The Force Awakens: ‘Star Wars’ Superfan Chris Conley Goes to the NFL Draft
It’s not unusual to see NFL players head to Hollywood when their playing days are done. Some – like Alex Karras, Bubba Smith and Carl Weathers (yes, he played in the pros) – even become decent actors. But what if there was a player who didn’t just star in movies once his knees stopped working, but also wanted to excel behind the camera?
That’s where Chris Conley comes in. The speedy wide receiver was a four-year standout at the University of Georgia, and seems like a sure bet to be taken this week at the NFL Draft, especially after his breakout performance at the Scouting Combine. But he didn’t just spend his time in the SEC catching passes – he also decided to write and direct a Star Wars fan film called Retribution, which, at the time of this writing, is approaching a half-a-million views on YouTube.
Filmed on the Georgia campus, including inside Sanford Stadium, and co-starring Conley, his teammates and Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt (who makes a pretty amazing cameo), the 26-minute feature is an impressive debut for a guy now trying to make a name for himself in two of the world’s most competitive fields: The NFL and Hollywood.
With the NFL Draft set to begin Thursday night, Rolling Stone spoke to Conley about his homage to George Lucas, turning heads at the Scouting Combine and why Jar Jar Binks is cool to seven year olds.
What made you decide to make a Star Wars fan film?
It was just kind of a random idea that I had. I was in my dorm room watching some YouTube videos, and got the idea: “We can make something better than this.” At the time, “we” was just me. So I decided, “I don’t know how to do this myself, I have great ideas that look awesome, but I need people who know how to make this stuff happen.” So I began to write some of the stuff down and reach out to people. I found a lot of people here at the University of Georgia – I network a lot – so I just reached out, tried to find people and eventually had put together a small team.
You felt like you could do better than those YouTube videos, but do you think you actually did?
I feel like if you’re an artist or someone who creates something, you’re never satisfied. You’re continuing to work on it up until it’s released, and the only reason you stopped working on it is because you have a deadline. I believe that anyone else who’s drawn something or created anything understands where I’m coming from. You always see ways that you can improve, things that you messed up and ways that you would do things differently. I’m proud of the project because it literally was fabricated out of nowhere, and everything that you look at and hear in the film is original. And that’s something that we’re proud of.
Given the budgetary restraints I’m sure you had, the visual effects were really impressive, especially that opening scene!
Yeah those opening shots were put together in CGI by Grayson Holt. That guy’s a beast. He was a freshman here at Georgia and just a guy who was born with a laptop. Him and I would get together and talk special effects or about directions for the film and we’d bounce ideas off of each other. He’s just very instrumental in everything that he does. Very talented.
Did your teammates and coaches enjoy being a part of the film?
They loved it. The funny thing was, when we came back and released it, the rest of the team was crying about the fact that they weren’t in it. I was telling them, “I gave y’all two, three opportunities to be in it. These handful of guys showed up, these handful of guys get to be plastered over the Internet.”
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