Interview date: 5/13/2009
Run date: 5/18/2009
If you saw “Fanboys,” director Kyle Newman’s love letter to the “Star Wars” franchise, in an actual theater, you can consider yourself very lucky. Although the film exceeded studio expectations and earned a far larger theatrical release than had originally been intended, it still came nowhere near playing in every market in the country…and that’s a shame, because it’s a very funny film which simultaneously pays tribute to the power of friendship and the power of the Force, making it all the more hard to believe that the Weinsteins sat on the damned thing for almost two years. Bullz-Eye had the opportunity to talk to Newman about the impending DVD release of “Fanboys,” and we quizzed him about the studio’s attempts to remove a key subplot of the film, how LucasFilm helped add sonic touches to the film that even the geekiest of the geeky might not be able to hear the first time around, and if he thinks we’re likely ever see “The Star Wars Holiday Special” released on DVD.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Kyle, how’re you doing?
Kyle Newman: Good! How are you?
BE: Not bad! It’s a pleasure to talk with you.
KN: I did catch you at the right time, didn’t I?
BE: Absolutely. In fact, I had just confirmed a few minutes ago that we are indeed now Facebook friends.
KN: (Laughs) Oh, good.
BE: Well, I literally just finished watching “Fanboys” a few minutes ago, and I absolutely loved it.
KN: Oh, that’s awesome, man. I’m glad to hear that!
BE: I should warn you, though, that I was writing my questions down as I watched, so I hope you’ll forgive me if they sound a bit stream-of-consciousness as I ask them.
KN: Hey, go for it!
BE: Okay, cool. Well, first off, then, I loved the scene at the beginning, where Windows (Jay Baruchel) decried the importance of Boba Fett and dismissed him by comparing him to the Rocketeer was great.
KN: (Laughs) Yeah, and Jay improvised a little bit in there, too, which was awesome.
BE: You even got in a dig at Michael Bay in the process.
KN: You know, I like Michael Bay, but this was the perspective of these characters, and the era was 1998, where he was delivering some pretty bad-ass movies.
BE: I don’t have the stats handy of how many movies Christopher McDonald has stolen in his career, but he comes close whenever he’s on the screen in “Fanboys” as Big Chuck.
KN: Yeah, he’s...he’s awesome. It was one of those coups where it was, like, “Really? We can get him to come down? That’d be awesome!” He’s a legend, you know? We were all Christopher McDonald fans, and I’d seen him in so many movies since I was a kid, so it was great to have him on the set. It was one of those…well, it was like that with a lot of those cameos, whenever they’d come on. Every day we had another name cameo, and it was just so great: Billy Dee Williams, William Shatner, Christopher McDonald, Danny McBride, David Denman, Kevin Smith…they were all there. Every day, it was somebody from some other thing. It was a really cool set to be on, and it kept people on their toes, because you were always working with somebody new.
BE: Did you get any feedback from the various actors who had jokes more or less made at their expense during the film? Like, for instance, Windows is described as “a white Billy Dee Williams” at one point.
KN: No, we didn’t get any feedback about that. You know, at one point, I…I’m trying to think. (Pauses) No, nobody’s taken any offense to it. Nobody’s really responded to it! (Laughs)
BE: So no comment, then, from Carrie Fisher about the line where someone calls their left hand “Leia”?
KN: No, she didn’t say anything about that. And she totally went for the kiss scene, too! At one point, we were trying to rewrite that scene, and she just wanted to send them a little more positively on their journey, because she was kind of a real key factor. And we added this bit back in where she helps them at the end of her scene, but we were debating how it would go. We gave her three versions, and one of them had Linus, Chris Marquette’s character, kissing her. And I was, like, “Oh, just stick it in, we’ll see what happens. She’s not going to get angry at us.” And she came back and said, “This one.” “What, the kiss one?” “Yes. Let’s do it.” “Awesome! Okay!” So she just went for it, y’know?
BE: So when you did that sequence, did you have the idea to do the “I love you” / “I know” exchange between them immediately?
KN: Well, no. We had the idea…he says, “I love you,” but “I know” was not originally in it.
BE: I noticed the volume was a little bit lighter on her line.
KN: We missed the opportunity there, so what happened was that we were mixing the movie – this was a year and a half later – and I’m up at Skywalker Sound, and a couple of people had brought it to my attention, and I had already thought of this: wouldn’t it be great if we could get “I know”? And everybody kept saying, “You’ve got to do that!” And I’m, like, “I know, but how do I do that?” So I’m at Skywalker Sound, and I just happened to throw it out there on one of the last days that we were mixing: “Do you guys have any old ‘Return of the Jedi’ audio tapes?” “Yeah, why?” “I wanted to see if we could find this line.” And within 40 minutes, we had approvals. They found the piece, they came down with this old reel-to-reel tape, and said, “Here it is. It’s isolated, cleaned Carrie Fisher audio from ‘Return of the Jedi’ for you, from that scene.” “WHAT?” (Laughs) And we got approvals from LucasFilm and Carrie Fisher. She was, like, “If they’re cool with it, I’m cool with it.” And the next thing you know, we’re splicing that into the movie, and we had the “I know.” It was very much a detail we added later, and only because we were working in conjunction with Skywalker Sound and had the approval from the Lucas camp to do it, because they were so much behind us to make this thing all it could be. So it was a really cool, fortunate thing that we got to add that joke in there.
