Kurtz Frausun and Scott Alan Wilcox are chatting in a corner of Glass Half Full, the bar inside the Alamo Drafthouse, on yet another night of expected hail and thunderstorms in North Texas. Only a few weeks prior, on May 4, a five-minute short film they made called The Balance in Blood was premiered on a big screen at the theater. They submitted the fan film, which Wilcox produced and Frausun directed, to a competition — and not just any competition. They submitted it to the Star Wars Fan Film Awards put on by LucasFilm.
The Balance in Blood, which centers on stormtroopers and rebels, is a different kind of story from Star Wars, but it's told in the world most people are familiar with from George Lucas's movies, TV shows, books and video games. Frausun and Wilcox say they are very different people, which helped them to make a film that could stand out among the many other fan-directed short films it's up against.
Wilcox, who was born and raised in the Dallas area, saw the first Star Wars movie in 1977 when he was seven years old."It was like visual crack," Wilcox says. "My life is pre-Star Wars and post-Star Wars. That was a defining moment. It gave me a direction because I was a little punk kid." Wilcox admired the way the film handled death and mysticism with intelligence and humor, and Wilcox has remained a huge Star Wars fan ever since.
Frausun was born in Connecticut and moved to the DFW area to go to school. He loved living here, painting, playing in bands and doing extreme performance art, and Star Wars was not something he cared about. "I hated Star Wars for the longest time," Frausun says. "I was watching it and I'm like, 'I get it. You took Joseph Campbell, you were inspired by Kurosawa and Seven Samurai, you threw all this stuff together with Shaolin monks, you packaged it and sold it for a billion dollars.'"
But when Wilcox came into his life through mutual friends, Frausun changed his mind about the series. Before then, he was inspired by underground experimental films from Russia and French new wave. Frausun considers himself a Star Wars fan now, and cites the recent The Force Awakens as his favorite so far.
This helps explain why The Balance in Blood is roughly set in the time around Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. It's more of a war film that explores people's convictions in what they believe in, whether it's the Rebel Alliance or the Empire. "He told me from day one, 'No Jedis.' I'm like, 'OK,'" Frausun says, smiling, as he describes what it was like to work with Wilcox. "This is a story we are trying to tell," Wilcox says. "We simply used Star Wars as the vehicle to tell it."
Both love a lot of the same books and love World War II history, so they collaborated on making The Balance in Blood within the guidelines LucasFilm set out for the competition. In order to make it for the PG/PG-13 audience, they had to scale back the intensity of the battle between stormtroopers and rebels, but they were able to fit in three headshot kills. "This is a war film," Wilcox says. "War is unending. It's suffering on both sides, regardless of the side you choose to be on."
To qualify for consideration in the competition, they had to use music and sound effects provided by LucasFilm, which was helpful in terms of editing the film into a tight five-minute story. "What I've learned is that it's a very challenging balance to get this visually correct and auditorally correct to play together," Wilcox says.
The stormtroopers and rebels in the film are played by members of the cosplaying groups 501st Legion and The Rebel Legion, as well as the filmmakers' friends. To help propel the story, an older local actor was cast to tell a young child the story of the battle. Filming took place south of Dallas over the course of 16 hours, on a large piece of land owned by one of the actors.
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Filming was plagued by sporadic rain showers, but the whole crew and cast powered through. Frausun and Wilcox spent $500 in the final arduous months of editing to finish the film by the April 24 deadline. And in addition to the screening at the Drafthouse on May 4 — aka "May the Fourth Be With You," now considered a holiday for Star Wars fans — there will be a screening at the Dallas Fan Expo in June.
In early June, the top 25 films will be unveiled for fans to pick which ones are the best. Awards will be given based on seven categories, including filmmaker select, best animation, best non-fiction, spirit of fandom, best comedy, best visual effects and audience choice.
The duo is simply happy to have completed and submitted the film — they don't think the effort will be wasted if they don't get picked. "It would be really neat if we got to be one of the 25," Wilcox says. "I'm not really too worried about it. I'm not thinking or sweating it. Because it's a privilege to submit a fan film to LucasFilm. I never thought I'd be a part of that."