An Interview With Alexandre Philippe - Director of "The People Vs George Lucas"
We're joined by Alexandre Philippe, director of "The People Vs. George Lucas". Alexandre, thanks for joining us here at GalacticBinder. We know you’re busy preparing for the premiere of your film at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, so let’s jump right in.
GB: For those who aren’t aware of your film, “The People versus George Lucas” is a documentary about people’s feelings and frustrations toward George Lucas and the Star Wars franchise in general. io9 describes it as the film that takes George Lucas to “geek court”. It was created largely by piecing together footage that was submitted by the public via an open call for content you issued on your website back in 2007. So how many hours of footage did you get and how much of it was simply people ranting or rambling on?
AP: Actually, we conducted a number of interviews ourselves. 126, to be exact. And we not only traveled from coast to coast several times for this project, but we also went to Canada, France, Switzerland, England and Japan. That said, we really wanted to give fans around the world the opportunity to weigh in, and our website was originally designed to support anyone with access to a film or video camera to submit their footage for possible inclusion in the film. The result was a staggering 634 hours of footage. So we received numerous rants, of course, but also claymation , 3D animation, puppet skits, grindhouse shorts, action figure films… just about anything you can imagine, in every format under the sun.
GB: Were you shocked by the ferocity of the unbridled anger you saw in some of the submissions? You must have seen some raw, unfiltered emotions.
AP: Yes, definitely. George Lucas somehow manages to conjure up powerful emotions in people. As Joe Nussbaum, director of George Lucas In Love, puts it, “There’s something about our love for Star Wars that is different from our love for other things.” That’s why I wanted to make this film in the first place. But a lot of people stepped up to defend him as well, and the whole idea was to create an open and balanced debate. The fundamental question of our doc is: Why do George Lucas fans love-hate George Lucas with such passion? It seems straightforward enough, but it took us three years of hard work to get to the bottom of it, and it turns out that I needed 97 minutes to answer it.
GB: Were there any submissions that were so crazy or offbeat that you just couldn’t use them? For example… the naked guy or the guy who filmed something while hanging upside down from his roof in full costume. Did you manage to include most of the really juicy stuff?
AP: When your film centers around powerful emotions, you have to include the juicy stuff. That’s why I describe the film as a no-holds-barred cultural examination of the evolving dynamic between George Lucas and the public. I couldn’t ask the fans to speak up and then censor them. So the emotions are raw, and while, thankfully, no one committed suicide on tape, we do have a rather vicious Jar Jar Binks torture snuff film of sorts, and even brief full-frontal male nudity. I’m sure we’ll have to tone the film down for distribution, but our festival cut is completely uncensored, and there’s plenty of colorful language. Parental discretion is advised.
GB: What was the inspiration for the project? Was there a single moment when you knew you had to do this, or did it just evolve over time? We know your wife, Vanessa, worked on the project with you. Did she think you were crazy at first?
AP: For some reason, I had the title in my head for many years, but never did anything with it until I mentioned it to Robert Muratore, my Director of Photography. He’s the one who convinced me to move forward with it three years ago on a commercial shoot in Texas. And now, here we are, in Austin, premiering the film. The circle is now complete, I suppose. And yes, my wife is one of several producers on the project. She’s been my faithful partner since we got married in 2004, and I know it hasn’t always been easy for her because she doesn’t completely get the Star Wars thing. She understands the phenomenon, of course, but when you’re talking about George Lucas 15-18 hours a day, seven days a week, it gets pretty hard sometimes. But she’s a heck of a producer, and she stood by me and the rest of the crew to make the best possible film, and I know she’s proud of it. And to answer your question, she knew I was crazy long before I told her I wanted to work on this documentary. After all, my two previous feature docs were about a headless chicken and Klingon speakers, respectively.
GB: Considering you must be a Star Wars (and/or George Lucas) fan to even take on this endeavor, was it difficult to stay objective during the process?
AP: It was extremely important for me not to approach this as a Star Wars fan, or even a George Lucas fan. And I also wasn’t interested in making a fan film. There’s a plethora of Star Wars fan films out there, and that wasn’t the point of this exercise. I wanted to explore the topic from a cultural perspective, and that was the easy part, really, because I ended up sympathizing and empathizing with George and the fans in equal measure. I tried really hard to examine each issue, each argument from both sides, and even though I call myself a Star Wars fan, I’m first and foremost a documentarian. That said, I understand my generation’s internal struggle with George precisely because I’m a Star Wars fan, and I think that my emotional connection to the topic helped me deconstruct and express the fans’ frustrations in a way that non-fans will be able to grasp. So this film isn’t only for fanboys and fangirls. It should have wider appeal because it’s about important cultural issues like ownership in the digital age, film as cultural heritage, and the right of a creator to tinker with his/her work once it’s been released and inducted into the National Film Registry. There’s a lot more to this dysfunctional relationship than people think, and that’s probably what will surprise audiences when they watch the film.
