Interview with Filmmaker Raymond Montemayor (STAR WARS: THE TOYS AWAKEN)

STAR WARS: THE TOYS AWAKEN played to rave reviews at the August 2019 FAN FICTION Festival in Toronto.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Raymond Montemayor: My daughter, Maliya, inspired me to make Star Wars: The Toys Awaken. This is the third film in a series of fan films called Star Wars Toy Stories, the first of which I produced in 2015. After that first film, Star Wars: A Toy Story, Maliya, who was six at the time, said that she wanted to be in my next film. I had no plans to make another fan film, but after Maliya made her wishes known, I couldn’t pass up the chance to make a Star Wars fan film with her.

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

It took three years to complete this film from start to finish. I came up with the basic concept for the film right after I watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night, December 17th, 2015. I wrote the script over the course of a few months in early 2016 and began production on April 17th, 2016. I intended to complete production for the 2016 Star Wars Fan Film Awards, but for various personal and work related reasons, I halted production when I realized I wouldn’t make the submission deadline. I restarted production on November 25th, 2017 and submitted the five-minute version of this film for the Star Wars Fan Awards on September 18th, 2018. The seven-minute Director’s cut that was screened at the Fan Fiction Festival was completed in December 2018. So the final edit was completed almost exactly three years from the time I came up with the concept for the film. During the gap in production, I actually made a two-minute film with Maliya, The Rogue One: A Star Wars Toy Story, for Lucasfilm’s #GoRogue fan film contest towards the end of 2016 leading up to the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Although The Rogue One was completed two years before The Toys Awaken, The Rogue One takes place chronologically about ten months after The Toys Awaken.

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

Toys, Adventure

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

One might assume that the stop-motion animation and visual effects were the biggest challenges. Actually, because it was a three year production, the biggest obstacle was completing the performance of the seven-year-old protagonist, Riley. Maliya, who plays Riley, completed all of her shots in April of 2016 when she was seven years old. However, by the time I was ready to shoot Riley’s remaining shots in August of 2018, Maliya was nearly ten years old. It would have been jarring to cut together this film with shots of Maliya at both seven and almost ten years old. Luckily, my younger daughter Nora had just turned seven and was the right age to play Riley. She was happy to get involved and help me complete Riley’s shots. However, because Nora doesn’t look like Maliya, I had to film without showing her face directly to the camera. For a few shots where I needed to get facial performances, I shot extreme close-ups of Maliya’s eyes so we could see her reactions without being able to tell how much older she looks in those shots. So with some carefully planned shots and editing tricks, I was able to pull it off.

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

I was nervous to hear what people had to say, so I was relieved to hear all of the positive feedback. I’m glad that the audience members really got what I was going for in this film. I especially appreciated that they enjoyed the practical effects I used with the stop-motion animation as opposed to using CGI for the toys. That being said, I know I can improve on the story telling and cinematography. I hope to bring everything I’ve learned thus far to my next project and hopefully make an even better film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

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

As with all of my Star Wars Toy Stories fan films, I wanted to make a unique Star Wars meets Toy Story tale about a Star Wars fan and his / her toys. For this film specifically, I wanted to frame the story around this historical event in Star Wars history, which was the launch of a new era in Star Wars cinema with The Force Awakens. The goal with these new Star Wars films from Disney is not only to appeal to the older lifelong fans, but also to introduce a new generation of kids to the magic of Star Wars. So I felt the right way to go would be to tell the story of a young Star Wars fan going to see a brand new Star Wars movie on the big screen for the first time on opening night. There are a lot of things that go along with that which I try to capture in the film, including collecting toys, watching the trailer, dressing up in Star Wars cosplay, and gathering with fellow fans to watch a new Star Wars movie. Of course, this is all background set up for the real story about a girl and her new toy who are both trying to discover who they are and where they fit in. For these characters, and for me personally, Star Wars is one of those special phenomena that can bring people together.

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

It has to be The Empire Strikes Back. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a Star Wars nut, and I consider The Empire Strikes Back to be a masterpiece. To me it’s simply the best Star Wars film, and just a brilliant film in general.

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

FilmFreeway is a fantastic platform. It has a clean interface for setting up projects, and it has a great search engine to help filmmakers find the right film festivals for their needs. I like that it keeps a history of all past projects, film festival submissions, and the status of each submission for all projects past and present.

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

That’s a tough question, but it’s probably “One” by U2 from their classic album Achtung Baby. That album came out right before I started college. I spent many a night doing homework listening to Achtung Baby, and “One” is my favorite song on that album. In my first career as an electrical engineer, I spent countless days and nights over the span of twelve years in front of a computer doing design work while listening to Achtung Baby, and that has continued in my second career as a freelance motion graphics designer and visual effects artist.

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

I’m currently working on my fourth film in the Star Wars Toy Stories series. It’s called Home Solo: A Star Wars Toy Story. Think Star Wars meets Toy Story meets Home Alone. Both of my daughters are in this film. Maliya is reprising the role of Riley. Nora is also in the film, but she has her own unique character this time. I’m extremely excited for this film because I was able to cast Jamie Costa as the voice of Han Solo. If you don’t know Jamie by name, you may know him from his viral tribute videos a few years back in which he does amazing impressions of Robin Williams. He also does an uncanny impression of Harrison Ford, which he used to great effect in his own Star Wars fan film Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Run. His voiceover work will certainly raise the quality of Home Solo to another level. I’m excited to work with Jamie and to complete this film hopefully in time for the next Star Wars Fan Awards.