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Star Wars fan film delivers blockbuster action with Kowa primes

Star Wars fan film delivers blockbuster action with Kowa primes

From the opening tracking shot extending back from rugged desert dunes to reveal a guard jumping into a World War II army truck you know you are watching a movie with the production values of a Hollywood blockbuster.

At least, that’s the impression that writer director Phil Hawkins hopes to pull off with his 15-minute fan film which audaciously marries Raiders of the Lost Arc with Star Wars.

Like all fan films, Star Wars Origins is shot on a fraction of a studio budget but smart use of a RED Weapon 8K HELIUM S35 camera and P+S KOWA Evolution anamorphic lenses hired from VMI achieved the classic look of an eighties action film.

Shot on location in the Sahara, on the border between Morocco and Algeria, Origins is a calling card for Hawkins’ ambition to emulate the likes of Gareth Edwards and Colin Trevorrow in being plucked from relative obscurity to helm a major studio picture.

“I’m not interested in making kitchen sink drama. I want escapism,” Hawkins says. “I want to tell stories that transport an audience the same way that Jurassic Park and Star Wars did with I first saw them.”

Hawkins is an established and successful director of ten years’ experience with hundreds of commercials and five features including Being Sold and The Four Warriors under his belt.

Yet making a fan film about Star Wars has been an obsession since making short films with friends in school.

LucasFilm encourages filmmakers to dabble in the Star Wars universe and to create new stories using franchise assets from costumes and starships to John Williams’ signature score - with the one proviso that they don’t profit from it.

“Arguably, Origins is the most expensive Star Wars fan film ever made,” says Hawkins, who self-funded the project in association with Velvet Film, a commercials and content production company based in Manchester.

“I could be throwing away many, many thousands of pounds of my own money. I’ve thought long and hard about it but I see it as an investment in me as a director and in my career. Origins is, for me, a way of showing what I can do as a filmmaker.”

This was born out of frustration. He says, “No-one is calling me up to make a Star Wars film but very honestly that’s where my ambition lies. I want to make big budget commercial Hollywood studio films.”

Eschewing the light sabre fights and storm troopers of many previous fan films, Hawkins’ high concept is that the world of Star Wars exists in a parallel galaxy to that of Indiana Jones.

It took two years to flesh into a script and to find a location in the Sahara for the 8-day shoot.

Director of photography David Meadows, who worked with Hawkins on The Four Warriors and who had valuable experience shooting in Saudi Arabia for documentary film Joud, was invited to join the project.

“I own a RED Weapon so that was the logical camera choice but it’s also a very versatile and lightweight camera when stripped down which is what we needed when working with a limited crew and short timeframe,” Meadows says. “We needed to be able to mount the camera on a DJI Ronin. If it had been any heavier we’d have to upgrade to a Movi or Steadicam which we didn’t have the budget for.”

Similar weight and balance issues informed the choice of KOWA lenses which Meadows had paired with the RED in the desert heat when shooting Joud.

“I used the old vintage KOWAs on Joud and the thing about these that I love is that you don’t know exactly what they are going to give you. The way it flares light can give an ethereal look to the film. The KOWAs had proved themselves in my eyes so when VMI suggested the KOWA Evolutions for Origins I was sold.”

The KOWA Evolution anamorphic 135mm/T3.5 primes are manufactured by P+S Technic to match the original KOWA Prominar lenses and available in focal lengths 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm.

“Even at the top of the range the lens doesn’t feel any heavier. They are all consistently lightweight and balanced without needing additional support and that’s very important for this shoot when I’m moving quickly and already carrying matte boxes,” Meadows reports. “The light weight meant I could hold the camera all day even in 50-degree heat.

“In such conditions and with a wind machine deliberately kicking up dust you really want to minimise lens changes wherever possible. Four focal lengths may not seem a lot but what did was shoot 6K to cover the 4:3 anamorphic aspect ratio and jump to 5K when I wanted a tighter shot. I made one of the shots at 4K because 100mm wasn’t quite long enough but by virtue of adjusting the sensor view in RED I could get a tighter shot.”

Meadows feels that the RED and KOWA package achieved the epic look that the director was after.

“You can really feel the heat coming through the lens. It’s washed out where it needs to be in certain areas and the light flares are marvellous. We’ve captured the look of Lawrence of Arabia.”

For a sequence set in a cave the flaring was even more distinct since Meadows was able to send light from different angles into the lens.

“With exteriors you are putting on quite a lot of NDs which can make it harder to flare, however, we were able to achieve this by using a mirror to fire sunlight back through the lens. The streaks produced across the lens are terrific.”

Meadows recorded in REDlog RAW to Rec 709 with the camera set to Legacy. The grade was supervised by freelance senior colorist Dan Moran.

Hawkins’ script breaks into three sections. It starts in the desert camp, a car chase forms the film’s backbone, with a VFX spectacular for the finale.

“Some of the sequences I wrote without restriction which was clearly challenging for our budget and basically boils down to how the heck am I going to get this thing in camera,” Hawkins says.

“I wanted to work with miniatures and special effects as much as possible backed up with plate photography because I believe that that lends greater authenticity to the visuals.

“I hope Origins will be seen as a celebration of classic eighties action adventure movies that will be embraced by the fan communities of both Star Wars and Indiana Jones.”

Star Wars: Origins is produced by Phil Hawkins and executive produced by Gary Cowan of Velvet Films. Release is being timed for December 2019 to coincide with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

For more: see Phil Hawkins’ Instagram @philmblog and behind the scenes



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