Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

NFL draftee Chris Conley on his Star Wars fan film and professional football prospects

In entertainment, an awful lot of stuff happens behind closed doors, from canceling TV shows to organizing music festival lineups. While the public sees the end product on TVs, movie screens, paper, or radio dials, they don’t see what it took to get there. In Expert Witness, The A.V. Club talks to industry insiders about the actual business of entertainment in hopes of shedding some light on how the pop-culture sausage gets made.

Chris Conley is a wide receiver out of the University Of Georgia who has been quickly rising up NFL draft boards since finishing his college playing career in December. Over four seasons, Conley had 117 catches for 1,938 yards and 20 touchdowns—modest numbers for an NFL prospect—but he caught fire when teams started measuring athletic performance at the Scouting Combine in February.

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There, Conley was the third-fastest wide receiver, had the longest broad jump for a wide receiver in Combine history, and jumped 45 inches in the vertical leap, which is also higher than any other receiver has ever jumped at the Combine. Those feats make him seem superhuman on the field, but as writer, director, and co-star of “Retribution,” a Star Wars fan film with nearly 500,000 view on YouTube, he’s also proven to be extraterrestrial on camera, as well as talented behind one.

The A.V. Club: What’s your relationship like with the Star Wars franchise? It seems unusual to have a prominent NFL draft prospect be this geeked out on a movie.

Chris Conley: I’m a big Star Wars fan. I’ve always been since I was a kid and [that hasn’t] really changed. I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars, superheroes, and comic books. It’s where this whole creating side started from when I was reading comic books as a kid and getting into the Star Wars films and some of the books. Just a lot of different fandoms.

AVC: Was “Retribution” the first time you wrote or directed anything, or have you always been the type who grew up with a camera in his hands?

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CC: Yes, it was. First writing, directing, anything of that ilk.

AVC: You reached out to students, faculty, teammates, and even head coach Mark Richt to help you with this project. How did you find everyone who helped you put this together?

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CC: I’d say I knew about three of them prior to that juncture. But then I met a handful of people just in working in that kind of space and that kind of creative environment. So even that in it of itself was a unique networking opportunity. At that point, I introduced the project to them and it began to grow because they had great ideas and input as well and eventually it morphed into the finished product that you see. It’s the culmination of a group of people.

AVC: Your film has a very intense, involved, lengthy courtyard battle scene. How did you go about filming that? It seems like quite an accomplishment for a first-time filmmaker.

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CC: When shooting that we had so many people who were involved, we just gave them a basic set of parameters. These people who were involved, armored up—they’ve been Star Wars fans their whole lives, they’ve seen the movies. We gave them a basic set of parameters. We told them what we were shooting, what we were going for, and set them loose in that creative space. They all had characters that were created for this role and for the film and we let them become those people. It took them a couple of takes to really get into it but then after that we shot for about an hour and it was like a true battle that was going on in Tate Plaza [at the University Of Georgia]. What came out of it was something that was both kind of epic but also comical, and that’s what we were going for.

AVC: You’ve got an impressive opening shot in space, music that sounds similar to the real Star Wars music, lightsabers, lasers… the production value is quite good for a low-budget fan film.

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CC: Those opening shots are us, put together in CGI by Grayson Holt. The score was an original score. The character names and the background stories that we came up with are all original too.

AVC: Do you have a follow-up in the works?

CC: Right now the next project—we shot a trailer for it, got some people together; the script is in it’s third or fourth revision. We’ll continue looking at that, tweaking it, getting it to where it needs to be over this next year and a half because right now I don’t really have the time to do anything with it. It’s going to be awesome. I’m extremely excited about it. Like I said before, the more time you get to spend on a topic, the more ways you can think to improve. So I’m proud of where it’s at right now but I believe that a year from now this project and script will be in a place that’s completely and totally on another level.

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AVC: “Retribution” took months of preparation, right?

CC: That was a long, long project right there. Unfortunately there were not a ton of re-writes—it was kind of a run-and-gun shoot. But on this next film I want to do it right. I want to put something out there that is a product that I can be proud of and that hopefully will propel everyone involved closer to the kind of career that they want to have when in regards to film production. So it’s going to be sometime down the road, but the longer time that’s spent I believe that the project will grow and get better.

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AVC: Your off-field interests, your character, and your athleticism will all play a part in how NFL teams view you as a prospect. You had a phenomenal performance at the NFL Scouting Combine but teams may have hoped for more production during your career. How important are all of these things in terms of your draft stock?

CC: All of those things come together. Ultimately it’s about how you play football—it’s about how you play football in between the lines when the whistle blows. That’s really what you’re preparing for at the next level. Obviously you want to see someone’s athleticism and if something was missed when you watched film. It’s a combination of all three of those things: athleticism, the way someone carries themselves, and what they do when that whistle blows.

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AVC: Is there any receiver in the NFL that you try to model yourself after?

CC: I mean there’s a couple of guys that I watch… I think that it’s always good to watch other people who’ve been there, done that, and to emulate parts of their game. I like to see guys like Calvin Johnson with his explosiveness. The way that A.J. Green can torque and catch a ball. The football IQ of someone like Anquan Boldin or Reggie Wayne. Those things are something that you like to watch and emulate.

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A lot of people say, “Do you want to be the next so-and-so?” and I tell them, “No, I want to be the first Chris Conley.”

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