“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t…You’re right. Isn’t it true that the only time you’ve ever really benefited from anything is when you said Yes instead of No?” – Jack E Curenton
I am a firm believer that FAN created projects are an important addition to the genres they portray from the films. They have the opportunity to positively add to the world they love so much through music, stories and art. My favorite fan created projects are the fan films. No better group of fan film makers than those from the Star Wars community. So I was excited to have award winning writer/producer, Jack E Curenton, agree to an interview for Star Wars Reporter!
Jack is a veteran actor having performed over 3500 times on stage as well as roles in over 100 films, commercial, voice over work and more! He is the first “back to back” Star Wars Fan film award winner for his fan films, “Generations” and “Like My Father Before Me” and was interviewed on stage for The Star Wars Show during the Star Wars Celebration Chicago. Also during the Celebration in Chicago, he hosted the screening of 8 Award-winning fan films.
With this amazing experience and contributions to Star Wars Fandom, I am very happy for this opportunity. The following is our interview.
What was your inspiration for your films?
JC: Whether these stories happen before, after or at the same time as the 11 Star Wars films, I feel that the “Force” is universal. It binds and connects us all, making it timeless and as easily acceptable in today’s world as in a Galaxy Far, Far Away or Long, Long ago.
We wanted our stories to touch people the way the “Force” does. We like to refer to “GENERATIONS” as Star Wars meets “Princess Bride”. In 2016 I reached out to Jason Tobias and Todd Blood (my co-producers) to collaborate on the story/production.
While I was in London, at Star Wars Celebration to receive the Spirit of Fandom Award for GENERATIONS, I met Lucky McQueede (Cyber-Maul). I knew he would be the perfect villain if I decided to make another fan film. Two years later I did and he was!
In to 2018 my 2nd fan film, “LIKE MY FATHER BEFORE ME”, takes place in a senior citizen home where three grandparents reconnect with their own childhood and grandchildren through their imagination and the “Force”. BTW, the working title for LMFBM was “JEDIATRICS”.
The underlying question for both stories is, do these seniors have an advancing condition or diminished capacity because of their age. Are their stories real or just imagined? That’s what makes for a good fantasy…from a certain point of view!
See Also: “Help us Star Wars fans, You’re Our Only Hope”: An Interview with the Kenobi Fan Film Creator, Jamie Costa
What is it about the Star Wars films that make them so popular after all these years?
JC: In our lives we’ve always wanted Heroes, we seek Love, we enjoy Action and we’re thrilled/scared by the continual Good vs Evil plot with, hopefully, good triumphing in the end! We want the reluctant hero to grow and come into his own, to become the best he can be. That’s why we hang onto these stories with anticipation, fondness and affection. The stories that George Lucas gave us allowed us to see just how much better the characters could become and in turn allowing us to look inward to find the same strength in ourselves for our lives, growing up over the past 40 years.
Star Wars fans are some of the most devout and critical when it comes to the genre. When you were creating the films, were you worried about what these fans would think?
JC: If you’re going to make a film to be considered “Cannon” in the Star Wars Universe, you really need to be on you’re A-Game. Continuity is critical in character development, timelines, who/what/where and how things happen. If you’re going to make a film/story about the interactions of people, you can be honest about how people react/interact with each other and hopefully the fans will accept that story as believable within the boundaries of the Star Wars Universe.
As in everything, some people will find fault like there’s a reward for it. You have to commit to your choices without second guessing what people may think. You want to look at your final product and feel, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I had in mind.” Your name is on this so take pride of ownership. I look at my films as business cards that showcase my abilities as a producer/writer/actor. Besides, I really liked the stories so I hoped others might also.
What are some of the challenges you face making a film? How important are crowdfunding campaigns to filmmakers?
