Thursday, June 16, 2005

Star Wars Dweebing THREE: AFI Honors (and the History of George)

Lucas Finally Decides to Get AFI's Honor
George Lucas figures this is the ideal time to receive the American Film Institute's life-achievement award, now that he's getting out of the "Star Wars" business and embarking on a second career as an avant-garde filmmaker.

One of Hollywood's highest honors, the award Thursday came as Lucas was bidding goodbye to his six-film sci-fi epic about the Skywalker clan,EDITORS’ NOTE: WHIMPER…. with the final chapter cruising to a $400 million-plus domestic haul.

AFI actually approached him a decade ago or more about the career prize, said Lucas, who turned 61 days before last month's debut of "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith."

"I said, `You know, I'm too young. Look, I'm not ready yet,'" Lucas told The Associated Press. "Then they came back again, and I said, `Look, wait until I'm over 60. Then I'll do it.' As soon as I turned 60, they called me."

Never a prolific filmmaker, Lucas has focused largely on "Star Wars" since the mid-1970s, along with producing the "Indiana Jones" movies and TV series.

Before that, he was a filmmaking wunderkind who directed the cult sci-fi satire "THX 1138" and the enormously popular "American Graffiti." Now planning to return to his roots and make out-of-the-mainstream art films more akin to "THX 1138," Lucas jokes that since he views the six "Star Wars" installments as one long movie, he's receiving a career honor while barely getting started in show business.

"If you think about getting their award for a body of work but you think of `Star Wars' as one movie, then I've only done three movies, and the only achievement is I actually finished `Star Wars,'" Lucas said.

"At the same time, I'm starting a new career, so it's kind of the end of one phase and the beginning of another phase. So it's kind of the perfect time, probably as good as it's going to get in terms of being successful."

Of course, the films themselves are only part of Lucas' legacy. "Star Wars" reinvigorated sci-fi and visual-effects films, and Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic outfit revolutionized the industry.
The company has created special effects for many of Hollywood's modern spectacles, including "Titanic," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and the "Jurassic Park," "Star Trek," "Terminator" and "Harry Potter" flicks. ILM's advances in computer effects paved the way for such projects as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Lucas has been a key proponent of the gradual conversion from film to digital production and projection of movies. His last two "Star Wars" movies were shot digitally, helping to drive a trickle-down effect of technology that allowed independent filmmakers to gain access to low-cost and flexible digital equipment.

The recipient of the 33rd annual AFI award, Lucas joins such past honorees as Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Taylor, Sidney Poitier, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg, the latter two his collaborators on the "Indiana Jones" films.

Longtime pal Spielberg was picked to present the prize to Lucas.

"I think it's very appropriate," said Lucas, who plans to team with Spielberg and Ford for one more "Indiana Jones" movie. "We're friends, he's gotten his award here, and it's kind of fun to get it from a friend. It makes it more of a personal kind of award."

AFI: From moving image to image capture

1973 John Ford
1974 James Cagney
1975 Orson Welles
1976 William Wyler
1977 Bette Davis
1978 Henry Fonda
1979 Alfred Hitchcock
1980 James Stewart
1981 Fred Astaire
1982 Frank Capra
1983 John Huston
1984 Lillian Gish
1985 Gene Kelly
1986 Billy Wilder
1987 Barbara Stanwyck
1988 Jack Lemmon
1989 Gregory Peck
1990 Sir David Lean
1991 Kirk Douglas
1992 Sidney Poitier
1993 Elizabeth Taylor
1994 Jack Nicholson
1995 Steven Spielberg
1996 Clint Eastwood
1997 Martin Scorsese
1998 Robert Wise
1999 Dustin Hoffman
2000 Harrison Ford
2001 Barbra Streisand
2002 Tom Hanks
2003 Robert De Niro
2004 Meryl Streep
2005 George Lucas

The American Film Institute is still without a substantial endowment, but the nonprofit org remained on firm financial footing last year -- nearly a decade after funding was yanked by the National Endowment of the Arts.

2004 ushered in a philosophical milestone for AFI. After lengthy soul-searching, it changed its mission statement to celebrate digital media in addition to film and TV.

"I think it's been a great year. We've had a lot of ideas that are coming into focus and we're feeling comfortable with our new mission statement. It helped to focus everybody and make sure we are all going forward in a consistent manner," says AFI director-CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg, who is marking her 25th year in the top perch.

AFI's revenues clocked in at $30.5 million in 2004, up from $28 million the prior year. Program expenses totaled $26 million for the year ending June 30, 2004, compared with $23.2 million in 2003.

Firstenberg can't easily forget the torture of the mid-1990s, when the NEA -- under pressure from conservative forces -- all but withdrew financial support, forcing AFI to dramatically up its fund-raising efforts.

At that time, government funding provided roughly $2 million of AFI's $12 million annual budget. It was the NEA, along with the Motion Picture Assn. of America and the Ford Foundation, that paid for the launch of AFI in 1967 to promote and advance the moving image as an art form.

"Our funding model changed. We had been the largest grantee of the NEA," Firstenberg says. "I do think it's unfortunate that funding for the arts nationally is not what it should be." EDITOR’S NOTE: GRRRR……

By far, AFI's largest chunk of coin now comes from its nationally televised programs -- the long-running AFI Lifetime Achievement Award and the newer AFI's "100 Years..." series of annual television specials.

