I spent a good portion of the morning of Friday, August 13 doing interviews in the media room at Star Wars Celebration V, and over the past week, they’ve all been posted over at GeekDad. While it was obviously neat getting to sit and talk with all three of these guys about working in the Star Wars universe, a big part of what I liked about the conversations is that all three also grew up as fans of the original trilogy, so each interview included a little bit of reminiscing about those days, which is clearly something I like to do.
My first sit-down was with Dee Bradley Baker, who voices Captain Rex (and the entire Clone Army) on
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and it was just a ton of fun. Before I had even started my recorder, we were talking about being dads and nerds and playing video games, and I honestly don’t remember if I managed to get a single question asked from my written list, because the conversation just unfolded naturally and covered some really cool territory.
My daughter was very excited about this interview – even though she wasn’t at the convention that day – because she’s a big Phineas & Ferb fan, and Dee does the voice of Perry the Platypus. He’s also the voice of Squilliam Fancyson on SpongeBob SquarePants, which means he played a crucial role in our Totally Favorite Best SpongeBob Episode EVER – “Band Geeks.” Bonus Awesome Points: Dee offered to record a message for my daughter, and he included his “Perry” growl.
My next interview was with Clone Wars Supervising Director Dave Filoni, and again, you can just feel his intensity and enthusiasm for Star Wars as soon as he starts talking about working on the series and tying it to the way first-generation fans feel about the saga and the things that we wondered about when we were kids, and his experience the first time he saw the original movie when he was around preschool age. Here’s the link to “Talking Clone Wars With Supervising Director Dave Filoni.”
I finished up with an interview with Matthew Wood – Skywalker Sound supervising sound editor and the voice of General Grievous. This one had a certain “coming full circle” feeling, since five years ago at Celebration III, Jim and I actually bought him lunch as a favor to the Lucasfilm press contact who was helping us out that weekend. That was a rushed meeting, though, and although Jim had seen him at Disney’s Star Wars Weekends since then, this was my first chance to sit down and talk with him. (I was strangely thrilled to learn that he had once owned a Timex Sinclair computer – the same sort I brought home from middle school one day in a brown paper bag, buying it from a friend for ten bucks plus a “Lost City” D&D module I had already played through.) Here’s the end result, “Grievous Geekery: A Conversation With Lucasfilm’s Matthew Wood.”
Ever since getting back from Orlando, I’ve been going through those weird waves where Star Wars Celebration seems at once a distant memory and something that’s close enough that if I turned around quickly, I’d still see armored stormtroopers and kids carrying lightsabers and R2 units rolling down the hallway.
These are a few of my favorite leftover memories from the weekend. Once more, then, into hyperspace:
(Incidentally, all the photos in this post come from the perpetually-fantastic Jim Carchidi.)
For starters, here’s a funny picture of me and Jon Stewart:
You know why it’s funny? Because this happened when I was meeting Tony Pacitti, and I had just knelt down so I could sign him a copy of Collect All 21! when I heard Jim trying to get my attention: “John – um, JOHN.” I finished signing and stood back up – and that’s when Jim showed me that picture, which he had taken over my head as Jon Stewart walked right past me.
Bonnie Burton’s Dark Side commitment to R2-D2 was fun for several reasons (Jim and I both show up briefly a couple times in the StarWars.com video), not the least of which is I found myself standing next to Adrianne Curry right before the ceremony and got a picture with her afterward.
Also got to chat with Elvis Trooper while he was in full uniform – Kelsey & I had bumped into him on Thursday, while he was just in street clothes – and caught up with Bonnie for what would sadly be the last time that weekend.
Great stuff from the art show area over the weekend:
After Jim showed me the Katie Cook piece he’d bought for Kelsey, I had to go and get something for Jenn, so I requested this Star Wars/LOLCat-inspired piece:
I also bought her a copy of Katie’s totally-not-for-kids-but-utterly-hilarious-to-cat-owners book.
