May 3rd, 2012 (Part 1)
In early 2012 I contacted Ed through the Buffalo International Film Festival website, not knowing what to expect. He was gracious enough to get back to me within the hour, and by the next day we were on a Skype call.
I didn't then—nor do I now—know anything about interviewing people, but luckily Ed did, and more than that, he had a lot of stories he loved to tell. By our later conversations I'd learned to just sit back and let him drive.
After this initial conversation, we met at Congee in Chinatown for our first of many face-to-face conversations.
ES — So tell me all about what you're up to.
MH — So I think I gave you a summary earlier, but in short I'm sort of a lifetime fan of Star Wars, and it's sort of become an obsession of mine to figure out where the ideas came from. And how it came into being and all these sorts of things, and doing that has just sort of beome a hobby of mine.
I've done it for a while now and worked on this project, and I think I sent you the Chewbacca thing.
ES — You're the guy who has a blog about Star Wars. Yes?
MH — Yeah, well. It's it's not about Star Wars, but it tends to often be about Star Wars (this was pre-Kitbashed).
ES — And the Chewbacca article is all about where Chewy really came from?
MH — That's right, yeah.
ES — Forgive me, this is less stupid than it sounds, but all of a sudden three different people contacted me about this. It must be in the air
MH — Oh really, that's interesting.
ES — Two of you are in England and another fellow is here in the United States.
MH — Okay? Interesting.
ES — So that's kind of interesting. Go figure, right?
MH — Yeah
ES — How old are you?
MH — I'm 34. So I was born right around the time Star Wars came out, so I'm sort of in the perfect segment to have grown up with that whole thing. Yeah, so so anyway. I've worked on this for a while and I sort of, I don't really know what to do with it. I just love film a lot, I love comic books and science fiction, that sort of thing, so I've spent a lot of time sort of going back and reading old things, and I keep finding these connections to you know that binds everything together, and I keep finding these, you know, things that reappear, and you know change over time and various things, and so I sort of [00:02:00] thought at one point that it would be fun to sit down and write, and explore how these things evolved and became you know, kind of came into Star Wars specifically. Because it's been so influential you know in general and to myself.
ES — A-ha. Where did you grow up?
MH — I'm from Denmark.
ES — Oh, how interesting.
MH — Yeah, so I've been living in New York for about a year and a half now and I do interface design for a company here in...
ES — You're in New York?
MH — Yeah, oh.
ES — Well, I'm in New York too.
MH — New York State, or...?
ES — New York City.
MH — Oh really. How interesting. I thought you actually lived lived in Buffalo.
ES — No, I live in New York.
MH — OK.
ES — We could do this much more easily. Actually Skype has better reception than Verizon and stuff, but it's it's amazing how clear Skype is.
MH — Yeah. Yeah, it really is it's...
ES — I thought we weren't in New York.
MH — No, not at all I've lived here in New York for a while, so yeah. That's funny. I wasn't even aware.
ES — Where abouts.
MH — I live down in Battery Park.
ES — Oh. I'm about to go. We're not when my plan is when we're done with this I'm going down in Chinatown for lunch.
MH — Okay.
ES — You want to come and meet me.
MH — Yeah absolutely. I work at Grand and Broadway, so I'm right around the corner from there.
ES — Can you get out or...
MH — Yeah absolutely? I have fairly flexible working hours, so...
ES — Right, well look here. We can talk for a bit and try to work this all out. But I'm going to go to a restaurant is called Congee. It's on Bowery between Canal and Grand. It's on the west side of street. It's about a block and a quarter north of Canal Street. I have a of couple errands I [00:04:00] need to do down there anyway. I need to pick up some things.
MH — What was it called?
ES — C O N G E E
MH — OK
ES — But we'll talk a little bit, and then I'll give you the details and you'll decide if you want to come by. It'd be very nice.
MH — Yeah, absolutely. I mean it'd be fun to meet in person now that we have the chance anyway.
