Rick McCallum interview | Producer | Star Wars

Rick McCallum
Producer (Star Wars Special Editions, Prequels)
Interview: April 2007

How did you get into the industry? Did your stepfather, Michael York, influence you in any way?

No, not really. I used to work in a perfume factory when I was a kid, every summer. Even though I have a huge nose I found out it wasn’t right for me. A friend of mine was working for a news show and asked me if I wanted to come over. They were doing an interview with Henri Kissinger the day I was there. I stood in for one of the camera assistants who got sick and at the end of the day I thought it was fun. When I got back to New York to finish my college I met a wonderful group of filmmakers including James Ivory and then I was hooked!

Since the beginning of the nineties you have worked exclusively with George Lucas, from which one may conclude the two of you share a certain kind of chemistry.

I have never met him! But I hear he is such a nice guy. (laughs) It’s a very interesting relationship directors and producers have, especially when they last a long time. I believe that the job of a producer is to enable a director and the writer to do whatever they want to do within the limits of the money and the schedule that you have. Our job is to make it happen for those guys. When it works, it works beautifully. It’s all about the dynamics in the relationship between the producer and director. I’ve spent almost my entire career working exclusively for writer/directors. So, it’s just two people who set up the movie. The director’s job is to make sure his story comes out the way he wants it while mine is to spend all the money, recourses, the tools to make sure the movie is the way the director has in mind. That’s how it really works. When it doesn’t work, when you look at peoples careers and they haven’t worked with the same people it usually means they haven’t found someone they can get along with.

How would you describe your working relationship with Mr. Lucas?

It’s a very minimal thing. He can tell me in one or two sentences what he wants and I know pretty much how to get it and what to do. That is what the relationship is about. We get along very well, he understands my job, I understand his, and it just works.

It is said you love to shoot on location and that you prefer it over shooting in a studio, on a soundstage. It could be said you love the challenge of facing the elements. On the other hand, could we conclude you love to travel?

I love to travel more than anything. I just got back from Romania and Montenegro. There’s always a different dynamic, a different culture, a different way people work. If you can get the right cast and crew it’s always an exciting thing. I love shooting in a studio, but I prefer the danger on location because you never know what is going to happen.

Was it for the Star Wars television series that you were in Europe?
No, it was for a movie called Red Tails.

Ah, the new Lucasfilm production.

Yes, George isn’t directing, but it’s a project he has been wanting to do for eighteen years. It’s the last project he has set up and initiated. Once he has this done, we’ll start doing his movies.

Can you tell us anything about this new movie?

Yes, it’s about a group of African-American pilots in World War II. They were heroes at the age of nineteen, twenty. The army air force didn’t believe that black people could fly so they set up their own squadron and went into battle. In the last year of the war they never lost a single bomber and they helped to liberate Berlin. It’s a great group of kids and an incredible story. It’s not about racism but more about how heroic they were.

I assume you saw the Original Trilogy back in the late seventies and early eighties. How did you feel working on these movies years later, for the Special Editions?

The Special Editions were brain damage. It was seriously weird because I admire the original trilogy so much, and to end up working on them is strange. We were trying to set up a template in the early nineties with Young Indiana Jones. It was about how to figure out how we were gonna make the prequels for the money that we wanted to spend. We were financing them ourselves, just like we did the marketing and distribution all by ourselves. When we were working on the special editions it was about how far we could push things like ILM in terms of the things that we wanted to do. It was wonderful, but weird. It was about two years of work and we had a great time.

You mentioned ‘Young Indiana Jones’. When will it finally be released on DVD?

We are hoping that the first set will be released just before Christmas. I’m not sure about the date since Paramount is releasing it. Since Star Wars was finished one of the things we have been doing was making 94 documentaries which will be completed by the end of this month. (editors note: april 2007) These go with the TV series. There is a historical timeline that takes you trough the life of Young Indy and incredible documentaries about the people that he meets. That was a fun and fantastic experience.

Will ‘Young Indiana Jones’ be used as a blueprint for the upcoming live action Star Wars television series?

No, the Star Wars television series will be used as a blueprint for how we’re gonna do our own films, the more personal movies George wants to make, how we’re gonna use technology to make a movie for 10 or 15 million dollars with a lot of effects in it. Nowadays movies cost a lot of money and it doesn’t work. Movies are too expensive. It’s about how to change the perimeters of how do you set up the movie, how do you shoot it around the world, how do you make it look big in a more reasonable way. Most people forget that it takes three and a half, four years to make a Star Wars film. It’s long and that is why we are so excited to make the TV series because it’s much more character driven, you make a mistake one week and fix it the next week. You got this extraordinary story of twenty years between Episode III and IV while Luke is growing up that needs to be explored. So, we are looking forward to it. One of the things we are also looking forward to is finding a new group of talent to work with on feature films very much the same way as we did with Young Indy. Almost everyone that worked on Young Indy stayed with us for seventeen years or longer and some are still with us. Now we’re gonna start off with a new group, the next generation of filmmakers.

Could you tell us something about the status of the Star Wars television series?
Something about the actors maybe?

I can’t tell you anything about actors because we’re not there yet. This is a long process to get it right. First of all: where are we gonna shoot? Then: who’s gonna write? And finally: who’s gonna direct? George has been working for the last seven, eight months on the story arc line of where the series goes. The dream is to do way over one hundred hours of it. If we can get it right, we have some fantastic characters that nobody has ever met before and start a whole other world of Star Wars that comes out every week instead of every three years.

Will any of the older characters appear in the series?

It’s a whole different group of characters.

When do you expect the first episode will be televised?

That’s tough. The TV world is changing a lot. Hopefully we will have finished the first episode by the end of 2008, so that in 2009 it can come out.

An important question a lot of non-American fans are probably wondering about is if they will have to wait longer to see series in comparison to the American fans?
In other words: will it be released worldwide at the same time?

Too early too tell, but most likely worldwide.


We know we have a large group of fans that don’t want to wait. It’s one of the reasons we push the release dates of our movies so that everyone can see it at the same time.

About the filming of Episodes I, II and III: what was the funniest or strangest thing that happened on the set?

They are like military operations, they’re not like a normal film. Every day has it’s challenges and is fun. To me each film is unique as we did one in England and the last two in Australia. Episode III was shot in seven, eight countries. They are all fantastic. The scariest moment was on Episode I when we lost a lot in the Tunisian desert due to that sandstorm. It’s not like a normal film, it’s like a group of people that have been together for a long time. We set a standard and it’s non-stop work. A lot of funny things did happen, but I can’t think of anything specific that would make a good story.

And your favorite memory regarding the films would be?

We try to work with people who are not too demanding or dramatic.

Does this mean you don’t have a favorite moment?

Well, I don’t live my life like that. Each day is a challenge, if you crack it then you’re happy. We try to have a lot of fun. I love shooting in China, Thailand, Italy…It’s hard to separate them all as they are all unique experiences.