Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

The Oral History of 'Fanboys,' a Love Letter to 'Star Wars' Obliterated By the Dark Side of Hollywood

"We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life." -- C-3PO, Star Wars (1977)

Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg's prestige panoply of fanboy lore, represents the final suck of a two-decades-old everlasting gobstopper for author Ernest Cline, who turned his life as an Amblin-and-Atari-bred suburban dork into a commercial pop empire. But the adaptation of the best-selling novel isn't Cline's first foray into motion pictures. That would be Fanboys -- a movie some adore, most have forgotten, left its creators with a mild case of PTSD, and represents the tipping point for when nerd culture was no longer niche.

Cline's pitch for Fanboys was simple: A group of geeks (played by Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, and Sam Huntington) are counting down the seconds until the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace when they learn that their pal (Chris Marquette) has terminal cancer. To make a dream come true, the gang drives cross-country to break into the Skywalker Ranch and steal an early cut of the film. The journey mirrors the beats of the original Star Wars in (mostly) clever ways, the dialogue is heavily salted with deep-cut nods to popular franchises, Rush fills the soundtrack, Seth Rogen appears in three different supporting roles, and a number of I'm-not-worthy icons pop up in cameos -- the movie was pure dweeb catnip.

Fanboys -- shot in 2006 and ultimately released in February 6, 2009 -- is a period film set in 1998 during the height of Star Wars prequel hysteria. The independent comedy has humble origins very specific to its making: it was a concept nurtured on Web 1.0 movie sites (Ain't It Cool News, primarily) where commenters, many first drawn by initial reports of a Star Wars prequel, congregated to debate and discuss the latest in movie news. By the time Fanboys actually got made, this would have been something of a victory lap for that style of now no-longer-prevalent geeky outlet. "Would have been" because, while the movie did hit theaters, its entrance into the marketplace was more of a Jawa-stunned R2-D2 toppling over with a thud than Han swooping in with the Millennium Falcon to aid Luke during the Battle of Yavin trench run.

The curse of actual fanboy anticipation meant Fanboys’ turbulent production was scrutinized every step of the way. The moneymen didn’t trust the filmmakers. Square peg scenes were irresponsibly shoved into round holes. Big names like Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Will Forte, and others were flown in at the last minute. Reshoots, a post-production battle, and distribution delays meant missing Star Wars’ 30th anniversary. All of this was at the behest of one of the few men more repulsive than General Grievous: Harvey Weinstein.

"The making of this movie was almost unnecessarily public," director Kyle Newman tells Thrillist.

Fanboys was a deal baptized in (literal) fire, an ineffective attempt by a perplexed Hollywood mogul cash-in on a diverse, passionate spectrum one might call "fandom." By the time this minimized release happened, the movie was an afterthought. Iron Man and The Dark Knight hit the summer before, and the comic-book movie juggernaut was in ascendance. Why look back when you could look ahead?

But before we get to the moment Harvey Weinstein was publicly geek-shamed by the Chinese Government, Fanboys was just another independent film. And before that, an idea from Ernie Cline, a dreamer who survived his twenties in Ohio by clinging to "nerd culture."

The cast of Fanboys, L to R: Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Sam Huntington, Dan Fogler, Chris Marquette | The Weinstein Company

Ernie Cline (writer): The late 1990s was the worst time of my life. My mother had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was ill for a little over a year. She knew she was going to die. That was the first time in my life watching somebody I loved slowly deteriorate and have time to put their affairs in order. After she passed away, I was a mess for a year. I put on 70 pounds and I was medicating with food and movies.

That was right when Lucasfilm announced that they were making more Star Warsthat first clip of George working on the script? StarWars.com would release videos that they were entering pre-production. It was like hearing that a new chapter of the Bible had just been discovered. It became my way to distract myself over losing my mom. I was working tech support and doing web design, so I was in front of the internet all day looking at prequel websites. Then one day it occurred to me: What if I was in my mom's position and I knew I was dying and wasn't going to live to see this movie?

As soon as I had the idea, it occurred to me that's the stupidest thought ever to pass through my head.

But I mentioned this to another Star Wars geek and he says "I think about that every day. I'm actually a much safer driver now, especially on the highway around big trucks. I don't want to miss Episode I!"

An energized Cline wanted to get into showbiz. So in 1996, he moved from Ohio to Austin, Texas, considering it a "half-measure." He immersed himself in the DIY filmmaking of Robert Rodriguez and the appreciating culture of the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain. He tried out stand-up comedy ("All of my humor was about superheroes and Underdog and old cartoons," he says). He got into the poetry slam scene. He also dug up an old screenplay: Fanboys.

