October 21, 2014

George Lucas Thinks the Studios 'Don't Have Any Imagination' Or 'Talent'

George Lucas, who has created and made billions off of the Star Wars franchise (and either ruined or expanded on the universe with the prequels depending on your point of view), thinks studios are the biggest problem in the film industry. And for the most part, he's right, though it's interesting to hear it coming from someone who has benefitted so immensely from that same system.

The biggest issue in his mind is that studios are afraid to take a chance on creativity. This is something we've touched on over and over, but if Hollywood continues to spend more and more money for bigger and bigger returns, eventually they are going to see some gigantic flops, and the system is going to collapse under itself. Lucas and Spielberg actually touched on this same topic back in 2013, but obviously not much has changed. When there are business people making artistic decisions, in his mind, they go with what has worked in the past, which means we keep getting the same movies over and over. 

To some extent, this is how Netflix has been operating. The difference, though, is that Netflix has chosen specific elements that its audience wants to see, rather than similar content overall, which is how the studios operate and why there seem to be a dozen comic book movies released every year. I think analytics can be important, and clearly Netflix is using them to their advantage, but the issue is that studios are using them in completely the wrong way. They should be used in service of the creativity, not in replacement of it. 

George Lucas Charlie Rose Chicago Ideas Week

So what's the solution? I'm sure Lucas would like to see a return to focusing on finding creative people, and giving them control to come up with new ideas on a larger scale (people like Christopher Nolan have done this to some extent, but only after proving he could make billions with the Batman franchise). The way it tends to work now is that a person makes a smaller acclaimed film, and then we give them big tentpoles. It's a great opportunity for an indie filmmaker, but it's not changing the way we make movies — it's all the same content over and over again because the studios are afraid to launch new ideas (and, let's be honest, plenty of independent films play into this system as well because of how difficult it is to get funding). It would be nice for Lucas to put some of his money where his mouth is (besides just donating to USC), and actually help change the system for the better. 

Hollywood is eventually going to figure out that its current way of working cannot last forever. While it hasn't happened just yet, the general population is going to get sick of comic book movies, and then Hollywood is going to have to figure something else out. Hopefully that something else is letting creative people do whatever they want with a reasonable amount of money. The reality is that big studios can make more money from one $200 million dollar film than they can from five $40 million dollar films (some of this is because print/advertising costs are still high for small films). This works until a half dozen $200 million dollar films flop in a year and the whole thing crumbles under its own weight. 

It would be great if the studios see the light before that happens.     

Your Comment

32 Comments

So, then the key is lowering marketing costs which can easily run $40+M on a global release.

And how do you do that?

Let's not forget that marketing is one of the major opportunities studios have to double-dip on a budget (financing costs are the other one) and they're not interested in simply giving that away.

October 21, 2014 at 9:43AM

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Dan Leo
234

Yeah, it used to be (many, many years ago) that marketing amounted to about 10% of costs. Now, total costs on, say, a $200 million blockbuster could approach half a billion (as it did with "Avatar" some years ago).

October 21, 2014 at 3:30PM

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on average - studio marketing is ~ 50% of the films budget. So if the budget is 200m it's an additional 100m to market it.

October 21, 2014 at 8:04PM

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urban revolution
Creative Director
101

When's the last time you met an accountant that was creative or had any interest in a "vision"? Studios are businesses. Businesses are only interested in one thing, money.

The struggle for artists is, and always has been, finding a way to entice a business to invest in their art.

October 21, 2014 at 11:28AM

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seanmclennan
Story Teller
928

That should have said "The struggle for artists is, and always has been, finding a way to entice a business to invest in their art while maintaining control over their vision"

Is there no way to edit your posts?

October 21, 2014 at 11:29AM

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seanmclennan
Story Teller
928

Seems like Pixar (and Apple to an extent) are the only companies who managed to reach this balance between money and inspiration.

October 21, 2014 at 1:17PM, Edited October 21, 1:17PM

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Rebecca Pelagio
film student
240

Dreamworks also has had tremendous success.

