An Interview With Lucasfilm's Bonnie Burton
It’s a big day here at GalacticBinder as we welcome none other than Senior Editor and Online Content Editor for Lucasfilm, Bonnie Burton. Bonnie is also a blogger extraordinaire and the person behind Grrl.com
GB: Welcome to GB, Bonnie. Thanks for taking the time to pop by for some questions.
BB: Of course! Thanks for the interview!
GB: Growing up with Star Wars as kids, our staff loves to look back at old photos of ourselves celebrating birthdays or the holidays with Star Wars. In fact, not sure if you saw this, but we recently blogged about a photo set on Flickr titled “Growing Up Star Wars”. We know you were a Star Wars kid too, and we’ve heard you even did your hair like Princess Leia for school photos. Any chance you’d be willing to share any of your childhood Star Wars memories (and Leia photos) with us?
BB: I love seeing old photos of our fans dressed up for Halloween as Star Wars characters. I still need to track down some photos of me with Leia hair. I think I made my mom put my hair in those famous buns for a whole school year until I moved on to Farrah hair. I think my fondest childhood memory about Star Wars was when I first saw "Empire Strikes Back." I lived in Kansas and my family wasn't really into going to movies. We only had one theater in our town that played one movie usually a month at a time. So the first time I got to see "Empire Strikes Back" was on HBO when my brother and I were home from school thanks to a snow day. The minute the movie ended, we rushed outside and pretended we were in Hoth. I also had an imaginary friend named Luke Skywalker for about a year.
GB: So, after you graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder, how did you make your way to Northern California and Lucasfilm? Did you stumble into the job or was it something you actively went after? And tell us how awesome and/or terrifying your first day was.
BB: Total kismet. I moved from Boulder to San Francisco as part of the big Dotcom boom. I worked as a Senior Editor at @Home Network which then merged to become Excite@Home. I had a video series called Ask Bonnie (which you can see on Youtube and Myspace Video now) as well as a show called Ask@Sock which was basically me answering questions about weird topics, but as a sock puppet. I was also the editor of a section of @Home I called Web Waste which featured articles and reviews of weird web sites. At the same time I was writing for my own site -- Grrl.com which started as a print zine and then I moved it online in 1996.
Eventually the dotcom bubble burst and the company went under. I worked as a Senior Editor for Winamp which was then gobbled by AOL. And then we all go laid off…again. After that, I decided to take a break. I wrote a book about blogs before they really took off called "Never Threaten to Eat Your Co-Workers: Best of Blogs" and, wrote teen advice articles for TeenWire.com and MissClick.com, wrote weekly horoscopes for Emode.com, and was a contributing writer for magazines like Wired, Bust and Organic Gardening. I also consulted for teen sites.
On a whim (and at a friend's urging) I answered a Craig's List ad for a job at Lucasfilm for a writer position at Starwars.com. Never in a million years did I think I would get it, but I had to try. I went into the interview believing that I wouldn't get it, but it would be a fun story to tell my fellow geek pals. But I hit it off with everyone, and it turned out they wanted someone who knew how to write for kids and teens.
My first day was surreal. My office area was on the Big Rock campus -- which is where Lucas Animation is now. It looks like a Japanese Ski Lodge -- very serene and tranquil. Of course, the first year I was there all I did was read Star Wars visual guides and reference books so I could catch up with my coworkers. I memorized the style guide and came pretty close to writing my name as Bonniee so I would remember to spell Wookiee correctly.
GB: We pride ourselves on doing our homework for interviews. But once we started digging into you online, we just couldn’t keep up; you’re unbelievably prolific. For those who don’t know, Bonnie’s written, blogged or edited for Geek Monthly magazine, @Home Network, America Online, Grrl.com, StarWars.com, IndianaJones.com, Boing Boing and probably ten more! She’s also written several books in her “spare” time. Where do you find the time for it all, and do you have any new writing ventures on the horizon?
BB: I don't sleep much. My biggest peeve is to walk through a bookstore and see a book that I wish I had written. So I suppose I try to get all my ideas down on paper so I don't constantly kick myself for not being more proactive with my writing. I have quite a few things I'd like to do yet like write a few TV specs, a movie screenplay, and a few comics. I also like to take on freelance writing projects that I wouldn't normally do just to see if I can do it. For awhile I was writing daily green horoscopes for Astrology.com. I was writing over 50 pages a month on how to compost and why turning off water while you brush your teeth is important. But it was a fun writing challenge at the time.
