Rick McCallum & LFL

Discussion in 'Lucasfilm Ltd. In-Depth Discussion' started by Darth-Seldon, Jul 19, 2009.

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  1. Darth-Seldon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 17, 2003
    star 6
    I wanted to engage this topic which I think is going to be critical to the post-SW LFL projects: George Lucas' relationship with and trust in Rick McCallum. From 1997 onward, McCallum has served as the de-facto care-taker and custodian of George's projects. It began with the Special Editions, clearly magnified with the prequel trilogy, the Young Indiana Jones series, and now with Red Tails in post-production. The Lucas-McCallum partnership doesn't seem like its going anywhere...but I don't know much about it.

    So I thought we could discuss McCallum's role in the way forward. What is his relationship with Lucas and how has he impacted the non-SW projects?
    Rick McCallum is a fixture of the Lucasfilm landscape and he will probably continue to shape future films.

    As an old moderator always says "Rick McCallum Loves You,"

    -Seldon
  2. halibut Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 27, 2000
    star 8
    An interesting turn of phrase :p
  3. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Seldon, what do you mean by it doesn't seem like their partnership is going anywhere?

    He's still Lucas' line producer after almost 20 years.
  4. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    I think he meant it isn't going away. As in it will probably continue.
  5. Darth-Seldon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 17, 2003
    star 6
    This.
    Sorry for the confusion on the phrase. I meant their professional partnership seems like it will endure, that it will be sustained, that it will continue. I did not mean that it has been a failure.

    Seeing as how it has continued thus far, how will McCallum continue to impact the company?
  6. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    McCallum has gotten a lot of flack as being some ass kisser of Lucas, but I think its just misplaced frustration at Lucas' inability to deliver material as good as he used to. In a way I agree with some of this criticism, because I think one of the jobs of a producer is to help steer the director or to creatively challenge him with an alternate perspective or to speak up if the material is heading in a questionable direction--more of a partnership--and I don't think McCallum does this often(though I think he does do it--he's just very discreet and political about it). But thats not the conditions of the role of "George Lucas' Producer." Lucas has set up the role so that the producer is entirely technical, by which I mean it is 95% business and only 5% involved with the creative end of the production. You could call McCallum a sell-out for taking the job, but on many films you end up in this sort of position, its just a different and more detached way of doing the job. Truth is, Lucas will never find a producer to be any more closely involved than McCallum is because that is not what he wants, he will just find someone willing to "collaborate" on his own terms; if Gary Kurtz started out on the prequels he would probably have been fired before the film was in production. I think McCallum is smart enough to realise this, and doesn't mind the hands-off approach.

    As for McCallum as a person, I think he has a very good relationship with Lucas but its entirely professional. Lucas is the type of guy who wants to come to work, say hello, do his job, and then go home to his family; even though they have known and worked with each other since 1990, I don't think McCallum is invited to the Lucas family barbeque--I don't think anyone that is employed by Lucasfilm has this kind of relationship with him these days. McCallum's a nice guy to talk to and gives you what you want, if you are the owner of a modestly sized empire like Lucas is, this is exactly what you are looking for. McCallum does what Lucas aks, and he does it faster and better than most producers could, and from time to time he also gets Lucas to be a better filmmaker through some delicate coercing. As for him as a person, there are a few really good interviews from the SE days, where McCallum discusses his past and his views on cinema and that sort of thing, because there wasn't much Star Wars to discuss and people wanted to know more about him; I should dig those up. He worked hard for many years in the independent world, and did some fine work like the Singing Detective. I don't know if he was ever involved creatively in the work he did--he may very well be a hands-off business-oriented producer from the get-go, who just found a lot of really talented filmmakers to service. The prospect of doing such a big-scale globe-trotting project like Young Indy, his first outing with Lucas, was too cool to turn down and I guess Lucas kept asking him to stick around for the next gig and McCallum couldn't say no. Its a secure living that pays handsomely--it beats scrounging around in the independent world hoping to hustle a gig so you can put food on the table in six months (believe me, as someone who works in the industry I've been there).

    Not to say it is all about the money, but this is probably one of two main reasons McCallum has not had the hankering to "move on". 1) Secure living that is also very profitable (for someone from the indie world, as McCallum was, this is a big deal) 2) An enjoyable boss to work with that causes minimal friction. So many directors can be pains in the butt; I think McCallum got fed up with Lucas' last-minute scripting method on the final two prequels, which must have been huge headaches, but aside from this there has been little drama in making the films, and Lucas is a really, really nice guy, which is especially rare when you consider the financial scale of the films (a contrast would be Michael Bay or James Cameron, who are both Grade-A dillholes to work with). So if you are someone with no pressing desire to have a major creative say in
  7. G-FETT Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 10, 2001
    star 7
    I don't know Zombie, I reakon Rick might challenge Lucas creatively more than we realise. I certainly think he can be pretty outspoken (I always assumed it was he and Natalie Portman that fell out on ROTS, more than Natalie and Lucas) but just how much he says to Lucas when he thinks Lucas is having bad ideas creatively, I doubt we'll ever really know.

