In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.
Man: Action! [ Clapboard claps ]
-Action. -Got it. Cut!
Narrator: This great Hollywood director started his career
with a futuristic "THX 1138."
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
His next little film was "American Graffiti,"
which to date, has grossed $115 million.
Then came "Star Wars," the pop culture sensation
that changed everything.
The first film ever to make over $300 million
and spawned two sequels and three prequels.
Hi, this is George Lucas
and welcome to Hollywood's luckiest directors.
I went to USC Film School.
I didn't know anything about making movies.
I was an anthropology major and I went there my junior year
and was interested in photography.
I was interested in going to art school
but my father wouldn't have anything to do with it.
So I figured there was to be some photography
in the school of cinematography, it was the school cinema,
and I didn't even realize you could go to school
to learn how to make movies.
And I hadn't really paid much attention to movies
and you know, I didn't have television
till I was like 10 or 11 years old.
By that time I was sort of gaining interest in cars
and things, so it's, you know,
it wasn't something I thought about,
but once I got there and I saw what it was
and I got exposed to the movies I got to expose the process.
I realized very quickly that I knew how to do this
and I knew how to do it well and I loved it.
So within a semester of a few months I was --
I had made an award winning movie
and I was on my way.
Man: [ Indistinct speech ] Action!
It was something, you look at all the student films
and what everybody was doing and what I wanted to do
and I would make a film and you know, I didn't,
obviously, know that I was that good when I started
but I'd say literally within a couple months
I'd made a film that won a dozen international film festivals.
And everybody else and this was in a beginning class.
I said, "Oh, I know how to do this. This is easy."
Then the next semester I did a couple of more movies.
One was a beginning project on somebody
trying to escape East Germany. It was about freedom.
Another one was a little tone poem.
I was very much into alternative filmmaking,
I came from San Francisco.
I was very much into the Canyon Cinema Movement.
That is what I did do.
I didn't really go to movies and didn't do television,
but I did come up to San Francisco
and hang out in kind of the beat clubs
and and go to Canyon Cinema Films.
And they were very experimental, very advanced.
Kind of tone poems you'd call them
but sometimes very emotional interesting.
I brought you here, now what?
I left became an editor, became a cameraman,
worked for a while, wasn't happy,
decided I'd to go back to school and see if I could get
a master's degree in cinema so that I could also direct movies.
So I went back, and -- but it before I did that,
I got a chance to go back to school
and teach a class as a teaching assistant in photography
as I did that with U.S. Navy
and in the process of that class I made a film called "THX"
and that began all the films won awards,
but that one won a huge number of awards.
And then after that, I went to school
made a couple other movies first semester,
and then won a lot of scholarships
based on the films, based on everything.
Wanted to work with Carl Foreman on a film
called "MacKenna's Gold" at Columbia Studios.
And then I went to work with Francis Coppola
at Warner Brothers Studio on film called "Finian's Rainbow."
At that point had no interest at all
in doing theatrical films. I was not interested at all.
I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker.
That's what I wanted. That's how I was working.
I like to be -- I liked editing.
I liked photography, and I wanted to work
as an editor and photographer
and do cinema verite documentaries
which was the new thing at that point.
And then at the same time, on the side
do these little artsy kind of tone poem
That was my passion.
But I won these scholarships and I said well I should see
what this Hollywood thing is all about.
I might as well just, you know,
it's an opportunity, might as well take it.
So I did and out of that
became Francis Coppola's assistant.
And from that I worked with him on "The Rain People."
We came back to San Francisco, which is where I wanted to live.
That's where I'm from.
And we started a film company up here.
And managed, Frances managed to get a deal
to make a feature version of "THX".
And I figured, "Well, it's a crazy artsy tone poem thing
but the industry is in such turmoil now
I think I might have a chance to actually make it."
And I did. And I managed to get the film made.
And they didn't see it or read the script or anything
and when they saw it they hated it.
But up to that point I managed to actually get the movie made.
The original idea was done by a friend of my, Walter Merch,
and a friend of his, Matt Robbins,
who were doing their, working on their senior workshop.
