Q&A with the makers of Star Wars
Jim Ward: Okay, it looks like we’re ready. So I’ll just introduce George Lucas. Anyone have any questions for George?
Question: Very soon Francis Coppola’s going to come out with Apocalypse Now Redux, which includes 50 extra minutes, and there’s been several other big releases. Has there been any discussion about this DVD thing among filmmakers like you and Francis Coppola about how it’s different, how it’s special?
George Lucas: No. I think every filmmaker ends up having to compromise in order to deal with the theatrical experience. And so given their druthers I think most filmmakers on their own, without even consulting with each other, says, “Gee if I’m going to put this on DVD and the length doesn’t matter, I can put material in that I really love.” You know it used to be called Director’s Cuts and now it’s just called DVD. (laughter)
Question: Historically speaking, how do you think Phantom Menace will be seen say 100 years from now? How it will be thought of?
George Lucas: Well, I have no idea. I mean obviously I won’t be around so it won’t make any difference, but at the same time I would guess that they will be thought of as the first chapter in a six-part movie. So that it’ll be thought of really as Star Wars, notas Phantom Menace.
Follow-up Question: I was thinking more as far as cinema goes, because it seems very kind of cutting-edge in terms of the digital technology, where people were trying to figure out how to make a movie for the first time…
George Lucas: Well, I don’t know. I mean Star Wars was sort of pioneering in its own way too, but now it’s sort of old hat. You know, people forget very quickly the technological advances that are made on each movie. I guess there are technological advances made all the time. It’s a progression of the medium, especially in terms of being able to incorporate digital characters and sets and that sort of thing. It had been done before but not on this scale. And you know, the next film will be more extreme and I assume that when I make the third one, it’ll be even more extreme.
Question: Was there any initial hesitation going to DVD or have you been very confident since you first considered this format?
George Lucas: No. The biggest issue is I wanted to do something special and I wanted to make it have a lot of interesting things on it. And in order to do that, it took us quite a bit of time. We had to actually, in essence, shoot material. I mean we had shot it and cut it, but we hadn’t done the special effects on it so we had to finish sequences that had been abandoned. Which took quite a bit of time.
Question: Was there anything unique about Episode I that you wanted to address in particular when coming to DVD? Anything you wanted to show fans about the process or anything about the film itself?
George Lucas: No. (laughter) No, no, no, I mean we do so many behind the scenes documentaries, and we do so many things and the market is so broad, it’s hard to come up with something that is specific enough for me to be saying well this is something I want to do. I mean you give a general overview, you get behind the scenes, a lot of material that nobody has seen before. And you get a chance to see the scenes that were cut out and in the documentary it explains a little bit why they were cut out and the problems that a director has in having to trim this film down to satisfy an audience on a Saturday night.
Question: How do you feel about the finished product, and is there a favorite feature that you have on the disc?
George Lucas: Well, I’m very proud of the finished DVD. I mean it’s really, I love it and I think the interface is great. I’m happy to have those missing scenes back and finished, it was fun to finish them. You know, you do things that you never really get to complete, so you never really find out whether they’re going to work or not, and that was a lot of fun to see that all put back together again.
Question: Did you learn anything new about the film in revisiting it for DVD?
George Lucas: We ended up putting a few things that we’d cut out back into it just because when I finally saw them finished and I cut them in and I looked it and I said, it’s really better with this stuff in here than it is without it. And in a lot of cases in this kind of a movie, it’s very hard to make this kind of movie because it’s made in theory. And then at the very end you get to see it finished. Where normally you’d do a rough cut of a movie, that’s pretty much the movie so it’s not a theory anymore, it’s a reality. But with this kind of a film, the film hasn’t even been shot yet, in a lot of cases. So you’re cutting things out that haven’t been shot yet. So you’re saying, well I’m not sure if this is going to work so you just cut it out and you never see it actually work or not work. That’s a very different way than most people make a movie. And so in this particular case, I was able to finish a few things and I said when you cut this in here it just works great so I’m just going to keep it there. So there are scenes that were cut out but there’s also a little bit of adjusting in the film itself which I was very pleased about.
I don’t shoot certain scenes just to end up on the DVD.
I haven’t gotten that far yet.
I’m not sure, I assume someday people will do that but I don’t think I will.
Question: You talked in the documentary about the challenge of creating three or four new environments in each film. And I wonder now, with DVD getting to the extent that it is where you know you have Shrek coming out now and Godfather and Snow White, where they’re just putting hours and hours and hours of extra things and getting more innovative all the time with new extras. Is this creating yet another challenge or stress level for you to have to try to up the ante for DVDs now as well?
