Documentaries demonstrate the clout of die-hard film fans

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 4, 2006 

WASHINGTON—When more than 200 self-recruited "Star Wars" Stormtroopers march in the Rose Bowl parade on New Year's Day behind creator George Lucas, they'll be demonstrating once again that a loyal fan base can complement the power and staying power of the entertainment that they celebrate.

Two newly released DVD documentaries make this point vividly—and with love.

For "George and Me," Internet broadcaster Sky Wilson interviewed "Star Wars" fans in Great Britain and the U.S. and produced a documentary that celebrates their creativity. It's reflected in "Star Wars"-themed charity work, fan films and customized cars rigged out as X-Wing fighters.

Wilson, the creator of the Internet TV show "Inside Report," interviewed a Norwich, England, "Star Wars" club that had started collecting action figures at "car boot"—think "garage"—sales. She questioned fans at the Celebration III "Star Wars" convention in Indianapolis last year. She talked with a pair of British fan film-makers who release their work free on the Internet, asking only for donations to the charity Save the Children.

The second documentary, "Done the Impossible: The Fans' Tale of Firefly & Serenity," tells how loyal followers of the "Firefly" TV series, called browncoats, saved the day after Fox cut the cult favorite in 2002 after just 11 episodes. They used the Internet and e-mail campaigns to stoke protest and even took out an ad in Daily Variety to pressure Fox.

Ultimately, creator Joss Whedon, of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame, took the project to Universal Studios and made a full-length feature film, "Serenity," which tied up "Firefly's" major plot points.

"Done the Impossible" is the story, told by the show's stars, fans and Whedon himself, of how the canceled TV series became a (modestly) successful movie.

Movies about film fans have been difficult to make since a mocking 1999 documentary titled "Trekkies," about "Star Trek" fans, made many of them skittish of interviewers. "When we put out a call for `George and Me,' people initially were very wary," Wilson said.

"We wanted to show the positive effect that `Star Wars' had on people," she said.

Eventually she was able to convince people to talk to her.

"We interviewed over a hundred people and we took what we thought were most interesting," Wilson said.

Feedback has been positive, she added. "One said, `It didn't make us look bad.' "

Among the people she interviewed was Albin Johnson, the founder of the 501st Legion "Star Wars" Stormtrooper group, which has more than 3,300 members and chapters in 37 countries. The 501st does lots of fund-raisers for hospitals, sick children and other causes and appears at baseball games and now the Rose Bowl. A two-hour documentary about the 501st, "Heart of an Empire," will be released next year. Other groups, such as Star Wars Chicks, raise money for breast cancer research.

Documentaries can be slow and expensive to make. "Heart of an Empire" has taken five years and has cost roughly $100,000 already. Producer Jay Thompson, a Greensboro, N.C., native, said, "A lot of what we've done is through the charity of other people."

"Done the Impossible" took a little over a year, mostly to create the extensive DVD-ROM extras.

"George and Me" took two years. Wilson said she "poured a lot of money into it."

"Quite a bit of savings," she said. But "we've mailed DVDs to every country: Brazil, Uganda, the Philippines, Australia, the Eastern bloc, Scandinavia."

Well-known Celtic music groups such as Emerald Rose, the Bedlam Bards and the Brobdingnagian Bards of Austin, Texas—all fans of "Firefly"_ produced an original score for "Done the Impossible." Director of marketing Jeremy Neish estimates that they've sold 5,000 to 6,000 copies and "sales continue to be steady."

Both "Done the Impossible" and "George and Me" are available over the Internet.

The marketing of the documentaries is viral, spread via the Internet, sci-fi conventions and word-of-mouth.

Wilson now is working on a Christmas special interviewing new fan-filmmakers and gathering messages from "Star Wars" actors David "Darth Vader" Prowse and Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch. She said a documentary on fans of the four-decade-long British children's drama "Doctor Who" would be out sometime next year.

