The Oral History of ‘Fanboys’
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?
The entire article, including interviews with cast and crew of the film can be found on the Thrillist website.