He figured anyone could make a movie.

Ernie Cline: I was going to try to make Fanboys myself. I saved up, like, $20,000 and borrowed one of the first digital cameras that came out. Everything I knew about making movies came from listening to LaserDisc and DVD commentary tracks.

I bought a van for like $800 that did not run very well. It used to belong to some rock band in Austin. I had a big Rebel Alliance logo painted on the side and shot some footage.

That footage... is not good. But it's crazy because I have shots from this test footage that are identical to shots in the final movie. I'm like, "Oh, I don't know anything about makeup. I don't know anything about lighting. I don't really have a crew." But I think the thing that changed everything was that I wrote a part for [Ain't It Cool News founder] Harry Knowles to play himself in the script. [In the finished film, Ethan Suplee portrays Knowles in a pivotal cameo role.] I knew Harry, and what Harry knew about me then was that I was a huge Buckaroo Banzai fan, because he had read my Buckaroo Banzai fan script.

Before I moved to Austin, I was teaching myself to write screenplays, ordering them from Script City, before you could download them. Every time I would watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, it would end with me being pissed off because they promised a sequel at the end. I'm like, "They're never going to make that! That's clear!"

Out of geek compulsion, I said, "I'm going to write Buckaroo Banzai Against the Crime League," just to have the movie play out in my head. I did. That was my first screenplay and I wrote it in like a month and a half, just after work and on the weekends, and I had a blast. It poured out of me.

I put it on the internet, and that was when I discovered there were other Buckaroo Banzai fans, because they all started to email me. A lot of them thought it was real! When I went to Seattle for the National Poetry Slam, I went to a comic book shop there and they had a bunch of unproduced screenplays for sale, and there was Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League by me! I was like, "Wow. People really think that it's professional enough?"

The Weinstein Company

Without connections, Cline turned to one off his only industry connections: Harry Knowles, the head of the first-wave of outsider film internet geek critics (and whose career recently came under fire after a series of misconduct allegations).

Ernie Cline: I gave the Fanboys script to Harry and... he didn't read it. I kept asking him about it, and finally one night he was in the bathtub, he told me, and he sat there and read the whole thing. In the tub.

Then he went to the computer and wrote this glowing review of the script. He said it was the best piece of writing he had ever read about what it means to be a fan and to love cinema. I woke up the next day and my inbox was flooded.

Matt Perniciaro (producer): I first read about Fanboys on Ain’t It Cool News. I was still in college at the time and had interviewed Harry Knowles for my school paper, so I would check the site for news regularly. As a huge Star Wars, fan I remember thinking that I wish I could be a part of this somehow. I dropped out of college and moved to LA in 1999. I would search online to find out whatever happened to Fanboys.

In 2001, once I had a better understanding of the film business, I reached out to Harry and got Ernie’s contact information. I flew down to Austin and Ernie and I went to the original Alamo Drafthouse to watch a screening of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. We got to know each other over a couple of days and shook hands to work on the film together. A few months passed and I sent over my $500 option fee.

I met Kyle Newman in 2003 right after he wrapped a film called The Hollow and I had just wrapped my first film, Standing Still, through our mutual friend Daniel Spink. Dan actually acted in Fanboys years later as the Security Guard aka Six-Fingered Man... which was a scene that unfortunately didn’t make the final cut.

Kyle Newman (director): I was a student at NYU when I read Harry Knowles' script review. I was like, That sounds like a movie I would like to see. At that point, "fanboys" was not in the cultural vernacular. Comic-Con wasn't the bloated beast it is now. This is pre-Big Bang Theory, before all of these things kind of became mainstream again. You didn't see Star Wars referenced on the news.

Matt Perniciaro: Kyle had also always wondered what happened with Fanboys and as soon as I told him that I had optioned the rights, he was like, "I have to direct this film.”

Kyle Newman: I had written and directed several short films. I won the inaugural Coca-Cola Refreshing Filmmaker Award in 1998. I was introduced to Matt Perniciaro via Dan Spink, an actor who had a small part in [my first feature] The Hollow and brother of JC Spink. We immediately hit it off over all things Star Wars and fandom. Matt brought me on board, but my reps seemed to think it would never happen considering all the rights issues.

Matt Perniciaro: He brought Dan Pulick on to work on the rewrites with us.

Kyle Newman: Dan asked "why do you want me to work on this?" and I said "because you are not a Star Wars fan."

Dan Pulick (writer): Well, that’s not exactly true. I'm not a "fanboy," but I knew the three movies by heart. I am older than Kyle.  

Matt Perniciaro: Dan most definitely is not is a nerd. We felt like we needed another voice to tie it all together, that spirit of Ernie’s original draft but in this new larger structure and add in more comedy.  

