The moment: early June, 1999. The last day of eighth grade. After a brief ceremony (not really a graduation), we quickly transitioned into the first half-day of summer- the last summer before high school and all that came with it.
At first there were three of us. Nathan, Kyle, and myself, trying to find a way to capitalize on our new-found freedom. Earlier that spring, we'd dabbled in a few impromptu film projects. In February, there was the parody PSA about the dangers of eating too many Smarties sugar candies. Later, in May, a series of unscripted (and truly awful) Tom Green style escapades in which we harassed my family, local merchants, and whoever else got in our way.
The Phantom Menace had come out a month or so earlier, and while not a lot needs to be said about that movie, we still did have Star Wars very much on the brain. We had been raising ourselves on parody- each weekend was spent reveling in Shogun Video's "5 movies 5 dollars 5 days" deal, in which we always got some combination of Monty Python, Zucker Brothers (Naked Gun, Airplane, Hot Shots), Mel Brooks, and SNL produced movies, staying up til 3 in the morning cracking jokes and reading books by Jack Handey.
I guess I mention all of that to say that while the film we made isn't necessarily a "parody" in the truest sense of the word (and the jokes are few and not funny), that was definitely the mindset with which we were writing and directing. We all liked Star Wars - who didn't! - but we were more attracted to the idea of impromptu filmmaking than any particular element of the storyline (which explains why we cared so little about whether or not we followed the plot, or whether or not it made any sense at all). This context is meant to defend us- to say we were not as nerdy as we may come off to the uninitiated. I doubt it will work.
I don't think we had a plan going into that afternoon- my guess is that we developed it on the way home from school that day- but we pretty quickly knew what was happening and that we needed to gather the usual "cast of characters" for a production. In retrospect, this was the first time we actually all shot something together, but we would be come infamous in the following year. The 3 of us + Will, Scott, and Cody from the next class, occasionally aided by our siblings (and whoever else we could rope in) went on to also create brilliant retellings of The Matrix, James Bond, an unnammed horror movie that we never actually finished, and a handful of school projects including an AMAZING vietnam war film that I wish I knew how to get my hands on.
Armed with an old camcorder, a box of generic costume pieces, and fake weapons generated over years of being teenage boys, we set to work. We wrote as we filmed- coming up with what should happen in a 1 minute scene, filming it, and then moving on to the next. Roles were doled out haphazardly- anyone not directly in the scene would fill in as extras, usually to be killed off and recycled.
I don't think any more preamble is necessary. I'll follow up with notes on some of my favorite moments, but it's best experienced as a whole first.
Ok, now that you've seen that masterpiece, take a moment to collect yourself.
First I'll say that it absolutely was part of our vision to keep the outtakes in. The fact that Cody (Han Solo) has multiple failed attempts at lines before us changing the characters in the scene to avoid it still cracks me up. Also, when we realized that Darth Vader wouldn't call that guy he's about to kill "sir".
Second- my god, look at those costumes. Luke Skywalker (me) in mismatched tall bright socks, and bright Nike athletic gear with a bike helmet (note: only a slight variation on what I wore to school that day). Darth Vader in a ninja cape and a skeleton mask? The Chewbacca (Scott) costume is probably the best one- just a long wig wrapped around a white t-shirt. It's clear we are all teenage boys in the 90's- I think most of us are wearing cargo shorts underneath the costumes.
And third- the SETS are amazing. BEAUTIFUL space plant, sir. Of COURSE the imperial base is a big Victorian house (with a cellar?). Sure, there's clearly a chain link fence and cars driving by in the background in a lot of scenes. Yes, you can see Nathan's grandma gardening as we approach the base.
The acting is pretty good. I wish I spent less time looking directly into the camera. With the ability to dub in audio (Metallica imperial march, anyone?), I'm not sure why we made the decision to make the light saber and gun noises with our mouths, visibly, on camera. You can clearly hear some on screen direction (me saying "Now Will" in a fight scene), Dallas saying "Now what do I do?" as we're storming the base. How many times did we kill Tyler? Every corner we turned in the house he got shot or lasered or sabered.
I am really proud of a couple of the effects. I think the screen saver / hyperspace stuff is genius, and I'm pretty proud of our light saber editing (a bike handlebar grip + an optional colored broom handle) actually makes for a pretty convincing weapon.
But I think really the entire experience can be summarized in one beautiful moment:
The Darth Vader trampoline butt bounce.
Why does it happen? What was going through Will's mind, other than the fact that we were on a trampoline? I think instinct just kicked in. When on a trampoline, you might as well do a butt bounce. Never get so lost in a project that you lose track of the little pleasures in life. The same decisions that would have cut that butt bounce out would have led us in directions that would have prevented us from completing this movie in the first place. You don't make stuff like this because it's going to be good- you make stuff because it's fun to make, and if you're lucky, you'll have something that you can watch at the end that will remind you how fun it is to make stuff.