In Search of the Holy Grail (of Sneakers)

Last week I got an email from AC (Al Cabino), former writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine and hardcore sneaker fan. He’s spearheading a move to get Nike to make the McFly sneakers worn by Michael J. Fox’s character in Back to the Future 2. He’s put up an online petition, which has garnered over 25,000 signatures, and Robert Ryang, award-winning New York film editor who reedited the Shining into a trailer for a romantic comedy, has made a commercial for the McFly (and the petition) that you can see on YouTube . AC is on a quest to get a million views. With almost 120,000 so far, it might happen.

It’s a great confluence of all the things I write about on here — fan creativity, fan power, fans and brands, wacky combinations of the unexpected. So I grabbed the chance to ask some more about the project:


How did this come about? When did you put up the petition?

I’m an ex-writer for Sneaker Freaker magazine, I visited the Adidas worldwide headquarters in Germany, I contributed to the Adidas Superstar 35 book. I love Nike, Puma, Adidas, classic Reebok, Vans, Converse, New Balance Japanese editions. Since late 2005, I started a quest to get the Nike corporation to manufacture the futuristic sneakers Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future Part II.

Is this coming from Back to the Future fandom? Nike fandom? Both? Neither?

Back to the Future fandom, Nike fandom, Michael J. Fox fandom, sneakers fandom.

Why this particular pair of shoes? What’s their special appeal?

Because they are the ‘Holy Grail of movie sneakers’. You’ve got Eddie Murphy’s Adidas in Beverly Hills Cop. You can buy them. You can buy the Nike Cortez that Forrest Gump wore. You can get the Kill Bill Tigers that Uma Thurman wore. You can get Rocky‘s Chuck Taylors when he runs up the stairs. If you look at movie sneakers, the McFlys are the only ones that were created for the film and never worn beyond the silver screen.

There’s a sneaker legend that says in 2015 Nike will come out with them. This I cannot confirm to you, but someone supposedly back in 1989 wrote a letter to Nike, and the answer came from [Nike founder] Phil Knight: “You have to be patient.”

Why Nike?

The futuristic shoes are Nikes. If you watch Back to the Future 2, the scene with the futuristic sneakers is at the beginning of the film, if you watch the scene, you’ll want those sneakers too. Back in 1989, I remember going to many sports stores asking about the futuristic sneakers because I wanted them back then. But the answer I got from everyone was, wait till the year 2015 (the futuristic sneakers are in the scene that takes place in the year 2015). So when it was 2005, which is 10 years before 2015, I decided to start this project to get Nike to make the futuristic sneakers.

Do you have any sense of where your support is coming from?

Friends, sneaker geeks, fashion designers, stylists, magazine editors, writers, artists, futurists, sci-fi aficionados, photographers, illustrators, graphic designers, musicians, DJs, store owners, Nike employees, a Wired Magazine writer, etc.

Any feedback from Nike?

Not yet because we have not gone to their headquarters. The project is gonna get a new look, its own mini website, we’ll spread the word more, then we’ll go to the Nike headquarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a meeting with Phil Knight.

My thanks to AC for bringing this to my attention. And remember, if you’re up to something you think I ought to write about (or just watching from the sidelines), don’t be shy about sending it my way!

Fan made movie trailers

Here is a cute little introductory piece in the Arizona Republic about fan-made trailers for imaginary movies. It’s got 2 things worth noting. One is Fox Atomic’s wise embracing of the phenomenon:

At Fox Atomic’s Web site,, the Blender offers the raw materials so that people can upload and make their own mashups to share from movies in the library of Fox, Fox Searchlight and Fox Atomic.

“We want to be the anti-studio,” said Jake Zim, vice president of online at Fox Atomic. “Instead of fighting it, we want to embrace it, where we get a message out for our product. We recognize the value in engaging our audience in our content.”

The article recognizes that this is a way to get fans engaged and offer free publicity for studios. They also recognize that many of these pieces are so good they could be (and sometimes are) done by professionals. Yet they insist on referring to them as “time-wasters”:

Thanks to the popularity of Internet videos like those found on YouTube, movie-trailer remixes, also called mashups, are among the top time-wasters among Web surfers.

Why is this a waste of time? Is it a time waster if I go to a movie theater? Is it a time waster if I watch a tv show? Is it a time waster if I read a book? Or is it only wasting time if my entertainment is fan-generated?

Or are they saying it’s a waste of time when fans MAKE this stuff? In which case I have even bigger problems with the term.

