Interview: Mark Edlitz, Director of Jedi Junkies
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
In Jedi Junkies, director Mark Edlitz helps give viewers an inside look at the Star Wars fandom, which in part consists of some of the most passionate and dedicated fans in the world. We see a man who crafts personalized lightsabers for a living, the men behind the popular Chad Vader YouTube series, a Star Wars tribute band called AeroSith, and more.
Levitz has written for, E! and Bravo, and has written special material for ABC, CW and Fox. Edlitz has also worked as a personal assistant to David Mamet and Gary Sinise, and is an assistant to Susan Sarandon.
Primary Ignition recently corresponded with Edlitz via email to discuss the film’s development, his own views on Star Wars, and if there are any die hard fans that even weird him out.
1. Mark, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where you’re from, your background, etc.
Years ago I went to the New York University (NYU) film school. After that I’ve had a number of different jobs. Everything from working at the Museum of TV & Radio to working as a production assistant on Batman Forever. My job on Batman was to hold up a giant cardboard sheet so that paparazzi couldn’t take photos of Val Kilmer in his Bat-suit.
Then I made my first feature film. I wrote and directed an independent film called The Eden Myth — which starred Justin Kirk who you might know from the TV show Weeds.
2. How long have you been a Star Wars fan?
I’ve been a Star Wars fan since 1977 when my Grandma Jean took me to see it. I was about six years old when I first saw it so a lot of it went over my head. I spent the entire two years between Empire and Jedi endlessly debating if Vader really was Luke’s father.
3. What prompted the idea for Jedi Junkies? When did you begin to develop it?
I knew I wanted to make a movie but I didn’t want to have to get someone else’s permission to make it. I didn’t want to pitch the film to anyone. I didn’t want to seek someone’s approval. I decided I would make the film with my resources — even if they were somewhat limited. All I needed was a camera and a laptop to edit it. And I needed a subject matter that would hold my interest during the entire time it would take to shoot and edit the film. Because I’m a big Star Wars fan it seemed like a natural choice.
4. Can you generally describe the premise of the film for readers who aren’t familiar with it?
Jedi Junkies is a film about extreme Star Wars fans. What’s interesting about these fans is that they are not simply obsessed with Star Wars. They take their own interests, skills and passions and filter them through the Star Wars universe.
We interviewed the New York Jedi, who are a group of New Yorkers who practice their mad-lightsaber skills. There’s also Candy Keane (pictured in the front page image) who is a gorgeous cosplay model who dresses up in Leia’s metal bikini. She’s gotten so much attention doing it that she’s been able to make a career out of it. She now sells her own costumes. We also interviewed a guy named Bob Iancome who builds his own lightsabers. And then there’s Dennis Ward who built a life-size Millenium Falcon in his backyard. How cool is that? He built his own life-size space ship. You have to love that.
5. Obviously you can’t pull something like this off on your own. Who was there to help you?
I had a lot of help in making this film. A lot. Jerry Kolber produced it with me. I’ve known Jerry since my days at NYU. He’s the smartest, most loyal guy I know. Stephen J Walker was the editor. He spent countless hours culling through all the footage and bringing the film into focus. And Mark Grande is the executive producer was very instrumental in getting the film out there. They are sort of the core team. But there were many more people who made this possible including friends (like Adam Davis who wrote the movie Just Friends who is always there for moral support), family members and Star Wars fans. The Star Wars community was very supportive of the project. I owe big thanks to my fellow Jedi Junkies.
6. What sort of equipment did you have at your disposal? Were you working with any kind of budget?
We went to B&H Photo in NYC and bought a camera. We found a nice 3-chip camera that really didn’t cost a fortune. There was no real budget. We just took care of expenses as they came up.
7. Obviously the scope of a project like this is huge. When you were working on it, did it ever occur to you that you might be in over your head?
There were definitely times when I had moments of doubt, where I wondered if the film was going to work. If it would be entertaining and funny. But we just kept on working and working until we were very happy with the finished film. I’m proud to say that I don’t think we compromised.
8. You interview a lot of interesting folks in this documentary. We see Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan of Chad Vader fame, plus a few fans with some of the largest collections I’ve ever seen. How did you get ahold of these people, much less convince them to be part of Jedi Junkies? How did you sell them on the project?
Aaron and Matt were very kind to do an interview for the film. They were in that group of people who were supportive of the project. At first, we met most of the Star Wars fans through the social networks. MySpace, MeetUp, even Craigs List. When people became comfortable with us, they would tell us about other fans. We found out about Dennis Ward and his home made Millenium Falcon from a fan from Denmark! It’s interesting that people from diverse backgrounds find commonality and community through Star Wars.
