Arts & Leisure

Recreating Star Wars, one scene at a time

IZAIAH MARTIN AND Benjamin Brett, participants in Ilsley Library’s stop-motion animation summer camp, show off the Lego x-wing they built for the scene they contributed to this year’s Crowdsourced Cinema VT project. Photo courtesy of Kurt Broderson

“This R2 unit looks a bit beat up. You want a new one?” 

If you’ve seen “Star Wars,” you know the scene. Luke is in his bright orange Rebel onesie, sprucing up his x-wing fighter jet in a starship hangar as he prepares to attack the Death Star. R2-D2’s little trash-can dome head is peeping out the top, beeping and whistling. Luke does not want a new one.

This time, though, Luke is a Lego figurine. And the voice is Kurt Broderson’s. 

Broderson, the executive director of MCTV, teaches a series of filmmaking camps at Ilsley Library over the summer. One of those camps, stop-motion animation, had a singular focus this past summer: To recreate one short scene from “Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope.”

It was part of the annual Crowdsourced Cinema VT project, which is orchestrated by Burlington’s Media Factory. The idea is simple: Small groups of amateur filmmakers of any age recreate single scenes of a famous movie, which organizers then stitch together into one patchwork feature-length film. 

This past summer, more than 45 teams “donned Jedi robes, built protocol droids, and learned lightsaber skills,” as the Media Factory put it, to create the final product, which will premiere at a series of outdoor screenings around the state next week. (See the schedule at mediafactory.org/crowdsourcedvt). After that, it will air on Vermont public access TV stations, including ours here in Middlebury. Stay tuned to MCTV for an air date.

STOP-MOTION ANIMATION involves taking individual photos of each frame of an object’s movement, then editing them together so they flow. In this case, the object is a Lego x-wing fighter jet.
Photo courtesy of Kurt Broderson

Crowdsourced Cinema began eight years ago in Northampton, Mass. The public access TV station there, Northampton Open Media, put out a call on social media for movie lovers to get involved. They took pains to frame the endeavor as a community art project so as to avoid any copyright issues that were likely to come up along the way. 

Filmmakers could work in small groups using whatever media they liked: live action, animation (hand-drawn, computer or stop-motion), silent movie, even sock puppets. That first year, each group would reshoot a single scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“That’s my favorite movie,” said Broderson. “So as soon as I heard about it, I jumped on the bandwagon.” He rounded up some kids he’d worked with in his summer video camp, his own kids, and some nephews. 

Eight-year-old Keil Broderson played Indiana Jones. Five-year-old Anni played Marion Ravenwood. “We borrowed costumes,” recalled their dad. “We filmed it in a gravel pit, because it was supposed to be on a deserted island.”

Broderson’s family, as well as kids who have taken his video classes at Ilsley Library, have been participating in the collaborative project every year since. Three year ago, the Media Factory created its own Vermont-specific spinoff of Crowdsourced Cinema.

“It’s an incredible project to be part of,” Broderson said, “and the Vermont spinoff has been neat.” Back during the first summer of the pandemic, the movie pick was especially of the moment: the Tom Hanks desert island flick “Castaway.” The next summer they did “Jurassic Park.”

A TRIO OF young stop-motion animators at Ilsley Library prepare a shot for their Crowdsourced Cinema Lego version of “Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope.”
Photo courtesy of Kurt Broderson

Ilsley Librarian Tricia Allen and her family have created a Crowdsourced scene every summer for the last seven years. Her favorite was “The Princess Bride” in 2016; they got to do the much-loved “mawidge!” scene. She loves being a part of the project, though admits that it’s always more work than she thinks it will be. 

Her family debated whether they were up for the challenge this past summer, but ultimately they couldn’t resist. “My middle child, Reed, is a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan, so we signed up and put him in the director seat.” 

It was a big learning experience for the kids, Allen said, who also chose to do stop-motion animation with Legos. “There was a lot of problem solving, particularly around ‘This is what I want to do, but I’m realizing it will take three times as long as I thought and require props and materials that we don’t have.” 

Eleven-year-old Reed settled on a diorama-style set, which Allen agrees was “a great solution.”

REED ALLEN, 11, who directed his family’s contribution to this year’s Crowdsourced Cinema VT Star Wars film, created a diorama to use as a backdrop for the Lego characters.
Photo courtesy of Tricia Allen

Broderson always has a team of young movie enthusiasts to draw from in his stop-motion animation camp, which he has run for fourth graders and up the last decade or so. This past summer the camp was back after a pandemic hiatus, “so it was predominantly kids who were new to this project, and to animation,” he said. 

The group of eight kids started by building three lego x-wing fighters. “Our scene was in a hangar of star ships, with people getting ready to launch into space,” explained Broderson. “They built the sets, then we jumped into animating.”

The scene is just over one minute long, but it includes about 50 shots. The kids arranged characters on the sets and took photos of each movement, then Broderson edited them together. Finally, they recorded voiceover and added Star Wars-y sound effects. 

ILSLEY SUMMER CAMPERS used Legos to create the scene in the starship hangar when rebel fighters are preparing to attack the Death Star.
Photo courtesy of Kurt Broderson

The group worked three hours a day for four days to finish their short scene. “I always approach filmmaking as problem-solving,” Broderson said. For example, kids might want to make their x-wing levitate, but they quickly run into a basic dilemma of physics: They can’t keep a spaceship hovering in midair while they take a picture of it. So Broderson works with them to think creatively. They might try flipping the set on its side and filming from above to create the illusion of antigravity. 

It’s all about teamwork and collaboration, and bringing a vision to life.

“Even though animation can be painstaking, kids really can focus on it,” said Broderson. “We talk a lot about short attention spans, but these kids can also obsessively focus and get it done.”

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