    Anyway, I like McCallum. I know he comes in for a lot of stick from fans for being a bit of a bull-shiner, but most of that is just a genuine love and entusiasm for Star Wars I think.

    Will he be Producing the live action series do we know?
  8. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    Well I never said McCallum didn't get Lucas in creative ways ever, just that it is much less compared to the way a lot of other films are made, and when he does so he does it in a very delicate way; a lot of times when he does this Lucas catches him and drags his feet, getting Lucas to consider story/character direction has to be done with an almost subversive amount of coercion, and McCallum also seems to know when to back off so he never gets to push Lucas' buttons.

    As for his love of Star Wars, while I don't doubt that McCallum enjoys working on the films, I also think that his enjoyment of the films themselves as works of cinema is suspect; once in a while he will let slip, but he's extremely careful to watch what he says. Part of his job is, after all, to sell the film, which he knows how to do. Its not like he would say he didn't like part of the film anyway, part of staying employed is to not criticize the boss who has employed you for decades past and whom you hope will employ you for decades to come--especially considering the circumstances of how much flak Lucas got on the prequels from everyone else.

    ps: whats this about him and Portman? As for Lucas and McCallum, McCallum very clearly was stressed out as hell on AOTC because it was two months before camera's rolled before Lucas even had a handwritten rough draft, even though Lucas told him he'd have it done by the new year, and no one on the cast and crew was able to recieve a script until the week of filming because of this. How the hell do you prep a $100 million effects blockbuster without a screenplay, especially when its the first major feature shot on an untested digital camera prototype, and in Australia no less? McCallum learned his lesson and was able to prep ROTS better by getting things in place earlier on and pressuring Lucas like crazy to do an outline for the crew so that they would know characters, sets, etc., but even still the ROTS script came even later than the AOTC one. I think this was a case where it was easier to roll with because it was all in studio, they were already set up in Sydney and there was not as much last-minute prepping. Lucas seemed to know the story a lot clearer too, so things were set in stone much earlier even if the script itself was still in flux.
  9. G-FETT Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 10, 2001
    star 7
    There were many persistent rumours that the Episode III set was an unhappy place when Natalie Portman was around. One rumour even suggested she was close to being fired (I doubt things ever got that bad, personally) Her absense from any of the DVD material and promotional work when the film came out seemed to confirm to me that the rumours of trouble and strife had some merit to them.

    I'm surprised you missed these rumours, as they were around the Net a lot during the 03-05 period.
  10. Darth-Seldon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 17, 2003
    star 6
    Without knowing all the details, I agree with the details that Zombie has conveyed on McCallum and Lucas. I'm really only basing this off of impressions gained from DVD commentaries, assorted articles and a few documentaries. It is no doubt difficult for a producer to assert any creative input when the director/writer/owner/creator is George Lucas. Considering this, McCallum often does have strong opinions on the creative issues. On the prequels, he is very vocal in the Deleted Scene documentaries and sometimes argues that certain scenes should have been included. In these instances, he isn't afraid to express his opposition to a Lucas opinion.

    For the most part, he keeps things political and diplomatic. This only goes with his territory. Clearly, if he is going to maintain influence, his role must be kept private. If his is involved in the creative process, he has to do it behind the scenes and away from the public.
  11. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    That makes sense, I was pretty much gone from net culture for all of 2004 and half of 2005. I wonder what happened there. Based on what I have heard her say, she seemed to enjoy McCallum on ROTS since he was basically taking care of the acting end--he pushed for and allowed them rehersal time (she called him a "rehersal arbitrator"), which she seemed grateful for, and he also brought in an acting coach to work with Portman and Christensen. This is one of those examples where McCallum very subtly influenced the creative end of the film, for the better (ROTS certainly seems to have superior acting from the two young stars).
  12. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Yeah zombie, I don't know if Seldon remembers this but McCallum time and again mentioned all the other leads and actors in the prequels and what a great job they were doing in '04-'05. But he never mentioned Portman.

    Seldon, do you remember that webchat he gave at SW.com where he did that /\/\/\ and even praised Kiera Knightley and the success she had in the first Pirates movie and what a great actress she was? But no Portman.

    So something was going on.

  13. Darth-Seldon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 17, 2003
    star 6
    ShaneP, that is interesting on the McCallum/Portman split. Especially considering how supportive Rick has seemed to many of the actors (often being their biggest advocate.) I hadn't really followed the rumors on that but I recall some talk of it in the old Episode III forums.

