#35 George Lucas A Life

Summary Notes


George Lucas, renowned for his visionary approach to filmmaking, revolutionized the industry by insisting on complete control over his projects, from "Star Wars" to the founding of Industrial Light & Magic and THX. Defying Hollywood norms, he self-financed "The Empire Strikes Back," which led to immense profits and solidified his independence. His foresight in retaining merchandising and sequel rights resulted in a multi-billion-dollar payoff, underscoring his commitment to creative freedom over financial gain. Lucas's story, as detailed in Brian J. Jones's biography "George Lucas: A Life," showcases his journey from a small-town upbringing to becoming a film empire mogul, driven by a relentless desire for innovation and autonomy in his craft.

Summary Notes

George Lucas's Uncompromising Vision and Impact on Filmmaking

  • George Lucas invested in his own vision, leading to the creation of a film empire that allowed filmmakers to produce movies without studio interference.
  • Lucas's vision was heavily influenced by new technologies, which he developed using his own funds.
  • His ability to hire the right people and ask the right questions was pivotal to his success.
  • Director Peter Jackson regards Lucas as the "Thomas Edison of the modern film industry" for his innovations.

"George Lucas unapologetically invested in what he believed in most: himself. As a result, the film empire he created would empower not just him, but other filmmakers to produce movies exactly as they envisioned them, without a studio imposing its own priorities, grousing about budgets, or micromanaging the process."

This quote emphasizes Lucas's self-belief and how it led to a new way of producing films, where creative control was retained by the filmmakers rather than the studios.

George Lucas's Early Life and Influences

  • Lucas questioned fundamental concepts from an early age, including the nature of God and reality.
  • Despite disliking school, Lucas was an avid reader and comic book fan, which influenced his later work.
  • He learned valuable lessons from fictional characters, notably Scrooge McDuck, who taught him to work smarter and be inventive.
  • Lucas's upbringing in Modesto, California, and his relationship with his conservative father shaped his future as both an artist and businessman.

"He was fascinated not only by Scrooge's exploits, but also by his conniving, four color capitalist ways. Work smarter, not harder, was Scrooge's motto, and his stories were full of inventive schemes that, more often than not, made him even richer and more successful."

Lucas's fascination with Scrooge McDuck's ingenuity and success reflects his own desire to be innovative and successful in his endeavors.

George Lucas's Path to Filmmaking

  • Lucas initially had a passion for cars and considered a career in racing before a near-fatal accident changed his perspective on life.
  • After the accident, Lucas focused on making something of his life, leading him to attend community college and later transfer to USC's film school.
  • His father's resistance to him attending art school led him to cinema studies at USC, changing his life's trajectory.
  • At USC, Lucas found his passion for film and excelled academically, driven by his interests.

"I realized more than anything else what a thin thread we hang on in life, Lucas said. And I really wanted to make something out of my life."

Lucas's realization of life's fragility after his car accident motivated him to pursue his ambitions with greater purpose.

Mentorship and Challenges in Early Career

  • Lucas sought mentorship from older, wiser individuals in the film industry, such as Haskell Wexler and Francis Ford Coppola.
  • Despite his efforts and connections, Lucas faced challenges finding work in the film industry due to union barriers and the "old boys network."
  • His experiences reinforced his desire to control his own destiny and his disdain for the established film industry system.

"To get into the movie machine, one had to be a part of the system, and Lucas had already decided he didn't like the system, or the machine, for that matter."

Lucas's aversion to the restrictive and exclusive nature of the film industry's system became a driving force in his pursuit of independent filmmaking.

The USC Mafia and Film School Experiences

  • Lucas and his fellow USC film students formed a tight-knit group that would later be influential in the film industry, akin to the PayPal Mafia in the tech industry.
  • They collaborated on numerous successful projects and created a new system of working together in the film industry.

"Lucas generally referred to them as the USC Mafia...as they would all regularly hire, fire, and conspire with one another on countless projects over the next five decades, putting together a kind of system on their own."

The USC Mafia symbolizes the collaborative and supportive network Lucas and his peers established, which played a significant role in their collective success.

