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Interviews -
Face To Face With The Masters

Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.

Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+


Rick McCallum

OK, Folks, here's the story behind this Interview we posted. On the RASSM Newsgroup, Bas-Jan Walejwik mentioned an interview with Rick McCallum in the Dutch Magazine SUM (Specifiek Universitair Magazine), vol. 7, no. 3.

I asked Bas-Jan for more details, and he gave me the e-mail address for the editor, Calvin C. Koenen. Well, Calvin went above and beyond the call of duty. The following is his response to my letter to him: "We indeed did run the interview with Rick McCallum. One of my journalists had an very pleasant conversation with this man which took place in Amsterdam on the 14th of March. They spoke with each other for over an hour. The next day at an press-viewing of Star Wars Special Edition, we (journalist Jasper and myself) spoke to McCallum for some 20 minutes. As an enclosure I'll sent you the transcripts of the interview in English, which you can use for you're Star Wars site. I'll grant the permission if you'll use the next byline: 1997 Sum Magazine. Interview conducted by Jasper Westerhof."

Not only were we pleased to get the interview in full, but we were overjoyed beyond belief that it was in English, not Dutch! Anyway, here it is...


SUM: How did you get involved with the whole Star Wars-event?

RM: Well, I've been working with George [Lucas] for about seven years and I did a production of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. We used the Indy- Chronicles as a template on the way in which we wanted to shoot and sort in the way we make movies, in a very non-linear way. We don't shoot in a traditional way like most people who make movies. The normal process is very industrial. You get a script, you raise the money, you do the post- production and you release it. We get the script, that is never quite complete, we prepare it, we build all the sets, we shoot it, then we edit, we rewrite, we reshoot, we edit again, we rewrite and so are constantly making the movie and changing the script, right up to the day that we release the movie. And part of the way we do that, is use the digital technology we developed. But also, it makes it a much freer thing. It's like painting. You paint something, you step back, you look at your departure- piece, you go back in and add little things that you missed or didn't think about. So that you're film becomes a really constant evolutionary process, the whole process becomes evolutionary. That is a much more interesting way to work. And that's the way in which we did young Indy. And George and I got along really well.

I think he liked my television work and film work. Even though he is a very big filmmaker in many ways, he's primarily a story-teller, an editor and an executive producer. He doesn't like the process of directing that much. Which is why he hasn't done it for a long time. But he's also a major business-man. But he does not have to deal with some serious companies.

SUM:How old where you when you saw Star Wars for the first time?

RM: I was twenty-one and was working on my very first film in Hollywood. I saw it on the second day that it opened, and no-one knew, no-one had a clue that the film was going to work. The studio didn't believe in it, there was very few advertising. And it only opened on thirteen screens across the United States. But the impact was so huge, everybody who was making films was in line the next day and I saw it and was completely blown away by it.

SUM:Did you ever imagine that you would be working on Star Wars?

RM: No, that was a ludicrous idea, such a wacky, crazy idea to even conceive of this notion. Because it's unprecedented, it has never happened in the history of filmmaking before.

SUM:And now again..

RM: It's extraordinary. None of us actually anticipated that either. When we originally were going to make the Special Editions, about three years ago, it was primarily to restore them. And also, what was very interesting, there are a lot of parts of the film we couldn't find, a lot of the negative that had to be cleaned up. It was so badly damaged. We had to digitally scan the images. Once that happened, George had the unique opportunity to then go back and say, wait a second, I've always been embarrassed by this film. You have to remember, George wrote the original script and made all the compromises while he was directing. Now he's got the money and the power, to go back and make the film that he always wanted to achieve in the first place.

SUM:Is it also re-edited in a different sequence?

RM: No, it's not re-edited, but there are sequences that he never had the money and technology for to achieve some of the shots that he wanted. There's a sequence in the first one, with Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo, and there was a placement-actor in the scene. And what he wanted to do was to develop animatronics-technology, with which he could create a really true and realistic puppet, that could interact with a real actor. But he ran out of money, there was not enough time, and he had so many problems developing the technology to make the film in the first place, that he had to cut that sequence out. But then, of course, we could fix it, and we did. Empire was the first film in which matte-paintings had been used in exterior daylight conditions, but you never really got a visually dynamic scene in Cloud City, because you couldn't move the cameras. So, we had the opportunity to say, why not, let's try to make it the way everybody had dreamed it would be originally.

SUM:Was there any involvement of the original actors?

