Knoxvillian's 'Star Wars' spoof an award contender

DVPH in the Press The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Friday, April 19, 2002
by Betsy Pickle

No question, the Force is strong in "Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline," but will it be strong enough to overcome the Jeid mind tricks of the competition?

That's the challenge Knoxvillian John Hudgens' "Star Wars" parody faces in the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, a contest taking place right now in a galaxy near, near at hand - Fourty-four films - culled from several hundered submissions, are vying for a number of prizes, including an audience award and the grand prize, the "George Lucas Selects Award", which will be determined by the "Star Wars" emperor himself.

"Fan filmmaking's been really popular on the 'net for quite a few years," says Hudgens. "Lucas has never actually done anything to officially endorse it before now."

With "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" arriving in theaters on May 17, a fan-film contest is a great way to focus the energies of the faithful. Voting ends Friday, April 26, and the winners will be announced Mat 5 on the website and at the Star Wars Celebration II, which takes place May 3-5 in Indianapolis.

Hudgens directs "Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline" from a script he wrote with Lowell Cunningham, creator of the comic book that inspired the 1997 film "Men in Black" - and the sequel, "Men in Black 2", due July 3. Night owl Cunningham hot on the concept while watching psychic-ad heavy late-night television.

"It struck me that there are a lot of lines that Darth Vader has that are like the psychic hotline," says Cunningham. "The thing about 'search your feelings' - John Edward could say that; Miss Cleo would say that."

Hudgens and Cunningham didn't get serious about making the short film until the contest was announced. Then they brainstormed over pizza and drew on their familiarity with the "Star Wars" saga to craft lines for the hotline callers that reference the geography and mythology of Lucas' universe. Hudgens met the musical team he would hire to create the soundtrack, MOB Studio, at the Valleyfest Independent Film Festival in March.

Hudgens, the senior promotions producer at WBXX, Channel 20, shot his cat - Robert "Vaderpainter" Bean of Georgia as Darth Vader, and locals Heather Harris as the announcer and Robert Alley and Denny Humbard as testimonial givers - against a blue screen, and then created his sets.

"The sets are all completely computer-generated," he says. As Vader stands on the bridge of his star destroyer, viewers can see through the "window" over his shoulder a variety of spacehips passing by, not all of them regulation "Star Wars" craft.

Hudgens provides the voice of Darth Vader, and Cunningham voices a skeptic phoning from the Death Star. Among the celebrities calling in are "Babylon 5" star Claudia Christian and filmmaker Mike Jittlov.

"I just recorded them straight off the phone," he says. "I didn't have to go to California or anything to record them... It saved me a step in processing."

Through the years, Hudgens has made contacts at numerous science fiction conventions, where he is renowned for crafting "The Empire Strikes Quack" (a marriage of "Star Wars" footage with the audio from the Daffy Duck cartoon "Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century") as well as promotional music videos for "Babylon 5." He originally got into "Star Wars" parodies to teach himself editing when he was a college student in the 1980s.

"You can't distribute them or make money off them or anything like that," he says. "But there's been a big community of people making 'Star Wars' parodies and short films ever since 'Hardware Wars' back in 1978."

Hudgens thinks he has a contender with "Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline." The contest entries range from 45 seconds to nearly 28 minutes in length, but at 4:59, Hudgens' film is in line with most of the competition.

"Obviously, we're shooting for the audience award, which is the one thing we can affect," he said, "and hopefully George Lucas will like it, so we're shooting for that award as well."

'Star Wars' parody runner-up among fans

The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Friday, May 10, 2002
by Betsy Pickle

"Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline", a "Star Wars" parody by Knoxvillian John Hudgens, was a runner-up in the Audience Award category in the Official "Star Wars" Fan Film Awards.

The Sci-Fi Channel will showcase the award winners in "The Star Wars Fan Film Awards," a special premiering at 8pm Sunday. Filmmaker Kevin Smith will host the show, which will feature clips from the new "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" as well as comments from George Lucas on the winners, announced at last weekend's Star Wars Celebration II in Indianapolis.

The contest's top prize, the George Lucas Selects Award, went to "Christmas Tauntauns," which won $3000 and a trophy. "Tauntauns" director Matt Bagshaw sported a "Darth Vader's Psychic Hotline" button during his appearance on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday.

Attendance at the three-day Celebration II reportedly reached 70,000 - 20,000 more than projected. Among the special guests was a certain young actor who plays Anakin Skywalker in "Episode II."

Encore presentations of "The Star Wars Fan Film Awards" will be at 12am and 11pm Monday, May 13; 8 and 11pm Friday, May 17; 10am Sunday May 19; 5pm Monday, May 20; and 12am Thursday, May 23. The winners may also be seem at

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