About George Walton Lucas, Jr.
George Walton Lucas, Jr. (born May 14, 1944) is an American film producer, screenwriter, director and founder/chairman of Lucasfilm Ltd. He is best known for being the creator of the science fiction franchise Star Wars and joint creator of the archaeologist-adventurer character Indiana Jones. Today, Lucas is one of the American film industry's most financially successful independent directors/producers, with an estimated net worth of $3.25 billion as of 2010
Early life and education:
Lucas was born in Modesto, California, the son of Dorothy Lucas (née Bomberger) and George Lucas Sr. (1913–1991), who owned a stationery store.
Lucas grew up in the sleepy Central Valley town of Modesto and his early passion for cars and motor racing would eventually serve as inspiration for his USC student film 1:42:08, as well as his Oscar-nominated low-budget phenomenon, American Graffiti. Long before Lucas became obsessed with film making, he wanted to be a race-car driver, and he spent most of his high school years racing on the underground circuit at fairgrounds and hanging out at garages. However, a near-fatal accident in his souped-up Autobianchi Bianchina on June 12, 1962, just days before his high school graduation, quickly changed his mind. Instead of racing, he attended Modesto Junior College and later got accepted into a junior college to study anthropology. While taking liberal arts courses, he developed a passion for cinematography and camera tricks.
During this time, an experimental filmmaker named Bruce Baillie tacked up a bedsheet in his backyard in 1960 to screen the work of underground, avant-garde 16 mm filmmakers like Jordan Belson, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner. For the next few years, Baillie's series, dubbed Canyon Cinema, toured local coffeehouses. These events became a magnet for the teenage Lucas and his boyhood friend John Plummer. The 19-year-olds began slipping away to San Francisco to hang out in jazz clubs and find news of Canyon Cinema screenings in flyers at the City Lights bookstore. Already a promising photographer, Lucas became infatuated with these abstract films.
"That's when he (George) really started exploring," Plummer recalled. "We went to a theater on Union Street that shows art movies, we drove up to San Francisco State for a film festival, and there was an old beatnik coffeehouse in Cow Hollow with shorts that were really out there." It was a season of awakening for Lucas, who had been an uninterested slacker in high school. At an autocross track, Lucas met his first mentor in the film industry — famed cinematographer Haskell Wexler, a fellow aficionado of sleek racing machines. Wexler was impressed by the way the shy teenager handled a camera, cradling it low on his hips to get better angles. "George had a very good eye, and he thought visually," Wexler recalls.
Lucas then transferred to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. USC was one of the earliest universities to have a school devoted to motion picture film. During the years at USC, George Lucas shared a dorm room with Randal Kleiser. Along with classmates such as Walter Murch, Hal Barwood and John Milius, they became a clique of film students known as The Dirty Dozen. He also became very good friends with fellow acclaimed student filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Lucas was deeply influenced by the Filmic Expression course taught at the school by filmmaker Lester Novros which concentrated on the non-narrative elements of Film Form like color, light, movement, space, and time. Another huge inspiration was the Serbian montagist (and dean of the USC Film Department) Slavko Vorkapich, a film theoretician comparable in historical importance to Sergei Eisenstein, who moved to Hollywood to make stunning montage sequences for studio features at MGM, RKO, and Paramount. Vorkapich taught the autonomous nature of the cinematic art form, emphasizing the unique dynamic quality of movement and kinetic energy inherent in motion pictures.
Lucas saw many inspiring movies in class, particularly the visual films coming out of the National Film Board of Canada like Arthur Lipsett's 21-87, the French-Canadian cameraman Jean-Claude Labrecque's cinéma vérité 60 Cycles, the work of Norman McLaren, and the documentaries of Claude Jutra. Lucas fell madly in love with pure cinema and quickly became prolific at making 16 mm nonstory noncharacter visual tone poems and cinéma vérité with such titles as Look at Life, Herbie, 1:42:08, The Emperor, Anyone Lived in a Pretty (how) Town, Filmmaker, and 6-18-67. He was passionate and interested in camerawork and editing, defining himself as a filmmaker as opposed to being a director, and he loved making abstract visual films that create emotions purely through cinema.
After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in film in 1967, he tried joining the United States Air Force as an officer, but he was immediately turned down because of his numerous speeding tickets. He was later drafted by the Army for military service in Vietnam, but he was exempt from the draft after medical tests showed he had diabetes, the disease that killed his paternal grandfather.
