Chip and Co. scored an exclusive invite to Walt Disney Studio’s New York City press conference with George Lucas to discuss his latest film, Strange Magic. I arrived early to secure a front row seat to this epic event. George Lucas retired two years ago, so interviews are rare! When Mr. Lucas entered the room, you could feel the climate change, we were about to interview George Lucas, movie-making icon and Star Wars genius! He was dressed in nice jeans, Nike sneakers, a plaid shirt and a comfy sweater with his sleeves rolled up. My first thought was that he was so normal, an everyday-type of guy. Once he smiled and started answering questions, it was like having coffee with an old friend. He was relatable and very open to sharing his personal experiences. Mr. Lucas provides insight about how the film came to be, how long it took to make, the arduous process of selecting just the right song for each segment of the movie and how the cast came to be.
Here’s what he had to say about love, life and Strange Magic.
Question: The music was great because you brought out songs that for an audience that just may never know half of these songs. Can you talk about how you thought about who was going to sing what and the breadth of songs and how long it took?
George Lucas: Well, it’s from the same archive and the issue ultimately really has to do with the fact that what I wanted to try to do is tell a story using the lyrics from existing songs. And so, the first ten years were spent developing the characters; kind of working on trying to get the animation to do what you actually wanted it to do and take it to the next step. Then it was the last five years where Gary, Marius, Steve, came in and we started casting. But the driving force was- can the lyrics tell the story? And obviously, what the story was, it was determined by a scene between the Bog King and Marianne. Marius that said, let’s do this as a duet; let’s put them both in there and he mushed the whole thing together so it worked. I just said, I know this is impossible! Figure it out.
Question: From American Graffiti, was anything from there…?
George Lucas: No, I mean, I love rock and roll music. What can I say, and I have a big archive of music I, that I’ve kept ever since I was ten years old and this is part of it. Then Steve came in a little later and added more music. A lot of it was just trying to make the lyrics tell the story and obviously, for me, much to the frustration of some other people, like Steve, I wanted it to have music that I liked, not music that somebody else liked.
Question: For the first time, you had two heroes that got the girls, and they weren’t conventionally handsome. How did you come up with that?
George Lucas: How did I come up with that? Well, it was simply a matter of the story is about, the difference between infatuation and real love, and real love is on the inside. It’s somebody you have a common ground with. You share the same values; you share the same interests; you share the same humor; you share all those things, things that will last you for the rest of your life. What the person looked like will not, and that’s the point. If you fall in love with a boy band, that’s not gonna last. If you fall in love with a football star, that’s not gonna last. It’s for young kids to say, hey, let’s just get beyond the cover of the book. It’s a story that’s been told over and over and over again. Kids need to be told this every generation so that they understand that that’s really the way it works. And with a little slight ’60/’70 twist which is, true love and happiness, which is really not with the pretty boy or the pretty girl.
Question: Was there ever any, challenge in finding the right song to match the story that’s like a jigsaw puzzle?
George Lucas: It was awful. It was more like a Rubik’s Cube than a jigsaw puzzle. When I went through it, I had a gazillion songs and I narrowed it down to the story, and then over the years we narrowed it down, narrowed it down, and then when we started actually doing storyboards and putting things in and Steve and Marius came on, we recorded a lot of music that’s not in the movie. And because when we’d pull one song out, then we’d have to pull another song out or we’d have to pull a whole, it’s like a Rubik’s cube. It just would not stop and it was very hard to make it actually connect. Originally, I wanted it to all be music like an opera- no talking, and when we got to that phase, everybody sort of beat on me really hard- you can’t do this; it’s not gonna work. We’ll give you, I would say, seventy percent of it is music. We need to tell the story; what you were doing in fifteen minutes, we can now do in two minutes. And we’ve got to get this down from – my biggest problem in life is- or any filmmaker, really is that the film comes out way too long. It’s like the, the three hour American Graffiti. This is, like, the three hour Strange Magic, and you know we can’t do it.
Question: Could you expand a bit on why you would turn down directing another Star Wars movie just to work on what’s been described as a real passion project. It’s kind of a two-parter. I know in U.S.A. Today, you had mentioned, that you wanted to spend more time with your daughter, but I’m wondering the inspiration behind Strange Magic and what, if any, personal experiences you drew from to put in this movie.