JC: Crowdfunding is not an option in the SW Fan Film contest, which can be a blessing and a curse. It levels the playing field for contestants who might not have the ability, contacts or following to raise $10s of thousands of dollars. You’re pretty much getting together with likeminded friends to make a film within a limited budget of what you can pull together. As an actor, I have met some very talented people who became friends over the years with the abilities to make my films look/sound great. The aforementioned producers Jason and Todd on “GENERATIONS” I’d previously worked with on other feature films and we collaborated again on “REBELLION”. The Director of LMFBM, Charles Mathew Hall, cast me in a lead role in his feature film we shot a few years ago.
So, how do you make a $35,000 short fan film for less than 10% ? Everyone you ask to help says “Yes” …and you owe them for life, (sort of like a Jar Jar Binks life debt”. In our synergistic world of filmmaking, 1 + 1 can equal 3, 4, 6…the talent pool increases exponentially.
At the Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, you hosted a screening of 8 award winning fan films and were interviewed on stage for The Star Wars Show. As a fan of the films, do you feel like you are helping to continue to George Lucas’ legacy and showcasing talented filmmakers?
JC: I certainly hope so…“Paying it Forward” is a rewarding lifestyle. George Lucas gave us a universe of stories to play in that have feelings, hope, and inspiration for the betterment of our life and the lives of those around us. It makes us stop looking at a world in turmoil wondering “Why?” But look at how it should be and ask “Why Not?” Then strive to make it a better place.
You shouldn’t try to “Do Good” with an expectation of what you’ll get in return. The reward may just be the pride you feel for a job well done. Sometimes doing something is like a mink lined raincoat, it doesn’t show, but it feels great inside. If my little films can entertain and somehow touch people to inspire them to attempt a film of their own, feel and do better in their lives, to look at their elders in a different and fond manner, I consider that a success and I hope he would look at that and smile because of what he started.
In the film, “REBELLION”, the focus is on the “regular” soldier. Those people who made up the Rebellion outside of the epic characters that were the center of the films. The film shows the less known rebel and the contributions they made. This is what I loved about Rogue One. Do you think that the “average” Rebel Soldier gets the credit and attention they deserve in the Star Wars films, and literature?
JC: It can be difficult in the time constraints of a 5min short and even a 110min feature film to focus on the minute details of what each individual encounters leading them to their destiny (the non-principal characters). However, if you take the 2min “REBELLION” and multiply that story arc ten thousand times you begin to understand how the seeds planted of Hope can lead to a rebellion and that can lead to change. It did in the original series. In LMFBM, the droids were the real heroes who save the day when all seems lost.
I agree with you about “Rogue One”, especially the final scene where the regular soldiers are attempting to keep the Death Star plans away from Darth Vader as he’s cutting them down like a hot lightsaber through a TaunTaun. Without that chain of regulars who are sacrificing all they have been and all they will be as they’re scrambling to hand off the plans…all would have been lost. Each of those regulars is a link in the chain reaction that eventually destroys the Death Star.
In a $150 million film, there is a fiscal responsibility to focus on keeping the story moving, develop backstories for the lead characters and add in a lot of SFX. I’ve never felt that the Star Wars films or books shortchange the regulars to further the story. The main characters become giants because they stood upon the shoulders of those who came before them. Without whom they might not have succeeded.
The films feature some amazing props, including droids, lightsabers, costumes and more. How did you assemble such an array of quality pieces for the films?
JC: When you have a bunch of folks who are fans of the Star Wars universe, they usually collect items that mean something to them personally. All those props/set dressings in “GENERATIONS”, “REBELLION” and “LMFBM” were from my and our production team’s collections. All the SW ornaments were mine (you should see my Star Wars Christmas wreath and tree) Pics enclosed lol. We were very fortunate to have the droids from a well-known master droid builder: Mike Senna, while the costumes, lightsabers are all readily available online. Some had their own costumes; Lucky McQueede has his own Cyber-Maul wardrobe/props/makeup, Gordon Tarpley is the ultimate C3PO in LMFBM. Of course, after three films, I now have quite a personal collection that just may come in handy in the future…
How important do you feel that fan films are to Star Wars fandom and how does it add to the legacy of the films?
