words: Bonnie Burton

At this year’s Star Wars Fan Movie Awards presented by Lucasfilm and Atom at San Diego Comic-Con International, The Tentacle Trap won the Spirit of Fandom Award. chats with Caribbean-based filmmaker James Austen about his award-winning film The Tentacle Trap.

What prompted you to make a Star Wars fan film? How has George Lucas and his films influenced your work?

In Star Wars, George Lucas created the richest of universes. Since watching A New Hope at age 3, I found there’s little that’s more exciting in movies than roaring spaceships, lightsabers and laser guns going pow, and the adventure of it all. When I decided to make a movie, there was no question that it wouldn’t be in the Star Wars universe.

What is the back story regarding your film?

Originally, the idea to make the movie came out of an idea to create visuals for some music I was writing (which was the origin of the Electric Space Banjo the pilot plays). It seemed like it would be a fun project. I’ve always been rather taken with the how stop-motion animation can make real objects come to life, and Star Wars, music and LEGO have been my three lifetime loves. So the movie became a brilliant project to draw all my interests together. I though it might keep me occupied in the evenings for a few months; then I thought of the potted plants and tentacles and it grew into a beast. By the time it was all done somehow it was three years later!

What are some of the technical aspects of your film? What did you shoot and edit with?

The film was made just with my camera, some LEGO, two desk lamps and my dining room table, and the miracle of Blue-Tac to keep everything in place. Software used was Animator DV to create the stop-motion animation, FX Home Visionlab Studio for the effects and compositing, Sony Vegas to edit, and Propellerhead Reason for the music, sound design and editing the sound effects.

What were some of the challenges and surprises that happened to you as you were writing/directing/filming your movie?

Remembering not to be a clumsy oaf was the biggest challenge to overcome! Halfway through a scene I’d often knock the camera or the set and have to start all over again. I lost hours making that mistake. And surprised with the software that is now available, and the help, advice and resources online. This was the first time I’d really played with visual effects, and after the challenge of working out how to break down a scene so that what was on the screen would resemble what was in my head, as a total novice I was really pleased and surprised at the results. As a kid, I’d never have imagined that one day on my dining room table I could churn out my own film full of whizzes and bangs and flashes. I shudder at the thought of the number of hours put into it, but I loved every moment of making it.

Who were all the principle people in helping get the film made? Who would you thank if your film won an Academy Award?

I actually made the film all myself, but invaluable was my super wife, Sarah, who not only tolerated and encouraged my geeky hobby, but was understanding enough to give up her dining room table whilst it was buried under in bricks for 18 months! So I’d thank to Sarah, my daughter Tilly, George obviously and Ole Kirk Kristanson who founded LEGO, and finally I’d thank the unmitigated genius who came up with the deal to license LEGO and Star Wars.

Why do you think recognizing fan films is important?

When I watched Star Wars as a kid, I wanted to own real lightsaber and fly a real X-wing. Making a movie is the closest I can get to that, and having an official blessing to do that, well, its like George Lucas is handing you the keys to Red 5 and saying, “Here you go, there is a Death Star over there, go have fun and blow it up.” That official blessing encourages films to be better and more ambitious, and of course, makes you love the universe even more.

Do you have aspirations to make films as a career? Or is this simply a labor of love?

A labor of love, but it’s such good fun it would be impossible to resist a job offer!

If you could meet George Lucas, what would you say?

Thank you for creating the most engaging of universes and for letting me play in your sandbox! And go on, please make an Episode 7, or Episode Zero (Yoda as young Jedi!)

Watch all the fan movie winners here:
Atom: Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge


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