RM: No, none whatsoever. There mostly established shots. In fact, it's all very subtle stuff. For people who only have seen this movie once, they probably won't even see the difference. But for hardcore-fans who see it, it's fun and they like to acknowledge it. It's primarily about a filmmaker claiming the right to go back and fix a movie. It's a virtual director's cut. Most director's cuts are very specific. What happens is, the studio forces a director to cut a sequence that he wants in the film badly. Bladerunner or Close Encounters were films were the filmmakers had to make compromises because the studios forced them to. And later on in their careers, they become powerful enough to go back and say, I want my film out there. So they put the film that was cut out by the studios back in. But this is different. This is the first time anybody ever gone back and said, I was never happy with the way I did the film.

SUM:You mean Lucas wasn't happy with his own choices.

RM: Yes. The difference between Star Wars and a normal film is, everything had to be created: every prop, every vehicle, every character, every wardrobe, the utensils. Nobody knew how to make a science-fiction film like that. So, as a director he made so many compromises, and had so little money for what they were trying to do. And he had to develop the new technology, to make the special effects work, out of his own budget. Out of which ILM came into existence.

SUM:How many minutes are new or redone?

RM: Well, in the first one about four and half minutes, in the second about one and half minutes and the third about three minutes. In the very first film, Mos Eisley is supposed to be a huge space port. But they ran out of money so they had to shoot everything from twelve different angles on only one little street. The extras got sick, the crew got sick, it was 120 degrees in Tunisia, where we filmed. R2D2 never moved. You know, every time he moved, he'd fall over. Nothing worked. The robotics didn't work because the humidity was too intense. So that was very frustrating and one of the things we wanted to fix. We wanted to make Mos Eisley big, because it's supposed to be a big thriving space port.

SUM:What was the most fun to do for the Special Edition?

RM: The thing we are most proud of, is that we saved the film now for all time. When you think of restoration, you think of films that were made forty, fifty, sixty years ago. But film is so unstable, it's not just Star Wars. It's Apocalypse Now, Godfather, The Conversation, Chinatown, all the seminal films of the seventies. Not just in the United States, but everywhere. I have seen a film that Paul Verhoeven did, called Spetters, and I think it was made in the eighties, that's going. Unless somebody fixes it, it will never be seen in the theaters again with any quality whatsoever. Films are meant to be seen in a theater. We're used to it, because we have video and television. There are all different kinds of movies, but Star Wars probably represents the best of big American commercial movies.

SUM:Can you tell me the titles of the prequels?

RM: They are all tentative. The first one is called Episode One: The Beginning. I'm not sure yet if we will change that, It's more like a working title than anything else.

SUM:So, no Children of the Force?

RM: That's all rumor. The rumors, because of the Internet, are unbelievable. I heard the other day on the Internet that Charlton Heston, had been cast to play Yoda! it's insane.

SUM:But everything else going fine?

RM: I'm producing the next three. The very first one we shoot late this summer in London. And for the other two I don't have the technology yet to actually start to make them, so we're gonna shoot them in 1999 or 2000.

SUM:What technology are we talking about?

RM: There are two things ILM are doing right now. We're putting all of our efforts in character-animation, creating synthetic characters like alien creatures, that are not only extremely realistic, but have very strong individualistic qualities that we can identify with that can interact with real-live actors seamlessly. So That's an art. We're not trying to create an actor, we're trying to create characters. Because the world that George has woven for us, is very rich in many alien characters. that's one of the primary directions we're going to do. We are also developing, for the very first film, virtual set technology. So if I want to shoot in here (as he points at the Amstelhotel in the distance), if I had to build this set, it would cost a fortune. Now, this would all be a 3D matte-painting, where I can move with the whole thing interactively, and for very little money. But although Jurassic Park (also by ILM)was impressive, it still didn't quite blend with real-live footage.

You know what's the problem is? We're going through an evolutionary period, where people are learning how to use those digital tools - they're just tools, nothing more - and Jurassic was the first that broke in to the potential of creating computer generated organic beings. But more importantly, if you're a (screen)writer, you can write anything now, whereas before you could write Jurassic Park, but there was no way to make it happen. Now, nothing can stop you. It may not be totally realistic, but That's our dream. We'll be looking back in five or ten years, and will not believe how naive some of our films are, in terms of special effects. We'll have to change that, because the studios won't. We need to drive the technology.

SUM:How independent are you?

