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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blockbuster is a new six-part podcast created by Matt Schrader that looks at the friendship between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas as a docu-biopic for the ears. The podcast boasts strong sound design elements to present a scripted narrative using top voice actors, and an original score. It can be listened to on Apple and Spotify, but io9 has posted an exclusive two-minute clip in which Lucas shows the first early rough cut of Star Wars to a small gathering of friends. According to io9's Germain Lussier, Lucas is voiced by Ray Chase, Spielberg is voiced by Max Mittelman, Brian De Palma is voiced by Lex Lang (who also voices Harrison Ford elsewhere in the series), and Marcia Lucas is voiced by Julia McIlvaine.

Here's an excerpt from Lussier's interview with Schrader at io9:

io9: As writer and filmmaker yourself, how do you see the podcast as a new form of storytelling going ahead? Is Blockbuster the first of its kind?

Schrader: I started my career as an investigative journalist with CBS and NBC, and I left to pursue my first documentary. After doing the whole theatrical release campaign for that, I really fell in love with this idea of immersive true stories...that I think transcends whatever platform it is, because there are so many ways to create stories nowadays: movies, TV, web videos, podcasts, Snapchat, etc. It all starts with a powerful story.

Steven Spielberg once said in an interview, “a great story is a great story,” which actually made it into one of his conversations with George in Blockbuster. So in some ways, I don’t know that the platform matters if it’s done well. It just so happens that podcasts are this massive new expanding world people are discovering right now, and sound and music are so vitally important to the story we wanted to tell.

io9: Did you have to get permission from anyone or any company involved to do this, or is it all fair rights? Meaning Fox, Universal, the individuals dramatized, etc.

Schrader: It was a very extensive process because these huge movies are part of the story arc, and how can you tell a story about Star Wars without mentioning Star Wars? I always kind of chuckle when I’m watching something on TV and there’s a generic version of “Coca-Cola” and it’s called something like “Cool-Cola.” We all know what they’re referencing, but it really takes the viewer away from the story. We wanted to make sure we weren’t overstepping anything creatively but could be realistic and use archival audio and music and film clips to tell the story. It did require the help of a legal and clearance team so we knew how we could include the opening of the 1976 Academy Awards telecast, for instance. I’m glad we went that route because it’s much more authentic and feels real.

io9: What were some of your primary sources in piecing together this story? Did any of the actual principals help at all? Did you reach out to them?

Schrader: Oh, so many sources. It ranged from letters and documents from their offices during that era, to newspaper clippings, and lots of video interviews. There have also been a number of books that touch on this era of filmmaking, so we were really trying to pinpoint the friendship of George and Steven in all of these sources, and create a biography of their friendship.

In my experience as a journalist, biographical stories can come off as “staged” if they directly involve their subjects, and we wanted to maintain journalistic standing, and avoid any criticism of being part of someone’s “public relations” team (which would do this story a disservice too). This is such a powerful story of inspiration, and struggle, and triumph—and it’s done in such respect and admiration for what George and Steven ultimately accomplished. We felt Blockbuster was best created 100 percent independently and journalistically. It’s always important to get as close as possible to the setting, however, so we prioritized interviews from the 1970s to try to get the most accurate descriptions of how it all really happened. We actually included one scene in which George meets one of the journalists who wrote about him on the set of Star Wars, which actually happened. So there are parts that can be very meta.

io9: The actual dialogue and interactions, closed-door private stuff—is that mostly educated guesswork or how did you go about approaching the writing of those scenes?

Schrader: It was one of the most interesting research projects I’ve ever done, and arguably the most unique part of this series because we started to piece together these moments, sort of like a detective would if investigating something. We would find these old archival interviews where George talks about meeting Steven, and someone else’s interview that says where they were, and someone else who described the environment that day. We started to take those millions of little jigsaw puzzle pieces and start to form a picture. Where we could, we tried to use their exact words, like when Brian De Palma saw Star Wars for the first time and asked George, “What is this shit?”

io9: Did you have any trouble putting together a crew, both above the line and below the line, for this mostly unfamiliar approach to storytelling? Were people skeptical?

Schrader: Well, it’s new and new things always require a little explanation. I was fortunate to meet some of the crew on my 2017 film Score: A Film Music Documentary, but this was an entirely different format. We kind of settled on this as being a “biopic podcast series” or “biopod,” which is a term for this genre we’ve sort of coined now.

Fortunately, sound designer Peter Bawiec was into this idea from the very start, and his passion shines through this series, especially in the scenes where we see Steven and George grappling with chaos around them.

