How George Lucas Looks at Life The Movie Magic of This Creative Director
By: John Shepler
Your pulse synchronizes with the throbbing of the soundtrack
as a collage of images flash across the screen. It's a riveting
sixty second window on the late 1960s, a time of agitation, a
time of unrest, a time of wrenching transition in America. For
one minute George Lucas has your full attention. He fills it
with the images of photojournalism, images you might have browsed
through in Look or Life Magazine. But this is no browse. You
are being pulled at hyperspeed across the landscape of society.
George Lucas, you say? This award winning cinematographer,
the creative force behind Star Wars, American Graffiti and Indiana
Jones, could no doubt parlay his film experience from the last
twenty years to produce a short feature that would grab you for
a minute or less. It may be no surprise that this film, "Look
at Life" garnered award after award at film festivals. What
might surprise you, though, is that it is George Lucas' first
film. "Look at Life," an award winner that broke new
ground in animation, was a student project for his first film
class at the University of Southern California. It wasn't even
supposed to be a movie.
If you're looking for the secret of success, start with this.
Every student in the beginning animation class is given 32 feet
of 16 millimeter film, a minute's worth, to learn how to operate
the camera. Most do exactly as they are told. They fiddle with
the mechanism, move the camera around and see what develops...so
to speak. Some get bored and whine that they "wish they
could make a movie." Lucas uses his 32 feet of film to revolutionize
a type of animation called kinestatis, which is doing fast movements
over photographs. Same class, same assignment, same experience
level. While most of the class waits for someone to empower them,
one student takes his film and goes out to start changing the
Looking at the incredible impact George Lucas has made on
the film industry, we might be tempted to ask him the same question
his classmates posed in 1965. "How did you do that?"
His answer would probably be the same now as it was then. "I
just did it." When aspiring young filmmakers ask him today
how to get into the movie business, he tells them "you just
start doing it." It's not a flip response. It's exactly
how Lucas got started and how he's overcome every business and
technical obstacle since. He just started doing it and lo and
behold, it happened.
The key to success may be that simple, but it's not necessarily
that easy. Lucas describes his first six years in the business
as "hopeless." He'd made another film while in college
called "Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138: 4EB." It took
first prize at the 1967-1968 National Student Film Festival.
It also won him a scholarship to observe Francis Ford Coppola,
a graduate of that same USC film class, at work on "Finian's
Rainbow." Lucas and Coppola hit it off immediately and a
couple of years later went into business together with a company
called American Zoetrope. Their first film was a full length
version of George Lucas's "THX-1138," financed by Warner
Brothers. So far it sounds like another success story brewing,
but Warner Brothers was unimpressed with what they saw in "THX-1138."
They cut it severely and released it with little fanfare. The
movie bombed at the box office. Coppola went off to film "The
could have been the end of a budding film career, but Lucas pressed
on. Taking some advice Francis Ford Coppola gave him, he concentrated
on writing a script that would appeal to a mass audience. The
result was "American Graffiti," a story about one summer
night's teen age fun and adventures in his hometown of Modesto,
California. Perhaps it was seeded with his own story or fantasy
of those years. Whatever he tapped, he managed to share it on
the screen, and "American Graffiti" became a hit. It
received five Academy Award nominations.
"American Graffiti" also made Lucas a millionaire
and gave him the funds and reputation to take his career in whatever
direction he pleased. He was now ready to fulfill his mission,
one that he believed was given to him when his life was spared
in a terrible car crash just before high school graduation. His
Fiat had been broadsided and started tumbling at 60 miles an
hour. Just before smashing into a tree, his seat belt broke and
Lucas was thrown free. During his months of recuperation in the
hospital, he thought up the concept of the Force and studied
Joseph Campbell's writings on legend and myths. Now, with the
resources to make it happen, George Lucas was ready to offer
the universe a story of values and heroism...in a galaxy far
"Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back,"
"Return of the Jedi" and now "The Phantom Menace"
are as much about the mission of their creator, George Lucas,
as about adventure stories set in the future. He says he put
The Force into the movie to try to awaken a spirituality in young
viewers. His foundation, The George Lucas Educational Foundation,
is also on a mission to improve public education. Founded in
1991, it has distributed 20,000 copies of a documentary film
hosted by Robin Williams and a 300 page resource book for parents,
teachers and children. The message is a simple one. Learning
starts with a student's passion. Find that passion and encourage
them to follow it and great things will happen. After all, it's
worked for George Lucas.
Books of Interest:
George Lucas Close Up The Making of His Movies by Chris
George Lucas by Dana White.Traces the life of the man
who became well-known for his Star Wars movies, from his childhood
in California to his career in films. A great biography book
George Lucas: The Creative Impulse by Charles Champlin,
Foreword by Steven Spielberg, Foreword by Francis Coppola. In
the 20 years since director/producer George Lucas formed Lucasfilm,
Ltd., he has had an unparalleled record of creative and technical
innovations and box-office successes. This is the first book
to deal with all the films in which Lucas has been involved.
Lucas' biography; summaries of each movie; a complete filmography.
Index. 221 illustrations, including 90 in full color.
George Lucas Close up; The Making of His Movies by
Chris Salewicz. This book covers the latest about the man, his
projects and his company, Industrial Light and Magic.