Fan Film Winner Profile: Essence of the Force

As the winner for the Best Action Award with his film Essence of the Force for the Fan Movie Challenge presented by Lucasfilm and AtomFilms, Nevada-based filmmaker Pat Kerby discusses the challenges of making an impressive action film on a tight schedule when your Sith Lord has a day job.

What prompted you to make a Star Wars fan film? How has George Lucas and his films influence your work?

George Lucas’s films were a big inspiration to me. Once I decided I was going to be a filmmaker I paid close attention to what he did. I learned that good casting and a good story are very important. I admired his independent spirit of filmmaking, for the most part working outside of the Hollywood system. I hope he continues to work to revolutionize filmmaking. The distribution system needs revamping!

What is the backstory regarding your film? Where did you get your idea?

One day my wife asked me to do something and I told her that I’d try. She said, “There is no try, there is only do” — butchering the quote from Yoda. As I started to explain what Yoda actually said, it hit me that that phrase would be a great punch line for a Mountain Dew commercial. I pitched the idea to some friends, and we decided to do it. I had met Thomas Dupont, a brilliant swordsman who worked at the King Arthur’s Tournament show at Excalibur in Las Vegas at the time (he has since become the sword master on Pirates of the Caribbean, and your very own Indiana Jones 4), and had been wanting to work with him. He loved the idea, and after that everything just fell together. The Las Vegas filmmaking community came together to support the project, and after a month or two of pre production, three nights of shooting, and about six months of post (between regular jobs), we had a product that was a nice demo for myself, Thomas, and the whole Vegas filmmaking community.

What is your background in film? Did you both make films as youngsters?

Someone owed my dad some money, and gave him a Super 8 movie camera. It sat in the closet for a year or so before my brother and I gathered some friends and went out to make a film. We had a lot of fun, but it didn’t really click for me until we got the film back and I edited it together. That was the summer of 1980. I separate my life into the time before that day, and the time since. From the first time I saw that silly film edited, I knew I was going to be a filmmaker. My brother and some close friends set out to learn the craft. You can see an early film “Red Rock Canyon”, and our old stunt and special effects demo on Since then I’ve learned almost every aspect of Motion Picture Production. I have worked professionally as a producer, director, stunt, and special effects coordinator, cameraman, director of photography, jib operator, and editor.

What are some of the technical aspects of your film? What did you shoot and edit with?

We shot on 16mm film, using an Arri SR II, an Eclair NPR, and a couple of Bolex cameras for the slomo stuff. We had a Steadycam operated by Lynn Nicholson, the inventor of the Steadycam Alien) and a Jimmy Jjib triangle operated by me as camera support. We had a 10-ton grip and lighting truck from J.R. Lighting in Vegas, and had the best SFX makeup person in town — Ron Wild. We transferred to DigiBeta, stripped 3-2 pulldown and made Targa frames of the whole film. SFX post was done on Aftereffects, Combustion, and Lightwave 3-D. Audio post was done on Vegas Video on my home computer, and laid back in to the DigiBeta master.

What were some of the challenges and surprised that happened to you as you were creating your movie?

Nights in May in Las Vegas are only eight hours long. This was a challenge, and on our first day, the set painter got lost and didn’t arrive on set until right before dark, so we started a very tight schedule several hours late. Our Sith Lord was working the Tournament of Kings show and couldn’t get to set until midnight each night, so we had to schedule around him. In post, the guy who had volunteered to do the sound design ended up getting a good gig and had to bail on us. I ended up doing it on Vegas Video myself A similar thing happened with the visual effects team, although they got us off to a good start, Bart Anderson came in and was instrumental in finishing the film.

Who were all the principle people in helping get the film made? Who would you like to thank?

I’d start my Production Designer, Brad Hill, who was really the guy who pushed me to do it, and set the standard for the level of quality. Thomas Dupont, who coordinated the fights and starred in the film. Mary Skrenes from JR lighting, Lynn Nicholson, who put up with me mounting the Eclair NPR sewing machine on his state of the art Steadycam,. My wife Liz Kerby, who really inspired the idea in the first place. Chuck Bejarano, who did the 3-D animation sequences as well as a multitude of other tasks, and Bart Anderson, who came in late and really salvaged the aftereffects work on the project. And finally Frank Klepacki, who did a great job on the original score. There is more — oops, they are starting to play me off at the Academy Awards!

Why do you think recognizing fan films is important?

Fan films keep the Star Wars legacy going. George Lucas created an entire universe of “what if” possibilities. The imagination and creativity of Star Wars fans is quite impressive. No one wants to see it come to an end.

If you could meet George Lucas, what would you say?

There is a lot to say. I’d thank him for always pushing the technological art of filmmaking. He has stayed on the bleeding edge for many years, and many of the visual tools we enjoy today are because of his visions. I’d like to ask him what is next for him, and I would ask him who I should contact about pitching a script to him about my idea on how to save the world.

Head over to to watch all the winning films.

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