RM: Totally independent. We have nothing to do with Hollywood and so on. We finance the films ourselves. We don't work with the studios at all, except in distribution. Even those days are numbered soon. Once there's a way to electronically distribute a movie via a phone line, where you can insure the quality of both the picture and the sound. Right now, I've spent thousands of hours and millions of dollars, trying to make the colors and the sound right in our films. And I release it, and it goes in a tiny little theater, where the projectionist is asleep half the time, the speakers are turned in the wrong direction. We have a sound standard called THX, and we license this standard that theater owners have to live by, and if they fall below that standard, we pull our films from them. We can do that because Star Wars is powerful enough. That's a real responsibility. It's one of the reasons why people don't go to the movies anymore. What's happening in the United States right now, is that people are willing to drive thirty or forty miles to see a movie in a good theater. On the whole theater owners are scum. They're greedy and don't acknowledge or respect their audiences on any real level. that's not anybody, though. If you have a small little room where a guy is trying to show everybody art-films, you can't do anything. Most of those films are mono, anyway.

SUM:Can you tell me anything about the story of the prequels?

RM: The problem is, if I tell you too much, it will be on TV in six months. But basically, the story goes as follows. We meet Anakin Skywalker when he's a young boy and we watch him become a Jedi- knight, then a Jedi-master. Then on the background of the Clone-Wars, he becomes a great hero, and on that moment pride, ego and selfishness take over and he chooses to go to the Dark Side. And rest of the movie is really about the consequences of what happens when you don't take responsibilities of your own action, and when you think you're better then anybody else.

SUM:Are the origins of the Force and the Dark Side explained?

RM: They are. They will be much more fully explained. It will be a set of darker and much more complicated films, just because of the very nature that it is about Anakin, and not about Luke. Luke is about innocence, the rights of passage that all kids have to make. And this is about having made that passage, what do you do when you're an adult, what happens to people around you and that you love when you do things that are wrong.

SUM:Do we get to meet the mother of Luke?

RM: Yes, of course you do.

SUM: And a young Luke?

RM: No. You'll see him be born. But there the story ends and goes to part 4,5,6.

SUM: Obi-Wan Kenobi?

RM: Yes, also much younger, because the story takes place about 45 years earlier. And he is Anakin's mentor. He teaches him the Force and how to use it and how to become a Jedi-knight.

SUM: Yoda and Jabba?

RM: Yoda is in it. Jabba is in it. It would be rude not to. R2D2 and C-3PO are also in it.

SUM: Will Lucas direct them himself?

RM: He will direct and edit the first one. And then he'll zoom back, and only edit the second and third one. He will write all the scripts.

SUM: Who will direct the second and third films?

RM: I don't know yet. We will shoot those simultaneously, back to back, but not before 1999.

SUM: Do you know who you like to have?

RM: No, because in two years the whole world changes, so...

SUM: Can you give me some names of the cast?

RM: We haven't cast yet. We're screentesting now, but we don't make our final decisions, until probably the end of may.

SUM: What about Ewan McGregor for the part of Obi-Wan?

RM: No Ewan McGregor or Kenneth Branagh. that's all [poo-doo - ed.]. It's definitely not true. But you'll never know what will happen.

SUM: Whoopi Goldberg?

RM: (laughing) I can definitely say Whoopi Goldberg is not going to be in it. Ewan is a terrific actor, but we haven't met him so we don't know. So us screentesting him is all [Bantha Poo-Doo - Ed.].

SUM: But you can't tell us who you are screentesting?

RM: I can't unfortunately. Because it would hurt them, if they don't get the part. We have been screentesting for, God, a year. it's almost all unknowns.

SUM: Are there already plans for parts 7, 8 and 9?

RM: I'll tell you. There are no plans for them now. Because this is going to take seven years to complete, these first three. So if we are both still standing by then, and we have enjoyed it, and the audience loves it, then we will think about the next three.

SUM: But Lucas already has an idea of how It's supposed to end?

RM: Oh yeah... When he wrote the original film, he wrote nine stories, all together. He just picked the Luke Skywalker one, because he knew he could make only one. But he had to do the backstory and he had to know where they were going, so he wrote the basic outline of all nine stories.

SUM: Why did he pick the Luke Skywalker one?

RM: Because it probably was the closest to his heart. it's the one almost anybody can identify with. it's about a boy who leaves home and has to grow up in a uncertain world. that's why it works, because It's so simple.

SUM: What is going to happen in 7, 8 and 9?

RM: I don't want to know, because that would be too much information, an information- overload. It will change so much.

SUM: You can't tell me you're not curious.

RM: I am curious. But I don't go into it, because these films are incredibly complicated to make. It took me a half year longer to do the restoration of the first film, then it took George to shoot it. It takes an enormous toll on you. I know vaguely what happens, but I can't tell you. Not out of paranoia, but more out of self-preservation. If I tell you, it goes on the Internet, someone picks it up, and It's on TV, like Battleship Galactica or something. People rip you off, It's that simple. it's not to be secretive, we just live in a world where we can't be completely open.

SUM: How many effects are we talking about [in the prequels]?

