Jeff Cioletti’s film “Millennium’s End: The Fandom Menace” is by far the best documentary about Star Wars fandom I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them all. This film presents a balanced view of fans showing them as real people who have lives and a passion for Star Wars. (Other docs I’ve seen show fans as objects of ridicule, or as lemmings following the teachings of Master Lucas.) Jeff channeled his own obsession for Star Wars into an ambitious documentary that spans two years in the lives of fans from the debut of the Star Wars Special Editions in 1997 to the frenzy surrounding the premiere of Episode I in 1999. The result is an amazing 96-minute doc shot with a camcorder and edited on an iMac. This $9,000 film captures not only the events of those two long years, but the passion for Star Wars that binds fans together.
Jeff is currently self-distributing his movie, selling copies on video through his web site Fad Productions and showing it at cons all over the country. So, what does this Star Wars fan have to say about fandom?
So, who the hell is Jeff Cioletti?
I’m 28 years old and I’ve worked professionally as a writer and journalist for newspapers, PR and now trade magazines. I studied journalism and political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. I currently live in Jersey City, NJ, which is right across the river from Manhattan, where I work at my day job. After college I took some film workshops at a place called The Millennium Film Workshop, the name of which has nothing to do with the title of my documentary. It’s purely a coincidence.
Are you a fan or a filmmaker?
Both? I would say both. I guess I would say I’m a filmmaker first and a fan second, but that depends on the day of the week you get me. I do plan to make other non-Star Wars-related films.
What inspired you to make “Millennium’s End: The Fandom Menace”, a documentary about Star Wars fandom?
I had always wanted to make a documentary to get my feet wet in filmmaking. There was no subject matter that really inspired me. So I kind of dragged my feet getting started. However, one day in 1997, I was perusing some of the Star Wars fan web sites (which I had been doing every day and still do) when I started to think, “This wait is killing me! How am I going to wait until May 1999 for this friggin’ movie to come out?” It then just dawned on me, like some sort of divine intervention (I know that sounds cheesy). I realized that there had to be a lot more people like me who just couldn’t wait for Episode I. I also realized that if I wanted the wait to be any easier, I had to do something creative to channel my own excitement for it. So I had finally found my subject for the documentary.
I’ve talked to many fans from the Star Wars Generation and to me, this film is “our Viet Nam” so to speak. What I mean is that our generation is very disconnected, yet the one thing that connects us all is this series of films. We experienced it like other generations experienced World War II or the turmoil of the sixties. It affected all of us.
It’s a bit too strong of a comparison to those eras (come on, it’s just a f*****g movie!), but I agree on some level. I’ve heard people refer to it as our Woodstock, which was related to Vietnam. It definitely has been a unifying factor for many of us who were kids and teens in the late 70s and early 80s. I don’t think we truly appreciated the cultural significance of it at the time, but I think the release of the Special Editions back in early ’97 really reminded a lot of people. Whenever I interviewed someone or attended a Star Wars-related event during the production of the documentary, it was like we all spoke the same language. I became instant friends with people from different parts of the country, based only on our common experiences with Star Wars. People whom I’d never met before, except through a couple of e-mail exchanges, put me up in their houses and offered to share hotel rooms with me when I was traveling to shoot it. There was this comfort level that was established among strangers due only to Star Wars. I found that very unique. It is like the World War II and Sixties generations, but, obviously in a much more innocuous way. I mean we’re all pretty lucky that we haven’t had a major war (save for Desert Storm, but how can anyone compare that to Vietnam or WWII?) to steal our youth from us like our parents and grandparents did. Something as horrible as war created a unifying cultural bond for them. I guess Star Wars proved that such bonds can form under happy, entertaining circumstances as well. But we’ll never be able to truly identify with the WWII and Vietnam eras, as we often take for granted how good we’ve all had it!
What was your personal reaction to seeing Episode I?