George Lucas: No, I think that a DVD should be organic. But there’s certain material that traditionally has been included, you know the commentaries and now we have some behind the scenes things. We have a great deal of behind the scenes footage that we shoot because I have lots of other plans to do other things. And obviously I don’t shoot certain scenes just to end up on the DVD. I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’m not sure, I assume someday people will do that but I don’t think I will.
Question: We all know your original plan was to wait and release all six films to DVD at one time. Why did you change your mind? Thank you, but why?
George Lucas: Well, there’s a lot of pressure on the market to release them and that sort of thing, and we were also in a situation where I wanted to complete the film. I mean I wanted to do the behind the scenes, I wanted to do the scenes that were taken out. And I really needed to have the people who were involved in it do it. If I’d waited for another four years when I finally made the third and the final and finished it, it wouldn’t be as easy to accomplish all that. And once you’ve accomplished it and you’ve spent the money on it, then it makes sense to release it. And so now I think with these first three, we will be releasing them as everyone else releases them, which is in the normal schedule after the initial theatrical release of the movie. Then I’ll do the first three, because they’re kind of vintage and it’ll take a little bit more work.
Question: American Graffiti which has been on DVD for some time, for anyone who has read about what you had to go through with Universal to make that film, seems to be one of your most personal. So I was just curious why you chose to record your first feature commentary for Star Wars? Is this a film you’re more proud of if that’s possible? I mean because I know you’re probably proud of all your features, but why did you start now?
George Lucas: Well I don’t know. I didn’t have a lot to do with the DVD of American Graffiti, it was actually a Universal project. And I think when they were doing that I was actually shooting Phantom Menace or something so I wasn’t even around to do it. I’m not quite sure what happened on that, but this one, we did ourselves. The American Graffiti DVD was put together and released by the DVD Department at Universal. They don’t actually ask whether you want to do it or not. They just go ahead and do whatever they want to do.
Question: Would you possibly like to revisit it sometime and do a commentary?
George Lucas: I don’t know.
Question: In the documentary we saw you in a lot of challenging and stressful situations, and you seemed very calm and unflappable. Is that your general style making films and if so, how do you remain so calm?
George Lucas: Well, I’m not very calm about raising my kids. But I’ve done this for a long time now. And I lose my temper every once in awhile just like anybody does under those kind of conditions, especially when they go on for months. But generally, 90% of the time, that’s the way I am. And it’s just my constitution I guess. It’s the way I work. I don’t like a stressful set. I don’t think yelling at people really accomplishes too much.
Question: I just wanted to raise something that came up earlier. You said earlier that what used to be called the Director’s Cut is now called the DVD, but do you think in some sense that now it’s quite difficult to say at what point a film is finished, or that there’s a final version or a definitive version? And particularly your decision to finish scenes that you’d set aside and think about putting some of them back. It muddies the waters in a way. This may not be a bad thing, maybe you think that’s a good thing. But there’s no, there’s a fuzzy sense of when a film is finished, no?
George Lucas: Yeah. Now it’s not unlike all other art forms. All the other art forms have that advantage, improvised additions and you know for things to be touched up or redone. You know an artist especially, you go into any studio and you’llfind a lot of paintings sitting on a wall that were finished five, ten years ago that the artist is just sitting with until he’s really happy with it. And even sometimes after they sell the paintings, they come back and revisit it. Not that often. But I think with film, like anything else as far as I’m concerned, the film is finished when the director is gone. So to speak. And you know, it brings up another issue that a lot of us have been campaigning for in the last 10 or 15 years, which is artists’ rights. Because more and more, it’s going to get to a point where people can re-cut each other’s movies and studios can re-cut your movies and do the same thing that now is essentially left to the director to do. And then you’re going to get some very distorted views of movies. It’s like what happened in the theatrical experience. And you know you hear all the complaints from the directors, that’s not my cut, that’s not what I wanted, you destroyed my movie. And right now we’re sort of getting that back through the DVD process of actually making it more the way we, the filmmaker, actually originally intended it. But then there’s always this danger that the studios take it back and say well I don’t care what he wanted I’m going to do the new DVD, which is the better cut. You know, the executive/middle management cut. The corporate cut. And we’re looking to try to see that there are some protections about who actually gets to re-cut these movies. And then, as far as I’m concerned, the artist should always have the right to re-think what he’s done because that’s ultimately what people are interested in.
Question: Expanding on the idea of commentary, how did you enjoy, what was it like sitting down revisiting the film and talking about it and would you want to do that again on your future work?
