Say what you will about the endless spinoffs, the cartoons, the prequels and the constant merchandising, but Star Wars has maintained the ability to connect families and inspire its fans for going on four decades now. For Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley, it was no different. Growing up, Star Wars was a part of his life. He was introduced to the franchise as a kid and it became a way to bond with his brother, sister and dad. Whether it was through action figures or Legos, video games or books, Conley was immersed in the Star Wars universe.
“My dad introduced me, my brother and my sister to Star Wars when we were young," Conley said. "When Episodes I, II and III were coming out, we were in elementary school. Getting to see those and the old ones, it was something our family really took to and something we never really let go of even to this day. We’ll still sit down and watch them together.”
The universe has always held his interest, and when the 6-foot-3, 206-pound rising senior began to explore the idea of shooting a short Star Wars-inspired film, he was surprised by how many people volunteered to help out. Conley reached out to a couple of Star Wars costume clubs, the Georgia Garrison of the 501st Legion and the Georgia Garrison of the Mandalorian Mercs, hoping they'd send one or two people in movie-accurate costumes. Each sent 20-25 representatives dressed as everything from Stormtroopers to Jawas. A track athlete put Conley in touch with a local actor who had done work in Atlanta and Los Angeles; he ended up fitting the role of the main character.
What started as a no-budget lightsaber battle that was originally discussed in a dorm room had grown into something much bigger. Now, Conley had a chance to tell a story.
“I’m a journalism major, so I’m used to writing and especially writing visually," Conley said. "I have always loved telling a story or creating things, whether it be through stop-motion animation, through drawing or otherwise since I was young. I love creating. At first it was going to be a duel idea, but we got so much attention and so many people wanted to see this thing that it sort of grew. I ended up writing a script for it and making a story. It wasn’t completely foreign to me but it was a little bit of new territory. I haven’t done something of this size and scale before. It’s been a new experience, but it’s been a good one.”
A group of Georgia students interested in both filmmaking and the project organized a production company called Infinite Productions to coordinate casting, work with extras and set-up shooting and editing. Conley already had a busy schedule, but the crew practiced on weeknights from roughly 8 p.m. to midnight for a month to get the choreography down for the battle scenes. Filming took place over three weeks and spanned more than 40 hours.
As it was happening, Georgia's campus lit up. A popular football player was leading a bunch of people in costumes holding lightsabers and space blasters."The response from everyone I have talked to has been overwhelmingly positive," Infinite Productions member Shane Wilson said. "Everyone from the football team seems to be really excited to see the final project. A lot of them were extras in the film. It was awesome seeing them give some of their time for a teammate's idea. It also was cool seeing the response of students and seeing the Athens community show their excitement towards the project through social media."
Even Georgia head coach Mark Richt got involved, although Conley wouldn't exactly consider him a Star Wars nut.
“I don’t know if coach Richt’s a huge Star Wars fan, but he’s a big Georgia fan," Conley said. "When he realized how I was going to incorporate Georgia after I told him about the project, he loved it. He wanted to be a part of it. That’s how we got him involved.”
The short is currently in the editing stage, where Conley, the special effects expert and an editor have been trying to finalize the project in between classes (and Georgia's spring practice). Conley is hoping to release it in May, when it will be shown on the campus football video board as well as in other smaller screenings. The plan is to then release the short to a couple of film festivals before making it public with a promoted online push.
People have been so excited about the project that they're already asking Conley if he plans make a sequel. Although he's toyed around with the idea, he's now in the process of writing another short film that isn't Star Wars related.
Conley made 45 catches for 651 yards with four touchdowns in 2013, and he's driven to help lead Georgia to an SEC East title this fall. But there's no doubt he's caught the film bug. This experience has him reevaluating his career path after school.
“I didn’t know I would enjoy working on and creating a film as much as I have," Conley said. "It’s made me rethink a lot of the things I want to do. So I’ve added it to the list. I’ve learned so much over these past six months about writing, filming, working with actors and producing things to the point where if I do this again I’ll make some changes and correct some things. It’s been a bit of a trial by fire, but we’re getting close. It’s been fun, and I just want to keep doing this in the future.”
Writer/director/producer/editor/wide receiver. If Chris Conley makes business cards in the future, he's going to need to use some pretty small font.
(Photos courtesy of Infinite Productions)