I've decided to keep a production journal, chronicling the making of STAR WARS: THE CANTINA. This is what's happened so far:
3rd February, 2006
Following the positive response to 'Star Wars: Revenge of the GIF' I had decided to make another Star Wars fan film and had been working on a first draft of the script during January. Today however I see on Empire Online a news piece about a short film competition. For short films featuring the STAR WARS action figures. Only one "Hasbro" figure is required which is handy as my collection is mostly Kenner figures.
I stop writing the other film in order to concentrate on this. I quickly decided it'll be called STAR WARS: THE CANTINA. It'll feature the Cantina scene from A NEW HOPE but show the things we didn't see. I had been thinking of including an alternate version of the Cantina scene in the film I'd been writing, but wasn't sure if I could fit it in.
I may have to purchase some additional figures – like say a Cantina band member. Luckily there are some on eBay.
I order some new MiniDV tapes off Amazon. Using a Amazon Marketplace Seller I get three for just under six quid (including postage).
MiniDV tapes arrive. I should probably start planning exactly what will be in this film.
I had planned to just write an outline, but as it's such a short film I decided to do a first draft instead. It's pretty easy as I've been writing it in my head since the competition was announced. However as I'm about halfway through it, my laptop dies. Luckily I had the file saved on a external device. Unluckily it only saved the title sequence. I grab a pen and paper and opt to write things the old-fashioned way. I finish pretty quick, I'll do the shooting script and a “need” list tomorrow.
My laptop is dead. It's been on the way out for a few months now, with various things not working. I order a new one. Luckily I had backed everything up.
Whilst that is out of action I use my sister's to enquire about cheap audio editing software – something I'll need. I post on the Star Wars en Direct message board, where ex-producer Dany and board member "dathrill" mention 'Audacity' which is free – which is even better.
In the evening (using my sister's laptop) I win a Cantina Band member off eBay - by my reckoning the only new figure I'll have to purchase. I go to pay via PayPal when I discover I CAN'T. What? The seller doesn't accept PayPal! Who doesn't use PayPal? For what must be at least a year now, everything I've got off eBay I've paid using PayPal. It's such a commonly used payment method that I don't even think to check if people accept it anymore.
I write a cheque instead but as I'm writing the address on the envelope I notice that the address I've been sent by the automated "you have won" email doesn't include a house number or street name. I send a question to the seller asking for his address, but don't get a response. Well it is getting late and I'd missed the last post pickup anyway.
The seller still doesn't send me his address. I can see this messing up my filming schedule.
I check my e-mail first thing and hurah! I have a full address at last. I send the cheque off right away. I also draw up plans for the sets I'll need (originally scheduled for tomorrow)
My cheque should have arrived by now. But feedback hasn't been left. I fear he will wait for the cheque to clear.
I construct the Cantina interior. In the end I don't build the steps or other doorway, as neither needs to be seen onscreen. Additionally Han's booth will be constructed separately.
My new laptop arrives! With setting it up, spending half a day looking for the installation disc for my modem and transferring various files and programs, I don’t get anything film-related done.
I had hoped it would by now, but the Cantina band member figure still hasn't arrived. I'm convinced now he's waiting for the cheque to clear. Fair enough, I suppose – but come on who doesn't use PayPal?
In the evening I decide to start filming anyway – with four cardboard cutouts. As this first shot I'm doing will not feature any closeups of the band I should get away with it.
A few hours later and I've completed a tracking shot of the Cantina, taking place near the start of the film. I always knew it would take longer to shoot than most shots due to all the characters featured and the fact it's all stop-motion work – as opposed to waving the figure in front of the camera which I should be able to do for some later stuff.
It worked pretty well, with most of my time actually spent trying to get the band to stand up. There are times where the camera captured more frames than it should, and a bit near the start where it's too jerky but I should be able to clean it up in the edit. I liked how the drunken Ewok turned out. I filmed a couple of closeups by just shaking the set to achieve the movement, but it looks like I'm just shaking the set, so I'm glad the other stuff worked.
