October 1, 2011

Interview with J.C. Reifenberg, Director/Producer/Writer of Hughes the Force, a Star Wars/John Hughes fan tribute

“High school... you'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Anyone who has been through high school can relate to that statement. It's a timeless constant and one reason why people respond to John Hughes movies en masse. J.C. Reifenberg recognized the universal appeal of John Hughes films such as The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off and added his passion for Star Wars to it. He'd been wanting to create a Star Wars fan film and because of a contest on Atom, he had an idea about a John Hughes and Star Wars mash-up. He grew up in Hughes' backyard and attended the high school where so many of those stories happened. It was a natural fit.

The pitch for the film didn't work out for the Atom competition, but Reifenberg didn't give up. In fact, he never gives up. He and Steven Koistinen wrote a full script, and Hughes the Force was officially born. A year later, after countless hours of rewriting, filming, editing, and polishing, the fan tribute is premiering in Hollywood today. The finished production clocks in at just over 30 minutes and was a hefty undertaking. I spoke with Reifenberg about mashing the worlds of John Hughes and Star Wars together and what it took to make the film.

I know you've always wanted to make a Star Wars fan film. Why a fan film?
Fan films are so much fun. I've loved watching them since Troops came out. However, the quality since Troops on a whole have gotten progressively worse. It's too easy now to make broomsticks look like lightsabers. Being a filmmaker, I wanted to do something that showcased what you can really do and that you can really tell a story with a fan film. I actually don't like to call it a fan film because I think fan films rely on the source subject material for everything, and we really made a film that's character driven not special effects, Star Wars, or John Hughes driven. A lot of the humor will come from that and obviously that's a big part of the characters. But they're more than that. They say Star Wars quotes, but the quotes serve a purpose.

When you put together John Hughes and Star Wars did you have specific, iconic scenes you wanted to be sure to include?
Yes, definitely. In Weird Science they use a Barbie doll to create Kelly LeBrock, the perfect woman made from a machine. And I thought, a Star Wars fan wouldn't have a Barbie doll lying around but they do have multiple incarnations of Hasbro's Slave Leia action figures. So that idea sort of kicked off and anchored the whole thing.
I also wanted to include the cantina bar scene. All John Hughes movies have a dance montage in them. I thought it would be funny to have dancing Stormtroopers in a bar that matched The Breakfast Club. It's a scene that makes no sense, but everybody loves it.

Given that this is the largest scale project you've worked on (so far), what has surprised you the most about the process? What was the biggest challenge?
The hardest and most unexpected part was that I initially wanted to make an eight minute film. The original script was 12 pages long, but eventually, once I started working with Steve, the script became 22 pages. It was like the subject matter demanded more time. That was unexpected. The amount of time it was going to take to get it done the right way was much longer than we thought. We initially thought there would be six days of shooting. We finished shooting at 26 days. Part of the reason behind that was it was challenging to coordinate schedules. No one got paid on the movie, they volunteered their time and talent, so a lot of times it was working around people's schedules.


How did you manage to find so many people willing to give their time to your project? That alone is quite a feat, especially given that you filmed in Los Angeles.
I found people who wanted to work and were excited to work on it. The fact that everybody loves Star Wars and John Hughes and that we had a very strong script helped make all that happen. I tried to find other people who were hungry to make a movie so that when it came to the actual process, I'd have people who wanted to be there. I sold it big from the beginning not quite knowing how I was going to get there, but knowing that if I had enough people believing in the project, it wouldn't be just me trying to make it happen. It was everybody's energy and thoughts. We had a group of people working towards a goal instead of me trying to figure out on my own.

Along the same line, I have to ask: how did you manage to get Kevin Smith to make a cameo in Hughes the Force?
From the beginning, I wanted Kevin Smith to be in my movie. I didn't know him or have any idea how it was going to happen, but I knew I would figure it out.

We had to rent two cameras to shoot the bar scene, and they had to be really good lowlight cameras. While on set, one of the cameras broke. We had to use two cameras, and we couldn't reschedule the bar scene. We had the regular cast, 20 extras, people in Star Wars costumes, James Arnold Taylor (the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars), and Catherine Taber (voice of Padmé in same show) there. I could have given up, but instead I got in the car and I bought one of the cameras. It was an expensive solution to the problem, but I knew that's what I had to do to finish the movie. Then not even two months later, Kevin Smith tweets, “Does anybody have this camera? I'm looking for someone to shoot my podcast tonight.” I told him I had it and could have a full crew there. Now he makes cameo in Hughes the Force. The problem became the solution.

It's a perfect example actually. Just keep in mind that if you know where you want to go and you really want to get there, you don't need to necessarily know which roads to take to get there. Keep your eye on the speck on the horizon. You'll face roadblocks, and it's easy to get discouraged and give up. Think of it this way: maybe that roadblock is there for a reason. Be positive about it. Focus determines your reality. Think positive, and positive things will happen.

What advice can you offer to people thinking about making their own fan films?
What makes story interesting is conflict and character. Conflict isn't a lightsaber fight. The reason that it's cool to watch Obi-Wan fight Darth Vader is because of the characters. You know from earlier in the film that a young Jedi named Darth Vader killed Luke's father. That's what adds the conflict and drama. If it's just two dudes waving glow sticks at each other, it's not very exciting. Start with writing believable characters and conflict.

It's also important to do something that you are passionate about. If you don't love what you're doing, you won't get through. I've been working on this for a year for forty hours a week on top of one or two other jobs. If it's not something that you need to do the way you need to breathe or eat you're not going to finish it. Have a story. Having stormtroopers in your fan film is not enough, good cinematography is not enough. You need story, character, conflict, and passion.


Hughes the Force is playing at select conventions through the fall (such as Fan Days IV and Comikaze Expo). After the screenings wrap up, they plan to find a way that allows the most amount of people to watch and enjoy, free of charge. To learn more about the film and keep up with the latest distribution news, visit the website or follow them on Twitter.

crossposted at Geek Girls Network

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