Fans are providing a poorly understood but essential role in making and viewing these things. They are affecting the shape of the entertainment industry, the economy of that industry — and with it the economy as a whole, they are reshaping social relationships to one another, they are creating and validating new forms of art and media production. They are doing so many important things that are lost when they are dismissed as “time wasters.”

Creating a sponsored community

synecdochic at Live Journal writes about being approached by the makers of the forthcoming film Blood & Chocolate to create a fan community to accompany the film:

A month and a half or so ago, the marketing agency for MGM Studios contacted us — us being LJ — and said they wanted to set up a sponsored community for the upcoming release of their movie “Blood & Chocolate”. Except they were totally clueless about how LJ worked, what would be successful, what would sink like a rock without even leaving a splash, etc, so they said: why don’t you guys figure out what would work best? And then they said, hey, we hear that LJ is a place where online fandom tends to congregate. What could we do to reach out to that community?

I want to be really careful about the disclaimers up front here, but I also want to talk about it, because it’s one of the most intriguing challenges I’ve had as a writer so far, and also, I think the end result that we all came up with is one of the most interesting, compelling, and just plain fucking cool premises for a marketing campaign I’ve ever seen.

The whole post is well worth reading as a fascinating example of an industry reaching out to online fans and the thought processes behind how you get people to invest in a community they didn’t generate and how to translate that into spending money on the product. In brief, they came up with a scheme to create a livejournal diary written by the main character, getting synecdochic, a fanfic writer, to pen the diary and (I’m assuming) to respond to comments on the diary in character. All in all, totally cool concept and it’ll be fascinating to see how it works.

Friday the 13th, Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first half of an interview with Brenna O’Brien, half of the webmaster team behind Friday the 13th’s unofficial fan site. Here is part 2!

What are the biggest challenges of running the site?

The biggest challenge at first was dealing with the enormous growth in activity. We started out with a small webspace, but it was soon clear that we were overloaded with traffic. Over the years we’ve kept having to transfer to more bandwith and more space, and the price has gone up and up. We have been against using ads on our site for unrelated items, but we decided we could have a couple banners for specifically Friday the 13th-related merchandise. The commission we get now from those items balances out the cost of running the site, so that is no longer the biggest problem. It’s the price you have to pay for being a popular site!

In relation to the forum, the biggest challenge is maintaining the integrity of the community and keeping an eye on all the discussions that go on every single day. It used to be just us two, but we have added many moderators to help with the day-to-day running of the message board. You need to have people that you can trust to make the same decisions you would, and who won’t abuse their power. It is a delicate balance, but one of the things the members say they appreciate the most is that respect is maintained and that the forum hasn’t degenerated into name-calling and flaming because of the moderators. We like to think of it like a coffee shop with lots of conversation going on, and if someone walks in and starts yelling slurs and obscenities then they are going to be shown the door.

From your perspective, what are the most interesting things going on in your site?

I think the most interesting thing that has happened because of the site is the bonds people have made outside the online world. We have had two Friday the 13th Camps, where people came from all over North America and Europe to meet for a week and pretend to be in summer camp again. There are many friendships and connections that people have that started with the shared interest of horror movies, but has gone way beyond that. One of our friends we met through the forum was even a groomsman in our wedding! I think that’s what I’ve appreciated the most about the forum – making friends that you can count on and trust.

Do you think there’s anything distinctive about horror film fandom that’s different from other kinds of fandom?

Well I don’t really have much experience with other fandom groups, but something I’ve noticed about horror fans is that they seem to have an outsider perspective, both positive and negative. Many have felt isolated and rejected in high school because they like blood and guts, and they feel like they can identify both with the killer and the victim. In particular with Friday the 13th, the killer is Jason Voorhees, a deformed boy who grew up alone in the woods. For most of the teenage boys on our site, they’ve felt like that at least once or twice. Like many other fans, they collect toys, posters, and movies, and being a horror fan is part of what defines them as an individual. I would like to emphasize that like most fans, they know the difference between fantasy and reality, and there’s no danger of violence crossing over into their real lives.

What advice would you offer other people interested in building fan sites like yours?

I think that you need to make your online environment as comfortable as you would want a real life environment. There are so many social cues that we can’t see when we are on the Internet, so you need people to maintain those norms and keep the community running smoothly. Problems start happening when people say things to other people that they wouldn’t say to their face, and the owners need to keep reminding everyone that there are real people on the other side of the screen. It’s very easy for flame wars to escalate and for a forum to descend into chaos, so maintain the type of respect and integrity in your online space that you would want in your own life.