(Apple is in a very different business, selling products you use daily, not entertainment.)

October 23, 2014 at 12:29AM

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Charlie K
1396

Hollywood accounting is "creative" by definition, which is why everyone is interested in gross rather than net profits ... (net profits do not exist) ... which is another reason for this blockbuster mentality - most of it is paid upfront and every agency in town wants to get in on these big budgets and that makes the $10M-$25M film - outside of the horror and comedy genre - a rare bird.

And big budgets mean fewer films and, of these fewer films, the concepts are fewer as well.

As to George, he was lucky that the 70's weren't like that. Maybe Hollywood needs to go back to a "slow rollout" type of marketing where big cities open first and the revenues derived from there support a a subsequent nationwide release. And if the early couple weeks don't do the trick, then that's the way it goes.

October 21, 2014 at 2:46PM

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Dan Leo
234

Well put.

It seems only opening weekend counts now. Few movies have long theatrical runs today. Foreign distribution, which used to be a tiny fraction of the gross, now plays a huge part.

October 23, 2014 at 12:27AM

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Charlie K
1396

Well put.

There's virtually zero risk to spend a month with a few friends making a movie with a cheap DSLR. If someone gives you $200M, the first thing to do is figure out how not to loose it. How much of a risk will you take with $200M in your pocket? That's the studio's business.

The studios' business never was selling creativity. The studios are in the entertainment business, always were, always will be. Hence, the outrageous car chases, over the top fighting and explosions, and crazy VFX. It's show biz! They made their money in the early days by getting butts into theatre seats, then through TV rights, then videocassette & DVD sales, then foreign distribution. Along the way they added merchandising, as George well knows, and even spin offs into live theatre.

Studios keep making the same movies because their data says that's what the paying public wants. Netflix effectively has a direct relationship with each customer. It knows what you rent, even what you stop to consider before renting. The studio has crude data, at best. It knows how many people bought tickets for a particular screening in a particular theatre.

October 23, 2014 at 1:11AM

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Charlie K
1396

Lucas has been at odds with the studios since the beginning of his career. He's very artfully played them and not the other way around. He's a very successful Rebel and remained independent his entire career, in spite of the studio system. In fact Lucas was part of the force that changed the System. He never had to suffer under studio demands and indeed in founded ILM stayed out of reach. That may have been a bad thing for the Prequels as there was no one to reel in his bad ideas.
OTH Nolan started out Indie with Following and Momento and I'd argue has gotten worse by proving he could bring in the Big Budget flix. IMHO often
a small budget leads to more creative filmmaking.

October 21, 2014 at 11:35AM

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James
Director
81

Just to be clear, "studios" didn't make Lucas billions of dollars, merchandising did. Almost every studio in Hollywood rejected his pitch because they didn't think it was marketable, before 20th Century Fox finally decided to back him for artistic reasons. So he is an ideal person to make this argument.

October 21, 2014 at 1:00PM, Edited October 21, 1:00PM

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Colin
Camera Operator
81

I've been in the entertainment industry for 23 year now, and one thing I know is that Uncle George is right... to a point.

The industry has been bogged down with budgets and corporate interests. Remember, studios used to be run by people (families), not corporate entities.

The genie will not go back in the bottle, so the bottle must change. The industry is like the auto industry in a way. They've been making engines that run on oil/gas for 100 years. It is so incredibly hard for them to do what Elon Musk is doing... building an whole infrastructure from the ground up. He can be more flexible and more creative because he is new to the scene. Ford can't just gut their infrastructure to make electric cars. They will EVENTUALLY! But they have a lot invested in 'the way we've always done it.'

Once indies start making hundreds of millions of dollars and are doing what we're doing at our company, which is become a "virtual studio." Then the major studios will break out mini studios to replicate what we as indies do.

The corporations can not survive at the indie level. And, that's just fine with me. So, listen up, indies... Make your movies. Get them out there. Be on the bleeding edge. And make what you want. There is a market for it!