George Lucas: Yeah, I’ll do it again. I mean again at this point, I don’t know. In this case, I didn’t actually take a great deal of time to sort through it in a very comprehensive fashion. Generally what happens is you sit down and watch the movie and just talk about it. So you know it’s whatever sort of comes off the top of your head at that particular moment. My feeling is that in the future, they will become more prepared in terms of there will be a theme going through it or some kind of issue that is being dealt with or many issues. Because there’s so many things you can talk about that it’s a kind of an arbitrary amount of information that comes out at any given moment. And usually, by the time you’ve said something important you’re already on to the next scene, so you don’t have enough time to second-guess what you’ve said.
Question: There’s only seven cut scenes on the DVD and there’s numerous other cut scenes from the film. Was it difficult for you to make a decision on which scenes to complete?
George Lucas: I picked the seven that are actual scenes. I mean, we can’t just sort of go through and cut random dialogue. So you know, we tried to get things that actually developed into a real scene that went on for at least a minute. Sometimes a little bit less, but you know we tried to get substantial things. In the end, you cut out an enormous amount on a movie. You know, there’s another half hour of bits and pieces and things that are kind of not really relevant to anything. And they’re not relevant to an entity that was taken out, it’s just trims and cuts and lines that are lost and that sort of thing.
Question: One of the scenes I was hoping to see, that I’ve seen pictures of, is Obi-Wan being lectured in the swamp by Qui-Gon, after his saber burned out…
George Lucas: You know, it’s like four lines. I mean, the scene is there, it just would be longer. And it’s the kind of thing that overall, in looking at the movie, I felt that that discussion didn’t really fit into the movie. It’s relevant in a more grand scheme of things, which is relevant to the movie that I’m making now and kind of things, it’s a kind of minor version of what Jabba the Hutt was in New Hope. Which is it’s not really relevant to A New Hope, but it is relevant to Return of the Jedi.
Unfortunately, I’m writing a novel and I’m writing it a chapter at a time.
And one chapter comes out every three years. So each chapter has to kind of work unto itself.
And, you know, in the second one too but mostly when you go back to see the last film. And this is just a couple of lines that sort of resonated against similar kinds of lines that are going on in this movie. But in the end, it’s a shading, it’s not really a big issue. And in a lot of cases, you’re sort of trading off shadings that might be appropriate in the grand scheme of six movies, but not appropriate in the individual movie as it exists. Unfortunately, I’m writing a novel and I’m writing it a chapter at a time. And one chapter comes out every three years. So each chapter has to kind of work unto itself. And it’s kind of tricky, because you don’t want to do things that bring the whole thing down, just because if you saw the whole thing at once it’ll all make sense but it doesn’t individually. So I have to kind of weigh those two things against each other all the time.
Question: You were talking a minute ago about some of the things that we saw on the documentary that were interesting, and one of the things that surprised me and I’m imagining it’s going to surprise a lot of people to see it, is that scene when you’re sitting in the editing room, and you’re pulling material from one take and from another take to combine it into something that you want. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that that’s even possible, the technology that you can combine such disparate things. And I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on this.
George Lucas: Well it’s an advance. Again, it’s sort of the technological side of the craft of filmmaking. You know people usually don’t go into long discussions about editorial tricks and things that we use all the time to get performances out of people or to try to make sense out of scenes that inherently don’t make sense. And so this just moves that whole toolkit further along. It’s like word processing being able to move paragraphs around and do things like that. Or Photoshop, where you can touch up photos or you can move things over, or you could take things out.
You know in the digital world these things are kind of old hat. You know they just haven’t been applied that much to film, at least not to feature films but you know in a lot of commercials and video. Let’s just say it’s more of a film school issue than anything else I think, and most of the students do already understand how you can slice and dice a frame and make it be what you want it to be. Especially if they’ve had any experience with animation.
Question: Were there parts of the DVD included for more hardcore Star Wars fans? Was it meant for a general audience? Both?
George Lucas: Well I think it was meant for both. I mean we tried to have a little something in there for everybody, but a DVD is like everything else, it’s designed really for everybody. It’s not designed for a specific group.
Question: Was there any parts that you put in for the hardcore fans?
George Lucas: I don’t think so.
Jim Ward: Well I think it depends. Certainly some of the aspects of the deleted scenes are, as we talked about the Rats Tyrell family, that you’ve got to really be hard core to know who Rats Tyrell was and that inside joke. But it’s really funny just if you looked at it in general. So it’s a blend. And that’s what’s wonderful about Star Wars.
George Lucas: Well, we put in, mostly things that we all liked and all of us that had worked on the movie and people who were involved in the movie kind of the things that got added in and what the documentary was about and all that sort of thing. So in a way it was for the hardcore fans because it was for us.