I recently just published a teen girl advice book called: "Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change" mainly because I saw that there wasn't really any books out there written for teen girls to read about dealing with mean girls and how to not become one. Most of the books were for parents or were written in a really contrived "hey I'm down with you teens, let's rap" kind of way. So that's out now and I'm pretty proud of it.
I'm also really excited that the "You Can Draw: Star Wars" book I wrote (illustrated by Tom Hodges and Matt Busch) has been a big hit with our fans.
GB: As well as all your “regular” writing and blogging, you’re also on Twitter, Myspace and many other social media networks. Considering Star Wars fans are so connected and such early adopters of technology and media, it’s obviously important to be active in these arenas. But honestly, do you ever just get plain Star Warsed out?
BB: Ha! Ya know, I don't. Though I think some of my friends would wish I would stop Star Warsing so much. The thing of it is, my job is really a big part of who I am. I'm just lucky that my job is cool. It would be pretty sad if I worked at a lumber mill and all I did was talk about wood. But the thing is, once you work for Lucasfilm you sort of see Star Wars everywhere. It's like that scene in "They Live" when Roddy Piper puts on the sunglasses and notices all the subliminal messages that aliens are leaving humans on everything from billboard to TV ads. I have those same sunglasses only I see Star Wars show up in everything from "30 Rock" episodes to recycle campaigns. Just last week I found out that some dancers did an entire Star Wars routine on "America's Ballroom Challenge!" Once you see Star Wars everywhere, you realize how incredibly influencing the saga has been worldwide.
GB: During a podcast, Boing Boing once called you the "czar of Star Wars fan culture." That’s a pretty darn great way to sum you up from our point of view. With that in mind, how, if at all, have you seen the Star Wars fan community evolve over your years at Lucasfilm?
BB: I've said it before and I'll say it again -- Star Wars fans are the best fans there are. I love how they not only are willing to share the Star Wars franchise with the next generation of fans, but that they use their love for the films for good causes. The 501st Legion and Rebel Legion dress up in these amazing costumes and do charity work in character. I've seen them go to children's hospitals, run in marathons and organize toy drives. They make me proud on so many levels. Our fans are incredibly creative too. Whether it's kids sending us their amazing drawings or older fans sending me knitted Yoda hats, our fans always inspire me to keep getting out my glue gun and glitter to do something fun. I also have a soft spot for the R2-D2 Builders. Those guys are amazing.
GB: Being so connected to the Star Wars fan community, attending conventions is just a given. From the Star Wars Celebrations to San Diego Comic-Con, you’ve done it all. We want your funniest, most horrific, most amazing or just plain memorable convention moment.
BB: I think one of the more surreal moments was the year we decided to reveal the name "Revenge of the Sith" during out Comic-Con panel, and then Director of Fan Relations Steve Sansweet said that we had t-shirts with the logo for sale at our booth. There was this chain reaction of cell phones going off on the convention room floor and people just started running for the booth knocking everything out of their way. It was a Star Wars stampede!
But the one thing that happens at all our conventions that always makes me tear up a bit is when a little kid runs up to one of the stormtroopers in the 501st, or Vader, and wants to shake his hand because they think he's the real deal. That look in a kid's eyes when they really believe in Star Wars is priceless.
One of the cutest moments I remember is at Celebration IV when a baby took his first steps just to chase after one of the R2-D2 units that drove slowly passed. To know that our droids inspire babies to walk after them is pretty awesome.
GB: You are a self-avowed lover of Star Wars D.I.Y projects and crafts. Well, we are too, and we especially love Star Wars origami! What have been some of your favorite Star Wars crafts you’ve featured on StarWars.com over the years? Is your office at Lucasfilm a veritable Star Wars craft treasure trove?
BB: My office looks like a craft store blew up in it. I have a feeling that my carpet has the most glitter trapped in it! I have a lot of favorite projects I've done over the years. I made a dried bean art portrait of the bounty hunter Bossk that I'm still pretty impressed with. My R2-D2 pinhole camera craft really takes cool photos. And my plushie Bantha that I made in honor of the Star Wars Holiday Special gets lots of oooohs and awwwws from coworkers. The felt Yoda doll craft is a hit at conventions. I've show kids how to make that Yoda doll at Celebration IV and Bay Area Maker Faire. And Droidel is always a hit over the holidays, as is the Action Figure Wreath. It really is hard to pick just one.
