Redford and Lucas: the power of film lies in the story
January 30, 2015
The trick to making a good film is all about story telling.
That was the theme of the evening Thursday when renowned film critic Leonard Maltin interviewed iconic filmmakers George Lucas and Robert Redford at the Egyptian Theatre.
The discussion, titled "The Visions of Independence," was part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Power of Story series.
"We’re here to discuss the art of film, but what we want to discus is the love of film," Maltin said during his opening statement. "That’s why these two gentlemen are here."
Throughout their careers as filmmakers, Redford and Lucas worked to find ways to tell their stories without having to compromise their visions.
"What George and I have in common is a love of cinema, but also a desire for independence," Redford stated.
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Although Lucas’ "Star Wars" films have been blockbusters, they were still made independently through his company, Lucasfilm Ltd.
Redford, while a well-known Hollywood leading man, established the Sundance Institute.
Throughout their careers as independent storytellers, they have both found innovative ways to tell their tales and they shared them with Maltin and the Egyptian Theatre audience.
For Redford, one of those first moments came in 1969 while making his first independent film "Downhill Racer."
The film, based on a book by Oakley Hall and directed by Michael Ritchie, featured Redford as David Chappellet, a cocky skier, whose redeeming quality was wining races.
"I felt the downhill [scenes] would be something incredible, because you would be going 70 to 80 miles per hour," Redford said. "It was poetry and danger combined."
He wanted to capture on camera the feeling of what it was like to actually run a downhill course.
"We tried rigs for the knees and the helmet, but nothing worked," Redford said. "I went to the Olympics and watched the races at Kitzbuhel and saw this guy skiing alongside these skiers holding a [camera]. I thought, ‘That’s right. You hold it.’"
So he approached one of the skiers from the Olympic B team who was doing stunts for "Downhill Racer."
"We stuck a microphone in his boot and [said,] ‘May the good lord bless your scars,’" Redford said. "I was scared to death because I’ve organized this guy’s death."
The skier made it down the course and caught everything on camera.
"I’ll never forget that moment when I saw that scene of him running the downhill like you were the character," Redford said. "That was the result of independent film."
For Lucas, the innovation came through technology, but it was technology for the story’s sake.
"I ended up with a problem in my story idea," he said. "I had a puppet and wanted it to move around and have sword fights. So I went about trying to make the technology to be able to do it.
"I wanted to make the process easier and to open up the ability to do more with your imagination," Lucas emphasized. "Every visual effect [we invented] was developed for a particular shot in a movie."
Still, lot of hype about new technology these days is just that – hype, Lucas said.
"There is still a reality and that is: you have to entertain people," he said. "There is more to it than what I call a circus. I get blamed for much of that, but if you go into ‘Star Wars,’ you see there is a lot more substance there than circus."
"For myself and the work I’m interested in, the story comes first," he said. "I think there are lot of exciting films out there. They’ve got a lot of special effects and it’s like cotton candy. When you come away from it, you ask, ‘where’s the story?’ If I’m going to do a project, I break it down into three parts: what’s the story, who are the characters and what’s the emotion?"
"You can teach an ape to draw a picture, but an ape, on its own, cannot come up with an emotion and use technology that transfers that emotion to other people," Lucas added. "Only humans can do that."
At the beginning of the discussion, Lucas and Redford talked about their formative years as budding artists and remembered the first time they were exposed to the movies.
Lucas was raised in a small town in Central California.
"I enjoyed the movies, but I didn’t become obsessed with them," he confessed. "I loved art. I loved drawing and photography, and it was just by [happenstance] a good friend talked me into to going to photography school at USC."
When he got there he found the class wasn’t about photography, but cinematography.
"I couldn’t imagine that there was a course that taught how to make movies and I fell in love with movies there," Lucas said.
Redford, on the other hand, grew up in a lower, middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and walked to the theater every Saturday to see stories on film.
"I was always a lover of the word ‘story,’" he said. "I can’t think of anything more exciting as a kid but to hear the words ‘Once upon a time.’"