own fandom in interviews, and his run of X-Men comics for Marvel was generally well received.  An obvious advantage of hiring a writer/director like Whedon is that he had a faithful fanbase of his own, many of whom presumably ‘followed’ him to the MCU.  However, fans also have a greater level of trust in fanboy creators to ‘get it right’ because they feel they are ‘one of us’ and therefore will understand what fans desire.  There is also, of course, an element of ‘that could be me’ fantasy in fans’ appreciation of fanboy creators.
Notably, for the new Star Wars films in production, Lucasfilm has followed Marvel’s example and hired directors J.J. Abrams and Gareth Edwards, both of whom have historically used the fanboy-creator rhetoric, particularly in relation to Star Wars.
For producers, collaborating with produsers and hiring fanboy creators can simply make good financial sense.  Taylor gives one such example:  upon meeting Lucas at a convention, when he was given a tour of their display, members of the R2 Builders Club informed him that each R2 unit built cost $10,000.  Lucas was reportedly shocked, as ILM had charged $80,000.  He and producer Rick McCallum joked that they were hired for the next film, if it were ever made.  In 2013, Kathleen Kennedy, the current president of Lucasfilm, was given a similar tour and immediately hired two British members of the Club to work on Episode VII.[43]

Bringing together various studies on participatory fan cultures, convergence, transmedia storytelling, world-building and franchising, this paper has explored how certain world-building techniques engage fans, and the ways in which producers and fan communities work together to build mutually beneficial worlds.  There are, however, additional important techniques that have had to be omitted – utilising branding and nostalgia, for example.
Effective collaboration between producers and fans is advantageous and achievable, despite difficulties that may hinder the process, such as attaining a balance between supplying new stories and bringing the world to a saturation point; appropriately apportioning ownership and control; reconciling differing creative visions; negotiating complications in relation to licensing, distribution and fans’ use of trademarks; and resolving any conflicting interests of producers and fan communities.
This paper has shown the importance of produsage to the continuation, extension (or evolution) and long-term financial and creative success of franchises.  It is therefore increasingly important for the media industries to work to encourage produsage, engage with fans through platforms such as social media, remain transparent about their intentions and strategies, and consider the opinions of the fan community when making decisions about world-building.
However, discerning and catering to a majority of the fan’s wishes can be problematic, as fan communities may be splintered due to the variety of ways in which each fan makes his or her initial emotional investment in a world.  It is therefore advantageous to work to prevent community splits such as the division between lovers and detractors of Star Wars Episodes I-III.  This goal is facilitated when producers endeavour to recognise which elements of a world are important to its existing fans and in which they are emotionally invested, and attempt to maintain consistency in relation to those elements.
Research conducted for this dissertation indicates that the aesthetic, the canon and the characters are particularly important in this respect; however, further research is required into the aspects of transmedia worlds that engender the deepest fan engagement, attachment and loyalty.
It would also be advantageous to examine worlds in an effort to understand where their ‘saturation points’ may be, at which point fan engagement and produsage are shut down.
Other areas for research include examining ways to manage licensing and distribution problems (for example, the difficulty of securing simultaneous world-wide releases, to combat piracy and meet fans’ demands); addressing legal problems arising from producers use of fans’ produsage; and finding ways to effectively and meaningfully enfranchise fans, to the benefit of both producers and produsers.

(C) Danica Issell, 2015

[1] Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles (The Cartoon Network, 2013).
[2] Many thanks to Chris Taylor for drawing the author’s attention to this story in his book How Star Wars Conquered the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2014).
[3] Jenkins, Textual Poachers, op. cit., p. 279.
[4] Jenkins, Convergence Culture, op. cit., p. 73.
[5] Grant McCracken cited in Jenkins, Convergence Culture, ibid., p. 163.
[6] Eleanor Baird Stribling, ‘Valuing Fans’, Spreadable Media: Web Exclusive Essays, (accessed 14 October 2014).
[7] Ibid.
[8] Sarah Thornton cited by Hills in Ian Conrich (ed.), Horror Zone (New York and London: I. B. Tauris & Co, Ltd., 2010).  See also Fiske in Lisa A. Lewis (ed.), The Adoring Audience (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 30-49.
[9] Hills in Conrich, ibid., pp. 87, 92.
[10] Andrea Phillips, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling (New York: McGraw Hill, 2012), p. 112.
[11] Taylor, op. cit., pp. 169-162.
[12] Jenkins, Ford and Green, op. cit., pp. 145-6.
[13] Taylor, op. cit., p. 161.
[14] Jenkins, Ford and Green, op. cit., p. 75.
[15] Raph Koster cited in Jenkins, Convergence Culture, op. cit., p. 164.
[16] Jenkins, Convergence Culture, op. cit., p. 172.
[17] Sophie Caldecott, ‘Avengers Assemble!‘, Something for a Rainy Day, (accessed 3 January 2015).
[18] Johnson, Media Franchising, op. cit., pp. 199-201, 230.
[19] Ibid., p. 230.
[20] Caitlin Burns cited in Phillips, op. cit., p. 116.
[21] Henry Jenkins, ‘Joss Whedon, The Browncoats, and Dr. Horrible’, Spreadable Media: Web Exclusive Essays, (accessed 14 October 2014).
[22] Firefly (Fox Film Corporation, 2002-2003).
[23] Henry Jenkins, ‘Joss Whedon, The Browncoats, and Dr. Horrible’, op. cit.
[24] Sherlock (BBC, 2010—).
[25] Defiance (Syfy, 2013—).
[26] Wolf cited in Henry Jenkins, ‘Building Imaginary Worlds: An Interview with Mark J. P. Wolf (Part Four)’, Confessions of an Aca-Fan (9 September 2013), (accessed 27 October 2014).
[27] Jenkins, Convergence Culture, op. cit., p. 138.
[29] cited in Jenkins, Convergence Culture, op. cit., p. 159.
[29] Brooker, Using the Force, op. cit., p. 169; and
    Jenkins, Convergence Culture, op. cit., p. 157.
[30] Brooker, Using the Force, op. cit., p. xvi.
[31] Brooker in Annette Kuhn (ed.), Alien Zone II: The Spaces of Science Fiction (London and New York: Verso, 1999), p. 53.
[32] Questionnaire, Respondent 1.
[33] Jonathan Gray, ‘The Use Value of Authors’, Spreadable Media: Web Exclusive Essays, (accessed 27 October 2014).
[34] Hills, op. cit., p. 133.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Gray, op. cit.
[37] Taylor, op. cit., p. 321.
[38] Henry Jenkins, ‘Rethinking the Value of Entertainment Franchises: An Interview with Derek Johnson (Part Two)’, Confessions of an Aca-Fan (16 January 2014), (accessed 30 September 2014).
[39] Jennifer Stoy cited in Roz Kaveney, Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films (New York and London: I. B. Tauris & Co, Ltd., 2008), p. 202.
[40] Johnson, ‘Cinematic Destiny’, op. cit., p. 19.
[41] Ibid., p. 20.
[42] Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015).
[43] Taylor, op. cit., p. 354.

Figure 7:   Katie Johnson (2006). Available at: Accessed 25 January 2015.

Figure 8:   Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (George Lucas, 2002) screenshot (2015).

Figure 9:   R2-KT’s visit to the Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, NC (April 2013). Available at: Accessed 25 January 2015.

Figure 10: Star Wars, R2-DT and R2-KT in the Clone Wars feature film (2014). Available at: Accessed 25 January 2015.

Figure 11: #CapForStrat – various images (2014). Available at: // Accessed 31 March 2015.

Figure 12: Artist unknown (2012). Available at: Accessed 27 January 2015.

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