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 at the time 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.
George Lucas is one of the most successful and celebrated filmmakers in cinema history, with a film career dominated by writing and production. Aside from the nine short films he made in the 1960s, he has also directed six major features to date. The early 1970s work as a writer-director that established him as a major figure in Hollywood consists of just three titles, made between 1971 and 1977—THX 1138, American Graffiti, Star Wars - and there was a 22-year hiatus between Star Wars Episode IV and his only other feature-film directing credits, the three Star Wars prequels.
Lucas' career path contrasts with that of his friend, collaborator and close contemporary Steven Spielberg, who has similarly worked extensively as a writer and producer but has also directed almost thirty major feature films over a similar time span. However, thanks to his long association with Spielberg, Lucas has acted as a writer and executive producer on another of Hollywood's most successful film franchises, the Indiana Jones series. In addition, his far-sighted decision to establish his own effects company to make the original Star Wars film has reaped enormous benefits; the award-winning Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) is acknowledged one of the world leaders in the field and has created groundbreaking special effects for many other box office hits.
Lucas co-founded the studio American Zoetrope with Coppola - whom he met during his internship at Warner Brothers—hoping to create a liberating environment for filmmakers to direct outside the perceived oppressive control of the Hollywood studio system. His first full-length feature film produced by the studio, THX 1138, was not a success. Lucas then founded his own company, Lucasfilm, Ltd., and directed a far more successful film, American Graffiti (1973). He then proposed a new Flash Gordon film adaptation, but the rights were not available. But his new-found wealth and reputation enabled him to develop a story set in space instead. Even so, he encountered difficulties getting Star Wars made. It was only because Alan Ladd, Jr., at Fox Studios liked American Graffiti that he forced through a production and distribution deal for the film, which ended up restoring Fox to financial stability after a number of flops.
On a return-on-investment basis, Star Wars proved to be one of the most successful films of all time. During the filming of Star Wars, Lucas waived his up-front fee as director and negotiated to own the licensing rights (for novelizations, T-shirts, toys, etc.) - rights which the studio thought were nearly worthless. This decision earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, as he was able to directly profit from all the licensed games, toys, and collectibles created for the franchise. This accumulated capital enabled him to finance the sequel without groveling to the "suits."
Over the two decades after the first Star Wars film, Lucas worked extensively as a writer and/or producer, including the many Star Wars spinoffs made for film, TV, and other media. He acted as Executive Producer for the next two Star Wars films, assigning the direction of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) to Irvin Kershner and Return of the Jedi (1983) to Richard Marquand, while receiving a story credit on the former and sharing a screenwriting credit with Lawrence Kasdan on the latter. Lucas also acted as executive producer and story writer on all four of the Indiana Jones films. Other notable projects as a producer or executive producer in this period include Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980), Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (1981), Jim Henson's Labyrinth (1986), Godfrey Reggio's Powaqqatsi (1986) and the animated film The Land Before Time (1988). There were also some less successful projects, however, including More American Graffiti (1979), the ill-fated Howard the Duck (1986), which was arguably the biggest flop of his career; Willow (1988, which Lucas also wrote); and Coppola's Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988). Between 1992 and 1996, Lucas served as executive producer for the television spinoff The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In 1997, for the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, Lucas went back to his trilogy to enhance and add certain scenes using newly available digital technology. These new versions were released in theaters as the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.
The animation studio Pixar was founded as the Graphics Group, one third of the Computer Division of Lucasfilm. Pixar's early computer graphics research resulted in groundbreaking effects in films such as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Young Sherlock Holmes, and the group was purchased in 1986 by Steve Jobs shortly after he left Apple after a power struggle at Apple Computer. Jobs paid U.S. $5 million to Lucas and put U.S. $5 million as capital into the company. The sale reflected Lucas' desire to stop the cash flow losses from his 7-year research projects associated with new entertainment technology tools, as well as his company's new focus on creating entertainment products rather than tools. A contributing factor was cash-flow difficulties following Lucas' 1983 divorce concurrent with the sudden dropoff in revenues from Star Wars licenses following the release of Return of the Jedi.
The sound-equipped system, THX Ltd, was also founded in favor of Lucas, along with founder Tomlinson Holman. The company was formerly owned by Lucasfilm, and contains equipment for stereo, digital, and theatrical sound for movies, and music. Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light & Magic, the sound and visual effects subdivisions of Lucasfilm, respectively, have become among the most respected firms in their fields. Lucasfilm Games, later renamed LucasArts, is well respected in the gaming industry.
