In writing these making of Star Wars books, I’ve become more or less adept at interviewing people: actors, heads of department, producers, directors, craftspeople, visual effects supervisors, et al. I’ve had a few people determined not to say a single thing, for fear of offending someone or of letting a secret out of the bag. I’ve spoken to others where all I needed to do was to ask a single question—and then lean back and listen to the stream of consciousness.
There are two things I’ve learned: You don’t need a lot of questions to fill up your time allotment; and, two, it’s important to follow the conversation, regardless of what your questions might be. If Carrie Fisher says something interesting, but doesn’t quite complete the story—and I’ve seen this in lots of published interviews—you can’t just skip to the next question. Simple rule, but it’s important to get to the root of whatever it is they’re talking about. It helps the conversation flow and those tangents often lead to the interview equivalent of El Dorado: an emotional moment or incident heretofore unknown.
And you don’t want to ask so many questions that they get bored or you run out of time. A good interviewer will sense how things are going and tailor their questions accordingly.
In these archival projects, like Making of Jedi, I still prefer interviews done back in the day, preferably while they’re making the film. Under duress people are more honest, in general. I’d say the single most important moment of research occurred about a year ago. I was rummaging through the boxes in the Skywalker Ranch research warehouse—and stuffed on the side of one banal box was more than a hundred pages of interview done with Richard Marquand. After reading it and a little sleuthing, I’ve dated it to November 1982, a few months after principal photography wrapped.
John Philip Peecher wrote the first Making of Jedi book and, as far as I can tell, did only two long sit-down interviews: one with the director, Richard Marquand, and one with the producer, Howard Kazanjian. But when I started researching I didn’t know of the existence of either. Only thorough rummaging, examining every freaking bunch of papers, brought the documents to the light of day—and into the book! Luckily for all of us. Only a fraction of these interviews made it into the first book.
Here’s a fragment from Marquand’s, where he talks, amusingly, about Star Wars and his first meeting with George Lucas: “What I liked about STAR WARS at that point was that it was a totally believable, but absolutely all encompassing myth. It was unlike science fiction where you can always cut holes in it. Also, I just adored the way the story was told. I just loved that way George told the story as the director. If I hadn’t liked it, I would have not said I didn’t like it, but I certainly wouldn’t have told him that I liked it, which I did.”
So a big thank you to whoever stuffed these interviews into a box nearly 30 years ago. At least they weren’t thrown into the trash.
Next blog: I have no idea…
Lucasfilm executive editor J. W. Rinzler is the author of The Making of Star Wars and The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. He is now writing The Making of Return of the Jedi (and really looking forward to finishing it) for a fall 2013 release. You can visit jwrinzler.com for more info.