We had a chat with Mark Alex Vogt, the writer and director of Odyssey: A Star Wars Story.
Odyssey is a new and original Star Wars fan film that features a Rebel troop in the heart of a battlefield. With a perfect culmination of directing, writing and score, it’s no wonder Odyssey has received nothing but praise for its achievement. Today, we sat down with the director to take a look into Vogt’s passion for the franchise, as well as how this massive project came to be.
Odyssey: A Star Wars Story brings the franchise in a new direction with a fresh perspective by setting it directly in a battlefield. Obviously we had hints of this in Rogue One, but never something as immersive as this. How did this project come about?
This project came about when I was 19. I knew that I had always wanted to make a Star Wars fan-film. I’d been a fan for as long as I can remember and the one way I saw to give back to the fanbase in a way I knew how was to create this short. However, I knew that I was going to get to an age where I couldn’t take a massive amount of time off to make a non-profit piece of fan fiction. So it ended up being this situation where I knew my time was running out, but I really wanted to eventually make a WWII film. That’s when the idea came. I would practice with Odyssey.
I would develop more of what I wanted to see in Rogue One while trying to practice techniques that I wanted to use down the road. It was never meant to be a big thing, but once we wrote the script, things really started to grow. We knew we were no longer dealing with a glorified camera-test. We had a large scale war short on our hands. That’s where the influences from Band of Brothers, Platoon, and Saving Private Ryan came in.
What was it like being on set as a director for a film project under the Star Wars banner?
It was unreal. It may sound cliche, but honestly it was a childhood dream come true. We had spent so many months preparing the shoot. I had seen all of these pieces slowly come to life and when I stepped on set, it was an amazing feeling. I’ve said this before, but there’s really something special about putting a Stormtrooper in front of the lens.
The whole atmosphere on set changes. It’s almost like everyone has the same child-like wonder and happiness that the original films gave to us. It was an even better feeling knowing that we were bringing something like that to life for other people. We were on set for 7 days and I can honestly say that was the best time I’ve ever had making a film. So many people came together because we shared a genuine love and appreciation for something that inspired us.
Star Wars is such a universal pop-culture phenomenon. Was there a moment where you realised this project might’ve meant a lot, not just to you, but to a lot of people who grew up loving Star Wars?
Honestly, we didn’t really think about how people would react while we were making the film. I’m actually really glad we didn’t. We started by asking ourselves what would we want to see. We didn’t think about if that was going to be popular, or fan servicing, or divisive. We knew we wanted to make a film to give back to a community that we loved and the only way that would work is if we made something as fans ourselves. That allowed us to think of it from a completely isolated perspective that I think really helped the production.
You reach a point where you have to realize, yes it’s Star Wars, but at the end of the day you’re telling a story. You have to make a scene work. You have to finish your day. It was definitely done with a healthy amount of respect for the fandom, but we had to approach it the same way as any other short. I think a common problem with a lot of fan films is the overwhelming focus on fan service and pre-established characters. Yes, we want to see more from these characters, but a fan-film is a chance to put your spin on the story world.
I wanted to make something with new characters and a new plot that could stand on it’s own. I hoped that would make a longer lasting impression down the road.
Let’s talk a little bit about the film itself. A key feature of the film is a narration by a Rebel troop leader which is edited over an intense battle. It’s a really unique script decision and one that proved very moving towards the end. How did you come to that decision?
I always wanted to have one continuous thread throughout the film. On a behind the scenes note we re-wrote that narration countless times. We kept finding new things to reference or touch on. We were always playing with the idea of what was too subtle or not subtle enough. It was a difficult process as a writer because it ultimately had to come off as dialogue to Quinn in the ship, but it had to be really profound and not too preachy. The decision came from the fact that Quinn’s character is hearing everything he’s about to experience. The captain literally told him that he’s going to face a moment where he’ll have to make a choice and that his decision will affect him forever. As we watch Quinn go through this journey, we are in his head. We are hearing the words he was just recently told. We can disagree with his actions, but the voice is still acting as his conscience.
