Vanity Projects (or Vanity Productions) are those creative works that are ostensibly showcases for someone's talents as an actor, director, writer, singer, and/or composer but fail miserably to achieve their goal. The usual image associated with a Vanity Project is of a severely untalented performer with an out-of-control ego squandering the equivalent of a small nation's annual GNP on a laughable attempt to make some sort of DEEEEEEEEP artistic statement.
While it is true that the fact a project is largely the fruit of one person's labors is not a guarantee of disaster, one should keep in mind the show biz rule that for each additional credit a performer takes, the odds of the final product being a turkey steadily increase. This is especially true if the performer is taking on a job in which he has no prior experience (e.g., an actor directing for the first time) and/or is entirely funding the project himself.
Is similar to Copiously Credited Creator except for the fact that it's questionable whether the "creator" of a Vanity Project has even the talent to do one job. Can also overlap with Couple Bomb if the work is a disaster and two untalented romantically-entangled multi-credited people are to blame.
Vanity Projects occur in both real life and fiction. However, because of the negative connotations of the term "vanity project" and the subjective nature of this topic, the examples listed here are all in-universe. Examples that are not in-universe should only be listed under a work's YMMV tab to prevent this page from turning into a massive instance of Complaining About Shows You Don't Like.
- On the DVD release for Kermit's Swamp Years, a behind-the-scenes featurette is hosted and presented by one Joe the Armadillo, who seems rather egotistical and star-struck that throughout the featurette, he keeps trying to worm his way into the actual movie. As the featurette closes, the end titles roll, and Joe the Armadillo is pretty much credited for everything - even the lighting, catering, and transportation companies are listed under Joe's name; special credits also include an invitation to Joe the Armadillo Land ("The Armadilliest Place on Earth") and to surf the web through www.joesthearmadillo.com.
- The 2005 film The Kid & I starring Tom Arnold is a variation: The Stylistic Suck Spy Fiction movie within a movie "Two Spies" is a project funded by a millionaire (and starring his son with cerebral palsy) as a kind of home movie. It's not meant to be seen by other people — it's just something that the man decided to do for his son.
- In S1m0ne, Taransky, the programmer/creator of Simone eventually gets fed up at "her" runaway success eclipsing his. So he fakes them having a split over artistic differences, and makes a vanity project for her. It was meant to invoke this trope and discredit her, but her movie "I AM PIG" ended up getting critical acclaim in a classic Springtime for Hitler scenario.
- The film Birdman revolves around an attempt from a has-been actor (played by Michael Keaton) to create and act on a vanity Broadway show (with the hope of this being a Career Resurrection), and the increasing nightmare of dealing with multiple issues, including prima-donna supporting cast, his own sanity slipping away, and a Straw Critic that has sworn to hate and destroy the show even though it hasn't even opened yet.
- Donald Trumps The Art Of The Deal The Movie is framed as Donald Trump's lost 1988 vanity film, which had recently been rediscovered by Ron Howard.
- On The Big Hit, we have "Taste The Golden Spray", written, directed, produced and starring Jiro Nishi, and boasting the most expensive piece of advertisement ever made (which was mass-produced)... and a Box Office Bomb of such colossal proportions that the multi-millionaire is bankrupt and his daughter's kidnapping (quite ironically) saves him from committing Seppuku.
- Welcome To Me is centered on a mentally ill woman who wins the lottery and uses the money to create a surreal TV show entirely about herself.
- S.O.B. features director Felix Farmer, who after going insane over the first act of the plot because his most recent movie Night Wind looks like a train wreck in the making, suddenly gets the idea to recut and reshoot the film to make it soft-core porn. Executive Meddling forces him to purchase the film's footage and fund the reshooting with his own money, and then it becomes a battle between him and said executives when they decide the new version of the film looks promising enough to purchase it back so they can lock him out of the editing process.
- Mr. Bean's Holiday: Carson Clay Pictures Present Carson Clay in a Carson Clay Production of a Carson Clay Film: Playback Time. Which consists of long, drawn-out shots of Clay as a broken-hearted cop trying to go on with his life, accompanied by sad background music and his Inner Monologue. Mr Bean's friend Sabine, an aspiring actress, was hoping it would be her Star-Making Role, but Clay is so focused on himself that her scene was cut down to seven seconds, three of which are her walking away from the camera. Until Bean splices in footage of himself and Sabine on their journey to Cannes. This leads to Clay being praised for his unique artistic choices; he evidently decides to just go with it.
- A positive example occurs in an episode of My Name Is Earl where Earl helps a dying boy whose wish is to write & star in a James Bond-esqe spy action thriller film. Earl produces the film. When they screen it at the end it looks horribly cheesy - but everyone had fun while making it including the kid, which was, like the example mentioned in The Kid & I, the production's main purpose.
- This trope can be seen at work in The Spoils of Babylon, a TV mini-series parody created by the fictional hack author-director-actor Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell) whose pretentious ramblings open and close each episode.
