Disney has been making some smart, unexpected choices when it comes to hiring directors for their resurgent Star Wars universe. Handing the keys for Episode VIII and IX to Rian Johnson, a brilliant filmmaker who is nonetheless far from a household name, was a decision that made me want to fly to Disneyland just to high five Mickey. But, while unexpected, it actually fit with Disney’s decisions in the weeks before that announcement, which included hiring Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle’s Josh Trank to direct two of the Star Wars spinoff films. While it’ll still be years before we get to see what these guys’ visions of Star Wars will look like, Trank has actually already played around in the Star Wars universe. Well…sort of, anyway.
Wherever Trank’s Star Wars spinoff takes us, it probably won’t involve the unfortunate intersection of a teenage kegger, a room full of bros, and a pair of lightsabers, but that’s exactly what’s in the mix in Trank’s 2007 short film Stabbing at Leia’s. With Stabbing clocking in at a brisk 85 seconds, Trank actually spent less than a dollar a second to make it: it cost him $80 and the time it took to track down a couple of toy lightsabers and stormtrooper costumes. See how things all went wrong on the eve of Princess Leia’s 22nd birthday party:
Trank talked about Stabbing with Rolling Stone back in 2012, explaining that the idea for the short came at a time when he was feeling frustrated about his dreams of a film-making career. He told RS:
I had big ambitions to borrow money from people to make shorts, but nobody paid money for shorts. One day I said, ‘I don’t care — I’m just going to borrow a camera and do some weird idea.’ I called up a couple of friends and got five people together one weekend. We spent literally $80 on it, borrowing some fake light sabers and some cheap stormtrooper costumes. I did all the rotoscoping myself, drawing every frame of the light saber effects by hand.
As for the specific idea of dropping Star Wars trappings into the middle of a stereotypical frat-boy rager, Trank said the concept came partly from his never really having had “that college experience,” and partly from the abundance of similar videos he was already seeing online. “At that point, YouTube was mainly videos of people doing drunk, stupid shit. I would watch a lot of videos of drunk college kids beating the shit out of each other.” From there, he was only one flash of inspiration away from imagining what might happen if you dropped a pair of lightsabers into that volatile mix.
And it proved to be $80 well spent. Stabbing at Leia’s became an online hit and got him the right sort of attention. He got an agent, a deal with Spike TV, and eventually the director’s chair for a little flick called Chronicle that nobody expected to be nearly as big a hit as it was. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Trank’s breakout feature-film was one of the better examples of the found-footage genre…he was clearly already thinking in those terms with Stabbing.
So there you have it, aspiring filmmakers. All that stands between you and a successful film career could be the right idea and the price of a couple of tanks of gas. Get to it.