How Chris Dane Owens Finally Turned His Campy ‘Shine on Me’ Music Video Into a Feature Film — 15 Years and Millions of Dollars Later

Back in 2008, a music video landed on YouTube — then still largely in its infancy and mostly dominated by amateur video footage — and caused a bit of a stir, amassing a cult following and 1 million views. More than 15 years on, the video has morphed — extremely slowly — into a full-length feature film.

Chris Dane Owens’ upbeat love song “Shine on Me” was already a catchy slice of rock with some heavy ’80s inspirations. But it was the epic accompanying video — which he made for $70,000, no small sum in today’s music video world — that proved to be the real hit, largely for squeezing into its four minutes practically every clichéd trope and inspiration from popular swords-and-sorcery fantasy entertainment. “The Princess Bride” features prominently, but then there are elements of “Xena,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Dungeons and Dragons” and many, many more.

Among a (snow-topped, possibly volcanic) mountain of gloriously cheesy visuals — most made using green screen with the help of “Beetlejuice” and “E.T.” effects legend Robert Short — are long-haired heroes (including Owens himself) on horseback, bodice-wearing fair maidens, slow-motion swordfights, evil witches witching in trios, good witches floating around in trios, fire-breathing dragons, frost-covered ice kingdoms, magic glowing books, exploding pirate ships, plenty of capes, some sort of regal ball, a villain in a Dr. Doom-style mask and a whole load of lush green scenery porn.

If anyone ever asked the question, “What if INXS was really into ‘Game of Thrones’?” this video surely had the answer.

For Owens — also an Emmy-nominated TV producer and son of the late radio, TV and voiceover performer Gary Owens — beyond just living out his own love of the worlds created by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman (“The Golden Compass” film had just come out around the time), the idea was to create something that audiences saw as a movie trailer.

“I wanted it to look like the trailer to a high-end fantasy film,” he says. “Trailers force the viewer to put together the puzzle pieces themselves. So I thought that putting it in a music video would do the same thing and people would puzzle their way through it and have their own stories and interpretation.”

The number of those puzzling their way through the “Shine on Me” video, or just repeat watching in dumbfounded awe, quickly grew. The first ignition came when it was mentioned on the now-shuttered video-game focused G4 network, but just a month later, in December 2008, The New Yorker described it the best video of the year, followed by articles in The L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal.

“And then it really started to take off, and companies such as VH1 and MuchMusic in Canada got in touch asking to get the HD version to put on rotation,” Owens says.

But it wasn’t just gaming or music channels that were interested. “30 Rock” was on TV at the time, and Owens says that an assistant to the producers got in touch asking for signed autographs, CDs and photographs for the staffers and execs, including Tina Fey. “I was like, ‘Oh, you guys like it?’ And they said, ‘We love it. We watch it all the time when we get stuck creatively, because there’s something about the way it’s structured it kind of encourages creative response.’”

It was around then that talk arose about actually turning this pseudo trailer into an actual film, an idea first sparked over lunch with an agent at CAA. “He said, ‘Hey, this is really cool, but have you ever thought about making a movie?’” Owens says.

As much as Owens loved the idea, the budget was way off what he could hope to gather. That was, until a few years later, when an executive producer by the name of Kiki Koral came into play and helped secure the first bit of funding. And so, what would eventually become “Empire Queen: The Golden Age of Magic” started taking shape, with Owens, alongside his writing and directing partner Jason Schulz, taking the characters and ideas he had introduced in the “Shine on Me” video and transforming them into a fully-fleshed out feature.

“There’s obviously no dialogue in the music video, so the big challenge was how to take it and populate it with story and character arc and humor and dialogue,” he says. “We had a lot of fun, because we had to make a choice of what we wanted to do tonally. In our budget range, we couldn’t create something that’s heavy and oppressive and too dramatic, so I think it would be better if it had a twinkle, like a ‘Princess Bride’ or a ‘Harry Potter,’ where there’s a lot of goofy, quirky humor along the way. And once we had our tone in mind then we were off to the races.”

And so, Owens’ gallant horsebacked hero became Commander Jade Cross, a brave English aristocrat out to “quell rogue magic and rebel uprisings” alongside his trusty companions Montgomery Stirling (Captain of the Queen’s Fleet, no less) and the mysterious masked “Royal Enforcer.” Like any good fantasy plotline, there’s a “kingdom in turmoil,” and a long, convoluted prophecy involving magical maps and keys. Beautiful maidens appear almost instantly, the first casually reading a book by the side of a picturesque river on a hot summer’s day.

With Koral’s initial funding, the team went out to film what they could before finances dried up, then used that footage to secure the next chunk of money. Owens won’t reveal the total budget beyond it being “in the millions” of dollars.

Eventually, after 100 days of shoots spread across several years, “Empire Queen” was complete. And now, 17 years after “Shine on Me” amazed viewers on YouTube, the feature length spinoff has landed on the internet, first on Amazon Prime and soon across various other platforms such as iTunes and Google Play.

The online world is obviously a very different and far less innocent place to how it was the mid ’00s, with thousands of hours of new content — much of it made with the explicit intention of going viral — uploaded each day. But Owens is hopeful that, like the original video, the feature film will find its following.

“I always felt that [the video] was more of a cult project with a loyal global audience that really dug it and got what we’re doing,” he says. “So with the feature, I’m hoping that the same kind of cultish phenomenon happens, where people really dig it and want to see it on the big screen, and watch it multiple times with friends and just have a good time.”

See the trailer for “Empire Queen: The Golden Age of Magic” below.

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