DIY FILMMAKERS: KEVIN RUBIO’S “TROOPS”

A Stormtrooper glides across the desert of Tatooine on a speeder bike speaking to the camera in a Fargo-like accent, “…some people might call this the ass-end of space but I like the small town feeling you get here. I mean, we know everybody. Everybody. And I really feel like I’m making a difference.”

The Imperial Stormtrooper then makes a routine stop of some jawas on a report of some stolen droids. After a quick interrogation, the tiny jawas make a run for it. The Stormtroopers mercilessly blast them then destroy their sandcrawler. Just another day of hard work in the imperial forces! This hilarious scene is the beginning of “TROOPS,” a 10 minute, hi-8mm video short made for less than $2,000 that features amazing special effects courtesy of a home computer.

“TROOPS” is the brainchild of Kevin Rubio. Like Luke Skywalker, Kevin grew up on a small farm (yes, a farm) in Gilroy, California. The allure of working in films brought him to LA and he’s worked as everything from a PA to an AD. In 1995, Kevin co-produced a feature film called “Movies ’til Dawn,” with a college buddy. Currently, Kevin is head of the cel art department for the Fox Kids Network.

After seeing the Special Edition Trilogy, Kevin and his filmmaking buddies came up with a spoof idea–COPS with Stormtroopers! They went out and made the short in true DIY filmmaking style.

“TROOPS” works wonderfully. The short is especially funny when the Troops check on a domestic disturbance at the Lars residence. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are fighting again and their nephew Luke has run off. This tense, yet funny scene gives some deeper insight into exactly why those two ended up looking like burnt toast in the actual film.

Like the original “South Park” animated short, “TROOPS” has now become an underground hit with bootleg video copies making their way across the country. In fact, George Lucas himself viewed “TROOPS” in England during Episode 1 production. And George does not intend to sue! In fact, Kevin was actually invited to ILM to screen “TROOPS” for computer geeks hard at work on effects for the new trilogy. (Did he see anything? “Lots of cool stuff, but I signed a non-disclosure, so I can’t tell you a thing.”)

Kevin is now fielding major offers based on this little, 10-minute, underground video. Film Threat caught up with Kevin for a few quick questions.

How did the idea for Troops hit you?
The idea actually came from a couple of friends of mine, Steven Melching, Dave McDermott and David Hargrove. We had just seen “The Empire Strikes Back,” on the Fox lot, and one of them said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you crossed COPS with Star Wars?” That evening I went home and watched two episodes of COPS and had a first-draft script three days later.

How did you acquire the authentic Stormtrooper outfits?
This was actually the hardest part of the whole pre-production process. You can’t just walk into a costume rental place and get a SW Stormtrooper outfit. Every costume shop thought I meant “Nazi” Storm Trooper. Fortunately, I was able to hook up with five very talented artists from the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena. Each person made their own outfit from scratch.

Tell us about the production.
From start to finish; the production took six months. I felt I had to be as true as possible to both genres that I was parodying. When an audience watches a film, you are asking them to accept a set of rules and laws that apply to the particular universe that you are presenting to them. When the story is an original one, you can set the rules and parameters of that universe, As long as you don’t stray from what you’ve already established, the audience will go along for the ride. “Star Wars” and COPS not only had their own set of rules, but they are rules that are ingrained in our pop-culture. I knew that if we didn’t have the “Bad Boys” theme, or if the Stormtroopers didn’t look just right; we would fail no matter how funny, or not funny, the script was. One of the main problems that we had was that we were parodying not one, but two genres. It became a question of academics as to wether we parody COPS in the SW universe, or SW in the COPS universe. I chose the latter because I felt it allowed more opportunity for comedic moments.

The effects in “TROOPS” blow away things we even saw in “Jedi,” how was this achieved on video?
We did have about fifteen years of technological advancement in our favor-some of which probably came out of the people at ILM. These effects were done by two very talented guys: Shant Jordan and Patrick Perez. They were done on a home computer with a program called Lightwave, but a really, really, REALLY powerful, home computer.

So, the people who worked on it were pros?
Those of you who saw “TROOPS” may have said, “Well, they’re all industry professionals who had all this equipment.” True. But all of us are below the line “schmos” with our own set of limitations and problems. We couldn’t fly to Tunisia, so we went to Barstow. I couldn’t build a life size Sandcrawler, so we grabbed a model. What we all had was a love for what we do and the drive to make it work. Any film, no matter how big or small, comes with limitations and challenges (unless you’re James Cameron). The trick is in how you get around them. If you want to make a film, make one.

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Posted on September 23, 2002 in Interviews by
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