BE: So did your heart just soar when Lucas offered you the use of the official “Star Wars” sound effects?
KN: Yeah. For me, I always said, “We need to go to Skywalker Sound.” I wanted to layer in real world sounds with “Star Wars” sounds, so there’s stuff that’s familiar to fans, but there’s also the sound of the Millennium Falcon interior in there. Maybe if you’re really astute and have watched the movie a million times, you’d know all of these ambient sounds, even. Sometimes they’re more on the surface, like Salacious Crumb, or just details like when R2 twirps to life and screams across the screen. Those are very obvious and familiar, but there are little subtle things throughout the entire movie, like, when the doors do open, they go… (Reproduces sound effect) They’re all real “Star Wars” effects, and we tried to do a THX filtration on their voices. All that stuff we were able to do because of LucasFilm, so once I knew that we were going to be able to lock it in and work out a deal, they were, like, “Come work here.” They really wanted us to be there, and that’s when I knew that we were going to be able to make this movie all it could be, with all the details. I was, like, “Yes! We’re going to get to do all the small things we’ve always talked about!” We were going to be able to make them real and not have to worry about trying to emulate them. We were going to be able to get the real thing!
BE: So how hard, then, was it to make the film without even knowing for sure if LucasFilm would approve it in the end?
KN: Well, after a lot of people in Hollywood had read the script and really fell in love with it, the next step was, “Well, what does George Lucas think about it?” So we had to go and, y’know, get that approval. And before we really went down the road of spending any money on it, beyond the fact that we already had a script and the cast was attached, Kevin Spacey had a phone call to George Lucas and really told him, “We’re making a love letter to your franchise and to the fans, and we’re not going to be malicious.” And I don’t know what the rest of the conversation was, but it all worked out well. (Laughs) We got permission to move down that path, and every time we went to them with something new, they were just really open to accommodating us. They trusted us and tended to really let us have free reign in their world.
BE: You mentioned Kevin Spacey. How did he come to be involved in the project as a producer?
KN: One of the producers who was very involved in the project, Evan Astrowsky, started working with Kevin’s company, Trigger Street, and he brought it to their attention, and they loved it, and Kevin loved it, and he said, “Let’s make this happen. How can we help you make it happen?” And our team just kept building, and Kevin became a really key force in it, like a godfather on the project, really, shepherding it whenever we needed that.
BE: So what’s the deal with Hollywood’s love affair with Rush all of a sudden? First you guys spotlighted them, then “I Love You, Man” spotlighted them, too.
KN: I don’t know! I think people watched our movie, or maybe people knew our script, since it had been in there forever, and figured, “Hey, that movie’s not coming out, so let’s use their Rush bit.” (Laughs) I don’t know. Rush has always been an integral part of this, Hutch’s character has always been a Rush fanatic, and all they’re ever supposed to listen to is Rush. There were supposed to be more Rush tracks in the movie, but with our budget, we couldn’t afford them.
BE: There’s a trivia question asked of one of the characters, where he’s challenged to come up with the name of Chewbacca’s home planet, and he answers it correctly: Kashyyyk. Are we supposed to infer that he knows this because he’s seen “The Star Wars Holiday Special”?
KN: (Laughs) Yes! The only real filmic reference to Kashyyyk was in 2005, in “Revenge of the Sith,” and our film predates that by seven years, so, yes, it’s a “Holiday Special” expanded universe reference. It’s full of little facts, little details that you wouldn’t necessarily remember. Like, that Plo Koon is from Kel Dor, or whatever. (Laughs)
BE: So with your access to the Lucas camp, did you dare to ask Lucas himself if he’d ever release the holiday special?
KN: I’ve asked some other people over there, and I said, “You know, so many people have bootlegged it, and it’s out there, so you might as well at least regulate it and capitalize on it.” But I think it would be sanctioning it, so, yeah, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I mean, I was, like, “What about as a bonus feature on a DVD?” I want to make “The Stars Wars Holiday Special, Pt. 2” as a fan film, just for fun. I think everybody should see the holiday special to realize how bad something can be. There are some cool things in there, but it’s two hours long, and you could probably cut it down to about two minutes and twelve seconds of cool material. (Laughs) The animated Boba Fett sequence is great, and there’s some cool stuff, but overall, the whole format of a variety show in the “Star Wars” universe is just a train wreck.
