George Lucas: The filmmaking force

Updated 02 February 2017
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George Lucas: The filmmaking force

After shooting “Star Wars” in the Tunisian desert, the then little-known George Lucas was depressed, unhappy and convinced that the film was terrible. He was nowhere near guessing that this epic space saga would become a unique pop-culture phenomenon which fans all around the world would keep alive from 1977 until the present day.
A fiercely independent creative talent, Lucas not only reinvented the way movies were made and marketed, but he also changed the way they were financed and distributed.
Driven by an uncompromising vision of the film industry, he fought with the studios to control the art of making movies. How did he build his film empire? How did he find the ideas to produce some of cinema’s most profitable films and most iconic characters? In “George Lucas: A life,” Brian Jay Jones plunges us into the life and times of one of the most successful film writers, producers and directors in Hollywood history.
Early inspirations
Lucas always felt that there wasn’t much in his childhood that inspired him in what he did as an adult. He was bored at school; he hated math, his spelling was awful but he loved reading, especially comics. He preferred science fiction comics but his favorite character was Scrooge McDuck, the adventurous uncle of Donald Duck whose motto was “Work Smarter, Not Harder.”
Scrooge was bright and sharp and he wanted to do something in a way no one had ever thought of before. There is something of Scrooge in Indiana Jones’ character. Lucas believes Uncle Scrooge is a perfect indicator of the American psyche. Incidentally, one of the first works of art he bought after he became famous was a page of Carl Barks’s original art for an Uncle Scrooge comic.
Besides comics, Lucas was driven by a passion for cars. In his little shed he would build lots of racecars that “we would push around and run down hills,” Lucas has said. To prevent his son from speeding, George Sr. bought him a diminutive Fiat Bianchina with an engine that Lucas compared to a sewing machine. “It was a dumb little car. What could I do with that? It was practically a motor scooter.”
Consumed by his passion for cars, Lucas was not studying and his grades suffered. Three days before his finals, he decided to study in the school’s library, but never made it home. On the road, Lucas did not see the Chevy Impala coming from the opposite direction. Luckily, his safety belt snapped and he was projected out of the car before it became deadly wreckage. Everybody thought he had not survived. “All the teachers that were going to flunk me gave me a D, so I managed to get my diploma by virtue of the fact that everybody thought I was going to be dead in three weeks anyway,” Lucas has said.
A new lease of life
While he was recuperating, George Lucas realized how lucky he was to have a new lease of life. For the first time in his life he decided to pay attention to his studies. He received his arts degree from Modesto Junior College. His childhood friend, John Plummer, advised him to apply to the University of Southern California (USC).
USC had a cinematography school where Lucas finally discovered the world of movies. “I fell madly in love with it, ate with it and slept with it 24 hours a day. There was no going back after that,” he has said.
The mid-1960s to early 1970s turned out to be an extraordinary moment for major US film schools. They saw the rise of the film industry’s most enduring and prolific directors, editors, writers, producers and craftsmen. “Schools in New York were turning out artists with a grittier, harder-edged approach to film, people such as Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone at (New York University) and Brian de Palma at Columbia. In California, the versatile Francis Ford Coppola was working his way slowly through (the University of California, Los Angeles) even as he was writing and directing low-cost horror films for Roger Corman. Steven Spielberg was at Long Beach State, ad-libbing his own cinema programs,” Jones writes.
‘Excruciating’ moviemaking role
After his graduation Lucas worked on “American Graffiti,” a film that describes a transition period in American history. It takes place in 1962, the year before Kennedy was assassinated, before the world changed forever. The movie is also about the fact that you have to accept change; you must go forward or else you have problems.
Lucas was happy when the filming of “American Graffiti” was over. In an interview with The New York Times, he complained that he could never be paid enough money to make a movie: “It’s excruciating. It’s horrible. You get physically sick. I get a very bad cough and a cold whenever I direct. I don’t know whether it’s psychosomatic or not. You feel terrible. There is an immense amount of pressure, and emotional pain… but I do it anyway and I really love it; it’s like climbing mountains.”
“American Graffiti” opened on Aug. 1, 1973. The reviews were excellent; Time called it “superb and singular” while The New York Times called it “a work of art.” It won a Global Globe Award for Best Musical and it ended up making a lot of money. It had cost $1 million to produce and earned more than $55 million, making it one of cinema’s most profitable returns on an investment.
His biggest project
Lucas never expected his little film to win anything or to make so much money. He promised his father he would be a millionaire before the age of 30. He succeeded, and then he was free to work on his biggest project, “Star Wars.”
In reality, Lucas had started working on “Star Wars” before “American Graffiti” was released. But in the “Filmmakers Newsletter” in 1974, he admitted that he doesn’t have a natural talent for writing.
“When I sit down, I bleed on the page and it’s just awful. Writing doesn’t flow in a creative surge the way other things do.”
After four drafts and four years of work, Lucas was still not happy with the script; the British crew working on “Stars Wars” during the two-week Tunisian shoot thought “we were all out of our minds,” Harrison Ford once said. Lucas has said: ”I was just this crazy American who was doing this really dopey movie”.
“Star Wars” opened in May 1977 and was an immediate blockbuster. The film exceeded everyone’s expectations. Accountants at Fox were already predicting that “Star Wars” would do better than “Jaws” and become the highest-grossing movie of all time.
Lucas, who never anticipated such success, was not available for comment: He had left for Hawaii with his then wife, Marcia, and where they were joined by Spielberg. A euphoric Lucas was already toying with another idea for a film. It would be about a treasure hunter named Indiana Smith and he had also found the title: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The movie eventually appeared, of course, with the character renamed Indiana Jones.
“The Empire Strikes Back” opened on May 21, 1980. Time magazine put Darth Vader on its cover and said it was a better movie than “Star Wars”. By September, the second sequel had made $160 million and by the end of its first run, it had made $210 million.
By the time “Return of the Jedi, the third installment, was wrapping up, George’s marriage to Marcia was also ending. ”I wanted to stop and smell the flowers. I wanted joy in my life. And George didn’t,” Marcia once explained. “He was very emotionally blocked, incapable of sharing feelings. He wanted to stay on that workaholic track. The empire builder. The dynamo. And I couldn’t see myself living that way for the rest of my life.”
George Lucas decided it was time to get his life back and that meant going forward without Marcia. He also wanted to take a two-year sabbatical from filmmaking but his friend Spielberg knew that each time Lucas was working on a film, he talked about quitting. He was right. Lucas directed three more “Star Wars” sequels. He was financed his own movie, which was a huge gamble that paid off. “The Phantom Menace” would make more than $926 million worldwide; it was followed by “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith”, which was the highest grossing film in the US in 2005. Lucas was the first film director to negotiate sole and exclusive merchandising rights for his company, and that made him very, very rich.
That same year he received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award and eight years later he married Mellody Hobson. He is now retired. He sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion and now has little to do with the “Star Wars” franchise, yet the latest installment, “The Force Awakens”, made $2 billion worldwide.
Lucas still wears jeans and flannel shirts with white running shoes. He is trying very hard to build a museum to house his art collection. Nowadays, he is mostly concerned with philanthropy, but his proudest achievement is to be a father to his three grown children and his 3-year-old daughter, Everest. In 2005 during an interview with Charlie Rose, he said that he wanted his epitaph to read “I was a great dad — or I tried.”
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Greek researchers enlist EU satellite against Aegean sea litter

