Our friends at Feats Press Agency reached out to us with this fascinating interview they conducted with George Lucas, talking about the release tomorrow in North America of Strange Magic (out here in the UK 11th February).
Q: Why did you turn down directing Star Wars to do what has been described as a passion project?
GL: “I had two daughters and Star Wars was a movie for 12-year-old boys so I thought I’d make a movie for 12-year-old girls. The 12-year-old boy one worked for everyone from eight months to 88 years. Boys, girls, dogs, whatever… it really worked. So I thought maybe I could do one like this but make it more female-centric. It’s a story that will hopefully work for everyone but I just wanted to have fun. I was directing Star Wars while I was doing these. I’d go out and shoot, and put this on the shelf for a while. I had a little group of guys and girls working on this thing.”
Q: Is this the first time for you to have heroes who get the girl, and aren’t hunks?
GL: “Ha! You share the things that will last you the rest of your lives, what the person looks like will not, and that’s the point. The story is about the difference between infatuation and real love. Real love is on the inside, it’s somebody you have common ground with. It’s someone that you share the same values with, common interests and the same sense of humor.
Q: How so?
GL: “If you fall in love with a boy band, it’s not going to last. If you fall in love with a football star, that’s not going to last. It’s for young kids to say, ‘Lets get beyond the cover of the book.’ It’s a story that has been told over and over and over again. But for me, having gone through an experience in life where I got married and got divorced, then adopted a bunch of kids, raised a bunch of kids, then moved on and then was a bachelor for 20 years, I wanted to get married again but knew the kind of people I was going out with weren’t the type to get married. I thought I’d never find that person. I literally gave up and said, ‘It’ll never happen. I just can’t, there’s no way I can find that person. Then I found my wife who, you know, is completely opposite of me in every possible way. But inside, we’re exactly the same. It’s eerie, we’re so much the same. And part of it is, I was quite a way down the road. This was eight years ago, but it did influence things, to say love is strange. It is. It’s this funny thing that happens. At this point I was way beyond the infatuation stage because I was like 60 and suddenly things were just clearer. I found someone that could read with me, have the same moral values and have the same interests. We could finish each other’s sentences. She’s a great pal and that idea is what you’re really looking for with this movie.”
Q: Do you see any connection there to Star Wars?
GL: “In that case, it’s like Star Wars, except instead of mythology based, it’s about fairy tales. It’s the Ugly Duckling. Kids need to be told this every generation so they can understand that that’s really the way it works – but with a slight ’60s or ’70s twist! True love and happiness is not with the pretty boy or girl.”
Q: So is that why you made this movie?
GL: “I made the movie because I wanted to have fun and to make a movie that had a whole bunch of music in it so I could listen to all day long and I don’t have to say, ‘Well I’ve got to go back to work!’ I got to keep listening AND go to work!”
Q: Has this been influenced by anyone in your family?
GL: “It’s a project I’ve been doing for a long time and when it came time to sell the company, I realised I wasn’t completely finished. But I said, ‘I still want to retire. I don’t want to wait this out. Time is more important than money.’ So I just did it in hope that everyone that was working on it, would follow through and Disney would put up the money to finish it. It was mostly done, so it wasn’t like they had to turn up a whole bunch of money to finish it. It turned out extremely well. It’s what I envisioned. I know it’s been maybe two years since I sold the company, but time moves very slow in animation.”
Q: How did you pick the soundtrack to this film, which hopefully will introduce a new generation to great rock, and is there a connection to your rock music based American Graffiti?
GL: “It’s the same collection. Or the same archive, I should say. The issue ultimately has to do with wanting to tell a story using lyrics from existing songs. So the first ten years were spent developing the characters and getting the animation to do what we wanted it to do, then weave all this stuff together. The last five years is when Gary Rydstorm, Marius De Vries, and Steve Gizicki and all the other guys came on. Then we took a shot at casting. The driving force was, can the lyrics tell the story? Obviously, the story was determined by the scene between the Bog King and Marianne.”
Q: Was there anything from American Graffiti used here?
GL: “I love rock and roll music, what can I say? I have a big archive of music, and I’ve kept everything since I was ten-years-old. So that is part of it. Then Steve came in a little later, and he added more music. A lot of it, was trying to make the lyrics tell the story. For me, to the frustration of Steve, I wanted it to have music I liked, not music that somebody else liked.”
Q: Was there a challenge to finding the right song to fit the scenes? Was it like a jigsaw puzzle?
GL: “It was awful! It was more like a Rubik’s Cube than a jigsaw puzzle. When I went through it, I had a million songs and had to narrow it down. Then as the years went on, we kept narrowing it down. Then when we started doing storyboards. Then we put things together and when Steve and Vries came in, we recorded a lot of music that didn’t end up being in the movie. Originally, I wanted it to be all music like an opera, with no talking. Then when we got to that phase where everyone beat on me real hard and then said, ‘You can’t do this. It’s not going to work.’ The problem with me or any filmmaker, is that the film I made was way too long. It’s like the three hour American Graffiti. There’s a three hour Strange Magic, and we can’t do it.”
Q: What was the casting like?
GL: The only cast member I actually knew was Elijah Kelley because I worked with him before. So I kind of knew when we started casting, that I wanted Elijah to play Sunny. I knew I had a lot of other people that had to sign on to the casting sessions but I pushed him along, while other people said he might not work. The other ones, it was a different thing. My part of the casting was mainly listening to the actors, then listening to them sing. Out of that, we picked the best actors and the best singers. Some of them, like Alan Cumming, I only just met 15 minutes ago!
Q: Your seemingly villainous Bog King and gloomy Bog World is truly the dark side visualised isn’t it?
GL: “Obviously there’s always a dark world, and a light world. In this, instead of the dark side of the Force and the light side of the Force it has to do with the faeries, happiness, and the mean and the unhappy. If you’re mean, you’re unhappy in the first place! I wanted the Bog King to be as ugly as I can make him. So we took a praying mantis and a cockroach and created our own creature that’s the ugliest thing possible. There was a controversy around whether they should kiss at the end but so far nobody has jumped up and said, this is disgusting! It works. So we made the most disgusting person we could create be lovable and have her kiss him without people saying, ‘Well that’s not even credible.’ It is credible. You know why they love each other, you know why they’re together even though when you look at it from the beginning everyone says, ‘Wait a minute, you’re not really going to have this cute little girl falling in love with this ugly old man…’”