Meet the Mind Behind Strange Magic-An Interview With George Lucas #StrangeMagicEvent
Recently I was lucky enough to be at beautiful Skywalker Ranch in Northern California for a once in a lifetime chance to sit down and meet the mind behind “Strange Magic” and interview the legend himself, George Lucas.
“I wanted to do something fun and happy yet unexpected. It’s a story about love and how the most unlikely people fall in love. It’s about finding the true beauty in someone’s soul.” – George Lucas on the making of Strange Magic
You just have to love an interview that starts with, “I’m sorry, I was talking to my daughter on the phone”. You know from that moment on that no matter who you are, when your daughter calls, you just have to take the phone call. A few days ago I had the opportunity to visit Skywalker Ranch to screen the newest film from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic, which opens in theaters everywhere on January 23, and interview the man behind the magic, Mr. Lucas himself.
How does one begin to describe George Lucas? Humble, down to earth, unassuming all immediately come to mind. “I live a reasonably simple life off the beaten track” this iconic filmmaker once said of himself and while listening to him talk, you truly get the sense that he has finally come to a place in his life where it has all come together for him and he is telling the stories he wants to tell. After seeing Strange Magic one almost begins to wonder how much of the movie is a fairy tale and how much is a commentary on his own journey through life. Strange Magic, although it seemed to fly under the radar until last October, was actually born many, many years ago and is the final film that will bear the Lucasfilm name as the company that brought us such greats as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, just to name a few, was sold to the Disney company in 2012.
“It actually started about 15 years ago. I had the notion of making a film that was fun. I like working with music and I like doing fairy tales and I love to do musicals especially when I can use my favorite music and so it kind of harkens back to my pre-Star Wars days. I started working on it with a small group of people and we started designing it. Eventually we hired the director (Gary Rydstrom) and brought in Marius de Vries from Moulin Rouge to do the music because I wanted to try to tell this story through the music.”
So just how does a filmmaker of Lucas’ stature keep any film he is working on “hidden” especially in this day of the 24/7 news cycle?
“It really started to fall together over the last 4 or 5 years. It wasn’t involved in any studio or anything, I made it in San Francisco where I live and I have my studio there and we’re not into promoting or any of that kind of stuff – we’re into making movies. Nobody really hears about it until it’s ready to come out. It all seems fast. We actually just finished it and 3 weeks later it’ll be in theaters”.
The love and pride he feels for this movie, maybe more so than any other movie he has made up until now is written all over his face.
So just what is the story behind Strange Magic?
“The point of the movie is that everyone deserves to be loved and that love finds a way for the strangest people to actually fall in love with each other regardless of what appears and that true love doesn’t actually have anything to do with the way you look. It really has to do with your soul, what kind of a person you are and it’s the magical match and not the superficial one.”
As Lucas talked about the story behind the movie, as well as very candidly about his own life’s journey, it again hit home how much of his story was reflected in what we were seeing on the screen.
“No it’s never going to happen to me, I just will never find anybody, and I found somebody who doesn’t look at all like me – I’m a 60s radical, government unhappy, Wall Street-hating person from San Francisco, and I ended up meeting a woman who’s ahead of a big investment management firm who’s on Wall Street who doesn’t look like me. It is the last person you would figure who would fall in love with The Bog King or that I’d fall in love with her since I am not into princesses but as time went on it became more meaningful to me because I realized that in the end, we fell in love because we were exactly alike inside. You know, it’s like the movie.”
“We wanted the film to be very realistic looking like it was actually photographed in somebody’s backyard and that the elves and the fairies and everything were real. That demanded a stretching of the technology and at the same time it demanded a very, very, delicate balance between realism and stylized animation because the key to animation is that it has to be stylized, otherwise, why not just use real people. And that’s the magic.”
Lucas went on to explain the process of bringing the characters to life.
“The idea of making an animated character look real we’ve already accomplished. But the one thing you can’t do is a computer can’t act, only a human being can act. It’s that magical thing called talent, which is what an actor uses to create empathy, to create character, that’s something you can’t do with just a computer. We can 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 we go and 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.”
From the first note of the movie to the ending chord, it is the use of music and songs through the decades that brings the magic in the story to life. I defy anyone not to sing or at the very least hum along with the score.
“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 everything in between. But with this one, one of the inspirations was, I wondered if I could tell a love story using love songs. Would it be possible to take them and string them all together so they actually told the story? That was the original challenge and, in the beginning, the movie was about twice as long as it is now. It’s like American Graffiti – I could sit and listen to it all day and 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. I tell people yeah I’m going to go back and do experimental films as I did in college, and this is getting myself back there. This 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, trying to say what we needed them to say. It was all about finding the right song that actually had the musical mood that would get us from point A to point B but also actually say the words that the actors were supposed to say to each other. That’s where Marius came in. Thanks to him, we were able to use different genres from different time periods, really different everything, but knit it all together so it sounded like it belonged together. And he’s a genius at doing that because ultimately, it had to have an evolution where some of the stories was told in dialogue, some of the story was told in music and the story itself had to be tightened down and things connected which, in just using music you couldn’t do.”
What started out as a movie with over 100 songs, was finally whittled down to 25 with many of Lucas’ own personal favorites not making the final cut (could there be a sequel be down the road somewhere?). But the song that was his favorite and actually the vision that started it all managed to remain.
“The song that started it is the opening song, that was the first song I picked and it’s also at the end, ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love’ by Elvis. I love that song. I grew up under the tutelage of Elvis and my wife says I still have that pompous pompadour. It, to me, was the inspiration to say this is what this movie’s about. You know, wise men say only fools fall in love. And ultimately the only thing I can say is there’s no accounting for love, it’s just no matter how rational you think you’re being, you say well I’ll never do that, and you do it.”
According to George, “Strange Magic is a story that needs to be told to every generation over and over again. The message is so simple and, you know it’s been around for thousands of years and yet still can always be retold.”
How can you be a part of the magic of George Lucas? Don’t miss his newest film, Strange Magic, opening everywhere January 23. “Everyone deserves to be loved.”
Strange Magic floats into theaters everywhere January 23 but you don’t have to wait until then to keep on all the latest updates!
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STRANGE MAGIC opens in theaters everywhere on January 23rd!
Stay tuned right here on Thursday for our exclusive interview with the talented Elijah Kelley whose larger than life personality shines through as the voice of Sunny in Strange Magic.
Special thanks to Disney for providing me with this all expense paid trip in exchange for my coverage of #StrangeMagicEvent and #PixarInsideOut during. As always, opinions and experiences are my own.