WELCOME BACK to the next installment in our Rocket Punch Creator Spotlight series! This week, we could not hold in our excitement to have the opportunity to chat with Jeffrey Parker and Zac King, two members of the cast and crew filming the Star Wars fan film, Star Wars: Battle of Rocket City, right here in Huntsville, Alabama! Once hearing about the Star Wars Fan Film Awards coming up within the next few months, Jeffrey worked hard to bring together a brilliant cast and crew to make this fan film set within the Star Wars universe a reality, and with submissions coming up soon, Jeffrey and his team are working tirelessly to create an excellent, memorable film that fans around the Southeast, and the world, will surely enjoy! We were so thrilled to get the chance to sit down with them and talk to them about the creation of this film, the challenges they faced, and some of the lessons they have learned during this experience!
If you would like to listen to the audio version of the interview, or listen to Jeffrey and Zac as special guests on this week's episode of The Rocket Punch Cast, click one of the buttons below. You can also check out more info on the Star Wars: Battle of Rocket City on Facebook.
Star Wars Fan Film Awards Info: http://www.starwars.com/star-wars-fan-film-awards
Rocket Punch: Hello everyone and back to Rocket Punch, I am Seth and I’m extremely excited to be joined by Zac King and Jeffrey Parker, our next Creator Spotlight. Zac, you are the lead actor and Jeffery you are the writer and director for Star Wars: the Battle of Rocket City. A Star Wars fan film that was shot right here in Huntsville, Alabama. And will be premiering at the Star Wars Fan Film Awards 2016. So tell me a little about it. What is Star Wars: the Battle of Rocket City?
Jeffrey Parker: We wanted to create a film that we could create a situation where there is a battle right over planet Earth. They just happened to cause a reaction between both of the rebellion ship and imperial ship, tie fighter. It caused both of them to enter into the Earths atmosphere by the chance of fate. This is really a battle here and on the home front of what would happen if we were to have something happen like this here in Huntsville. It’s an attack upon the city of Huntsville and it creates new characters to cause an uprising to fight against these forces. It brings out the fight within a select few that happen to see this crash. It’s something original, we get a lot of questions about is this a timeline thing? Is it something that fits here or there? This is an original story that we created and tied in some original characters with new characters. Definitely an original story.
RP: So what made you want to create a Star Wars Fan Film in the first place?
JP: You know, when we got news of the Force Awakens we had already had an idea of trying to bring in original characters into a modern setting. When I began to write this story there was a group from UAH, makers club that was interested in helping with this film. They had a couple ideas as to what they were wanting to do special effects wise. There were a couple of different angels that they were wanting to hit, so we were wanting to put our heads together and devise a story out of that. They wanted to do the effects, I had a story in my mind that I had been rolling around but I am a huge fan of the original characters. I knew off the bat that I wanted to incorporate those. The story was definitely original. It allowed us to bring in original characters from the original trilogy. I thought that was going to be a lot of fun there.
RP: It looks really amazing. Next question is more of the process in creating a Fan Film. Fan films have been around for several years. The Fan Film Awards are kind of a celebration each year. What does that process look like? Is that something where you apply for it? How exactly do you go through and decide you’re going to make a Fan Film, get the rules of what you can and cannot do and them submit that?
JP: When we got on the website that was the first thing I did? I wanted to get on Star Wars .com and I wanted to look at what we were able to do legally for their fan film completion just recently. It allowed us to be able to create a film like this. Once we saw that I knew that this was our chance. I knew this was something we weren’t going to be able to sell but it was definitely a door that we could open to finally create something like this and bring the talent that we have in Huntsville together for something like this. Definitely got on the website and checked it out, once I saw the fan film open up we took our chance with it.
Zac King: I personally got involved last year done some background work with USA network show called Satisfaction. I had been involved with another film group called iByte Films, RJ and Alex got involved in the Star Wars Films. That film that I was in was called Stranger my Mirror, it ended up winning second place in show in the Huntsville Short Film Festival Awards last year. Jeffrey and I kind of talked for a bit and he sat next to my wife and I. We had a conversation about what he had going on and he gave me a chance to read for the role of Mark. I was lucky enough to get cast with that and how I personally got involved with that and I could not be happier and prouder of being involved in the film.
