Best Short Film – “Star Wars: The Toys Awaken” (USA)

Title: Star Wars: The Toys Awaken
Runtime: 7 min
Country: USA
Director: Raymond Montemayor
Placement: Best Short Film + Best Visual Effects
Competition: December, 2018

Synopsis: On the opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a seven-year-old girl’s Star Wars toys come to life. They learn who they are and set off on an adventure to help their young companion as she heads out to watch The Force Awakens.


OR: What was the inspiration for your film?

RM: The title Star Wars: The Toys Awaken says it all. Clearly the inspiration for my film is Star Wars! I’ve been a huge fan ever since the original film came out in 1977. George Lucas’s movies captured my imagination at a young age, and I have been obsessed with the franchise ever since. The recent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 re-ignited the fan in me. With the introduction of this new era in the franchise, I wanted to share my love for Star Wars with other fans, and with Lucasfilm, by producing a fan film specifically for Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Fan Awards. I was lucky enough to win the awards for Best Stop Motion and Spirit of Fandom. It means so much to me that Lucasfilm officially recognized my work as a fan. Thanks to film festivals like the One-Reeler Short Film Competition, I’m able to continue sharing my love for Star Wars with others.

OR: When did you conceive the idea for your film and how long did it take before it was realized?

RM: The idea for my film came to me soon after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night (December 17, 2015). I actually made my first Star Wars fan film a year earlier for the 2015 Star Wars Fan Film Awards, which was nominated for Best Visual Effects but ended up not winning unfortunately. The five-minute film, Star Wars: A Toy Story, also used the premise of toys coming to life and having a meaningful adventure with their owners. I wanted to take that concept and tell a story that would capture the anticipation and excitement I felt for The Force Awakens, the first new Star Wars movie in a decade. I wrote the script in early 2016 with the intention of producing a film for the 2016 Star Wars Fan Film Awards. The first day of shooting was on April 17th, 2016 for the movie theater scene in the final act. Later that month I completed shots for the comic book store scene, as well as some shots in my house. But I simply did not have enough time to complete production in time for the Fan Film Awards. I switched gears and put it on hold when I learned that Lucasfilm was holding a 2-minute short film contest to promote the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in December 2016. I was able to produce a film for the contest (The Rogue One: A Star Wars Toy Story), which I’m very proud of, but which did not win. Lucasfilm did not hold the Star Wars Fan Film Awards in 2017, and for over a year I could only work on The Toys Awaken for brief periods here and there. On July 2nd, 2018, when Lucasfilm announced that they would hold the 2018 Star Wars Fan Awards, I resolved to complete the film for their September 17th deadline, which I barely managed to do. So from concept to realization, it took nearly three years to complete the five-minute film that I submitted for the contest. The seven-minute Director’s Cut, which is what I submitted to the One-Reeler Short Film Competition, took a full three years.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of working in a short film format?

RM: The most challenging aspect of the short film format was being able to tell a complete three-act story in the five-minute time limit imposed by the Star Wars Fan Awards. My original script would have translated to a 15-minute film, which is still a short film, but much too long for the contest. The big challenge came in sacrificing character development and deciding what plot points to cut out while still maintaining the core of the story. I spent a lot of time making these cuts before continuing to film in 2018 in order to save time and streamline production. I then made additional cuts in post-production to meet the time requirement. I was able to complete the five-minute version of the film for the Star Wars Fan Awards, which was good enough to win two awards. However, I wasn’t totally satisfied until I resurrected some shots to complete the seven-minute Director’s Cut.

OR: What was the most challenging aspect of your production?

RM: The most challenging aspect of my production was the stop-motion animation. Because I was a one-man production crew, besides set design and lighting, I had to juggle camera movement, figure animation, and focus, on a frame-by-frame basis, while making sure lighting remained consistent throughout each shot, and being careful not to inadvertently bump into equipment, figures, or any elements appearing in frame. In order to get the types of cinematic shots I wanted with smooth animation, I had to do this 24 times for every second of video in a seven-minute film, the majority of which is stop-motion animation. A four-second shot could take anywhere from four to eight hours from setup to final shot. Good stop-motion animation is both physically and mentally demanding.

OR: Do you have any advice for first-time filmmakers?

RM: I’m not an expert filmmaker by any means, but I’ve done enough myself and been around enough productions to know that the story is key. Make sure your script is solid before you move on to production. Have as many writers and other filmmakers read it as possible, and take their feedback seriously. Do as many rewrites as you can to get the script into the best shape possible. A solid script won’t overcome every shortcoming in production, but a weak script is doomed to fail no matter how good your actors are or how expensive your equipment is.