Made sure to catch up with Joe Corroney, who’s said nice things about my book and designed the OSWCC C5 badges –
Jim and I also crossed paths and hung out with Scott D.M. Simmons a couple times, meeting up at the collectors’ social on Friday and then wandering the exhibit hall on Sunday.
On Saturday, I met multi-talented and all-around-swell Orlando Sentinel online guru Tanya Hanson face-to-face for the first time. She’s the one who engineered the web coverage Jim and I provided for Celebration III in Indianapolis five years ago, and it was great to finally be able to thank her for that assignment in person. Since Jim was spending much of the day shooting the 501st and the Slave Leia group photos, Tanya and I hung out and attended the weekend’s second Robot Chicken Empire presentation. It was a blast and absolutely worth the hour and 20 minutes we waited in line, which we spent talking about cats and Tron Legacy and video games and assorted nerditry.
After that came an unexpected surprise: When Robot Chicken let out, I got a text from Jim saying he was in line for the Gary Kurtz solo panel just 20 minutes from starting – and it wasn’t too crowded.
Gary Kurtz‘ attendance at this Celebration had me whooping as soon as it was announced. The guy’s influence as a producer in shaping the first two (and, to my mind, the best two) Star Wars movies in the saga is legendary, but since leaving that galaxy behind after differences with George Lucas during and post-Empire, Kurtz has rarely looked back and, as far as I know, had never attended any conventions to talk about his involvement in the series. Given that a big part of Celebration V was marking the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, for all we knew, this could be the only time he’d be doing so.
I was absolutely astounded, then, to find that even when Jim moved further back in line upon my arrival (because I didn’t want to be that guy), we still easily made it into probably the first 10 or 15 rows of the auditorium, and even once everyone was in, there were still plenty of open seats. And this was Gary on his own, during his final presentation of the weekend, not sharing the stage with anyone but presenter Pablo Hidalgo. I’m still a little surprised, almost two weeks after the fact.
And it was an awfully neat talk. He may not have been as blunt on a few points as he was in this L.A. Times interview published the day Celebration V kicked off, but Kurtz made no secret of his feelings on Lucas’ changes to the original, more bittersweet Return of the Jedi ending – Han dead; Leia crowned “queen” and working to rebuild the crumbled republic; Luke riding off into the (double?) sunset as the tragic hero. Another interesting note: If my memory is correct, Kurtz – who did some second-unit directing in Empire – said that it’s his hands which are seen wielding the lightsaber in the close-up during the famous Tauntaun belly-slitting scene.
He also talked a fair bit about working on The Dark Crystal, which was an unexpected treat.
One of my favorite things about the whole weekend, though, came in the closing hours of Sunday afternoon. With no panels or presentations on our schedule, Jim and I leisurely took in the whole of the convention again, strolling through all the areas and the exhibition hall, meeting up with Scott and Adam again, shooting ourselves in the giant action figure card, stopping to play with toys at the Hasbro booth, exploring the fan-made Hoth diorama. Just generally trying to soak it all in and stave off the disbelief that it was all coming to an end.
After I filed my final GeekDad post, we decided to visit the Ralph McQuarrie exhibit one more time – a fitting return, it seemed, to the first room we’d visited on Thursday morning to start the convention.
So we’re in there, and who do we see taking in the paintings and sketches but ILM modelmakers Lorne Peterson and Jon Berg – whom we’d just seen give a panel on model-building and Empire three days prior – each kind of separately just slowly walking and looking over the works. Now, I probably wouldn’t have approached either one – we’d just said ‘hi’ to Lorne the other day, and I didn’t want to bother Jon – but during a moment when Jon was walking around the end of an aisle, and not looking at anything, Jim took the opportunity to go introduce himself and thank Jon for his work and for attending the convention and letting us all sort of see a bit of our favorite saga through his eyes. (Or something like that, I bet. I was a little busy thinking, “Hey – Jim’s over there talking to Jon Berg!“)
So of course, I go over and extend a hand, which Jon accepts as Jim introduces me, and I say, “I’m sure this is probably similar to what you’ve heard already, but you know, your work was responsible for helping shape a very good part of my childhood, and I wanted to say thanks for that.”