George Lucas's Personality and Work Ethic

  • Lucas was known for his confidence and defiance of conventional rules if they did not make sense to him.
  • He preferred working alone or with a team that would adhere to his vision.
  • His dedication to film was evident in his preference to work on his projects rather than socialize.
  • Despite his preference for solitary work, Lucas managed to lead large teams in his projects, although he maintained a preference for minimal interference.

"I was really incensed at the democratic process of filmmaking where we helped the student who couldn't quite make it, Lucas said later, I was into making it a competition who can get it done first and best. If they couldn't cut the mustard, they shouldn't have been there."

Lucas's quote reflects his competitive nature and belief in meritocracy within the filmmaking process, favoring efficiency and excellence over a more inclusive approach.

Rule-Breaking and Early Ambitions

  • George Lucas valued breaking conventional rules as a path to making good films.
  • Lucas was resourceful and would break into the editing room outside of normal hours to work on his projects.
  • His first job in the film industry was with the US Information Agency as a grip.
  • This early experience led Lucas to realize he wanted to be a director, not just an editor or cameraman, due to his dislike of being told what to do.

"Whenever I broke the rules, I made a good film, so there wasn't much the faculty could do about it." "So he said we'd shimmy up the drain spout, cross over the roof, jump down into the patio and then break into the editing room so we could work all weekend."

These quotes highlight Lucas's rebellious nature and determination to work on his craft, regardless of institutional limitations, setting the stage for his future success.

Desire for Control and Resourcefulness

  • Lucas's unrelenting desire for control is a recurring theme in his life and career.
  • He was resourceful, coping with shortages and equipment failures by improvising solutions.
  • Lucas and his cameraman improvised a dolly by sitting on a rolling platform for moving shots.
  • The word "control" appears 122 times in the biography, emphasizing its significance in Lucas's life.

"In addition to control, he was also relentlessly resourceful."

The quote underscores Lucas's ability to navigate challenges with creativity and resilience, traits that contributed to his later achievements.

Relationship with Francis Ford Coppola

  • Lucas and Coppola developed a brotherly relationship, starting their first business together.
  • Coppola was an inspiration to Lucas and other young filmmakers for breaking into the film industry without connections.
  • Lucas admired Coppola's charisma and ability to persuade others.
  • Their friendship included bickering and reconciliation, reflecting a deep bond.

"An impressed Lucas could only shake his head in awe at Coppola's colossal nerve." "Coppola was my shining star."

These quotes express Lucas's admiration for Coppola's boldness and pioneering spirit, which influenced Lucas's own approach to filmmaking.

Inspiration from Independent Filmmaker John Cordy

  • Lucas was inspired by John Cordy, an independent filmmaker who successfully created films outside the Hollywood system.
  • Cordy's approach to filmmaking, raising money independently and working outside of Hollywood, resonated with Lucas and Coppola.
  • This inspiration led to the creation of American Zoetrope, a cinematic community aiming for creative freedom.

"Cordy inspired us both, said Coppola. He was the real innovator."

The quote captures the impact Cordy had on Lucas and Coppola, encouraging them to pursue their vision of an independent filmmaking community.

Founding of Lucasfilm

  • Lucas's differing management style and attitude towards money led to the founding of Lucasfilm.
  • Lucas prioritized financial caution and control over his projects, vowing to never let a studio compromise his vision.
  • Lucasfilm Ltd. was established as an independent production company, with Lucas and his wife Marcia as the initial employees.

"No studio, he vowed, would ever force him to compromise his vision again."

This quote reflects Lucas's determination to maintain artistic integrity and control over his work, leading to the establishment of his own company.

Birth of American Graffiti and Star Wars

  • Lucas was encouraged to create something warm and human, leading to the writing of "American Graffiti."
  • "American Graffiti" was a commercial success, featuring actors who would become famous.
  • The idea for "Star Wars" came while Lucas was seeking financing for "American Graffiti."
  • Lucas's space opera fantasy film idea was accepted by a studio executive, marking the official beginning of "Star Wars."

"That, said Lucas later, was really the birth of Star Wars. It was only a notion up to them at that point. It became an obligation."

This quote signifies the moment when "Star Wars" transitioned from a concept to a commitment, setting the stage for one of the most iconic film franchises in history.