This year's lifetime tribute salutes George Lucas, and will air June 20 on NBC Universal's USA Network.

"100 Years ... 100 Movie Quotes" will be telecast June 21 on CBS. Pierce Brosnan will host. EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS SHOULD BE GREAT FUN!

According to AFI's financial statement for 2004, national programs brought in revenues of $10.7 million last year.

The next largest piece of the revenue pie belonged to the org's film and videomaker training ventures ($5.9 million), followed by private contributions ($4.8 million). Federal grants and contracts made up only $843,168 of revs.

AFI chief financial officer and treasurer Bruce Neiner says the launch of the "100 Years" series replaced the loss of government funding to a great extent, underscoring that AFI's efforts to compensate for the loss of Washington's assistance have been largely successful. EDITOR’S NOTE: TAKE THAT, YOU ARTS NAZIS!

Neiner agrees with Firstenberg that securing a significant endowment remains a top priority for AFI. He says the interest alone on such an endowment could be used as general funds to support org programs. Some larger universities have a $2 billion-$3 billion endowment, while AFI's current endowment remains static at about $7 million.

AFI did score a coup last fall on Capitol Hill when lawmakers appropriated $1.35 million for the AFI K-12 Screen Education Center, the largest government award for the program to date. It will show up on AFI's 2006 budget.

The school initiative, a partnership of AFI, Best Buy Children's Foundation and the U.S. Dept. of Education, helps students learn the tools of filmmaking. Since its launch, AFI K-12 has trained more than 400 teachers and 30,000 students at 200 schools nationwide. By next year, AFI hopes to extend the reach to 5,000 new teachers and as many as 60,000 students.

Also last year, the NEA awarded one of its largest preservation and access grants to the AFI Catalog, doling out $320,000. Firstenberg says the Catalog Endowment Fund, set up in 2003, has already reached $2.5 million, including a final pledge made in the form of a gift from the late Paul Getty.

The catalog is a database that will ultimately include all motion pictures from the 20th century, with each decade taking five years to complete. Last year, staffers completed cataloguing virtually all of the estimated 3,300 films made in the 1950s.

The AFI Fest secured its largest sponsorship in its 18-year history in 2004 courtesy of Audi.
Firstenberg says last year's mantra was to keep a steady course. She adds that will change in the coming year as AFI announces a number of ambitious projects to extend its national presence.

Founding AFI director and board of trustee member George Stevens, who led the two-year effort to come up with a revised mission statement, believes the amended statement will help to accomplish this goal, as well as help with fund-raising.

The old mission statement posited that AFI's purpose was to "advance and preserve the art of the moving image." The new one proclaims that AFI is a "national institute providing leadership in screen education and the recognition and celebration of excellence in the art of film, television and digital media."

Firstenberg and Stevens say the phrasing is much more inclusive, given how much has changed with the advent of new technologies and DVDs, for example.

"It is just an attempt to sharpen the focus of the institution and to make it more understandable to the public -- and to potential contributors," Stevens says. "I was never a big fan of 'moving image.' "

Reeling in the years
By VARIETY STAFF, Wed., Jun. 8, 2005
1944· Born in Modesto, Calif., on May 14 to George Walton Lucas Sr., a stationery retailer and walnut farmer, and Dorothy Lucas.

1962· Lucas is seriously injured in a car crash, which puts a serious damper on his auto-racing aspirations.· Enters Modesto Junior College, where he befriends lenser Haskell Wexler, who encourages him to pursue filmmaking.

1964· Enters U. of Southern California, receiving a BFA in film three years and about a half-dozen short films later.

1966· Begins stint as assistant editor for U.S. Information Agency, but also logs time as camera operator on John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix."

1967· Futuristic short "Electronic Labyrinth THX1138 4EB" receives grand prize at National Student Film Festival.

1968· During an internship at Warners, Francis Ford Coppola brings Lucas on as catch-all assistant on "The Rain People," for which Lucas films doc about the making of the pic, "Filmmaker."· Lucas works as camera operator on Maysles brothers' Rolling Stones doc "Gimme Shelter."

1969· Marries film editor Marcia Griffin (they divorce in 1983).· Named VP of Coppola's new American Zoetrope production company, based in San Francisco.

1971· Incorporates Lucasfilm Ltd.· Coppola helps set up Lucas' first feature at Warners, an expanded version of his award-winning student film: "THX 1138." It is a B.O. disappointment.

1973· Directs, co-produces and co-writes "American Graffiti" at Universal (with Coppola onboard as exec producer and Wexler lensing); Lucas receives first Oscar noms in all three categories for pic, a smash hit that tops the century mark in global B.O. Screenplay wins laurels from the N.Y. and National Society crix.· Lucas begins writing what would become "Star Wars" (aka "Episode IV -- A New Hope").

1975· After failing to find takers, Lucas persuades Alan Ladd Jr. at Fox to back "Star Wars"; filmmaker cuts fabled deal ensuring himself 40% of pic's profits as well as all merchandising revenue in exchange for forgoing a higher upfront helmer's fee.· Industrial Light & Magic, a special f/x subsid of Lucasfilm, is created explicitly to come up with effects for the new pic.