And he looks at me and says something like, “You know, I don’t have kids of my own, so thank you,” and he puts a hand on my shoulder, and the other on Jim’s shoulder and says, “My boys,” as he pulls us into a fatherly sort of hug. It is a very brief but honest moment, and there is nothing like learning as a creator that you have managed to make something that lasted and mattered to someone else, and as a fan, I’m glad to take the chance to tell artists and writers when they have done so.
It was just about the perfect way to close the weekend. Yeah, Jim and I walked around a little bit more, and the crowd at the convention center got smaller and smaller, and the merchandise store felt kind of empty and echoing, but we were already starting that mental shift back to “real life.”
We headed toward the exit, and I took one more picture, looking back at the main entrance hall. We stopped at the McDonald’s right down the road for a long-overdue lunch, and though there were plenty of con-goers there in their Star Wars T-shirts, still wearing convention badges and lanyards, it was a different atmosphere than it had been just a couple days earlier, in the midst of the Celebration.
Still, for four days, it sure felt like if there was a bright center to the universe, we were there.
Taking a short break from the Star Wars Celebration V postings while I gather more thoughts and photos. In the meantime, the final director’s cut of our 48 Hour Film Project submission is now online. If you’ve got eight minutes, you’ve got time to visit … The Meat Locker.
I’m going to write about making the movie and the Cedar Lee screening below, so you probably want to watch it first. And if the embedding doesn’t work, here’s the YouTube link.
Spoilers in …
Since I’ve already summed up the weekend and the creation process, I wanted to share a couple notes here regarding things that are only in context if you’ve watched the movie.
The title: We had absolutely nothing in mind while writing the screenplay, but when we were finished, we wanted a title that a) had a sort of ’70s hard-assed-but-cheesy cop-flick title but also b) hinted – just hinted, mind you – that there was something here about a cow. Nothing really clicked. In fact, we called it a night around 3 a.m. with the working title Rare Justice. When the whole team reconvened around 7 a.m., it was writer Joe Wack who walked in and said, with no preamble: “I’ve got it.” Point is, while the title obviously was inspired by The Hurt Locker, it was only long after the writing was done that someone said, “Wait a minute, isn’t that movie about a bomb disposal unit?”
The cow: We had a cow suit available, and we used it. And while we threw around dozens of cow jokes in the early writing, in the end we decided it would make a better movie if we simply played the whole thing straight. (I think the only half-joke nod we left in was Frank’s description of the bomb as “a modified O’Leary.”) There’s this hard-drinking, bitter, divorced guy on the force, see, and, well, he’s a cow. One of my favorite moments comes just before the reveal, when we see the close-up of Frank’s hoof on the motorcycle handle – because the bell around his neck ringing at just that moment, right before the cut to the full-on shot, was totally unplanned. And yes, Frank is a guy. And yes, he has udders. Maybe that’s what bothers The Lieutenant so damn much.
The chase: Perhaps one of the shortest chases in cinematic history – 8.9 seconds, I believe – this was a great scene to shoot, since it came toward the end of a very long, hot, exhausting day, and because we got to work in the quick stunt-double sight gag. For the record, Hilly’s stunt double donned the very costume she had been wearing. Not an identical costume in a larger version – the same clothes. Hilly was played by a slim 13-year-old girl – something her stunt double was clearly not. And Keith’s post-production editing of this scene, from Frank’s study of the bomb to the tackle, is just incredible.
The screenplay: The whole experience was a ton of fun, but as a writer, my favorite stretch of the weekend was that Friday-night-into-early-Saturday collaboration session. I’m maybe a bit strangely proud of the work we put into writing this. I think we hit the tone we wanted as far as shouting out to the cliches of the genre while creating something unique, and I liked puzzling through situations and character backgrounds and figuring out how to layer different pieces of the story and even >gasp!< work some metaphor in there, too.
The music: I still find bits of the score looping through my head, thanks to Kevin MacLeod, who writes this sort of thing and shares it online at Incompetech.com.