GB: Are diehard Star Wars fans going to love this film, hate it… or love to hate it?
AP: That’s really a question for them. I hope they’ll love it, but I also know that no matter how hard you work, you’re never going to please everybody. I already received a handful of death threats for daring to make this film in the first place, for crying out loud. All I can do is tell the story as compellingly as possible, and hope that it will resonate with audiences. That’s the best every filmmaker out there can hope for, really. 48 hours before our world premiere screening, I can honestly say that we did the best we could with the resources we had, and that I told the story I wanted to tell. So now, it’s entirely out of my hands.
GB: In a prior interview you called this film “a love letter of sorts, but it’s a rather twisted one.” How close is this twisted love letter to what you originally intended to make? Did it take on a life of its own during the process?
AP: Oh, absolutely. Films always take on a life of their own, but this one was possessed from day one, to say the least. I even predicted months ago that we’d premiere at SXSW, and here we are. This may sound strange, but it’s a film that seems to know exactly what it wants to be and where it wants to go; as my editor puts it, it’s like a speeding bus that we’re constantly running after. As far as the story arc is concerned, we definitely made a number of interesting discoveries along the way, and I think that most hardcore Star Wars fans out there will even learn a few things from watching our film. We dug really deep to deliver this twisted, thorough, and intricately crafted love letter, which is dedicated to George, and to his fans.
GB: Have you received any reaction from Lucasfilm or the man himself yet? And now that the film is complete, what are your personal feelings toward him?
AP: We originally approached Lucasfilm when we launched our website, and again when we released our first trailer. We did invite them to participate, but they respectfully declined. That said, we interviewed a number of individuals who worked closely with George Lucas—most notably Gary Kurtz and David Prowse, as well as a number of original Star Wars crew members like Anthony Waye (1st AD on the original Star Wars), who now helms the James Bond franchise. As far as my personal feelings are concerned, they haven’t changed, really. I still have the same respect and admiration for him, and that’s how I wanted to approach this film. The interesting thing is that after three years of relentless work on this doc, he remains just as mysterious to me as he was when I started working on it. I still don’t understand how the filmmaker who made The Phantom Menace can be the same filmmaker who gave us THX, American Graffiti, and Star Wars. I still don’t understand why he so stubbornly refuses to restore and release the theatrical version of the original trilogy (which the fans have begged for so many times), and why he continually tinkers with films that were deemed masterpieces of the cinema. But that’s the great thing about George. At the end of the day, he baffles us all, and I couldn’t have asked for a more compelling character to study for three years of my life.
GB: Why did you choose the SWSX Film Festival for the world premiere? Do you plan on continuing on the festival circuit, and what are your larger plans for releasing the film?
AP: SXSW’s unique mix of indie filmmaking, music and interactive was the ideal platform to launch our film, and Janet Pierson--the festival’s director--immediately understood that we were made for each other, so I couldn’t be happier that she and her staff liked the film enough to select it. And I’m extremely honored that they decided to include it in their Spotlight Premieres section. After this, we’ve already been invited by a number of top-tier festivals, which we’re unfortunately not at liberty to announce yet. All I can say is… keep checking our website for updates, or join our mailing list for the latest news. We also unfortunately had to turn down a number of additional festival invitations due to our sales strategy, but that’s because we want to ensure the widest possible release in the future. That said, we’ve already committed to four big fests between now and June, and we’re very excited about making those announcements. We’re also being courted by a number of distributors, and we’re currently taking our time to figure out the best course of action for the film. We certainly didn’t work this hard to make rash, impulsive decisions.
GB: Okay, we’ll give you the last word here. Critics and “the media” aside, what’s the one thing everyone should know about your film before it premieres?
AP: That it comes from the heart and that we worked relentlessly for close to three years to bring this film to the silver screen because we believe that the fans’ voices needed to be heard on a platform wider than internet forums. My wife and I haven’t taken a romantic vacation since 2007 because of it, and I sometimes worked up to 22 hours a day (15 on average), seven days a week, to make this film. So there’s a lot at stake for all of us, and I simply can’t wait to finally share it with audiences and to discuss it with them afterwards. I’m literally counting the hours.
GB: Finally, here’s our closing question we ask to everyone we interview at GalacticBinder. If you were transported into the Star Wars universe… what era/location and/or setting would you like to end up in, and what’s the first thing you’d do and with whom?
AP: If I were in a naughty mood, I’d say I’d like to be transported to the Rebellion era, in Jabba’s Palace, and have a certain slave princess choke me gently, but the fanboy in me would probably rather be at the Mos Eisley Cantina, sitting across the table from Greedo, and shooting him in the chest before he even gets a chance to pull the trigger. The way it should be.
GB: Well, thanks for hanging out with us. “Break a leg” down in Austin, and we look forward to seeing the film!
AP: Thanks so much! Please keep in touch, and feel free to interview me again when we release our ‘Special Edition’.
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