Star Wars Origins: Exclusive Interview With Fan Film Director Phil Hawkins

Greetings, readers! @Indy_Filmmaker here!

If you haven’t seen it already, Star Wars Origins is a fan film you won’t want to miss and is unlike any fan film you have probably seen to date. It’s an emotional adventure that tells a story about two archeologists searching for something in the desert, and asks the question nobody ever thought to ask: Is Indiana Jones and Star Wars based on true events? That’s as much as I can say without giving spoilers. 

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with the film’s wonderful Director, Phil Hawkins, to discuss Star Wars Origins and much more. Phil made his first short when he was just thirteen, and has went on to make a number of features as well as compete on Steven Spielberg’s On The Lot, a TV Series competition for filmmakers. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in!

LRM: So my first introduction with you was On the Lot. What was that like, that atmosphere of being able be on that show and make shorts and have Spielberg judge them?

Phil Hawkins: Right now, it was probably, what, 10 years ago now, over that, so it does feel like… It’s almost a little bit of a dream really, and it kind of felt like that at the time, because I submitted a short that was hot out of the cutting room. We’d made this kind of 48-hour film and then the website On the Lot popped up for submissions, and I think I was one of the earlier submissions, because they used to number them and I think I was like 002 or something, so I timed it well.

I just sent this short and decided there you go, I’ll never get close to any of it, and then suddenly you have an interview, and then suddenly that leads onto one thing, and suddenly you’re on a plane, and then suddenly you’re whittled down to the kind of final people on the show. And that’s how it feels now. It was a whirlwind. And to know that Spielberg had watched the work and picked the filmmakers, and then obviously as a Star Wars fan being able to talk to Carrie Fisher pretty much daily and other, you know, Garry Marshall as well, people that have sadly passed away but legends of the industry, was a wonderful experience.

I didn’t last very long. I didn’t really have the fan base to keep me going, I think. But I was part of the shorts that I made, and it was funny because I was one of the youngest, but also probably one of the most experienced at the time, because I’d already done a feature, I was already doing commercials, and I actually had a feature kind of waiting to go as soon as I came off the show, so as soon as I come off the show I went straight into shooting what was my second feature. So it’s all a bit of a blur, 2007, I think, because of that. But yeah-

LRM: I’m interested when you said you got to talk to Carrie a lot. Did she impart any filmmaker-y wisdom? Because I know that she has a history of kind of being a script guru, or whatever. 

Phil: Yeah, you just have to kind of be around her and you’ll find a conversation is both life and career kind of wisdom. I mean, an amazing, what you would call a script doctor, or whatever you would want to call, and credited on many, many films, but had an amazing ability to understand story, understand character, and that was kind of infectious. That was infectious, really.

I know a few of the contestants after the show were able to keep in touch with her and she would help them with their scripts and invite them to her house and they’d have long chats about their films. So pretty amazing, an amazing woman. What a talent both in front and behind the camera that we’ve lost. It was a very sad day as a Star Wars fan, but also as a filmmaker, and someone that had a very brief connection with her, it was very sad when we lost her.

LRM: What is your earliest childhood memory of Star Wars and how was you introduced to that franchise?

Phil: It was introduced to me on VHS, and it was an original VHS. It wasn’t a special editions, and it was someone that had grew up with them and showed it to me, and I’d never seen them. I sat watching New Hope and I was, as many people say, I was completely blown away. And the very fact it was on VHS and the very fact that they were older films gave them a very real, grounded quality to them. That’s obviously what George did so well was to take away the polish, and make them feel grimy and dirty and lived in. You know, all the sets and the ships and everything had their own history. So almost seeing it on that format added to that. It felt very real to me. Obviously I knew it wasn’t real, but it felt very real and I think I just related… 

I mean, this is an in hindsight answer, because at the time I was a kid just enjoying lasers and spaceships and Chewie and the whole spectrum of it, but if I think back to why it really connected with me is because it was a story of a farm boy wanting to escape and join the rebellion and do something amazing with his life, and where I grew up, I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker as long as possible, but it was always a pipe dream. Where I grew up no one was a filmmaker and I didn’t know any filmmakers, so it was a interesting parallel that you could look at someone Luke Skywalker, who sort of came from nothing and became everything, and I think that resonated with me too. Albeit obviously at the time I wouldn’t have been able to intellectualize that, but now I see it.

