Need to know

Meet the New Zealand family who reimagined SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY in cardboard’

With help from children Orson and Elliott, married couple Lilly and Leon are Cardboard Box Office, a New Zealand family who recreate iconic movie scenes using cardboard, kitchen utensils and lots of sticky tape. They’ve reproduced everything, from the set of The Graham Norton Show to Jurassic World.

Not long ago in a living room far, far away, their most recent project has been to recreate the famous cockpit of the Millennium Falcon to celebrate the UK cinema release of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY. We caught up with them to chat about Star Wars, difficult dinosaurs and lemon zesters….

1. Of all the materials in the world, why cardboard boxes? 

Leon: It all started when Orson was born and we moved to Australia. We were home a lot on the weekends and we didn’t know a lot of people there. We wanted to take a family photo of us and I wanted to do it in the style of a movie, because I thought it would be funny. We had a garage full of cardboard boxes as we’d moved over with everything from New Zealand. So, we had this material that was just sitting there and was really flexible to use, so we just went organically in the direction of using cardboard.

2. You’re obviously both highly creative. Did you already have a lot of these skills (i.e. photography, arts and crafts) or were you learning as you went?

Lilly: We both studied design at university and I majored in photography. Leon is one of those totally creative people. When he decided that very first night to turn our house upside down, I went along with it because over the years I’ve seen his aura of amazing creativity. Whatever he seems to touch turns magic.

Leon: I’m actually hopeless with crafts. I can’t make things. That’s why working on a big scale and with photography works. Everything is really just taped together. I just go for the basic shape of things but if you were to get me to make a paper plane or anything like that with small details, I’d be hopeless! So, it’s ironic that we’re now spending time crafting things.

3. What do you enjoy most about these projects?

Leon: I guess the images at the end of every one of our projects that we take on. Also, there’s this nagging desire I have, when I watch or think about a film, to recreate it in our house.

Lilly: From a mother’s perspective, it’s been really enjoyable particularly now to go back to the beginning and see Orson when he was 6 months old when we took that first photo and to see him grow up. He’s only just now realising what it’s all about. That’s been a cool process to go through as well.

4. Although most people will have discovered you online, do you see creative activities like this as an antidote to too much screen time?

Lilly: Yes, absolutely. When we did these photos every week or once a fortnight, that was our family day. Go out in the morning to a charity shop to get a costume piece that we needed or rifle through our closet or kitchen drawers. So, it was a full day of pottering around. It’s a family thing that we do with each other and it does take us away from Facebook and things like that.

5. Children are notoriously difficult to get to stay still. How did you manage it in such complex pictures?

Lilly: Orson has always been incredibly easy when it comes to these photos. He’s very good with directions. He never made a fuss.

Leon: We’d take a few dozen photos so the one we end up using is definitely the best one. There are others where he’s ripping something down!

 6. What’s the most challenging project you’ve ever worked on?

Leon: The one that makes me cringe was trying to make the T-Rex from Jurassic World. I’d check in with Lilly and say, “does it look like a T-Rex?” and she’d say “no, no.” I generally avoid animals. I watched The Life of Pi once and tried to recreate the tiger out of jerseys and bottle caps…and it just looked terrible, so we canned that one.

Lilly: The challenging thing about this project was that we’ve been eating on our laps for about two weeks because the table’s been part of the Millennium Falcon. I was making dinner and had to zest a lemon, so I had to take the zester off the Falcon because Leon had taped it on there.

7. You both seem to be excellent at throwing poses and making faces. Do you have any acting experience? And have your children inherited this skill?

Leon: We don’t have any acting ability. I was in plays and stuff when I was little, but no. I think you can get away with a lot when it’s a still image. On film, you’d realise how bad actors we really are! I think if either of the boys were to get into acting it would be Elliott. He just loves dressing up. He’ll come into the lounge wearing necklaces or a tiger mask. He’s so different to Orson, he really gets into it. Orson prefers to sit down and read books. He’s quite the introvert.

8. You’ve covered several Star Wars films including A New Hope and The Force Awakens. What keeps you coming back to Star Wars? 

Leon: Everything is so iconic about them visually – the ships, the costumes. You don’t have to put much on for people to recognise you as a character from that film. From an audience perspective, everybody knows them. I just really love the stuff they created in the original films. There’s something about that fits with the Cardboard Box Office aesthetic. In the original models, like the Death Star, the model makers were just creating things from any little bits they could find. They used existing model kits and little bits and pieces and just painted over them and I just love that approach. You don’t know exactly what you’re going to end up with.

9. Having now created one yourself, what do you think makes the Falcon so iconic?

Leon: I think it’s the shape of the thing, I don’t know why, but it’s such a cool shape and it’s become one of the most famous things about the films – even more than some characters. Apparently, they came up with the basic shape from a hamburger and olives!

10. The online world is a crowded place. How did you get the word out about your creations and do you have any tips for others?

Leon: I think you just have to have a project to offer somebody. We never set out to make this big thing. We just started on Facebook for our friends and they said “we should make a blog, but we’d never ventured into blogging at all. You must have a good idea. You can push and push a blog all you want but if you don’t have a good idea behind it, it won’t work. If you make something that people will keep coming back to, it’ll get popular.

11. Orson must have graduated from a silent actor to a very talkative one by now. What does he make of your unique family photos?

Lilly: Orson has got to a point where he understands what we do. He’s got his own interest in movies. He likes to spend time creating stuff with his Dad, so he’ll want to start his own projects. He was really excited to do this project because it’s the first one where he actually gets what we’re trying to achieve. So now I think it’s going to take a different turn because he’s taken different roles from crawling to walking and talking and now we’re able to actually direct him. Now we’re at the point where it can be his ideas we run with. And he can also make his brother do things, which I’m sure he’ll love! So now it can be his time. I can only imagine what kind of trouble we’re going to get into!

For more Cardboard Box Office magic, check out their blog.