“Star Woids” is by far the best documentary about “waiting in line for Episode I” that I have ever seen. And I’ve seen them all. (There are about five of them at last count.) All good documentaries have conflict and that is what the other docs lack – the filmmakers seem to be too in love with the subject matter to cast a critical eye on the proceedings. So what unfolds is a recounting of the events, but not a particularly interesting one.
Dennis Przywara has crafted a documentary that explores the conflicts that arise between two competing lines – one in Westwood and one at the Mann Chinese in Hollywood. Their battle becomes a metaphor for the real struggle going on with fans in the Star Wars universe – the true fans war against the commercialism that threatens to destroy all of fandom. (Click here to read my review of Star Woids.)
“Star Woids” makes its debut in Park City at both the NO Dance Film Festival and the SlamDunk Film Festival. In this exclusive interview, Dennis tells us in explicit detail, the story of the Star Wars lines…
Tell me about your background?
I pretty much come from your typical Michigan suburb, so just like Luke Skywalker, I dreamed of something more than Rock N Bowl and Chi Chi’s on a Friday night. I went to college there (another fellow Wayne Stater), ran projectors at the local 10 plex, found my wife there, and soon shipped myself to L.A. From there, like everyone who moves to Hollywood, started as a P.A until I got something better. I started working building showreels for directors at RSA/USA (Ridley Scott and Assoc.) and soon started editing music videos and the commercials for directors there. I finally left and went the freelance-editing route and when things were slow, I would do assistant work on TV shows. Nuff said.
Are you a fan yourself?
Absolutely. I like to think I was a child of the 70’s and a teen of the 80’s. The Star Wars Saga pretty much encompassed that time period for me. I was even into it during that dark period between 1985 through the early 90’s where people thought you were a freak if talked about SW. You really knew who your friends were back then.
Do you collect?
Yes and no. I used to, but now my money is absorbed by paying off this film. I do collect the weird stuff that nobody wants like those RCA video disc of Star Wars which is practically useless. (I got two from saving money on my paper route when I was a kid). I have this bumper sticker too that reads “I’m a SW fan, honk if you… and then there’s a picture of R2 (Get it?) Now that’s a chick magnet!
Do you watch the films a lot?
Yes. It keeps me sane.
Do you dress up as any characters?
No. But my wife and I dressed up as The Captain and Tenille for Halloween once.
What about Star Wars inspired you to go into filmmaking?
When I was a kid, I loved the spaceships so I wanted to be a model maker then. The fact that they made a Star Destroyer out of old car models and those “Leggs” pantyhose cartons made me think that was coolest job in the world. I was young and naïve back then. I would have to say now it’s of course the story. It was seamless (at least the original version was) and had this mythical quality like Lord of The Rings or other Tolkin novels. I also enjoy the whole man VS machine theme throughout the trilogy. Star Wars pretty much was a lesson in Film Theory 101 for me because as I got older, I would read that a lot of Lucas’s influence was early Kirasawa films and some of the Japanese culture. I started watching “Hidden Fortress” and other films of his right away. That Lucas created a world from other cultures and religions and called it his own amazed me, and that’s when I knew I wanted to tell stories.
What inspired you to make a documentary about waiting in line to see Star Wars Episode 1? Not to sound too mushy, I think the best inspiration was hanging out with the fans telling their tales when they saw it way back in 1977. People are so damn close to that movie that it’s almost a religious experience. But for the most part, I really wanted to create my own project after editing everyone else’s for so long. I had no money, no crew at the time, so a narrative story was out of the question. To do a doc on SW fans seemed like something that could be fun to do and once we heard about the lines, that cemented the whole idea.
What was the budget and how long did it take you to make it?
I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the budget is right now; we’re trying to figure that out. I don’t want to know honestly. I know that the day I bought my digital camera I was already four grand in the hole. Eighty hours of footage at $12.50 a pop, the computer with editing software and hardware, the airfare to visit SW fans, not to mention over a month of NOT working a regular job to STAND IN LINE. I did the whole film on my own dime yet I don’t regret a second of it. It was an experience I’ll never forget. As for how long it took to make the film, a little over two years while doing the day job to pay for the movie.
Can you give me a breakdown of a timeline for making the movie, when you came up with the idea, production, completion? (Did you spend a lot of time in the rain with the fans waiting in line?)