1977· "Star Wars" released in May; pic grosses over $300 million in initial run, earns six Oscars (including an editing laurel shared by Lucas' wife) out of 11 noms including picture, director and original screenplay.· Toy licensee Kenner, surprised at massive response to film and without a single toy ready for market, sells empty boxes with attached IOUs to redeem for action figures, which are on the shelves by Christmas.

1980· Lucas forms Sprocket Systems, a research and post-production company, which is later renamed Skywalker Sound.· He is credited as "presenting" Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's "Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior" in its U.S. release. Begins construction of 3,000-acre Skywalker Ranch campus in Marin County, Calif.; it's completed in 1985.· "Star Wars" sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" released; Lucas farms out helming duties to Irvin Kershner, but retains complete creative control. Pic's reviews match or surpass those for '77 pic -- some cite contribution of co-writer Lawrence Kasdan.

1981· Lucas writes story for and exec produces Lucasfilm-Par's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," a collaboration with director Steven Spielberg and writer Kasdan that is a blockbuster and spawns a pair of sequels (1984 and 1989).· Serves as uncredited exec producer on Kasdan's directing debut, "Body Heat."· First of Lucas' three adopted children -- Amanda -- is born; she will be followed by Katharine (1988) and son Jett (1993).

1982· Lucasfilm's first ani feature, bizarre tale "Twice Upon a Time," is released to little fanfare.· Videogame arm LucasArts created primarily to design "Star Wars"-themed titles.

1983· "Return of the Jedi" (helmed by Richard Marquand) completes original trilogy. As with first two pics, it's the No. 1 B.O. attraction of its year. At this point, domestic take for "Star Wars" trilogy is well north of $700 million.· Lucasfilm's theater sound-system format THX unveiled in two theaters showing "Jedi"; over next 20 years, that number would swell to over 4,000.

1984· Lucasfilm unveils EditDroid, a pioneering nonlinear digital film editing system. SoundDroid, which similarly altered sound-editing process, is created around same time. As with THX, both become industry standards.· Second Indiana Jones pic, the darkly violent "Temple of Doom," spurs successful push for new film rating -- PG-13.

1985· Exec produces Paul Schrader's "Mishima" and lends an uncredited assist to Walter Murch's Disney pic "Return to Oz."

1986· Produces and writes Michael Jackson 3-D pic for Disney theme parks, "Captain EO," helmed by Coppola.· Lucasfilm's comicbook adaptation "Howard the Duck" lays egg, one of the '80s most notorious flops. Lucas' collaboration with Jim Henson, "Labyrinth," fares better.· Sells Lucasfilm's Pixar computer graphics division, created just a year earlier, to Apple's Steve Jobs for $10 million to raise funds for other company units.

1988· Ron Howard's fantasy pic "Willow" -- a Lucasfilm production -- is first pic to feature ILM's new morphing f/x technique. Film is a solid but unexceptional B.O. performer.· Lucas produces former benefactor Coppola's biopic "Tucker: The Man and His Dream." Pic is critically hailed but a B.O. nonstarter.

1989· Indiana Jones trilogy wraps with "The Last Crusade"; talks persist 15 years later of a possible fourth pic.

1991·Lucas founds nonprofit George Lucas Educational Foundation to document and distribute successful educational tools and innovations. Project later launches a Web site and magazine Edutopia.

1992· First foray into series TV results in Emmy-winning adventure skein "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (ABC). A series of Young Indy TV movies would be produced for cable's the Family Channel.· Receives Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

1993· He sells EditDroid to Avid Technology Inc.

1994· Lucas effectively gives himself the greenlight to begin production on long-gestating "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, which he plans to write and direct.· Produces minor feature comedy based on his idea, "Radioland Murders."

1996· Lucas Online, an information and e-commerce Web site, is launched.

1997· Lucas and Fox release slightly altered special editions of first "Star Wars" trilogy, showing pics still have life in them (the 1977 pic ranks as the year's No. 5 draw at the wickets)

1999· Despite nasty reviews, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" is year's top blockbuster, raking in over $400 million domestically and nearly $1 billion worldwide.

2001· BAFTA honors Lucas with Stanley Kubrick Award for excellence in film

2002· "Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones" is released, the first feature to be shot and edited entirely in the digital format. Combined with overseas biz, it rakes in about $650 million globally.· Lucasfilm spins off THX into independent company.

2003· Lucas plans to consolidate his various businesses and relocate much of Lucasfilm to a $350 million campus named the Letterman Digital Arts Center at former Presidio in San Francisco by 2005. (The name refers to a Civil War surgeon whose name graced a military hospital formerly on the site.)· Lucas Animation is launched; in 2004, a Singapore outpost of the division is announced.

2005·"Revenge of the Sith" shatters several box office records in its opening weekend, raking in more than $300 million worldwide. EDITOR’S NOTE: SO FAR…..

Major sources: Lucasfilm's, Academy of Achievement

Hollywood out in force for Lucas salute
The American Film Institute's tribute to George Lucas almost could have been mistaken for a black-tie version of a geek-filled "Star Wars" convention.On Thursday night at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland, there were the requisite white-clad stormtroopers along with C-3PO, R2-D2 and Chewbacca, with Peter Mayhew of the "Star Wars" movies actually donning the "walking carpet" of a costume. And in a nostalgic moment that in an instant acknowledged the passing of 28 years, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford took up their positions onstage, flanked by the droids and their trusted Wookie, in a tableau that reproduced the final scene from 1977's "Star Wars."