The Cedar Lee world premiere: There were 33 films entered in the Cleveland 48 Hour Film Project, and ours was one of a dozen shown on Thursday, Aug. 5. The screening was a blast. We got laughs where we wanted them and several strangers told us afterward that they had included us in their voting for Audience Favorite. (Each of the three screenings awarded one of these, and figuring that all the participants would likely vote for their own movies, the balloting required exactly three unranked choices from everyone.)
Honestly, I thought The Meat Locker held its own, considering none of us have any professional moviemaking experience. Two films at our screening clearly stood out, especially in terms of production – one of them, in fact, won the overall Best Film award as well as the Audience Favorite from our screening – but I thought our effort put us in one of the next two or three slots.
Still, we didn’t get nominated for any of the awards. I obviously would have liked us to get a writing nod (none of those three nominations came out of our screening group), but where I really felt shafted was the “Best Use of Prop” category. I mean, come on – Frank ate the flowers. And yes, Joe did, in fact, chew up actual daisies for that shot. That’s commitment.
In the end, yeah, it’s a goofy little movie, but it made for an unforgettable experience.
Next summer: The Meat Locker: Special Edition. Spoiler alert: Hilly Shoots First. (Noooooooooo!)
Although I didn’t land on any panels or have a booth at Star Wars Celebration V, I did have a lot of fun sharing Collect All 21! last week, even if my daughter and I had to lug my 10 copies in our carry-on bags because they pushed our shared suitcase just over the airline’s 50-pound limit.
For starters, the day we flew out of Akron-Canton, I spent the morning getting some new promotional postcards printed up for the book, since Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, had just written this incredibly nice blurb:
“Collect All 21!” is a deliciously warped nostalgia trip through Star Wars fandom. From collecting Kenner action figures to eating Star Wars birthday cakes to scribbling fan letters to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Booth shamelessly flaunts his lifelong lust for all things Star Wars. Like a tractor beam, this endearing account draws us in, and makes us reminisce about our own geeky obsessions.
A couple days later, on Aug. 11, I spent the afternoon in Clermont, Fla., hanging out at Heroes Landing and talking comics and Star Wars with Adam, The Force Among Us creator Cris Macht, and Korgi author/illustrator Christian Slade. A steady stream of customers to the store led to some book sales and a lot of Celebration V chatter, and I traded a copy of my book for Cris’ DVD, which I couldn’t pass up after noticing, “Hey, those are my OSWCC friends in that movie!”
I was also introduced to Felix Albuerne of the Prime Time Geek program, which proved to be an awfully timely meet-up, since he called me four days later for a fun interview about my book, which he worked into this post-Star Wars Celebration edition of the show.
I already wrote an overview of Celebration Day One, but I want to stress here again how fun it was to finally meet Steve Sansweet – not because of his status as a megacollector and Lucasfilm fan liaison, but because of what his first Star Wars-related book meant to me. This is from the Collect All 21! chapter called “The Dark Times”:
Then Steve Sansweet’s “ Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible” book came out. This thing came at me out of nowhere one afternoon in a mall bookstore, and I absolutely devoured it: page after page of the toys I’d had, the toys I’d craved, and sweet God, the toys I’d never even known existed but now wanted to see. And for just the second time in my life, my eyes fell upon the image of a Blue Snaggletooth. This single picture and one-paragraph explanation of the figure’s existence, maybe more than anything else in that book, put the scent of Star Wars collecting back in my nostrils. “Collecting” even seems too antiseptic and grown-up. This nostalgia was like being little again and feeling that bone-deep desire to Collect All 21!
So, yes, it was amazingly neat watching him sign that same now-well-worn copy of his book most of two decades later. We talked for a couple minutes about journalism (he’s a former Wall Street Journal writer, and I always appreciated the interviews and research that went into Concept to Collectible, as well as Sansweet’s ability to tell the Kenner story) and about my own writing, and when he asked me to sign the copy of Collect All 21! I gave him, that was a great moment, too.