We started shooting fans during the Special Editions and edited a small music video with all the footage. People seemed to really enjoy it and it was there that we wanted to go full steam with making a full feature doc on SW fans.
On that note, we knew that the doc couldn’t be a “I’m a SW fan because…” kind of movie because then all you have is an hour and a half of collectors and fans telling why they like SW. I don’t think I could even take that. There had to be an actual storyline with a beginning, middle, and end that would explain WHY these people did what they did. The lines at the Chinese and Village theatres gave us that answer. The idea to do two separate lines wasn’t really about competition, but more about how the two groups deal with each obstacle they climb. For better or for worse, it became a Star Wars version of “Survivor.” But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
We were shooting SW fans during the sneak of the teaser trailer when we knew we had something good.
People were skipping school and work just to see a two-minute trailer… and not even staying for the movie! This is where the groups of fans were already getting ideas on how they were going to stand in line. That’s where we met Daniel, who stood in line at the Village in Westwood. A lot of people said they were going to stand in line, but you could really see it in Daniel’s eyes that he wanted to do it. He’s been a part of the Westwood movie scene for years. Ushers knew him; managers at the theatre liked him. He was a good kid with a mission. We also found out about the group at the Chinese theatre around the same time. Two lines, one goal, it was a perfect story to tell.
After the trailer, we focused strictly on the beginning, middle, and end of the lines. Finally, after Episode I, we shot some more fans, and 80 hours of footage and three years later, finished Starwoids in January of 2001.
As for waiting in line with the fans during the rain, we were with them in some shape or form through wind, rain, and sun. We even helped them buy a tent during those stormy days… and all of us at the Chinese line did hang out with a murder suspect that was on the lam. Just your average day while waiting in line for Episode I.
Be honest, did some of the really hardcore Star Wars fans scare you?
Not really…with the exception of the women who dress in the Slave Leia costumes and should be shopping at big and tall outlets. They’re no different than a Dead Head or a guy who paints his face for a football game. As long as they’re not physically hurting anyone and t
hat they use that obsession for good instead of evil, I have no problem.
Did you feel sorry for some of them?
I only feel sorry for the ones that have a passion for SW and start hurting the ones around them.
To make a lot of money at your job and blow some of it on SW figures is one thing, to make a lot of money, blow it on some SW figures and not be able to pay your mortgage and feed your kids is another.
What problems did you run into during production in terms of keeping that budget so low?
To keep it low, we could only afford one camera, so we were constantly driving back and forth from the Chinese to the Village theatre in Westwood. Many friends gave countless hours as boom men, assistant camera men, and chauffeurs driving from line to line. The camera broke twice, so we had to rent for the days of needed camera repair. (We did have two cameras when we shot the day tickets went on sale and the night of the movie, though). We shot 95% of the movie on DV to cut cost on film. I was working on a TV show at the time so if it was possible, we would “borrow” lighting equipment for the sit down interviews in the doc. Most of the filming was done in a run and gun fashion. Working 12 hours a day and sleeping on a sidewalk every other night does take its toll on you. You look bad, you smell bad, but you knew it was going to be worth it. You would grab food when you could, and for the most part, only if it’s FREE. We got help from the craft service department on Felicity by giving us their leftover food to feed the line and myself from time to time. Of course, most of everything was done using the old credit card. As a whole, the line became my salvation from work.
What are some of the scenes you had to cut? (Will there be a director’s cut?)
There’s was a scene where Guy, the toy collector, goes to Death Valley with his figures to scout all the locations where they Shot SW.
Another scene we’re hoping to put in later is the making of TROOPS II. Some of the group that made the first Troops are working on a second and they’re in the post stages. We thought it would be unfair to show their film unfinished, so we’re waiting until their done and then hopefully, it will go in. As for a director’s cut, I’m sure that will happen some time in the future.
How did you happen upon this story?
Being a SW fan certainly helps get the word out. You really get to know the fans by sharing a common bond with them, and with that bond came the idea. SW is not only a part of cinema history, it’s a part of our culture and I thought it would be a good idea for fans to let it all out and tell the world why they like SW.
Also, by being a fan, you know people were going to stand in line for more than a week. It’s like when Grateful Dead fans traveled with the Dead, by being one of them, you could easily see what was going to happen next. To stand in line was just nature taking its course… and we wanted to be there shooting it.
What are your plans for the film right now?
We’re going to keep on hitting the festivals and see where that takes us. Hopefully they’ll be some interest in the doc. If not, I hear the skiing in Utah is pretty good.