GB: We’re always scouring the web for weird homemade Star Wars items. We’ve found some really kooky stuff. What’s the oddest Star Wars item you’ve ever seen online?
BB: I've only heard rumors of this, but according to Steve Sansweet, there's a barber who makes Chewbacca portraits from human hair. So I would love to see that in person! As far as cool online finds, I really love the crocheted Amigurumi dolls of R2-D2 and Yoda that fans have made. And even though I'm not much of a chef, I love to see all the Star Wars cakes people whip up. I often blog about these crafts and more on our Official Starwars.com Blog under the crafts tag if any of you are interested in seeing them: http://starwarsblog.starwars.com/index.php/category/crafts/
GB: You’ve done a lot of work developing the Kids section of Star Wars.com – especially the drawing tutorials. One thing we’ve noticed at GB is that the coloring pages portion of the directory is immensely popular. You recently launched the “Galactic Color Bot” at StarWars.com. Why is it that Star Wars and coloring go together like peanut butter and jelly? Can young fans expect more coloring fun (in the form of future books or online coloring tools) any time soon? Any plans on expanding the number of images to the Color Bot?
BB: Good timing! We've actually recently updated Color Bot with more Clone Wars coloring pages for our younger fans. Truth be known, Color Bot is really addicting for us older fans too. Every time I do a drawing tutorial at Comic-Con or WonderCon, we always have coloring pages available too just for fun, and they always go like hotcakes. I think kids love coloring because they can show off without needing drawing skills, and adults like to color because it's kind of therapeutic and meditative.
GB: You’ve done a lot of interviews for StarWars.com – including tons of celebs and musicians in your Star Wars Rocks section. Who’s your dream interview for that section and why?
BB: DAVID BOWIE. I've been begging his management for awhile now to do an interview. He seems like a perfect fit. I still like to pretend he's a character in the Cantina somewhere. I have a few others I would love to interview for Star Wars Rocks like Stephen Colbert (in character, of course), Tina Fey, Trent Reznor, Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard, Neil Gaiman, Roger Corman, and Quentin Tarantino, just to name a few.
GB: StarWars.com had a major redesign a while back. Did the designers consult with you heavily on how form would fit content? Tell us a bit about what input you had in that process. And now that it’s had some time to sink in, is there any feature or functionality you (or maybe the fans) feel is missing? Anything you guys are considering adding?
BB: Redesign never ends. In fact, I believe our forums are up next to get a reboot. It was all fairly collaborative. My biggest goal is to make the site's search easy to use so you can actually find an article from a week ago. I think the "tags" at the end of every article will help with that on some level. Of course, as soon as you do a redesign, you want to go back and add more functionality. I'm pretty old-school in my design aesthetic. If you look at Grrl.com, it still uses tables! I don't even think I have any Flash on my personal site. So I've always been more about content than design. But our designers at Starwars.com really are a talented crew so I leave it up to them to make our site sparkle.
GB: One zany question before we let you go. Rank these people in their order of finish in a Chalmun’s cantina-style blue milk drinking contest, and tell us why it goes down the way it does. The contestants are: Steve Sansweet, Mary Franklin, Pete Vilmur, Bonnie Burton and George Lucas. (Hopefully no one is lactose intolerant!)
BB: Yikes! Good question! Well any drinking contest will be won by Mary Franklin because she knows how to make a quality cocktail and those of you who are lucky enough to know Mary firsthand already know this. I'll put George second just to be safe, then Pete and I tie. Steve is last because we all know he would never drink the blue milk, he'd put it in a sealable container and save it for his massive Star Wars collection.
GB: Finally, here's a question we're asking to everyone we interview at GalacticBinder: If you were transported into the Star Wars universe... what era, location and/or setting/situation would you want to end up in, and what's the first thing you'd do and with whom? (Keep it somewhat clean, Ms. Burton!)
BB: I'd been sent to the Cantina to be bar-back for Ackmena. Wherever Bea Arthur is, that's where I wanna be!
GB: Thanks so much for being with us Bonnie. Keep up the great work, and we hope we’ll see you at SDCC this year. The first round is on us!
BB: Sure thing! Thanks for the fun chat! May the glue gun be with you!
If you enjoyed this interview with Senior Editor and Online Content Editor for Lucasfilm, Bonnie Burton, please see Galacticbinder's additional Star Wars interviews.
GalacticBinder.com is not endorsed or affiliated in any way with Star Wars or Lucasfilm, Ltd. Please see our disclaimer.