“Find Your Story and Make it Yours”: The Story Behind the Award-Winning Fan Film Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation

As the Star Wars Fan Awards 2018 submission deadline approaches, filmmakers Collin Murphy and Jared Hundley recount the making of their own animated short.

To celebrate the Star Wars Fan Awards 2018, we asked some of the previous (and incredibly talented) winners of the Star Wars Fan Film Awards to take us behind the scenes on their own projects and offer some helpful advice for this year’s hopefuls.

The construction of the second Death Star is almost complete and the time has come to staff the ultimate power in the universe, training a new crop of stormtroopers to defend the Empire’s creation. With a noodle-armed animated Emperor Palpatine leading the new-hire orientation, cadets complete their training with a comedic flair…

It’s Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation, the decidedly unofficial send-up of corporate culture and Imperial protocol that won the Best Animation Star Wars Fan Film Award in 2015. Three years later, we caught up with the creative duo behind the short film — Collin Murphy and Jared Hundley — to talk about the art of collaborating and turning a trash can and a closet into the perfect Darth Vader recording booth set up.

The short is full of jabs at corporate lingo and mandatory orientation staples, recycled Star Wars one-liners cast in a whole new light, and some deeper cuts for fans (like the Emperor’s disregard for a shipment of thermal exhaust port covers. “Count Dooku ordered these? Send them back!”) In Murphy and Hundley’s world, life aboard the battle station includes bring-your-child-to-work days, enchilada days in the cafeteria, and the occasional outburst by a certain heavy-breathing Sith.

The two longtime friends and unapologetic Imperial fans have plenty of Star Wars trivia knowledge and desk job experience between them. “What Jared and I both quickly realized was that corporate culture needed to be roasted right along with our light-hearted look at the dark side,” Murphy says. “We felt the story about the infrastructure of the Empire needed to be told…one does not simply flip the power switch of the Death Star to ‘on,’ and expect it to become the ultimate power in the universe overnight.”

Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine ride through the Death Star in "Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation."

“Questions like how would all the people eat, get around, get promoted, have a family game night, were endlessly entertaining and I think a lot of people could connect to,” Hundley says. “When making a film, we’ve learned it has to strike true for a lot of people, otherwise it’s just an inside joke that only five people get.”

Stay on target

Operating from two separate secret bases, Murphy and Hundley worked together through Skype meetings, sketching out their concept and writing and revising the dialogue while Hundley took point on the animation. Hundley says working the passion project around his regular gigs as a teacher and animator, plus spending time with his family, was a challenge. At times he felt overwhelmed. “It felt impossible.” But they continued to plod toward the finish line. “Set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals that let you hit that final goal and you’ll make it there,” he advises.

The original storyboards from "Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation."

For the most part, the physical distance between the collaborators didn’t pose a problem. “But when it comes to recording Vader’s lines, with my head in a bucket, in my clothes-closet-turned-soundstage, sometimes you have to work that into a trip Jared already had planned through our area to visit family,” Murphy says. “The beauty of animation is you can make anything happen…it really comes down to editing.”

“This Star Wars film was only our second attempt to get something out to the public,” Hundley says, although the childhood friends once spent sleepover nights making their own films via camcorder. With this project, they knew early on they had made something worthy of submission. “When Jared first sent me a clip of Palpatine, and I saw the way his face turned from what we’re used to in the films to the hopeful-eyed, aging Sith-turned-Human Resources Manager, I knew we had something special,” Murphy says.

Emperor Palpatine cheers in "Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation."

‘My best friend, Palpatine’

Even though their short pokes plenty of fun at Star Wars, their reverence for the films it was inspired by is clear. “The Star Wars galaxy has meant so much to me in my lifetime,” Murphy says. “Most of all, Star Wars means I’ve gotten to share a common interest with my best friend, Palpatine. And my second best friend, Jared.”

Star Wars is something that connects people,” Hundley agrees. “It’s gritty, dirty, and wild. It’s also half pristine perfection; It’s shiny, technologically advanced, and unstoppable.”

Darth Vader gets his master some soft serve in "Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation."

The friends are still humbly proud of their achievement, both in completing the film and winning the award. “My favorite scene to this day, is the snack bar area…the reflection, the neon glow…it’s just beautiful,” Murphy says.

In the classroom, the accolade gives Hundley even more credibility with his students, he says. “My favorite thing that has been added to my life since winning is sharing the stories and showing off the hardware to my animation students. They are so awestruck and inspired by it,” he says. “I think it also gives me some street cred as their animation teacher.” And his son, a valued test audience, is thrilled. “I make animations for him. If he laughs or starts repeating lines, I know it’s good to share with the world.”

A new group of stormtroopers sits in orientation in "Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation."

Pass on what you have learned

As for the next crop of Star Wars Fan Award hopefuls, the pair is passing on what they have learned.

The most important thing for creators to keep in mind is to make something truly original. “Find your story and make it yours,” Murphy says. “Don’t do someone else’s story. We had many ideas on that first brainstorming session that just weren’t right. For some reason, because this concept just resonated for both of us, we were able to follow the idea along while keeping it within the Star Wars universe.”

“And take risks,” Hundley adds. “There are so many Star Wars fan films out there, making something new is really difficult. There is no road map or sage advice anyone can give you when you are carving a new path.”

Two royal guards wave to the camera in "Star Wars: A New Employee Orientation."

Creation is a process. The brainstorming and writing is just as important as the execution. “Write until you can’t anymore and you are so sick of it that it cannot be improved,” Hundley says. “This step is just as grueling as animation in my opinion and should be give as much attention. Your visuals should be easy when you have a good plan in writing and also in your storyboards.”

Follow the rules, “but most of all, have fun,” Hundley says. “You are making a Star Wars film…how cool is that?”

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.​ Enter contest between 7/18/18 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (“PT”) and 9/17/18 at 11:59 p.m. PT. Open to legal residents of the 50 U.S. & D.C., Canada (excluding Quebec), Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico who are 13+ at time of entry. Limit 1 submission per genre per person. There are 34 Star Wars prize packs available to be won (Estimated Value: US$200 each). See Official Rules {https://www.starwars.com/star-wars-fan-awards-official-rules-2018} for full details on how to enter, eligibility requirements, prize description and limitations. Void in Quebec and where prohibited. Sponsor: Disney Online, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-7667.

Associate Editor Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Do you know a fan who’s most impressive? Hop on Twitter and tell @KristinBaver all about them!