Fanboys: A tale of creativity, networking, and perseverance

I have a confession to make: my Star Wars fandom has wanned.  Yes, I still have my action figure collection and enjoyed the 20+ expanded universe novels I’ve read, but as more time passes since the release of the prequels, their poor quality has been a huge factor in my slipping interest.

If I had kept up I wouldn’t have needed the April Wired magazine to tell me about Ernie Cline and his ultimate fan film, Fanboys, I would have heard about it on a long time ago instead. In 1998 while rabidly awaiting the arrival of the first Star Wars movie since 1983 (as I did), Cline wrote a screenplay about a group of friends who go on a quest to steal an early copy of The Phantom Menace before it appears in theaters so that one of them can see it before he dies of cancer. Cline went from quitting his job and having little hope of ever getting his idea made into a movie to getting permission to shoot scenes on the most hallowed of all Star Wars fan grounds: Skywalker Ranch.

Along the way, Cline injected his story idea with a lot of creativity, networked with the right people to get it noticed, and persevered for 10 years to see it through. In other words, all things anybody could use.

Before going into the details, here’s the trailer:


The plot of the film is simple enough, but Cline got creative by taking it a step further and patterning the story after the Star Wars movies themselves. From the trailer, you can certainly see that all the right archetypes are in there (he read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, on which George himself got a lot of ideas), a pizza van becomes the Millennium Falcon, and Skywalker Ranch itself becomes the Death Star.

Upon completion of the script, Cline starts to create some local buzz for it in Austin and that’s where the networking started to work in his favor. According to the Wired article, Cline met Ain’t it Cool News founder Harry Knowles at a garage sale before he became the huge online draw that he is today. As Knowles influence grew, so did the chances that Cline’s script would be seen by the right people.

Eventually, one of those right people was Kevin Spacey, who’s production company decided to work with Cline in 2005. He had to wait 7 years and for all three prequels to come and go, but Cline’s continuing belief in his work paid off.

Then it got even better.

While shooting Superman Returns, Spacey got to meet George Lucas and eventually approached him about shooting the final scenes of Fanboys on the actual Skywalker Ranch property where they take place in the story. The Man himself agreed.

To recap, Cline went from meeting a guy at a garage sale to getting George Freaking Lucas to allow a fan film to be shot on his property. Yeah, it took many years, but boy did it pay off.

A rough cut of the film was shown at a Star Wars convention last summer to standing ovations, but, as the follow up article in Wired online reveals, movie studios just can’t keep their hands off artists any more and there has been reshooting and reediting that significantly changes the story. While the final release date is up in the air given the potential changes, it’s still a great story of how a guy with an idea ended up standing in the shadows of his idol with some creativity, patience, and personal networking.


One Response to “Fanboys: A tale of creativity, networking, and perseverance”

  1. It took 15 years to be an overnight success | Nerd Guru Says:

    […] month I wrote about Fanboys and how Ernie Cline persevered for 10 years while his script bounced around Hollywood. A recent USA […]

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