Question: What kinds of movie experience does watching DVD represent to you? Do you enjoy renting a DVD rather than going to a movie theater?
George Lucas: I generally go to the movie theaters. I mean I go to the movie theaters to see what’s happening now and then I watch DVDs for older movies that are no longer in the theaters. So I don’t really choose one or the other. If I want to see Dr. Strangelove I can’t go to the movie theater. But if I want to see something more contemporary, Jay and Silent Bob Strike BackI have to go to a movie theater.
Question: I was just wondering, Rick had said earlier that right before you went to Australia to film Episode II, that you hired the crew for the DVD. Were you going back and forth in terms of working on each project? Were those simultaneous?
George Lucas: Yeah, in this particular case the crew that worked on the DVD some of them had worked on the film and I gave a lot of instructions when I left. And then they’d come and visit every once in awhile in Australia. But I didn’t check in at the same level that I would on the film that I’m working on now. I sort of let them have a little more freedom because they knew pretty much what to do, they’d worked on the film, they knew how it all went together. And there wasn’t a lot to get on them about because there weren’t really a lot of decisions that had to be made.
Jim Ward: Time for a couple more questions, and I want to make sure that I get people that haven’t asked one yet. So you’ve not asked one? OK. I trust you.
Question: Is it hard for you to come here and talk about the DVD, should your mind be preoccupied with Episode II?
I’m not a techie!
And I’ve never really claimed to be.
George Lucas: Well, it is actually. I’m over there editing right now, had to deal with a particular scene. But I sort of let the editors fend without me for a few minutes and hopefully they’ll have things sorted out by the time I get back.
Question: With each film pushing the edge of technology, do you think people will be surprised that you actually write the scripts with pencil and paper as opposed to using word processing?
George Lucas: I don’t know. I mean people I guess have a tendency to think you’re one way or the other, and people come out here and they see this is all sort of Victorian and they say oh my God I thought this was all going to be really fancy and high tech and look like some Frank Gehry museum or something. But you know, that’s not what my personality is at all. I’m not a techie. And I’ve never really claimed to be.
Question: As a movie lover I grew up in an era of the first Star Wars films. There was no real “Making Ofs,” there was no DVD. I’m just wondering as a filmmaker do you ever worry that you might be showing too much and therefore destroying the magic of the process of movie making?
George Lucas: Well I think it’s like anything else, and especially like the writing process. I think especially for young people it’s important to let them know how all these things go together because I’m hoping a lot of them will get into it and do it themselves. So it becomes a kind of an educational process. It’s not something that was available when I grew up. You know we couldn’t even see movies unless we went to school and actually it was showing that night. And you were just stuck. Now you can pretty much see any movie you want at any time you want. It’s an amazing transformation that’s taken place.
I think the other end of it is that by doing the documentaries, there’s a lot more revealed, a lot more going on with the filmmaker. When I also went to school nobody really knew who directors were except film students. You know maybe Hitchcock or some of the people that have been on television, but you know generally it was a pretty quiet behind-the-scenes job. Now it’s not. And we’re obviously allowing more and more entry into the creative process of exactly what we do and how we do it and what it’s like on the set every day when you’re actually doing it. Because for the most part there’s cameras around all the time, recording almost everything that goes on. And that’s a little intense. I mean it’s like a space station, you’re in a zoo. I guess if lions and tigers and bears can stand it, directors can, too.
Question: With the DVD release you’ve really seemed to have embraced the online world with communicating with your fans, and you mention earlier that you were pressured to release Episode I. To what extend do people on the Internet that get together and talk about your movies and communicate, influence both you as you’re looking at the Star Wars franchise on DVD but also as the story continues and you create the Star Wars films?
George Lucas: When I did Phantom Menace two or three years ago, I started to read some of the Internet stuff for the first time. And you know I found it rather disturbing in its complete fantasy life. I mean about 2% of what I read that had any credibility whatsoever in terms of being true. And the rest of it was just complete BS that had been created by somebody somewhere.
And at first you sort of say well they can’t say that, and this is crazy, what are they talking about? I was doing it pretty much when I was editing, because I didn’t have anything else to do and sort of in between I’d sort of read the Internet. And after I finished that movie and everything I stopped reading the Internet. And I haven’t really gone back because it’s not, in a way it’s just not relevant to what I do, in any way. So I just stay away from it. It’s like reading reviews. People expressing their opinion for whatever reason and that’s fine, but in the end I’ve got too many other things to do to spend my time sort of listening to 10,000 opinions.