On Friday, I met up with another fellow writer and fan, Tony Pacitti, whose My Best Friend is a Wookiee – One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy memoir is set for a Sept. 18 release. Tony’s book came to me through two near-simultaneous recommendations: GeekDad Jonathan Liu sent me a personalized, signed ARC he’d picked up during his coverage of the San Diego Comic Con, and while it was in the mail, Ethan Gilsdorf sent me a link to Pacitti’s book asking if I’d seen it.
After online introductions and back-and-forth messaging, Tony and I met face-to-face:
I gave him a copy of my own book, and he plowed through it after the convention and wrote up some cool reactions here. Even though we’re fans of different generations – he watched the original trilogy on VHS and came of age during the prequel era – I enjoyed his book and it’s deserving of its own dedicated review post rather than a paragraph shoehorned into this entry.
The last panel I attended on Friday was titled “Why We Love the Prequels,” and while I’ll admit I enjoyed it probably more than I was prepared to, I really went because Fanboys director Kyle Newman was there. See, awhile back, after I’d created the Collect All 21! Facebook page, I noticed one day that he was among the new “likes” – and it just sort of floored me. So just before heading to Celebration V, I sent him a note thanking him for the support and offering him a copy of the book. He had responded with a thumbs-up, so just before the panel started, while he was hanging out near the door to the room, I introduced myself, and we talked about the book for just a minute or so. (Neat moment: He said he really liked the title, and identified with it, since he’d once considered starting a company called “12 back.”) When I told him that Jim and I had stayed up late and watched Fanboys the night before the convention kicked off – mentioning one quote from the movie in particular – Kyle nodded and said something to the effect of, “Yeah. That’s it.”
The quote? “It was never about the movie. It was about all of us.”
That line came to mind a lot during Celebration V.
Five years ago, after returning from Indianapolis and Star Wars Celebration III, I spent a couple weeks chronicling the four-day event in a detailed personal journal. What I was aiming for was to somehow capture not just the moments and pictures and memories, but that energizing feeling of just being among fellow Star Wars fans and geeks. By the time I was done, my diary of the weekend was more than 14,000 words long, and as I’ve re-read it over the intervening years, it’s always been clear just why I had always held up that trip in my mind as one of the best times I’ve ever had.
And yet Star Wars Celebration V just blew it away, start to finish.
Part of it was the location and execution. I was super-impressed with the Orange County Convention Center’s spaciousness and the Reed Exhibition planning which used it so effectively. And every Reed and Lucasfilm person I talked with was nothing but helpful and accommodating. My sole gripe, I’ll admit, was that Saturday’s hyped Main Event – George Lucas interviewed on stage by Jon Stewart – was a one-off session in a 2,600-seat auditorium. Although it was broadcast live on screens throughout the center, it basically meant that the majority of attendees stood little or no chance of catching the event in person. Compare that to Celebration III, where Lucas held three half-hour Q-and-A appearances that 10,000 people got to see directly. Still – knowing the Main Event’s limitations in advance, I didn’t even count on being there, so in the end, it didn’t detract from my experience in the least.
I also felt like I got to see much more of Celebration V as a fan. When Jim Carchidi and I covered C3 for the Tribune Co., we spent a good chunk of each day wholly dedicated to work issues: securing Internet access, writing, shooting, editing and filing all by mid-afternoon. We attended very few panels and spent the last day of the convention running around trying to see all the stuff we hadn’t gotten to check out. In Orlando, we actually found ourselves saying on Saturday morning that if the convention had to shut down for some reason, we could go home right then and still say it had been amazingly awesome.
Not that this year’s Celebration diminishes that 2005 experience at all – it was just That Much Better. So much so that I’m struggling to organize and figure out how to do these recollection blog entries – even while reaching for clarity, I want to write while the afterglow remains, so things may be a little hyper and jumbled for the next week or so while I give it a shot.
