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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Kyle Newman, Director of Fanboys Interview

Posted By: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with director Kyle Newman to talk with him about his exciting new movie, “Fanboys,” a heartwarming story set in 1998 that follows a group of young, passionate Star Wars fans on a cross-country quest to break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and watch Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace before it’s released.

The film stars Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, and Kristen Bell. It’s produced by Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, Evan Astrowsky and Matthew Perniciaro. The screenplay is written by Adam F. Goldberg and Ernest Cline from a story by Ernest Cline and Dan Pulick. Kevin Mann served as executive producer.

Kyle Newman is a fabulous guy and we really enjoyed our time with him. Here’s what he had to tell us about the long awaited “Fanboys” and the excited adventures he experienced along the way to its final release:

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about the long and winding road to making this film and finally getting it released?

KYLE NEWMAN: Well, I think just like in the movie which I didn’t expect it to be, for me, what I’m so happy with is the journey, not the destination, because we met so many amazing people making this movie, and the fans helped us make the movie and finish the movie. We had 501st which is the costume division of Star Wars fandom. We didn’t have a budget to make all the costumes. They were even making our Star Trek outfits so… Can you imagine Star Wars fans having to sit there and sew Star Trek outfits? They were like, “Alright, we’ll do it for the sake of Star Wars.”

I was just impressed by how many people came together because of their love of Star Wars. That’s how we got so many cameos too. People were like, “I grew up on that. I love it too. I want to come in and sure, I’ll do it for half a day. Why not?” So, that was the most impressive thing to me and then also working with Lucasfilm after hearing all these things which were so untrue about them online and people’s perspective of what they’re like and then having them welcome us in like part of the family and embracing us. I think they realized at that point that there are no more movies and there wasn’t a TV show yet so it was a way to keep Star Wars alive, and I think they realized fandom is the future of Star Wars. That’s why they’re doing those kind of… They support the fan film awards.

If you look online, there are so many Star Wars fan films. This was like us getting to make almost like an official fan film because we were all such fans. It was all these incredible things which I never expected when we started to make this movie – never knowing if we were going to get Lucasfilm approvals, never even planning to get so many cameos, never planning to actually get to shoot on the ranch which no one has ever gotten to do before.

MoviesOnline: Were those interiors shot on the ranch too or was that a stage?

KYLE NEWMAN: Minor, minor, like transitions in and out of doors and stuff, but all of the interior stuff we filmed in New Mexico. Our location actually had the same kind of woodwork, the same kind of stained glass, a similar vibe to the architecture, so we were very fortunate to find it. We were location scouting. How do you find a Skywalker Ranch? There’s Skywalker Ranch and then there’s everything else.

MoviesOnline: At the very end they’re waiting for the film to start, and one character says to the other, “What if it sucks?!” How did you get away with that line? How did George Lucas like that?

KYLE NEWMAN: You know, I think they thought it was in good fun. Me, personally, I was always not sure because I like Episode I. I was like I don’t want him to get upset with me. I liked Episode I. I’m one of the few people maybe that does. It was just in good fun. My goal for the movie was always to make something that portrayed Star Wars fans in a different light than just ‘they’re losers with one-track minds’ and yeah, that’s the way they talk and that’s what they’re obsessed with, but I feel like all these guys feel more well rounded. You can hang out with them. They’re people you’d introduce to another friend and not be embarrassed. They’re just real people who happen to like that when they get together. I always use that metaphor like in Sideways where they talk about wine. That’s the way they communicate but they’re really talking about other things and it’s the passion behind it even if you don’t know the reference. That’s what I wanted to do with the characters.

I think they saw that we were trying to portray fans in a more compelling light than maybe they’ve been stereotyped to be, so they gave us leeway to do things like that. Like I said, my goal was to really look at the time before the movie came out when it was all about the momentum and the excitement and not so much dwell on an argument between fans. “Well, I thought this was good and I thought this was bad.” I never wanted to get into that, the specifics of Episode I. It was just a conjecture. “What if after all this, 15 years of waiting and anticipation and build-up and people waiting in line and blogging about it and going to Ain’t It Cool News, what if it sucks?!” You know, that was something people were faced with. Some people didn’t like it and some people loved it.

MoviesOnline: How did you get William Shatner to do that amazing cameo?