In presenting Lucas with the AFI's 33rd Life Achievement Award, Steven Spielberg, who himself was honored in 1995, said, "No one loves getting older, George, but when you leave behind a legacy of imagination that actually changed our culture for the better and for generations to come, we can only look forward to your future with enthusiasm, wonder and gratitude for keeping the child inside all of us from growing old." EDITOR'S NOTE: PERFECT. LOVELY.

Spielberg, who collaborated with producer Lucas on the "Indiana Jones" trilogy, added: "You have taken the genre of fantasy and science fiction and turned it into a cultural standard. You have done more for the collective consciousness of this planet than you will ever know or ever really need to know."

In accepting the award, Lucas expressed gratitude that "I discovered my passion. I discovered movies. I love cinema."

He paid tribute to his three children -- Amanda, Katie and Jett, who all were present -- and many of his co-workers.He especially cited Francis Ford Coppola, who exec produced "THX 1138" and produced "American Graffiti," his first two films, saying: "Francis ... more than anyone else started my career. He was my mentor, my nag, my nudge, and he never gave up on me."

In a moment of self-deprecating humor, Lucas even allowed, "He took me from not being able to write a word in terms of writing scripts to being the king of wooden dialogue."

Lucas also singled out Spielberg, whom he called "my partner, my pal, my inspiration, my challenger."

Lucas, who took a 22-year hiatus from directing between "Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope" and "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," noted that he considers the six "Star Wars" movies one film, so, in a sense, he has only three directorial efforts to his credit.

But the fact that Lucas' filmography is not as lengthy as those of some past AFI honorees -- though adding in the films that he has produced, as well as those for which his Industrial Light + Magic has pioneered groundbreaking visual effects, it is weightier than he admitted -- actually worked to the benefit of the evening, written and exec produced by Bob Gazzale and directed by Louis J. Horvitz for broadcast June 20 on USA Network.

Freed from having to unspool dozens of film clips, the program instead focused on the creation and impact of the "Star Wars" movies -- culminating with fan testimonials -- with sidetrips through "THX 1138," "American Graffiti," the "Indiana Jones" trilogy and ILM's effects work.

Sidestepping a lot of the solemnity of such occasions, the tribute even managed some subversive humor, including several references to the notorious Lucas-produced flop "Howard the Duck."

William Shatner, for example, kicked off the evening by intoning, " 'Star Trek' changed everything, and aren't these conventions wonderful?," though when a couple of "Star Wars" stormtroopers threatened to drag him off stage, he quickly changed his tune. Launching into a tradition of "My Way" dedicated to Lucas, Shatner concluded by high-kicking it, Rockettes style, with a chorus line of stormtroopers. "Live long, you've already prospered enough," Shatner said as he surrendered the stage.

Beginning with "Hi, I'm Mrs. Han Solo, and I'm an alcoholic," Fisher delivered a comic rant in which she decried the fact that her likeness has appeared on so much "Star Wars" merchandising. "Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send you a couple of bucks," she complained to Lucas.

Ford admitted that he did once say to Lucas of all the techno-speak in the "Star Wars" scripts, "George, you can type this shit, but you can't say it." And he also jumped into the audience to embrace former Warner Bros. co-chairman Bob Daly, whose insistence that Tom Selleck -- the first choice to play Indiana Jones -- film "Magnum, P.I." instead, opened the way for Ford to play the part. "The real reason I am here tonight is because of you, Bob," Ford said.

Lucas' impact on both the culture and the art of movies was a common theme throughout the evening.

Howard Stringer, chair of the AFI Board of Trustees, said, "George is not only master of the boxoffice universe but light years ahead in crafting the future of the movies with new technologies."

Richard Dreyfuss, who starred in "American Graffiti," said, "After 'American Graffiti' opened, there was an embrace of my generation's childhood atmosphere that has never gone away." And Spielberg offered, " 'Star Wars' is the clearest example in film history of good vs. evil."

The dinner, sponsored by Microsoft, also included remarks from Robert Duvall, Tom Hanks, Billy Dee Williams, Jimmy Smits, John Williams and a performance by Maroon5.

In addition, AFI director and CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg presented writer-director Paul Schrader, a 1969 member of the AFI Conservatory's first graduating class, with the annual Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Medal.

AFI Honors Lucas
The American Film Institute honored George Lucas with a Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night.

Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Tom Hanks, Richard Dreyfuss, Steven Spielberg and even Chewbacca were there to help honor him.

Lucas was apparently subjected to "a good deal of good-natured ribbing." Ford complained he was never Lucas' first choice for the role of Han Solor or Indiana Jones. While Carrie Fisther jokingly claimed her life had been ruined by Lucas who is "a sadist, but like any other young girl in a metal suit chained to a metal (creature), I keep coming back for more."

The big highlight of the evening was the reunion of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, C-3PO, R2D2 and Chewbacca on stage. They received a standing ovation. EDITOR’S NOTE: OH COOL! NIFTY KEENO!

"In accepting the award, Lucas joked that he started out not being able to write a word, but became 'the king of wooden dialogue.'"