ES — Great now I've got to ask a couple questions.
MH — Sure
ES — Are you gonna record this?
MH — Yeah, I've been recording just so I have something to reference back to.
ES — Now I don't want to seem like a real stickler, but if you record it I'm assuming you're going to transcribe it and I would like to get a copy the transcript.
MH — OK.
ES — I have to tell you, let me tell you. I don't do this too terribly often. And I try to be a little careful about with whom I do it and what they do with it. Can you understand?
MH — Oh absolutely, absolutely. I'll be sure to— everything I write, I'll be sure to you know pass it by you, so that you can give your approval.
ES — I read your stuff, and it's very well written. I am giving you a compliment.
MH — Thank you very much.
ES — So had it not been that way. We wouldn't be talking.
MH — That's good. Thank you very much.
ES — You're welcome. I actually now. It's been a couple weeks since I read it, but I got a tickle out of the Chewy article.
MH — Yeah?
ES — Yeah, it's so interesting. At the time I read it, some of the stuff I knew was silly, but some of it of course is from first-hand experience. I know it's true.
MH — Yeah.
ES — It was intriguing to see how all of this [00:06:00] stuff has evolved. I'll tell you just a little quick story if you know who Michael Uslan is?
MH — Ah, no.
ES — He produced the Batman movies. U S L A N. Uslan. About, I guess it's almost two years ago I interviewed him for a film class at — what is it called — I want to say Montrose College, but it's Montclair sorry, Montclair College in New Jersey, and we were just talking about how he made the Batman movies, and something made me ask. Everywhere in the room. I said how many of you were alive before Star Wars came out? And I think two people raised their hand out of about 150 and they were instructors. Everyone else in the room were, like you but younger
MH — Yeah.
ES — And to them Star Wars has always existed. There always been Star Wars.
MH — Yeah
ES — And I literally went through the gestation of it, so I have a whole different perspective on it. And they, these are all film students, and I suppose really their dream is to come up with their own idea that's as powerful as Star Wars, that they'll go on making for the rest of their lives.
MH — Yeah.
ES — And part of the problem is that things like that don't happen very often, and they don't happen on queue. And you can't control then, you just can't control them. The best example of that, and then I will end this little anecdote is the current [00:08:00] John Carter movie. Did you see John Carter?
MH — I did yeah, it's a perfect example.
ES — Well, I don't know — you don't have to agree with me — but I just loved it. I just thought it was wonderful\
MH — yeah.
ES — The problem with — there were two problems — one problem was that they spent way too much money on it, but they spent the money hoping that they would — because there's 11 books, I mean you know this — there's all this books. They were hoping that they would found a series and that they would be making John Carter movies for the next ten years, like Harry Potter
MH — Yeah.
ES — And I hope they do, I really hope they do, because they built it all now. They built the world, they built the creatures, they built the weapons and the flying machines. And the next movie can be made for a fraction of the cost
MH — Yeah
ES — Because it's all done. But the other problem was they got some idiot to promote, who didn't know what to do. And they fired him. But it was kind of too late. And the worst part of it was that the film was pronounced dead three days after it opened. And I'm still astounded at this, that some bunch of crystal ball readers decided three days into the run, the domestic run, three days into the domestic run they decided that the film would never make any money. And they've been revising it ever since and I don't know how well you followed it, but it's now in profit. The film has made a profit already.
And on Amazon it is the top pre-ordered Blu-ray in history. So many people want to buy it that Amazon has never had a presale [00:10:00] like this.
MH — Pretty crazy. It's funny because I followed it with a lot of interest because I went back and read I read the first book of the series because it's a big influence on Star Wars. The whole sort of you know that high adventure science fiction genre.
ES — Maybe. I don't know that George ever read them.
MH — Well he said he did. I don't know that he did, but there's a lot of... John Carter kind of draws on earlier books, which is really interesting. There's a whole genre of books of army men who go to Mars and meet princesses.
ES — A-ha.
