Last week I was living a dream. I was screening and interviewing a few people from the cast and crew of the LucasFilm movie Strange Magic that’s coming out January 23rd. We already had our itinerary and I was psyched. I even did a post where I told how I was excited. All 25 bloggers were on the bus chatting away when the Disney Films PR rep Marshall Weinbaum said he had an announcement to make. The bus quieted and then he said the words “TOMORROW YOU WILL BE INTERVIEWING GEORGE LUCAS!”. Squeals happened, spontaneous hugging occured, and there might have even been a tear or two. Surprising 25 bloggers is no easy task, but the thought of interviewing a legend the next morning had me flabbergasted.
The next morning we went to SkyWalker Ranch chatting away with the actor Elijah Kelley when very casually George Lucas walks in carrying a coffee. I don’t know why “Casual George” as I call him had me almost comatose, but he did. In my blogging career I’ve met some amazingly talented people and I’ve kept my cool, but this was George Freaking Lucas. An Icon. A Legend. The MAN. Yet, he’s just like us….strolling in saying hi. He even screened the movie Strange Magic with us. (only 3 rows behind me!!) Then he gave us one of the best interviews I’ve ever had. Check out some of the highlights below:
GEORGE LUCAS: Hello. Yeah I was hiding in there talking to my daughter.
Q: How old is she again?
GEORGE LUCAS: She’s 26. I got a 33 year old, a 26 year old and an 18 month old. And a boy. He’s 21.
Q: So going back to Strange Magic, can you tell us a little bit about why you wanted to make this film?
GEORGE LUCAS: It started quite a while ago, about 15 years ago, and I just got the idea that it would be fun. I mean I love to do musicals using my favorite music, so it kinda harkens back to my pre-Star Wars days. I thought it would be fun to make a film that was more for tween girls than Star Wars. Which is for tween boys, even though in the end everybody loved it and girls love it. You know it all worked out. So I’m hoping that this one, even though it’s more teen-more teen girl-centric, hopefully it will engage all the boys and everybody will like it. The idea of an upbeat, fun, simple, movie just appealed to me. I’d finished all the Star Wars and everything and I was producing films but I wanted to do one that I could actually get my hands dirty.
So we started with a small group here, designing things, doing animation tests and doing this. So it went on for years and years and years, you know I was kinda doing it on the side. It kept growing and it’s one of those fun movies, I loved doing it because I love the music, I love coming to work on it, I love watching it, which is the key in the end for me. It’s something I did for the fun of it.
Q: We were talking the other day with a bunch of us and I remember you said that the film is about how everyone deserves to be loved, and I think that that’s so true is what, why, how did that theme emerge for you, did it emerge when you had the idea or was it more in the process?
GEORGE LUCAS: Well the-the-the original process was to make a movie that is the difference between being infatuated and being truly in love. And, again since being infatuated ultimately is about surface value, surface issues and being really in love is about interior issues, I wanted to make a movie about that which is in the end. It’s very easy to be infatuated with somebody. And of course people are infatuated with, you know boy bands and beautiful people and all the things you read in the magazines, all that kind of stuff, but in the end, from experience, you don’t really wanna be married to somebody like that. You really don’t wanna spend the rest of your life like that, and you really aren’t gonna have a serious, deep relationship with somebody like that. They have a tendency to be with somebody else like that, which means that it doesn’t last very long.
As a result, it was just to play with that and say, and especially, again, for young girls who are prone to infatuations, it’s not always the cutest guy in class that you really wanna be out with. That kind of idea and then as I moved along obviously, for me, personally I had been a bachelor for 20 years, I got married but then I got divorced but then I was a bachelor for 20 years. I said well I’ll never fall in love again it’s just not gonna happen, I was the old-old cranky bog king.
Q: Hence the whole new father thing.
GEORGE LUCAS: (I said) No it’s never gonna happen to me, I just will never find anybody, and I found somebody who doesn’t look at all like me. I’m a 60s radical, government unhappy, Wall Street-hating person from San Francisco, and I ended up meeting a woman who’s a head of a big investment management firm who’s on Wall Street who doesn’t look like me, you know? The last person you would figure would fall in love with the bog king or I’d fall in love with her since I am not into princesses.
