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An 11 month Star Wars fan film project from Bristol University and Screenology students bears the fruits of its labours today, going live on YouTube. Online Film and TV Editor and screenwriter Tim Bustin discusses the process behind filmmaking, and last week’s premiere. 

It’s quarter past seven on Wednesday 13th September. 15 minutes before the premiere is meant to start, the finished film is being rushed by car and foot to the Winston Theatre, a few final touches of VFX having just been finished in the last hour. Waiting outside are 150 very smartly dressed people eagerly awaiting the red-carpet style event, made of cast and crew, students who supported the Kickstarter campaign and a host of local Star Wars fans who heard about the event through BBC Radio Bristol or elsewhere. All of them mingling together, chatting and waiting with anticipation. So, no pressure.

You can get a sense of scale taken just to produce a 22-minute film, especially knowing that 11 months ago this project was just an idea, being discussed at the ‘spoons on the Triangle. What about telling a story in the Star Wars universe vastly different to everything Disney is currently and frequently making? What about setting a film in a darker era of the universe few know about: 3000 years before the main films, with characters who are neither the goody-two-shoes Jedi nor the all-evil Sith, but a third party that the Force to impose justice on both of the former?

A grandiose idea, but far from being the first Star Wars fan film. Eternal is now on YouTube, joining the ranks of literally hundreds of fan-made films before it. The fact that Disney allows fans to create such content when they could stranglehold the brand speaks to the strength of the fanbase. But whilst all these films are made with enormous passion, the idea behind this project was to combine real talent and vision from both University of Bristol and Screenology film school students, to guide that passion into something that could be topped only by a Disney-made Star Wars film.

Behind the scenes, with cast and director Alex Harrison

Passion is certainly the fuel behind any film however, as any film-maker can tell you, especially with a project that grew to be as ambitious as this. Step one is ploughing through the dense lore to figure out a script both compelling and something fans and newbies could enjoy. Then comes pre-production: getting a crew together, planning out every shot, casting the right people, pooling props and finding sets and more. Alex Harrison, the film’s director, spent a week before filming began just making the four lightsabres that would be used on set. Shooting was a two week task going from Leigh Woods and a few Bristol studios, then down to Dartmoor and Exeter’s Beer Quarry Caves. While pre-production involved months of slow build-up, the two months of post were a sugar-fuelled, no-sleep emotional ride, painstakingly adding on lightsabre VFX to every frame, or editing to fit the originally composed music, or recording sizzling pots of water to recreate that lightsabre sound.

Lightsabres made specially for the film

Fast forward to the 13th and you see why the premiere was so close. It really was just some last touches, but when you’ve already given your heart and soul, you really want to make sure every detail is perfect. Thankfully, the applause was thunderous. There’s that horrible sinking feeling of having suffered to your core for a project, then wondering if the 150 people about to watch your work will want to cheer at the end, but they certainly did. The red-carpet style event featured photos being taken, a Q and A with the creators and lead cast, signed posters and postcards and everyone hitting the pub afterwards and getting promptly drunk.

From the premiere (left to right): lead cast, Director (Alex), DoP and Tim (hosting)

Bristol is renowned for its film heritage – a regular stand-in for London, the varied sites within a small city make it perfect for everything from Doctor Who to Wallace and Gromit. Student films carry on that heritage to the next generation of filmmakers. Though many involved in the making of this film are still a padawan of their respective crafts (and if I speak personally for a moment, this script was one painful and arduous effort to carve out) it’s ended up a proud project, with the support of Bristol in so many different capacities. Films made in Bristol, by people our age who are learning and building on a rich history, are part of the next great thing.

Star Wars: Eternal is available to watch now on YouTube.

If you want more from Tim Bustin, follow him on Twitter @timbustin1

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