JC: While it’s awesome to have top script writers/producers in the “Big Leagues” making Hollywood movies (11 if you count IX and XII if you add in the Christmas Special), it’s quite another thing when fans, who are fully immersed in the Star Wars universe, make hundreds of films that are from the heart through their perspective. Fans want more, More & MORE! The way we as film makers, in our small contributions, help fill that void stimulates the collective imagination of fans and promotes conversations developing new branches of the storylines. We push the envelope and keep the “Force” vibrant and alive.
Your films were fan film award winners two years in a row. As a filmmaker, how does it feel to receive such recognition for your work?
JC: It’s rewarding, thrilling and I’m humbled to be honored by the Lucasfilm/Disney organization and most importantly to have our films accepted by the fans. We all want recognition (filmmakers, cosplayers, droid builders, Celebration participants) for our work as to validate the efforts and our dedication to the saga. Whatever someone does, it doesn’t have to win awards to have validity. I’m very proud of our short film “REBELLION”, which didn’t win an award but I feel that it perfectly reflects the dedication of the “regulars” and expresses the feelings of HOPE for a better tomorrow.
Your 2016 Winner Spirit of Fandom Award film, “Generations”, really pulled the emotions from me. The interaction between the Grandfather and grandson reminded me of myself with my two young daughters. The visuals are exactly how I imagine our time together. Did you use your own real life experiences as inspiration? Is there any of “you” in the characters you play?
JC: My grandparents raised me, so it was a very comfortable character for me. I also have five granddaughters; the most recent is three weeks old, so I’m getting the hang of it. I’ve always said “Grandparents help children survive parents.” Most of us have fond memories of those elderly relatives and their wisdom, stories, jokes and mischievous pranks. While it may be easy for some to dismiss their elders as “Too Old, Out of Touch or Losing it”, they help shape our lives to become better men and women guiding us into adulthood and that cycle often repeats itself.
The media has portrayed Star Wars fandom as toxic because of a small minority of negative reaction. I would argue that Star Wars fans are unique in that they show more creativity, positivity and inclusiveness than other fandom genres. How would you describe Star Wars fandom?
JC: Fans are dedicated to the stories, the characters and the ideals of Star Wars. They rejoice at the wins, feel sorrow for the losses and may express shock at some new ideas they didn’t see coming. It can be difficult to accept change in a storyline fans feel should be as constant as the northern star. Despite what some feel is toxic criticism, I don’t think they want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” I feel they also have that deep down feeling of HOPE for a winning story.
Do you have more Star Wars fan films planned?
JC: Maybe…I have two projects I’m researching/developing. One is a documentary about cancer that will be very personal to my and other families where the disease seems to be very prevalent and a historical feature film of my own. I’ve also been asked to consider a Star Wars Fan Film that I’m reviewing which is a very unique tale that is somewhat outside the box, again.
What advice would you give to filmmakers starting out that wanted to create their own fan film?
JC: First I’d say develop a story that touches them and inspires them to do their best. If it does that, then chances are it will touch other fans also giving them the support that will validate their efforts. Secondly, they need to identify their resources; Director, DP, Props, Location, Cast and “BUDGET”. I’ve seen many projects get delayed, not get proper post prod work done or die for a lack of funds mid shoot. It’s not Show-Me, Show-Off or Show-Art…it’s Show Business and if they forget that, they will be Out of Business!
Next, and this is critical to the finished product, work out the schedule for the day/days of the shoot. Too often the time slips away and scenes get short changed or even cut because they’ve run out of time. People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan. They shouldn’t get discouraged if they need to make changes on the fly during filming because that almost always happens. Remember, your film will be polished in Post Production, so take your time to make it right. Finally, enjoy yourself…Have Fun and make it fun for all involved.
To learn more about Jack E Curenton and his many projects and films, visit his official IMDB page.
Thanks Jack and… May the FORCE be with you!