Odyssey is really just a story of making a choice that is going to cause a lot of loss, but you believe in it anyway. It’s about staying firm in your values and morals no matter what the cost. The narration was a great way to exercise these ideas throughout the film.
Odyssey: A Star Wars Story also features an original soundtrack composed by Jake Hull, which is definitely one of the biggest highlights of the film. It takes a lot of inspiration from Williams’ original score, and it’s truly astounding how it was able to capture the magic and emotion of the original films. Can you talk us through a bit of what that process was like?
Coming up with the musical sound of the film was one of my favorite aspects. It was in my head months before I even wrote the script. I knew what I wanted it to feel like, but I didn’t know what sound was capable of pulling that emotion from the audience. I always knew this wasn’t going to be a matter of cutting up different tracks from the iTunes library. We needed an original score. That’s where my collaboration with Jake really took off. He’s an immensely talented artist. He’s capable of hearing my “word vomit” on a Skype call and making something that completely captures my vision. We started working on the Odyssey Theme first. I wanted to have a few key notes that could resurface and give a sense of familiarity (even if we’re only going to see this characters for 10 minutes). That theme is the first and last thing you hear in the short.
We also wanted to put our own spin on some classic themes. If you listen closely in some scenes you can hear melodies from the Imperial March, but it’s never at the forefront. I compare this to the fact that the Star Wars aspects of the film are a major supporting fact, but they don’t form the backbone of the story. The conflict is universal, but just set in a world we love.
Jake was able to come up with some truly amazing cues for parts of the film I didn’t even know could have that much emotional weight. If you watch the scene of Quinn hacking in to the command console, the music is telling you what’s happening more than the visuals. Jake was just as much a storyteller in that scene as I was. We were also super lucky to record the french horns live in Oregon with several of Portland’s best players. I couldn’t be happier with how the film’s score turned out and I can’t wait to work with Jake again in the future!
Check out Mark’s brilliant short film below!
Onto something else, The Last Jedi. I’m sure you’ve gotten this a lot but I have to know. Did you love it or hate it?
Hahaha I’m glad you asked! I’ve gotten this question a few times and every time I love it. I really enjoyed the film. I saw it the day before US release in Hong Kong with a film crew on a project I was doing at the time. It was just the 20 of us in the theater and we were cheering and clapping at so many moments. It was probably one of the most pure and wholesome moments I’ve had as a fan.
Are there things I don’t like about the film? Absolutely. However, I admire Rian Johnson for taking risks and believing in his vision. That’s an incredibly stressful part of directing and I was thoroughly entertained by his entry in the saga. At the end of the day, it’s Star Wars. I have my favourites and my “not favourites”, but I love the franchise as a whole for how it inspires me.
Did your view on the film impact your project in anyway?
Not at all. If anything I was reinvigorated with passion to make it a reality. For better or worse, people were actually talking about Star Wars again. There were debates at parties, conversations in classrooms, and you’d hear it on the streets. It was a hot topic. I was ready to contribute my piece of the galaxy. We never made Odyssey with any negative intention towards Lucasfilm (even though our comment section tends to be a Last Jedi hate fest). We appreciate Star Wars for exactly what it is: A fun and entertaining ride that inspires us. It’s truly unfortunate that it’s caused so much negativity in the fan base. I hope as the years go on, people realize that we all can have our own take on a film, but it should never lead to harassment or this split in the community.
Lastly, I want to once again congratulate you for such an awesome achievement.
Thank you so much! We really appreciate the opportunity for this interview.
Can we expect any new projects for the future? Maybe something in the works for an official Star Wars project?
We have a crazy year ahead of us. Our next major project is the WWII film I was talking about earlier. It’s called PATHFINDER. We’ll be making a short this summer with the intention to market funds and distribution of a feature-length version. Unfortunately at this time there’s no plans for more Star Wars content. If the opportunity ever arose we would jump at the chance to do it again or hopefully do something official. We’re just incredibly grateful for the opportunity we had to play around in the sandbox world that is Star Wars. We’re so glad people enjoyed the film!