BE: Actually, you mentioned Boba Fett. I was just wondering: do you know if the screenwriters high-fived themselves when they came up with the line, “Let’s go, Boba fags”?
KN: (Laughs) I know we all thought it was hilarious, but I’m trying to think who actually came up with the line. It was one of the lines where, every time we said it, we were laughing.
BE: I saw in the deleted scenes that William Katt originally played the part of the Skywalker Ranch security head that’s played by Danny McBride in the film. Was it just a case of, “Sorry, Bill, but Danny McBride’s schedule just opened up”?
KN: The Danny McBride stuff was shot a year and a half later. William Katt’s scene was great, which is why we included it on the DVD, and I liked what he did, but obviously we were shooting under a very tight schedule, and at that point, we were talking about maybe trying to get George Lucas’s voice in the William Katt scene…and, obviously, that didn’t happen. But, yeah, I think it was that Danny McBride was available, and they wanted to try and put as many cameos of big comic names into the film as they possibly could, so that’s why they shot that.
BE: Do you remember how you felt when you they first said, “Uh, yeah, we’d like you to cut out the whole cancer subplot”?
KN: Well, you know, I was waiting for them to say something like that, because I knew it was the one thing…when we pitched it to everybody, this was something I said, “This is something that’s not changing.” Because I knew that was the first spot where studios would go, saying, “Well, our test groups say that cancer’s not funny.” But the bottom line is that we test screened this movie to hundreds of people, and no one ever mentioned cancer. Not one single test card. That was just, like, a kneejerk idea by someone else that hadn’t been to any test screenings and didn’t see the fan response to the film. Cancer was…I mean, the amount that cancer is in the movie now is still comparable to what was in it before, minus one or two tiny visual moments. There’s one where he throws his pill bottle into the Grand Canyon, and another where you see that he’s run out of pills. They’re two visual things, and it helps keep it alive emotionally without it being really heavy. And you’ve seen the movie: it’s not really obtrusive or heavy. It just gives them a catalyst, it gives them a deadline, it gives the movie a little bit of weight and purpose, and it gives them heart, so they’re not just, like, criminals trying to steal something. There’s a reason for all this. We never got into all the details of the therapy, and there’s no depressing scene of Linus shaving his head, or his funeral. The context that was in there was only in a very positive way, helping the story and giving it heart and purpose, so it just seemed like, “What are you talking about?” (Laughs) I don’t even think the movie’s interesting any more if you do that.
BE: It’s about the only thing that could make a crazy trip like that work, really.
KN: Yeah, otherwise, it’s very unappealing and just seems like a brainless, heartless movie. The heart was the key to our script. That’s why people responded to it, that’s why LucasFilm gave us the permission they did. The movie had heart. It’s about friends. It wasn’t about impatient fans trying to steal something. So, ultimately, people came to their senses and allowed us to put it all back in.
BE: Did every single member of the cast fall in love with Kristen Bell?
KN: I think so, yes. (Laughs) Yeah, actually, you know, she was a good unifying force on the set. She came in, and everybody was on their most charismatic, good behavior. It was a good energy to have her there, to kind of balance what was going on with all the guys. She’s just a whole lot of fun to have on a set. She’s very talented, and it really made a good dynamic, all the scenes she was in.
BE: During the screenings, in the scene where she lifts her top, did you notice the audience collectively lean sideways in a desperate attempt to see her breasts?
KN: (Laughs) Yeah, some people did! And they were, like, “Awwwwwww, there’s a tie fighter blocking them! That’s bullshit!”
BE: But if they’ve got to be blocked...
KN: That’s right: at least it’s by something “Star Wars.”
BE: There’s a deleted scene called “Sex with an Ewok or a Wookie.” Was that a case where you decided, “Okay, this might be too geeky even for this film”?
KN: No, I wanted that scene in there! We never filmed it as a spot in the story; it was supposed to be an end-credits scene, just a moment from their trip, where you see them all back together with Linus, having fun while the credits were rolling. But, ultimately, they just never wanted to put it in an end-credits window. It is what it is, but I really liked it. I thought it was a fun moment between them, and I think it’s a funny scene. They’re all good in it, and you see in that one take the dynamics of how they worked as friends, how they liked to mess with Windows, and just how everyone operates in that group. It’s a fun scene.
BE: They definitely have a great chemistry together.
KN: Oh, yeah.
BE: So what’s your personal “Episode 1” experience? When you first heard the 20th Century Fox fanfare begin, did you start bawling like a baby?
KN: Um… (Laughs) No, but I was giddy. I saw the movie so many times in the theater, and I loved it.