LRM: Obviously I’ve seen the film, I love the film. Congratulations to your whole team and everybody who was involved in the film. I did not expect it- I’ve watched a million fan films, I started making fan films when I was a kid-

Phil: Oh, me too. Me too.

LRM: But this one, I did not expect it to grab a hold of me emotionally, and so congratulations for that.

Phil: Thank you. And that means so much that when you can connect with audiences emotionally, because, look, obviously a lot of fan films, and I love fan films. I think what Lucasfilm allows/turns a blind eye to, however you want to describe it, the fact that they’re not taken down and shut down, it’s inspirational filmmakers because we can give something back to this community and dabble in these worlds, and whether you try and be canon and fill a part of the story that you need to, or whether you want to do something completely original, which is what I try to do, it’s a very hard thing to connect emotionally with an audience, especially in a short space of time, so it means a heck of a lot, because for me, as a director, I’m not a visual effects artist.

Yes, you can have amazing effects and amazing fight choreography, you can have very showy fan films, of which there are some brilliant, amazing ones that have got a gazillion views, but I really wanted to tell a story and make you go on this journey with these original characters and bring the mystery of, wait, how is this a Star Wars film but it’s set in 1944 on Earth during World War II? Like, this is crazy.

LRM: How did it come about? How did the idea start, speaking about concept?

Phil: Well, it really came from thinking about what those blue letters, that blue sentence at the start of every film means: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” If you really think about what George is saying, he’s kind of saying based on a true story. 

I’ve always been fascinated by some of the crossovers, like the fun of… And it is fun between Spielberg and Lucas, but if you think about it in a kind of canon way, when you have E.T. in the senate and in Indiana Jones you had R2 in kind of hieroglyphics, so there’s a fun kind of world there. I mean, there was even a comic at one point where I think Indiana Jones found the Millennium Falcon. It was kind of strange.

Because I wanted to make a fan film, but I wanted to make something that was original, and I didn’t want to make something that was trying to slot anywhere into the existing timeline, because I feel that you’re already fighting an uphill battle, because you either have actors that are sort of like the actors, or the voices aren’t quite right, or the music’s not quite right. The suspension of disbelief has to go quite far. So to do something in an original way and world, I wanted to use that and intrigue the audience into that, the mystery of how this is possibly Star Wars.

So I got thinking about that sentence and then thought, well hang on, if it did happen a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, that still means we’re part of it, in some way. And as we know from Exegol, there could be star destroyers all over the universe, #spoilers. Sorry. I’ll try deter any spoilers. But there could be-

LRM: It’s been too long now– If they haven’t seen it, they don’t care.

Phil: Well maybe there are ships and star destroyers and things buried on the planet that have been here for generations and generations, and what if we discovered them? What would that mean for the planet? And obviously I’m a big Star’s fan, but I love Indiana Jones, I love those kind of ambling Spielberg/Lucas film movies from the kind of ’80s, so I really wanted to make a film that was a celebration and a love letter to the films that I grew up loving within this kind of original story.

One of my all-time favorite fan films is a film called Lucas in Love, which is one of the originals, it was very early on, of which wonderfully the director of that reached out to me to congratulate me on the film, which meant a heck of a lot because I really loved that film, what he did as a filmmaker, and that was a very fun, original take on the origins of Star Wars. So I thought, “Well, no one’s been crazy enough to do a Indiana Jones/Star Wars crossover before,” maybe for good reason. And that’s kind of where it came from. That was sort of the origins of the idea, as it were.

LRM: So you got the concept, but everybody knows from script you’ve got to go to screen, so what do you think was the biggest challenges bringing something like this to life?

