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NPR Fan Documentaries

February 6, 2012 2:29 p.m.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando's NPR feature on fan-made documentaries.

Related Story: Rants and Raves: 'Raiding the Lost Ark'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Host Intro:
"Star Wars" fans are obsessive like no others. They keep toys in mint packaging and might even have a Han Solo in carbonite in their living room. George Lucas hopes they will turn out this weekend to see the newly converted 3D version of "The Phantom Menace" in theaters. From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando explains how one obsessed fan has made his own "Star Wars" films.

Blame Jar Jar Binks.

CLIP Jar Jar: No, no, meesa stay, Meesa called Jar-Jar Binks. Meesa your humble servant.

When "The Phantom Menace" first came out in 1999, the annoying, slapstick-prone, computer generated Jar Jar Binks became the focus of fan hatred and ridicule.

Clip: Jar Jar: Eh gads! Whatta meesa saying.

Meesa saying Jar Jar should have his Guigan tongue cut out. Jar Jar came to symbolize what fans saw as Lucas' flawed creative judgment. One fan was so incensed that he re-cut the movie to reduce Jar Jar's onscreen time. It came to be known as "The Phantom Edit," and gave "Star Wars" geek Jamie Benning his first taste of fan filmmaking.

JAMIE BENNING: I think when "The Phantom Edit" first came out of "The Phantom Menace" I think a lot of people realized that the ability for people to do this kind of thing had arrived.

Then in 2006, Benning joined an online group petitioning Lucas to release the "Star Wars" trilogy in its original form, you know the one where Han -- not the bounty hunter Greedo -- shot first. Lucas ignored their pleas. So Benning, a professional editor and full-time Star Wars nerd, took matters into his own hands and created a fan film.

CLIP "Star Wars" Theme

Benning's films are unofficial documentaries. He uses footage from the original movies without permission from Lucas. Benning follows the flow of the original films but expands them with things like alternate takes and interviews from commentary tracks. Take this sequence where Benning edits audio from a "Star Wars" radio drama over footage of deleted scenes.

CLIP Luke: They're really going at it out there. There's two ships out there. all right. Come on Treadwell. Get yourself over to the landspeeder I gotta get into Anchorhead and tell Fixer about this. Well get in gear will you.

On screen text explains that the grainy black and white images comes from what's known as the "Lost Cut."

FRANCINE STOCK: Jamie Benning's "Star Wars" documentaries are like DVD extras squared or even cubed.

Francine Stock is Presenter of BBC 4's The Film Programme.

FRANCINE STOCK: They're amateur in the true sense of being made by someone who really loves his subject.

But professional in terms of the craft. Benning calls them "filmumentaries," and has spent close to a year on each. He makes no money on any of the films because of copyright issues. But Francine Stock says this isn't a hobby, it's a calling.

FRANCINE STOCK: They are more of a compulsion. And they stand or fall on their energy and style.

You could call them a total geek fix.

JAMIE BENNING: When I made "Star Wars Begins" and put that on YouTube that seemed to touch a chord with people. I think people had become disillusioned with the Star Wars franchise as being spread too thin and certainly people of my age.

Benning's trilogy got more than 3 million views on YouTube but just recently the site requested he remove the films. Benning has now uploaded them to Vimeo. Fan films like his place studios in a quandary. Legally they feel an obligation to defend their copyright, but from a promotions perspective they see how fan films generate and maintain interest in their products in ways that no amount of money can buy. Benning's latest fan doc is called "Raiding the Lost Ark." It focuses on the first Lucas produced, Steven Spielberg directed Indiana Jones film. And it serves up another slice of geek heaven.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.