In keeping with American Cinematographer magazine’s detailed coverage of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Special Editions, and the prequels — and in celebration of the launch of an all-new era in live-action Star Wars films and the record-breaking theatrical release of The Force Awakens — we’ve dedicated the entirety of our 96-page February issue to that gorgeous galaxy far, far away.
The issue — which is illustrated throughout with a trove of production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and concept art — hits streets at the end of this month, and in addition to a preview of what’s inside, I’m here to offer an exclusive look at some choice quotes that we weren’t able to squeeze into print.
The majority of the issue, of course, goes to The Force Awakens, with four features and four sidebars that detail everything from the cinematography and visual effects to the producing and directing. The adventure begins with a firsthand account of AC’s visit to the set and tour of the production at Pinewood Studios, and from there we spotlight the work of cinematographer Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC, and his crew.
Mindel had been behind the camera for three features with director J.J. Abrams prior to The Force Awakens, and in a separate Q&A, Abrams enthuses, “I learned so much from Dan on Mission: Impossible [III], which was my first movie. He was the first cinematographer I worked with on a feature, and his generosity and patience with me was sort of stunning — and something for which I am still so grateful.”
Our other features include an “Art of” style piece that incorporates interviews with concept artists Doug Chiang and Christian Alzmann, as well as co-production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford; and a detailed Q&A with visual-effects supervisor Roger Guyett.
Also included are interviews with producer and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who offers a bit of technical information about the making of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; 2nd-unit cinematographer Bruce McCleery; and Industrial Light & Magic visual-effects supervisor Pat Tubach.
Beyond The Force Awakens, we also dig deep into the digital cinematography of Star Wars Rebels, with a close survey of the collaboration between CG lighting and effects supervisor Joel Aron, lighting-concept artist Christopher Voy, colorist Sean Wells, and executive producer and supervising director Dave Filoni. Plus, we’ve got a historical look at the making and restoration of the short film Black Angel, which was directed by A New Hope set decorator Roger Christian and hand-picked by George Lucas to play in front of The Empire Strikes Back upon that film’s initial theatrical release in the UK. And we’ve even got a one-page Q&A with cinematographer Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS, who’s currently in production on Rogue One. (Full disclosure: He’s not allowed to talk about that project yet!)
For as much as we crammed into those 96 pages, though, there were still a number of gems that didn’t make the final cut — quotes that didn’t quite stick to the proverbial “spine” of the articles they were intended for. Here are two that were particularly painful to have to cut — first, from Dave Filoni’s interview regarding Rebels:
Asked how the crew knows when a design is “right” for Star Wars, Filoni laughs and offers, “That’s the question of the age now! The simple answer is — and you have to be confident when you say this — if we put it in Star Wars, it’s a part of Star Wars. My experience on Clone Wars [was that] when we were doing things that were the most different, at times I felt it was the most we were like Star Wars. George [Lucas] broke through it with us by doing every possible type of genre. He would challenge us: ‘This week we’re doing a Godzilla-like monster, the Zillo Beast.’ Well, how is that anything like Star Wars? But by the end of it, it sure felt like Star Wars to a lot of people. It was a great learning experience.”
And, direct from co-production designer Darren Gilford:
“The Millennium Falcon was the first thing we were actually building. I had been in London and I came home back to L.A. for Christmas. So I go to Sports Chalet to do some last-minute shopping; I get there early, run to the back of the store, get what I need. I’m coming back through the store, and I just happen to pass this person holding up a pair of ski pants, and it’s Harrison Ford. I look at him, he looks at me and puts his head right down. I can tell he doesn’t want to be bothered; I’m sure from the look on my face he knew I knew who he was. So I walk past him, and after about 10 feet I think, ‘If there’s ever a time to say hello to Harrison Ford, I’m building the Millennium Falcon!’ So I turn around very hesitantly and go, ‘Harrison, I’m sorry to bother you. I’m co-production designer on the new Star Wars, I’m just back from London, and I’ve been building the Falcon.’ A big smile came across his face, he put his hand out, and we had such a great conversation — he couldn’t have been sweeter. As I’m walking away, he goes, ‘Darren!’ and calls me back. He goes, ‘The toggle switches.’ I go, ‘Toggle switches.’ He goes, ‘The toggle switches on the Falcon. When they built it the first time, they bought cheap toggle switches without any springs in them. Every time I threw a toggle switch, it fell back; it wouldn’t hold. It drove me crazy. Please, make sure the toggle switches are fixed this time.’ I go, ‘No problem! I’ll take care of it!’ So months go by, I’m back in London, we’re getting close [to principal photography], and I get a phone call saying J.J.’s headed down to check out the cockpit, and Harrison’s with him. I run down there and I see J.J. in the passenger seat and Harrison in the pilot seat. They’re just giddy; they’re having so much fun. And then I see Harrison look up, and he just starts throwing all the toggle switches: boom, boom, boom, boom. [Laughs.] And I remember thinking, ‘Phew, minor victory. Take solace in that and move on. Next task.’ That’s my favorite story.”
American Cinematographer’s February issue will be available for purchase at store.ascmag.com. And to read AC’s past coverage of the Star Wars saga (for free!), visit theasc.com.