RP: Okay, so you mentioned earlier that Disney and Lucas Film give you certain liberties as a creator and Zac your character in the film is an original role. What are kind of the boundaries for that? Did they define what your boundaries are of characters you can add or characters that you can pull from?
JP: No, it was an open permission to make whatever story you wanted as long as it went to the website. Of course once we submitted to the website they own all of the characters. I knew going in that we could use original characters like we wanted to. I also knew that whatever new characters that we created once we submitted it to the website to Disney they own those characters. But we knew that going in and we were just looking to create some new characters that they would like as well. We saw the new direction that they were going with the Force Awakens. Going in I knew a pretty good bit about Kathleen Kennedy was for Lucas Film. I knew what she was wanting and what direction she was going to create specifically a couple of characters that I really wanted to appeal to the fans. She ultimately decides the winning film for the competition. I wanted to make something that was appealing to her ultimately.
ZK: Little known fact, my characters original name was Kylo Ren. They came back and said no and we had to change it back to Mark.
RP: So Zac, speaking of. You are the protagonist of the film. What can you tell us about your character and his role throughout the story?
ZK: I think there’s a line of progression within that. I described him earlier as the reluctant hero where the character just happens to have some fencing, martial arts background that helps him out later on as he gets challenged by the Sith and the Dark Side. I think that it’s one of those character progressions where you kind of think that you have it in you, and what do you do if the Star Wars universe and the Sith show up in your backyard? How do you react? What do you do? A lot of freedom within that progression but within this role it was challenging to start as an every man, wake up in the morning and later that afternoon you’re thrust upon a fighter crash land a couple of feet from where you are and you meet an alien. You meet all of these new characters. How do you react? Do you have within you to literally battle against both mentally and physically against these characters? How do you do that? I think within a very short amount of time the character, Mark, has all of this thrust upon him and we’ll have to see within the film, no spoilers, but how does he overcome? How does he prepare? How does he begin to challenge himself and go up against these forces that are trying to take over the planet? Can you rely on your friends and people you meet along the way? From point A to point B it goes very much from an every man scenario to are you ready to stand up, pound your chest and protect your friends and your loved ones in this environment?
RP: Alright, it sounds like you’ve got a very interesting story that is blending the Star Wars universe into the real work. That sounds really interesting. We’ve got some cool original characters that you’re rolling in with this as well are there any Star Wars familiars or classics that we’re going to see introduced through the story as well?
ZK: Oh, yeah, just a few. Just a few.
JP: We've definitely got a lot. I really just wanted to really take from the atmosphere of the original films and characters, so, definitely, it's got a lot of characters in there from the original trilogy. Definitely pulled from that, for sure.
ZK: Yea, we don't want to probably ruin a whole lot, but you'll see quite a few familiar faces. Quite a few recognizable ones from old school.
JP: Oh yea definitely
RP: Good, good to hear! We'll definitely have to check that out when it happens. So Jeff, as the director, you're kind of responsible for organizing this production. So, what can you tell me about that experience? What was it like to try and organize and bring together the cast and crew to get Star Wars: Battle of Rocket City started and rolling?
JP: Well, Ive been involved in filmmaking for about 4 years within the area, so that's allowed me to meet a lot of people and I knew that we had the talent here, available here in North Alabama. We've got an enormous amount of filmmakers, cast, crew, you name it. There's so many different artists here locally that were able to come in to help us. But, this was gonna be a huge project, and also, I called upon Alex Gibson. He is a local producer here. Genea Sutton, who also helped us as producer as well, so I definitely knew the help and we reached out and grabbed everyone that was here and available that could come out. Yea, it was definitely no small task. We had well over 60 people apart of this in some type of way artistically involved, and it has grown since then. But, yea, we've had a huge support here locally.
ZK: If I could add anything, the level of talent that we were able to get and Jeff was kinda able to corral like he said before, not only the amount of talented people, just the level of hidden gems within this crew and this cast from direction, to cinematography, to special effects, to especially the acting of some folks that I had the pleasure of working with, just completely excited, humbled to be surrounded by that. Again, talent level, these guys knocked it completely out of the park. They had such a good rapport, had such a great chemistry and connection, and we had folks, again, local, a few folks that were from out of the area, but again just a great level all the way around.