Ernie Cline: By the time Kyle started reworking my screenplay I had already written a dozen drafts, and I'd also given up on any hope of the movie ever getting made, so I wasn't interested in working on it anymore. But Kyle and Matt Perniciaro still believed they could get it made, if they made the humor a bit more broad, so I was happy to let them do that.

Dan Pulick: Unofficially, I did 15 drafts. I was with it for years.

Matt Perniciaro: That’s when Adam Goldberg got involved. Adam, as pretty much everyone knows now, is just extremely funny. It was a great script. I think the final draft is a true reflection of all of the writer’s voices. It became one of the best-received scripts that year, top 10 on The Black List.

Adam F. Goldberg, creator of the current series The Goldbergs, declined multiple interview requests for this story.

Jay Baruchel (actor, Windows): There's no Fanboys without Ernie Cline of course. But the movie that we did is Adam Goldberg's. The story we did, the shitty indie version of the plot of the first Star Wars, that is entirely Adam's invention. Before that, it was 100 pages of IG-88 jokes.

Ernie Cline: I love Jay, but he's talking directly out of his ass. The title, the premise, all of the characters (including his character, Windows, which I named after the character in The Thing), and the entire plot were entirely my invention. Even the name of the town in Ohio that the fanboys live in, Shandal, is an anagram of my hometown, Ashland. From the very first draft, the plot was always intended to mirror the hero's journey in A New Hope. The van was always their Millennium Falcon. Skywalker Ranch was always the hidden fortress, like the Death Star. And the print of Episode I was always the MacGuffin, like the stolen Death Star plans.

I can see why Jay might still believe this crap. At the time, we were all just starting out in our careers and everyone was trying to take as much credit for the story and the movie as possible.

dinner table
The Weinstein Company

Matt Perniciaro: I met Evan Astrowsky at the American Film Market shortly after he had just done Cabin Fever. He brought me onto a film he was doing and I brought him on to work on Fanboys with me. He got hired as the VP of production at Trigger Street and when he started working there, they took over his ownership portion of projects that he had been involved with prior to joining the company, so that’s how they got involved in late summer of 2005.

Dana Brunetti (producer, then at Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions): My first thought was "how has this not been made?" Well, you can't make this without Lucas. We have to get his OK on it. Having [Spacey] make that call definitely got it moved through. George was aware of the script previous to us contacting him. We actually shot on the Skywalker Ranch. So, they were very supportive. This was a love letter to Star Wars.

Ernie Cline: I was told Kevin Spacey and George Lucas met in person on the set of Superman Returns down in Australia. They talked about Fanboys with Spacey in his Lex Luthor outfit.

Fanboys had a director, a script, and Lucasfilm's sign-off. Now they just needed a distributor.

Kyle Newman: Harvey Weinstein had respect for George Lucas and Star Wars -- at least on a business level. That much was tangible. He had respect for the power of the brand. We never discussed the mythos of the Star Wars franchise deeply. We never discussed anything deeply.

Dana Brunetti: I got a call from John Fogelman and Cassian Elwes at William Morris around midnight. Harvey Weinstein wants to have a call. I tried to reach the other producers, and I couldn't reach anybody at the time. There was another studio that wanted it, so Harvey was basically trying to close the deal and shut anybody else down. I remember he said to Cassian that if he was a bee, he would sting him.

During this call, Cassian set his house on fire. He knocked over a candle onto a curtain or something. There was all kinds of crazy shit happening when we were closing the deal. There was a lot of yelling by Harvey.

Kyle Newman: It was madness! The deal was being forced through that night by Harvey because other buyers were circling, there were going to be other offers. If Cassian hung up the phone, the deal was off. But his house was ablaze and fire trucks were arriving. It was an aggressive play, one that told the team that they were serious about making this film.

Ernie Cline:  I think because of Kevin Smith’s movies, Harvey was like, "We can make money on movies like this. We've done well."

Kyle Newman: We were all excited to be working with The Weinstein Company. It was a new venture for them post-Disney, and they were hot to make this movie. Harvey had a tremendous track record with all types of films, although less so with comedy.

Everything that we found out about Harvey in 2017 was shocking and appalling. My wife [Jaime King, who Newman met on the set of Fanboys] knew him for years, worked with both Miramax and TWC, including the Sin City films, never had an ill experience with him. (Bob was a different story.) But Harvey was often professionally abusive to others, so that forceful, aggressive behavior of abuse, in hindsight, seems very much in sync with his character.

The Weinstein Company

In early 2006, Newman, Perniciaro, and the cast set out to Albuquerque to shoot Fanboys.