KYLE NEWMAN: I was surprised that he was so cool as to come in and almost make fun of Star Trek a little bit. And he said to me, “What’s this all about a rivalry?” I was like, “Whoa! What?! What planet have you been living on?” This is a big thing, you know. Star Wars fans think their franchise is the best and Star Trek fans think their franchise is the best. It’s escalated since the internet because there’s a forum to go and debate that stuff.

I mean, to me, Star Wars is at the top, then it goes down and you have Babylon 5 at the bottom. Star Trek is definitely up there. I grew up as a Star Trek fan too. I didn’t identify with it. What I identify with Star Wars is the deeper mythic stuff, the spirituality, which I find absent in Star Trek. Star Trek looks at our universe and our potential future. It’s totally different. This is a past, this is a fantasy, Star Wars. And Star Trek is speculating and commenting on a lot of real world things and every incarnation of it. So, I look at them as very different.

I know the rivalry is almost superficial. So, in one respect he’s right. They’re not really that similar and there’s room for both. It was so fun working with him and having him come down. You saw everyone’s face on set light up like, “Oh my god, he actually came down!” And he was cool, he wore the little fake Star Trek outfit. I was like, “You wanna wear this?” He was like, “Sure, whatever.”

MoviesOnline: How did you get involved with this? It almost looks like a group of friends got together and it has a really cool feel to it. Did you know them?

KYLE NEWMAN: Well, that’s the strange thing. It feels like we all knew each other forever because we had this shared common language of Star Wars. As soon as I met all the different guys, we had this amazing rapport. I read about it on Harry Knowles’ site in 1998 when I was an NYU student and Matt Perniciaro, the original producer, also read about it on the same website. We must have been reading the same post. I was at NYU at the time and I think he was at NYU, but we didn’t know each other. He actually went down to Austin. It took him a year but he finally tracked down Ernie Cline who wrote the script, because we read that Ernie was going to… The last post that Harry ever made was that Ernie was setting out to make Fanboys for $20,000 and he posted a picture of Ernie shooting for a day. So I was like, “Alright.” And we thought nothing ever happened with it.

I got introduced through a mutual friend of Matt’s. He’s like “I’ve got this Star Wars script that you’ve got to read.” And I was like, “Oh my god, it’s the same script.” But I got frustrated when I first read it because, just like fans must have been with Star Wars, I imagined it to be something different. I imagined what my fanboys would have been. There were some differences, like Linus didn’t die in the end. It was a joke just to get his friends to go. I was like, no, we’ve got to make this thing real. We’ve got to ground it. It’s got to be. And Ernie also... It was coming from a real place because someone in his family was going through cancer and it made him think about that, somebody that meant a lot to him. So, he was like, “What would happen if I didn’t live to see it?” So that’s where the idea came out of something real and scary to him. We just decided to make the story grounded and real and not be a joke either, and I knew we could make it less about Star Wars, just Star Wars, and more about pop culture too – so, trying to work in music and other films from that era and make it like a time capsule to their childhoods in the 80s and also to ’98.

We just developed this rapport because we were all children of the same generation and every time we added a new element to the team, it just felt like it was another person that we’d known forever. So working with Dana (Brunetti) who works with Kevin Spacey – he’s one of the producers – Dana is also a big Star Wars fan. You go into his office and he’s got a Storm Trooper. You know, we all felt like we’d known each other forever. It was the same thing with the production designers and art directors. Everyone came to us and said, “This is what we love. This is why we want to do it. So we’ll do anything. We’ll go above and beyond.” You know, we made our team out of the people that were the most passionate, so I think that’s what helped take $3.8 million and turn it into what I feel stretched much farther in terms of the budget that I started working with.

We just had a great team of passionate people and the actors too were all varying degrees of Star Wars fans. Jay Baruchel and Seth (Rogen) were a little more Star Trek. I don’t know if it’s the Canadian water but they were a little more Star Trek, and Seth is like, [mimicking Seth] “Hell, I wanna do Star Trek right so let me do that!” So he really embraced that and wanted to defend Trek, and Jay was like, “My mom raised me on Star Trek, but there’s a place for Star Wars.”

MoviesOnline: What about Carrie Fischer? Did you go to her first, find out if she’d do something, and then wrote a scene for her?