The ceremony was taped and will be shown on the USA Network on June 20th at 9pm. EDITORS’ NOTE: SET THOSE VCR’S!!!!

Lucas: Man of the gala
By William Keck, USA TODAY
HOLLYWOOD — A chorus line of dancing Stormtroopers kicked up their heels like Rockettes Thursday night at the American Film Institute's 33rd Life Achievement Awards gala saluting Star Wars creator George Lucas (airing June 20 on the USA Network, 9 p.m. ET/PT).

William Shatner, who led the splashy musical salute at the Kodak Theatre, joked, "Star Trek changed everything, and aren't these conventions wonderful?"

Among the celebrities in attendance at the star-studded performance were Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Richard Dreyfuss, Billy Dee Williams, Chewbacca and Hugh Hefner, who escorted a posse of 10 playmates,, including one with her hair done up in Princess Leia buns. EDITOR’S NOTE:EWWW….SO WRONGO.

The most emotional moment of the evening came when original Star Wars players Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Chewy, C-3PO and R2-D2, backed by composer John Williams' original score, performed a re-creation of the closing medal ceremony scene from Episode IV: A New Hope.

A muffled gasp was heard during a film-clip salute to Lucas featuring King Kong director Peter Jackson, who has shed not only his scraggly beard but also 100 pounds.

Earlier during dinner, Fisher approached Jimmy Smits to introduce herself as his "daughter," Princess Leia. (In the latest Star Wars installment, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Smits' character, Senator Bail Organa, adopts baby Leia.)

"Jimmy's a lot better looking than any of the stepfathers I ever had," cracked Fisher, whose mother, Debbie Reynolds, married and divorced three times. EDITOR’S NOTE: AND PEOPLE SAY ALL THE MEDICATIONS DULL THE WIT…..(AHEM)

Added Hamill: "Carrie and I are still trying to figure out how such good-looking parents as Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman ended up with us."

Fisher then chatted up her on-screen Star Wars love, Ford, and his real-life lady, Calista Flockhart, who were seated at Lucas' table with Steven Spielberg, Robert Duvall and Lucas' three adopted children, Amanda, 24, Katie, 17, and Jett, 12.

Ford was approached by Daniel Logan, 18, who played young Boba Fett in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Lucas said Logan's character may be included in his live-action Star Wars TV series, which is in the works.

Spielberg said writer Jeff Nathanson (Speed 2, Rush Hour 2 and 3) is readying a script for Indiana Jones 4 by summer's end. Asked whether Flockhart would play Indy's new leading lady, Ford said, "She would of course make her own decision."

Flockhart said she's up for a 2006 adventure. "Oh, yes," she said.If I could kick his (butt), absolutely!" EDITOR'S NOTE: HMMMM…..INSIGHT INTO THE RELATIONSHIP? DOES SHE KNOW SHE USED HER ‘OUTSIDE’ VOICE?

Evolution of a filmmaker
By JOHN ANDERSON, Wed., Jun. 8, 2005
The mythology of the "Stars Wars" sextet has been traced to the archetypes of Carl Jung, the "magical thinking" of "The Golden Bough" and our collective dream life as deconstructed by Joseph Campbell. But to hear George Lucas tell it, his life story -- as film or opera -- would resemble that of a character of classic literature: Faust.

"I said, 'I'll do just one regular old Hollywood movie on a soundstage,' " Lucas recalls. "And that little whim is what got me into 'Star Wars.' And, unfortunately, that little whim turned into my life."


"Well, for better or worse, let's put it that way."

Some would say Lucas sacrificed his art -- evident, if nebulously, in his pre-"Star Wars" career -- for money and control. Others would ask, "What's wrong with that?" EDITOR’S NOTE: I’M WITH THEM….MONEY. CONTROL. SOUNDS PERFECT!

The filmmaker's fable, whatever its moral, belies the fears on both sides of the debate between movie art and business: If Lucas was, as he claims today, a guy who wanted to make documentaries and abstract films, the results since "Star Wars" -- aka What Happens When Art Guy Gets All the Money and Control He Wants -- would likely be as confusing to both sides as Chewbacca describing an episode of "Desperate Housewives."

"On a personal level, Lucas could make any film he wanted to and not have a second thought about the financial consequences," says Dale Pollock, author of "Skywalking: The Life and Times of George Lucas." "Of course, he has had that power for the past 30 years and not done a single personal film that he is once again promising to make." EDITOR’S NOTE: THE GUY HAS A POINT. IF YOU READ THAT INTERVIEW FROM 1977 (THE ROLLING STONE INTERVIEW POSTED IN THE BLOG THE OTHER DAY), MR. L WAS SAYING ALMOST IDENTICAL THINGS ABOUT HIS LIFE AND MOVIE GOALS 30 YEARS AGO, AS HE IS SAYING NOW THAT….SNIFFLE….SW IS DONE. AND YES, HE’S BEEN BUSY IN THE INTERVENING YEARS. REINVENTING THE MOVIE BIZ, AND WHATNOT. BUT MAYBE OTHER THINGS ARE KEEPING HIM FROM THESE SO-CALLED METAPHYSICAL, ARTSY ENDEAVOURS?