MH — There's kind of a whole series of those dating back, to you know before the 1880s or something like that.
ES — Really, what are the ones that are earlier than Burroughs?
MH — The names are kind of tricky, let me just find my list here. So one of them is called Gullivar of Mars and the other one is called — it has a really horrible title — it's called 'Lieutenant Gulliver Jones, His Vacation', and then there's another one which has this long horrible title I can't even remember.
ES — There's some kind of Russian book that I discovered. This a while ago. That was written in the 19th century, which is a really early science fiction book, not well known in this country at all. I have a translation of it from sixty years ago. I used to know a lot about [00:12:00] this, but I've forgotten
MH — Oh here. It is it's called 'Journey to Mars the wonderful world its beauty and Splendor, its Mighty Races and Kingdoms, its Final Doom', from 1894 and that draws a lot on The Time Machine which in turn draws on what's it called Jonathan Swift's Gulliver book as well, and so the funny thing is, because obviously Star Wars has a lot of Flash Gordon influences, but Flash Gordon draws on Buck Rogers, which draws on on John Carter, and they all lift very distinct things over and then change it a little bit and become their own thing, but there's there's a clear lineage through all of it, which which is really interesting to see once you wish you started digging, they take a big part of what came before and then they change it a little bit and make it their own, and it's you know it seems very different. But it's a whole genre of people go to Mars or some Planet like it and be heroes kind of.
ES — Oh interesting, hold on one minute, let me see if I can grab... I think I know where I put this book. I'll be back in a [00:14:00] minute.
MH — Okay.
ES — Hi, I didn't find it, but I found this other book which curiously I'd put on the shelf right next to Gulliver's Travels. It's a book called Through Space to Mars by Roy Rockwood.
MH — Well there you go.
ES — This is a couple in (illegible) edition which is from 1910. So it was surely written before then. And they go in a projectile they call it. Oh look at this, wait a minute. There's some newspaper clippings shoved in here that I didn't even know. I'm going to look and see what it is. Oh well, let's see one is about baseball. This [00:16:00] is a little brown clipping. There's something by somebody named in Emery J. Pains about how to live your life. Well. I won't read it to you, but it was shoved in here. It's it's clearly an early 20th century newspaper. How interesting. No pictures in this... Oh there are pictures in this book. They get caught in a whirlpool on Mars, in a boat. How do you like that? I don't know if I ever read this book.
MH — It's funny. There's there's this whole... I think it came out around the time when they started pointing their telescopes to Mars, and they saw these channels, and they started somebody — I can't remember his name — but somebody wrote a very famous article about you know how much these channels...
ES — It was...
MH — Huh?
ES — It was Lowell.
MH — That's right. Yeah, that's right.
ES — Lowell wrote these... He interpreted the images as 'canali'
MH — Yeah, exactly, that's right.
ES — And there are these famous newspaper articles where they invented a civilization on Mars.
MH — Yeah, it's funny how that just sparked this whole, this gold rush out of Mars books that came out subsequently, and that's kind of its kind of how that whole genre got started, and how you eventually ended up with Flash Gordon. Which I thought, it's really interesting to see that evolve over time. But it all came from from somebody misinterpreting a word about, canali.
ES — What's more interesting. Is that now they're actually finding water on Mars
MH — Yeah, exactly.
ES — There are these photos of what what in English would call a reals (sp?). There are places where it seems to be almost a hundred percent clear [00:18:00] now that here was running water on Mars. You haven't followed this?
MH — It pops up every once in a while, but it's been awhile since I I followed it a lot. I have a friend who's very into space space exploration and that sort of thing, so whenever I talk to him he updates me on all the on-goings. But I seem to remember that they had some pictures where they were pretty sure that what they were seeing were — from the Rover I think — what we're seeing was ice. Yeah, it's very interesting.
ES — Well alright, let me propose this. Why don't we talk for 20 minutes or so and you can get started, and then I'm going to want to eat lunch before it's too late, and I have these errands to do. And I'll tell you exactly where this place is and we'll meet there say about 1 o'clock? Will that work for you?
