Saturday, October 04, 2008

George Lucas in Love



George Lucas in Love (1999)
Director: Joe Nussbaum
USA, 8:45

Awards won:
2000 Deauville Film Festival: Canal+ Short Film Award
2000 Florida Film Festival: Audience Award
2000 San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival: Audience Award
2000 U.S. Comedy Arts Film Festival: Best Short Film
2004 Official Star Wars Fan Film Awards: Pioneer Award

We already watched George Lucas in Love in class, but here's a quick summary: Young George Lucas, senior film student at USC, hits writer's block on his script about a farmer and his bad crop of space wheat (or space corn or space wheats). In a parody of both Star Wars and Shakespeare in Love, he overcomes his writer's block as several recognizable characters and events happen to make appearances on his campus.

George Lucas in Love has five awards (that I know of). The two Audience Awards are a good hint that it's a fan favorite and has mass appeal. That brings me right to my main point: What is the ceiling for a short film? It's an especially important question for those of us who aspire to be filmmakers.

Joe Nussbaum could hardly have made out better. The film was released stand-alone on VHS in 2000 and hit #1 on Amazon.com's sales list. It also came out on DVD with a couple of bonus features in 2001. A short film getting its own major release - not in anthologies or collections - is virtually unheard of.

The film became his calling card in Hollywood - George Lucas is a confirmed fan - and eventually led Nussbaum to direct the poorly received Sleepover. Don't worry. That wasn't the end of his career. He has also directed American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile, Sydney White, and is prepping to direct a film called B.F.F.

That path to success was viable in 1999, before video on the internet was a reality. Is it still open today? Considering we spent a week discussing the consistently large DC Shorts Film Festival, the festival route is still the best way to get your name out. Instead of competing with all the noise on the internet and being forced to promote yourself instead of your work, your film already has a guaranteed audience: people who want to see films good enough to get into the festival.

In other words, it's easy for agents, producers, and talent scouts to go to film festivals that have pre-selected the films most likely to impress them. They have better things to do than trawl across YouTube hoping to find something they can sell.

And what of the stand-alone DVD release? Maybe a different kind of DVD release. Now that anyone can make their own DVDs, it's easier than ever to distribute your calling card to agents and producers in Hollywood. But it's not being released to the general public. There won't be another George Lucas in Love. Not when there's all that noise on the internet to distract them. People are probably not going to pay money for a ten minute film.

That allows me to change the subject once more: If the ceiling for the films themselves is to win awards and accolades for the filmmakers, what is the ceiling for the filmmakers? Is it the ability to gain financing for more short films in the future? To make short films for a living? If that's the filmmaker's choice. Just remember: You'll be making commercials and music videos for hire. The general public is not going to rush to the theaters to see or pay money to buy a DVD of the latest Guy Maddin niche genre film. Name recognition and mass appeal will not necessarily follow. And if it does, guess what? Some Hollywood producer will offer you so much money that you'll have no choice but to take the Hollywood plunge.

And then what about the career in features? The glamorous Hollywood life? The big explosions? The chance to punch Michael Bay for popularizing those big explosions? Maybe you won't like it. Maybe Los Angeles just isn't your style and you want to go back to directing commercials and making art school films or movies that cause audiences at Telluride to erupt in anger.

Whatever your preference, I argue that Hollywood will always remain the ceiling - and the dream - for every filmmaker. No baseball player signs a professional contract with the intention of topping out at Triple-A. Everyone has the same dream: Make it to the majors. Filmmakers will always have new stories to tell, and only Hollywood offers them enough support to make their narrative dreams come true.

11 comments:

Ethan Klapper said...

This short film is awesome. It does a great job of blurring the lines between George Lucas' personal life and his big claim to fame -- Star Wars!

I especially liked the hints of Star Wars in the music!

Itai Gans said...

You ask what is the upper limit to a short films value. Well, to answer this question one must think back in time and remember a time before movies.

Flashback to the early 1800's when the predominant form of publication was novels. Authors would slave away for years to compose the perfect "American Novel" in hopes that word would spread of its greatness. Now picture if you will Edgar Allan Poe, a young poet who enjoyed experimenting with the short story. It is no wonder that his works are some of the most lasting of the era because of their appeal to an audience who might not have wanted to sit and read a 500 page book.

It is clear that most big motion picture productions can be equated to the "American Novel" of the early 1800's. And this would mean that the short story and short film are synonymous in the eyes of history.

Who knows whether the short film will ever prosper to the extent that major Hollywood blockbusters do, but one thing is for certain: todays audience has definitely accepted the short film as a major form of entertainment.

Pat said...

wow i have not seen that forever, that was before i wanted to punch lucas

avhutch said...

Speaking as someone who has never studied film in any academic way...

The festival may still be the best way to get your name out, but there is something to be said for the internet, most of all for YouTube. I think it's fair to say YouTube can do for filmmakers what MySpace can do for musicians, which is create a vocal enough following for someone in the industry to sit up and take notice. I think this is especially true for short films, which are so easily digested in a single, impromptu sitting.