George Lucas: Well, originally, I had two daughters, and I ended up with another daughter and Star Wars was for twelve year old boys. I figured I’d make one for twelve year old girls, and you know, the twelve year old boy one worked for everybody from eight months to eighty-eight and, boys, girls, dogs, whatever, it really worked. So I said, well, maybe I could do one like this but it’s slightly more female centric than, you know, and we still have sword fighting… But it’s really a story that will hopefully work for everybody. I just wanted to have fun. I was directing Star Wars while I was doing these. This movie would be put on the shelf for a while. I had to work and I had a little group of guys and girls that were working on this thing and so, it’s a project that I’ve been doing for a long time. When it came to sell the company, I realized that it wasn’t completely finished but I said, well, I still want to retire. I’m not going to wait this out. I want to retire now. Time is more important to me than money, and so I just did it and hoped that everybody who has been working on the film and everything would follow through, and Disney would finish it. It was mostly done. It turned out extremely well. It’s what I envisioned.
Question: The voices are absolutely perfect. Would you talk a little bit about your cast, the casting process, and working with the cast?
George Lucas: The only cast member I actually knew was Elijah because I’d worked with him before. And I kind of knew when we started working and started casting which was a ways into it, that I wanted Elijah to play the part of Sunny. But I knew I had a lot of other people who had to sign off on the casting sessions. I kept pushing him along and they were saying, well, we don’t think Elijah’s right. I said, keep going- keep him anyway. The other ones, it was a different thing. My part of the casting was mainly listening to the actors, and then listening to them sing. And so out of that, we picked the best- having the best actors and the best singers. And some of them, I mean, Alan Cumming, I just met ten minutes ago, but we’ve been together for two years and it was purely on talent and their ability to do the job and I think they did a fantastic job. I mean, it’s beyond anything I could’ve hoped for.
Question: One of my favorite characters is the Bog King and actually the Bog world. I think the movie shows the great, not only the bad side, but also the beautiful side of a darker world. I was curious if there was an inspiration behind the bog world that you did it from?
George Lucas: Well, obviously, there’s the dark world and the light world, and this one, rather than the dark side of the Force and the light side of the Force, it has to do with the fairies, and the happiness, and all that kind of stuff. And then the ones that are unhappy – because if you’re mean, you’re unhappy. That’s why you’re mean in the first place. So, I wanted the Bog King to be as ugly as I could possibly make him, and so we took a praying mantis and a cockroach, I said, well, we’re not going to use a real animal; we’re going to make up one that’s the ugliest thing you could possibly find. And of course, then everybody went berserk and said, how can you possibly do this? You know, you’ve got a cute little, butterfly fairy, and this- there was a lot of skepticism about whether this idea was going to work at all. To me, it comes together, thanks to Gary, because there was a controversy also around whether they should kiss in the end. And you know, they kiss in the end, and so far nobody’s jumped up and said, well, this is disgusting, or kids running out going, yeahhh. It works. We made the most disgusting person we could create, be loveable and have [Marianne kiss him] without you saying, well, that’s not even credible because it is credible. You know why they love each other; you know why they’re together. It wasn’t as hard with Sunny and Dawn, but you know, those things, you stretch, and when you look at it from the beginning, everybody goes, well, wait a minute, especially when we have the drawings. They looked at the drawings and they said, you’re not really gonna have this cute little girl fall in love with this ugly old man? And for me, having gone through an experience in life where, I got married, got divorced and then adopted a bunch of kids and raised my kids, and went on, and was a bachelor for twenty years, and had the bachelor life and all that kind of stuff, but you know, I wanted to get married again, but I knew that the people that I was going out with, they weren’t the kind of people I would marry. And I thought, well, I’ll never find that person, and I literally had given up and said, it’s never going to happen. I just can’t- there’s no way I could find that person. And then I met my wife who is completely opposite of me in every possible way, but inside, we’re exactly the same. It’s eerie that we’re so much the same. And part of it is, you know, I mean, I was obviously quite a ways down the road- this was eight years ago. But it did influence things, and to say, love is strange. I mean it’s like this funny thing that happens, and it gets beyond- by this time, I was way beyond the old infatuation stage, because I was sixty, and suddenly things were clearer because I found somebody that agreed with me, had the same moral values, had the same interests, and everything was exactly the same, we can finish each other’s sentences, she’s a great pal. I’m saying that, that idea is what you’re really looking for.
Question: Why did you make the movie?
George Lucas: I made the movie because I wanted to have fun and I wanted to make a movie where I love music. Where if I make a movie that has a whole bunch of music in it, then I get to listen to the music all day long. I don’t have to say, well, I’ve gotta go back to work, and I’ve gotta stop listening to the music. I get to listen to the music and go to work.
Strange Magic is in theaters now!!
Written by a confirmed Disney Addict and movie lover…My name is Diane and I love all things Disney!!! I’m a former Disney College Program Cast Member, a Disney College of Knowledge Graduate, an Annual Walt Disney World Passholder and current East Coast Entertainment Writer for Chip and Co.
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