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Here are links to the DVD movies and other topics mentioned above:

"Done the Impossible": www.donetheimpossible.com

"George and Me": www.georgeandme.co.uk

"Inside Report": www.inside-report.com/site/index.html

"Heart of the Empire": www.heartofanempire.com

"501st (Stormtrooper) Legion, Vader's Fist": www.501st.com

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Filmmaker George Lucas is this year's grand marshal at the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, Calif. Stormtroopers have come from 36 states and 22 countries.

For papers that wish to interview a local Stormtrooper, a list of hometowns is offered below. To obtain names, contact John Singh, director of publicity, at John.Singh(at)lucasfilm.com

Hometowns of Stormtroopers marching in the Rose Bowl parade: Anchorage, Alaska; Glendale, Ariz.; Gilbert, Ariz.; Antioch, Calif.; Berkeley, Calif.; Carlsbad, Calif.; Concord, Calif.; El Dorado Hills, Calif.; Elk Grove, Calif.; Hilmar, Calif.; Hughson, Calif.; Huntington Beach, Calif.; Kensington, Calif.; Lancaster, Calif.; Long Beach, Calif.; Los Angeles; Lynwood, Calif.; Manhattan Beach, Calif.; Marysville, Calif.; Murrieta, Calif.; Palmdale, Calif.; Pasadena, Calif.; Riverside, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Diego; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; San Marcos, Calif.; San Pedro, Calif.; Santa Clara, Calif.; Sherman Oaks, Calif.; South Pasadena, Calif.; Sunnyvale, Calif.; West Covina, Calif.; West Hills, Calif.; Willows, Calif.; Yorba Linda, Calif.; Yuba City, Calif.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Fort Collins Colo.; Loveland, Colo.; East Hartford, Conn.; Seymour, Conn.; Washington; Jacksonville, Fla.; Pinellas Park, Fla.; Riverview, Fla.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Covington, Ga.; Morrow, Ga.; Honolulu; Preston, Idaho; Arlington Heights, Ill.; Oswego, Ill.; Schaumburg, Ill.; Avon, Ind.; Bloomington, Ind.; Columbus, Ind.; Elizabethtown, Ind.; Indianapolis; Olathe, Kan.; Georgetown, Kan.; Norway, Maine; Auburn, Maine; Columbia, Md.; Franklin, Mass.; Monponsett, Mass.; Springfield, Mass.; Tewksbury, Mass.; Goodrich, Mich.; Lakeview, Mich.; Madison Heights, Mich.; New Baltimore, Mich.; Sterling Heights, Mich.; Ballwin, Mo.; Blue Springs, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Las Vegas; Somersworth, N.H.; Clifton, N.J.; Rochester, N.Y.; Charlotte, N.C.; Wake Forest, N.C.; Cleveland; Lake Oswego, Ore.; Tigard, Ore.; Drexel Hill, Pa.; Columbia, S.C.; Clarksville, Tenn.; Logan, Utah; Norfolk, Va.; Mill Creek, Wash.; Woodinville, Wash.; Kenosha, Wis.; Racine, Wis.; Sheboygan, Wis.; Two Rivers, Wis.

International: Australia—Acacia Ridge, QLD; Campbelltown; Ryde, N.S.W.; Slacks Creek; Austria—Schwechat; Brunei—LN Jerudong; Canada—Calgary, Alberta; Victoria, British Columbia; Denmark—Store Merloese; Finland—Turku; France—Bois d'Arcy; Marseille; Orleans; Paris; Seignelay; Germany—Aachen; Bad Nauheim; Munich; Riesstrasse; Sprendlingen; Italy—Vicenza; Padova; Verona; Mexico—Del. Benito Juarez; Del Venustiano Carranza; Monaco; Netherlands—Echt; New Zealand—Levin; Miramar, Wellington; Spreydon, Christchurch; Wainoni, Christchurch; Philippines—Manila; Quezon City; Singapore; Spain—Cartagena; Madrid; Sweden—Hisings Backa, Malmo, Sollentuna; Switzerland—Hemmiken; Prattein; Zurich; Taiwan—Taipei; Thailand—Bangkok; U.K.—Devon; Essex; Hertfordshire; London; North Yorkshire; Stevenage; Wales.

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