KYLE NEWMAN: We had a spot in the movie for her. I don’t know if she read it. I think she read the script because I had a conversation with her at one point and she really liked the script. She was excited to come do it but she was actually very smart about it. She was like, “Look, I look at all these other cameos in the movie and they’re all helping facilitate something for these guys.” It was a positive thing. And where she comes into the movie, it’s at the end of Act 2. She didn’t have that little moment where she gives him the pills and helps him on his way. She said, “I want to do something. Yeah, I’m a roadblock, but let’s turn it into something positive.”

She was very smart and she approached it like a screenwriter. She was like, “Look, I’m playing someone else, but I’m also, in many people’s eyes, still going to be Princess Leia in the context of this movie. So I gotta do something positive as well.” She was looking at it from multiple angles. She said, “Well, let’s figure out something.” So, we pitched her three scenes and we went into her trailer and said, “Here’s the three scenes.” And she’s like, “Alright, I’m going to read them. Come back in 15 minutes.” We came back and she was like, “I want to do this one.”

MoviesOnline: Did you pitch her on the day you shot it?

KYLE NEWMAN: It was that morning, yeah. It was the button, it was like little changes in the dialogue, but she wanted to do this bit where they kissed, and I was like, wow, we slipped that in there thinking there’s no way she’s going to go for this and she was like, “That one. That’s the most fun!” I was like, “Yes! Okay!” So then we didn’t have the moment where she says, “I know.” I don’t know what I was thinking when we wrote it so fast, but I just forgot that little button and she says that “I know” back to Hans Solo in Return of the Jedi as the retort. She says “I love you” in Empire Strikes Back and he says, “I know.” And then on Endor, he says, “I love you” and she says, “I know” as like a throw back. I was like, “Okay. I missed that moment there.” So, we were at the Skywalker Ranch, we were mixing, and I was like I’ve got to find out if they have this. It’s worth asking so I said, “Do you have her dialogue unmixed?” They pulled it out on this old thing and they put it into digital and we got the approval from George Lucas within 45 minutes. He’s like, “Cool!” And then she says, “If George says ‘cool,’ I say cool.”

MoviesOnline: I swear I saw her say it. So it’s behind her?

KYLE NEWMAN: It’s off screen. I slipped it in. Her mouth starts to say something I think and then I just triggered it with that. It was a good little accent to kind of work in, but that’s one of the benefits when they welcomed us in up there, we could go to their entire library, so we have Salacious Crumb and Jabba the Hut and even all our interior sounds inside the van are layered with not just normal van room tone but also Millenium Falcon. It’s really subtle. We mixed Star Wars elements really subconsciously into real-world elements. Sometimes it’s more obvious like in the car chase where you hear the scream of a TIE Fighter or a Star Destroyer kind of layered in. Sometimes it’s really subtle throughout the movie. We’re just using ambient from Star Wars that subconsciously might remind people. Maybe they’ll never pick up on it, but it’s fun for us to go and layer those kind of things in.

MoviesOnline: Did you try to get Mark Hamill at all?

KYLE NEWMAN: We did. I mean, he was written in as the original head of security and he didn’t really want to do anything that was where he was still working at the Ranch under George Lucas and I understand that. It was the context. We were trying to find another spot to do it and production came up so fast that we just couldn’t work it out and get another spot without creating new scenes. We had 53 locations and 26 days and that’s nuts when you’re making a movie because I think most people, you put your equipment down, “See you later, George.” You go home for a night and come back the next day and you pick up. But no, every day there were sometimes 3 locations and we had Kristen on her show so she would come in. Even when you’d go to your sound stage and think, “Oh, I’m going to stay at the sound stage for 5 days,” you couldn’t do that either because she’d come in, we’d do a half day on the sound stage, and go out, but it would never fit her schedule really. But I was so adamant that I wanted her in the film that it made it a little more complicated, but we still made do.

MoviesOnline: What was it about Kristen that you thought made her the ideal female foil to these guys?

KYLE NEWMAN: Well, there’s something about Kristen – I knew her beforehand – she’s approachable, she’s friendly to everyone who talks to her, and I felt that was also the kind of the girl who would get in with these guys, too. She would almost approach them as opposed to they were probably too afraid to become friends with her. I always pictured her as somebody who has known them for a long time. She’s more comfortable.

