Ernest Cline's first novel is a science fiction story called Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg made a movie from it, in theaters this weekend. But Cline's earlier fan fiction, in the form of screenplays, introduced him to Hollywood in a spectacular way. He was the original writer behind the 2009 movie Fanboys. It started when he was grieving the loss of his mother to cancer in the late '90s.
That was right when Lucasfilm announced that they were making more Star Wars – that first clip of George working on the script? StarWars.com would release videos that they were entering pre-production. It was like hearing that a new chapter of the Bible had just been discovered. It became my way to distract myself over losing my mom. I was working tech support and doing web design, so I was in front of the internet all day looking at prequel websites. Then one day it occurred to me: What if I was in my mom's position and I knew I was dying and wasn't going to live to see this movie?
As soon as I had the idea, it occurred to me that's the stupidest thought ever to pass through my head.
But it resonated with Star Wars fans, and the script he wrote circulated for years. The eventual producer and director were in college when they fell in love with the story. Over time, more people got involved and George Lucas even signed off on the project. Fans followed the film's progress online. Harvey Weinstein would be the distributor. Only after a successful preview for fans at the first European Star Wars Celebration in 2007 did Weinstein begin to throw his weight around. He wanted the movie changed.
[Director] Kyle Newman: They owned it. I mean, they paid for it. I respect that's part of the filmmaking culture. I paint, I draw, and I own that stuff. But I made a commitment to the folks at Lucasfilm, to the Star Wars fan community and to my cast and crew about the tone of the film.
Ernie Cline: Weinstein pitched them the idea of taking out the whole plot of the dying friend. They strategically shot scenes that made it so the fanboys were just going on the trip because they wanted to see the movie early. No one's dying. They all are just going because they want to trespass. It robs the movie of its whole call to adventure, and the whole heart of the picture. We actually saw that cut of the movie. They screened that cut with the original cut two nights in a row in Reseda or something, and that was going to be the version that they would have released.
Reshoots and negotiations took another couple of years, and Fanboys was ultimately released in only ten theaters, with almost no promotion. Cline learned his lesson and wrote Ready Player One as a novel instead of a screenplay. Read the story of what happened to Fanboys from the folks who made it at Thrillist.
(Image credit: Jason Hoffman/Thrillist)