Greek university students gently deposits a wall-sized PVC frame on the surface before divers moor them at sea at a beach in the island of Lesbos on April 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Greek researchers enlist EU satellite against Aegean sea litter

  • “All the targets were carried into the sea, the satellites passed by and we’re ready to fill out the first report”
  • Satellite data is provided free from the European Space Agency (ESA) and hours after the overpass targets should be detected from the Sentinel-2 satellite

LESBOS ISLAND, Greece: Knee-deep in water on a picture-postcard Lesbos island beach, a team of Greek university students gently deposits a wall-sized PVC frame on the surface before divers moor it at sea.
Holding in plastic bags and bottles, four of the 5 meter-by-5-meter (16 foot-by-16-foot) frames are part of an experiment to determine if seaborne litter can be detected with EU satellites and drones.
“This was the first big day,” says project supervisor Konstantinos Topuzelis, an assistant professor at the University of the Aegean department of Marine Sciences, said of the scene from last week.
“All the targets were carried into the sea, the satellites passed by and we’re ready to fill out the first report.”
The results of the experiment — “Satellite Testing and Drone Mapping for Marine Plastics on the Aegean Sea” — by the university’s Marine Remote Sensing Group will be presented at a European Space Agency symposium in Milan in May.
“Marine litter is a global problem that affects all the oceans of the world,” Topouzelis told AFP.
Millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans, affecting marine wildlife all along the food chain.
“Modern techniques are necessary to detect and quantify marine plastics in seawater,” Topouzelis added, noting that space agencies have already been looking into how drones and satellites can help with the clean-up.
“The main advantage is that we are using existing tools,” which brings down costs and makes it easier to scale up, says Dimitris Papageorgiou, one of the 60 undergraduate and postgraduate students who worked on the experiment.
To prepare, the team gathered some 2,000 plastic bottles and lashed them to the frames. Other targets were crafted with plastic bags, as these are even harder to spot in the water and usually constitute the deadliest threat to Aegean marine life such as dolphins, turtles and seals.
In 2018, a first phase in the experiment was able to detect large targets of around 100 square meters from space.
This year’s experiment uses targets a quarter that size to test the smallest detectable area under various weather conditions.
“It was a crazy idea,” laughs Topouzelis.
“We knew that the European satellite system passes at regular intervals with a spatial resolution of 10 meters.”
In theory, then, the satellites should be able to detect the floating rafts of plastic the team pushed out to sea.
The University of the Aegean is working on the project with Universidad de Cadiz in Spain, CNR-Ismar in Italy and UK environmental consultants Argans Ltd.
Satellite data is provided free from the European Space Agency (ESA) and hours after the overpass targets should be detected from the Sentinel-2 satellite.
The project acts as a calibration and validation exercise on the detection capabilities of the satellites.
But even if relatively small patches of plastic garbage can be spotted from orbiting satellites, the problem of how to remove it from the sea remains.
Last year, a giant floating barrier five years in the making was launched off the coast of San Francisco, as part of a $20-million project to clean up a swirling island of rubbish between California and Hawaii.
But the slow speed of the solar-powered barrier prevents it from holding onto the plastic after it scoops it up.