Kristen is smart, she’s very sassy, she’s well educated, she really likes all this stuff that they talk about, and she’s someone believable. When she talks about it, you honestly think, okay, she’s really into that and, thankfully, she really is. I just felt like it’s also good chemistry. I see the way she is with the guys. She loosened everybody up and also, in this group, she has like a ‘no BS’ quality where she also keeps them real. “Alright, that’s a little too far.” And that’s also how she is in real life. So, it was a really good match for it.

I met a lot of other people and it was like, “You’re not going to get Kristen because of her show. It’s too difficult.” And she was like, “Dude, I’m going to do it. We’ll figure out a way.” And eventually, right before we started, we worked it out. So, it was good.

MoviesOnline: Was she a fan of Star Wars?

KYLE NEWMAN: She likes all that stuff. She grew up with it. It wasn’t like she said, “What’s a Wookiee?” She knew it all. She was like one of those girls that was familiar with it all and watched it as a kid and was into it just like guys. I don’t know if she has the bed sheets and stuff, but she’s very savvy to like the pop culture and she’s into all the movies that these guys are into, like all those 80s type movies. So it just fit, it felt natural.

MoviesOnline: What are your plans for the DVD? What’s going to be on it?

KYLE NEWMAN: We’ve got a lot of deleted scenes. We have a great commentary which has got Kristen and both screenwriters, Dan Fogler, Sam (Huntington), Chris (Marquette), Matt, the producer. There’s like 7 or 8 people on our commentary. It’s great and it’s very fun. We have a lot of really good behind-the-scenes stuff. I had a friend who came down to set and he got so close with everybody. We’ve got like 85 hours of behind-the-scenes stuff.

MoviesOnline: Any funny outtakes?

KYLE NEWMAN: Oh my God! He would go into the bathroom with them. They would do whatever. “Let’s do this.” Every time they weren’t shooting, they’d be doing funny things with him. There’s so much stuff, so it’s just a matter of how much we can fit on there. I mean, we have hours of it cut already for online stuff. It’s just hilarious. It’s funny what he got while I was sitting there and doing other things and dealing with this crap. He’s like taking all these great actors and making little funny things. It was really cool. So, it was really fun stuff.

MoviesOnline: How did Harry Knowles get involved?

KYLE NEWMAN: Well Ernie and Harry were friends from Austin so Ernie wrote this project and asked Harry to be in it. Harry didn’t read it for a few months I think because he was so busy and finally Ernie said, “Look, I’m going to make this. Do you want to be in it?” And Harry read it and loved it and then he talked about it on his site. When we started making the real big version of it, he always was like, “I think it’d be fun if you had someone else play me, other than me.” I think he’s more into that. He wanted to see who, what actors wanted to play him.

Originally, we talked to Jorge Garcia who was supposed to play Harry and then there was a hurricane or something terrible in Hawaii and it ruined Lost sets and it changed the production and then Kevin Smith was supposed to do it. There was like a line of people who were supposed to come down and do it. I know Harry is very pleased with Ethan’s (Suplee) portrayal of him. It’s fun. And Harry has followed it. He writes about how cool it is that all these people wanted to play him. It’s like an honor.

MoviesOnline: How did Kevin Spacey get involved in this? Is he a Star Wars fan?

KYLE NEWMAN: Well his business partner, Dana, is a big Star Wars fan. He’s in his 30s and he grew up with that, and Kevin also, he is too. One year for Halloween I think they went as Stormtroopers, him and Dana. It was like a joke. I know he’s into it and he did that funny Saturday Night Live spoof where he’s pretending to be, you know, the fake auditions for Star Wars and he had it down. I mean, he was really into Star Wars. It was a big thing for him too which surprised me, but his passion for it was evident because he stuck with us through the whole thing and he was very instrumental about getting Harvey (Weinstein) to go back to the proper version.

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about the challenges you encountered working with the Weinsteins while trying to protect your vision for your film?

KYLE NEWMAN: Oh, I’d say first of all in all fairness, they own it. It was a negative pickup. They can do what they want to it and their goal was to make it as big a success and as broad a success as possible. We set out to make something very specific for a price and there’s a reason we felt like we could target that and do that because this wasn’t like a four quadrant movie for everybody. That was not what I set out to make. I was making a very small comedy that had dramatic elements and had a heart. I like movies like Goonies and Stand By Me and I wanted more of those elements in the movie. I wasn’t trying to make a spoof movie or a broad comedy.