I realize I just said “see,” which isn’t technically accurate, but it’s kind of like a good book in that your brain puts you right there with them on the set of Jaws and Star Wars.

Matt Schader also did an interview with Goseetalk's Marc Ciafardini. Here's a small excerpt from that:
When you developed SCORE, you spoke to several industry professional in addition to the impressive line-up of composers. Who were your go-to subjects for Blockbuster, and what went into your research?

I come from a journalism background, so I’m comfortable in the deep dive research side of things and pulling information that can contribute to a broader understanding of what’s going on. We discussed the idea of doing a documentary, but I wasn’t sure this was the right approach, mainly because that, in some form, has been done before. What’s brand new here is this friendship and relationship between Spielberg and Lucas and how they support each other and are competitive with each other in this era. It really inspires them to keep going.

That’s a story that’d never been told. In the hundreds of archival interviews, books and other research documents that we sifted through for this, that’s a storyline that not been shared, but it’s one that any struggling artist relates to. It’s really interesting to me to see how these people who became the most influential people in the last four decades were just kids tying to aim for an achieve their dreams. That’s really powerful on a personal level aside from the fact that their work revolutionized the entire film business.

As a producer, you’re assembling new and pre-existing material into your product. To the listener, a podcast might not seem that difficult to pull off. But break it down for us. Do you have to know every single move before you something, or can you wing it?

Putting this together is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with a million pieces. [Laughs] Every piece relates to each other, but you don’t really know where each piece is supposed to end up. Short answer is that it’s harder than it sounds. [Laughs] When we started this, we didn’t know how many layers there would be to the research, the coordination, and the accuracy – journalistically and creatively – of all the elements that we’ve compiled over the entire series. It’s difficult to say without heavy creative feedback from legal consul whether we can or can’t do things in the storytelling, and it required careful navigation that to be able to bring all those elements together in a way that told a powerful story all the while referencing archival materials, books, documentaries, featurettes and interviews they had done. It’s part of what took so long to pull this all together; it’s a story, not just a set of facts.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, May 16, 2019 12:00 AM CDT
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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Yesterday, Newsweek's Ryan Bort posted an article with the headline, "9 Things We Learned About Steven Spielberg from HBO's New Documentary On The Director." Included was the old anecdote about Brian De Palma suggesting the opening Star Wars crawl, retold by Spielberg for the new doc:
5. Spielberg Was the Only Other Filmmaker to Believe in Star Wars

A tight-knit unit of filmmakers formed between Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese and De Palma. They hung out together, challenged each other, consulted each other and together would revolutionize the film industry throughout the 1970s and beyond. When Lucas finished a rough mock-up of Star Wars, he showed it to the group.

“It was basically a children’s film,” he said. “It wasn’t what the other friends of mine would think of as something worthwhile. Steven was the one person who was really enthusiastic about it. He said it was going to be a huge smash.”

It was De Palma, however, who came up with the idea for the film’s iconic scrolling prologue. After De Palma “went off” on Lucas for the film’s lack of context, he said it needed, as Spielberg remembers, “an old-fashioned movie that starts with a forward, where words come on the screen and travel up it and tell you what the hell you’re looking at and why you’re in the theater and what the mythology is.”

Spielberg will screen at the New York Film Festival ahead of its HBO premiere October 7th.

Posted by Geoff at 7:56 AM CDT
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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Posted by Geoff at 7:11 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 7:15 PM CDT
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Monday, June 1, 2015
This week's Projection Booth podcast focuses on Star Wars (the film now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope). Beginning around the 11-minute mark, while discussing Michael Kaminski's book The Secret History Of Star Wars, co-host Mike White says that while the book talks about people coming in and giving advice to George Lucas, "one of the things missing, for me, was some of the people who gave input on the project—especially Brian De Palma, and just how, for me, crucial De Palma was in the history of Star Wars. And he kind of got short-shrifted in that. And really, not too many people talk about the role that De Palma has played in, at least, the first Star Wars film.

"So one of the things that De Palma is kind of infamous for," White continues, "was tearing down one of the first screenings of Star Wars, and, you know, it didn’t work for him, basically. But before that, before he was there as one of the initial audience members, it was him who really kind of helped out the very socially-awkward George Lucas with the auditions."

Another podcast to keep an eye out for: White also just recorded an episode of Geek Juice Radio, as the first part of a director series on De Palma.

