"Freezing. It's freezing out here." That was pretty much Willie's favorite comment during the shoot, other than the popular set of cuss words we were all using after each take. Brian was quite toasty in the Vader costume. He had about three layers of black cloth surrounding him, along with some heavy plastic pieces on top. No complaints from him other than, "Ach--ooo!". Ever see Darth Vader sneeze? It's a riot. Brian was as sick as a dog, and shouldn't have been out there with us, but he fought it through and we ended up with one heck of a bloopers reel. Brian couldn't hear anything through that helmet, and to top it all off, he was sneezing like mad into it. We had to stop the shoot a few times just to sterilize the mask. Not fun. Not fun at all.
The film was meant to be a "cheesy" parody of the Star Wars subject of Vader and his conquest over the Jedi Knights. Willie was a local DJ in Savannah and his alias was DJ JEDI, so I also took this film as an inside joke to those who knew him and his occupation. Overall, I just wanted to put something out that no one else in class would. Oh, did I mention this was a project for a college class? The assignment was an introductory one: Check out a camera, shoot a wide shot, medium shot, and close-up shot, and then edit them together. I think I went beyond the call-of-duty for this one.
I chose the front drive of Savannah's International Airport because it was full of interesting composition and open fields. We'd seen Saber duels inside rooms, chambers, hallways, and in the shade of a mast, but we'd never quite seen a duel in broad daylight.
The whole shoot took two hours. We had hundreds of takes, different angle, and plenty of bloopers. That explains why there's so many quick cuts in the film. During the shoot, we had little time, so I tried to make the most of it and get as many shots as I could. Once I was in the Avid suite, editing was easy and I actually made the duel much longer than it really was intended to be.
The costumes were created during the Halloween prior to the shoot. Willie had gone as Obi-Wan Kenobi and he even had white hair for the night. I had spent three weeks working slowly on a Vader costume for our college costume ball. Everything but the mask was self made and it all came from things like Christmas lights, plastic plates, cardboard, Velcro, paint, cloth, and the sweat-suit underneath it all. The night of the ball, when introduced, Willie and I (dressed in the Vader costume) reenacted the duel between Vader and Obi-Wan on the Death Star. The crowd went wild. We had an audience, so why not use our costumes again? But this time, why not make a little film?
We used the Kenner toy lightsabers you could get at any store. And when I shot the original footage, the toys worked out great and I didn't even care if they looked like toys. It all helped add to the cheesy effect of the film. It wasn't until later when I was interning with Industrial Light & Magic that I realized what more could be done.
The levitating saber effect was a simple one. Many asked if we played the shot backwards or used a string. Neither. We actually use some copper wire that blended in with the dead grass on the location. I set the camera down and pulled the saber off of the ground by jerking the string. This shot took about thirty takes consisting of Willie falling and throwing the lightsaber, the slight pull, the big jerk, and Willie catching it. We never had it the way we wanted it and the cuss words were flying.
Notes From 12.01.98:
What made "Death" even more drama-like and not as cheesy were the new saber effects. After showing the film to some friends at ILM, they told me a few techniques on how to put actual effects on the sabers. This post-production (including the intro. and credits) process took three weeks to do. Each frame was taken, and then each saber was masked out (rotoscoping) to be in place of the glow. Other than that, I can't give away any more secrets. I was very lucky to have some good friends at ILM to help me out and encourage me to do this. Other than that, ILM had nothing to do with the project. I did all the labor on my own time with the supervision of a mentor.
New Notes Added 12.01.98
By Matthew Ward
I can't help but thank Louis Katz again for all he's done in helping me get this out for others to enjoy. Thanks a million, Louis! Can't forget the other ILM tech support I got came from Tad Leckman who helped me in times of desperation (and when Louis wasn't around). Thanks again, Tad!
More big thank-yous go out to David Barton and Brian Stublen for their huge hand in giving me 18.9 MB of space on each of their servers just to offer "Death" to the net.
And finally, a big round of aplause to Clive Young for forming the Mos Eisley Multiplex, a home where all Star Wars fans can continue to be inspired from each other in the creative art of filmmaking. The Multiplex helped bring "Death" to life, and we'll never forget it!
Thanks to all of you watching "Death Of A Jedi", as well...
Keep sharing the goods.
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