Phil: This took three years, over three years to make this film from finishing that draft, and the draft took… Once I’d nailed the concept, the draft came on quite quickly, but you kind of want to sit on it and play with it and work on it for awhile, so once that draft was done, it was probably a good three years to finishing the film, and for many, many different reasons. You know, financing. It’s a sort of privately funded, self-financed film. I basically spent every penny I have on it.

And not just me, my wonderful exec producer Gary Cowan of Velvet Film, who’s a very experienced commercials producer and a huge Star Wars fan, once I showed him the script all that time ago, and he just fell in love with it and said, “Let’s do this,” to which I thought he was insane, because it’s one thing me spending all this money on it, but another thing having someone else spend their hard-earned money on something that you’re not allowed to make money from. It’s kind of a crazy idea. But he’s a huge fan, he was there seeing it as a kid in the theaters, so it was much as a love of his as well. And I couldn’t have done it without him and his team. The production just…

LRM: The production quality is amazing.

Phil: Well, we shot in the Sahara Desert, there’s real tanks, there’s car chases, drones. We shooting in 50 degree heat at one point. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit (note: it’s 122 degrees Fahrenheit), but it’s hot, very hot. 

The whole thing felt like an uphill struggle, but I felt like we had something, and we all thought, look, if we manage to make half this film, it’ll be worth making. And I’m very happy to report that what I wrote is on the screen. And I wrote certain stuff not knowing how I was going to do it. Like how do you shoot a star destroyer rising out of a desert and killing a load of Nazis? Again, spoilers. Like, you write it because it’s fun and it’ll be fun to watch, but as a filmmaker you think, obviously on a limited budget, and if ILM was behind you, you’d go, “Oh, great. Let’s pre-visit, let’s do this whole thing, let’s figure this out.” But on our budget, you go, “Well, I’ll keep it in,” and at some point someone might say no, or we might say no to ourselves, but that never happened. It never happened. We had an amazing crew, an amazing team that were just pushing it, pushing it to the best it could be, because we really wanted to make something that was the quality that we wanted, like a theatrical film quality.

LRM: You did that for sure.

Phil: Thank you. Thank you. And obviously, as well, the visual effects team, the company called Flipbook, who are based in Manchester, and some of their work, well I say some, all of their work in the film was… I mean, I was blown away seeing it for the first time, because you have something in your head and you think, well… 

Obviously, I’ve worked with Flipbook before and I knew they were great, but you’re always like, well, audiences are spoilt seeing hundred million dollar movies with massive visual effects, and if you’re not close to that, then audiences don’t really understand. They just think it looks a bit naff. And that was my worry that this huge [scene] at the end of the film which, again, we’re talking about that emotional connection, if the visual effects take you away from the emotion, then it ruins the entire setup of the film and obviously the big twist of the film, which I won’t say in case people have not seen it. And they delivered. They just delivered. It was absolutely stunning the work they did, and I can take no credit for it apart from saying I’d quite like it like this and make it like this. That was about my involvement. Hats off to those guys.

LRM: Well, again, congratulations. You pulled it off in spades. Origins, one of the things that I really love about it, is that it’s kind of all about uncovering these truths, right, these ancient truths, and it’s kind of like that’s one of the themes in there, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. But did you, while making this, while writing this, did you uncover any truths that you might have not otherwise uncovered without working on this type of film?

Phil: About Star Wars or just in general?

LRM: Anything. Anything in general.

Phil: I mean, personal truths, yes. I know I can direct a car chase in 50 degree heat now. There’s a truth. I also know I can shoot a film when 90% of my crew goes down with sickness and somehow I can still manage to finish.

Being slightly glib, but I’m probably 14 years in directing professionally now, this is my career, and it’s funny to almost kind of come full circle and go back to… Because some of my first films are fan films. I made a Star Wars film, I made a Matrix film, I made an X-Files film. They’re all fan films, and now I’ve kind of betted everything on a fan film, it seems kind of funny to come back to them. But I couldn’t have made this film when you’re starting out.

