Oh, come on George!

George Lucas really needs to go back to his roots. He’s too far removed from the way he made Star Wars in 1977: that is, with a shoestring budget of $13 mil (about $50 mil in today’s money). He now says that he needs a “different technology” to make it economically feasible to shoot the Star Wars long-promised TV show at 1/10th of the cost. But he never explained what that new technology could be. If he means “let me think of a scene and as of magic let it materialize on a computer“, then I think that he (and I) will be long dead before such technology exists.

From what I understand from his mumblings, is that he wants to have the feature-film look & feel on TV. He wants to create worlds, not scenes in crummy rooms that try to hide their cheapness with dark lighting. He wants his characters go from one planet to another and experience these different planets exactly as they are in his mind. No murky/dark-ish/fake CGI as in most other shows, but rather crispy-clear views of how these worlds look like (example: Naboo vs Caprica). He wants to have CGI buildings, landscapes, characters, animals, and what not. While CGI alone do not make a good story (and his prequels are a good example of that), his vision as a fantasy filmmaker is sound. See, what George Lucas is selling is the escapism to a set of worlds in another galaxy, not necessarily the cheesiness that comes out of the Bad Empire vs the Good Jedi. And for that (very visual) vision, I estimate that he probably got a quote for about $25 million per episode. Which is of course too expensive for TV standards. And that scared him away.

What Lucas doesn’t get is that all that he wants to do can be done for $5mil per episode, tops. If he’s careful with budget it can even be done for $3 mil. But he has to change the way he thinks. He has to go grass-root. Here are some pointers:

– Instead of the 100 or 400 episodes he reportedly wants to make, he should only make 3 seasons with 12 or 16 episodes each. If he goes on and on and on with the series, his whole franchise will wear off in importance. Instead, 3 seasons is the right amount to keep the viewership at bay, and have a serialized premise that gets a real ending (rather than, “oops, we got canceled, we’ll have to end in a cliffhanger”). And of course, cast talented, but unknown actors.

– All shooting should be done in another country. He already used Morocco for Star Wars, and Australia, but China is the best place to shoot a TV version of his Star Wars vision. Not because it’s even cheaper there, but because of its bio-diversity. In China, Lucas would be able to emulate different planets for cheap: scorching hot deserts? Check. Jungles? Check. Crazy-looking mountains? Check. Snow? Check. Steppes? Check. Amazing lakes & rivers? Check. Rice land-fields? Check. Mist? Check. Ice? Check. All can be done using the same studio company that would make sure the cast, crew and equipment gets to the right places at the right time. Green screen work could be done on the spot, outdoors, and on a studio at a major city. Chinese know how to go big, by putting lots of labor into a given problem. And labor is ultra-cheap there. Props would be carved fast and cheap too. Lucas would only need to kiss some ass in the Chinese government to let him shoot there, as the Rebels vs the Empire theme is pretty political.

– Regarding FX, the biggest mistake Lucas can make is to ask his own San Francisco-based ILM company to do the job. ILM is a very expensive company to run, so even at wholesale prices they won’t be able to deliver the goods at a low-enough price. Instead, I’m thinking more of either China again, or better, South America. The software and render-farms are not prohibitively expensive anymore, and even off-the-shelf apps can do wonders in the right hands. Look at SGU’s FX for example, made by a small 3D software house in Vancouver. This is the best FX work done for TV so far, in my opinion. If you have Netflix, stream the SGU episode “The Greater Good” to experience the amazing CGI yourselves.

Consider that SGU cost $2.5mil per episode, which is cheaper than the US TV average of $3mil per primetime episode. “Mad Men”, with its ’60s decor, also costs $2.5mil per episode. SG-1 was between $1.1 and $1.6 mil. ST:Enterprise was at about $1mil per episode. And the ultimate sci-fi low cost per episode, that of Babylon 5, was shot for $850k per episode ($1.2mil in today’s money). If these guys can shoot shows at these low cost prices inside the US or Canada, then Lucas’ visually broader vision can be done for about $3-$5mil per episode. But only in China.

He just needs to give up most of his artistic control to others, since I don’t see him moving to China for 3 years…

4 Comments »

Richard Allen Crook wrote on June 2nd, 2011 at 6:10 PM PST:

You’ll get a kick out of this… it explains everything!


Paul wrote on June 3rd, 2011 at 1:35 AM PST:

According to the promo I watched, Game of Thrones chose to shoot in Northern Ireland for the close proximity of different environments that could be adapted to desert, forest, snow.


Glenn wrote on June 3rd, 2011 at 3:40 AM PST:

Remember that a large part of the look of the Star Wars universe comes from using miniatures. Most lower budget studios are usually CGI only, and anything like a city would take ages to render. So they’d be stuck using short 5 second establishing shots like most tv shows have used in the past. Plus, a large number of CGI creatures would be required too, which I can imagine would be expensive to get done properly. Most I’ve seen in tv shows never usually look that good.

