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George Lucas Essay

No other 20th century filmmaker has had a greater impact on the film industry than George Lucas. His zeal for innovation forged a new relationship between entertainment and technology that revolutionized the art of motion pictures. His uncanny business acumen turned film licensing and merchandising into a multibillion-dollar industry. And his “Star Wars” trilogy ushered in the era of the Hollywood mega-blockbuster.

Slide 2:

In 1967, Lucas re-enrolled as a USC graduate student in film production. Working as a teaching instructor for a class of U.S. Navy students who were being taught documentary cinematography, Lucas directed the short film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB, which won first prize at the 1967–68 National Student Film Festival, and was later adapted into his first full-length feature film, THX 1138. Lucas was awarded a student scholarship by Warner Brothers to observe and work on the making of a film of his choosing. The film he chose was Finian’s Rainbow (1968) which was being directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who was revered among film school students of the time as a cinema graduate who had “made it” in Hollywood. In 1969, George Lucas was one of the camera operators on the classic Rolling Stones concert film Gimme Shelter.

Slide 3:

Lucas was born in Modesto, California, on May 14, 1944. As an adolescent who, as he says, “barely squeaked through high school,” Lucas aspired to be an auto racer. He changed his mind about a racing career, however, when a near-fatal accident crushed his lungs and sent him to the hospital for three months just days before his high school graduation. The experience changed Lucas. “I realized that I’d been living my life so close to the edge for so long,” he says. “That’s when I decided to go straight, to become a better student, to try to do something with myself.” Lucas enrolled at Modesto Junior College, where he developed a fascination with cinematography.

Deciding on a career in film, he applied to the prestigious University of Southern California (USC) film school. USC was a milestone for Lucas. “Suddenly my life was film-every waking hour,” he says in a 1997 Playboy interview. He concentrated on making abstract science fiction films and mock documentaries, which caught the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who invited Lucas to sit in on the shooting of “Finian’s Rainbow.” Coppola also persuaded Warner Bros. to make a film of one of Lucas’ student movies. The full-length feature, “THX-1138,” a bleak Orwellian tale, was released in 1971 to modest reviews and a lukewarm reception at the box office. But studio executives were impressed with Lucas’ obvious talent.

Slide 4:

“THX-1138” had earned Lucas a reputation as a skilled but mechanical filmmaker devoid of humor and feeling. Founder Lucasfilm and released his second film, “American Graffiti,” which was based on his own coming of age in Modesto, would change that. Filmed on a shoestring budget of just $780,000, the film became a smash hit soon after its release in June 1973 and eventually grossed $120 million. The film got rave reviews and made Lucas a Hollywood sensation. It also proved to be a defining moment for Lucas, as both a filmmaker and a businessman. Studio honchos pulled rank and made changes to Lucas’ final version. The changes were minor, but the scars were lasting. “I’m very aware as a creative person that those who control the means of production control the creative vision,” he says.

“It’s not a matter of saying ‘You’re going to let me have the final cut,’ because no matter what you do in a contract, they will go around it. Whereas if you own the cameras and you own the film, there’s nothing they can do to stop you.” And that’s exactly what Lucas set out to do. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), which he created in 1975 when he couldn’t find an outside company to do special effects for “Star Wars.” ILM’s first breakthrough was a motion-control camera, which could revolve repeatedly around stationary objects while remaining in constant focus, thus simulating flight. To generate cash, Lucas turned ILM into a service company. Having created a market for special-effects-laden films, he began taking on work from other filmmakers. This way he could keep developing techniques while other people funded his research. Charging up to $25 million per movie, ILM was almost immediately profitable, supplying the special effects for such blockbusters as “Jurassic Park” and “Twister.” Lucas funneled ILM profits into related businesses that sprang from his research.

Skywalker Sound emerged as the industry’s top audio post-production company, then branched out to providing a digital sound system for theaters and homes under the name THX (in honor of his first film). And with the founding of LucasArts Entertainment, Lucas moved into video games, producing such top-sellers as the “Star Wars”-inspired Rebel Assault, X-Wing and Dark Forces. When negotiating with 20th Century Fox in 1975 for his next movie, “Star Wars,” Lucas cut his directing fee by $500,000 in exchange for things Fox regarded as nearly worthless: ownership of the film’s merchandising and all sequel rights. It turned out to be a brilliant move, one that assured Lucas the real independence and creative control he’d been seeking.

“Star Wars” shattered all box office records, earning Lucas about $40 million in its initial release-merchandising would later bring him tens of millions more. Most important, Lucas owned the sequels, and thus a franchise. To maximize its value, he financed his first sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” himself, borrowing heavily to cover the $30 million production costs. Given the success of “Star Wars,” it was a good bet, but a huge risk-if the film bombed, Lucas would be bankrupt. “Empire” did exceptionally well, however, as did the third film in the trilogy, “Return of the Jedi,” which Lucas also financed.

