I went up to SF last week with some Variety folks for a meeting at Lucasfilm’s Presidio digs, complete with tour. We pulled up at the Letterman Digital Art Center on a gorgeous sunny spring day. The new white buildings fit into the rolling landscape as if they belonged there; George Lucas brought over the same Mission vibe that he had at the Mill Valley Skywalker Ranch. The big new 35 mm/Christie 2K screening room, which holds 296 removeable seats and a computer hook-up, was stunning too. (There are two smaller ones and seven “view stations” as well.) We watched a cool history timeline of ILM FX, from 1977’s Star Wars through Willow, The Abyss, T2, and Jurassic Park to particle effects in Twister and the wave in Perfect Storm, as well as some trailers for ILM’s summer tentpole trifecta Pirates 3, Transformers (a scary one) and Evan Almighty, which actually looks funny. (Davy Jones’ eyes in Pirates 2? CGI.) The Letterman conference room boasts a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge. And a guy named Kevin Woolley actually invented the motion capture suit with dots! The floors are raised 18 inches with fiberoptic cables running under them. The cafeteria boasts a sushi chef and a pizza oven.
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Tooling around the place, I’d seen many of the model displays (Han Solo’s blaster, Luke Skywalker’s light saber) and posters from key ILM FX movies on my last tour of Skywalker, but I was BLOWN AWAY by Lucas’s poster collection. Amazing stuff. All over the hallways, the cafeteria, inside Lucas’s own office suites. I asked Lucas about the posters at the premiere party before the Sunday night San Francisco Film Fest premiere of a documentary financed by Lucas, Fog City Mavericks, which Starz has picked up. “I have a lot of posters,” Lucas admits. Some 50 have been on display at Skywalker and Big Rock Ranch. He has been picking them out himself for 30 years. “I’m the only one who knows what I’ve got.” But when Lucasfilm and ILM made the move to the Presidio, he got more of his favorites framed and hung. He has dealers who find stuff for him to choose from. Many of the big-size greats are from overseas. My favorites: huge French posters of Marlon Brando in L’Equipee Sauvage (The Wild One), and Humphrey Bogart in Plus Dire Sera la Chute (The Harder They Fall).
At the party I got a kick out of watching Lucas, Robin Williams, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Staunton and Brad Bird whooping it up and making each other laugh. (Coppola was on a wine tour.) “I’m a big proponent of regional filmmaking,” Lucas told me. (He told me that for the first time when I interviewed him for Film Comment in 1981 for Raiders of the Lost Ark.) He’s still chasing Sean Connery, by the way, for Indy 4–just sent him a new script.
Gary Leva’s Fog City Mavericks boasts terrific interviews with the likes of Lasseter, Walter Murch, Matthew Robbins, and Caleb Deschanel, and goes into too-laudatory detail about Lucas, Francis Coppola and Chris Columbus, but neglects snarkier folks like Wayne Wang and Terry Zwigoff. (I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the inclusion of Clint Eastwood, whom I admire as much as anyone, but he just doesn’t fit into any Bay Area grouping, based as he is in Hollywood and Carmel, which is some 90 miles down the coast from SF.) I enjoyed the historical background on Edward Muybridge (inventor of the zoopraxiscope) and Charlie Chaplin, but could have used a lot less of declamatory hyperbole from narrator Peter Coyote, who makes a lot of proclamations like, “Coppola was a genius!” Jeez. Pixar’s Lasseter and Bird are great in the movie, but the best filmmaker arc–which the audience really ate up, too–was producer Saul Zaentz, who consistently threw his money on the line to make a string of top-notch movies that hold up quite well–One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The Mosquito Coast, The English Patient. As Anthony Minghella says in the film, Zaentz’s movies “have not gone through a machine.”
Neither have Lucas’s, I might add. Will he ever make that independent alternative movie that he has long threatened to direct? After all, he says he was most influenced by Fellini, Kurosawa and Godard. “I get distracted,” he says. If Coppola has gone back to being a student filmmaker, why not George?
A list of upcoming Lucas events is on the jump:
* CELEBRATION IV, the “world’s biggest Star Wars party,” which brings tens of thousands of fans from around the country (and world) into L.A. for five days of Star Wars activities and events at the L.A. Convention Center from May 24-28;
* The Memorial Day Weekend debut of Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed on The History Channel;
* The June 17 premiere of “Robot Chicken: Star Wars” from Seth Green and Matt Senreich;
* The release of the The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler;
* The first day of issue, on May 25, of the Star Wars stamp collection from the United States Postal Service;
* CELEBRATION EUROPE, the first-ever Star Wars fan event that Lucasfilm has organized outside of the United States, in London from July 13 to July 15;
* The first-ever Star Wars Saga “marathon” screening in the U.S., which begins its 17-hour run on May 23 in L.A., one day before the opening of Celebration IV.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]