Yes, it could be done, but a lot would need to be sacrificed. Or they could go for a Clone Wars style look, but then work involving match moving, tracking, rotoscoping and additional compositing would add to the workload.


zima wrote on June 12th, 2011 at 1:59 PM PST:

>He’s too far removed from the way he made Star Wars in 1977

After 3+ decades, he’s probably too far removed from who he was; as are more or less all of us after such periods… (when looking at ourselves ~1/3rd of a century ago, it’s not terribly clear if we’re now closer to past self, or to our present peers)

BTW brain-computer interfaces that you sort of mention, Eugenia – while either arrival or absence of moderately advanced ones, in a few decades / before our deaths, probably wouldn’t surprise me too much one way or the other …I fully expect that, if available, they will be limited to non-old, pliable brains. If anything, just to laugh and spite at us ;p ;( (but imagine the hysteria with “think of the children!” here; so at least it would be a good laugh)

>According to the promo I watched, Game of Thrones chose to shoot in Northern Ireland for the close proximity of different environments that could be adapted to desert, forest, snow.

Paul, there’s “Malta unit” in the Game of Thrones credits; certainly many Dothraki or King’s Landing scenes would fit (might also help the availability of “Mediterranean” complexion extras?). Also, there’s “produced with the support of investment incentives for the Irish Series Industry provided by the Government of Ireland”, and some ~local to production news (Belfast paper, IIRC) mentioned revitalising incentives. The original pilot filming also in Scotland and Morocco. Rather high overall budget, I think. Then there’s the UK with general filming resources at hand. So maybe GOT isn’t the best example (or maybe the EU ends up working here as intended ;p ).

Either way, it seems to work well for the series, as far as nice cast from the isles or overall end results go. So well in fact that I was a little shocked in 2nd ep, when I fully consciously realized how the dwarf character isn’t some great actor “remade” with effects, and clearly not chosen mostly just because of his height (what seems to be the rule) – the actor is both rather short and great.

Certainly recommended for those who don’t mind mild ~fantasy (awaiting one with Carlyle for example).

Also one of better depictions of sexuality I’ve seen, nicely reflecting how the apes running around are both a) obsessed about sex b) not at all so phobic and/or single-minded about nudity as many studios would like to portray. It mostly seems quite “natural”, not “OK, and now spice this up with nudity and sex” (though there are still “sexual characters” and “sacred characters”, with some comedic or dramatic nakedness thrown in-between; but that’s also accurate in a way). Occasional (still tactful) gore is treated similarly.

Some hints accompanying “the winter is coming” seem to suggest quite interesting world, overall (and still probably more consistent – that’s the big thing for me – than many scifi ones). Certainly charmingly depicted in the opening sequence, which curiously fine represents the “mechanism” of civilisation: whatever the humans make of their affairs, ultimately they are hardly on even the level of smallest of cogwheels in parts of the whole “machinery”…

[possible mild spoilers]

It would be nice to be surprised with convincing dragons on TV, but I won’t hold my breath ;/ (if they appear at all; a shame – for one, I can’t decide which surprise popping out of Daenerys would be better, a daughter or a dragon ;) ). I’m already kinda disappointed with direwolf pups – their mother was huge as depicted, but apparently they will have to do with typical wolfish-looking dog breeds (I wonder how it could end up with some huge breed, _Irish_ wolfhound for example, in a “costume” to make it look much more muscular and wolf-like ;) )

[/possible mild spoilers]

>a large part of the look of the Star Wars universe comes from using miniatures.

Well Glenn, good it’s about (almost) a Mecca of paper models? ;) If cheap labour, warehouse space and the East Asian thing for paper weren’t enough, now they’re even much faster and easier to nicely do via PC software and printers (few random specimens: one, two, three, four, five, six, few nice ones & resources); but yeah, it’s a gone era.

Overall, being in China might perhaps help to see the “future” a bit better…

…also of conflict? (and Star Wars is big on those) For one, I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually we’ll get another “fun” relatively long-lasting bloodbath, in the spirit of WW1, as a result of past tactics and “future” technology – for example mass-produced & mostly-autonomous “kill vehicles” of various types (with a touch of Skynet / will biological humans be able to overcome “past tactics” of their bodies? ;) ), possibly promoting places which can now pump out inexpensively the biggest numbers of consumer toys (or rather their proxies, non-nuclear conflict involving big fishes remaining unlikely). With futile “it’s not fair!”, like in one naval exercise (a “Zerg rush” of small, “disposable” vessels sinking old-school fleets – solution: reset the simulation).
But then, SW was always silly about those aspects, always a mix of antiquity ground, XIX-century naval & WW1 air warfare.


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