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 Fridaythe13thfilms.com 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 Fridaythe13thfilms.com 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!