A more recent book, How Star Wars Conquered The Universe by Chris Taylor, highlights De Palma's role in editing and rewriting the opening crawl of the film. Here's an excerpt:

Star Wars remains one of the best examples of the storytelling dictum that it is best to begin in the middle of things. (Quite literally so, as it would turn out: Lucas's six-episode saga was the first in world history to open at its precise midpoint.) And he did insist that the roll-up remain, in the face of Fox executives who complained that children wouldn't read any kind of scrolling text at the start of a film. About the time they started, Lucas said.

Credit for the words that roll up the screen following the Star Wars logo is only one part Lucas: the other credit goes to the unlikely duo of director Brian De Palma and then Time movie critic, later filmmaker, Jay Cocks. Lucas had screened an unfinished cut for them in spring 1977, along with a house full of other friends. Over dinner afterwards, while Spielberg declared the film was going to be a huge hit, the naturally acerbic De Palma-- who had sat in on most of the Star Wars casting sessions, looking for actors for Carrie at the same time-- openly mocked Lucas: "What's all this Force shit? Where's the blood when they shoot people?" Perhaps urged on by Marcia, who knew George deeply respected De Palma, Brian later made a peace offering: he offered to rewrite the roll-up.

Lucas was crushed but agreed: the opening crawl had been too wordy in each of its four drafts, and he was down to the wire. His pastiche of lengthy, Flash Gordon-style introductions clearly wasn't coming across to viewers. De Palma sat down the next day, with Cocks at the typewriter. The result: an object lesson in the power of editing.


Taylor then presents Lucas' version of the crawl, with his own editorial comments interspersed throughout. "The De Palma and Cocks edit is the crawl that survives to this day," Taylor continues afterward. "It is a spare and simple four sentences, revealing exactly what you need to know, with not a word going to waste."

Lucas himself talked a bit about this screening, De Palma's criticisms, and the rewriting of the crawl during a conversation on stage with Stephen Colbert at the Tribeca Film Festival this past April. You can hear the conversation on YouTube-- the bit about De Palma, etc., begins around the 42-and-a-half-minute mark.

Another excerpt of interest from Taylor's book, from an earlier chapter:

Meanwhile on the East Coast, yet another young bearded filmmaker, Edward Summer, had graduated from NYU's film school with dreams of making a science fiction film. He'd made a short film called Item 72-D. Because everyone kept mistaking it for THX 1138, he added the subtitle The Adventures of Spa and Fon. While he waited to get funding for his other science fiction scripts, he opened a comic book store in Manhattan. Called Supersnipe, it soon became a mecca for comic book and film nerds including Brian De Palma, Robert Zemeckis, Martin Scorsese, and their friend George Lucas.

Years later, in 1999, the critic Peter Biskind wrote a boook called Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. His thesis was that the "rock and roll generation" of directors split in two in the 1970s: that Spielberg and Lucas went one way, into space fantasy and other popcorn fare, which changed the course of cinema and pushed out the edgier work of directors such as De Palma and Scorsese. But Biskind completely missed the fact that those edgy directors spent a good portion of the decade just as Lucas did: in comic book stores, reading science fiction, trying to get space movies off the ground.

"The 1970s was a perfect storm for something like Star Wars to happen," Summer says. He remembers Scorsese optioning stories by the great paranoid science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, while De Palma wanted to make a movie out of The Demolished Man, a science fiction classic by Alfred Bester. "Everybody, everybody wanted to make a movie of The Stars My Destination," Bester's other hit novel, Summer remembers. "I was involved with three separate productions of it, and nobody could get it right. The special effects were so difficult."


Posted by Geoff at 1:26 AM CDT
Updated: Monday, June 1, 2015 1:38 AM CDT
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Saturday, August 9, 2014

The George Lucas quote above is included in an article by City Guide New York's Linda Sheridan, about the upcoming 60th anniversary of Serendipity 3, "the renowned NYC confectionery and eclectic gift shop."

Posted by Geoff at 10:11 PM CDT
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Monday, January 27, 2014

The photo above was posted two days ago on the Twitter page of StarWars7783. The photo was taken in late 1979, and everybody looks pretty happy. Seated at the table (or squatting), from left to right, are Marcia Lucas, actress Verna Bloom, George Lucas, screenwriter Jay Cocks, and Nancy Allen. Standing from left to right are Paul Hirsch, Brian De Palma, and Paul Hirsch's wife, Jane.
(Thanks to Nancy Allen for filling in the gaps for us, and thanks also to Romain!)

