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interview conducting began 2/24/2003, finished after long delay 5/26/2003

Okay—basics. Name, age, location, favorite Star Wars movie.

I'm John Hudgens, currently 36, and working for the WB, based out of Knoxville, Tennessee. My favorite SW movie would have to be The Empire Strikes Back.

Let's talk about fan films. You've got so much experience with this stuff. Tell me what you think drives the desire to do them.

I think the most basic reason people want to make fan films is the desire to see oneself onscreen in that environment. As prevalent as the effect is in fanfilms, you gotta admit it's still very cool to see yourself apparently holding a real lightsaber…

You're active in all sorts of assorted sci-fi geekery. Why do you think there are far more Star Wars fan films made than other kinds?

Partly because Lucas isn't so anal about his fans as say, Paramount or DC Comics, both of whom have gone after fan films and fan Web sites…

Insert the Imperial March here.

Although there are some good "Trek" ones out there; I've been fond of Star Trek: The Pepsi Generation for years, and the people behind Starship Exeter just blew me away in their recreation of 1960's "Star Trek"… I think the other reason is that Star Wars doesn't necessarily depend on a lot of technology, like a Trek film… in the Trek formula, you'd need lots of similar costumes, lots of ship interiors, a major bridge set, stuff like that… SW you can get away with two guys in the woods beating the crap out of each other with lightsabers… or at least, you used to.

What was the last really good fan film you watched? Did it involve guys in the woods?

I really enjoyed Death Star Repairmen... glad to see somebody doing something different for a change...

And is Hollywood doing anything different for a change?

X2 and The Pianist both were great, but for different reasons... I was underwhelmed by The Matrix Reloaded.

Besides ones you've worked on (all eight million of them), what's your favorite fan film and why?

Probably Chris Hanel's The Formula… mainly because it's so true, not just about fanfilmmaking, but fandom in general. It's also got characters that people care about... I've been lucky to see it with large audiences several times, and it always manages to draw people in and keep them interested for the whole fifty minutes.

Aside from more of that wacky Hanel, what would you like to see in a fan film?

Something that's never been done before, or something done in a new light… which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Death Star Repairmen so much… not only was it something that hadn't really been done before (the only other fan film I can think of set on the Death Star was Trooper Clerks), but also presented familiar events from the film from a different perspective.

What would you NOT like to see in fan films?

Another film with people in the woods trying to beat the crap out of each other with lightsabers.

I'm just gonna stop asking this damn question.

Also fan films that basically tell the entire story in the opening crawl. There are a few where if you remove the crawl, you essentially know NOTHING about the story.

Fortunately Z-Team Productions never pulls that kind of crap on us. Let's talk about the Z-Team. I see on your Web site that it comes from high school, which I appreciate, as I've been using "Guy in his Basement" terminology since those good old days. So where'd the name come from?

Well, the original Z-Team was a group of friends that were all into the Mock UN stuff, debate societies, theater, and science fiction.

What, no football?

We picked the name Z-Team during some long Space Opera and Traveller RPG sessions. Later, I did a comic strip in college based of that gang, and that another incarnation of The Z-Team. It's a very handy name.

Another question I bet you're sick of--where'd the name "Fenn Shysa" come from?

Fenn Shysa was, according to the Marvel Comics SW continuity, another Mandalorian commando who fought alongside Boba Fett in the Clone Wars, but who did not go rogue like Fett afterwards.

Hmm. I didn't know that.

All the Z-Team fan films thus far have been "Star Wars combined with some other pop culture trend". Coincidence, or is this just the way you like to work?

Probably coincidence, for the most part… 2002 certainly seems that way, what with three SW parodies appearing on the net… but Crazy Watto was actually done back in 2000… and The Jedi Hunter happened completely by accident… I had no intention on doing another Star Wars parody right after Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline, but when Denny popped the idea, something just clicked, and it didn't hurt that everyone else latched on to the idea and jumped into the fray.

The next film I want to do is a film noir-ish detective comedy based on something one of the Z-Team gang wrote way back when. And there's a feature film script I've been developing with Robert Alley (the Alderaan testimonial in Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline and the Starfleet officer in The Jedi Hunter) for a few years that's got some definite possibilities… and Sandy Clark and I are quite definitely going to be doing a documentary together over the next year; we start shooting in Pittsburgh in June.