Matt Perniciaro: I was 26 years old when we made the film. It was only the third film I had ever produced, and at the time, the largest film I had ever been a part of. We had a great crew in New Mexico and we were all-in to try and make it great.

Kyle Newman: It was very difficult to shoot in New Mexico [back then]. It’s supposed to be a road movie … and New Mexico has a very distinctive look. We were shooting around Kristen Bell’s schedule. She’d work five days on [Veronica Mars], fly in, then we'd have her for a day and a half ... then she would fly out.

Jay Baruchel: I had a scary introduction to Albuquerque. In an orgasm of poor planning, Fogler and I tried to buy weed... and ended up with an ounce of cocaine in our possession. The two of us, stood in the Applebee's parking lot at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon getting into a car with some whack job who hands us literally an ounce of cocaine and I'm like, uh, "What the fuck is this supposed to be?"

He's like, "you can sell it in eight balls, make twice your money." We put it down the toilet. It turned into a good litmus test for whoever showed up. When we would tell people that anecdote, and they would agree with our course of action, we knew we could chill with them. Whenever they'd be like, "you fucking got rid of it? What the fuck's the matter with you!!?"… we're probably not watching anime with you.

Ernie Cline: All the [memorabilia] you see in the movie was donated by fans, and all these 501st [Legion Star Wars fanclub] guys who lived in Albuquerque, ended up working on the movie. Some ended up becoming crew on Transformers and Breaking Bad and everything.

Dana Brunetti: I remember one day our line producer was like "Yeah, they sent a dolly grip today that was actually a caterer yesterday."

Kyle Newman: Carrie Fisher was a pleasure to work with. We drafted up three other scenes, three other alternates. And one of them involved kissing Chris Marquette. Immediately she says "that one!" She was like, "I gotta make out with this young guy, this is cool."

Dan Fogler (actor, "Hutch" Hutchinson): Carrie Fisher was a kooky lady. We made some eye contact, man. In-between takes, she was like, "Ah, my blood sugar's low," [then] she'd get on her back with her head propped up against the wall of the hospital floor, with Froot Loops on her chest, and she’d be eating Froot Loops off of her chest. That's Princess Leia right there.

Ernie Cline: That just blows my mind still, [to] think [that] Carrie Fisher's filmography is different because I wrote this Star Wars fan movie. Billy Dee Williams – I used to play with his action figure when I was a kid, and then he's in this movie!

Kyle Newman: We're staying at this hotel in New Mexico and Billy Dee flies in like, "You're gonna have dinner with Billy Dee tonight, and he's shooting tomorrow." Amazing. And then they're like, "Oh, we forgot to tell you, we scheduled a call with Carrie Fisher and the only time she can talk is right now." During the Billy Dee dinner!

So, I sit with Billy and we start talking and he's just about to get into Star Wars, and they're like, "You gotta go up and do the call." I slip out, I go up and have this amazing call with Carrie Fisher, she told me these great stories about her relationship with George, and how George had just come to her birthday party, and he brought her these Princess Leia ear buns. It was great.

Then I went back downstairs to the dinner, and Billy Dee is like, "and that's all I've got to say about Star Wars!" I was like, "you're kidding me!"

Ernie Cline: I got to be background the day William Shatner was there, still one of the coolest things that's ever happened. We were coming up with alt lines for them to say in the scene, and one of them made it in. When he was like "I'm William Shatner. I can get anything." Sam Huntington's character says, "What about Jeri Ryan's panties?" Shatner loved that joke.

Dan Fogler: They had Jay Baruchel and Seth Rogen and me, and also Adam Goldberg who was the writer at that juncture. They were very happy with us improvising. Everybody was encouraged to. I think that Kyle [suggested] like a secret that maybe [my character] Hutch hadn't gotten laid in a really long, long time. So he was just so horny, and just humping everything. They added the extra beats into that humping moment, where I'm humping Chris Marquette's feet. Then I think I started humping Baruchel. I started humping the van at one point. There was a lot of humping.

Jay Baruchel: There's not a lot of shit to do [in Albuquerque]. Once we went to the swap meet and bought airsoft rifles. Then we went to, I don't know, Dick's Sporting Goods or Walmart or something and bought like actual rifle scopes. We tacked out all of our shit.

Dana Brunetti: The guys went and bought a bunch of these airsoft guns and had battles inside the hotel. The hotel wasn't too keen on that.

Jay Baruchel: We basically took over all of the 10th floor of the airport fucking Hilton or whatever it was in Albuquerque. We put balaclavas around our faces and shit, and just like shot the fuck out of that floor and scared a lot of people.