I write this journal.
Cantina band figure arrives today. I plan to shoot band closeups tomorrow – and hopefully everything else on that set (incl. Han/Greedo stuff).
I shoot the closeups and reaction shots of various characters following Greedo's death. However I didn't get the Han/Greedo stuff – but as I don't actually need the full set that's not really a problem.
Due to work and things I don't do anything else until today when I finally type out my Second Draft.
Work again causes no progress, until today when I post a casting call on the Star Wars En Direct boards. I film all the other Cantina set stuff except Han's reaction, the Obi-Wan/Luke side of their conversation with Han and the Boba Fett / Yak Face bit.
I finish filming on the Cantina set. Hurrah!
I decide to post my casting call on the Galactic Senate message board as well.
One role I'd left off the casting call was that of Vader. I'd had the idea of keeping his appearance secret, by obtaining his only line--a girlie scream--by asking someone from the 'Star Wars en Direct' radio show to provide it on-air (even they won't know what it's for), and then I'll extract it from the podcast later. The obvious choice is Audrey but when I e-mail them later I also suggest that Sebastien and Brian give it a go. I get a response from Sebastien saying they'll see what they can do.
Today I plan to shoot the corridor scene and construct the Cantina exterior. I manage to shoot the corridor scene.
I manage to construct the Cantina exterior and to my surprise I manage to film everything. Principal photography is complete! It is at this point I realise I don't know the exact date of the competition deadline, I think it's the end of April but I should find out the exact date so I go on to the competition website to find out.
The good news is that the deadline is actually 31st May. The bad news is the fact that the site has updated with some "terms and conditions". One line which is going to cause trouble reads "Filmmakers must NOT use of any copyrighted music, video or still images from the Star Wars movies". Now whilst I thought using music from other things would be a big no-no, I figured using Star Wars music (this being an official competition an' all) would be fine. So now the Cantina band will have to play something other than the famous 'Cantina Music'. This is a problem.
I also listen to the Star Wars en Direct show and don't hear any screams. Thankfully they (via the message board) promise to do it next week. Then after making some "Sin City Breakfast Tacos", I start transferring footage to my hard drive to begin editing. I'm also sent an excellent reading of Doctor Evazan's line. The first role has been cast!
In the morning I hear on Classical FM a mention of someone working on "elaborate stop-motion" film and wonder if it's for this competition. Later on I decide to delete the roles from my casting call as they are cast, and add a "casting status" bit instead saying how many roles have been cast. As I will be voicing Sidious, Yak Face and Greedo this takes the roles cast up to four. My hope is that when people see the number of roles cast going up, they'll be more inclined to try out for a role themselves.
I decide I'll need a Jawa "ootini" so added it to the list of required roles. I feel bad that the only role that has (really) been cast is a off-screen one, so decide I'll do a pickup shot with a cardboard Evazan at some point, I then change my mind when I see a proper one on eBay for cheap.
I purchase this month's SFX as it looks interesting and inside there is an advert for this competition. Up until seeing it, I had half-wondered if the competition was a wind-up to see if anyone would actually be sad enough to make a five minute film with a bunch of toys.
I add the "NO Equity or other guild actors" bit to the casting call (as specified in the rules) just in case - and also that Wuhur is a offscreen role.
I'm getting worried about what to do for music, also I've planned to do the end credits as a card-back, but I can't do this until I know how many people I've got.
I remember about the Evazan figure on eBay, twenty minutes after the auction ends. Instead I buy one from a American seller, in a set with Ponda Baba (who I'll use) and Obi-Wan (who I already have in the film anyway). It'll take longer to get here but it's OK now that I have more time (than I thought) until the deadline.
I get the Star Wars en Direct podcast and...
