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George Lucas: I'm not really retiring but going back to avant-garde films

Star Wars creator George Lucas talks about how James Cameron convinced him 3D films were a good idea and how he's planning to return to more avant-garde film-making.

How exciting is this new 3D version?

Moving from 2D to 3D is like the difference  between watching a film in black and white and watching a film in colour. It works in black and white but it works better in colour.

What makes the story so interesting?
It’s  about one generation having to try to improve on what the generation before it did, and living with the mistakes that the previous generation made.
Were you surprised at the success of the Star Wars films? I didn’t expect the films to be successful at all. I don’t think anybody did, so it was a big surprise.

What made you want to convert this film into 3D?

Originally I wasn’t a big fan of 3D, I really thought it was a gimmick. Then I was in Las Vegas and (directors) Bob Zemeckis and Jim Cameron said: ‘We want to get 3D into the theatres. Would you join us in showing cinema owners that you can do 3D?’ And I said: ‘That’d be good, because I am trying to get digital projectors into the theatres and it will promote my idea.’ When I saw the test we did of Star Wars in 3D, I realised how great it was.

How did you initially get involved in film-making?
Originally, I just wanted to build cars. I was a carpenter and my father wouldn’t let me go to art school. I went to USC (University of Southern  California) and I realised when I got there that it was actually a cinematography school. At the time I didn’t have any idea that you could learn to make movies in college. I discovered that  I loved to make films and I was extremely good at it.

What was your next step?
I started making movies and they began winning awards.  I thought: ‘I’ll be a cameraman and an editor and make experimental films in my spare time.’ That was my plan. Then I met up with Francis (Ford  Coppola) and got mixed up in the film business and found it was exciting. Francis challenged me to do something that was not scientific and arty. I started writing American Graffiti.

Was that expected to be a hit?
They released it in August (1973) which is the worst time of year. But it was a huge hit. Alan Ladd Jr from Fox saw it and he said: ‘Do you have any more movies?’ I said: ‘I do, it’s a sort of space opera.’ I thought American Graffiti would be the most successful film I would ever make.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Francis gave me some advice in the beginning. I was a visual film-maker and he saw my first script and said: ‘You’re terrible, you have to learn to be a good writer.’

What’s your advice to would-be film-makers?

Be persistent and persevere, no matter what. You have to act as though your life depends on it.

What’s the secret behind films that stand the test of time?

A movie has to have a good story and great characters. That’s the bottom line. And a strong psychological underpinning that people can relate to. I’ve  never done really dark movies. I’m just  not interested.

You are often described as a  visionary. Are you?

Well, I think up stories and then make them into movies. What they call ‘visionary’ is really just being frustrated with the medium and trying to make it better.

Who do you consider to be visionary?

Steven Spielberg is a visionary. I would say Ridley Scott and Tony Scott are visionaries. Jim Cameron is too.

Who are your inspirations?
As a young director I was inspired by Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Richard Lester and John Ford. Now that I’m an old man, I guess I do more inspiring than I am inspired.

What is your vision for the future of film?

Digital technology is going to democratise the business, which means anybody will be able to do it. It’s like being a writer – if you’ve got the talent, you automatically have the means. For £3,000 you can build a whole studio.

What else do you hope to achieve in your career?
I keep telling everyone I’m sort of retiring. But I’m really going to go back to where  I started, which is the more avant-garde film-making. I’ve made enough money so that I can finance it all myself.  I don’t have to worry or answer to anybody and I can just do whatever  I want.

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