On the Net, 'the force' is with amateur filmmakers

Dave Macomber remembers being upset when his mother dragged him to see "Star Wars" - a movie he'd never heard of - instead of Disney's "Pete's Dragon." But before long, he and best friend Mark Thomas were "running around with lightsabers and blasters," he says.

Not much has changed since 1977. The pair still own lightsabers - only now they're wielding them in a movie.

They're two of many amateur filmmakers who, with the help of digital cameras, special-effects software, and a little help from mom in the costume and catering department, are creating short "Star Wars" films for the Internet.

"This is a kind of a homage to ["Star Wars" creator] George Lucas and what he has done," says Mr. Macomber, who owns a karate studio in Santa Barbara, Calif., and employs martial-arts moves in their first movie "Duel."

There are now more than 300 of these films, which often include their own trailers and movie posters, and can be found at www.theforce.net/theater and www.forceflicks.com.

Some films, like "Dark Redemption," "Bounty Trail," or "Knightquest," feature an astonishing blend of professional actors, big-budget sets, outdoor scenes shot in deserts and forests, and computer-generated spaceship battles. Others, with titles like "Darth Vader Takes a Vacation" (picture Vader in a hammock), "Darth Maul Versus Pikachu" ("Star Wars" meets "Pokmon"), and the "Darth Maul Body Wash Commercial" are prime contenders for "America's Funniest Home Videos."

Not all the videos are shot at home.

Philadelphia native Josh Rubinstein and friends filmed "Fan Wars," a parody of "The Phantom Menace" trailer, in a cineplex after the last patrons of the evening had entered the auditoriums. The film, which gently pokes fun at "Star Wars" fandom by depicting impatient enthusiasts storming a theater to see "Episode I," required the help of the popcorn attendants and their curious friends as extras.

Macomber and Mr. Thomas also used unconventional settings for "Duel": They filmed on beach dunes to re-create the planet Tatooine.

"Our feeling is that 'Star Wars' is about fun, and it's for the fans, and that's their way of showing their enthusiasm," says Jeanne Cole, a spokesperson for Lucasfilm, by telephone from San Francisco.

Lucasfilm's laissez faire attitude about the copyright violations does come with the caveat that the fans don't profit from the films.

The filmmakers have incentives other than fun. A few of them have already had success as professionals as a result of their "Star Wars" fan films.

The creators of "George Lucas in Love," a heralded short film inspired by the movie "Shakespeare in Love" (and praised by Lucas himself), and "Troops," a spoof of the TV show "Cops," have landed high-profile deals in Hollywood.

Rich Cando, a professional animation artist and lifelong "Star Wars" follower, says that he knew the built-in audiences of the "Star Wars" sites would be a good way for his work to get noticed.

Mr. Cando decided to devote three months of his free time to making the hilarious "Star Dudes" and "The Bad Dudes Strike Back." No one had ever used "macromedia flash," the animation medium on the Net, to make a "Star Wars" film. Now, even the amateur filmmakers are becoming more ambitious.

An enthusiastic response to "Fan Wars" has prompted Mr. Rubinstein, a computer technician by day, to use his nights to create a $5,000, largely self-financed feature-length film. His crew includes professional pyrotechnicians and stunt coordinators. He hopes to send the final production to Lucasfilm as a pilot for a proposed TV series.

Similarly, Macomber and Thomas hope that their next "Star Wars" film, "Duality," to be filmed in a special-effects studio, will raise investment capital for a non-"Star Wars" independent film they'd like to make.

Ultimately, though, they're in it for the enjoyment of filmmaking. "It's us wanting to stand in George Lucas's shoes for a moment," Macomber says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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