    On a different note: I think part of the reason that Lucas-McCallum has worked out is because of their very different personalities. Whereas Lucas seems more introverted and task-oriented, McCallum seems real personable on set. He seems to be more of the cheerleader for everyone.

  14. HarraidH Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 2009
    I think Lucas-McCallum never worked out. You only have to see what films they have made together. Lucasfilm has only went down since they began their collaboration. I mean, George Lucas is directing, ok, but there were hundreds of people seeing the performances and _nobody_ told "this is a total disaster"? Maybe Lucas is blind about this, but what has McCallum done? He may be a good public-relations-man, sure he is, but a producer MUST be something more.

    I mean, "shame on Lucas", but blame on those who help the blindness to live. I like these films in some way, but i have eyes and i can see they are clearly bad bad films. I see some hints of genius too, but overall very bad films.


  15. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    You can make the argument creatively that it "never worked out", but that's impossible to prove.

    But you can't make that argument that it didn't work out as a partnership because that's still ongoing.

    And until RM writes a tell-all book about his days behind the secret walls of Skywalker Ranch, it will continue that way.

  16. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    Well, it's like I wrote before. One school of thought has the producer more "hands on" to guide the actual content of the film. He's more involved in the creative end, pressures the director, and helps shape the trajectory of how the film turns out. He also, of course, handles the business end, as a producer does. The other school of thought is "hands off"; he concentrates on the business, and does not want or deem it necessary to involve himself in the creative end. His job is to enable the director to make the film he wants, that is while answering to the studio heads (which doesn't apply in the case of SW).

    McCallum is obviously of the second school. Or at least, he has been made to be. Know why? Because Lucas will never hire someone of the first school. Maybe McCallum thinks George Lucas couldn't direct his way out of a cardboard box and has no business making films--hell, half the filmmakers in Hollywood think this, and I can't really blame them. Maybe it drives him up the wall to stand there and watch Lucas tell the animators to make Jar Jar's ears blow back when the damn space camel farts in his face. But he is smart enough to know that if he starts getting aggressive about telling Lucas what to do, he'll probably get canned eventually, because Lucas isn't just the director, he's the whole damn studio! McCallum obviously doesn't mind being relegated to the second type of producer, the hands off business-oriented producer, if it means steady employment on A-list productions for most of his professsional lifetime. And it's probably very cool to work on a special effects blockbuster trilogy at the centre of the media, it's likely to be the only one he ever gets to work on. After all, he doesn't have to worry about getting blamed for how crappy the films are, his whole schtick is "George does EVERYTHING on the films, it all comes from him." I have to admit, based on what I've seen, McCallum is a very good producer, from the perspective of the aforementioned hands-off approach.
  17. HarraidH Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 2009
    First of all, sorry for my english. I write from a country far, far away, and english is not my native language.

    Second, after having read your reply about hands-off producer, i agree with your point of view. But, ultimately, i think it shows a quite sad reality: Citizen Lucas? Maybe. Even it could be a good film itself.

    It think it's very strange (and curious) how the things developed after TPM. A lot of years ago, when I saw AOTC for the first time, i was shocked about the change on the stylish side of Lucas/Director job (i think that's not well explained, sorry again for my english). It was a great change. Very few wide shots (compared to TPM, or the original Star Wars, American Graffiti, etc)

    At first i thought it was something related to production (the new cameras, new techonology, or even the fact that the wider the shot, the greater the job to fill the frame digitally, etc.) Even now i think this could be the reason (ROTS followed the same direction, even more intensely).

    But...

    1999: TPM, massive hype, massive box office. Critically, massive destruction. General public, even disguised, but negative reactions. All around the world. Lucas claims that "professional critics" is a thing one should not care about. And i think that's true. But people... People made original Star Wars a real boom. Not much hype before that. Millions of people saw it, and they saw it many many times. Lots of people saw TPM many times, but those would see Star-Wars-whatever many times (it wasn't the same situation in 70's) and even the "fan world" was split in two. I consider Lucas being not a fool, and i think he _had to see_ this point. And i think this had to be a shock for him, because i'm sure he put more heart in TPM than in AOTC and ROTS together. At least as director, he followed the same style, the same tone, the same heart, even with totally different results.

    Seeing this, he changed everything. AOTC and ROTS perfectly could not be Lucas-directed. Not in themes, but in style. I see no Lucas in those films, even when i like ROTS more than TPM. But it's less "Star Wars" than TPM. Not the same heart, nor the same impulse. When Darth Vader, at the end of the films, wakes up in a "Frankenstenian" way, it's sadly a reflection of the film for me. In fact, of the last two films.

    I think Lucas is the same fragile person/director that exiled after Star Wars. I think he knows the films he made, much better than us, but at least "outdoors" is not able to recognize his failure. I want to think this, better than agree with Lucas haters, primarily because Lucas haters (the ones I know) are usually all-haters at first chance.