October 21, 2014 at 5:03PM, Edited October 21, 5:03PM

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Courtney Jones
Producer/Director
75

I agree.

We are at a point where there should be another Indie revolution like in the late 80's/early 90's. The technology is all there.

I don't care what Hollywood does personally.

October 21, 2014 at 9:23PM

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"This works until a half dozen $200 million dollar films flop in a year and the whole thing crumbles under its own weight."

Assuming this happens, which it hasn't yet and may never. I think there is some parallel between this and facebook. People like to complain about advertising and privacy on facebook and every so often you get people calling to leave facebook en masse, yet despite that, facebook continues to grow and people continue to use it.

These studios are making money off these tentpole films and while they may not be the most desired films/stories that a subset of the culture would like to see. But the fact that they are making a profit from them shows that a good majority like to watch them. So long as that continues, the studios see no reason to change. Why should they? How many other businesses change their store or restaurant or product when they already have crowds of people coming through the door for what it currently is?

I agreed with what George is saying based solely on my bias as a creative person who would like to see more variety myself. But I have to recognize that I am part of that subset of people who aren't thrilled with the same remakes over and over again and that I may not (in fact do not) represent the majority.

But George also has to recognize that it's not just the film industry that is different today, the world as a whole is different. When he came into the industry, the internet did not exist. High quality inexpensive video cameras and computer editing did not exist. Going to the theater did not cost you an arm and a leg and when doing so, people were not distracted by their smartphones. People also didn't have large screen TVs and surround sound in their homes.

In other words, there used to exist a more captive moviegoing audience. You could experiement a little bit more. Today everyone acts so pressed for time, even though I beleive they aren't anymore than they used to be, but they act like they are. There is more content competing for eyes. Millions of youtube videos, video games are a big thing now whereas back then they were more of a niche thing, and you have thousands fo movies on demand through services like netflix, amazon, cable providers etc. Technology has also improved to the point where television shows today can be just as epic as movies used to be decades ago, but with better stories because there is more time to delve into character development.

All of this contributes to the reason studios are spending more money to make bigger epic films and taking less risk so they can try to appeal to a wider audience as a whole. None of it is rocket science.

October 21, 2014 at 5:22PM, Edited October 21, 5:22PM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
696

Big studio films keep making money because -1- I think that in many theatres and cities around the world, people are not given many choices. If they want to go see a movie, they're only choices are blockbuster type films. Hence why studios keep on profiting and seeing numbers and why they keep their formula. A lot of creative films are being made all over the world, but distributing these films to the masses is such a struggle, as it's quite hard to compete with the studios' massive marketing budgets. And -2- it's also a catch 22 in that many people will end up choosing a blockbuster film over a potentially interesting indy because the blockbuster will have marketing and visuals and stars attached, to make it a rational choice to choose it over an indy, because it's a safe bet. People don't like to waste their precious time. Many seem to prefer being told a story which they'll be somewhat satisfied with, rather than taking a chance on a film that might have a fresh story OR be a complete miss. And as long as the numbers go in favor of studio films, it'll be hard to break the cycle.

October 21, 2014 at 11:28PM

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Benjamin Chan
Filmmaker / Video Productions
222

Corporate history is filled with the fallen giants and the LA based production numbers keep falling and falling anyway. At some point, the Chinese will begin to produce and distribute more films with top global writers/actors/directors but under far more controlled wages, more or less replicating the old (1920-50's) Hollywood studio model and the center of the creative universe will drift further and further away from LA much like the rest of the global economy will drift away from the Western Hemisphere.

October 22, 2014 at 11:26AM

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Dan Leo
234

He's mostly right, but then, he did invent those abominations known as Jar Jar and Midichlorians=) Talk about lack of imagination, hehe. What did someone say once? George Lucas r@ped my childhood? Yep, for around 2 hrs back in 1999, he did it.

Still a great man, but damn what was he thinking?

October 21, 2014 at 7:31PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
1027

I totally get what he's saying... but maybe he should have funded artists and their unique visions with his studio instead of selling it to the mouse.