In 1994, Lucas began work on the screenplay for the prequel Star Wars Episode I, which would be the first film he had directed in over two decades. The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, beginning a new trilogy of Star Wars films. Lucas also directed Star Wars Episodes II and III which were released in 2002 and 2005, respectively. In 2008, he reteamed with Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Lucas currently serves as executive producer for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated television series on Cartoon Network, which was preceded by a feature film of the same name. He is also working on a so-far untitled Star Wars live-action series.
For the film Red Tails (2010), Lucas serves as story-writer and executive producer. He also took over direction of reshoots while director Anthony Hemingway worked on other projects. Lucas is working on his first musical, an untitled CGI project being produced at Skywalker Ranch. Kevin Munroe is directing and David Berenbaum wrote the screenplay.
In 1991, The George Lucas Educational Foundation was founded as a nonprofit operating foundation to celebrate and encourage innovation in schools. The Foundation's content is available under the brand Edutopia, in an award-winning web site and via documentary films. Lucas, through his foundation, was one of the leading proponents of the E-rate program in the universal service fund, which was enacted as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. On June 24, 2008, Lucas testified before the United States House of Representatives subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet as the head of his Foundation to advocate for a free wireless broadband educational network.
The American Film Institute awarded Lucas its Life Achievement Award on June 9, 2005. This was shortly after the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, about which he joked stating that, since he views the entire Star Wars series as one movie, he could actually receive the award now that he had finally "gone back and finished the movie."
On June 5, 2005, Lucas was named among the 100 "Greatest Americans" by the Discovery Channel.
Lucas was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Directing and Writing for American Graffiti, and Best Directing and Writing for Star Wars. He received the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1991. He appeared at the 79th Academy Awards ceremony in 2007 with Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola to present the Best Director award to their friend Martin Scorsese. During the speech, Spielberg and Coppola talked about the joy of winning an Oscar, making fun of Lucas, who has not won a competitive Oscar.
In 2005, Lucas gave US$1 million to help build the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to commemorate American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
On September 19, 2006, USC announced that George Lucas had donated $175–180 million to his alma mater to expand the film school. It is the largest single donation to USC and the largest gift to a film school anywhere. Previous donations led to the already existing George Lucas Instructional Building and Marcia Lucas Post-Production building.
On January 1, 2007 George Lucas served as the Grand Marshal for the 2007 Tournament of Roses Parade, and made the coin toss at the 2007 Rose Bowl. The toss favored Lucas's alma mater, the Trojans. His team, which came into the game as underdogs, went on to defeat the Michigan Wolverines (32–18).
On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that Lucas would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony was on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento, California.
On September 6, 2009, Lucas was in Venice to present to the Pixar team the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement during the 2009 Biennale Venice Film Festival.
In 1969, Lucas married film editor Marcia Lou Griffin, who went on to win an Academy Award for her editing work on the original (Episode IV) Star Wars film. George and Marcia adopted a daughter, Amanda, in 1981, and divorced in 1983. Lucas has since adopted two more children: Katie, born in 1988, and Jett, born in 1993. All three of his children have appeared in the three Star Wars prequels, as has Lucas himself. Lucas had been in a long relationship with and engaged to singer Linda Ronstadt. He has been dating Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, since 2006 and she has accompanied him to several events including the 79th Academy Awards ceremony in February 2007, an American Film Institute event in October 2007, the 2008 Cannes Film Festival held in May, and the 2010 Golden Globes.
Lucas was born and raised in a strong Methodist family. The religious and mythical themes in Star Wars were inspired by Lucas' interest in the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell, and he would eventually come to identify strongly with the Eastern religious philosophies he studied and incorporated into his movies, which were a major inspiration for "the Force." Lucas eventually came to state that his religion was "Buddhist Methodist". Lucas resides in Marin County. Lucas has said that he is a fan of Seth MacFarlane's hit TV show Family Guy. MacFarlane has said that Lucasfilm was extremely helpful when the Family Guy crew wanted to parody their works.
He now has pledged to give away half of his fortune to charity. The pledge comes amid efforts by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to persuade the richest individuals to donate their financial wealth to charities, under a program called The Giving Pledge