Transcribed from Star Wars en Direct, English show #80: The Empire Strikes Back, 26 Years of Empire. Aired: 19th March, 2006
Sebastien: Like Luke screaming at the end of the movie the first time. He was just like jumping but screaming like a girl.
Audrey: Say again?
Sebastien: No offence to girls, in the first version of Empire Strikes Back... [reacting] yeah that's right, he just plunges to his death...
Audrey: Oh down the thing. Yeah. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
Sebastien (amused): Hey Brian. Snap. [laughs]
Audrey: We're supposed to do a whole load of screams aren't we?
Sebastien: You're right. People take your microphones off your ear...away from your mouth and start screaming...
Sebastien: OK I hope that makes some of our listeners happy.
Brian (coughing): I can't talk
Sebastien: And the high pitched scream was mine. I'm sorry.
Sebastien: I think we just pierced a few ears.
Brian: Oh I'm sorry Admiral...
Audrey: We scared the cat, people.
*On this show the team were joined by Adria and a unnamed but amusing guy. So this scream featured five people.
OK they weren't all supposed to scream at the same time, but then that's my fault for not telling them why I needed the scream. However it's still usable, I may stick it in the Greedo scene and use Audrey's mini scream for Vader.
I post a thanks in the SWD feedback thread and update my casting threads to reflect the extra role now cast.
At this point the Month turns bad, and I don't do anything film-related other than make the decision (on 10th April) to drop Wicket's line as Wuhur will be speaking at this point anyway.
I've created a very rough cut. I then extract the different scenes as this will make it easier to work with. I decide to do the title sequence, with the morph bit requiring over a hundred frames by hand. I complete the frames then go to create the AVI. However with AVI maker you can only add one frame at a time so this takes a while.
I make file then realise there's a bit that should be black that isn't down the left side. I fix around 60 frames then try again.
AVI maker bodges up. I will have to add those files again. One at a time.
For the sake of my sanity I decide to leave it for now and start on some other FX shots. I do the R2 boosters shot, changing the order of some frames to make it look better and make the AVI. I then go back and make the AVI file of the title sequence and this time it works. I'm not happy with the R2 boosters shot, so go back and do some wire (dental floss) removal - and change the frame order slightly too. I watch it and notice I missed a couple of frames where floss is still visible. I go back and fix it. Finally the shot is done. Hurrah two fx shots finished! Ow my back hurts.
At some point between 19th April and 2nd May I do the second Saber shot (only two frames).
I do the first 101 frames of the first Saber shot. May actually be enough. I continue with the rough cut. Completing the first 1:25 - though without the "Darth Fool Presents" card and Evazan shot.
I finish the rough cut. It runs at 4:59 without credits. I make some trims and get it down to 4:41
I post my casting call on the Anime Connect board too, and this time mention the possibility of prizes - I don't know why I left this fact out of my previous threads. I notice I'd requested five growls from Chewie, though I now only need two. In fact only ever needed three. I ask for three.
I try out Audrey's scream on Vader and It's not as usable as I thought. However with some editing, the group one is! Hurrah! Going to be a confusing credit though - 5 people! Next I start work on the music. Oh dear.
For the music I'd had the idea of recording some sounds, like guitars, some drumming and other things like change rattling and then sticking them together to try and make a tune. It takes a long time though I seem to be creating something. However the mood does not fit at all.
I'm not having any luck at all with casting - no one else has been cast, although several people have mentioned roles they're thinking of trying out for. I may have to produce a version without voices.
I decide to look an the Internet for some royalty-free music. I find some. Hurrah! There will be some free sound FX included with CD they're sending - may be useful, but may not be here on time. Thankfully I am allowed to download the tracks I need right away.
I film the pickup shot of Evazan and Ponda Baba, even using the display stand they came with as the background. Visuals-wise I complete the final cut (apart from end credits). Start adding in music and sound FX. I've now decided Chewie will be a sound FX thing so I remove him from casting notices.
I add in all the sound I've got and record the rake bits and Saber noises.