How Lucas got into his purported better-or-worse position is a tale in itself -- one of seduction. In the central role is a USC film school grad and documentarian from the San Francisco Bay Area making "street films" and exploring the experimental side of cinema. And in the role of the Prince of Darkness: Francis Ford Coppola. OK, the malevolence might be missing, but the subplot of fate and free will is front and center.

"Francis was the overriding factor in those days," Lucas says of his early career in San Francisco, when he was part of a collective of cinema revolutionaries that included Philip Kaufman, Fred Roos and Tom Luddy, among others. They were all hopped up on the idea, as producer Gary Kurtz put it, that "independent filmmakers were gaining more and more power and the studios were losing more and more control."

Although Lucas and Coppola paid tribute to Kurosawa when they later helped finance "Kagemusha" (1980) and shades of Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" are present in "Star Wars," Lucas' filmmaking heroes are more arcane, including the documentarian Claude Jutra and experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett.

At the time, Lucas had done his student version of the dystopic "THX 1138" and a number of short docus including "Herbie" and "Freiheit."

"When I came to San Francisco, (Coppola) was very much into doing theatrical motion pictures," says Lucas. "And, y'know, with 'THX,' he said, 'You can do this as a film.' And I said, 'But I don't want to do theatrical motion pictures; I want to do abstract films.' And he said, 'Well, just do the best you can.' "

Calling "THX" more or less "the best I could do in terms of theatrical movies," Lucas leaves out all the help he had -- not from Coppola, necessarily, but from Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick and a little movie called "2001," which had left a few doors open on its merry way through the collective consciousness.

The late New Yorker critic Pauline Kael described "THX" as exhibiting "some talent but too much 'art.' Movie lovers may enjoy ticking off the homages or steals -- Cocteau's 'Orpheus,' Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' and so on."

"(Coppola) basically encouraged me to do what I wanted to do," Lucas says, "which obviously was not what the studio wanted me to do. But I had this opportunity to do something that is sort of halfway between a theatrical film and an abstract underground movie. And I knew I'd never get a shot at that again. And that it would probably finish off my career. And I could continue being a documentary filmmaker."

It didn't happen, of course, even if "THX" was all but abandoned by its studio.

" 'THX 1138' was just mind-boggling, quantum leaps from what other people were doing," says actor-turned-director Ron Howard, who attended USC film school a decade after Lucas, "even though he said he only got a B on it. But even then he wasn't interested in working inside the box."

In a 1997 reminiscence, Joseph Gelmis -- author of "The Film Director as Superstar" -- remembered the effect of seeing "THX" on TV in 1973. "Two years earlier, Hollywood and the New York critical community -- myself included -- had basically written off the young writer-director as a techie with a lot to learn about character, empathy and storytelling," Gelmis wrote.
"But on television, 'THX 1138' was a revelation. Instead of looking mutilated and fragmented, like most movies chewed upon every few minutes by commercials, 'THX 1138' was the first film I'd ever seen swallow the commercials. Whole. They were incorporated into George Lucas' vision of a Big Brother society using video conditioning as an instrument of mind control ('Be Happy, Buy More!')."

It was at the further urging of Coppola -- who provided not just a portal to fame and fortune but protection from the studios -- that Lucas made the transition from avant-gardist to pop artificer. "Francis sort of challenged me again," Lucas says, recalling how his mentor urged him to do a comedy, something sans robotic bells and doomsday whistles.

'Graffiti' artist

And that's how "American Graffiti" came about. Drawn from Lucas' youth cruising the streets of Modesto, Calif., "Graffiti" pointed to a filmmaker more grounded in character than mise en scene, and its thoughtful pace seems almost European compared to what would come later.

The "Graffiti" set was unlike "anything I had experienced up to that point," says Howard of the coming-of-age story in which he starred at 18, "which was really a reflection of old-school, highly traditional Hollywood filmmaking. So to me it was sort of revelatory, the spirit of the crew, the technical experimentation and adventurousness of the approach: use of multiple cameras, the spontaneity. It was just all brand new to me."

Adds Kurtz, "George's background had been in documentary work and he approached his features very much that way: set up two cameras and let the actors go though the scene and not have to shoot inserts or coverage if you've got everything. And part of 'American Graffiti' was shot that way. It had a very naturalistic feel about it."

Time magazine critic Jay Cocks wrote, "Few films have shown quite so well the eagerness, the sadness, the ambitions and the small defeats of a generation of young Americans."

Writing for Penthouse, Roger Greenspun called it a "powerfully abstract film -- as much committed to exploring a country of the mind as to examining any town in Northern California."
It is one of the great rock 'n' roll movies in accurately capturing what was joyous about the music, and life, in post-Eisenhower, pre-Kennedy assassination America.

But it also is a movie that yearns painfully for the past. Lucas admits -- while resisting the word "nostalgia" -- that a "big thing" in "THX" and "Star Wars," is "the idea that things constantly change and you can't hold on to stuff."

But holding on to stuff is precisely what Lucas' films have been about. "THX" is about banished freedoms, "Graffiti" is about vanishing youth and "Star Wars" works because it taps into that Joseph Campbell theory -- proved out by everyone from Aeschylus to Shakespeare to Michael Bay -- that cultural beings have shared stories, and unavoidable narratives.