Are there rejected Z-Team fan film ideas that never saw the light of day?

Oh yeah… Denny's got close to 100 in his PDA… and there were gags that we cut from Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline and The Jedi Hunter… most were never filmed, but some were… there was a Speed Racer gag in The Jedi Hunter I wish I'd done, but just didn't have the time.

DVPH has been mentioned, and I recall Lowell Cunningham's name. Here I sort of geek out a bit, as I'm a huge fan of Men in Black.

How did you get involved with Lowell Cunningham? Given his involvement with your fan films, what do you think he'd think of a Men in Black fan film?

I've known Lowell since the mid-80s, back in the days of the local Doctor Who fan club, although we didn't really become good friends until the early 90s… so I knew him even before the original MIB comic book came out.

As for a MIB fanfilm, there's already sorta been one with Stars in Black, even if that on is more of a demo reel for that filmmaker. I know Lowell's seen that. I'm pretty sure he'd watch one, but he certainly wouldn't advocate one… we've been careful to stay away from any MIB-type gags in our films that he's been involved with… it's the same situation Lucasfilm faces with the fiction fanfilms… they can't be seen as endorsing them, or call their copyright into question… in Lowell's case, that'd be even more important, as he's kept the rights to the characters, not Columbia/Sony Pictures.

What got you into the professional media world, both in terms of interest in the work and in actually getting your foot in the door?

I started out as a journalism major in college, but soon got into video production due to a student-run production facility on campus in those days. I did a bunch of Star Wars and other SF-related music videos to teach myself editing, and after a while, I ended up with a co-op position doing corporate video for General Electric. I was friends with the local Fox affiliate's chief engineer through a local BBS, and he let me know one day they had an opening. I applied, and got it, and continued to do that while still working towards my broadcasting degree… I "met" Joe Straczynski on Genie during this time, and after I was laid off from Fox, he and his producer convinced me NOT to go to LA, but to finish my degree first. Later that summer he saw some of my music videos and offered to pay me to do one for Babylon 5. After that, I've been on a roll.

What is it like dealing with the paperwork and legalities for AtomFilms?

With Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline, it was an insane week, as I didn't get the film in until right at the deadline, so I had less time than most to get all the talent releases and paperwork filed, especially as I had to track down my celebrity cast… Most were easy, but there was a moment where I was really worried I wasn't going to be able to get hold of Claudia Christian again. Overall, though, it really wasn't THAT complicated… there was just extra stuff to file for copyright with the Library of Congress, music cue sheets, master and sync licenses for the music, stuff like that.

Until recently, I hadn't actually talked to the people at Atomfilms much… I had to get clearance from them to show DVPH at some film festivals right about the same time as they announced the second contest, so they were naturally asking whether I'd be submitting The Jedi Hunter, since DVPH did so well in the audience voting last time out.

What effect do you think AtomFilms' official legal recognition of fan films has done, or will do, to fan films as we know them?

As far as visibility, it's done wonders. Average people know about this stuff now… Heather, Robert, and Denny all still get stopped locally from time by people who saw them on TV in the special, and these are ordinary non-fandom people... It still drives people to my website… even though DVPH is older, and The Jedi Hunter is, in my humbole opinion, the better film, DVPH still generates more hits on my website than The Jedi Hunter does, based on the official connection… at least I hope that's the case… we'll see if that's true if The Jedi Hunter ends up in the 2003 Contest…

Having worked in the professional science fiction world, what do you think is the attitude of creators and artists toward fans who put their unique spin on media?

I think most of them get a kick out of it, if the product is good… I mean who cares if Troops was done by a bunch of fans or a bunch of professionals, so long as it's funny and entertaining?

As Luke would say, "I care".

Wait, no, I don't. Hence this article.

Although sometimes it's hard to judge if John—Fenn—is a professional or not. Professional fan filmmaker? Or industry professional who happens to do fan films? Or what?

Hey, whatever works. And it's nice to have someone who lends a little credibility and gravity to our nonsense.