9. You got to spend some time with Olivia Munn and Eduardo Sanchez as well. How did you make that happen?
I met Olivia through my day job, and I’m very grateful that she took the time to sit for an interview. I met Ed Sanchez, who directed The Blair Witch Project, through someone in Star Wars community. I was thrilled that he let us come to his house to interview him. He showed up his one-of-a-kind ”Blair Witch Yoda”.
10. Out of everyone you met, who had the most impressive collection?
Ed Sanchez has the most impressive collection. By far. What’s cool about his collection is that unlike many collectors he doesnt keep his toys in boxes. He takes them out and displays them in fun ways. He hangs his space ships from his ceiling. He does it in such a way that it looks like the ships are fighting each other. He has the collection that every Star Wars fan wants.
11. This movie was made over the course of about four years, correct? So was it a matter of working on it in intervals when certain opportunities or interviews would become available? Was there ever a point that you thought you wouldn’t get it done?
That’s right, four years. The first three months or so we actively researched the community. Trying to find the right, most dynamic people to talk to. Then, about two years of shooting. Then in the last period, we were editing. But even in the editing phase, we continued to shoot. Which is a great way to make a movie. Because you see how the project is coming along and you see what you need. And then you just go out and shoot it.
12. I mention in my review that the movie has no narrator, and not a lot of music. What that a matter of resources, or was it a creative choice?
We didn’t want a narrator commenting on the fans or their behavior. We wanted the people we profiled to tell their own stories. We figured we’d show their actions, provide a little context for then and then let the audience draw their own conclusions.
As far as the music, we tried to use the music selectively and for dramatic impact. So, when we show the NY Jedi training, we use fast-pace techno music to illustrate how dynmaic they can be. To convey how they feel about themselves in action.
There’s another moment in the film where we show what happened to the life-size Millenium Falcon which was built in Dennis Ward’s backyard. The ship was knocked over and destroyed by a bad storm. So they set the Falcon on fire. In that moment, we used dramtic music to underscore their loss. I know it might sound funny, but he put so much time and effort into building the ship, that you feel bad when it’s destroyed.
13. When was the film officially completed? What was it like to finally sit back and see what you’d worked so hard to create?
The film was completed in late May. The first time I saw it with an audience was at the cast and crew screening at NYU. My son sat on my lap and watched the movie with me. I’ll always remember that.
14. Do you have a favorite part of the movie? Was there a portion of it that was especially fun to make?
I have a lot of favorite parts. The section on slave Leias is pretty fun. I love Ed Sanchez’s very funny self-effacing comments about collecting. I also like when Michael Knight (who is covered in Star Wars tattoos) warns people about the dangers of collecting. He says, “Don’t start because if you do, you’ll never stop.” He also says that he collected all sorts of food, like cheese flavored Doritos which he doesn’t particularly like, simply because the manufacturers put Star Wars characters on the package.
We shot the making of a fan film and during production, their lights catch on fire. But that didn’t phase the filmmakers. They just kept on going. I get a kick out of the fans expressing themselves and their love for Star Wars and not caring what others say.
15. When meeting with the various fans, did you ever meet someone that was a little too out there, and made you think to yourself: “Okay, that’s somebody that takes it too far…”
There’s one fan we profiled who got rid of his bed to make room for his Star Wars toys. Thought that was a bit overboard. Another buys 20 different versions of the same space ships and keeps them in the box.
16. There’s not a huge amount of love out there for the prequels. What’s your take on how the three newer films turned out? Was Jar Jar really all that bad? Really?
My favorite movie of the prequels is Revenge of the Sith. As far as Jar Jar…I just met the actor who played Jar Jar. I gave him a copy of Jedi Junkies!
17. The film has been out since May. What’s the reception for it been like?
I am thrilled with the reaction so far. We’re getting really great reviews. We’ve gotten coverage and reviews from AOL News, Fox Radio, amNew York, Digital Movie Reviews, Geek Chic Daily, Geek Twins…anything with the word “geek” in the title. I really love it when a Star Wars fan says, “You get what it’s like to be a fan. You captured our passion and our sense of community.”
18. What would you like this film’s legacy to be?
Wow, I’d love this film to have a legacy. But for now I just hope people watch and enjoy it! If I had to answer I’d say we tried to show the entire unvarnished truth about fandom. The good, the bad and the ugly. But in a way that was authentic, fair and respectful.
19. Anything else you’d like to add?
People can go to JediJunkies.com to watch the trailer or get the film. The film is available on iTunes and Amazon. Only $2.99 to rent and $9.99 to own. Which is much cheaper than a visit to comic-con!