And they came up with the idea
of a man trying to escape a futuristic city,
which was about all it was.
And I -- and then they decided not to do it
for the senior workshop. So then I had a chance to do
to teach this class and I was saying,
"Gosh I got it. I'm going to come up with a movie,"
because I split the class in half.
One part of the class made a movie,
and then the other part made one with me.
And I was talking with a number of good friends of mine
and I said "I'm going to do a film."
And they said, "Well we've got this thing.
what about guy trapped in a city and he's underground
and he can't get out."
I don't think it even underground,
I think was just a guy trapped in a futuristic city,
and I like that idea. So I said, "Okay."
"THX" was basically a -- not a futuristic movie
it was about the way -- it was sort of a parable
about the way we're living today.
Man: Action! [ Clapboard claps ]
-Action. -Got it. Cut!
[ Clapboard claps ]
"American Graffiti" again started with Francis
saying to me, "Do a comedy."
You know, if you're if you're going to go stay
in the movie business.
And I said, "Well, okay I can I can do a comedy.
I know how to do that." I've never done that before.
And it was. But I said you know
I'd always wanted to do a film about cruising
which is what the way I grew up. What I did in Modesto.
That's what I did when I was in high school.
And again, when I took anthropology
I realized the mating rituals in the United States
were extremely unique
because the same kind of ritual that goes on in most countries
where the boys either sit on the benches and watch
the girls parade around or the girls sit on the benches
and watch the boys parade around.
And that's the way they met, in the United States,
They all did it in cars. Which you know in the '50s
and '60s was unheard of in the rest
the world no teenager could afford a car.
-And so it was a very unique kind of thing.
So I took that and said, "You know it'd be nice to document
this particular thing, this particular ritual,
that existed really from the '30s up until the '70s."
And so that was the impetus of it
and I love the music and I love you know I loved radio
and I love disc jockeys
and I, that's how I really came to the story.
-Okay, cut. -Got it.
Hamill: And, and, and, and?
-Uh, the mic was in frame. -The mic was in picture.
-Oh. -The mic was in picture.
-The mic was in picture. -The mic was in picture.
The thing about the first film
which was always "Episode IV: A New Hope,"
in order to write that, because I wanted to
start in the middle, which I liked to do.
I had to write a backstory, I had to say
where all these people came from,
what was the Rebellion, what was the Empire,
where the empire came from, who were the Jedi?
What did the Jedi do? Who is Darth Vader?
Where did he come from?
You know, that's all the story but that was all backstory.
So I had to write all that in order just to get to writing
the overlong script.
But I never intended that to be part of the movie.
I always intended that just to be how I got there.
But then when I had to do this, the film,
in three pieces it kind of dis-- uh...
Dissolved or dissipated the impact of Darth Vader,
the tragedy of Darth Vader.
People didn't see it because he was such a powerful figure.
And so, uh...
I kept thinking gee it's too bad people don't get,
you know, see the irony of this whole thing
because I thought it was there.
But then when you spread it out it kind of dissipates
to the point where it's not there.
So I said and the other part is I wrote the backstory.
"The Star Wars" itself was written very very carefully
around the technology I had that I could make the movie.
I knew and I would pick like one technological breakthrough
that I had to get overcome in order to
in the case of the first film, make it cinematic.
Make it move be able to pan with spaceships
be able to create a fast-paced editorial space battle.
But I had to figure out how to do that.
But coming from animation had some ideas
and I thought, "I think I can overcome this."
But the story was written very carefully
of how I was going to accomplish it financially
And each one of those was done that way.
The backstory I didn't think about that.
Backstory was written like a piece of literature.
You know just blue sky dreaming. Well...
And then they go to Coruscant and there's 100,000 spaceships.
And then there's all kinds of -- then in the "Clone Wars"
and the thing and they battle.
I couldn't make that into a movie I mean forget it.
I mean I could barely get "Star Wars"
which really takes place in like three rooms.
I mean it doesn't seem like it, but that's basically what it is.
And, um, couldn't even think about it.
But then in the process of doing "Star Wars"
I had started a special effects company
and I sort of kept pushing the special effects company.
