Fan fury, fan power: The changing relationship between creators and consumers

Through the big screen or small, the relationship between fans and creators has never been closer.

As the social media megaphone gets louder, the entertainment business can't ignore its customers

Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones star in an all-female remake of Ghostbusters. (Associated Press)

The trouble for Ghostbusters started early.  

When director Paul Feig announced he was remaking the classic comedy with an all-female crew, the wave of misogynistic vitriol caught him off guard.

Feig is no stranger to funny women, having laughed all the way to the box office with Bridesmaids and Spy. But none of that prevented the first Ghostbusters trailer from becoming the most disliked in YouTube history

From empowered to entitled

It's all part of a changing dynamic as online communities go from being empowered to feeling entitled. Canadian Ivan Reitman directed the original Ghostbusters and worked on reviving the franchise for years. Speaking with CBC News, he noted the changing tone online,  

"The popularization of the internet and the opportunity for any person to give an opinion have created a certain level of criticism and a kind of vulgarity that certainly wasn't around in the '80s"

Original Ghostbuster director Ivan Reitman takes on Ghostbusters reboot backlash.

Arts and Entertainment

5 years ago
The original Ghostbusters director on why the reboot will appeal to fans 0:46

Devin Faraci has written about what he sees as an increasingly toxic online culture in a widely shared and debated article titled Fandom is Broken, where he detailed fans' increasingly aggressive behaviour.

Faraci pointed to the reaction by online fans over a decision by Marvel Comics to reveal Captain America as a secret Hydra agent. The plot twist led to death threats, an example, Faraci says, of a culture stoked with rage and aggression.

What had once been kind of a delightful way to keep in touch with fans has turned into something a little bit uglier and a little bit nastier.—  Devin Faraci

"More and more of the creators that I know feel more uncomfortable and feel like they're being attacked on the regular. What had once been kind of a delightful way to keep in touch with fans has turned into something a little bit uglier and a little bit nastier."

Eliza Taylor (Clarke Griffin) and Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa) in the CW Television Network's post-apocalyptic TV series The 100. (CW Television Network)

A force for good

But that fan fury can also be a positive force, as was the case with the post-apocalyptic TV series The 100.

When the creators killed off the character Lexa, it set off an avalanche of reactions. The popular supporting character had shared a kiss with Clarke, the lead on the show. No sooner were viewers warming up to the idea of a relationship between the women than Lexa was killed by a stray bullet.

Fans saw this as yet another tired TV trope where a character was punished for their sexuality. A petition demanded Lexa's return, and a fundraising drive raised $130,000 US for an LGBTQ teen suicide prevention program.

In this instance, showrunner Jason Rothenberg wasn't merely listening, he apologized, telling fans at Wondercon, "We never really understood the power of that relationship and that character. Knowing what I know now I would have done some things different."

Laura Vandervoort and Greyston Holt star in Space Channel's supernatural werewolf series, Bitten, on air from 2014 to 2016. (Steve Wilkie, Space Channel)

Crowdsourcing compassion

Rothenberg is part of a growing group of creators in open communication with fans.

Canadian showrunner Daegan Fryklind had a similar experience diving into the werewolf series Bitten. She told CBC News, "You can't help but get a little addicted to that kind of ability to communicate with a fan base so close at hand and instantly as you're watching the show."

Most Canadian shows shoot their entire season in advance so, Fryklind says, writers can't address fan concerns in their scripts. But fan comments have encouraged in her a greater sense of compassion.

"If you've unfortunately had to kill a character, a beloved character, how [the fans] respond to that, and you can really engage with them and explain choices that you've made."

And when it comes to the new girl-powered Ghostbusters, Fryklind says, don't be swayed by the haters,

If you tried to make something trying to think about the negative voice, no one would ever make anything.—  Daegan  Fryklind

"If you tried to make something trying to think about the negative voice, no one would ever make anything."

Whether the feedback is negative or positive, the industry is listening, increasingly employing the services of companies such as Fizziology.com.  The social media research film monitors what fans are saying and sells it back to studios. Co-president Ben Carlson says since the company began in 2009 the relationship between fans and studios has strengthened.

"Studios are now paying a lot more attention to what fans are saying," he says. "That's at every point along the way. There is an appetite from leaders at studios and key executives all the way through to filmmakers."

Whether it's superheroes, the fantasy realm of Game of Thrones or video games, the obsessions of genre fans that were once relegated to the fringe have moved to the mainstream. We're all fans now.

Evidence suggests studios and storytellers are listening. The next step is cultivating a better conversation. 


Eli Glasner

Senior entertainment reporter

Eli Glasner is the senior entertainment reporter and screentime columnist for CBC News. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee Ontario to the Oscars red carpet and beyond.