Entrepreneurial Persistence and Self-Reliance

  • George Lucas created his own small budget films, leading to larger projects.
  • He established a production company named "Never Mind, I'll Do It Myself Productions."
  • Lucas disliked writing but was compelled to write the script for "American Graffiti" himself after a negative experience with a hired writer.
  • Despite financial struggles, Lucas focused on maintaining control over his work and rejected lucrative offers that did not align with his vision.

"My intense desire to get a writer had backfired on me, and I ended up with an unusable script and no money."

This quote reflects Lucas's disappointment with outsourcing writing and his decision to take on the task himself despite his aversion to it.

"This was a very dark period for me... We were in dire financial straits."

Lucas describes the challenging times he faced financially while pursuing his vision for filmmaking.

Overcoming Production Challenges

  • Lucas equated the filmmaking process to climbing a mountain, acknowledging both the pain and satisfaction involved.
  • Mechanical failures and other setbacks occurred during the filming of "American Graffiti."
  • Despite the hardships, Lucas was driven by his passion for filmmaking.

"It's excruciating. It's horrible. You get physically sick... But I do it anyway, and I really love to do it."

Lucas expresses the physical and emotional toll of directing, yet reaffirms his dedication to the craft.

Dealing with Criticism

  • Lucas faced criticism from studio executives who doubted the potential of "American Graffiti" and considered releasing it on television.
  • Despite positive audience reactions, executives remained skeptical, highlighting the disconnect between creators and corporate decision-makers.
  • Lucas's perseverance paid off when the film became highly profitable, reinforcing the notion that critics may not always recognize a project's value.

"This picture people are responding off the wall... and they keep telling me they're going to put it on television."

Lucas shares his frustration with studio executives' plans to undermine "American Graffiti" despite positive audience feedback.

Artistic Control and Independence

  • Lucas's experience with studio executives cutting scenes from "American Graffiti" fueled his desire for complete control over his films.
  • He saw Hollywood's interference as a violation of his artistic vision.
  • This experience motivated Lucas to become an independent filmmaker, ensuring that no executive could dictate his creative process.

"That was the beginning of his passion to become an independent filmmaker, so that he would have total control."

Lucas's determination to maintain artistic control over his work was a driving force in his career.

Financial Success and Entrepreneurial Philosophy

  • "American Graffiti" earned Lucas significant financial success, making him a millionaire before the age of 30.
  • Lucas's business philosophy emphasized staying small, being the best, and avoiding financial loss.
  • He disliked the wastefulness he observed in big-budget Hollywood productions and preferred a more methodical and planned approach.

"Stay small, be the best, don't lose money."

This quote encapsulates Lucas's concise business philosophy, emphasizing efficiency and quality.

Personal Work Ethic and Creative Process

  • Lucas viewed himself as a craftsman rather than an artist, focusing on the practical aspects of filmmaking.
  • He adhered to a strict writing schedule, forcing himself to sit at his desk for eight hours a day.
  • Lucas used footage from old war movies to visualize the dogfight scenes for "Star Wars," which became a foundational element of the film series.

"I sit at my desk for 8 hours a day, no matter what happens... It's the only way I can force myself to write."

Lucas describes his disciplined writing routine, highlighting his commitment to his craft.

Visionary Negotiation and Control

  • Prior to "Star Wars," Lucas negotiated for control over sequels and merchandising rights, rather than a higher director's fee.
  • His focus on control and ownership would later prove to be incredibly lucrative and pivotal for his career.
  • Lucas's friends and colleagues were skeptical of his decisions, not fully understanding his long-term vision.

"I don't want money, Lucas explained later. I said, I don't want anything financial, but I do want the rights to make the sequels."

Lucas's quote reveals his prioritization of creative control over immediate financial gain.

Response to Criticism and Artistic Direction

  • Lucas continued to face criticism from peers who believed he should make more "artistic" films.
  • Despite the pressure, Lucas remained true to his vision, creating works that resonated with a wider audience and established new mythologies.

"They said, george, you should be making more of an artistic statement."

This quote reflects the pressure Lucas faced to conform to others' expectations of what constitutes "artistic" work.

George Lucas's Perseverance and Vision

  • George Lucas faced numerous challenges while creating Star Wars, including studio rejections, skepticism from friends, financial strain, and a crisis of faith from 20th Century Fox.
  • Despite these obstacles, Lucas remained committed to his vision for his life and career.
  • His determination led to the creation of one of the most successful movies of all time.