Now I got a princess and I got a little princess. My other princesses who have gone on to bigger and better things. So as time went on it became more meaningful to me because I realized that in the end, like with my wife and stuff, we fell in love because we were exactly alike inside. It’s like the movie, first you say well, I hate this stuff, well that’s interest, you know? You’re surprised and you realize that you have so much in common that you would never have thought of on the surface, and it’s the same thing again with, like Roland which is the classic pretty boy. That story has been told over and over and over again but at the same time it needs to be retold, it’s the same thing I did when I started doing Star Wars and thinking about mythological motifs and the fact that kids need at 12 years old.
To me adolescence is a key period in a child’s life, and to make movies that say look, these are the issues, they may seem obvious to us ’cause we’ve been through it, maybe your parents have told you about this, maybe they haven’t but you need to know the story of why you have friendships and what a friendship means. Why there are things in the world that are bigger than you are, why your complicated feelings with your parents and all these kinds of things are not unusual. This is something that everybody goes through.
So this is kind of the same thing. I won’t call it a myth because I beat that one to death with Star Wars but this is a fairytale. Same thing only much sweeter.
Q: I just love hearing that because we know that you think that deeply about the stories you tell and as we carry on your vision we try really hard to go that deep with it. So it’s great to check in with you and just be reminded of what we’re doing here, and even if it’s not a myth it’s an archetypal kind of experience, like heartbreak, love, heartbreak, healing. Most of us will go through that in life and it’s not easy but it is in a way universal so.
GEORGE LUCAS: Well it’s a story that needs to be told every generation ’cause the little girls growing up, or boys, they don’t know any of this stuff, by the time they reach 12 they’re very confused. Even though we all know it, and oh I’ve seen that, oh that’s been told over and over and over again… well it needs to continue to be told over and over again, you can’t sort of let kids slip through the cracks and say oh yeah, I was in the generation that didn’t get that message. The message is so simple and, it’s been around for thousands of years that it can always be retold.
Q: I’m gonna switch gears and talk about music for a little bit, because you were one of the first directors to use popular music as a soundtrack, an integral part of the story in American Graffiti, that’s what you did, and that’s a CD I know a movie I love and I had that soundtrack in the 90s in high school and listened to it over and over and over again, I love the oldies. Can you tell us a little bit about what attracts you to popular music as a filmmaker?
GEORGE LUCAS: I love music… I just, music’s a huge part of my life, I love all kinds of music, and obviously I listen to music every day. On the radio, top 40 and all that kinda stuff but I also listen to a lot of other kinds of music. One of the inspirations was, I wonder(ed) if I could tell a love story using love songs, I could just take them and string them all together so they actually told the story. Which was the original challenge and, in the beginning the movie was about twice as long as it is now which means it had about twice as much music and I feel pained at the fact that some of the sequences were cut. There were great sequences with great songs. Ultimately there’s a thing called discipline. It’s like American Graffiti I could sit and listen to it all day. That was a part of American Graffiti is I just wanted to have a movie that I could sit in the editing room and listen to and have a good time.
This is my pre-Star Wars period, I’ve gone back, I’m going back in time. I tell people yeah I’m gonna go back and do experimental films like I did in college. Well this is getting myself back there. Just a fun movie that I love to listen to aand a lot of the songs were my favorite songs but a lot of them really had to do with trying to tell the story, trying to say this and that thing, let’s find a song where they say that. I said I wanna song that has these words and so he came up with three or four songs and we go through them and say well that doesn’t really tell the story, this is a little off or this is, until we found the right one that actually one, had the musical mood that would get us from point A to point B. But also actually say the words that the actors were supposed to say to each other, in the song and um, and that’s where Marius came in which is to say how are you gonna stitch all this stuff together when it goes, you know from one.
Different genres, different time period, different everything, but knit it all together so it sounds like it belongs in one thing. He’s a genius at doing that, he did it and, you know long version we had a lot of faith in him, being able to pull it off, although, ultimately with all these guys I beat them to death. Finally to the point where fortunately Gary came in and said well we have to make these decisions we can’t just have all this music that George loves. We have to get this down to a reasonable length.
Q: With Strange Magic, especially talking about your relationship with your daughters and stuff, so it seems like it’s very much inspired by your children, how does being a parent inspire you with all your stories?