The second time, in our infinite wisdom, we thought we were being more conscientious by not doing it in the fucking hotel floor hallway, so we took it outside to the parking lot of a fucking airport hotel at night time. Then I see Five-O coming, I'm the first fucking guy out the door. I said, "boys, Five-O!" and I ran, and like whoever didn't follow me, that's their problem, and I got up 14 floors and I looked out my window and I saw the cops pull up.

Dana Brunetti: The police responded as they would with people with guns at an airport. They put them all down on the ground.

Jay Baruchel: I think the quote the cop said to Fogler was, "You guys are lucky you're white."

The Weinstein Company

The post-production process was its own thrill; Lucasfilm even allowed the post-production team access to their sound effects library. With a completed film on their hands, the filmmakers and cast would tease the project at fan events like Star Wars Celebration IV and the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con.

Kyle Newman: The first screening in London, at the first European Star Wars Celebration was a filmmaker's dream. I flew over alone and showed my cut for over 1,000 fans. This was the first real litmus test, the core audience! I was about to unleash it into the wild in a room full of, potentially, the harshest critics.

I sat in the front row, slouching as low as possible even though I knew it was going well about five minutes in. Once the film ended, the audience went nuts. In fact, the movie received an over four-minute standing ovation, which I filmed and showed to Harvey, who was extremely pleased.

That screening became legendary, because fan reaction spread online and Star Wars fans immediately became excited for it. And protective of it. Sadly, [practically] no one else has ever seen that cut of the film.

Dana Brunetti:  Harvey Weinstein's exact words [after the first general audience test screenings] were "I haven't had an experience like that in a movie theater in a long time." He said, "We're putting this on 2,000 screens. This thing... we're going wide. You guys knocked it out of the park." I'll never forget it.

Kyle Newman:  He was high-fiving us, he was thanking us. We just tested on an 86, at a mall in New Jersey, on a movie that I felt was very niche.

Dana Brunetti: Then all hell broke loose.

Kyle Newman: [Luc Besson's animated fantasy film] Arthur and the Minimoys tested in the 90s. And they had some other Ice Cube movie that tested in the 90s. So then they were like, "We gotta get that number in the 90s."

Ernie Cline: This was [also] when The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out, and became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. Harvey's like, "this movie's kind of about 40-year-old virgins! Fanboys!" He started to try to change it, and Kyle wasn't having it.

Dana Brunetti: It was like negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine with Kyle and Harvey.

Kyle Newman: They owned it. I mean, they paid for it. I respect that's part of the filmmaking culture. I paint, I draw, and I own that stuff. But I made a commitment to the folks at Lucasfilm, to the Star Wars fan community and to my cast and crew about the tone of the film.

Ernie Cline: Weinstein pitched them the idea of taking out the whole plot of the dying friend. They strategically shot scenes that made it so the fanboys were just going on the trip because they wanted to see the movie early. No one's dying. They all are just going because they want to trespass. It robs the movie of its whole call to adventure, and the whole heart of the picture. We actually saw that cut of the movie. They screened that cut with the original cut two nights in a row in Reseda or something, and that was going to be the version that they would have released.

The Weinstein Company

To address the tonal shifts, Weinstein initiated a series of reshoots.

Kyle Newman: Reshoots started and I wasn't involved in all of that. They shot it while I was on my honeymoon. The ultimate F-you. Celebrating your new marriage and losing your film in the same week is a tremendous emotional roller coaster.

Dan Fogler: Marquette was our Obi-Wan, so he's got to kick it, and life goes on. But they're like, "No, no, it's too dark." So they gutted the whole dramatic storyline of the movie where Chris' character is dying. When you take that out we're just a bunch of reckless lunatics destroying property for no fucking reason. Every once in a while you see Marquette cough a little bit.

Jay Baruchel: "Cancer's too serious for a fun movie." They took it out and then they're like, "Oh well, now we don't have a movie that anyone gives a shit about."

Dana Brunetti: Somebody told Harvey that every time cancer came up, the movie was no longer funny. That started to fester and, basically, what we realized was that whoever Harvey talked to last, that's what he wanted the film to be. It went to whatever film was successful the previous weekend. I remember there was talk of him wanting to put McLovin in the film during the reshoots.

Kyle Newman: At one point they pitched you know, "Why don't we get Rogen back in fat suit as a woman and let him wrestle Fogler and Baruchel in Jell-O for car parts?" I said, "Well, we already had the car break down, does it make sense for the car to break down again just so we can do this?" I also was like, "I'm not gonna ask Seth if he will do this. He's played three characters already, and he did it as a favor. He did it for no money."

They're like, "Call him, call him, call him." I was like, "There's no way in hell I'm calling him, forget it."

