Paul Hirsch has just released his autobiography A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away, and this gives us a new perspective on the production of one of the most iconic films in history. io9 spoke to Hirsch about his autobiography and the fact he didn’t have any clue while in the trenches what kind of impact Star Wars would have.
“It was very early in my career,” he said. “I’d been cutting 16mm documentaries and all of a sudden I was working on a 70mm movie with six track stereophonic sound. There wasn’t a lot of musing about what was going to happen to the picture when it opened, it was more like how we could fix all the things we needed to before we ran out of time just trying to get it done.”
In fact, as one of the most interesting snippets in the book shows, Lucas didn’t have any more of an idea what a monster he was creating. During regular Saturday downtime between cutting and effects work, the writer-director sat around shooting the breeze with Hirsch, wondering aloud whether to cast a hot actress for the princess to appeal to Playboy readers or someone more “princessly” to appeal to kids.
“This is basically a Disney movie,” Lucas told Hirsch about his decision during those discussions (while being scarily prophetic in the process), “and those movies always make $16 million. You can look it up. This picture is going to cost about $10 million, so it probably won’t turn a profit, but we should be able to make some money if we sell some toys based on the characters.” Prophetic indeed…
Something else Lucas was adamant about even back then, Hirsch now remembers, was the genre. “When I first got the script and it was about rocket ships and aliens I thought ‘Oh, it’s science fiction’, and he’d say to me ‘No it’s not, it’s space fantasy.’ I’d never heard that term before. He didn’t want anyone coming up to him saying ‘You can’t hear anything in space, it’s a vacuum.’ He wrote his own rules.”
Like everyone else, Hirsch might have assumed he was inextricably linked to the world of Jedi knights and Sith lords from that point on, and he duly traveled to England a few years later for The Empire Strikes Back–under what must have been very different expectations. Instead, he says he felt excitement, but no pressure.
“The shooting went so slowly the film came in gradually. The 16 weeks they were supposed to shoot became 29. The setups were very complicated with a lot of steam effects and bullet impacts on the walls—after a take you’d have to set the charge again and paint over them.”
“So there was a lot of downtime between takes,” he continued. “If they did two or three setups in the morning that was a lot, so it was very easy to keep up with that pace of shooting.”
But despite the saga’s continued conquering of the box office, politics intervened when it came time to do Return of the Jedi. “I got a call from Gary Kurtz telling me that George had hired a British director, Richard Marquand, out of anger at the Directors Guild of America. When the guild screened Empire, they claimed that the credits on the film were a violation of DGA rules and fined George $50,000,” he writes, referring to the dust-up over the director’s name appearing only at the end of the film.
“The next day, the Writers Guild fined George too. He would neither forget nor forgive, which is how Marquand got the job on Jedi. Of the hundreds of crew members who work on films of this size, Marquand was allowed to hire only two: his cinematographer [Alan Hume] and his editor [Sean Barton].”
Read the interview in full here.