Below are links to the coverage I provided for Wired magazine’s GeekDad:
I also sat down at the convention for a trio of incredibly fun interviews which I’ll be writing up and posting to GeekDad in the very near future. And the folks who recognized the blog from my shirt and badge and said nice things about it totally made my day.
I’ve mentioned before that writing for GeekDad has been one of the absolute coolest and most rewarding things I’ve been able to do over the past year and a half, so I need to thank editor Ken Denmead and assistant editor Matt Blum again for supporting the Celebration V coverage idea from the minute I proposed it late last year.
So, this was my first Star Wars Celebration in five years, and my daughter’s first ever, as well as her first really humongous-scale convention, and we just had a spectacularly awesome day.
Kelsey and Jim and I arrived shortly after 10 a.m., and once inside the Orange County Convention Center, we made a beeline for an exhibit of Ralph McQuarrie original art, a good portion of which had only recently been rediscovered, and some of which hadn’t been viewed in decades. Seriously neat stuff, from the most bare-bones concept sketches to fully-realized designs that were just never used, like this one:
Then we visited the 501st costuming room –
– and the TK Helmet Project display:
…and then the R2-D2 Builders’ room (about which I wrote at GeekDad):
Jim went off to a photo shoot while Kelsey and I went with Adam & family to visit the exhibitors’ hall and take part in the construction of a giant Lego mural.
Off, then, to a Bonnie Burton talk about Star Wars crafts, after which we met Bonnie face-to-face and she presented Kelsey with a signed copy of her Girls Against Girls book, which was an awfully generous and most-appreciated gesture. (Yeah, Bonnie kind of rocks.)
We hit the showroom floor again for a longer stretch, and then took in a panel about model-building and The Empire Strikes Back presented by Lorne Peterson and Jon Berg – Jim rolled for initiative and caught Lorne’s attention afterward, so we talked for a moment and planned to meet up again over the next few days.
After that, Kelsey and I relaxed for a good long while over a Dr. Pepper and some french fries, and I talked to people I knew as they passed by.
Just before the main hall closed for the day, she and Jim and I popped in to take our turns posing in the giant Boba Fett action figure package.
We spent our last half-hour or so of the day hanging out at a collectors’ social, talking to friends, then called it a day and grabbed pizza on the way back to Jim’s.
Other super highlights: Jim surprising Kelsey with an original Katie Cook sketch of a Yellow Submarine; finally getting to chat with Steve Sansweet and having him sign my beat-up copy of his Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible, which played a hugely inspirational role in reinvigorating my love for the saga in the early ’90s (my Dark Times), and also giving him a copy of Collect All 21, which he asked me to sign; watching my daughter emerge from changing into her brand-new TARDIS-emblazoned Doctor Who shirt.
This was Kelsey’s only day here, and while she was exhausted at its close, she also had an awesome time, and no matter what else, that alone means I did, too.
We’ll be heading over to Star Wars Celebration V later this morning, but the fun has already begun.
We spent yesterday afternoon at Heroes Landing in Clermont, Florida, hanging out with Adam and meeting Cris Macht, the guy behind The Force Among Us, and Korgi creator (and Star Wars fan) Christian Slade.
Thanks to a steady stream of comic book and Star Wars enthusiasts, I introduced Collect All 21 to a good number of people, and sold several copies, too.
Jim dropped me off for a late, fun family dinner, and then Kelsey and I came back to Jim’s to rest up for Day One.
And now it’s breakfast time.
Fresh off last night’s world premiere of The Meat Locker (an incredibly fun evening about which I’ll write more when I can share the movie online), and on the brink of leaving for Star Wars Celebration V on Monday, it seems a good time to share this bit of nostalgia:
That’s a scrap from the floor of my room in the house where I grew up. My youngest brother and his family live there now, and they’re replacing this carpet – which, it should be noted, is the only original remaining carpet from when we moved into the house in 1976.
This particular piece includes the evidence from this recollection in Collect All 21! (Chapter – “Along A Different Path: Taking Star Wars into Our Own Hands”)
When I was in middle school, I fished our family’s old 8mm movie camera out of the crawlspace, shelled out my allowance for batteries and a light bulb and tried to make my own Star Wars films.