MH — That sounds good.
ES — And obviously I don't know what you really want to do, but you'll tell me and I'll work out the rest of it.
MH — Yeah, okay, sounds good.
ES — So why don't you get started. Do your thing.
MH — Okay. So really what got me on this path was that I obviously there's a lot of... Lucas talks a lot about comic books and these sorts of things, but it's hard to nail down exactly what his inspiration for that were, until I came across, and this was totally coincidental... I was reading a Tintin comic, Cigars of the Pharaoh where Tintin is walking in the desert with Snowy and suddenly he gets ambushed by these Bedouin who carry him away. And there's a couple lines in there, and the whole situation kind of [00:20:00] reminded me of Star Wars, and I was like that's really interesting, but I couldn't figure out how there was a connection there.
And this is sort just to set up why I got onto this whole track. So I started researching Tintin a little bit and I found out that it got translated into English in 1974, and then I remembered that there was a story of Lucas being a silent partner in this comic book art gallery, and so I started looking into that, and that's kind of how I how I stumbled onto you.
And I couldn't find a lot of information about exactly how he got into that, what what his role in that was, and how he got out of it, and the comic book, both the store and the art gallery itself, there was a lot of stories about it on forums and on the net, but nobody seemed to really have answers. There was a lot of rumors and hearsay and stuff like that, so I figured... I tried to piece together what I could from Wikipedia, IMDb and the various folks I could find, but it seemed like there was still some unanswered questions, and the more I dug the more it seemed like you had kind of been in the central position in a way, because you'd done work with DePalma, you'd known Scorsese a little bit, Lucas, and you've done some work on Conan, and then this comic book store on all these things. So it seemed really interesting, it seemed like there was a story there that could be told to sort of bind together this this larger picture of some of the gestation of how Star Wars came into being and also figure out what exactly all the relationships were back then. And get an idea of how the comic book scene and the film scene was back in the early 70s and in New York.
And that's kind of [00:22:00] my approach to it.
ES — That's pretty interesting. You're pretty sharp.
MH — Well. Thank you.
ES — Yeah, I can say without saying much, but most of the stories including what's in print in all these unauthorized biographies is almost all wrong. It was always the one of the reasons that I'm a little... What's the right word... Not testy about this, but I'm sort of careful. Is that there's so much wrong information, that if we're going to do this I'm going to be able to fussy. I want to get it to be as correct as possible.
MH — I totally understand, and I would also say that one of the reasons that I sort of got caught up in this project to begin with was that I having been a fan for a long time and in reading a lot about Star Wars. I would often come across articles on Wikipedia, or in books, in magazines that would quote something that I knew was most likely or definitely wrong. Just because it's been repeated enough times, so one of the incentives for me is really to get as close to the actual story of what happened and record that, and be very thorough about it.
ES — Well. I like that. That's good. There's another fellow in England. I can't remember his name. I'd be happy to tell you, but I don't know what it is at the moment, and he's been working on a book. He's more of a toy collector. He's very interested in that part of it, and so he wants to talk about this little bit too. Because I was around for all that. Alright, well, so this sounds good. It sounds like you have your feet on the ground here, so keep going.
MH — Okay, so I [00:24:00] guess you know just going from from my what I picked up on Wikipedia. You're from Buffalo.
ES — Well, I was born in Buffalo.
MH — Okay, when were you born?
ES — ...And I and I grew up there, but I moved away when I went to school. I want to... Well I went to many places, but I mostly went to the New York University. At the time that I went there. It was called The Department of Television, Motion Pictures, and Radio. Now it's the School of the Arts. But that didn't happen until later.
MH — Yeah, when were you born, if you don't mind me asking?
ES — I won't tell you.
MH — Okay. So you went to New York to study film?
ES — Pretty much. Yeah. It's... I don't know, but I can tell you if you want to know why I ended up doing that. But I originally was very interested in being a journalist.