Or better yet now that he has a extra 4B sitting around, he should 100% fund up and coming filmmakers with unique artistic visions.

A Mr. Lucas can I get a Grant?

October 21, 2014 at 7:56PM

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urban revolution
Creative Director
101

Oh the ironing!

October 21, 2014 at 8:42PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1471

The tone of this post reads like the writer be mocking Lucas, and suggesting he's hypocritical to be negative toward the studios. It's overly simplistic to say, for example, that Lucas has earned his success "thanks to studios." Anyone who remotely knows his career knows that his success was very much in spite of the studios, their objections, their obstructions, and everyone save for one executive at Fox turning down Star Wars. The whole idea between Lucas's and Coppola's studio, American Zoetrope, was to have autonomy from Hollywood. This is perhaps the most endearing part of Lucas, but now it's yet another excuse to deride him.

October 21, 2014 at 10:18PM

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Unless he puts his money where his mouth is and starts funding starving artists with vision, regardless of any possible financial gains, what does his opinion matter? How many $200k checks can he write to upstart directors? Countless.

October 21, 2014 at 10:29PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
1027

I'm not mocking him but he is doing a bit of biting the hands that feeds. As someone mentioned above, yes Lucas is an incredibly smart business person and made a ton of money on merchandising (which he kept the rights to), but without the studios pushing the projects to the public it's unlikely Star Wars would be what it has become.

He didn't become so rich and successful because of the studios, but they certainly helped, even if he did spend a lot of his on money on the Star Wars films.

This is coming from someone who has defended a lot of decisions he made with the prequels.

My real point is though, if it bothers him so much, he'd be funding projects from talented people on his own. If I had that much money, I would be trying to give as many people opportunities to make interesting work as possible. Maybe he's working on it behind the scenes, or maybe he feels like he's done with the movie business, but he very well could become his own studio and challenge the system that's in place.

October 21, 2014 at 10:35PM, Edited October 21, 10:35PM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Part of me agrees with what he is saying, but when I look at his own output which is essentially "Star Wars", "Star Wars", "Star Wars", and "Star Wars", I wonder if he's the best guy to be making this argument. I mean where would he be himelf without "Star Wars"?

October 22, 2014 at 12:07AM

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Making more Indiana Jones movies?

October 22, 2014 at 5:13PM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
696

They're just running out of ideas, look how many times they made star wars.

October 22, 2014 at 12:23AM

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Anthony F. Marino III
produce shoot edit
293

Does anyone know if the whole show is available online?

October 23, 2014 at 3:12AM

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Yes is the real fight today....Happen all the time.

October 23, 2014 at 5:24AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7599

I personally like the stories the movies are based on but I hate when they recycle the same elements and people over and over. One thing I liked about the original Star Wars is that relatively unknown actors played the leads with more popular stars playing supporting roles. The prequels suffered from too many industry egos and not enough hunger to play the roles well. Frankly, I am tired of seeing the same old faces in characters that are too similar from film to film. I think that more than anything is what is killing creativity in the industry. If you want some great acting, get new people who are hungry for the part and bring soul to the project. I'm not saying that the top actors are not talented, but there comes a time when they need to take a break and recapture what made them great in the first place.

October 23, 2014 at 4:25PM

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Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
626

The full video is available here:

https://www.chicagoideas.com/videos/723

October 23, 2014 at 4:26PM

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Funny he would say this immediately after selling everything to one of the big five studios...

October 24, 2014 at 7:37AM

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Malachi Rempen
Writer, Director, Producer
81

"And for the most part, he's right, though it's interesting to hear it coming from someone who has benefitted so immensely from that same system."
LOL. He's the father of independant film. Only one film he directed was produced by a studio (the first Star Wars), the others were just distributed by a studio. He ALWAYS was against the studio system and Hollywood...

November 17, 2014 at 2:40PM

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Vincent Galiano
Filmmaker / Screenwriter / Photographer
314