People sometimes think short films are things people do to start, and they do, they’re amazing show cases and you’re not about to just go and shoot a feature from a standing star. Some people do, but I think usually people make shorts. But I felt like everything I’d done in the hundreds and hundreds of commercials and five features, I used every muscle making this film because it just zapped every ounce of filmmaking kind of brain I had to make it.

Obviously it’s not just me. Working with Gary and the team at Velvet and what they brought to the film in terms of the production and the logistics and allowing me to concentrate on directing the film while they fight all the fires and all the kind of issues and drama we had making it in the desert, I think we learnt a lot about ourselves in making the film and realized that sometimes the crazy ideas are the best ones. You write a film like this and it’s obviously fun on paper and people read it and go, “Oh this’ll be great,” and you think, “Well, it’d be crazy to make this. This is near impossible to make without a big, big studio behind you.” And persistence and sweat, blood, literal tears, you can achieve the impossible. 

Because it did feel impossible. I know it sounds like a complete cliché, but it felt impossible at times, and now to see the response people have had on YouTube and the industry critics that have reviewed it in a very positive way, it’s quite overwhelming actually. It is quite overwhelming. I’m sort of a month from release, but I’m sort of still taking it all in, I think, really.

LRM: Right. Well I’m curious. You have had this career now that you’ve made features, you’ve made shorts, you’ve made commercials, you’ve really done it all. What in your opinion would be the most important quality of a filmmaker, like the most important quality a filmmaker can have?

Phil: That is a very, very interesting question on the spot. I think passion for story or just passion for the craft will get you everywhere. I think that passion and enthusiasm, because that’s free, okay? No one can take that away from you.

I’ve had some huge knocks in my industry, in my career, and everyone likes to look at people’s Twitter and Instagram these days and go, “Oh, look, isn’t he doing well, or isn’t she doing amazingly, and he’s doing that,” and a lot of stuff. But what we don’t say and show are the failures, the disappointments, and of which I’ve had many and a few that came all at once a little while ago and I decided to not make films. I thought, right, I’m just going to shoot ads. Maybe the film dream isn’t going to happen for me, and that’s fine, but I need to accept it. 

But that passion and enthusiasm for film and story didn’t go away. It was like a little devil on my shoulder tapping me for awhile going, “Are you going to go and make something?” And that’s my Origins. I thought it’d scratch an itch. I’ll write something fun, I’ll write a film I would absolutely love to make, but that’s it, right? And then obviously as soon as you write it, you fall in love with it and here we are three and a half years later.

I think I’m the most passionate and excitable person in a room, especially when it comes to directing, and that can be anything. Directing a toilet roll commercial, doesn’t matter. That is infectious, and you need a team around you to make this. Filmmaking is obviously a massive team effort and you just end up being the guy or girl that makes the decisions, but there’s a whole team of people that are helping you push this massive, huge boulder up a hill, and if you’re the most excited and passionate person, then that’s going to be infectious for your crew and everyone involved. So I would say that, really, overall. 

It’s probably a cheat answer because then with that comes, if your love what you do then you’re going to want to find out everything you can about what you do, so then the knowledge, the kind of quest, the thirst for knowledge is very, very important. 

I learn something every day, every time I shoot something, even now, and I hope I never stop learning. It’s probably time to quit when you think I know everything, because nobody knows everything. Well, maybe Mr. Spielberg. So I’d say that’s my on-the-spot answer at the moment. 

LRM: With that I’ll ask you, I love both Star Wars and Indiana Jones. One of the major reasons why I love your film is because it has influences from both Lucasfilms’ big franchises. Do you have a preference, Star Wars over Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones over Star Wars? I know I like Indiana Jones more, but my best friend he likes Star Wars more, and likes Indiana Jones second. Where do you put them on the list?

Phil: That’s like asking me to pick between my children. Look, Star Wars, because of the world and the saga and the epicness, and again, maybe, as I say, that kind of story of Luke Skywalker and that kind of inspiration I had early on, I think Star Wars will always be slightly closer to my heart, but Indiana Jones is wonderful. They’re very different films. This is very hard to pick.