Posted by Geoff at 1:51 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, February 1, 2014 1:33 AM CST
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Monday, September 2, 2013

In 1977, George Lucas showed a rough cut of Star Wars to a group of his friends to get their feedback. The picture above, which was tweeted today by Will McCrabb, shows part of the group after the screening: Brian De Palma talking to editor Paul Hirsch, with Gary Kurtz, Steven Spielberg, and Lucas himself all standing behind them, to the right. (Not sure where the picture originated from.)

Posted by Geoff at 11:29 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 2, 2013 11:33 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013
The Portuguese weekly Sol posted an interview with Brian De Palma today. Passion opened in Portugal on July 11. Here is a Google-assisted translation of the interview:

In Passion we feel great respect for Hitchcock. What do you consider most inspiring in his work?

This is a question I've been answering for 40 years. I learned a lot from Hitchcock thrillers. He created a grammar of cinema that many of us use, but I have my own way of seeing things.

I seemed to detect references to movies such as Vertigo. Am I wrong?

Do you know how long filmmakers have been filming spiral staircases? This began in silent films, it is the best way to capture someone walking up stairs. Hitchcock used this trick in Vertigo but before that it had been used dozens of times.

One realizes that dreams have a key role in your films ...

The majority of my thoughts occur during dreaming. Our subconscious is always working ...

In Passion there is a smartphone that takes account of the action. Are you a technology fan?

When I was in high school, I built computers, so we already see that my love of technology comes back. Today we walk with iPhones and film everything. Even my kids force me to take pictures of people with whom I speak [pauses to take a picture of the interviewer]. It’s for them to see what their father is doing.

To what extent do you think that technological tools can influence the movies?

When I started we had to raise a lot of money to make a movie. My first feature film cost $100,000, which we got from a rich girl. My second film cost $50,000. It is clear that both were flops. For the third film we raised $20,000. And it was a success. Today people complain about not having money to make films, but anyone can make them. It's all digital, and they can be edited on a computer. And if you cannot get a cast and write a script, it is best to do something else. Today there are no longer those excuses.

Feel part of a generation of filmmakers who changed cinema?

Yes, I am part of a group of filmmakers who arrived when the Hollywood system was ending. We were a little crazy and created sort of strange films like Easy Rider, but they made a lot of money. Suddenly we were considered the leaders of the city.

You began by making a very experimental film. Would you like to have followed this route?

In the beginning we experience everything to realize what we can do. I made a series of documentaries and experimental films, and won several awards. But only with my third film, which was Greetings, did I begin to enter the Hollywood scheme. I made several independent films that nobody remembers. Carrie was my tenth film.

Is it true or is it a myth that you wrote the first lines of the script of Star Wars?

No, I did not write these lines. George Lucas had an intro that was too complicated and I just told him, 'George, I don’t understand anything of what's written here'. So me and a screenwriter simplified the text. I have been accused of being the sarcastic type that made fun of 'The Force' ... It is true that I was always the official 'clown' of that group, but I'm also a good friend of George’s, and was there to help. My biggest contribution was untangling the mess at the beginning.

But it is true that you discovered Robert De Niro. How did that happen?

He came to see me because of an ad I had placed in a magazine to find a person who could project the movies. And he turned out to audition for a film I was doing in a garage. He was just amazing and I hired him. After two films he did some plays with me.

Do you keep in contact?

Not really. I saw him recently at a dinner that George [Lucas] gave. He appeared with his wife.

You have won several awards, but have never been nominated for an Oscar. Is that important to you?

In America the awards are only television shows in which the stars on the red carpet parade. They end up selling clothing and jewelry.

Were you able to anticipate the success of any of your films?

Only with The Untouchables.

And Carrie?

Carrie. It was a cheap horror movie that was released on Halloween. Stephen King was not even known. The book did not sell very well and only during the production of Carrie did it become a best seller. But nobody knew who Stephen King was.

Scarface [1983] was another of your great successes. Were you expecting that?

No. When it was shown in Hollywood, people left the room. I thought it would be a massacre. It wasn’t until it reached audiences that I realized it was something that had never been seen before.

Are there any films of yours that are considered special?

Mostly the controversial films. There is much talk of The Godfather, but Coppola had a traumatic experience. He was supposed to be fired almost daily. Dressed to Kill was ravaged by the women’s liberation movement ...

Is it important to shock the audience?

It is important to catch them off guard. It's like taking the rabbit out of the hat and putting it back in the hat when they are not looking.

