Saturday, September 13, 2008
Empire Building... Wow!
I am a certified film junkie. From the method to the process; the labor to the end result.
I came across a recent article of George Lucas attending ShoWest '08, and as I read through, I realized all over again that I respect the hell outta this guy! It's funny--- in only 20 years, this guy has completely re-engineered the moviemaking landscape. Here's what I've learned from it:
1. CREATIVE CONTROL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN COMPENSATION.
The Bigwigs in Hollywood once thought Lucas was crazy when he asked to exchange part of his directing salary for STAR WARS' merchandising rights and sequel ownership. By doing so, Lucas guaranteed his autonomy. By owning his film projects and action figures, he used the revenue to finance future projects. With financial independence comes artistic freedom... Hey, it's his money.
2. THINK INDEPENDENT.
L.A., being full of what he considered 'counterproductive distractions', was not an option. San Rafael Ranch ( later Skywalker Ranch) was Lucas' way of working outside of the frenzied Hollywood machine. No more distractions.
3. DON'T GIVE UP YOUR BACK END.
Lucas figured when you pay superstars in a movie, you pay steep salaries and hefty slices of your projected revenues; sometimes exceeding 20%. A Natalie Portman or Ewan McGregor not only cost less up front, but they don't command Tom Cruise profit points on the back end. The less money you spend, the more money you keep. Example: By paying for all the marketing costs himself, Lucas pocketed 90% of Episode 1's earnings... Earnings that he funneled into Episode 2's effects.
4. DON'T SPEND MORE THAN YOU HAVE TO.
Consistently spend wisely. When he made Ep.1, it was only after 2 decades of extensive research and development (most of that funded by earlier works--- say, his ILM company's work with an archaeologist and a Jurassic Park ).
5. THE TOYS... IT'S GOTTA BE THE TOYS.
Hasbro sold $1 billion in STAR WARS merch within the last year of Ep. 1's release. Just for the privilege , Hasbro gave Lucas a lion's share of stock, $250 mill in licensing fees, and a 20% royalty fee. Lucas would use that cash alone to fund the last two installments. ( Remember, it was Kenner toys that kinda made Hasbro possible)
6. CONTROL THE DISTRIBUTION.
From Distributor 20th Century Fox to theatres, Lucas set rigidly defined terms for his projects.... How they were seen, heard, and presented.
7. CONTROL THE EXHIBITION.
Example: 4 theatres presented Ep.1 on digital projectors, a new format at that time. ( A norm now--- ask Robert Rodriguez) To Lucas, Digital movies won't scratch or flicker and cheaper to run as opposed to film, and eventually be transmitted via satellite, denting the piracy debate. ( Of course, nationwide conversion to this format would cost $2 bill... To be continued)
8. WHET THE FRANCHISE.
Through the timed releases of games, books, and film re-re-releasing of the first 3 STAR WARS films, Lucas consistently kept the audiences wanting more. He never rushed direct-to-video sequels into Blockbuster stores, nor did he ever make the Episodes BEFORE he had the tools he needed.
9. GIVE THE AUDIENCE SOMETHING NEW.
Lucas & ILM created whole new worlds ( i.e. entire backgrounds & almost exclusively digital characters). Pioneering the way for other concepts like MATRIX' 'bullet time' FX.
10. THINK DIGITAL. NOW, THINK DIGITAL AGAIN.
After EP. 1, Lucas shot the last two films completely digital. Recording in this format made it easier to edit and score on a personal computer; as well as distribute over the internet ( another norm today--- can anyone say YOUTUBE?) In other words, give creative control back to the creators by shifting power away from greedy financiers.
Of course, though this is what I've learned from the filmmaking process a la' Lucas, it's not hard to convert and utilize some of this info to fit into the comics realm. The enlightened creator will catch on to what I'm saying real quick. Either way, like him or hate him, you can't help but respect him.
And to think that somewhere, Lucas' inspiration for all this, Akira Kurosawa, is smiling proudly...