"By the end of 1975, he had been struggling with Star Wars for nearly three years, suffering through rejection at the hands of two studios, dealing with the skepticism of his friends, a depletion of his savings, and almost lethal lack of faith from 20th Century Fox."

This quote highlights the extent of the challenges Lucas faced in the early stages of creating Star Wars and emphasizes his resilience and dedication to his project.

The Creative Process and Deadlines

  • Lucas struggled with the script for Star Wars, continually simplifying it and seeking feedback to create a cohesive story.
  • Despite never being fully satisfied with the script, Lucas recognized the necessity of deadlines to move forward with production.
  • The pressure to begin filming forced Lucas to finalize the screenplay, illustrating the importance of deadlines in the creative process.

"I never arrived at a degree of satisfaction where I thought the screenplay was perfect... if I hadn't been forced to shoot the film, I would doubtless still be rewriting it now."

This quote reveals Lucas's persistent dissatisfaction with the Star Wars script and how deadlines played a crucial role in progressing from writing to production.

Challenges During Filming

  • The filming of Star Wars was significantly over schedule and fraught with difficulties.
  • Lucas felt he had lost control of the film due to financial constraints imposed by 20th Century Fox.
  • The experience led Lucas to resolve never to cede control over his films to studio executives again.

"The shooting of Star Wars was a major pain in the ass for George... the shoot was a disaster."

This quote provides insight into the tumultuous filming process of Star Wars and Lucas's frustration with the production challenges he faced.

Control and Independence

  • Lucas was determined to maintain creative control over the special effects in Star Wars, leading to the founding of Industrial Light & Magic.
  • Industrial Light & Magic became a cornerstone of Lucas's film empire, winning numerous Oscars and serving other movie studios.
  • Lucas's insistence on control extended to all aspects of production, from special effects to financing.

"It's really become binary. Either you do it yourself or you don't get a say."

Lucas's statement reflects his belief in the importance of having complete control over the creative aspects of his films.

Marketing Strategy

  • Lucas and his team decided to release a novelization and comic book adaptation of Star Wars before the movie's release.
  • The novel sold out its first print run, generating significant enthusiasm for the upcoming film.
  • This marketing strategy helped build anticipation and contributed to the film's success.

"By the spring of 1977, enthusiasm for Star Wars was like a pot rolling to a slow boil and the lid was about to blow off."

This quote captures the growing excitement for Star Wars ahead of its release, partly due to the strategic early release of related literature.

Financial Realizations and Strategies

  • Lucas realized the importance of controlling funding to maximize profit shares.
  • For the sequel to Star Wars, Lucas decided to finance the film himself, using profits as collateral for a bank loan.
  • This decision allowed Lucas to negotiate a more favorable profit-sharing arrangement with Fox and maintain creative freedom.

"For the sequel, then, Lucas matter of factly informed lad... that he would be financing the film himself, using the profits from Star Wars as collateral for a bank loan."

This quote underscores Lucas's strategic move to self-finance the sequel, which would give him greater control over the profits and the film itself.

Skywalker Ranch and Technological Innovation

  • Lucas envisioned creating a technologically advanced workspace in a peaceful setting, which led to the founding of Skywalker Ranch.
  • He hired Ed Catmull to develop digital filmmaking technology, which would later contribute to the creation of Pixar.
  • Lucas's commitment to innovation also led to the founding of THX, which set new standards for movie sound quality in theaters.

"George was the only person to actually invest in filmmaking technology in a serious way... He was the one that provided the support when nobody else did."

Ed Catmull's quote illustrates Lucas's unique contribution to advancing filmmaking technology and his willingness to invest in innovation.

Impact and Legacy

  • Lucas's decisions and innovations had a profound impact on the film industry, leading to the success of multiple companies including Lucasfilm, Pixar, THX, and Industrial Light & Magic.
  • His commitment to solving problems and setting high standards shaped the way movies are made, viewed, and heard.
  • Lucas's story is one of overcoming adversity, embracing innovation, and achieving creative independence.

"Lucas had controlled the way his movies were filmed, edited, financed and merchandised. Now he would control the way they sounded in theaters as well."

This quote summarizes the extent of Lucas's influence on the film industry and his desire to control every aspect of the movie-making process.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy