Q&A: Chris Conley, UGA football player, Star Wars fan film creator

He led the Bulldogs in receptions, and now he’s got a YouTube hit with cameos by Mark Richt, Todd Gurley, and an adorable puppy

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His middle initial, “R,” may as well stand for “Renaissance Man.” After leading the Dawgs in receptions last season, Christian Conley decided to lead his campus in the production of a Star Wars fan film, titled Retribution. And according to his Twitter bio, he’s also a lover of Christ and aspiring writer. Plus, he can carry a tune quite better than most. I think the only thing this guy doesn’t do is wear jorts. “Yeah, I wouldn’t be caught in those,” he said when we talked about the surprise response to his film.

Conley said he knew he had support for the film, but has been pleasantly surprised by receiving over more than a quarter million views since its July 5 YouTube debut. He’s thankful for the support, and hopes “people continue to enjoy it and realize that ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter who you are; if there’s something that you enjoy, pursue it.’ ” Following his own mantra, he’s already in the planning process for a second film that will shoot at the end of the year.

In honor of the six original episodes of the Star Wars series, here are six highlights from a talk with the football-playing filmmaker (or filmmaking football player, if you will):

Why Star Wars?

I’ve been a fan of it since I was a kid. And I had the idea, and I just thought, “Why not? Let’s not talk about something, let’s do it, and let’s make it as awesome as possible.”

What inspired the theme of retribution?

Initially when we started writing, we wanted to have the story centered around the University of Georgia campus, but as we started developing the characters, mainly the Sith, and developing his story, I thought he was kind of an intriguing character. The title came later. Retribution: It has a nice ring to it. As we were writing the script, we ran with it, and it stuck.

What attracted you to Khari Vion, the character you play in the film?

It’s just something different. He’s interesting once you look at his past, and I really knew the way I wanted that character portrayed, because if he wasn’t portrayed correctly, I just don’t think that the film would have had as much oomph to it, and the fight scenes wouldn’t flow or feel the right way. So that’s what made me want to play that character, because I had a distinct vision for how I wanted him to look and feel.

How do you feel that Retribution connects all of the interests that you have?

I think it does just by the nature of what it is. It’s film. It’s Star Wars. And it has to do with football. And the University of Georgia. So it involves and includes all of these different groups, and brings them together in something that they all can enjoy. Whereas before, maybe a football fan wouldn’t watch a Star Wars film. Maybe a Star Wars fan wouldn’t care about the University of Georgia. So it just includes a lot of people, and allows all of these different groups to come together and have some fun.

Were the humorous aspects–especially at the beginning–added to make it more appealing across the board?

Ya know, I wrote that just to be funny. I wanted this project to have moments where they would take it seriously, and other moments where they’d realize how absurd it really is. And we really wanted to mesh the two worlds, and so at the University of Georgia, we know that the Gators wear jean shorts, and so I decided to put that in there. Some of the other comedic moments, like the Todd Gurley scene and the Coach Richt scene, I just thought they would be really cool cutaways, and a little bit of relief for the people who are watching and cool for some fans.

What was the most surprising part of the filmmaking process for you?

Just learning about what it is to be a filmmaker. I’ve never taken a film course. I’ve never taken a script-writing course. Over the past eight months, I’ve had to learn all of that. I’ve had to learn how you go about the filmmaking process, how you act as a director and as a producer, how you write a script in the right format, how you work with actor’s scheduling, getting permission to use locations and all of these different things, and the cost of filming. And working in post. And that’s the most surprising thing–the amount of information that I’ve gained and the things that I’ve learned within this period of time.

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