Thursday, October 8, 2009

George Lucas: Rebel, Innovator, Philanthropist

Film great George Lucas closed out the first day of the World Business Forum on Tuesday to an attentive crowd. We learned that his path to filmmaking was accidental and that from the beginning, he was driven by passion not money. He revealed a number of other interesting tidbits, including his take on Hollywood and friendship with Steve Jobs.

Highlights from the conversation with George:

-Accidental filmmaker. After crashing a car at 17 and getting seriously injured, George opted out of car-racing and went to community college. He wanted to be an illustrator. His dad said no - Lucas, the elder, wasn't about to pay for his son to be an artist. Disillusioned and a bit lost, George said yes to a friend who wanted to ride up to a college together to take an entrance exam. George ended up getting in. He thought it was photography school, but when he showed up, he realized it was cinema school. He didn’t know what cinematography really was. His first class was animation, and his very first assignment became an international sensation at film festivals. We all know what happened from there.

-Success and passion. George believes that “success follows passion, not the other way around.” His story evinces his mantra. When making Star Wars, he negotiated a 40% royalty from the studio. This was unheard of at the time. It ended up being a move worth hundreds of millions of dollars to George, but he didn’t do it for money (nobody knew it would make money). He did it to maintain control of “his” movie, to make it the way he intended. He was passionate about the film and had a vision. He wanted to maintain both. With 40% of the rights, he could.

-Hollywood. In a brief exchange about Hollywood, George was very refreshingly clear – he hates it. He believes that for every honest filmmaker trying to get a story out, there are a hundred Hollywood execs ready to tear it down. But channeling Yoda, George was quick to quip, “Be careful what you hate, for you may become it.”

-Good friend. “Steve jobs is a friend of mine…. He knows what he’s doing…. He’s not into buying companies or synergistic this or that. (He’s all about what I do) – ‘Here’s a good idea, let’s do this.’ ”

-Respected peer. “Peter Jackson is genius…. He did something with Lord of Rings that I didn’t think was possible…. The story was so long and complicated.... I didn’t know how the studios would allow it.”

-Likes and dislikes. What George does most and what he loves most are almost in reverse order: … does most (in order): Writing, Buinsess, Edit, Direct, Camera … loves most (in order): Edit, Camera/Direct, Writing, Business

-Family business. George’s dad owned a small office supplies business. He wanted George to take it over. George said no - he vowed never to go into business.

-Education. George started the George Lucas Education Foundation which aims to influence how students learn, using a variety of techniques including digital media.

-Writing. “Scripts are not about writing. It’s about telling a story.” Perhaps that’s what explains the discrepancy between his panning critics and his wooing audiences. And separately (but related), George still writes longhand. Of it, he says, “I’m not very technical, believe it or not.”

-Delegation. George finds it difficult to delegate the writing of scripts to others. In fact, he can't. The times he's tried in the past, he's ended up discarding others' work for his own. "Others can write (but) I'm the only one who knows the story."

-Art. Art is not literal, it’s about emotional connection... a way of telling stories in a meaningful way. And to create art, there’s a huge amount of technological advancement involved… whether it’s evolving from early SciFi effects to CGI or figuring out how to paint a masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the early 1500’s.

-Destiny. Originally, George wanted to do documentary films. But he ended up in feature films. George believes – with striking genuineness – that even if he’d become an illustrator after community college, he would have ended up where he has. With this, and equally as striking, George implies that not only are fate and destiny real, but that his passion drove him there. The force is strong with him.

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