Casting not going well, and I will now prepare an alternative version, minus voices. I get started on it, editing out some unneeded movement (original there for voices) when I think of maybe subtitling the whole thing. There doesn't seem to be a good place for the first line when I decide to make it a silent movie! With cards for the dialogue. I plan to have the lightsaber blade in colour though, which will cause some trouble. Hmmm. I always wanted to re-edit ANH as a silent movie.
I'm getting really in to this new version of my film when the phone rings and I get called in to work for 11:00. Bugger. I get back just before 23:00.
Complete the rough (silent) cut. Runtime 5:22 arggh! Without credits argghhhhh!!! And some of the cards aren't displaying long enough. AARGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
I take a break then come back and make some edits. Runtime now 5:02
More edits, now 5:00 exactly - will have to ditch credits, make a few trims and fade to black at the end. Do that and runtime is...4:59
Change "strong in the force" to "strong with the force"
Not sure if I should maybe to do the thing in colour. I will try both. I black and whiteify the second Saber shot. It's simple enough but time consuming. Before trying the first Saber shot I perform more minor edits in the hope of getting a brief card for the credits. I manage to get the time down to 4:56, so add a 4 second card featuring brief credits. The time is now 5:01. Huh? I cut a second out of the credits and the film is finally 5:00 exactly
I complete the music sound mix and find that due to silence at the start of the first track, it doesn't synch up properly. I mess around with it a bit, finally solving the problem by inserting a small reverse sample at the begining. Today also saw the CD arrive and I use some of the free sound FX.
I opted to have some sound effects in because certain things were written with the sound in mind (Vader's scream, the third rake). Also the end bit felt a bit flat with no sound at all - after all even the music stops following Greedo's demise. In the end I keep Vader's breathing, the rake stuff, the Saber hum, Vader's scream and the Wilhelm - used as I always intended as Yak Face gets captured. I also add in (from the CD) a water effect for Greedo's water pistol, gun sounds for Han's blaster, a smashing sound for the dropped glass, some creaky floorboards and a dragging sound.
The colour cut is now finished! Not sure If I'll have time for the black and white version, but at least one version of it is completed. I go to check what format the file should be in and can't find it. anywhere. I email them.
I've decided to stick with colour version because I really like how some of the shots have turned out. They haven't replied about the file format though, so I create a compressed avi, a Mpeg and a quicktime file - and also do a DVD of it. I'm thinking of sticking a copy on VHS when I remember about uploading online, I had registered yesterday just in case. I opt for the quicktime file. Small size, good quality.
Start upload... and connection dies.
Try again... and it times out.
Try a third time... and it times out again. hmmmm
Make a lower quality .mov
Doesn't have sound.
I consider unploading the mpeg but it looks terrible. I try again with the lower quality .mov and this time get sound. However there's an A-Team thing on soon so I'll try and upload tomorrow.
I noticed that "do you think you can help" is followed by "he doesn't like you". Which if you're not paying attention doesn't make much sense.
I've got a reply to my file format query (received last night actually). It can be sent in any format really, tough (due to the looming deadline) they recommend I also submit it online. Will do.
Submit...timed out. AGAIN.
I make an even lower quality version. However whilst the new file has a smaller window size it hasn't made any difference to the file size. Huh?
Try again, different codec.... file even bigger!
Try another... back to around the original too big
I'll try the mpeg -it suits the online viewing and I can always post the uncompressed AVI with my form.
Upload...time out! arggh!!!
Will just have to post it, as this is not working. I'll have to do that tomorrow though, as I then have to go to work. Whilst at work (typically bad) I decide, to do the film in black and white after all.
All I need to do is that first saber shot. I'm very tired when I get back, managing just 10 frames. 91 to go tomorrow.
I get up early an finish the frames no problem - only the ones I'd added blur to cause a bit of trouble. I make the black and white video file, changing the fade on the credits to a cut and changing the "can you help?" line to one about fetching Luke. For some reason a frame has been added to the end. I take it out and make again, add the audio and....it's finished! Just missed the post though. Still it's all packaged up and ready to go.