So, I think once we had this final thing and he (Harvey) saw all these cameos and he thought, “What can we do to make this movie broader?” And then, the landscape of movies at that point, you had a lot of Borats and Superbads, so we started thinking how could we make it more ‘R.’ Our contract with Lucasfilm was PG-13, but it was trying to see what we could push. This was not stuff that…when you’re the filmmaker but you don’t own the movie and you’re not a producer, you have to go through the ideas and say, “I don’t like that. I like this. I don’t like that.”

Ultimately, there was nothing I could… There are things I wanted to do. I wanted to fix the opening scene. You know, it was a last minute location and it’s my least favorite part of the movie and I was like, “Oh, we’re going to fix the opening scene.” But ultimately, we never fixed the opening scene. It was like they shot other things which had never needed to be touched and ultimately most of it never made it into the movie and thankfully. But, at least he was still exploring it and trying to… The one thing [is] he got behind this movie very early on. He saw it and said, “This is great. This is awesome writing. This is a great project. This is exciting. It’s unique.”

Some other places were on the fence. Some places all wanted to wait to see what George Lucas said and Harvey was really aggressive. It was a new studio and he had a great reputation for taking small movies and sometimes things you wouldn’t get exposed to all throughout the 90s and turning them into successes. So we were all very impressed by what he had done throughout his career as a studio head. It was all very exciting. Ultimately, there were differences. Our group stayed very solid – producers, writers, actors, myself. We were all like 15 people strong about what the movie was, what we set out to make, and how changing that could possibly undermine the support we’d gotten already online.

I was pretty shocked for such a small movie to have such unprecedented support and I showed it once at Star Wars Celebration Europe to, I think, 1400 fans in London. I was sitting in the front row and I was like, “Oh no, wait! This is for real! These are the real fans. What are they going to do?” And it wasn’t done yet and afterwards people were going nuts and we got like 3 standing ovations and they were waving lightsabers and I videotaped it. I was like, “Oh my God!” It was like 9 minutes and people just kept cheering. I was like, “Alright, stop, stop!” and people just kept cheering. So I sent it over there and he never saw it. I was like, “How does he not see something like this?”

I don’t think he realized necessarily the response we were getting. So, in that vacuum, he’s going to think “What can I do to make the movie bigger and better.” It was never like “Let’s take this and now make it an FU to Star Wars fans.” It was never trying to ruin it. It was just a slightly misguided attempt to make it appeal to more people and ultimately it had a negative effect online.

It was hard for me watching this online campaign because it’s stuff that never needs to be talked about in the foreground. It’s stuff that a lot of times happens on movies and all of a sudden because there was a lot of attention on our film, it became center stage and people were talking about it. So it was disheartening for me that all this great work we’d done to energize and mobilize the fans to get everyone behind us also was being undermined by a couple of idiots.

MoviesOnline: Did George Lucas ever come on the set?

KYLE NEWMAN: He did not. Rick McCallum came on the set and there’s actually a little bit that Rick did in the movie too which might be on the DVD, I think. It’s not in the film. It tonally wasn’t right but I thought it was fun that he was there, let’s have him do it, and when the guys were driving off, he says something kind of negative towards them as they’re driving away from the Ranch. He’s waving goodbye and he says, “Losers!” It’s funny, but there was a tone to it at that point where they were just going into the last scene with Linus alive, so it’s better as a DVD kind of moment. I would love to get it in somehow but…

MoviesOnline: What do you have coming up next?

KYLE NEWMAN: I’m developing this project called Emo Boy with John Williams who produced Shrek based on the comic book. I’m working on a biopic of Wolfman Jack with Dan Fogler and I’m working on a Brigitte Bardot biopic as well. We have the life rights.

MoviesOnline: What about the Wolfman Jack project?

KYLE NEWMAN: My wife, Jaime King, is going to do that and Dan. We’re really excited about it. It’s a very specific film because it’s a period film and it’s about a radio character, but he’s really the first shock jock on the radio and he’s also… It’s not what people think. It’s like a Western and a Robin Hood kind of gun-slinger figure who comes into town and shakes things up. So, it’s cool.

MoviesOnline: I’m glad to hear the final real story about that.

KYLE NEWMAN: Oh sure, there’s more.

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