RP: Alright, so these next questions, since you all are in different roles, you may have different answers for these, but the first one is: What was the most challenging part of the process that you've gone through so far? I know you've yet to do your official release, and that might be the answer! But, what is the most challenging thing that you've had to tackle so far in your roles?
ZK: Stunts. [laughs]. For a fan film, and for a lot of takes and takes and takes, and a lot of stunts, a lot of choreography, a lot oh physicality that, again, my particular character's role, had a chance to really build on itself within the film. It had a chance to really, no pun intended, kind of take the gloves off. We had a chance to greatly expand on a lot of the fight scenes, and there's a LOT of action in this thing, so be prepared for that. A lot of fights, may or may not involve sabers and things like that, but there was great choreography, great stunt work, a lot of trying to perfect those time and time again, so there was, not necessarily a challenge, but a lot of things that myself, there's only a certain amount that you can be prepared for and when you come out there, well, "This looks good. Let's do this. Let's bring it from level 1, to level 3, to level 5 on the level physicality involved".
JP: And I'll touch on that too. When Zac came out, I definitely had a idea of what I wanted this character to be, but once I saw just how physical Zac could be in his performance, we really pushed him. We knew we were touching into something that was original, something that was different. We've seen a lightsaber battle. But, we started to get into hand-to-hand combat with Stormtroopers and other characters, and once we saw how talented Zac was, we really started to push him. We really pushed him to his limits, and he kept going, and going, and going and was doing bigger and better things every day. I really have to give it to Zac in taking this character, and turning this character and transitioning it into something way bigger that what we had expected. We're really excited about that. And on that, we were able to add new scenes for this film, because we saw his abilities, and what he was able to do. The doors opened with other locations and we said, "Ok, let's do this over here. This looks cool", and we went with it, and we were really impressed with it.
ZK: Aw, thanks big guy [laughs]. The check is in the mail by the way [laughs].
JP: So, yea, he did a great job. Zac has done such a tremendous job for us, for production. He has been a tremendous help in promoting this film too. He has been that guy. He stays in contact with me daily on what we're doing, and what we're planning. He reaches out to all these different areas of promotion, and not only, would he give us an awesome performance, he is that actor that you want in your film because he doesn't stop in production. He goes on into post, and he goes on and starts with promotion. Once you have someone that is very lively in social media and promotion, they help promote your film. I mean, you can't ask for anything better than that, so we're super proud of him. Glad to have him.
ZK: Well, I appreciate that, but again, I think, as an actor, you want to have someone that does two things. #1: You want to have a director that has a clear vision and is passionate because you, as an actor, you don't want to let that down in any way, shape, or form, so you want to ride that passion, knowing that this film was Jeffrey's baby, and knowing that there's so much writing only on his shoulders and his vision. But, also, this thing, it was pretty apparent after the first read, and then after the first day of shooting, that this could be something very, very, very big for everybody involved. But #2: having a director that challenges you, that says "OK, we're doing this. Can we do this as well? Ok, now we got to that level, can we do this now?" to kind of stretch that boundary on something that, whether it's acting, emotion, in the moment, fight scenes, choreography. That's the two things that you want as an actor: having someone with a clear vision that's passionate, but then also, challenges you to do more, to have some semblance of artistic freedom, but still wants to push you to your limits. So, can you ride along that? Can you match up with that and try to make that something special? That, hopefully, can be what we've all done here.
JP: Oh, yea, without a doubt. Without a doubt. He pushed it all the way, and we were right there behind him, watching him progressing his character, and it was fun to watch, as a director, to have a character in your mind, he taken from paper, and you put onto a set, and to have that actor progress in front of you like that was really cool to see on a director's point. So, yea, really cool.
RP: That's awesome. I can definitely tell the teamwork that went into this was top-notch.