Friday the 13th FanSite

Brenna O’Brien is a super-smart and interesting Ph.D. student in Education here at KU who, along with her husband, Blake Washer, has been running the unofficial Friday the 13th fan site for the last 8 years. Like the R.E.M. fan site Murmurs, whose site master I interviewed here, this site has become THE defacto spot to go for Friday the 13th fandom. Today I’m happy to present part I of an interview I did with her about running the site:

Can you tell me a bit about the Friday the 13th fan site? How and when did it get started? How many people use it? What are the main things people are doing there?

We took over in 1998, because the former owner was ready to move on to something else, and he liked the design of a smaller fansite that we had made called Crystal Lake. It was originally just a place to have information for fans of this horror movie series but I felt there should be more of an interactive environment. In 1999 we added our first message board space, which had a simple, one-page threaded discussion where anyone passing through could respond. A small core of dedicated users became visiting frequently, and it evolved naturally into a larger forum. I don’t think that you can force a community to form, but if you provide a safe and respectful environment for discussion then people will be more likely to participate.

Currently there are 8,211 registered members, with about 2,200 who have been active within the past two weeks. That number fluctuates and is definitely higher around Halloween and Friday the 13th, and the site and forum reaches peak activity when a new movie in the series is released, most recently in 2003 with Freddy vs. Jason. The majority of people that first come to the forum want to talk about the characters in the movie, discuss plot elements, show pictures of their fan creations (art, costumes, stories, movies), and make suggestions for new ideas for the series. But once all those threads have been talked about, the regular users find time to open up about other aspects of their lives. There are sections for politics, music, games, books, sports, and an area called The Campfire where people can talk about personal issues and get advice. With most of our users being teenage boys, there are always questions to be answered!

Judging from the numbers of people and threads on your forum, your site seems to be the definitive fan site for these films. How do you think it got that status?

The main reason we decided to start a Friday the 13th site was because we liked horror movies, and there were already sites for other series like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, but there wasn’t one for Jason Voorhees. We wanted to fill a hole on the Internet, and so we worked to make it truly comprehensive and be a totally inclusive fan site. Both of us were self-taught on HTML, and so creating a professional design that was easy to navigate definitely earned us the respect from fans. One thing that we have always prided ourselves on is only reporting official news about the movies, and not posting rumors. Fans know that if it comes from our site, then it’s real news. And I must say, the domain name is the key – When people type “Friday the 13th” into google it is the #1 result, and that keeps a steady stream of new fans visiting.

At one point the site might have become the official site. What happened there?

I believe it was in 2001, before the release of the 10th movie, Jason X, that we were approached by Sean Cunningham’s then-company Crystal Lake Entertainment. Cunningham owned the rights to the character ‘Jason Voorhees’, but other companies owned the franchise and movie rights. We had a good e-mail relationship with Crystal Lake Entertainment, and they would give us quotes and news from their perspective, and we became “official” underneath them. Luckily, they didn’t try to take over or tell us what to do with the site, so it was more about getting information from the source. After Jason X, Cunningham’s production company kind of disappeared, along with our e-mail contact. We never approached New Line Cinema to become official under them, because we felt that it would become less of a fan site and more of a publicity stage for them. We’ve been happy to remain the unofficial fan site because then we have exclusive control over what goes on the website, without publicists and lawyers getting involved.

What is your sense of the relationship between the fans on the site and the producers of the films?

I don’t think that New Line Cinema or other involved production companies would ever acknowledge that they read the forum, but how could they not? When they are trying to find out their test audience for a new horror movie, in particularly a Friday the 13th movie, where else are they going to find such a super concentrated collection of fans? As far as ideas for stories and characters, I think they rely on their writers and other professionals, but when they are trying to gauge the mood of the fans and see the level of hype, the forum is definitely the place to go. Over the years, several of the writers have posted and have taken questions from the fans, which has been great on both sides. The writers get fan appreciation, and the fans get to ask about those tiny details in the films that they love to talk about.

I’ll be posting the second half tomorrow.

If you run a fan site and want to be interviewed, I’m always eager to talk to people about running fan sites, so please drop me a line.

Update: If you’re one of the steady stream of users coming by to read this, please leave a comment and let us hear your thoughts on the forum and on the questions I’ve posed here!