How does the saying go? “If you like something, make a faithfully recreated DIY version of it with a lot of cardboard, a ton of friends, and a ton of ingenuity.” That’s not exactly an ancient proverb, but that’s basically the mantra Bryan Harley and his friends use when they put their own imperfect spin on some of the biggest movie franchises around.
They made waves last week when they dropped their own version of the trailer for The Force Awakens on their YouTube channel under the name Dumb Drum. We loved it so much that we decided to reach out to Harley and his fellow re-creator Roque Rodriguez to ask them how they made their ramshackle masterpiece.
Bryan Harley: It kind of all started when we saw the movie Be Kind Rewind back in 2008. That movie introduced this concept of “sweding” movies. It was kind of a big thing on the internet after that movie came out. I think the studio did a competition where people could swede their favorite movie. We didn’t participate in that, but we really dug the movie and thought it was a cool concept to turn into a film festival here, locally, in Fresno, CA. We don’t have a very big filmmaking community. We’re amateur filmmakers and we thought this might be a great way to introduce filmmaking in a basic way to our community and get something going here. You pick your favorite movie, you remake it in under five minutes or less, send it to us, and then we’ll show it at this film festival called Swede Fest that we do.
We started really small, 30 people showed up to the first event we did. Now it’s grown. We’ve had 15 of them — we do it twice a year — and around 500 people packed the local movie theater near Fresno just a couple weeks ago. We’ve been doing that for seven years now.
I feel like sweding has outlived the movie, at least on the internet.
BH: I mean definitely around the time of the movie Be Kind Rewind, but now we’re kind of the ones keeping it alive.
Roque Rodriguez: We still have to explain to people the concept and what it means.
Were you looking forward to when the actual full trailer for The Force Awakens was going to drop to do your version?
BH: Pretty much. There were rumors that the trailer would be coming out, so we were waiting. Then there it was on Monday Night Football.
RR: That night we started working on it.
BH: We watched it once as a fan, to take it in, then we started breaking it down.
What was the prep work like?
RR: We start by basically making a shot list. We watch the trailer over and over again and we count the shots. We then break them down and create a description for each shot. For the storyboards we just actually take shots from the trailer.
From there we break down what we’re doing that’s practical. It’s basically problem solving: How do you get the BB-8 to roll this way? How do we make it look funny? It’s a fine line between making it too good and making it look too crappy. We make it crappily clever.
BH: We don’t want to go too far on either side. We could spend months on this, but it’s supposed to be kind of crappy. We want to turn it around as fast as possible, so we don’t wait three months for people to forget about the trailer.
How cognizant are you of including a shot or a prop that’s too good for the sweded aesthetic? Are you conscious of wanting to keep that DIY aesthetic in there?
BH: It’s important to us to try to get the basic essence of a shot. So we look at the shot and ask what stands out to us about it. Is it how it’s composed? Is it how a certain element looks? So we just kind of break it down to those basic elements of what is this shot, what really makes it.
Of course it’s so detailed in the actual trailer with things going on in the deep background. There’s things you wouldn’t normally see in these split second shots that go by really quickly. We break it down to just the basic elements. It’s trying to be faithful but striking a balance between going too far.
Was there anything in particular with the Force Awakens trailer that was more difficult or easy than stuff you’ve sweded in the past?
BH: There was a lot of cardboard.
RR: What stood out to me was the hyperspace jump. That one, we were really trying to figure out how to make it look cool and still get it across, how much detail did we need to put into it.
It’s not just us. We have a whole team of people, and luckily we’re all just sitting around and figuring it out.
Did you nail the hyperspace shot on your first try?
BH: We went through a couple of failed concepts. We thought we could do it one way, but when you actually build it and try to execute it it wasn’t really working. On camera it didn’t look good. But we basically took a black piece of cardboard, punched a bunch of holes it in, got 20 different lengths of twine and tied those all to 20 different lengths of fishing line, and then we pulled the twine through the box to make that look of the stars stretching.
And then of course there was the hyperspace thing itself and the Falcon was flying through. That was just a rice paper lampshade from Ikea, which is kind of translucent, and we wrapped it in some christmas lights. We were having a hard time creating the lighting effect of the cardboard Millennium Falcon going through a tunnel, but eventually we took some LED flashlights and flashed them back and forth along the lengths of this lamp shade and it looked awesome. It took us hours to come to that — just running light across the lamp shade.
RR: We had a ton of crazy ideas trying to come to a solution.
BH: It was a lot of trial and error to get to the final project.
Another favorite effect of mine in the trailer is BB-8. How did you pull that off?
BH: We have a friend who’s a very adept mechanic. He owns a local automotive shop and he fiberglassed an exercise ball. He donated this exercise ball and fiberglassed it and so that kind of creates the body of BB-8. We spray painted it white and got all his markings on there. Then he created a kind of metal frame. So there’s kind of two points in which the metal frame attached from the side of the ball. Then there’s a mounting point behind the ball where we mount it to a skateboard. That allows the ball to spin while the skateboard moves. Then attached to that frame also is another piece of metal that comes up over the top where we attach the head. The challenge, of course, is to get the body to roll without the head moving. So this metal frame keeps the body rolling but the head static at the same time.
How long did the entire thing take to shoot?
BH: Well we both have day jobs, so that interferes. We were mainly working at night after we get home from work. It took probably three weeks of nights building all the props and the costumes and the set pieces, then coordinating friends of ours to play the different roles. We tried to break down the shot list also by which actors we need for which days. We come up with a whole production schedule just to be as organized as possible.
Do you guys play anyone in the trailer?
RR: I’m Poe Dameron and also Kylo Ren in a couple shots. I don’t really like to go in front of the camera, but we do sometimes just to make it easier.
BH: Our hands are in there a lot. Sometimes it takes like five different people just to hold the various elements in the shot.
What’s your personal favorite part of the trailer?
RR: I really like the tracking shot of Poe and Finn when they’re walking near the X-Wing. That cracked me up because it looked identical to me and it’s funny because our friends are in the background.
BH: That was a shot where we hoped to have a lot more extras in the background, but we just couldn’t get enough people, so we knew that when the camera point in this direction we needed x amount of background actors and then when the camera flips around the other direction, we need more extras back there.
So I told the three people we had to very quickly, when the camera pans to run from one side of the backyard to the other to try to be in both shots.
What trailer are you doing next?
RR: We’re trying to see if there’s a Civil War trailer coming out for Captain America.