I'll just mention this briefly and you can go into it if you want to. but there was a. filmmaker named Peter Adair (spells it) who has come down to us now as a fairly important indie filmmaker, and he sort of turned my interest and I ended up going to NYU because they were really just starting up a Film School here.
MH — When was this?
ES — Let's see. [00:26:00] It would have been. Don't trust me about years... If you'd gotten to me ten years ago I would have remembered this better. It was about 1966.
MH — So what was that like back then, be, because I don't really have a feel for how the film schools were in the 60s, and how was the scene back then? Was a very much an indie scene?
ES — Try asking me the question a little differently.
MH — How would you describe the film student sceen in the 60s, around that time. What was supposed to culture like? What were the opportunities like, and what kind of people were in the school's back then.
ES — I think there's a good question in there someplace. In the first place you'd have to break it down into two parts. The first part would be the East Coast scene which of ourse would be New York City. And the second would be the California sceen, which would have been around the state schools like USC and UCLA. You know obviously how many people came out of USC.
The year that I went to the NYU film school was to all intents and [00:28:00] purposes the first year that that existed in that form. The original school was, as I said, what they called Television, Motion Pictures and Radio, and that was under the School of Education.
My favorite joke about this is that they gave not a Bachelor of Arts degree, but a Bachelor of Science degree. And so I always say I have a BS after my name. You know English well enough to understand that? Very good.. Yeah, you seem to speak very well, but I know sometimes it.
I mean my grasp of other languages is such that sometimes I get the jokes most often I don't.
MH — I think one of the things about American and English in general is that if you're seeped in the popular culture that comes out of Hollywood and comic books and so on then it's pretty easy to pick it up. That's kind of how I got into it.
ES — Okay. Good. So they had just that year made it a kind of separate school and Haig Manoogian, who is a very important figure in all of this. Do you know who he is? (spells the name)
MH — No.
ES — Haig was the head of the undergraduates school. I don't think there was a graduate school actually. Initially. That happened [00:30:00] a couple years later while I was still there, but Haig — you track him down — he produced Marty Scorsese's first movie, Who's That Knocking at My Door, and the boxing picture about Jake LaMotta... Sorry the name... Raging Bull. Raging Bull is dedicated to Haig. He was a pretty terrific, tough guy who had struggled in many ways and different parts of the film business. I don't quite know his whole story. But it was he who pulled this all together.
There had been people who came out of the NYU scene a little earlier than that, most famously Lewis Teague (spells () , and Brian... Brian DePalma went there for a minute. The story that I was always told was that they allotted Brian 2,000 feet of film to make his senior thesis film, and you were supposed to make your whole film with 2,000 feet of film; 16mm film. And he shot it all in the first two hours and went back and said "I want more" and Haig said "you don't have the idea, Brian. You have to be economical," and he said "thank you. Goodbye". And I can certainly see that he, [00:32:00] Brian, was very far along, very early in the game
And then the person who probably figures the most in my life was Marty Scorsese, who had made, I guess a couple of short films, but the most famous NYU one was called It's Not Just You Murray. Which is a wonderful little film, I remember it pretty vividly, although I couldn't tell you the story anymore. And Marty stayed on and was was teaching at the school, eventually.
But they were just setting it up. There were few instructors, and it was set up more like an art school. My favorite person who was there was Len Lye. Do you know who Len was?
MH — I think I've heard the name before but I can't...
ES — Len (spells) Lye (spells). He was from New Zealand. There's a wonderful book that somebody sent me about him and for the past four years. I've been meaning to write a long letter to this guy, to fill in the pieces of this book that are missing. But I haven't done that yet. If he called me on the phone like this I probably told him.
MH — What's the name of the book?