At the time of "Graffiti," Lucas also was letting go of his own stuff, which included his aesthetic connection to the San Francisco film collective. As perceived by Kurtz -- who would produce "Graffiti" and the "Stars Wars" films -- the S.F. crowd was a mutual admiration society.

Bay Area camaraderie

"There were parties, dinners," adds Fred Roos. "Francis had not moved up to Napa yet, and he had this big house in Pacific Heights. He would give these gigantic dinners and screen films. I remember seeing a long, long version of 'Star Wars' before George ever pared it down. Everybody would give notes and thoughts. They wouldn't hold back. It was just a collegial feeling."

Unfortunately, as Philip Kaufman once pointed out, "success separates people," although Lucas' move into pop films was never looked at judgmentally.

"It was the kind -- no a kind -- of film George was interested in," says Kaufman of "Star Wars." The helmer behind "The Right Stuff" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," EDITOR’S NOTE: URP. THE MOVIE FOR WHICH THE PHRASE ‘NINE HOURS OF MY LIFE I WON’T GET BACK’ WAS COINED. was originally set to direct "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and developed the story with Lucas, but the assignment eventually went to Steven Spielberg.

Kaufman has nothing but praise for Lucas now. "People could see something special in what George was doing, even in those early films," he says. "I think it was the one he did about Francis' film, 'Rain People' ("Filmmaker"). George had the ability to find the right place in the right moment. Later, he made his moments. But even then he was attracting attention."

But even when he was making "American Graffiti," Lucas was thinking about the " 'Flash Gordon' movie" that would digest his next three decades. And now? Can he go back, pre-CGI and Hayden Christensen, to a place long ago and far away, when people drove '57 Chevys, wore DAs and listened to Danny and the Juniors?

"I'm probably going to go back and do films that are more like 'THX,' " he says, "so I'm going back even further."

Epoch filmmaker
By DALE POLLOCK, Wed., Jun. 8, 2005

What hath George Lucas wrought?

Now sitting atop the box office mountain again with his latest record-breaking grosser, "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," Lucas -- the latest recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award -- can survey an economic and cultural landscape that he has largely shaped over the past quarter-century.

"Star Wars" changed the way movies were made, marketed and merchandized. The Force became as familiar a belief system as Christianity, the term "Star Wars" was appropriated by President Reagan and the Pentagon, EDITOR’S NOTE: A LAWSUIT UNCLE G SHOULD HAVE WON…IMHO….. and Yoda is now imitated as frequently as Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson once were.

The innovations that Lucas pioneered in film and theater sound, nonlinear editing, digital effects and computer animation have influenced almost every feature made since the mid-1980s, and now enable millions of people to make credible works on their home computers.

In short, if Lucas has not morphed into the Emperor, he's come pretty close to building an empire of his own, headquartered in Marin County and now San Francisco. Lucas has achieved more financially, creatively and technologically than any other filmmaker in history. No other successful director has owned the copyright to the major work of his career, spanning almost 30 years and six films.

If Lucas failed to inspire filmmakers to follow his entrepreneurial path (with the exception of home-based auteur Robert Rodriguez),EDITOR’S NOTE: A TESTAMENT PERHAPS TO HOW UNIQUE WHAT HE HAS DONE TRULY IS, HOW DESERVING OF PRAISE (AND NOT ANTI-SW DERISION) HE TRULY IS. HMMM? he certainly transformed the rest of the commercial marketplace. Lucas cemented his reputation for giving birth to the blockbuster mentality with his wildly successful five succeeding "Star Wars" "episodes" (their structure a tribute to the movie serials he watched as a TV-besotted kid in Modesto, Calif.). He followed up with the popular "Indiana Jones" series, and just about every blockbuster series since has followed Lucas' example, from "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" films to digitally animated hits like "Toy Story" and "Shrek."

Synergy of branding
Hollywood always had its "spectaculars," from "King Kong" to "Ben-Hur," but Lucas developed a successful synergy that saw toy, food and apparel merchandizing; books, videos and DVDs; soundtracks; videogames; and (ultimately and most successfully) the Internet contribute to "Star Wars" branding. Ask today's film student what "Rosebud" means, and you'll get a blank stare.EDITOR’S NOTE: SHAME ON THEM. THEY SHOULD KNOW THEIR HISTORY! Say "May the Force be with you" and the student will ask you if you were at one of the midnight screenings of "Sith."

Lucas also can be credited with single-handedly reviving the sci-fi genre, and even more important, keeping alive the idea of space as a frontier for the imagination and the scientist/explorer/warrior.

Lucas completed the liberation of cinema from the reality of three-dimensional sets and locations; other worlds now can be rendered on a computer and the limitations are only those of the artist. Whatever one thinks of the dramatic shortcomings of the three "Star Wars" prequels, it is difficult to resist their visual allure and startling detail.

The work that Lucas began in a San Fernando Valley warehouse with the first "Star Wars" film, and flowered in the golden age of Industrial Light & Magic in the 1980s and early '90s, is now done by specialized f/x houses all over the world.

The computer graphics that seemed revolutionary in "Jurassic Park" and "Terminator II" are commonplace. Peter Jackson and his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy demonstrated that ILM-quality work could be done in New Zealand at a low price. Hundreds of young computer and film geeks around the globe are planning ILM clones of their own.