It's on television that we see some of the finest moments of current fiction. How do you see this?

Television is a medium dominated by producers and screenwriters. [The directors are the types that take the cables the way] ... Look at The Sopranos or Mad Men: they are almost like War and Peace. The characters are developed over years! That is unprecedented.

Posted by Geoff at 10:44 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:24 AM CDT
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In a section of the terrific interview above, Steven Spielberg talks about the way he and his filmmaking friends would help each other out as they were all coming up in the industry:

"We had such a wonderful kind of an incubator in the early '70s. Late '60s/early '70s. I really began directing in '69, that was television, I was 21, but... And I met all these people around that period of time. I met George Lucas in 1967 when we were both in college. I was at Long Beach State, he was at USC. And I met a lot of those fellows in college, and professional life, and it was not a clique, not a 'Brat Pack,' nothing that people claim we were. We were just a bunch of filmmakers that weren't afraid to show our rough cuts to each other, and weren't afraid of that kind of criticism. We weren't afraid of George Lucas or Brian De Palma. I'll never forget the day Brian De Palma and I saw the rough cut of Star Wars. And there were only about six of us in the room. And it was the very first time George had ever showed the picture to anybody, and chose the six of us to show it to. Well, Brian went off the deep end. [Smiling as he playfully imitates De Palma] 'Whaas... Makes no sense! Nonsense! What's this all about?' And through all of the contention of that wild evening where Brian liked the movie, but thought it was sort of mixed up... it was really mixed up, it just didn't have 89 percent of the special effects in them-- who could possibly make head or tails of Star Wars without all those, you know, 500 effects shots? But, Brian's contention did lead to George inventing the now very famous forward, like the old serials, that crawled up the screen. You know, 'A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.' Now that came out of that rough cut screening. You know, and that was exciting to see things like that happen. I sat with Scorsese, in the editing room, heloing him edit the last ten minutes of Taxi Driver. Which is a film totally unlike who I am. But he asked me to come in, and to give my opinion, and to make some comments, and I did. That was fun, you know, we've all helped each other with our movies. The shark blowing up in Jaws was not my idea. It wasn't in the Peter Benchley novel, wasn't in the Peter Benchley screenplay, and the Carl Gottlieb screenplay. It was simply some filmmaker friends of mine who read the script and said, 'The shark's gotta blow up at the end. You've got to find some way to explode it. Not just kill it, it's gotta explode!' And without that kind of, sort of selfless thinking, where the ego is not leading you around by your nostrils, but you're open to pain, and to embarrassment, and to ridicule, and by being open to that with peers that know what it's like to make a movie, that have made movies, that you can respect their word, their critique, so to speak... and it's a great way to work. A great way to make your movies even better."

Posted by Geoff at 10:57 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Above is an unedited version of a rant (or "ramble") Patton Oswalt delivers on tomorrow night's episode of Parks And Recreation on NBC. The opening scrawl for this video explains that Oswalt appears on the episode "as a man who launches a filibuster to prevent a city council vote. The producers asked him to ramble a bit about whatever subject he wanted. What follows is one continuous take of that scene - 100% improvised."

What Oswalt rambles on about are his ideas for "Star Wars VII," which he hilariously cross-brands with the Marvel universe, as both are now owned by Disney, and also with the mythical figures of Clash Of The Titans. But to start it off, he begins at the beginning:

"We begin with standard title sequence," says Oswalt, "John Williams fanfare, followed by a scrawl to be written-- I would like to mention that Brian De Palma wrote the original opening scrawl for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. I think it would be a nice nod to the franchise if he were to write this opening scrawl."

In fact, it was De Palma and Jay Cocks who rewrote the opening scrawl. When George Lucas showed a rough cut of Star Wars to his friends, he'd had a long scrawl at the beginning that seemed to go on and on. Among the friends at the screening were De Palma, Cocks, and Steven Spielberg. Cocks recalled in the Nov/Dec 2002 issue of Creative Screenwriting that the morning after the screening, "I was sitting in a work room above a garage in [George Lucas'] house with a yellow pad with George and Brian and a couple of other people. Brian said, 'All right Jay, you sit down there at the typewriter. No one understands what this movie is about, we gotta set it up.' What I remember saying is: 'George, you gotta make other people understand this is a fairy tale.' We wrote something that [did] that, and in some form became the prologue to Star Wars or was part of the prologue to Star Wars."

Posted by Geoff at 7:33 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, April 18, 2013 8:17 PM CDT
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