We continue our interview with Executive Producer George Lucas, the mind behind ‘Strange Magic' below. (View part 1 of the interview here.) ‘Strange Magic' opens in theaters everywhere January 23, 2015.
Interview: Executive Producer George Lucas
Q: I'm gonna switch gears and talk about music for a little bit, because you were one of the first directors to use popular music as a soundtrack, an integral part of the story in American Graffiti. That's a CD I know, a movie I love, and I had that soundtrack in the 90s in high school and would listened to it over and over and over again. I love the oldies. Can you tell us a little bit about what attracts you to popular music as a filmmaker? And also after that I wanna ask how you decided to work with Marius De Vries on the movie.
George Lucas: I love music, music's a huge part of my life. I love all kinds of music, and obviously I listen to music every day on the radio, top 40, and all that kinda stuff, but I also listen to a lot of other kinds of music. But with this one, one of the inspirations was, I wondered if I could tell a love story using love songs. I could just take them and string them all together so they actually told the story, which was the original challenge. In the beginning the movie was about twice as long as it is now, which means it had about twice as much music, and I feel pained at the fact that some of the sequences were…
Elijah Kelley: Sequel!!! Sequel, you love music!!! Sequel!!!
George Lucas: Well I'm all for it.
There were great sequences with great songs, and Marius even recorded them, actors recorded them, we had all these great things, but ultimately there's a thing called discipline, because I could make a 5 hour musical. It's like American Graffiti, I could sit and listen to it all day. That was a part of American Graffiti, I just wanted to have a movie that I could sit in the editing room and listen to and have a good time.
This is my pre-Star Wars period. I'm going back in time. I tell people I'm going to go back and do experimental films like I did in college, well this is getting myself back there, which is just a fun movie that I love to listen to. A lot of the songs were my favorite songs, but a lot of them really had to do with trying to tell the story.
Q: I read that you originally had a bunch of Beatles' songs for the movie, to bring the whole movie together. What were those songs and were you actually listening to those songs when you came up with the idea?
George Lucas: You could go to the Beatle catalogue and anything that's got love in the title is something we had in there. But there's a real world and in that real world, this is a relatively inexpensive movie, small, very small, and just like American Graffiti I couldn't afford to put Elvis Presley in there. It's like everything else, you have to kinda be strong, be brave, and sometimes trim some of the things you really love.
It's the difference between having a button-down movie and an indulgent movie. We've seen the movie that has a lot of other stuff in it which is fun, but I'm extremely happy with the way it turned out, the story's told very efficiently and the songs are still there. It's great when you have what we had.
What did we have like a hundred? Something like that, they were all wonderful, they were all spectacular. And now what do we have, about 40?
Gary Rydstrom: 25 or so.
George Lucas: 45?
Gary Rydstrom: 25.
George Lucas: Huh?
Gary Rydstrom: 25.
George Lucas: 25?
Gary Rydstrom: Yeah.
George Lucas: Oh no wonder it was so painful. [Laughter]
No, but they're all great. We don't go through long periods without music, and so to me, it's fun. And again there's the part where you actually have to tell a story, so I think it melded correctly between the actual story and the dialogue, and the characters and the music, and it all feels like it belongs together.
Q; So, compared to the animation and visual effects that ILM used in Rango, how have those changed or improved at all since that movie, you know compared to what you see now in Strange Magic?
George Lucas: They are different, you know every movie has a style in animation. Some people have made mistakes in animation by trying to say we want this to look realistic, which one, isn't really possible and two, is not very bright, because the whole idea of animation, the art of animation, is to create a style that is different from shooting a live action movie.
The style is part of the art of it. In some feature films, in live action, you use style that's very distinctive, but animation sort of is demanded of it, because if you are going to make it look realistic why not just shoot it? Right, use actors and shoot the thing. So there was a period where they were trying to go for that, and we can still do it, we do it in special effects, which is to say we create realistic versions of actors and inter-cut them, for a lot of different reasons.
So the idea of making an animated character look real we've already accomplished, but the one thing you can't do, which is the part that Elijah was talking about is, a computer can't act, only a human being can act. It's just computers aren't crazy enough. So, and that magical thing called talent, which is what an actor uses to create empathy, to create character, that’s something you can't do.
You can actually make copies of people, but they can't be human. You need a human being behind them to be the voice, and that's why, when you put a camera on the actor you want to capture the magic of that actor. An animator can do it, and that's part of the art of animation, but it helps an animator if he's got something to work with.
They're saying I'm gonna try to make this fit in this scene and to make his facial expressions as they go to that next level. It's hard to be in the place as an actor to do that so you need the help of a co-actor, which is the animator. It takes twice as many actors to do an animated film as it does to do a real one.
So it's not something that people do to save money or for whatever other reason, they do it because ultimately you're de-using a style, a particular style, and in this case I wanted the style to be very realistic, much more realistic. Rango is an animated film. It's got some realistic looking stuff, but this is a whole different level of realism.
Q: …and talk about the movie, and one last question before I let you go, of all, of the 40ish or maybe a hundred songs that became 40 and then 25ish, out of those that made it in the film which would you say is maybe…
George Lucas: The the one that started it is the opening song, that was the first song I picked. I know it's also at the end, but I love that song.
Q: I Can't Help Falling In Love?
George Lucas: I Can't Help Falling In Love. I grew up under the tutelage of Elvis, and my wife says I still have that pompous pompadour. At the same time, it's been recorded several times, each time it's recorded it's better and better. To me it was the inspiration to say this is what this movie's about. Wise men say only fools fall in love.
In my experience with love, as I was dating for those 20 years, I had some girlfriends who I knew weren’t right. I would say high maintenance, difficult, all the things you don't want. Yet I fell in love with them.
And ultimately the only thing I can say is there's no accounting for love, no matter how rational you think you're being. You say well I'll never do that, you do it. Neither one of us wanted to fall in love and we both did, and we knew that ultimately it wasn't gonna actually work, but you try anyway.
About Strange Magic
“Strange Magic,” a new animated film from Lucasfilm Ltd., is a madcap fairy tale musical inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Popular songs from the past six decades help tell the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic bring to life the fanciful forest turned upside down with world-class animation and visual effects. Directed by Gary Rydstrom (“Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation,” “Lifted”) from a story by George Lucas, “Strange Magic” will be released by Touchstone Pictures on Jan. 23, 2015.
‘Strange Magic' Official US Trailer
Portions of the material and expenses for this event has been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios, all opinions are my own.