BE: Hey, I saw it three times in the first 24 hours. My two roommates and I went to see the midnight showing, then I think we went to Denny’s afterwards, headed home to get some sleep, saw it again the next morning, took a nap, then saw it one more time that afternoon.
KN: I think I saw it three times in the first 24 hours, too! And I ended up seeing it seven times in the first five days. I went crazy! (Laughs) I saw one back to back. I got out, jumped in line with some other people who were holding my spot, and walked right back in again. And then I went the next morning at, like, 11 AM!
BE: How many of those fanboy trivia questions did you have to go through before deciding on the ones you ultimately used in the film?
KN: That was tricky, you know? There’s a balance you have to walk, because, obviously, your core audience is the diehard people who know these answers like the back of their hand, and then you have people who like “Star Wars” but couldn’t tell you who Luke’s co-pilot was. They love “The Empire Strikes Back,” and it’s one of their favorite movies, but they just don’t know those kinds of details. So you’re trying to walk a fine line where you keep it interesting and not easy for everyone. It was hard, actually, harder than you think, just trying to balance the right type of minutiae and detail to put in, but to not make it so detailed that it alienates everyone, but then also not to make it so simple that people say, “This movie is for idiots, not real fans!” So it’s an interesting dichotomy there: how do you appeal to both? But I think we did a good job picking the right ones that are just specific enough. I’ve seen people on Twitter talking about it. “I actually knew the answers to the questions, I guess I’m a super nerd!” So people refer to the questions.
BE: And, lastly, what do you say to the suggestion that the new “Star Trek” film kicks the ass of any of the three prequels?
KN: No way. (Laughs) I mean, I like the new “Star Trek” film. I enjoyed it, I felt it was a really good first act, and it got everything mapped out, organized, introduced all these new actors playing the characters, and reset the timeline. But there’s still so much more drama and history and character stuff going on in the “Star Wars” prequels. I think people give them a bad rap because they just recycle what USA Today said about them in, like, 1999. (Laughs) “Well, USA Today’s review gave them two stars, so I hate ‘Star Wars’ now!” But if you really watch the prequels again, they’re great movies, especially if you watch them sequentially. I just look at all six movies as one giant story of Anakin Skywalker, so I’m not going to say, “Well, I like Chapter 1, but I don’t like Chapter 4, and…” That’s the story that George Lucas had to tell, and you don’t like them, then you probably don’t like “Star Wars,” because that’s the story. I love the prequels; I know people who don’t. “Star Trek” is great, but I think it’s just a new beginning, and I want to see where it goes. Obviously, it’s a phenomenal movie, the effects were great, the cast was great, and it had a great energy to it. But, honestly, the aliens in the new “Star Trek” were nowhere near as cool as anything in a “Star Wars” film. Like, the green alien girl, and some guy in a bar, they just felt like “Men in Black III” leftovers. Except for Keenser. That new little character is great. He’s my favorite “Star Trek” character, maybe ever. He should get his own space station. Like, Deep Space Ten.
BE: Maybe he’ll get his own series of webisodes.
KN: Yeah, ‘cause he’s awesome. But other than that, the alien stuff was nowhere near on par with “Star Wars.” The effects were impeccable, but…look, “Star Trek” is back on track, I would say, after ten years of mishaps and bad television and subpar movies. It’s back on track to being a worthy adversary to “Star Wars.”
BE: Oh, just in closing, I liked the fact that you ended “Fanboys,” just as Episode 1 was beginning, by having them ask the question, “What if the movie sucks?”
KN: Yeah, well, you have to keep it real, and that’s a question that a lot of people asked. In the zeitgeist, people were wondering, “Yeah, we’re excited for this movie, and we all came from the same childhood and have the same nostalgia and had ‘Star Wars’ birthday cakes and bedsheets, and we’re looking forward to it, but…what if it sucks?” And, invariably, the movie was always going to be a letdown. How could it be great when you’ve had sixteen years of hype and sixteen years of children directing it in their head and imagining what it should be, and then you get the story that George had in his head? You’re pitting imagination and expectations against something very specific. There was never going to be a movie that appealed to every single person, because people expected the films to mature with them as well, and for the style and the nature of the storytelling to be as advanced as they were now, as adults. And you’re putting a lot on a single movie. It’s very selfish to expect a movie to age with you. It’s a prequel. So I looked at it very objectively, and, y’know, “Star Wars” is made for a certain type of audience and a certain kind of age group. It’s definitely an introductory-level movie for children. It appeals to kids first and foremost. It wasn’t like it was R-rated and trying to be, like, “The Matrix.” It stayed true to its roots, with very objective storytelling. It didn’t get into subjective and handheld and all that. It fit in with the style of the others.
BE: All right, man, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Obviously, you can tell that I really dug the film, so I’m glad to have had the chance to talk to you about it,KN: Thank you very much, man. Take care, Will!