Interview with Filmmaker Jessica Champneys (STAR WARS: DRESCA)

STAR WARS: DRESCA was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the September 2018 FAN FICTION Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Jessica Champneys: I love Star Wars! But also, the character of Dresca is one that I came up with when I was just 12 years old. Growing up and developing her story, she has became a big part of the Star Wars universe for me. The only difference between her and other Star Wars characters – like Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader – is that she only existed in my head, and I was the only one who knew about her. So having the chance to see her come to life on screen and being able to introduce her to the world is so exciting.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

2 years.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Fan Film

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

This was my first narrative short. I had never done anything before near this scale and quality, and there were many elements of the production that were firsts for me (i.e. stunts, working with a DP, etc). As a result, I underestimated the amount of time certain things would take. For example, our two day interior shoot should have been a three day shoot, but I didn’t realize that until it was too late. In the end, we filmed for 36 hours within a 48 hour period. Luckily, we had an AMAZING, positive, and hard-working cast and crew that took it all in stride. But lack-of-sleep was definitely a problem. I don’t think I got more than 8 hours of sleep that entire week.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I’ll admit, as I clicked play, I was really nervous. Whether you’re a fan of Star Wars or not, you’ve probably heard of the chaotic state the Star Wars fanbase is in right now. Many fans are riled up against anything that has the title “Star Wars” on it, official or otherwise. This has made it challenging to differentiate between real, valuable criticisms and blind, toxic hatred. So it was a breath of fresh air to watch this audience’s reactions. You always hope that your audience “gets it” – that they’ll understand the messages you’re trying to convey through your work – and it was so nice to see that this audience did. The positive reviews were fun to hear, and the few criticisms given were very insightful.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Like I mentioned earlier, I came up with the main character, Dresca, when I was 12 years old. Like any other kid who loves Star Wars, I played with toys and came up with my own adventures in that galaxy far far away. I asked myself who would I be and what would I be doing if I got to live in that universe. Darth Vader has always been my favorite character, so naturally I thought it would be cool to be his apprentice.

But as I thought more about what exactly being Vader’s apprentice would entail, I realized that I would never willingly be placed in that situation. I’ve been raised right. I know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. If I was suddenly sucked into the Star Wars universe, I would join the Rebellion, hands down. That’s just the kind of person I am.

But instead of saying “okay, my character will be a Rebel, then,” I instead asked myself how would I have had to be raised in order to get to that point of being so morally backwards? What would I have had to experience in life to truly believe that Darth Vader was a good guy doing the right thing? This question raised numerous other questions, and launched the creation of a massive story and an independent, three-dimensional character.

When I decided to create a Star Wars fan film, I realized I could take a small scene from that story and convert it into film. I wrote 6 different scripts, each one taking place at a different point in Dresca’s life story, to see what would work best as a short. I found that starting in the middle of her story – at the moment when she has lost everything and everyone she cares for – provided the greatest amount of dramatic tension and character development within a short period of time and worked well visually.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

FilmFreeway is, I feel, a very intuitive platform – very easy to use. I’ve used other festival submission sites in the past, and FilmFreeway is definitely the best one I’ve used so far.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Way too many to list all of them here. 🙂 Obviously, I’ve listened to a lot of Star Wars music by John Williams. Other songs that I listened to frequently while writing this short were the soundtrack for the 2013 movie “Carrie” by Marco Beltrami, and “Control” by Halsey. These songs helped me to get inside Dresca’s head.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

I’d love to try my hand at writing a feature length screenplay. There are few original concepts I’m developing now.

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