No, I would say Star Wars over Indiana Jones, but very slightly. And here’s the one I’ll give you for free. I’d probably put Jurassic Park over both of them.

LRM: I have a Jurassic Park T-shirt on right now as we speak.

Phil: Good choice. Jurassic Park is the one very vivid film I remember watching as a kid, jumping on my auntie’s knee in the cinema thinking how the hell are these creatures alive? Knowing that it wasn’t, but that really cued this whole idea. Something, a light bulb went on in my head. Because I saw Jurassic Park before Star Wars, before Indiana Jones. I saw that. But I was 10 years age, I think, when I saw it, in ’93, so then I became obsessed. I got my mom to buy me the annual, the making of stuff, because I was like, I knew it wasn’t real, but I wanted to know how they did it and how they tricked me into thinking it was real. It blew my mind, and that’s where it all began.

Then obviously from Jurassic Park, I was like, who is this “Spieleyberg” guy? What else had he done? And the obsession began. And Jurassic Park, I’d say I pretty much know most lines from Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I definitely know every frame of Jurassic Park.

Because I’ve watched that film so many times, and recently, actually, there’s a wonderful podcast, not to cross-promote, but there’s a great podcast called The Filmmakers Podcast. I actually did a little co-hosting stint on that and met David Koepp, who obviously wrote Jurassic Park, and I got him to sign my VHS copy from when I was a kid.

LRM: Do you like Jurassic World? Are you in to how they’ve handled the sequels?

Phil: I think Colin Trevorrow’s done a sterling job. I think I was very nervous watching Jurassic World, and it is a film that I had to come back to once I’d kind of calmed down. They’re different. It’s like when we talk about the sequel trilogy of Star Wars. It’s kind of like people, “Oh, this isn’t the original. This isn’t this, this isn’t that.” It’s like, yeah, because they’re not, because they’re new. Stop trying to hold them to something that you can’t compare to. You can’t compare a film made now for these audiences for kids now, because George Lucas, it’s a kid’s film. Compare that to how you felt watching it as a 12-year-old in ’77, like, come on, of course they’re different films. 

We all have opinions on what we would do differently, and we all have opinions on all this stuff, but what frustrates me is that people need to look at the intent of the filmmaker and see what they were trying to do with it and if they’ve achieved what they set out to do, and I think all films, all of them have done that.

So Jurassic World, I really enjoyed, obviously, Fallen Kingdom. That felt like it was really going to the darkness of Jurassic Park, the stuff that scared me as a kid. There’s something very gothic and interesting about that, so I’m excited to see what happens next with Trevorrow back in the chair for the third one.

LRM: Me too. Do you like The Last Jedi, or?

Phil: Yeah, I think it’s the best film of the trilogy.

LRM: Okay.

Phil: Is this where this conversation becomes a huge…?

LRM: No, it’s become like a thing we ask everybody.

Phil: It’s up there. I’d probably put it in my top three.

LRM: Wow.

Phil: Because, well, for many of the reasons that I’ve just described. But you know what, I watched that film and I was surprised and blown away and shocked and just absolutely… I just found the whole film completely unpredictable, and you know what, isn’t that what we want from film? 

There are people out there that didn’t like Force Awakens because it recycled certain ideas for New Hope, but then, again, look at the filmmaker’s intent. That was the point. You don’t spend billions of dollars buying a franchise and then make a film that doesn’t honor and appease-

LRM: Written by Reddit. We don’t make a film that’s written by Reddit.

Phil: Oh, God. Can you imagine? So I love what Rian did. Do I think it’s a perfect film? No. What film is? But I was a lover, well, was, am a lover from the very beginning. It’s very interesting to see certain people that were very vocal about it. They hated it coming back going, “Oh, actually, maybe it was interesting.” You think, “Oh, God. Come on.”

