Fan Film Winner Profile: Michael McMahan — Incident At Toshi Station

StarWars.com Team | June 1, 2007

As the winner for the Best Short Subject Award for his film Incident At Toshi Station, for the Fan Movie Challenge presented by Lucasfilm and AtomFilms, filmmaker Michael McMahan gives fans a humorous glimpse of what it must be like to lose an AT-AT in a mall parking lot.

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

We had an old AT-AT toy in our kitchen above our fridge, and a couple months later an AT-AT action figure ended up on the other side of the room above some cabinets. I liked the idea of an action figure who wasn’t facing the AT-AT and appeared like he was looking for it in the parking lot. Eventually we started joking that he’s probably clicking his keys, listening for the horn. Combine all that with a group of guys who are already making comedic video shorts, and there you go.

Why did you decide to make a fan film? How has George Lucas and his films influence your work?

I made a Star Wars short because it’s something that my friends and I have always been huge fans of, and we tend to make fun of the things that we love. We have other shorts that have nothing to do with Star Wars, but are particularly proud of Incident At Toshi Station.

As for George influencing our work: I doubt we would have had the tools or the interest in a blue screen, stop-motion animation without him. Would anyone be using a blue screen?

What is your background in film? Did you make films as a youngster?

I studied drama at Kenyon College, ran a sketch comedy group called Beyond Therapy that did live shows there, and now I work as a production assistant at South Park Studios.

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

We hooked up a DV camera to my roommate’s four year old iMac, and shot using a program called Istopmotion. It lets you see the last five or six frames that you’ve shot at once on top of the newest shot. Our director, Tyler Soper, edited it in Final Cut Pro on his G5, and we added the sounds of the gravel in the parking lot by walking on fish tank stones in our garage.

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

Did you know you can edit an entire hand out of a shot, even if it’s better than the little person who’s supposed to take up the entire frame? Well, you can.

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

The principle people who made the film are Tyler Soper and Cesare Gagliardoni. All three of us crammed into a room that literally had no space to move in for four days to complete our shooting schedule. Tyler was the one who was able to do all the AfterEffects magic: the blinking lights on the AT-AT and the cars, the blue screen work and the flames. I had the funny idea, but he had the ability to make it actually happen. Cesare is the cowardly lion of the group: in that he has heart — actually a heart-shaped clock necklace that he wears at all times. He did his fair share of animation and calmed me and Tyler down when we were in our “can you make the action figure nod” fight. (The hours were long and that basement got really hot, with the lights and the computer all running and action figures have no necks, so they can’t nod. Deal with it, Tyler.)

Also thanks Mom, for sending us all the cars and for letting me be a total nerd! And thanks to Will, for pointing out the program to let us make the thing! It would have looked way worse if I had been forced to draw it by hand.

Do you have aspirations to make films as a career? Or is this simply a labor of love?

Aspirations, all the way. But to be honest we didn’t think this little guy looking for his ride was ever going to be noticed, much less by George Lucas himself!

Why do you think recognizing fan films is important?

Fan films always have something going for them. Some don’t have money, but make up for it with skill. Some are works of passion, and while they aren’t what you might want to see: someone out there is deeply thrilled that their perfect story was made with their favorite characters. Maybe someone wants to see Chewbacca playing professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs. Maybe that person is me.

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

Who do you have working on your TV show? Can I? Also thanks for The Empire Strikes Back. I owe you for that one, it was awesome.

Head over to starwars.atomfilms.com to watch all the
winning films.

Check back soon for more profiles on the winning filmmakers.

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