By Alex Zalben
We’ve been eagerly anticipating the Punisher fan film “The Dead Can’t Be Distracted” since it was announced a few months ago. But now, after a cease and desist letter from Marvel, it looks like the film will never see the light of day. And even more importantly and portentously, what does this mean for the future of fan films – and the future of Punisher on the big screen?
That’s a lot of questions, but first a bit of history. In a five page long open letter on his website, creator Mike Pecci extensively runs through the production, development, and eventual demise of “The Dead Can’t Be Distracted.” It’s a fascinating read full of a lot of tech info on filming, and even a few shots and a screen test. In fact, given that Marvel wrote a cease and desist stating:
"While we appreciate your affection for the character, we must demand that you immediately stop your unauthorized use, advertising, sale and/or distribution of any production of The Punisher or any other Marvel character-based films therefore, and any other use of the images, likenesses, artwork or other intellectual property owned by Marvel."
It’s surprising that Pecci has left anything up on the site. Instead, he’s leaving the book open, and sending this back to the fans: if they want a Punisher web series, let Marvel know, says Pecci at the end of the letter, including a form allowing fans to write in to the publisher.
Pecci’s reasoning is that not only did he and others work extremely hard on the fan film. Not only is there a long history of fan films on the internet (including a Punisher fan film starring former Punisher Thomas Jane himself). But Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto, who wrote and drew the Punisher story Pecci drew his inspiration from, are gung-ho to see the film.
In fact, Pecci seems to be energized by the cease and desist, rather than deflated by it. Not only is he going to put it on the Internet, but he wants fans to petition Marvel to make this an official Marvel web series, on their website. Heck, says Pecci, he’ll even give it to Marvel for free!
…So yeah, that’s almost definitely not going to happen, though we admire Pecci’s pluck. However, there’s much bigger implications here for how Marvel – and Disney – approach fan films in the future, particularly in an age where fan films have stopped looking like they were shot in a backyard, and more like professionally produced studio fare.
Certainly there’s the possibility that Marvel is prepping something with the Punisher on their own, a movie or TV series. And even if it’s just the word “Punisher” written on a white board somewhere with fifteen other character names under the heading 2023, that’s enough to make Marvel want to clear the board of potentially competing product. Particularly if Pecci was drawing on an existing storyline – as he was – Marvel wouldn’t want any potential comparison with their product.
And maybe that’s where the issue lies: Pecci was openly making an adaptation of an existing storyline, rather than a new story, like the “Dirty Laundry” short with Thomas Jane,” or the “Truth In Journalism” short that worked as a stealthy Venom story, with Ryan Kwanten. That, in essence, might be the problem, not the mere use of the character.
If that is, though, it’s problematic. In an age when Amazon is selling fan fiction, and everything from “Mortal Instruments” to “50 Shades of Grey” references other work, it’s going to be trickier to see when one is crossing the very blurry line between fan-fic and legal infringement. And not just on the fan side, but on the corporate side as well.
Back in the day, “Star Wars” had a pretty revelatory policy, and still do, allowing fans to post their fan films and fiction on the official website. It legitimizes and energizes the fanbase… But what about when a new “Star Wars” movie is hitting every month? Will Lucasfilm and Disney really want something competing with their product? Or potentially stealing ideas?
And given that Disney also owns Marvel, how long until the policy becomes zero tolerance?
This is all speculation, of course… OR IS IT A SEARING VISION OF THE FUTURE???
No, it’s just speculation. Still, fingers crossed we’ll get to see “The Dead Can’t Be Distracted” some time soon.
What do you think about Marvel's take-down of "Dead Can't Be Distracted"? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Twitter!