Building Your Empire One Book at a Time
Star Wars Subway Car, a prank planned and executed by the comedy group Improv Everywhere, is quickly establishing itself as one of the group's most popular gags to date. Only two weeks after the video's release, Star Wars Subway Car is already the sixth most viewed mission in the group's nine year history.
Formed by Charlie Todd, Improv Everywhere started staging pranks in August 2001. Since then, the New York City based group has completed over 100 pranks---or missions as they call them--including an impressive array of viral video hits like No Pants Day, Frozen Grand Central, and the Food Court Musical.
Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd talks about the creation and staging of the group's latest mission, the Star Wars Subway Car.
Can you describe the moment when you came up with the idea to stage the Star Wars subway prank?
I've [had] it on my list of things to do for years now. I don't remember the exact moment, but I do remember when they updated the 6 train to have the more modern looking cars with white walls that I thought the design made it look a little like the rebel ship from the opening of Star Wars. I think that was probably the first spark.
How long did it take to plan and execute the mission?
Once I decided it was time to do it, I probably spent about a month thinking it all over. I probably watched Star Wars 100 times as a kid, but I spent some time researching the scene in question to figure out what part to do and how to stage it.
How did you select the agents for the mission?
Well the number one objective was to get good costumes. I didn't want to do this with super cheap costumes. I sent tons of emails to people from the 501st Legion in the local NYC area garrisons, trying to get them to be a part of it. Those guys have custom made costumes that are better than anything you can buy. I only had one Stormtrooper write me back, but he ended up not being able to make it the day of the mission.
While I was waiting to hear back from those guys, I remembered that some of my friends at College Humor had done a really funny Stormtrooper video, so I sent an email to Sam Reich who runs production over there. It turned out that they not only had three Stormtrooper costumes but a Vader as well. Josh, Pat, and Murph from College Humor played the Stormtroopers and Improv Everywhere veteran Alex Scordelis played Vader. He was primarily chose for his height and his history of being willing to put on an elaborate costume for the cause (he also played a Ghostbuster in a different mission from this year.) Finally Improv Everywhere veteran Cody Lindquist played Leia. She had recently played her in a sketch at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and she still had access to the costume. I was lucky to get such a great cast.
Can you describe how you and the agents prepared for the mission? Did you rehearse?
There was no rehearsal. I sent the script (which I transcribed from the movie as the script floating around online has some differences) of the scene to the actors and they memorized it on their own. We met up that afternoon and I explained the logistics to everyone (which train to board, when to exit, when to enter, etc.) Then we just went for it.
How did the Star Wars subway mission compare with other subway missons that Improv Everywhere has done?
Well, it's only been out for two weeks and it's already the 6th most viewed video we've ever made, so it's been pretty damn successful. People just love Star Wars. It's hard to do something Star Wars-related online and not have it be a hit.
During what part of the process did you come up with the idea for the Galactic Rebellion for Dummies book?
From the beginning I thought Leia should be reading a book when she rides the train alone. Obviously she's not reading a book in the movie, but I thought she needed something to do to seem like a normal subway rider. Once I found out you could make a "For Dummies" book cover with a free online template, the rest wrote itself. There are actually several jokes on the book, one of which most people haven't even noticed.
Did you consider using more agents on the mission dressed as any other Star Wars characters?
In a perfect world, I would have had an Imperial Officer and one more Stormtrooper to really mirror the scene properly. I couldn't get any of the Imperial Officers in the 501st to email me back though, and you can't easily buy the costume. There are some custom-made ones on eBay, but it would have taken weeks to ship.
Were you worried that the subway car might be overly crowded? What would you have done if this had happened?
We've staged dozens of things on the subway over the past nine years, so we know what we're doing. It's just important to check the service changes to make sure that there isn't any track-work or route changes. Often things can get crowded if express trains aren't running, etc. We purposefully did this on a Saturday afternoon when the trains aren't that crowded.
You staged the Star Wars subway prank four times over the course of the day. Which staging is the one shown in your video?
The video is actually a mix of all four, I think. If you look closely you can see the ads in the background change. It went really well all four times, but some times our camera guys got better angles of the performers, or better reaction shots from the crowd.
Can you describe some of your favorite reactions from the crowd?
Well, the kids at the end of the video are pretty great. They seemed so amazed! And the general reaction Vader got each time he entered was incredible. It was such a great punchline.
What's next for you?
We're planning a few events for the fall, including our annual Mp3 Experiment project, which will be announced on our site and open to all. You can subscribe to our RSS feed or YouTube channel to see what we do next!
A big thanks to Charlie Todd from Improv Everywhere for taking the time to share his story with SWBookZone.com. For more information about Charlie and Improv Everywhere, visit ImprovEverywhere.com.
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