THE STAR WARS SEMINARS
In the light of the media glare that aggregates around their films, it’s easy to forget that Lucasfilm was- and still is- an independent film production company. They work outside of Hollywood, up at the Skywalker Ranch north of San Francisco: down-to-earth guys who seemed genuinely happy to speak to their fellow independents at a series of seminars held at Fox Studios, Sydney, in August 2000...
Rick McCallum - Producer
Rick McCallum- producer of the new Star Wars trilogy- introduced himself by saying “When I met George Lucas I was the least successful independent film producer talking to the most successful...” which immediately won over a roomful of obscure Aussie independent film producers.
Asked “How do you put pressure on a director as famous as George Lucas?” Rick answered “Give him a start date,” explaining that “Writing is incredibly painful to George- he delivered his Star Wars Ep.2 script 3 days before shooting commenced, having had 2 ½ years to do it. He also finds directing incredibly painful and difficult but figures he has to go through it in order to get to the pleasurable stage of editing the movie together. George Lucas is an editor at heart.”
Star Wars Episode 2 is being shot on HD (high definition video) which is “incredibly liberating.” They’ve gone digital for a quicker turnaround of rushes to accommodate their high shooting ratios. Previously, they’d shoot 1 ½ to 2 million feet of film per movie, incurring 3 ½ million dollars in lab costs. Compare that with $11,500 for the same amount of HD stock: the saving is huge! They have monitors on the set, and can download the day’s material direct to ILM, allowing layers of special effects to be easily composited later. An average day’s shooting will get them through 2 ½ pages of script, and the number of shots in the film when it’s finished will total around 2,500. Their average shot length is 3 seconds.
By shooting in Australia, they are making an aggregate budget saving of 25% to 30%, as well as getting access to the talent which is easygoing & “undamaged”. That’s why they’re using an all-Aussie film crew: they find them more flexible, less unionised, and less prone to adopting high-budget technological solutions. However, Rick has been attempting to raise the money to make a short low-budget project while he’s here, and is discovering that “Dealing with your government film funding bodies is worse than dealing with any studio. That’s pain! They just don’t get it. And I know ‘cos I’ve talked to these people!” Which earned him a cheer and a round of applause.
After Australia, production of Episode 2 moves to Italy, Tunisia, Spain and then England, then it’s back to the Ranch for 19 months of post-production. That’s a long time between end-of-shoot and release, and it makes them unusually vulnerable to idea-theft: the reason they need such security. “There’s something so facile and simple and dumb about the films we make which people all over the world love,” Rick says, so they don’t want to blow their surprises, or see them ripped off. Marketing, of course, is as expensive as the making of a movie if not more so: it’s a big problem/hassle/near-impossibility sometimes to let people know you’ve even made a film!
The frustration in shooting HD is you lose quality printing it back onto film for release. In the future we ought to see movies zapped straight out to theatres in digital form, without quality loss and no need for expensive release prints. By making the process both faster and cheaper, electronic distribution could give smaller more “difficult” films a chance at finding an audience and earning back their revenue. “In 2 or 3 years, there are gonna be indy films all over the Net,” Rick enthuses, “including, of course, lots of bad ones, but it’s gonna be awesome!”
Reported by David Williams, August 2000