They wanted an animal in the trailer. Not for the movie, but for the trailer. A monkey at the opening party was gonna drink a Heineken and vomit in Dan Fogler’s Stormtrooper helmet, and then Fogler put the helmet on his head. They wanted to make Jay Baruchel have a boner for the whole film. Because nothing grounds a film and sets up the emotion of the cancer subplot better than endless erections. At one point they wanted Harry Potter references in the movie, and I said, "Harry Potter didn't exist in 1998, so no."

Jay Baruchel: The first round of reshoots were directed by Scott Mosier, Kevin Smith's editor. There's a scene where like, Jay and Silent Bob try to proposition me in a washroom, or something? I was like, Kevin Smith is here as a favor and that's nice of him, but I hope he doesn't think it's a favor for me or something. I am not the ambassador of this fucking debacle.

Dana Brunetti: Apatow's producer [Shauna Robinson] ... [Harvey] called her in. We started getting cut out of the whole process.

Kyle Newman: I think because Apatow was prepping his movie about cancer [Funny People] they wanted a blank slate, or no cancer comedies before them, you know?

Dana Brunetti: I think they spent close to what our actual budget was to do the whole feature in less than a week. They brought in [Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds director] Steve Brill.

Ernie Cline: Steve Brill came on board and he didn't know who Boba Fett was.

Jay Baruchel: Not a huge fan of that guy. [Or the] whole dog and pony show of having Harvey Weinstein come to set. None of us wanted to be there but the one saving grace is that we all got to be there together. [One day] we were all going to go and eat in my room and hang out, and a production assistant comes up to me and said, “um, we'd really love it if you guys ate lunch up here today.” She said, “well, we really want it to look like we're working when [Harvey Weinstein] gets here.”

The entire set is robbed of its momentum, and we just wait for an hour as [Weinstein] fucking comes and sits down at the monitors, cranks the volume up as loud as he possibly can. Everyone's glad-handing. The God Emperor is here. And we're all just fucking sitting there and like, pack of cigarettes in one hand, comic book in the other, I'm like, “what the fuck are we doing, man?” And then it happened again the next day. The fucking Weinstein motorcade shows up and [Brill is] like, “OK, OK, let them through, let them through.” And this was when I finally called Brill out on it in front of everyone.

I go up to Brill, like, "You fucking pussy. We could have shot, we were on roll sound. We heard frame, you could have said fucking action." And also, Brill, don't dress like a 17-year-old, you know? You don't need anymore Oakley hoodies and fucking frosted tips, you [bleep].

Dan Fogler: I did not get along with Steve Brill very much at all. He and I bumped heads, and I will never work with him again. It was good to see everybody again, but here was this guy coming in who's like, "I'm here to save your movie." And it's like, "No, actually there's a lot of great stuff in there already, pal."

Jay Baruchel: It wasn’t a positive experience. Even if we got Michael Cimino to direct the reshoots, I’d be complaining. And I usually dress like a fucking drug addict, so who the fuck am I to comment on someone else’s style?

Ernie Cline: [Brill] later got into fights with fans online and my only response is to laugh out loud, especially when he challenged them to a trivia contest. But I don’t really blame Brill. He was just following orders from Vader.

Steve Brill declined several interview requests.

The Weinstein Company

Dan Pulick: What's funny, and it only hit me now, is that that little movie was one of the earliest moments of online protest really impacting someone in power. What irony that it was against Harvey, what with the walls that came tumbling down this fall?

Ernie Cline: I am confident he would have released [the cancer-free version] if it wasn't for "Stop Darth Weinstein," and people threatening to boycott their other movies.

Kyle Newman: I had nothing to do with it. I still have no clue how it started. The “Darth Weinstein” story made it to the front page of the Drudge Report.

Dana Brunetti: Harvey definitely didn't like "Stop Darth Weinstein" and the thing of Fat Darth Vader with his face and him cutting up the film with a lightsaber.

Kyle Newman: Harvey landed in China to discuss a deal about releasing [Wong Kar-wai's] My Blueberry Nights in China with the Chinese Cultural Minister and someone he was meeting with was wearing a Darth Weinstein shirt. No joke.

Ernie Cline: People were calling him Darth Weinstein on the street.

darth weinstein protest campaign

Dana Brunetti: The Weinstein email addresses somehow got out. And so, they started getting crazy emails. They couldn't use their Blackberries. The fans were bombing their emails, telling them what assholes they were. It was kinda funny when they said, "Yeah Brunetti, we're capturing all these emails and we're going to use them to market to them when we release the film.”

