Pringles’ “The Force For Fun” Contest: Jim vs. Vader

Justin Johnson | May 30, 2013

The challenge was daunting: Take two massive brands and merge them into one epic entertaining video.

Erik and I are both well-versed in the intense flavor held captive in a canister of Pringles, and were formed in our early years by the brilliance of the Star Wars universe. In fact, Erik’s first prop was an AT-AT walker built from shoe boxes he made when he was eight, and one of the first movies I made as a child was a recreation of the Battle of Hoth in the cold Wisconsin snow.

We were eager to take up the mission but knew the stakes were some of the highest we’d faced to date.

In our initial planning stages, looking over the wealth of concepts to work from on the Tongal site, we immediately gravitated towards “Saber the Moment.” Incredible how much information you can contain in a tweet-sized selection of text, but when we read it over it had all the hallmarks of what we love to do the most: an intense lightsaber battle (involving some measure of DIY special effects, no doubt) and the goofy comedy of one man’s imaginary conflict turned to public embarrassment.

Step one was to wrangle as many of our talented friends as we could: Jim, the fencing-trained master of stunts; Chris, the six-foot-seven filmmaker (who also happened to have just taken home one of the “Crash the Super Bowl” awards) to embody our Vader; Eric, the hilarious voice-actor turned unlikely action star in our friend’s “Car Jumper” web series; and our friend Matt, who is currently the go-to-guy for Darth Vader in new video games and commercials.

While Los Angeles is packed with countless benefits, when it comes to making films sometimes the things that would be easiest to come by anywhere else in the country can be the most difficult here. Take for instance, nabbing a great generic office location. After texting, calling, and pleading with all my contacts here, we were totally drawing a blank on location. Either our friends worked at some overly hip location (“Yeah, we have an office but there’s a full basketball court inside of it…”) or the only office locations available were hot commodities for legit Hollywood movie studios with far deeper pockets than us. Finally, we had to look outside the city, specifically about an hour south, to a great architectural firm owned by a friend of a friend. Once we pitched the concept, the owner was immediately on board, and my swiftly growing ulcer could take a momentary reprieve.

Location secured, we turned our focus to planning the whole thing as tightly as possible. We knew we’d only have a day to get everything we needed in the can, and with multiple gags, stunts, and special effect shots it wasn’t going to be easy. Erik took it upon himself to look over the schematic the location had sent along to us (there are serious perks to shooting at an architectural firm!), blow up the plans, and turn them into a miniature replica of the actual space.

The obvious choice at that point was to purchase as many Star Wars action figures as we could to populate this tiny world, and Erik couldn’t hide how giddy he was with every eBay auction won. Our tiny Skywalker (playing “Jim”) and our tiny Vader danced and dodged deep into the night until the moves were just right.

One element we knew we particularly wanted to nail was getting the look of our Vader just right. As I’m sure you, the readers of StarWars.com know, there are a multitude of Vader helmets on the market. Erik’s got a real obsessive attention to detail, and when you’re dealing with a universally known brand like Star Wars, you have to get it right. Every frame of Vader from every movie was looked over, and we made sure to get the closest costume that could be rented (which cost hundreds of dollars alone!).

A big part of the costume that threw us for a loop was the actual helmet. Darth Vader’s got a seriously huge head, y’all… And the helmet itself ends up sort of bowing outwards at the back. We looked at ordering other helmets to replace the one that came with our rental, but at the end of the day it was a handy chunk of gaffer tape that ended up fixing our issue, and our nearly seven-foot-tall Vader was ready for primetime.

We spent the week prior to the actual shoot deep in storyboarding and battle rehearsal with our main actors. It was particularly satisfying to have this much time dedicated to pre-production, and ensuring that everyone on board knew exactly what they had to do on the day.

I’m not a big fan of waking up before 9:00 a.m., so slamming my fist down on the alarm at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday wasn’t particularly the highlight of my week, but I knew the day would be full of fun, friends, and Force flips, so I could mentally overpower my urge to dip back into deep sleep.

Everyone arrived after a long drive to set at 7:00 a.m. and we got to it. Thankfully, the owners of our location lived a mere mile away, and from the sound of it, their kids served as an early morning alarm for them already.

The day went fast. Really fast. We got the end of the commercial done first (“Jim! Get back to work!”), and then moved onto Vader’s big opening sequence. If you say one thing about a Vader costume, it won’t be, “Yeah, it is super air conditioned in there,” especially when you’re swinging your way through a lightsaber battle. Chris is usually accustomed to a nice temperature-controlled 72 degree edit bay, so to stick the poor guy under several layers of plastic and cloth meant he was dripping with sweat. Add to that the fact he was currently on a juice cleanse and couldn’t enjoy our epic stash of Pringles, and you’ve got one serious trooper.

We were most worried about the specifics of the battle, since it’s one thing practicing in our small production office, and a totally different thing to actually swing metal sticks around in someone else’s space. I was pretty worried we’d end up smacking a computer to death, or busting a couple lights, so when the dust cleared and the area was undamaged I was pretty psyched.

There’s a certain magic to being able to play within a sandbox like the one that Star Wars provides, especially when you’re doing it with Lucasfilm’s actual blessing! Looking through the monitor, seeing a large and imposing Vader, office lights glistening off the top of his helmet, going through a choreographed lightsaber battle was something of a dream come true.

By the end of the long 12-plus hour day, we were exhausted, but glowing with accomplishment. There’s a lot packed into our 60 second video, but we hope you all take the time to appreciate it! Give it a watch, and if you have any further questions about the effects we pulled off or want some more info, leave a comment below and we’ll let ya know how we did it!”

Thanks to Pringles, Star Wars, and our amazing cast and crew, and here’s to hoping we take home the big prize!

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