LRM: I think in 10 or 15 years they’ll say, “Oh yeah, that was the best one.” They did that to the original trilogy, I think, didn’t they?

Phil: Yeah, and people hated Empire Strikes Back. You know, people forget this thing. There’s never been a Star Wars film that hasn’t divided people, and isn’t that the power of it? They’re not films anymore, they feel like they’re culture, they’re history, they’re part of our being, especially big, huge Star Wars fans. They’re huge parts of our lives, so of course people get passionate about them and people are not going to like them or people are going to love them. And who wants to make a film where people just go, “Meh.”

LRM: “I guess that was okay.”

Phil: Yeah, you go, “Forgettable.” You think, well, like, come on, they’re Star Wars. And I admire what Rian wrote, and I admire what Kathleen Kennedy and everyone pushed forward for Last Jedi. I’m very disappointed in whole sections of fandom for the reaction to it, and I feel that those that may have gone on to not like Rise Of Skywalker, on their own heads, I think.

I mean, it’s very hard to know the inner workings, whether Rise Of Skywalker was written as a reaction to The Last Jedi fallout and all this kind of stuff, or whether again that’s just Reddit doing its thing, it’s very best to sound self-important. But we should just be happy that it’s back.

Like Solo [A Star Wars Story], for example. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I thought it was a great film. And, my God, I wish that continues. Maybe it will on Disney+. But it’s like, let’s not moan. There was a whole time where Star Wars did not exist for awhile and all we had were the originals and the prequels and that was it, and the future looked empty, so we should be grateful.

But again, I go into all of these films like a kid, and I love films that make me feel… Especially as a filmmaker, I sit and watch films, and you’re probably the same. You watch films and that filmmaker brain is active, and you’re like, “Ooh, that’s interesting shot. Oh, I like the way he did that. Ooh, I’m not sure about that cut.” 

So for a film to shut down that part of your brain and make you gasp, cry, smile, clap and go along with the ride, I think that’s a wonderful feeling, and especially in today’s day and age I think we need some good escapism from the dark times befalling us.

LRM: What is next for you, Mr. Phil Hawkins?

Phil: Well, I’m basically been focusing on this film and trying to get it made. What has been wonderful, I’ve had a really amazing reaction from industry from the short. I’ve had some really quite amazing producers get in touch and just say how much they loved it and maybe we should go for a coffee and have a chat, so I’ve got a whole stream of meetings lined up in the next few weeks now, actually, so that’s all very, very exciting.

A lot of it I don’t think would’ve come about had I not made this film. I made it as a fan and something that, as I say, after those knocks, kind of was a bit of a rebirth in a way, so very open. Obviously there’s a few things I’ve written and there’s a few things I’m also developing, but I’d love to go on and make a film like this, but maybe not with my own money and maybe a few more cents. So what we can do. So who knows? The future’s fun and we’ll see what happens.

LRM: Do you have any parting wisdom for us today?

Phil: When I started out making film, before I did it as a job, me and my mates kind of had this motto. It said, “Don’t make excuses, make films.” Sounds a bit cheesy, but everyone’s going to have excuse not to make something, and we’re talking back then. I mean, we couldn’t even afford to buy a video camera. I had to borrow one from a friend’s friend, and you can now make a film. You have your phone, which everyone says, but it’s very, very true. 

But Origins is an example of following that dream, kind of going out there and making the film that people say that’s impossible, and finding a way to do it. Especially if you’re so passionate about something, a story, an idea, a concept, anything, if you have that feeling that it’s not going away, then that’s an instinct you should follow. So go make it. Go write it, go make it, because you never know who will see it and what will come of it. So yes, go, go, go.

I appreciate the support, and anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I really hope you enjoy it, because it’s been a lot of passion and hard work. Lucasfilm are never going to do a crossover, so we’ve done it for you.

Well, there you have it. Hope that all inspires you hopeful filmmakers this week. Star Wars Origins is out now and you can view it in the player below.

As always, we love to hear from you, so sound off your opinions below, and stay tuned for more exclusives down the road. 

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