Kyle Newman: To be extremely honest, it agonized me to no end, seeing something I worked so hard on, a film that I was so proud of, being discussed. It was a manufactured crisis, derived from corporate overthinking coinciding with magnified and unnecessary media attention.

It did help get the film back in our hands, but living through it was a sad time for me.

Dana Brunetti: Harvey was like, "All right, I gotta fucking do something with this film and just be done with it".

Kyle Newman: Their test screenings weren't surpassing our cut. He uttered something like, "Fuck it. The nerds win."

Ernie Cline: Harvey finally got so sick of it, he called Kevin Spacey in 2008 and said, "Fine, you can have your little Star Wars movie back on one condition. You have to call me a Jedi Knight in the press."

"Harvey Weinstein is a real Jedi Knight for allowing this movie to come out with its original plot line," or something. You can find it online.

Dana Brunetti: [Harvey] wanted Kyle to write him a letter saying, like, how his experience was great. I was laughing. I'm like, "OK, Harvey." I'm like, "Is he serious?" I didn't realize until the end that he was fucking serious and he wanted his fucking letter from Kyle. And he said he wanted it to say, "and Harvey is a Jedi master!" I guess if the fans started up again then he could just be like, "Look, here's a letter I have from Kyle Newman that says I'm a Jedi master."

I was never in a situation like this before or since of being put in between two more stubborn people. The last request Harvey had he was like, "OK, can you turn the internet off now?" I was like, "Yeah, Harvey I'll turn the internet off."

Kyle Newman:  I am a passionate person. And a passionate filmmaker. I had been living and breathing this film for years before we ever set foot on a set. It took a tremendous effort to get it going. Fanboys was a love letter to Star Wars and nothing with my name on it was going to ridicule fans of the franchise.

Ernie Cline: Once Harvey said yes, then Kyle was given something like 48 hours to kind of recut the movie and change some stuff back, but they wouldn't let him change everything back.

Kyle Newman: I was happy to use some of the new footage where applicable. Some stuff was bigger and better! But there's stuff I would cut out still. There's banter, and they talk like guys trapped in a van. Some of that stuff's fine but, yeah, there's one or two lines I still would cut.

Ernie Cline: The “Mantina” [a sequence meant to parallel the Star Wars “Cantina,” but at a gay bar] is my least favorite scene. Any gay panic stuff makes me sad. It doesn't seem like that would still even be PC in the late '90s, but somehow Harvey Weinstein ended up being the guiding force [on that] and Adam [Goldberg] wrote all of the changes Weinstein requested to the shooting script and on set.

Whenever I watch the movie, all the changes that he passed down from on high are the ones that make me cringe.

Kyle Newman: [Earlier in the process] I would go sit down with Harvey and he'd be like, "Here's what I wanna try." I’d say, "I don't agree with that." And there's a couple of times he’s like, "if you put this strip scene in here, we'll give you an extra two days of shooting.” And when you're scrambling for days and minutes, those are the kind of deals you make as a young filmmaker. It wasn't just me, it was everybody. It was like, "don't be an idiot, when you're gonna get two extra days of shooting.”

Jay Baruchel: I wince. I wouldn't make [the gay] jokes now, obviously. So, a thousand years from now, people will find it, they'll be like sorting through ancient Roman dialectics and they'll find me making a gay joke about The Rocketeer or whatever the fuck.

Dan Fogler: Those [gay jokes] are all Adam Goldberg's, and it's very, yeah, there's some cringers in there. I think that I kind of chalked it up to that was the ignorance of the time.

Jay Baruchel: There's something about authenticity, and I always worry authenticity is constantly at risk whenever somebody thinks something like, "no character should smoke in movies because it makes smoking look cool." If you watch Ray Liotta in Copland, you think cigarettes look cool. But that does not apply to "Jean-Luc Picard is gay," y'know? It wasn't like we were making a Larry Clark film. It was just a bunch of fucking idiots coming on the heels of “you know how I know you’re gay?” from [40-Year-Old Virgin].

Steve Jennings/WireImage/Getty Images

Did the good guys ultimately win? Sort of. Fanboys eventually hit theaters under a cloud of bad buzz. The movie grossed only $688,529 in the States. But some people found it.

Dana Brunetti: There was absolutely zero marketing for it, and it was released on 10 screens. Harvey said, "If the fans really want this film, then they'll come out and support it." That was the release strategy.

Matt Perniciaro: If Weinstein never had pushed us from our original release date, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of A New Hope, I think we would have been a big hit. The country was in the middle of Star Wars fever, and we missed that opportunity. What I heard is that The Nanny Diaries wanted our slot.