- WKRP in Cincinnati: During a Hollywood Midlife Crisis, Les decides to leave Cincinnati and audition for the big boys: CBS News New York. He goes to a local video production studio to create a demo reel, where Les (as anchor) reads the headlines, then throws it over to Les (as roving reporter) standing in front of [a Green Screen version of] the White House reporting on a breaking news story. All the news is clunkily written and delivered in a stilted manner. Les doesn't see the video until he screens it for his friends during a going-away party, at which point he realizes that he doesn't have what it takes to go to CBS News.
- In the Shining Time Station direct-to-video spinoff Schemer Presents: The World According to Me!, the intro sequence of Schemer's titular show (and the description on the back cover of the real VHS) announces "Produced by Schemer, written by Schemer, directed by Schemer and starring Schemer as himself!"
- Garth Marenghis Darkplace has the eponymous Show Within a Show, a vanity project for the pompous schlock horror writer Garth Marenghi. He wrote and stars in the show, and even credits himself as whistling the original melodies used by the soundtrack.
- Man to Man with Dean Learner, the spin-off of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, is another example. Dean Learner portrays himself as a stylish millionaire playboy with lots of famous friends. In reality, he's a crooked businessman who exploits a pack of clueless C-rate celebrities.
- In protest to Kurt Angle being inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame, the Extraordinary Gentleman's Organization (Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian) opened their own Hall of Fame to which to induct themselves, starting with their newest member, Bobby Roode.
- Beth Phoenix and Natalya Neidhart started "Pin-up Strong Illustrated" in protest to "Maxim Magazine" featuring Kelly Kelly on its cover.
- In Dink Smallwood mod Malachi the Jerk the Dungeon of Pointlessness is a vanity project designed by architect Desmond Jablonsky. His purpose was to create the least-useful structure in the world, and he succeeded to such a point that building it warped reality inside of it.
- In 2010, Cookie Monster desperately wanted to host Saturday Night Live, so he took to YouTube with a demo video, in which he basically puts on his own version of SNL, complete with an opening monologue, sketches, Weekend Update, and more; during his closing remarks, the end titles roll, and every single credit you can think of is given to him (Executive Producer: Cookie Monster, Producer: Cookie Monster, etc.) note
- In a series of DVD-exclusive reviews, The Nostalgia Critic reviewed his own movies, except he believes they're made by someone else called the Nostalgia Cricket. In the end, he deemed the trilogy as an example of this:
Critic: These movies are stupid, cheesy, obviously low budget, and it's fairly clear it's a chance for the Nostalgia Cricket to try and throw his ego every single time he's on-screen. Hey, you know what you should really start growing? A hairline, or your ability to stop parading your probable homosexuality. These films were a giant frigging waste.
- Discussed by Dan Olsen in a livestream about the creative process.
"Pet projects will kill you. Pet projects will put you in your grave. Murder your pet projects. One in every ten pet projects is actually worth the effort that you put into it and the others probably deserve to either be rushed out and abandoned if not taken out behind the shed and shot. Most of the ideas that we get fixated on as pet projects are not nearly as good as we think they are."
- The musical Put That Thing Back Where It Came From or So Help Me from Monsters, Inc., written, produced, directed by, and starring Mike Wazowski. Not bad for something that started out as a hastily-conceived lie.
- From The Simpsons:
- In ''A Star is Burns'', Mr. Burns tries to remake his public image by funding, producing, and starring in a Biopic for the Springfield Film Festival that is little more than an ineptly made hagiography. Not surprisingly, it meets with a hostile audience reception and loses out on the festival's top prize even though Mr. Burns bribes two of the jury members.
- In "A Fish Called Selma", former has-been actor Troy McClure opts out of a plum part in a McBain movie to star in an obvious vanity production titled The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel that's being funded by 20th Century Fox. Real-life issues aside, the fact that it's Troy's last appearance in the show that isn't in In-Universe Stock Footage implies that his career went way beyond crashing and burning as a result.
- Brak (of Space Ghost Coast to Coast) was given his own hour-long live-action/animated special (complete with musical numbers and actual guest stars) that was given the rather wordy title of Brak Presents: The All-New Brak Show, Starring Brak.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils", Sweetie Belle writes, directs, and stars in a play all by herself, the only other involvement being Rarity's costumes. This sets off the conflict when the only thing anyone remembers about it are the costumes.
- In the Garfield and Friends episode "The Cartoon Cat Conspiracy", Garfield makes "Sam the Cat", a Stylistic Suck Self-Parody of the show in response to the average cartoon's portrayal of cats almost entirely by himself, the only other involvement being Odie, who animated it (it was cheaper than sending it overseas). The opening credits show everything being credited to Garfield (complete with the production company "Garfco Industries"), Odie being uncredited because there wasn't enough room.
- Steven Universe: Steven and Jamie are asked by Mayor Dewey to put on a historical play he wrote about his ancestor William Dewey, who founded Beach City. It soon becomes apparent that the play is a Vanity Project that strokes Dewey's ego and portrays William as a God-Mode Sue. When it premieres, the first thing Dewey does is use it to (unsuccessfully) flirt with Pearl, indicating that he only wrote it to score a date. Steven and Jamie have to totally rewrite it to make it watchable.