Finally, on a vaguely related note, I would like to point out that novels are still the predominant form of fictional writing. Rarely do short story writers enter the mainstream with the same force as novelists, and even when they do, many still aspire to the glory and fame of writing an award-winning novel. When short stories are known on their own, it is generally only to the literary community and those who make an effort to follow said community.

Furthermore, equating short stories with short films is difficult because the time and energy needed to consume the one versus the other remains different enough that more people will willingly watch a 10 minute video than will read an average length short story.

In conclusion, sweet film (I love allusions!) and good write up.

The end.

Jeremy said...

I think it's fair to say YouTube can do for filmmakers what MySpace can do for musicians, which is create a vocal enough following for someone in the industry to sit up and take notice.

There's a rough level you have to get to to get noticed. With film festivals, the entry level is fairly high. It's basically right at the level. No self-promotion involved.

The internet has no entry level. You can enter at the bottom. Then you have to either get really good or promote yourself like crazy.

What's the musician's equivalent to the festival? Music festival? Gigging around town? I know it's not handing out your CD on the street.

Ben said...

You raise an intriguing issue and I'd have to side with the idea that short films are going to become more and more legitimized, and I see the rise of the internet helping this, as well as "directors who have made it" returning to do short films.

Hollywood will bankroll any money maker, and once it is proven that audiences are enjoying short films either as a "beginning" to a longer feature film (any 1.5 hour feature film could stand to have a 30 minute short film in front of it to warm up the audience), or a set of short films in either omnibus form or in festival form, I think you'll see more and more short films.

I don't think directors have to be pegged to doing either short or feature. I think there could easily be directors comfortable with both forms who go back and forth.

I think the musician's equivalent to the festival is to play some corporate gig (like the recent car show in DC). Each band gets 30 minutes to show off their style in front of a large crowd.

Matt said...

Interesting article. I like that you touched upon the problems of mass amateurization arising from the growth of the internet. These days, anyone can make a short movie and release it on YouTube. This creates an enormous filtering problem, and you rightly pointed out that film festivals exist as a useful filter for this onslaught of new media.

I'm not sure I agree with your statement that "there won't be another George Lucas in Love. Not when there's all that noise on the internet..." You seem to be arguing that it's impossible for short films to be commercially viable when there's so much video available for free on the internet... but didn't people pay to download Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog from iTunes? Even if people weren't willing to buy DVDs of Joss Whedon's short film, they WERE willing to buy it on the internet. Comparing this situation to the state of the recording industry (sadly, who buys CDs anymore?), it becomes clear that while the internet is certainly making it harder to stand out, it's also making it easier for people to spend their money on smaller forms of media, be it a single song instead of an album, or a 40 minute internet musical instead of a full-length film. To your credit, you may have hinted at this when you suggested "a different kind of DVD release."

Lastly, your statement that Hollywood is the dream of all filmmakers strikes me as a bit hyperbolic. Surely, everyone dreams of success, in the sense that they want their work to reach as many people as possible. However, I have a feeling that some independent filmmakers would rather struggle in obscurity than have their work entangled in the Hollywood machine.

Windy said...

It's really a shame that short films don't get as much respect or recognition as their Hollywood counterparts. I think they can be just as satisfying as full length movies in many regards, similar to how I enjoy short stories compared to novels.

I suppose there is a large amount of skill required to put together a full-length piece, but that shouldn't take away from the quality of shorter films.

Anonymous said...

Short films are underrated. When kids learn how to write they're taught to keep it short and to the point. Oftentimes it is difficult to rid the piece of extraneous information. For example, I really didn't need that last sentence to help make my point but I put it anyway to simply reinforce what I was saying. To create a short film that delivers a message and/or has artistic touches is a great feat. Case in point: The Godfather Part II. It has to be long! But how cool would it be to walk away from a 30 minute showing having gained what you gained after the 3 hour 20 minute showing? I could go on and on but that would be ironic.

Trinnyallica said...

When we were shown this in class I fell in love with the short. I absolutely adored it, using big name actors and films and changing it all around. The puns were cleverly done and familiar to those who have watched Star Wars and/or Shakespeare in Love. Even those who really know Lucas! I do have to agree with you in your post that Hollywood will be a ceiling and dream for many filmmakers. But I don't think everyone wants to go to Hollywood. It's just a personal thing. Good post!

Clive Young said...

George Lucas In Love is one of the titles that I profiled in my new book about the history and future of fan films, Homemade Hollywood, which is coming out next week. I interviewed Joe Nussbaum about what the film did--and didn't--do for his career, and he had some great insights. Interestingly, in retrospect, he wished he had used the career heat that GLIL gave him briefly in a different way. It's fascinating stuff, so even if you're not interested in the subject of fan films as a whole (and, of course, I'd hope you are), at least hunt the book down at Barnes & Noble and read his section in the aisle...you'll gain some new insight into his movie.

Oh, and I'd be remiss not to mention, if you like fan films overall, you might want to check out my daily fan film blog, fancinematoday.com.