I post the dvd with the uncompressed black and white avi on it.
I make a small wmv file. Upload and...IT WORKS!!!! Hurrah!!!
Over the coming weeks I hear nothing. I keep checking the website every now and then to see if the nominees have been announced, but there's nothing. Eventually I resign myself to the fact that I was unsuccessful. On 18th July I notice the site has updated to mention that the awards will be given out at the Memorabilia Show (http://www.memorabilia.co.uk) in August.
I receive a letter telling me that I'm up for the 'Creative' award and all finalists are also put forward for the 'Best Mini Movie' Award! Wow. My family manage to get me worried that I accidentally entered the under 16 category. Having visions of that 'Only Fools & Horses' episode where Rodney joins the Groovy Gang, I make sure to add that I've been nominated in the "16 and over category" to my e-mail when claiming my free tickets via e-mail later on.
Get home from work and I'm rang up by a local newspaper. I do an awful interview over the phone, including a bit where I accidentally mention that job I don't talk about. They'll be sending the photographer tomorrow.
Photographer arrives, not as bad as the interview but not looking forward to article. My free tickets arrive for show, but there are only two, I had been expecting three. I read the original letter and whilst it is a bit messed up due to being a multi-purpose form letter, I can't help but focus on things like "for you and two adults", "two kids per adult (under 16's and including yourself)". I am convinced I have entered the wrong category. However whilst checking through a copy of the submission form, I notice that under-16's had to have their parents fill in a section, so I guess I didn't.
The local paper arrives.I don't remember saying all the things I'm quoted as saying but the gist of things is right. Also I'm annoyed that the job I don't talk about is the only one that gets a mention. However on the whole it's not too bad.
I enjoy looking around the Memorabilia show, then at 14:30 it's time for "The Artoos" to begin in the stage area. It's late starting, partly due to the previous thing finishing late (a Q&A with some Star Trek people - I think) and also because they are plucking out the finalists (and their guests) from the queue so we can have a seat and be able to go up and collect an award should we win. Danny John-Jules is announced as the compère. In fact he comes on and announces the actual compère - some guy I presume works for Hasbro, before disappearing. I didn't quite catch this guys name so I shall just call him "Guy-in-a-t-shirt".
Guy-in-a-t-shirt does a bit of an introduction, interestingly referring to the show as "the first" Star Wars Mini Movie Awards, suggesting It'll be back next year. He then says that no photography is allowed and the show gets under way.
The films were shown in twos - the finalists for each category and then Guy-in-a-t-shirt comes back on and opens the envelope containing the name of the winner. One problem was that the name of the winner's film wasn't given, so on a few occasions I was unsure which film had won. Another problem was the very dark screens, which made the start of one film hard to watch as it featured a character holding up boards with writing on - which no one could make out! Of course the judging had been done before hand but it was a little annoying. The awards themselves look excellent - silver "Darth Tater's" and "Artoo-Potatoo's" made into trophies - with a Golden one for the 'Best Mini Movie' award.
When it comes to my movie, I'm relieved that people laugh at all the right moments. Biggest laughs seem to be for the second rake hitting Sidious in the face, the cocktail stick line and the eBay one. I also notice that the guy sitting near to me (Dan) is very impressed with my use of the Wilhelm.
Unfortunately I lose out in the 'Creative' category to a shot-by-shot remake of the "Carbon Freezing Chamber" scene from The Empire Strikes Back, at which point picking up 'Best Mini Movie' seems very unlikely. And of course I don't. That in fact is awarded to Dan for his excellent film (also wins 'Best Use Of Characters'), featuring a post-A New Hope argument on who should be awarded medals.
So I go home (film award-wise) empty handed. Still, two nominations. Not bad.
originally posted: 16th August, 2006