Lucas also developed a potent business model of how to milk a franchise for maximum economic, cultural and technological impact. Lucas has been stressing in interviews for the past decade that the culmination of his entire life's work would come in "Episode III," and the result was a worldwide gross that surpassed $300 million during its first weekend.

Lucasfilm has made an art of cultivating Internet and fan convention interest to keep "Star Wars" constantly churning in the collective consciousness. Official and unofficial "Star Wars" Web sites number in the millions, and Lucas has craftily managed Web buzz for maximum impact.

The carefully staged presentation at the Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis in April 2004 is a case study of how to stoke fan fanaticism. Producer Rick McCallum presented to thousands of "Star Wars" aficionados several minutes of footage, including the opening space battle and the final funeral scene. New characters were introduced, the new world of Alderaan EDITOR’S NOTE: NOT NEW. JUST NEW IN THE MOVIES…UNLESS YOU COUNT EXPLODED PARTICLES SPREADING THRU SPACE. (GIGGLE. EH BOB?) was glimpsed and Yoda decapitated a few bad guys. McCallum also disclosed plans for 3-D versions of all the "Star Wars" films, and the two upcoming "Star Wars" TV series, one animated and one live action. So much for "end of the franchise" speculation.

Estimates of marketing costs for "Episode III" range from $50 million to $150 million. But remember that in this truly unique case, they are borne by the filmmaker, and Lucasfilm will not publicly confirm any numbers. (It's difficult to put a value on the barrage of free publicity the normally media-shy Lucas has garnered, with more magazine covers than Angelina Jolie, along with a Cannes Film Festival world premiere.) EDITOR’S NOTE: NOT TO MENTION A BIG CHUNK OF THE AD BURDEN BEING BORNE BY BURGER KING AND PEPSI AND KELLOGGS, ETC.

Twentieth Century Fox is the ultimate studio handmaiden; it distributes the prints and collect the money, but it pretty much stops there. Former Fox studio chief Bill Mechanic recently complained in an NPR interview that Lucas really didn't care what Mechanic thought about the first two prequels. EDITOR’S NOTE: WHY SHOULD HE? WHAT DID FOX HAVE TO DO WITH IT EXCEPT DISTRIBUTION. (LUCAS PROBABLY DIDN’T ASK THE JANITOR OR THE CONCESSIONS GUY EITHER).

The age range of moviegoers that turned out for "Episode III's" opening week across the globe is a good indication of the firm hold "Star Wars" has on media-shaped world culture. True intergenerational events are rare in our segmented world, and "Star Wars" has become a legacy passed from boomer parents to today's college students and kids.

It also was striking to see so many people of color camped out in the "Revenge of the Sith" preopening lines; Lucas has achieved one of his primary goals, to create a functional (if superficial) mythology transcending age, race and gender. EDITOR’S NOTE: AND WHEN ARE WE EVER AGAIN APT TO SEE ITS LIKE?

Through his vision and an innate business acumen, Lucas has options unavailable to any filmmaker before him. Lucasfilm continues to evolve as a corporation, and its new Presidio headquarters in San Francisco offers intriguing glimpses into where the film industry and popular culture will be colliding in the future.

Harmonic convergence
The Letterman Digital Arts Center -- the new San Francisco headquarters for Lucasfilm Ltd., Lucas Arts (the games division) and ILM -- constitutes the movie business' equivalent of a super-computing center, able to move 1,000 terabytes of visual and audio data a day across the campus' 10-gigabyte fiber-optic network.

Lucas also consolidated Lucasfilm's marketing, online and licensing units into this futuristic headquarters, where business and technology will feed off each other.

LucasArts has already made huge inroads into the educational video market, fulfilling a longtime dream of slacker public school student Lucas, who was bored by books and yearned for visual stimulation in the classroom. The real potential of LucasArts is to integrate the design of films and videogames simultaneously, as with "Revenge of the Sith." The "assets" of the feature film, in terms of digital imagery and effects, are incorporated directly into the game, rather than the movie simply inspiring the game.

Lucas intends his company to lead the way to today's mass-media Holy Grail: the convergence of the filmed entertainment and gaming industries.

While Lucas has not followed his original goal of promoting an alternative filmmaking community in the San Francisco Bay Area, he does employ approximately 1,500 people at the Presidio complex.

Unlike Robert Redford, he has not been a beacon for independent filmmakers (like the one he still sees in himself). There's no Lucasfilm Institute that competes with the revered Sundance Institute; for all the technological groundbreaking he has performed for the industry, ultimately Lucas has offered to aspiring filmmakers little more than a coldly efficient model on how to maintain total creative control of the products of their imagination.

When I finished more than 50 hours of interviews with Lucas for my biography of him, "Skywalking," Lucas concluded by saying, "This company isn't designed to go on for the next thousand years. It's designed to service me while I'm alive and to give me the things I want to do."

But, of course, "Star Wars" has become much more than a means to Lucas' personal ends. He succeeded in doing what very few individuals have done (Thomas Edison and Henry Ford come to mind): He changed an entire industry, whether by design or selfishness.

For Hollywood, filmmaking in the late 20th and early 21st centuries can be described as BG or AG: Before George or After George.

Dale Pollock is dean of the School of Filmmaking at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and author of "Skywalking: The Life and Times of George Lucas," published by Da Capo Press.


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