“Everybody has talent. It’s just a matter of moving around until you’ve discovered what it is.”-George Lucas

No other 20th century filmmaker has had a greater impact on the film industry than George Lucas. His zeal for innovation forged a new relationship between entertainment and technology that revolutionized the art of motion pictures. His uncanny business acumen turned film licensing and merchandising into a multibillion-dollar industry. And his “Star Wars” trilogy ushered in the era of the Hollywood mega-blockbuster. Lucas was born in Modesto, California, on May 14, 1944. As an adolescent who, as he says, “barely squeaked through high school,” Lucas aspired to be an auto racer. He changed his mind about a racing career, however, when a near-fatal accident crushed his lungs and sent him to the hospital for three months just days before his high school graduation. The experience changed Lucas. “I realized that I’d been living my life so close to the edge for so long,” he says. “That’s when I decided to go straight, to become a better student, to try to do something with myself.” Lucas enrolled at Modesto Junior College, where he developed a fascination with cinematography.

Deciding on a career in film, he applied to the prestigious University of Southern California (USC) film school. USC was a milestone for Lucas. “Suddenly my life was film-every waking hour,” he says in a 1997 Playboy interview. He concentrated on making abstract science fiction films and mock documentaries, which caught the attention of director Francis Ford Coppola, who invited Lucas to sit in on the shooting of “Finian’s Rainbow.” Coppola also persuaded Warner Bros. to make a film of one of Lucas’ student movies. The full-length feature, “THX-1138,” a bleak Orwellian tale, was released in 1971 to modest reviews and a lukewarm reception at the box office. But studio executives were impressed with Lucas’ obvious talent. “THX-1138” had earned Lucas a reputation as a skilled but mechanical filmmaker devoid of humor and feeling.

His second film, “American Graffiti,” which was based on his own coming of age in Modesto, would change that. Filmed on a shoestring budget of just $780,000, the film became a smash hit soon after its release in June 1973 and eventually grossed $120 million. The film got rave reviews and made Lucas a Hollywood sensation. It also proved to be a defining moment for Lucas, as both a filmmaker and a businessman. Studio honchos pulled rank and made changes to Lucas’ final version. The changes were minor, but the scars were lasting. “I’m very aware as a creative person that those who control the means of production control the creative vision,” he says.

“It’s not a matter of saying ‘You’re going to let me have the final cut,’ because no matter what you do in a contract, they will go around it. Whereas if you own the cameras and you own the film, there’s nothing they can do to stop you.” And that’s exactly what Lucas set out to do. When negotiating with 20th Century Fox in 1975 for his next movie, “Star Wars,” Lucas cut his directing fee by $500,000 in exchange for things Fox regarded as nearly worthless: ownership of the film’s merchandising and all sequel rights. It turned out to be a brilliant move, one that assured Lucas the real independence and creative control he’d been seeking. “Star Wars” shattered all box office records, earning Lucas about $40 million in its initial release-merchandising would later bring him tens of millions more.

Most important, Lucas owned the sequels, and thus a franchise. To maximize its value, he financed his first sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” himself, borrowing heavily to cover the $30 million production costs. Given the success of “Star Wars,” it was a good bet, but a huge risk-if the film bombed, Lucas would be bankrupt. “Empire” did exceptionally well, however, as did the third film in the trilogy, “Return of the Jedi,” which Lucas also financed. Lucas further increased his fortune in the 1980s by producing the three Indiana Jones movies, for which he earned well over $100 million. Then, at the very top of his game, he largely abandoned moviemaking and poured his fortune into digital experiments that, he sensed correctly, would transform the movie business.

Slide 5:

* He quit an early career when he realized it wasn’t right for him (he wanted to be a race-car driver…until he almost got killed in a crash) * He made a type of product he loved and cared deeply about (movies) * He made–and learned from–lots and lots of different products (There were many Lucas movies before Star Wars) * He evolved (Lucas’s early movies were artsy non-commercial films) * He studied and learned from the best mentors (Francis Ford Coppola, among others) * He became friends with other extremely talented people in the industry (Steven Spielberg, among others) * He was shrewd (He sold his directing services to Fox Studios for Star Wars for cheap–but kept all the merchandise, licensing, and sequel rights, which Fox didn’t want) * He was very, very patient (Unlike many of today’s entrepreneurs and investors, Lucas wasn’t looking for a “quick flip.” Lucasfilm was founded in 1971, 41 years ago)

Slide 6:

There are three lessons to take away from reading about how George Lucas achieved success. One, grow a thick skin and be prepared for criticism and early failures. Every time you start a business, risks will be involved and sometimes things do not go your way. The key to a successful entrepreneur is how that person responds to the situation. Does he persevere through the tribulations? The second lesson is that every entrepreneur should know his or her strengths and weaknesses to give him or her the best chance at success. Knowing what skills need improvement will help limit potential pitfalls for you and your small business. The third lesson…just as Mr. Lucas was innovative in bringing out-of-this-world special effects to his films, entrepreneurs should also work hard to be innovative. What special effects can you use to amaze your customers?


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