Dan Fogler: People mention it all the time. They watch it how you'd want them to watch it, on a cult basis, where it's their favorite movie, and it really speaks to them. They feel like one of the characters, and it really put a name on what they are: fanboys, fangirls, it gave it a title. It suddenly was worthy enough to have a title.

Ernie Cline: People always bring copies of it to my book signings. I know Ready Player One seems like a much bigger success and much more representative of me as a writer and an artist, but people always tell me they love Fanboys.

Jay Baruchel: I went to Fort Dix with How to Train Your Dragon 2 and signed DVDs and I was floored at how many soldiers who had done tours in Iraq were like, "Fanboys is my favorite movie, man."

Dan Pulick: I mean, it's, you know, it is what it is. It's not Citizen Kane. I hadn't seen it since 2009 until recently, 'cause it's been on. I watched the last hour of it. It was on whatever Channel 391 is on Long Island.

Over the years there has been talk about a Fanboys sequel or, given Adam Goldberg's television success, a series. Considering some of the attachments of Weinstein and Kevin Spacey in the original, this is very much in flux.

Dan Fogler: We kind of threw around some ideas about catching up. Where is Hutch now? You kind’ve paralleled the story, where's Luke now?

Jay Baruchel: We started talking about this whole thing where my character would be the sort of bad guy in the second one. You find out he's actually not only a Star Trek fan but also Canadian. We'd open with us with children and a snowball fight, our sort of answer to the opening Battle of Hoth.  

Matt Perniciano: We all talk about trying to get the band back together one day, but I think Goldman Sachs actually owns it now from when they foreclosed on a bunch of Weinstein films, so it’s unlikely that we’d be able to even get the rights.

Ernie Cline: I would be interested in more Fanboys if we could guarantee that Weinstein, Spacey, and both of their companies would no longer be involved in any way. And if Kyle and the cast were all on board. It would also be nice to do a director's cut of Fanboys to remove all of the gay panic & gross-out humor they forced us to add to the first movie, and to try and recapture our original vision.

I had to cancel our yearly charity screening of Fanboys with the 501st Legion at the Alamo Drafthouse, in which we raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, because of the scandals with Weinstein, Spacey, and also Harry Knowles (who I am now ashamed to have included as a character in the story). It just breaks my heart that our little Star Wars fan tribute film has become so tainted. But from production up until now, it appears to be one of the most doomed indie films in history. I hope we get a chance to redeem it someday.

Kyle Newman: I still love playing in that world. I've done three Star Wars radio dramas, they're really like live stage shows, almost like A Prairie Home Companion where we will record actors in one take. They're all about an hour long, and we use the actors from Clone Wars or Rebels. Warwick Davis was just in our last one. We're playing live effects, blaster bolts, robots, spaceships, music, transitions, footsteps and everything and we put them up on StarWars.com. This is not for money, purely for love.

Kyle Newman most recently directed Barely Lethal, starring Hailee Steinfeld, and the video for Taylor Swift's "Style." He remains active in Star Wars fandom.

Dana Brunetti continues to produce, and occasionally gets Vanity Fair articles called "Hollywood's Most Openly Disliked and Secretly Beloved Executive" written about him.

Matt Perniciaro produces low budget gems year after year. Madeline’s Madeline received stellar notices out of Sundance and will soon be distributed by Oscilloscope Labs.

Dan Pulick is an adjunct professor at New York University’s Dramatic Writing Program at Tisch School of the Arts, has a recent credit on an episode of Quantico and his adaptation of the Joshua Henkin novel The Word Without You recently wrapped production.

Steve Brill is prepping an Adam Sandler stand-up special for Netflix.

Dan Fogler co-stars in the Fantastic Beasts series.

Jay Baruchel directed Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the most Canadian movie ever made.

Ernie Cline is preparing for the release of Ready Player One.

Ernie Cline: That Fanboys experience was like, "I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter... maybe I don't want to be a screenwriter."

I was like, "They're never going to let me geek out the way that I want to." That's the thing, when you make a movie, you're making a product. The people who pay for that product, they want to be able to sell that product to as many people in as many countries as they can, and make a profit on it. They don't care about your story, or your characters, or your personal connection to the material. If you want to get it made, you give up your right to protect those things. That's what made me think, "I should write a novel, so I can have total control. Not as many people will be exposed to it, probably, but then at least I can have control of my story and my characters, because I don't need millions of dollars to tell the story."

That changed my whole life. Fanboys is my first real original screenplay, and it got made. Ready Player One is my first novel and holy shit.

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Jordan Hoffman is a film critic and writer whose work appears in The Guardian, Vanity Fair, and The Times of Israel. He likes rock songs that are over 10 minutes. Follow him on Twitter @jhoffman.