RM: About two-thousand, just in the first film. The storyboards have been drawn, you have to build animatics, It's all driven by technology, It's all digital.

SUM: Are the CG already made?

RM: God no, are you kidding me? I have to do three shots a week for the next two-and-a-half years. But everything has been designed. George has had a sabbatical, and has been working on the scripts for three solid years, just the first one. For the other two he has the idea, and the outline, but no screenplay as yet.

SUM: What does producing the prequels mean for you?

RM: Pain... a lot of pain... but they're fun. They are an enormous challenge. I have a crew that I have worked with for five years on the young Indy-chronicles. Everybody is really ready, they have trained for this. it's like a heavy-weight battle, It's like a war. A war of nerves. it's an incredibly complicated process, especially with the amount of effects we are trying to achieve. Nothing has ever been done, that we're doing.

SUM:Are there any major new characters?

RM: Very much so. In fact, one of the characters is going to be a totally CG- character, and he will be a major actor in the movie. He's fantastic. We didn't even know it was possible, till about six months ago.

SUM: Is it on the same principles as in JP?

RM: Well, if you put it in terms of the history of film. There was sound, then color, and then JP. Although to most people it won't seem like it was this seismic event like the introduction of sound and color, it really was. Because it shifted the business from being just a photographic medium. Now you can do anything. You can shoot, fix, add, change, you can move the image around, you can recompose that image. it's a very powerful tool. We only build composites of sets. The rest is all computer-generated. Everybody is getting hung up on it, because It's a hot new thing. But most filmmakers don't know how to use it. They haven't become facile with it. that's why you get movies like Twister, that are brilliant in the terms of technology, but everybody forgot about the characters and acting. We don't give a [poo-doo - Ed] about the technology. We care about the story, the characters and the plot. The technology is only there because we are in an alien world. We have to develop that.

SUM: How many people of ILM are going to work on the prequels?

RM: ILM is a huge company. There are eight hundred people working there now. We'll probably have 250 to 400 people working on Star Wars. right now, maybe 25 and ultimately maybe 50%. But they will work on other peoples films throughout the whole process.

SUM: Are you doing anything else?

RM: (consipiringly) Can I tell you something? If you're producing or directing a movie, you can only one movie at a time. I don't care what anybody says. If you're doing more movies at once, somebody isn't getting full attention. If you're making a movie, It's war now. You have to put on your boots, you have to leave your family. A film is ultimately a director's medium, but only in relationship how good a script is. And how in sync the writer, the director and the producer are. To create a world, to get an enormous amount of people to understand the vision of what you're trying to achieve is an incredibly complex job. Even if you doing a little period film, It's very difficult to keep the film in your head. that's why most movies are so bad. No moviemaker sits down, and says, let's make a bad movie. But yet eight out of ten movies are bad. that's because there are so many compromises they make, they couldn't get enough money, they cast the wrong people, they didn't spend enough time. Those are the things that make a movie difficult. We only have to deal with financial compromises, because we don't want to make it a hundred million dollar movie. But creatively none. Lucas is about control over your own work. We can't blame anybody if it doesn't work. that's very liberating, but also very terrifying. It also creates expectations. it's more like a rock concert now. The minute when the Lucasfilm-logo comes on, It's a license for everybody in the theater to go insane. You don't get that experience of movies anymore. With the opening of Star Wars in Paris, there were 2000 kids (even into their late twenties) in front of the theater trying to break in. that's fun. The girls were dressed up as Chewbacca, and the boys as Darth Vader.

SUM: Are there any other scenes like that in the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?

RM: In Jedi we also had the same problem. There's a musical number in Jabba the Hut's throneroom at the very beginning of the movie and none of the creatures worked. You see them for two seconds each, they could barely move (McCallum imitating the clumsy motion), they can't lip-synch to the music. And there's a wonderful little character, called Sy Snoodles, but she has no movement. George was extremely frustrated by filming that sequence, because he could never get it to be alive and fun. So that was one of the first things we did. We went back, reshot and digitally added two CG-characters, there quite extraordinary and wonderful. That scene is about a minute and a half.

SUM: Do you know if there's going to be a new Indiana Jones- movie?

RM: Yeah, I'm producing the next one. it's called Indy 4, we have a great script, and again with Harrison [Ford], Steven [Spielberg], and George [Lucas]. It's written by Jeffrey Boam, who has written the Last Crusade. I can't tell you what It's about, but we expect to make that in the year 2000 at the very latest. And we have turned all of the young Indy's in feature length films on video that will be released at the end of this year, so ultimately, in two years time, you'll be able to see fifty hours of the whole saga of Indiana Jones, from the time he is born, till the time he becomes Harrison Ford.

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