Well, I know you’re probably going to tear me a new a*****e for this one, but I actually liked it. Did I love it? No. Did I like it as much as I wanted to like it? No. But overall, I enjoyed it, given how it fits into the overall story. I had some serious problems with it. It had a lot of flaws. How much you enjoyed this movie depended on how much you were willing to forgive those flaws. Yeah, Jar Jar was extremely annoying, but I was kind of forewarned about that way before the movie came out. I had kind of accepted and tolerated him by the time the movie came out. He was a component of the movie, not the whole movie. I find you can strongly dislike components of a movie without hating the movie as a whole. And yes, Jake Lloyd could have done a better job. And the first 10 or so minutes of the movie, I was like, “What the f**k are you doing George?!” But it picked up and was enjoyable overall. It’s the weakest of the four movies to date, but it was still a good movie in its own right. I am hoping that Episode II is better though.
What was the budget and how long did it take you to make it?
I’d say I ended up shelling out $8-$9,000 over the course of three years, including post-production. I shot it for two years and spent the next 11 months watching the footage, making a decision list and then finally editing it. Since it was shot on video, the biggest expense was really the traveling I had to do. I also had to buy a new computer to edit it since all my other editing plans were kind of falling through. All the money was out of my own pocket.
How long did it take you from start to finish?
The idea came about around the spring of 1997 and started shooting soon after. As for the script: Ha! Very little of the earliest footage made it in because I started out with some very lame interviews. I was having difficulty finding people to interview initially. I also had trouble finding good cons to go to. At that time I was very naïve about what the biggest cons were, the difference between a movie/comic con and a pure gaming con, etc. So I just picked some conventions in and around NJ that generated some substandard footage. It wasn’t until I started aggressively pursuing Web personalities in the fall of 97 that I began to expand my horizons a bit. (For instance, I first contacted Harry Knowles via email in September or October of 97 asking if he’d be interested in being interviewed. He responded and said yeah. I had planned to fly to Austin to do the interview but I got sidetracked for a little while. I reestablished contact with him several months later and I caught up with him at DragonCon 98.) In October of 1997, I found out that George Lucas was going to be accepting an award at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. at the end of that month. I figured that would be a great opportunity to meet a lot of fans. (Of course they would have disemboweled me if I had even tried to shoot inside the event, although I did attend it and it was amazing. I had a great seat). But outside I met Brian Linder of TheForce.net and established the connection with that site. At that time Lou Tambone, known as T’bone on his site at www.starwarz.com was on staff at TheForce.net (very briefly). Linder, who lived in South Carolina hooked me up with Lou who lived near me in N.J. I interviewed Lou initially in January 1998 and we became friends. He agreed to run a continuous plug of my project on his site, which opened a lot of doors. Fans from all over started contacting me to be interviewed and people from various media organizations also started to take an interest. Other noteworthy events include DragonCon 98 in September 98, the diner incident and the trailer sneak preview night, both in November 98, LA in December 98, Empirecon in Montreal in January 99, the Star Wars Celebration in Denver at the end of April/beginning of May 99, the toy run at the beginning of May and finally the lines in May 99. I finished shooting on May 19, 1999 and began watching all the footage shortly after that, which took me through the summer and into the fall. I bought the new computer with the editing software in December 99 and finished editing at the beginning of April 2000. I premiered it at Imaginecon in Virginia Beach April 21, 2000. Since then I’ve screened it at the Hollywood Expo in Plano, Texas, DragonCon in Atlanta, San Diego Comic Con and the Canadian National Sci-Fi Expo in Toronto.
What problems did you run into during production in terms of keeping that budget so low?
I couldn’t always travel when I wanted to. I did have a day job to worry about that was actually paying for the production. I had the flexibility to take vacation days whenever I needed them but it obviously couldn’t be every week. Most of the shooting was restricted to nights and weekends. I also would have liked to have a real crew. I was operating the camera, coordinating the shoots, interviewing and doing just about everything else. Occasionally, I’d have a friend or two come with me on a shoot to operate the light or hold the boom. But most of the time it was just me. I was totally spent by the time I was done.
Read more in our exclusive interview in part two