By Ty Burr
May 11, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

People always laugh when I say I’m an independent filmmaker,” says George Lucas. ”But actually, I am.” There may be no greater proof of the San Francisco- based director’s maverick streak than his ongoing evangelism for Hollywood’s digital makeover — and his decision to make the upcoming Star Wars: Episode II an all-pixel, totally film-free production. Below, his thoughts on the digital future and the film industry’s fear thereof.

–It’s been written that you’ve said theaters without digital projectors in 2005 wouldn’t be able to show Episode III. Any truth to that?

I’ve never said that. There are 40 digital projectors out there now. We’re hoping by 2002 there’ll be at least a couple hundred, and a couple thousand by the time the third film is out. But there’s no way that we’re going to threaten the movie theaters. That would be suicidal.

— How did shooting Episode II in digital video affect the cast and crew?

For the cast, it didn’t make much difference except that they didn’t get interrupted as often. You don’t want a lot of time between takes; if you have to stop to reload the camera, it has a tendency to dissipate a lot of the energy that an actor’s developing to get the performance right. [For the crew] the biggest issue was that we could see dailies while we were shooting.

— So why aren’t the studios forging ahead with more digital productions?

They’re just very cautious; they’ll get around to it in time. It’s happening whether anybody likes it or not. I have some friends, like Marty [Scorsese] and Steven [Spielberg], and they’re not going to change over. They love film. I think Jim Cameron and Francis [Ford Coppola] changed over. It’s like the beginning of color. Some people still wanted to use black and white, and that’s great. It’s an addition to what’s already existing.

— How do you feel about being the poster boy for digital cinema?

I know I have a reputation for being this technical guy, but I’m not. All I know is I need to tell a story, and I’m most interested in quality. I’ve worked my whole life trying to get the best quality that I can, so the audience can enjoy the film the same way we do when we sit in the answer-print screening and see it under the most prime conditions. The idea in digital projection is that you get a high-quality image for the run of the film. What does it look like four weeks into release? That’s what I’m concerned about.

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