They created more and more technology.
I'd started with "Star Wars" to use some computers.
We started to continue to use those computers.
I started a computer company to help develop technology
to make the films and then we did things like,
-You know, "Young Sherlock Holmes"
which had a digital character
and then we did the "Terminator" movies,
which had digital characters and [Mumbles]
And then finally we did "Jurassic Park."
Which had, which was really a huge breakthrough
for Industrial Light & Magic.
And we really were making very realistic characters digitally.
And once we accomplished that, I said,
"Hey if I wanted to go back now and make that backstory
it's actually possible."
Because before it was just not even thinkable, you know
I could probably do this now.
So then I started thinking about it
and eventually came back.
I had what I -- after "Return of the Jedi"
I just gotten divorced.
I had a 1-year-old daughter that I had adopted.
And I said I'm really going to retire now.
And it was a point in my career
where I could have really taken over the world
because I was at the top of the directorial heap
I could do anything I wanted.
I had kind of you know that I had that moment in time
and I just said, "Look,
I'm more excited about raising my daughter
than I am about making another movie."
So, I took 15 years off.
Adopted two other kids. Raise them.
-And then when I said, "Okay now they're old enough
to where I can go back to maybe making, directing movies again,
which is obviously my first love and what I wanted to do,
that's when I said, "well I can go back
and finish the Star Wars story, now that I actually know,
technically I can do it.
Until the tragedy of Darth Vader.
Or I can go and make these artsy films that I want to make.
And I thought long and hard about it went back and forth
and finally said, "You know if I don't do
the 'Star Wars' thing now, I'll never get to do it.
This is the moment in time, if I put it off two or three years
it'll be too late." I just won't be able to do it
because this is a 10 year commitment.
And so you know I'm like 50 years old.
I said you know if I wait until I'm 55
and I won't be done I'm 65
and you start worrying about things like that.
So I said, "Okay, I'll finish 'Star Wars.'"
I might as well do it and get over it.
I think I always want to have done it.
So I did that.
And that's really how the other three "Star Wars" came to be.
"American Graffiti" is a kind of documentary film.
Again, it is trying to shoot a particular event
a particular kind of ritual recreated, but it was shot
I shot with two cameras I shot with available light
I shot it very much as if I were shooting a documentary
and I staged it like a documentary
I put the cameras way off
I let the actors play their parts.
And so it was I thought of it as a documentary of a particular
kind of event that had been recreated.
The casting on "American Graffiti" was a lot of work.
I spent six months
seeing actors every day eight hours a day.
I'd see them for about five minutes
because they were all kids you know.
I didn't have any, you know, didn't have --
some of had worked before, but most of them hadn't.
And so I had to making a quick judgment
of whether that was right for the part
or not for the part.
And then I take various Steve possibilities
and various Laurie possibilities and I mix them all up
and let them play against each other because my feeling
was it was an ensemble piece and I really need to see
how the actors interrelated with each other
how they reacted to each other and how they fit together
and how they played the scenes together.
So it took a very long time and it was a lot of work
and you know came up with a cast that I thought was fantastic
and it later turned out to be fantastic.
Man: 177, take 2. [ Clapboard claps ]
I started out with Darth Vader coming in and killing everybody
and then halfway through the movie a son realizes
that he's the hero, but the villain is his father
and in the end he redeems his father.
That was the movie.
Well it got so big that I couldn't do it.
So I only took the first act.
And when I took the first act, I promised myself
I would finish the other two parts of the movie.
That no matter what, no matter how much this one failed,
I would get that done. And that was my mission.
So everything was geared for "Star Wars" to fail
and for me have to fight to get the others done.
As it turned out it succeeded
and I did get the other ones done very.
Shot the movie in 28 days or nights we shot only at night.
I think there was one day that we shot during the day.
And it was really hard because we had to we couldn't start
until 9:00 at night.
And we, and it was in July and the 5 o'clock the sun came up.
So it's not like a movie where you're working during the day
and as it gets later and later at night
you can sort of save a lot of your close ups
and then put some lights in to a fake the day.