ZK: And from Rhiana, to Jerry, to Matt, to Cameron, to everybody involved in the film too, trying to match, trying to watch. I go back to a talent level, having that talent level and going, as an actor, kinda looking around and going, "Am I prepared to match up to this talent level?" to see, you get to kind of push yourself to match up, and you end up having this chemistry that everyone pushes themselves, each other, tries to build within that chemistry, and it came out with a great progression of everybody's characters. But, again, just being side-by-side with those folks and that talent level is very, very humbling.
JP: Yea, we had a tremendous amount of talent within our cast, and everybody came out, and just the chemistry. That was another thing, as a director, chemistry is something that, I mean, you can't force that. If chemistry happens on set, it does. But if it doesn't, you really try to create that tone, and it was very easy for me to be able to direct these guys, because the chemistry was there. Everybody got along on set, and it was that magic that you're hoping to see on set within your characters, so we've got a tremendous amount of talent in Huntsville, and we were glad to portray that.
RP: Awesome! And, you had said that, here in Huntsville, you've seen just a tremendous amount of talented individuals come out to help. How has the reaction been to your project here in Huntsville when you talk about it with people?
JP: Oh, huge!
ZK: Exciting, Exciting, Exciting.
JP: When we first started this, we announced that we were going to do a Star Wars Fan Film, and there was some skepticism I could see trying to create something like this. And even with some of the people that we talked to, I guess everyone was concerned with the level of quality that would go into something like this. But when we assembled our team, and people were seeing what was involved online, and they were seeing the talent that we had, the cast and the crew, just from start to finish, everyone was seeing who was involved, and that's when everyone took notice like, "This is for real. This is going to be a quality production". And especially when we went into the Space and Rocket Center the first night, and we went, we were going through production, we were shooting, and people were starting to see things pop up on Facebook and where we were, who was involved, a lot of the original characters, Star Wars characters from the 501st that were there. Once they started to see who we were working with and what we were doing, the people that originally said, "No" were coming back and saying, "Yes! Let's do this! Ok, I'm in! I'm not only in, but I'm bringing these people with me", and it just grew from there, and the film grew with it. Very proud of that. Very, very proud of that, to see that happen.
RP: So, for Rocket Punch, one of our primary goals is to empower people to make what they want to make, whether it is something geeky, something not, just to create something, and that's what you guys have done. And it's what you are doing. You are in the process still of getting that ready, getting ready to promote it and things like that. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a project of their own, and just maybe needs that help getting that started? What advice would you have for that person?
ZK: I'll start with that, and just simply say: Network, network, network, network. I think that by the time it's one of the 6 degrees of separation concepts, to where the person that you ask directly, "Hey, how do I get a sound guy with a boom mic? How can I interview somebody that has some acting experience? How can I do this, and this, and this?". Being able to connect on social media, being able to connect, just shaking somebody's hand, going to Junkets, going to places like Flying Monkey, going to this local film festival sidewalk, just being a fly on the wall, or an extra when it comes to something like the 48 hr film festival; Always ask. The person that you ask those questions to, about, "How do I get started? What do I need to do? Etc. Etc..", they may not know, but chances are, by the time you get to the second, or third contact, they're going to be able to give you probably a good name, a good number to where you can text, you can call, you can direct message, whatnot, and kinda like we keep repeating the local talent theme here, there's enough local talent production-wise, there's enough talent that has gone on to very, very mainstream careers. I graduated from Lawrence County High School, in Moulton, and Lucas Black, who went on to a very, very good career in movies, is from about 10 miles away from where I graduated high school. So, there's example: Huntsville, too. Debby Ryan, other examples to where you have so much of a pool here locally, if you start to ask the questions, you're gonna start getting the right answers, or at least that boost on, "Hey, I really can do something", and you guys are an example of that too: Creating a really successful podcast. Starting it from scratch, doing it yourself. So, yea, you can ask advice, but if you don't have the resolve to do it... I mean, I got back in after 25 years out of acting, and why? Because it's an itch that I wanted to scratch once again, and here we are having a conversation. I'll bump it over to Jeffrey.
JP: Yea, I just want to add that never giving up. There's so many people around you now, and we live in an age now where everybody knows everybody online, you can reach out on social media and touch base with anyone in the world you want to. But, you have a goal, or a dream, there are so many people waiting to help you. Don't think that you have to have to work in a major studio to make a film. Don't think you have to have a million dollars to make a film. There are people around you that will make that happen, and help you. But, I just have to say don't give up your dream. Do what you want to do. We live in the age where at the end of the day, the only person that's stopping you from doing that is yourself.
ZK: And you'll have so many, many, many, many people telling you, "You can't. You're too local. You don't have the look. You don't have the talent. You don't have the budget. You don't have this and that". Prove them wrong, man. Go for it. I'm glad Jeffrey said that, because it's so much of a push for everybody in this film, because, I would guarantee you that everybody on set, everybody in the cast, everybody in the crew, and even larger productions that both Jeffrey and I have been involved with, at some point in time, everyone has been told, "No", shut a door, said you can't because of x, y, or z. Prove them all wrong, man. Just go. No matter where this takes everyone of us, and you guys included on the podcast, prove them wrong. Challenge yourself. Like I said before, you'll know somebody who has success and they give you advice, but put the naysayers aside and just go for it.
RP: That is some great advice. So, let's do some fun questions. Each of you, I'd like to know: what is your favorite Star Wars character, and why?
ZK: Wow! Most favorite one?.... You know, I'm going to have to take the easy way out, and just go Luke Skywalker. Just because that character, at the beginning, you saw him progress through the movies, and you can't help but to root for a character like that. Then, the plot twist at the end, when Darth Vader ends up being his father, (spoiler alert, sorry), that character to me, personally, just sucked me into the original trilogy. So, again, I;m not gonna have some whimsical answer like, "C-3P0, and here's the reason why psychologically", it was totally Luke for me.
JP: I'll have to say Han Solo. I just thought he brought so much charisma to the films. There was such a humor there with him, and he was a tough guy. He was a smuggler. He was the one who came in and he brought so much. It was very exciting to see him come back in The Force Awakens, but definitely Han Solo for me. I've always been a big fan of Harrison Ford, and all the things he has done and the type of characters he has been a part of, and Han Solo definitely my favorite. [...] Yea, that's the thing. He was just a cool guy, you know.
ZK: Yea, like Steve McQueen cool, Jason Statham cool. Just a cool, cool character to watch.
JP: Definitely, he was the coolest smuggler, bad guy coming in helping to save the day. Got the girl in the end, and he was just a fun part of the original trilogy for me.
RP: Alright! So, you guys are producers of fan films, so I can only assume that you've come across other fan films in your travels. Do you have a favorite fan film that you've seen so far?
ZK: You know, I wouldn't say favorite, I would say impressive: The Origins of Darth Maul recently just, as someone who created a fan film in the same genre, just very, very, very impressive. Just the quality, the work that went into that, is something that we kinda have to live up to on our end. Again, that's something that I've seen being a fan of the genre, but looked at that and went, "Wow!". That's the expectation now of a fan film. The bar's been raised for everybody who;s trying to create the exact same thing. So, that's again, kind of a personal feeling of mine. Again, I wouldn't say favorite, but just completely jaw-dropping impressive.
JP: Definitely. I don't mean to jump on the bandwagon with that one, but I have to agree. The Darth Maul character was one that I thought could really have gone a lot further had he not gotten killed. But to see him arise with a new film like that, I thought the quality was great, and it was definitely refreshing to see a character like that come out with a whole new story. But, yea definitely Darth Maul. This new one was pretty cool.
RP: We've come a long way since the Star Wars Gangsta Rap [laughs]. Alright, so thank you guys for taking some time to sit down and chat with us. I know that you are planning to rollout a version of the film for the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, that fans will be able to go vote on, when voting opens a little bit later in the summer. What is the availability looking as far as being able to see a shorter version, an extended cut of the film? what does the timetable look like for that now?
JP: Well, we can't show anything online until we've submitted to the festival. When they release that this summer, through the competition, that will be the first cut that anyone will be able to see. As far as a trailer, we will release a trailer soon, so definitely give the fans and everyone involved a chance to see what we were able to do. But, right now, definitely the first, shorter version will be part of the competition, and that's on Star Wars website. They only allow 5 minutes for a fan film, but we have created a 35-40 minute full version. So, the 5 minute one will be just the tip of the iceberg for what's to come this summer. Really excited to roll that out.
