The Star Wars comedy that has taken over a decade to reach our screens
A long time ago, in a country far away, a man wrote a script for a little indie film based on a bunch of Star Wars fans going on a road trip to the Skywalker ranch to sneak a look at The Phantom Menace before the film came out. Over a decade later the film finally gets a DVD release in the UK. Fanboy ’s long road to the screen is a saga in itself. Originally written in 1998 by Ernest Cline it took years before it finally went into development when Star Wars fan Kyle Newman came on board to direct it, at which point major Hollywood studios became interested. It was shot, and then reshot, and then taken out of Kyle’s hand to be reshot and re-edited by another director, when the studio decided it wanted a broad comedy and wanted all references to a cancer subplot taken out. But by that point fans on the internet had heard about the film and campaigned to get Newman and the cancer plotline put back in. Eventually that happened but all the delays kept putting the release date back, so that a film shot in 2007 only finally gets its UK release this week. It’s been a rough ride, but Newman is still proud to champion his film, and glad that’s come out (nearly) as he first intended…
SFX: Is it a bit weird talking about a film that you made four years ago?
Newman: “It’s strangely still been active and slowly being released over that time, so I'm almost used to it.”
Is it slightly dispiriting that whenever you get interviewed about Fanboys , the subject of its traumatic post-production comes up?
“You know what, at least it’s something to talk about. And no movie has no problems at all. ‘It was amazing. Everything was perfect!’ That never happens. It was partly because this was a subject matter that people are really passionate about. We’re talking about a whole generation of Star Wars fans. They took to it. That’s why on-line sites would talk about it, and conjecture about it. That’s why it got a little bit of extra attention, probably more than it should have for a movie that was under $4 million. So it was put under a microscope in a way in which maybe it shouldn’t have been. But I’m happy to talk about it, because I love the movie. I’ve been doing it for seven years and I’m still very proud of it?”
So the version we’re seeing, how near is that to the original version you made?
“In terms of the big breadth of it, it is very similar. The one thing I knew I had to do when I got the cut back was go back and put the cancer subplot back in. Without it, it simply didn’t have the same heart. They experimented with removing that because it ‘may have been a burden on people’. I thought it was essential. You have the friendship, you have the heart, but you also have the elasticity of going on a screwball road trip. You can go to all those crazy places, but when you have that emotional core, you can bounce back; you can go to crazy places because you believe in the characters and you like them. It gives you the credibility to do the crazy stuff.
“So I was glad we got to put that stuff back in. There are little scenes here and there still missing. There’s a scene with Linus – the guy with the cancer – at the Grand Canyon, and he’s holding his pill bottle in his hand, and he weighs it in his hand, and he throws it into the ravine. And there’s this 10, 15 second thing where he’s just accepting and giving in to what it is. And we had to cut that. It was ‘too depressing’. But actually it’s uplifting in a lot of ways. Accepting your fate. Little things like that I wish were still in the film. That’s frustrating – little nuances that should have been in there.”
Did you ever meet Steve Brill, the guy who took over as director when you were ousted?
“Yeah, I went to all the screenings, and saw the different cuts and made notes on them all. We just figured we were gonna get it back at some point, and we did. Steve was hired to do his thing, try to go in a different direction and remove cancer from the film. The job he took on, I don’t envy that – taking on somebody else’s movie so late in the game. Especially when it already has an online fan base. But he did, but ultimately I think the film company realised the film worked better my way. And also the fans who had seen it, and heard about it, wanted to see the version we had made. So that’s what ultimately got it back for us – the fans, the online community.”
But he did do some reshoots.