One winter, I took it outside in the snow, dug a makeshift Death Star trench – I added twists and turns to make it, you know, more exciting – and then filmed my own point-of-view attack run, never thinking that, duh, I was holding the camera by its handle – in other words, upside down.
I was a little more successful with the flick I made using my little brothers’ Scout Walker. I managed to do some fairly steady stop-motion animation of the AT-ST’s head rotating back and forth, its side guns twitching up and down, and then I had my brother Adam work its legs, stomping them up and down while I shot a close-up. Then we stop-motioned the top hatch opening and a Scout Trooper emerging (okay, he didn’t so much “emerge” as he popped into existence from one frame to the next) and then – gasp! – quick cut to a skyward shot and a streaking meteor that was, in actuality, a lava rock my parents had brought me back from their 15th anniversary trip to Hawaii. And again, not so much streaking against the sky as being dropped by my brother with my textured white ceiling in the background.
Poor trooper never saw it coming. Caught it on the noggin, and… as the black haze closed in on his battle-scarred mind, he barely felt his walker toppling, its legs crumpling, never to stride into war again.
Aaaaaaaaand – scene.
The four-minute film reel containing this 30- or 40-second masterpiece survived long enough to make it onto a DVD we compiled as a Christmas present for Mom a couple decades later. Holding up the cardboard sign labeled “Assistant: Adam Booth,” – I’d taken top billing as director and cameraman, naturally – my youngest brother looks like he’s squinting into binary suns, the lamp on the movie camera’s so freaking bright. We actually melted a tennis-ball-sized circle of carpet during filming when I accidentally put the bulb housing on the floor after a shot.
It’s actually probably closer to racquetball-sized, for the record. And I can still remember the sour plasticky smell that tipped me off to the puff of smoke rising from my bedroom floor, and how for years afterward I would pick absentmindedly at the little misshapen fused lumps of carpet fiber.
Star Wars Celebration V begins a week from today! Watch for my vehicle on Interstate 77 southbound:
It’s been almost five-and-a-half years since the last Star Wars Celebration I attended. As I wrote in Collect All 21 –
The biggest, best, craziest part of the Episode III build-up was the trip Jim and I made to Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis, just about a month before the movie’s May 2005 premiere. We planned this sonofabitch for more than a year and got ourselves a freelance assignment for four days of web coverage and a print feature on the movie.
I had just started a new job, and my first few weeks, Jim and I emailed back and forth constantly, ironing out details about what to cover and how to handle it, setting up deadlines, checking the event programming to see who was going to be there and figuring out how to drink it all in. We were seriously, ridiculously psyched.
A lot’s changed since that spring: That new job is the same one which landed me in the role of full-time freelance writer in March 2009, thanks to staff cuts, and these days, I’m the parent of a recently-minted teenager.
But here I am again, a week from Star Wars Celebration V – which is literally right down the road from Jim’s house in Orlando – and even without the buzz of a saga’s conclusion to drive the hype, I’m awfully excited about the week to come.
For lots of the same reasons, of course: Geeking out with Jim, being among fellow Star Wars fans, checking out props and artifacts and old toys.
But I’m also excited for a few different reasons. For one, Kelsey will be spending a day at the convention with me. (Just one, which I absolutely understand. She has a friend in Orlando she’s excited to visit, and relatives we only see once a year, tops, and while she does enjoy Star Wars, one day immersed in the fandom is all she’s looking for. Now, if this were a Kids in the Hall convention…)
I’m also providing coverage for GeekDad this time around, and I’ve already got what should be some fun interviews lined up.
Then there’s this Pre-Celebration V party and trivia contest from 3-10 p.m. August 11 at Heroes Landing in Clermont (a quick & easy drive from the Orange County Convention Center). I’ll be there with copies of Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek, and Adam Besenyodi is signing Deus Ex Comica: The Rebirth of a Comic Book Fan. Cris Macht, director of The Force Among Us, is supposed to hang around awhile, and the gang from the Star Wars Action News podcast is hosting a trivia contest to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Central Florida. (Where Jenn used to work, as it happens.)