  18. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    I totally agree with you on the stylistic part--TPM is in the vein of Lucas' previous films (although it IS a little stiffer than his previous films--IMO it is very Kurosawa-like, but it comes from emulation, not the genuine understanding of how to use wide framing that Kurosawa derived films like Ran from), and then I was shocked to see truck shots and dolly shots and steadicam use in AOTC, because thats not normally like him. I liked it though, I felt it added much-needed energy and verve to what was kind of bland design and acting, but I always remembered being surprised by that as well. ROTS pushed this even more, where he stole one of Peter Jackson's fly-by shots for the opening shot of the film and had that very cool shot of the ship crashing where the cockpit comes up to the camera. For me, I always thought it was just him stretching his directing wings. In TPM he just did what he normally did, for the most part, and he got torn apart as being stilted and lifeless so he tried to experiment with a bolder cinematographic approach to filming for the sequel, which for the most part was successful in AOTC as far as critic response, and he pushed this further with ROTS, perhaps because he was enjoying it.
  19. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Ive noticed that too. It's really quite funny when you think of it. This more inward director and his loud brash producer dropping f-bombs every chance he gets. [face_laugh]

  20. Darth-Seldon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 17, 2003
    star 6
    Haha. For me this is the only reason to watch the DVD docs and extras. I'm not interested in film making--just entertainment. Say what you will but Rick McCallum is hilarious.
  21. HarraidH Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 2009
    Which leads us to the director personality: i don't see a great director changing his style "by demand", at least of critics or audiences. I don't see it and it's quite sad in my opinion.

    I like his original style more than this new more TV likely approach. Too much shots, too much scenes... that process begins in script, naturally. It's ok for Clone Wars, or the live action show, but... it's like Indy 5 directed by... Michael Bay? (exagerating, of course).

    ROTS is one of the films with more scenes i have ever seen. I think the longest scene is that of Palpatine talking at the Opera (adding one of the most inspired musical themes in the film and that's very important), my prefered one.

  22. zombie Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 4, 1999
    star 4
    I don't think it's "by demand"--its in response to feedback. TPM clearly was not a success, critics made it loud and clear that the film was dull and that he needed to be bolder in his direction. I think it is admirable that he possibly listened to the criticism offered--I suppose there was so much of it that he could not possibly ignore it. But IMO, although I think him responding to the failure of his directing style to connect with viewers is part of it, I think much of it, probably more, is just him stretching his wings, as I said. He put out his first attempt in TPM, it didn't exactly work, so he tried a different approach--I think we must also distinguish that this is not "directing by comittee", but rather AOTC shows how he directs given the confines of "make it more exciting."

    I don't think its akin to Michael Bay--I'd say its about on par with any typical director of contemporary times. As for the short scenes, TPM was noted for its choppiness as well, although I do think that AOTC is worse. But that actually is Lucas' style. Pauline Kael complained that ANH never develops because its just a collection of short, choppy scenes, rushed through as quick as possible. She is right in a way. ESB lingers and has a good drawn-out pace, but only after Kershner re-cut it, as Lucas' original edit, which was disastrous, was quick and choppy, cross-cutting between scenes as fast as possible and going straight for the action.
  23. G-FETT Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 10, 2001
    star 7
    Though in purely financial terms TPM was a tremendous success.

    That said, I definatly agree that Lucas tried to deal with some of the criticism of TPM in AOTC and in so doing created an extra bout of problems.
  24. Darth-Seldon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 17, 2003
    star 6
    Question: Wouldn't the producer's role be more involved with generating profit than artistic expression?
    If this is the case (without knowing much, I think it is) then I think you have to agree that McCallum paired with Lucas is incredibly successful. This comes regardless of any opinion of the prequels (let's not get into that one.)

  25. JohnWesleyDowney Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 27, 2004
    star 5

    Question: Wouldn't the producer's role be more involved with generating profit than artistic expression?

    Yes, it would be involved with generating profit and one of the ways you increase profit is by keeping costs down. I remember on one of the prequel documentaries there was some video of the first day of shooting, I think this was for ROTS, where - per tradition - McCallum holds the clapper board for the first shot, and he says to the crew, "okay everybody, let's get this done in sixty days!" That right there tells you why Lucas has him around. To get him to push the crew to stay on schedule. When they stay on schedule, they can stay on budget and not have to spend more than planned. I think this is the main reason Lucas has him on board.

    Lucas saw what happened to his friend Francis on Apocalypse Now and what happened to Spielberg on 1941 and what happened on the Empire Strikes Back which was budgeted at 22 million and a 3 month shoot, and ballooned to 32 million and a grueling 7 month shoot.
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