Fan Film, Fan Films

Gray Areas: I Wanna See 5-25-77

Gray Area BoilerplateThe date stands as a landmark for many, a day where the world changed forever. Movies would never be the same, people would never be the same, being a ‘fan’ of something would never be the same. The results of that day would filter into politics, religion, sex (and let’s just say it flat out: Don’t go there) and countless other aspects of everyday life. 5-25-77 was the day Star Wars was released.

Most people who saw that movie on that day became fans; Illinois teenager Patrick Read Johnson beat them all to the punch, however, having become the very first Star Wars fan ever, when he saw a rough cut of the movie months earlier. Think about that: Literally billions of people have seen George Lucas’ space epic, but here was the first person outside of the movie industry to see it. And, more importantly, to get it.

Seeing Star Wars before even test audiences did, didn’t just give Johnson bragging rights; it gave him inspiration—one of those heady, heart-bursting dreams of self-belief. One of those teenaged dreams that can only come at that time in life, where you get swept up by a potent mix of exuberance swirled with the realization you’ve been building up years of potential and now it’s almost time to see how it plays out. One of those dreams where you are truly certain, with every fiber of your being, that you can achieve the impossible if you believe it enough, if you can convince others enough, if you can push hard enough and conjure the right opportunity, that somehow, against the odds, you’ll do it, make it, write it, sing it, paint it, create it, whatever it…and bring the whole world along for the ride.

5-25-77 titleThe movie 5-25-77, then, is the creation of writer/director Patrick Read Johnson, now 30 years older and wiser, but no less the dreamer. The flick is loosely (very loosely, apparently) based on his own true story as a teenaged fan filmmaker who visited the fledgling ILM in 1976 and saw the rough cut, but that’s not the focus. Instead, the coming-of-age story follows how he talked the movie up for months in his Midwest hometown, nearly missed seeing it opening day after every obstacle in the world was thrown in his way, and in the process, figured out how to get from the middle of nowhere (Wadsworth, IL; population: 750) to his calling in Hollywood.

While the movies Johnson went on to be involved with haven’t reached Star Wars-ian heights (Spaced Invaders and the Sean Connery-as-a-talking-dragon Dragonheart, for starters), the point is that he was inspired by Star Wars to go into movies—which many people can claim—and he achieved his dream, which 99.9 percent of us can’t claim.

5-25-77 moon shotI had the opportunity to read a version of the 5-25-77 script a few years ago (wish I still had it, too) when I emailed Johnson and unabashedly asked if I could see it; surprisingly, he actually sent it my way, and I guess that’s the hallmark of smart, word-of-mouth marketing, because here it is, many years later, and I’m writing about it at length on a website that didn’t even exist back then. Anyway, the thing that struck me about his script was that it definitely aimed for a deeper resonance than his other movies; as written, it was still a straight-up popcorn movie with good guys, bad guys and rabble-rousing moments designed to make the audience cheer, but it also tried to carve out a few moments to talk about aspirations in terms a little deeper than (cue the Van Halen soundtrack) reaching for your dreams, maaaaan.

That said, I read that script I think in the late Nineties, and then didn’t hear anything about it for a few years, so I presumed that it just never got made. Every so often, I’d stumble across a rumor that Carrie Fisher was going to play Johnson’s mom or something like that, but there wasn’t any concrete news. Then a few years later, the 5-25-77 website debuted with some info about how they’d been shooting in Illinois, and that Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars, and Fred Roos, producer of Lost In Translation, were now signed on for the film.

Recently, I got to thinking about the movie again, and did some hunting around the net about it; as it turns out, there’s not a lot to find. I did uncover a forum post somewhere where Johnson himself noted that the film was in post-production; that was April, 2005. Turning back to the 5-25-77 website, I discovered the site—which, these days, is full of enticing photos of the film—hasn’t been updated since April, 2006. That didn’t bode well, as I figured it meant they’d made the movie, shown it around, hadn’t found a distributor and had called it a day.

5-25-77 ingalsbyLuckily, I then found Rick Ingalsbe Studio, a site by a fan modeler whose models were used in the film’s ILM scenes; the site recounts the (lengthy) story of how Ingalsbe went from being just a fan who lent a few models out to becoming the ILM set decorator and chief model guy for the film. Not only was the story more up-to-date than the 5-25-77 website (they were shooting as recently as this past November, it turns out), but it’s also a little inspirational story all by itself, almost on a par with Johnson’s tale. If you have 20 minutes, give it a gander (the photos are cool, too).

But the fact remains—where is this movie? There’s one rumor floating around the internet that it’ll hit theaters in early May or May 25, marking the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, but I kinda doubt the veracity of that unless it’s just a one-off showing at a festival or something. I say that purely because here’s no buzz on the internet, the website is woefully out of date, and there’s no concrete info about where/when/if it will come out. If they were really aiming for three months from now, there’d be at least something brewing PR-wise, getting the word out to Star Wars nuts if no one else. Maybe it’s just going straight to DVD, which, unless the movie is really dreadful, would be a shame. Johnson clearly scratched, clawed and willed this picture into existence because it was such a personal story; given that kind of effort, one can only hope it’ll get the theatrical release that he (and hopefully the movie) deserves.

Regardless, let me make one thing clear—after all this time, and all Johnson’s effort, any way you slice it, be it in a movie theater, on DVD, on an iPod or projected against the side of a house during a backyard barbecue, like the title of this post suggests, make no mistake: I wanna see 5-25-77.

5/25/77 website
on YouTube
Rick Ingalsbe Studio website

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No Responses to “Gray Areas: I Wanna See 5-25-77”

  1. Alberto Vasquez

    Just was 5-25-77 at The Star Wars Celebration 4 and have to say that it is very good.
    Even in a rought cut, the story shines though.

  2. Here are some behind the scenes photos of the movie 5/25/77. This movie looks incredible….

  3. Here are some behind the scene photos of 5/25/77… This movie looks incredible…


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