“Well, we always planned to do some reshoots anyway, because we didn’t have enough money to make the movie that we did. There were 53 locations in 25 days. We were never in one place more than a few hours. There were a lot of characters. So we always knew we were going to have to go back and do a few things. But it was always like, ‘Well, what are we gonna go back and do? And that's where the discussion opened up. It was kind of like a can of worms, because once you start talking abut that, people start saying, ‘Well this is working, but if we spend more money we can make it feel like it's a big broad comedy.’ That’s not what we were trying to do. We were just trying to tighten it, not turn it into something different. There are broader moments, but this was a small story about friends. A Stand By Me vibe was what I was going for.”
Is there an interesting movie to be made out of the making of the movie?
“Oh yeah. Absolutely. It was just such an atypical way of making a film. We had places like Dreamworks and Fox all wanting to make it, but everyone was like, ‘We have to wait until George Lucas to approves.’ Because no-one wanted to step on his toes. Dreamworks and Spielberg were interested in it, but Spielberg didn’t want to do anything that might upset George. So everyone was waiting to hear those words, and the Weinstiens got into it first first. The producers were like, ‘Let’s do it with them. They’re going for it very aggressively.’ In the end, Kevin Spacey [who acted as one of the producers on the film] phoned up Lucasfilm, and actually got Lucas’s approval really quick. We just had to detail to Lucasfilm everything that we were going to use that was Star Wars trademark or Star Wars dialogue.
“It was kind of a strange… the whole thing was a strange film to make. We’re actually trying to put a book together right now about the process of making it, with a lot of pictures. We were the first production to shoot at the Skywalker Ranch outside of a George Lucas production. It was very rare that they welcomed us in like that. That happened on a half day shoot after we had completed production. We had originally planned to shoot those scenes on a ranch in new Mexico, but we found out mid-production and just adapted the production to that.”
What kind of thrill was it to film there?
“We walked onto the property and I just thought I was gonna get punked or something, that we were going to get kicked out. ‘I can’t believe that we are actually here! The gates are actually opening!’ Then they met us and I was still thinking, ‘Are they sure they're gonna let us shoot here?’
“And we didn’t have any money left in the budget by the time we got there. We had money for one light. There’s a scene were the van is pulling out and driving away from the ranch; we had to light that whole scene with car headlamps parked off to the side. We’re in this Holy land, and we’re shooting it using car head lamps. But you have to get it however you can.”
How did you actually come to direct the project?
“I had actually been developing it for a few years. Matt Pernicaro, one of the producers, he tracked down Ernie, who had written the script. I had read about the script in ’98 on Harry Knowles’ website. Back then Ernie was trying to make it as a $25,000 indie about four fans driving up to try to sneak in to see the film. And I got involved years later, and just started further developing it with Matt, and with Ernie, before we had anybody else involved. I just kinda rebuilt it and put more of those emotional layers in that I wanted. And it took a few more years, but we just slowly built our team around that.”
How much is Star Wars still a part of your life now? You seem to Tweet about it quite a lot.
“It’s big. It’s daily. I can’t get into specifics yet, but I a just about to write something for Star Wars in the original trilogy era, involving one of the major character, that will probably be on Star Wars.com. I’m a big fan of the Clone Wars series. My wife [Jaime King] is on the Clone Wars series; she plays several roles on it. We’re actively in that world. I like a lot of the Star Wars comics out there. I read a lot of the novels. I'm very much into the Hasbro vintage toys they're bringing out.”
Which is better: The Family Guy’s Blue Harvest or Robot Chicken Star Wars ?
“They’re both funny. Robot Chicken , I think. I like the sketchiness of it and I’m a stop motion fan, so I’m biased.”
There are also some Trek fans in the the film, though they get a bit of a rough ride. Do you get stick from Trek fans about that?
“You know, I haven’t really spoken to many of them. And I like Star Trek . I have nothing against it. It was just that right before we were about to shoot, we had their approval, and then they pulled. Originally it was more of a balanced back-and-forth between Star Trek and Star Wars . But then we went, ‘You know what, let’s go a little harder on Star Trek , because we’re having to spend money making these costumes. Let’s just give it to them.’”
Fanboys is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 4 October