ZK: The full director's cut will premiere at the Space and Rocket Center IMAX?
JP: Yes, the Space and Rocket Center at the IMAX on both screens. We're very proud to do that. We appreciate Rocket Punch having us and giving us this platform to be able to let the world know what we're doing and helping others tell their story. So, definitely thankful for you guys.
ZK: Right. I think that's the opportunity is fast, especially here in the area. I think, when we originally met at the Huntsville Comic Expo recently, there was a couple of opportunities that may spring up around, I think, maybe showing at different venues, showing it to perhaps high schools, middle schools, the ones that have drama programs that, I think you mentioned earlier when you asked, "How can somebody get started"? Well, if Jeffrey and other people that are on the production side, if they can show folks at schools, at film festivals, bringing it around to different venues in the Southeast, what all is available for you to do? Having those different venues as well, both from a professional standpoint, and then from a teaching standpoint, just to show them a taste of what they can do, that's gonna be really interesting to see kind of how far that distribution and viewing goes along the way. Especially in this calendar year in 2016.
RP: Awesome! So, last but not least, for folks that want to get involved, I know that it will take a little bit of time to see the shorter, mini version for the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, those will be on starwars.com when the fan film awards go up, how can folks connect with you in the meantime?
JP: You can reach us on Facebook. You can reach me directly and go the the Battle of Rocket City Facebook page. We are there. We have released all the behind-the-scenes pictures. We've got different coverage from the latest Huntsville Expo, so we've got a lot of info online, but definitely go to Facebook. We've got a Twitter that we keep folks informed there too. Definitely have a large online presence right now.
ZK: You can reach me personally at: zacking821 on both Instagram and Twitter and then Zac King on Facebook. Jeffrey has some handles as well.
JP: Yea, you can reach me on Twitter. I also release a ton of upcoming news and information there. Jeffreydparker1 on Twitter, jeffreydparker_ on Instagram, and we will post everything there as soon as we get it, so please watch for it.
ZK: We also do flower deliveries, we do singing telegrams at front doors... [laughs]... anything you need to help answer any questions, please let us know.
RP: Yep, and we'll have information in our Creator Spotlight post. That is live right now over on rocketpunchgo.com. You can go over there, we'll have links to all of the things you just talked about. For more awesome Creator Spotlights, make sure to follow @rocketpunchgo on Twitter, check back to rocketpunchgo.com. We've got new content going up every day. Video games, podcasts, all that cool stuff! Hey Zac and Jeffrey, thanks so much for joining us. It was fantastic to have you on the show. We're trying to encourage people to make stuff, and create their own content, and I couldn't think of anything cooler than Star Wars Fan Film Award to have that as a Creator Spotlight!
JP: We really appreciate you guys having us! We've had a blast with you guys, and we LOVE Rocket Punch! We love this platofrm that you guys have to bring talent in here locally, and there's a lot out there. We really papreciate you guys taking the time to give us that spotlight to show everyone what we're doing, so thatnk you guys!
ZK: Support the podcast! Share the posts! Do it now!
RP: Yea, follow us, and thank you guys so much for stopping by! We can't wait to get more info and be able to see that full, final film when it comes out! We look forward to seeing that! Listeners at home, thank you for joining us! This has been the Creator Spotlight, with Rocket Punch. It's been great, and we'll see you next time!
Once again, Rocket Punch would like to thank Jeffrey and Zac for taking the time from their busy schedules to come by and tell their amazing story about this awesome upcoming fan film! They, along with their entire cast and crew, have worked extremely hard to bring this vision to life, and we cannot wait to see not only the Star Wars Fan Film Awards submission, but also the full-length feature when it is released later this fall. Be sure to check out their Facebook page to stay up to date on all the latest announcements, which is linked at the top of the page! Plus, don't forget to keep your bookmarks saved onto Rocket Punch to catch not only all of the awesome creators like the crew for Star Wars: Battle of Rocket City, but also all of the latest awesome geek and gaming original content!