When it's the other way around,
you can put up a curtain and stuff,
but you're basically stuck
because everything in the background,
everything, you know, you can't make it go dark.
Well, you can make it go light by putting
a few lights out there, but you can't make it go dark.
So it was very, very difficult and I finished the film.
It was a very difficult film to cut because.
There was, you know, I was intercutting four stories
and trying to make that work and I actually ended up
cutting an hour of the movie out.
The movie itself came out to two and half hours.
When I first did it and it wouldn't last that long I knew
I had to somehow -- but every time I took a piece out of it
meant all the other pieces had to be taken out, too,
in order to match everything up so it's very complicated.
But...in the end it was also one of the first movies
to ever use just music from the radio and every--
You can't do that.
But I did it anyway and and now all movies are done that way.
Doing "THX," Francis Coppola was the producer.
We were good friends.
He was supposed to be overseeing the picture.
He did oversee the picture by letting me do whatever I wanted.
The studio saw the picture in the end and went berserk.
They said it was terrible.
You know, what are we gonna do about this?
And they were mad at Francis.
And they shut down Americans Zoetrope.
They made him pay all the costs of everything back.
Then when I got to do "American Graffiti"
and they let him be a producer
because now he was a hot director 'cause
he'd done "Godfather."
He pretty much did the same thing
when we were in San Francisco
it was a very, very cheap low-budget movie
the studio didn't want to bother to come up here to check on it.
They didn't see it until it was finished
and then they saw "American Graffiti"
when it was finished, we showed it to
a bunch of people we've got supermarkets and stuff
just to test it and they just went berserk.
They loved it. Studio said, "We hate it. it's terrible.
You can't show it to an audience."
and they were going to put it out as a TV movie,
For a long time.
And then, and they wanted me to cut it.
Which is the first "THX" they wanted me to cut.
So we argued back and forth and I said I'm not gonna touch it.
So that came down to they took out five minutes,
which made no difference whatsoever.
And they did the same thing to "American Graffiti."
After "Star Wars" was a giant hit,
I went back to Warner Brothers and said
I want to put that five minutes back into it
before you release it on VHS.
And I got it changed back to the way it was
and I did the same thing to Universal
with "American Graffiti" I said, "I want my five minutes back."
And after Star Wars they let me do it.
[ Claps ] Man: Action.
When I was in junior college.
I was a social science major basically an anthropology major
and I took a lot of anthropology classes
and one of them was on mythology
and I became fascinated with mythology
but I was very interested in anthropology
"why do we do the things that we do?"
"how does a society construct itself?"
When I got to the time of "American Graffiti,"
I was developing that script but at the same time
I was thinking about other ideas.
And one of them was to do a republic serial
an action adventure film and I was kind of amused
'cause I was -- what I have a habit of doing,
which a lot of writers have a habit of doing is,
when you're supposed to be writing on script
you end up thinking about another script or something.
You don't -- wouldn't it be great if instead of doing
what you're supposed to be doing...
So that was my "what if" my sort of avoidance project
which was this Saturday matinee serial project.
Which I'd come up with doing either a space film
you know "Flash Gordon" style "Buck Rogers" sort of thing
or a action adventure film in period
which was like "Don Winslow of the Navy"
or "Tim Tyler's Luck" and there's a whole genre there.
So I had those two genres I was playing with.
And when I went to United Artists
to say I want to do this movie
and they said okay we'll give you the 10 grand
to write the script. Do you have any other movies?
Which is what studios do, they want to hook you up
for the rest of your life if you go there.
So I said, "Well, yeah I got this idea
for a kind of a maybe a space adventure,"
because I'd sort of picked that one out of the two
that I wanted to do and they said
"Okay. We'll make a deal for that too."
So I had a two picture deal.
When I got the deal for "American Graffiti."
But of course when I took "American Graffiti" to them
they said no we don't want that.
And so then I finished "American Graffiti"
and then before it came out. Because it was sitting
Fallow at the studio, nobody wanted
to have anything do with it and everybody heard it was terrible.
I said well I want to do "Star Wars" now.
And they said, "No no no we don't want to do that now."