So that should all be fantastic fun and a nice pre-con psyche-up.
Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to meeting people in person whom I’ve only met either online or through interviews or through Collect All 21! The best parts of my previous two Star Wars Celebration trips – I did a whirlwind 36-hour trip to Celebration II in 2002 – were the ones that just grew out of moments spent in the company of friends, talking Star Wars and nostalgia and expectations and life both here and in that galaxy far, far away.
So, with No Ticket Productions’ The Meat Locker officially submitted on Sunday with 20 minutes to spare in the Cleveland edition of the 48 Hour Film Project, I can now say –
HolyFRAK what an insane and fun and sweaty and exhausting and hilarious and caffeine-and-sugar-fueled and rewarding way to spend a weekend!
I will divulge no spoilerage beyond this: We drew “suspense/thriller” as a genre, and The Meat Locker was the result. I’m sure we’ll put it online in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime, if you want to come see it on the big screen, it premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights, along with 10 other short films from the contest. Get your tickets here! (Take note: The Meat Locker is in the Group C showing on Thursday night – groups A&B screen Wednesday, but the listing for all three screenings reads “48 Hour Film Project,” so make sure you get the right tickets.)
The abridged version of the weekend reads like this: The entire crew gathered at about 7:30 p.m. Friday and threw out tons of ideas once we knew our film’s genre. Then the four of us writing the script holed up in the basement and narrowed the possibilities to two very different movies, each of which we fleshed out as completely as possible without actually reaching the screenwriting point. We then picked the one which we thought we had the best possibility of pulling off.
(Digression: This morning, I found this story about the project online, and while I was excited to see 48 Hour Film getting some publicity, I confess to taking exception to the following allegation by another participant:
“We had planned to do horror,” Gutter said, noting that all teams go into the competition with some idea of what they are going to film.
For the record, we didn’t. The only content decision we made ahead of time was to give up the Western/Musical genre if we’d drawn that one and go for a Wild Card assignment instead.)
With the general story in mind, everyone else figured out what we’d need in the way of costumes and music and props.
Over the next few hours, four of us wrote the screenplay – and while all of us admitted afterward that we’d been nervous about how well this would work, it was an absolute blast from a writing standpoint. I haven’t done a good dose of fiction in far too long, and I’ve never written anything in a fully collaborative style like this, with ideas and lines and scenes flying around and developing and building off each other, and what with the deadline pressure and all, it was quite a rush.
Even though I was just flattened by 2:30 a.m. when we finished it, I still couldn’t fall asleep right away. (Maybe because a) Jenn insisted I tell her the story when I finally came to bed, and b) I had something like 5 Mountain Dew Throwbacks and maybe a pound of assorted snack chips and candy in my bloodstream.)
Saturday’s work began at 7:30 a.m. or so, creating a shooting log from the script and gathering costumes and props and setting the equipment up for the shoot.
By the time we were ready to roll, it was after lunch, and we filmed basically nonstop for the next 7 or 8 hours, with everyone pitching in on all jobs acting to filming to boom operation to logging the sound times and scene lengths to wrangling the cables. I’m really struggling to effectively describe the massive pile of effort that went into Saturday’s work, all of which led to a roughly 7-minute movie, but it was as hard a day as I’ve had in a long time, although it was also easily one of the most fun.
I crashed just after midnight, when the sound and video were still being uploaded into the computers. We all awoke to an email notice from our director that a rough, rough cut was done.
Those of us still there helped choose the various pieces of music for the soundtrack and offered editing notes and that sort of thing, and Jenn & Kelsey & I left shortly after lunch while the final polishing was under way.
While a big part of a project like this is clearly to just have fun, we all did share a focus on wanting to make the best movie we could, and even when we were being goofy, I felt like we all had the right amount of taking things seriously mixed in, and being part of that with my friends and my wife and my daughter was pretty damn cool.