What were your personal feelings toward the two competing groups waiting in line for Episode 1?
I never thought of them in competition. I always thought of them as two groups with their own personalities, building their own Utopia’s, each learning the pro’s and con’s along the way. Both lines formed their own government in a way, and learned a great deal from it. In the end, they got to see the movie opening night and made a few friends along the way. It reminded me a lot of Close Encounters when people from all walks of life came to Devil’s Tower to experience something they never seemed before.
The main conflict centers on these two lines — one made up of pure fans, the others by those using the line for commercial gain — is this now the main struggle in the Star Wars universe?
If you look at the big picture, both lines were on the news 24/7 on every news network and entertainment show. The one who got the biggest commercial gain from them was Episode I. The hype that those lines created alone was enough to get people to flock to those theatres.
As for the main struggle in the SW universe question… I would say that the main struggle in the SW Universe is really how you percieve the films both now and in the past. When I was young, I saw SW at nothing more than a great movie that my friends and I could enjoy again and again. Remember, when we were kids, there was no cable TV or VCR’s at least not in the late 70’s. If you wanted to see The Trilogy, you had to wait for the re-release, which I always thought, gave the films a sort of purity. They were not just movies back then, they were events like the circus or a baseball game. Now they want you to buy five different versions of the film and thrill kind of disappears.
Now that I’m older and a little wiser, I can see where the commercialism really got a hold of me (Buying the figures, dressing up as Luke on Halloween, collecting the cards) when I was young. I was just a kid and didn’t know anything back then. All I know is that I was happier than hell when that SW four pack of figures came through that mail slot! If I got caught into the hype when I was young whipper snapper, so be it.
I look now on what it’s become and I’m a little depressed, with all the Jar Jar stuff (please don’t get me started) and the Episode I pogs, figures, bikes, games, shoes, underwear, and decorated check book covers, but how can you tell an eight year old kid that what he really is buying is just another massive piece of commercialism when in his eyes it’s just a toy? First, it would break his heart; it’s like telling a child Santa isn’t real. Second, the kid is not going to understand what you’re saying anyway so just let him be a kid while he or she has the chance to be a kid. Even with all the fads that come and go (Pokemon, Power Rangers, etc.) People are still into SW, even after twenty years. You can’t fight the power, but you can restrain it.
The film seems to suggest that Lincoln from Countingdown.com’s motivations for waiting in line were purely for publicity and profit, yet the conflict is never resolved and Lincoln seems to avoid your camera — is there more to this story?
Let me start this by explaining these questions one at a time.
As for the all the publicity and profit scenario, Yes, I’m sure everyone in line got some publicity somehow. How could you not know that there was going to be a media frenzy when they stood in line for 42 days?
As for the conflict never being resolved, some of the members of the Chinese line are making their own grass roots version of a group for Episode II. I would be very curious to know if they are doing it with Countingdown.com.
As for Lincoln avoiding the camera, Lincoln granted us interviews as we requested them. Most of his interview throughout the documentary clearly shows him talking directly to the camera, explaining his actions.
I think the conflict was resolved when they had the meeting about getting another person to help out with the lines issues other than Lincoln. Even then, the line allowed him to be first to get the tickets, still talk to the press, and in the end, the guy (along with everyone in line) raised over $60,000 for the Starlight foundation .We always made sure that everyone in line each got a fair shake.
How do you explain the Star Wars frenzy during the period leading up to the premiere of Episode I?
I know there was people out there who felt that there who thought that it was a “Dog eat dog” attitude with so many documentary crews out there. They couldn’t be more wrong. We all helped each other out when we could, exchanging batteries, info, whatever was needed. It was definitely a friendly atmosphere with all the film crews. Some of us still keep in touch with some of the crews (I email “The
Fandom Menace” guys from time to time). As for the fans in line, I always keep most of them up to date on what’s going on with the doc and where it’s showing. I know in the near future we’re going to have a screening in LA for the people who stood in both lines.. A family reunion of sorts.
Tell me what you’re working on right now.
We’re working on two scripts right now, both comedies, and hopefully will have them in production soon. We also have another Doc that we’re trying to get off the ground. If you ever need any info about Starwoids, just go to The Official Star Woids web site and that will tell you everything you need to know. Thanks again for the interview and May The Force Be With You.
“Starwoids” available at the Film Threat Shop!