Filmtourism: a way to make stories real

The core motivation and experience of the film tourist starts with the love of a particular narrative. ‘Being there’ is important, even when ‘there’ doesn’t really exist. This states Abby Waysdorf in her thesis on film tourism and how the places they visit are experienced by the fans. Waysdorf defends her thesis on Thursday 9 November 2017 at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Visiting places associated with a film or television show is an increasingly visible and popular practice. Fans experience these places imaginatively, engaging with all aspects of the text – the fictional world, the show or film’s creation, and the background of the place in question – and having a physical encounter that connects them bodily to it. Given time, Waydorf concludes, a film related location can become a ‘home’ for a fandom, a well-known and beloved place where fans regularly meet up, see their friends and express their fandom together. 

How it feels
Film tourism is not only about immersing oneself in the fictional world, but also about how it interacts with our own. Exploring the differences between the two doesn’t break the illusion, but actually enhances the fan’s appreciation of the text by gaining new knowledge of how it feels and came to be.

In her dissertation Waysdorf investigates three case studies of places which do not exist in the real world. The first, tourism connected to Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik and Northern Ireland, sets the scene for the research. Fans were not only interested in imagining how the show came to be, but appreciated the work and effort that went into the process. They were alos interested in the history of the places they visited.

Following this, she turns to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, part of the Universal Studios Orlando theme parks, investigating how fans experience and make sense of simulated environments, rather than “real” locations of filming. She showed how fans see WWOHP as an adaptation of the Harry Potter universe into the medium of a theme park, and engage with it as a high-quality artwork that allows them to connect with the story-world in a different way.

Finally she turns to the filming location of cult favorite The Prisoner, Portmeirion, where fans have been visiting regularly since the late 1960s. In this case Waysdorf shows how a place can become a “home” of a fandom, a place where fans can return to reconnect with their fandom over the years.

Waysdorf did interviews, participant observation on site, and online textual analysis. She shows how the imaginative experience of these places creates a personal, embodied encounter with all the facets of the text, and how these environments can all become “places of fandom” that structure the contemporary fan experience in certain ways. In doing so, she presents a new understanding of our relationship with media, imaginative worlds, and physical place.


Publication date: 31 October 2017


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