GEORGE LUCAS: I’m a big parent person, kid person. I didn’t think much about kids when I was working a lot and all that kinda stuff, yeah I’ll have kids when I’m ready. Then when my then-wife and I decided to have kids, we tried and we couldn’t. In the end I ended up adopting kids, the first one I adopted with my wife but within a short time we got divorced. When I was walking through the hospital with her, you know she was a couple of hours old, it was like lightning struck me. I just, I’ve never had a experience like that ever, and it just, the magic of it hit me. I was raising my daughter and then my daughter said she always wanted a brother, and she said I wanna have a brother, I wanna brother. I knew how to adopt, I had become a sort of adoption specialist for all my friends ’cause I’d adopted her. A good friend of mine was an adoption lawyer helped us who’s, he was like 90 years old but he and his wife were very, very good friends. I got talked into having another one. I think my daughter was seven. You know you don’t, in the beginning you say well, it’s very easy to have another one.
You have one and you say oh God, she’s walking now, she’s talking, she’s doing this and she, I wanna go back to that other thing, the only way you can do it if we have another one. It gets better and better till obviously then they become teenagers and they’re programmed to be obnoxious and, that’s the only way you can get rid of them, otherwise you baby them for the rest of their lives and all that kinda stuff. I mean I went through three of them and then wanted to have another one. I forgot, it’s like pregnancy I guess, you forget. You forget what they were like as teenagers and you say oh, but they’re so cute I want another one. So uh, I ended up having another one but, and this one, because of technology and everything, I was able to have a natural baby.
Q: So, compared to the animation and visual effects that ILM used in Rango, how have those changed or improved at all since that movie, you know compared to what you see now in Strange Magic?
GEORGE LUCAS: Well they are different. Every movie has a style, I mean animation, some people have made mistakes in animation by trying to say we want this to look realistic, which one, isn’t really possible and two, is not very bright. Because the whole idea of animation, the art of animation, is to create a style that is different from shooting a live action movie. The style is part of the art of it. You know in some feature films in live action you use style that’s very distinctive, but animation sort of is demanded of it, ’cause if you aren’t gonna make it look realistic why not just shoot it? Right, use actors and shoot the thing. So there was a period where they were trying to go for that, and we can still do it, we do it in special effects, which is to say we create realistic versions ofactors and intercut them, for a lot of different reasons.
The idea of making a real animated character look real we’ve already accomplished. But the one thing you can’t do, which is the part that Elijah was talking about is, a computer can’t act, only a human being can act. It’s just computers aren’t crazy enough so, and that magical thing called talent, which is what an actor uses to create empathy, to create character, that’s something you can’t do. I mean we can make copies of people, but they can’t be human. You need a human being behind them to be the voice, and that’s why, when we go and you put a camera on the actor, you wanna capture the-the magic of that actor. An animator can do it, and that’s part of the art of animation, but it helps an animator if he’s got something to work with. The animator still, which, I don’t know if Elijah knows but there were some animators over in Singapore and places from all over the place, pretending to be Elijah. Looking in the mirror, making faces, you know, as they would say, improving his performance. Which is controversial but at the same time it’s a different, Elijah does it out of his soul, he does it standing there and being himself, playing a part that he has conceived of in his head.
An animator does the same thing but they’re in the scene, and they’re saying I’m gonna try to make this fit in this scene and to make his facial expressions as they go to that next level. Because Elijah couldn’t do it because he was locked in a room like this and it was like, you know, five feet by five feet. And all green and dark. And it’s hard to be in the place as an actor to do that so you need the help of a co-actor, which is the animator. So, those two work as a team to create the character, and of course, with digital technology, you’re just gonna create all the actors and eventually the actors will go ahead, well you can’t. It takes twice as many actors to do an animated film as it does to do a real one.
“Strange Magic,” a new animated film from Lucasfilm Ltd., is a madcap fairy tale musical inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Popular songs from the past six decades help tell the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic bring to life the fanciful forest turned upside down with world-class animation and visual effects. Directed by Gary Rydstrom (“Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation,” “Lifted”) from a story by George Lucas, “Strange Magic” will be released by Touchstone Pictures on Jan. 23, 2015.
***Disclosure: I attended #StrangeMagicEvent My flight, lodgings, and expenses were covered by Disney All opinions are 100% mine. ***