I said, "Okay."
So then I had to take it to Universal
because they had the next 12 pictures I had.
And I told them and of course they hated me at that point.
And I said I wanted to do "Star Wars"
and they said, "No we don't wanna do that."
But fortunately Allen Ladd Jr., 20th Century Fox
had seen "America Graffiti" in one of those screenings
and he said, "You got a picture?
I think you're really talented guy.
Do you have something you want to do?"
And I said, Well, I've been trying to shop around
this little science fiction.
It's more of a space fantasy kind of thing soap opera."
And they said -- err "space opera."
-And he said, "Okay, well, I'll do it."
So that's how I got that deal.
And I explained the story to him and he said
Look, I understand what you're talking about,
but I think you're a talented guy and I'll do it.
[ Dramatic music plays ]
[ Lightsaber hisses ]
All art is based on technology.
That's the whole point of art.
It's just the thing that man does which is it's just the same
as if you're drawing cave paintings of antelope
and you're doing it in black charcoal
and suddenly somebody gives you some orange charcoal,
So now you have black and orange charcoal.
And it just completely doubles your ability to tell stories.
All artists bang up against that technology
and when you do it's extremely frustrating.
Fantasy, science fiction, these are literary works.
These are things that you depend on people's imagination
to conjure up dream-like otherworldly existences.
The problem with cinema is you have to make that real
for a moment in time.
I kind of like fantasy films, after I did "Star Wars."
I said, "This was great." But I was constantly banging up
against the technological ceiling
and it was frustrating because there's a lot of great movies
and things that can be done.
And at that point the movie industry was trapped
in this world of of basically contemporary movies.
You could do contemporary movies you couldn't do period pieces
because there wasn't enough of an audience there to do it.
So when we started breaking through using digital technology
to see that we could do digital backgrounds
that we could do digital characters
and then eventually when we got to "Phantom Menace"
that I can actually get digital characters to act
which was a big leap.
It don't seem that -- well what's the difference
between a dinosaur and Jar Jar Binks?
And once you did that then I wasn't stuck
with these funny masks
which is you know animatronic figures
which were not we were advancing them
because we'd also taken the leap with Yoda
and created the first animatronic character
that could actually be lifelike. But it was limited.
You know I couldn't get him to run around or anything.
It was basically a puppet.
Otherwise you'd have to put a guy in a suit.
And it's very limited, but once you got to the digital level
of being able to create a character,
you could do anything, you could go anywhere,
do anything, it's fantastic.
And something that opened a whole world
of of new characters fantasy films
period pictures where you needed a thousand troops you know
marching over the hill
all kinds of things were suddenly opened up.
That you couldn't touch, 10 years earlier.
And so that was exciting and we saw it progress.
You know, every six months or so we come up with a new step.
We'd go to the next step and we'd try another thing.
And during that period I was producing some films
like "Willow" were pushing the envelope.
I would just say why don't we try this
and see if we can get this to work.
So a lot of it was experimental but was fun
because I knew that I was freeing up the medium
so you could sort of think of all kinds of projects
and all kinds of ideas and and be open to big epic projects
that weren't going to cost a huge amount of money
that you can actually tell those stories.
Man: Action! [ Clapboard claps ]
-Action. -Got it. Cut!
It's hard because there's so many great fantastic movies.
You know, when I was in film school my favorite movies
were things like, "Hard Day's Night," "Dr. Strangelove,"
and "Seven Samurai" and "Breathless"
and you know, if you said today I wouldn't know what to say
because that was when I first got into movies.
And my range was very small.
I only knew a few thousand movies
but now I knew 100,000 movies.
And I would say at least 10,000 of them were fantastic
and I want to take them all.
I still love to tell stories. I still love cinema.
I still love to work in the medium
and try to tell stories using the moving image
rather than just words and experiment
to figure out how to do that
and how to manipulate the images to do what I want them to do.
Because it's a very fascinating storytelling medium
that basically has not been exploited yet.
I mean first 100 year of cinema is very crude
and not very interesting, as far as I'm concerned.
What's going to happen a hundred years from now is
what's going to really be amazing.