ES — I don't remember. But it's the only book about Len Lye. Len Lye Is an extremely important artist. He worked for John Grierson at the post office unit in London. If you don't know about that, you ought to find out. It's outside of your little science fiction [00:34:00] sort of realm, but it's very important. And in many ways that leads up to people like Jordan Belson and a lot of the people that did special effects work. And Len is an integral part of that. You can look them up separately and if you know, if it's relevant to what you're doing you can ask me questions about him.
And then there was a many George Amberg (spells). George was from Eastern Europe. He might have been Austrian or German, but I don't honestly remember anymore. He was extremely quiet. He was a very, very compassionate person. He chainsmoked, I remember, and he knew everyone. He knew everyone. He knew every artist and every filmmaker in Europe, just all of them. You'd mentioned somebody and George knew them. I think few people who were at the filmschool knew this about him, but he taught a course about aesthetics, about how vision worked, the physiology of vision.
And then there was a guy named Robert... Boy, I can picture him. Eventually I'll remember his last name, and he did a course on film analysis, that I believe was in what was called Washington Square College. Which had Film Aesthetics, and what they would now kind of call, I don't know, Media Studies. [00:36:00] Most of it, in my opinion is nonsense. It doesn't really help you make movies, but he was a pretty interesting guy, and I really learned a lot from him.
So, there were lots and lots of courses, and it was part of Washington Square College, so we had to take history courses and language courses. You know all the other things. But there were this core group of filmmaking courses. Sight and Sound was the key one, and a lot of different people taught that Scorsese taught it. A guy named Perry Hurwitz, who famously directed a film called The Projectionist, which has lots of Flash Gordon footage. Look up Harry, he's a pretty interesting guy. He was an indie filmmaker who really struggled.
Let me give you a list of classmates whom I remember from the time, so you get a little picture from that. Let's see, of course Scorsese taught there, and he was very young, he's not that much older than us. I'm going to sneeze, forgive me. Um, let's see. Actually, you know a good way for you get a good list would be to look up a movie called Street Scenes 1970. Have you heard of Street Scenes?
MH — No
ES — Okay, look that up. It's on IMDb and virtually everybody who worked on that film, well not quite, ninety percent of people working on the film [00:38:00] were NYU undergraduate students. This is a film— I shot almost a third of the film, but a lot of other people contributed mightily to this. Gee. Well in no particular order, Nat Tripp, and Harry Bowels. Other people that didn't work on the film, Ken Friedman who went on to become a screenwriter. Donathan Caplan. Oliver Stone went to school with us, but he showed up about a year later. He had just gotten out of the army. And I actually remember him when he showed up, because he was still kind of shell-shocked, what they call PTSD now, post-traumatic stress disorder. Oliver absolutely had it, no question about it. He was very quiet. Well, nervous is not the right word, but sensitive. He didn't come into himself for a couple years. He was obviously a very talented guy, and we ended up working together on Conan a number of years later, and I still see him from time to time. He's obviously done very well, a lot better than I did. But he was there.
Sorry, I'm just blanking little bit. But I would say, that undergraduate class is a sort of important group of people, because in one way or another all of [00:40:00] us ended up working in the business at one level or another. The ones who were either luckier, or smarter, or fate, or whatever, ended up in in Los Angeles sooner than I did. And all of us worked for Roger Corman at one time or another and I'll tie this all together, but it's a little hard to follow the thread here.
In a way there were the people who stayed in New York City and made films out of New York City and the were people who went to California. I can talk more about both of them, but clearly the New Yorkers were... Of the people who revolved around NYU in one way or another were Brian DePalma and Marty Scorsese, and I stayed in New York. Ken Friedman was here for a long time, but he ultimately moved. There were people who'd try to make films in New Yorker, and it was very difficult. It was hard to make films here. That's a kind of long topic so I won't start it at the moment.
Now on the other side of this was Los Angeles? The people there, I'm sure you know all of them, people who are classmates were George Lucas and Randal Kleiser who actually just got in touch with me recently, we've been talking a lot because he and George just produced a film about Nina Foch and her [00:42:00] acting class at USC, which we're trying to work out how we're going to show it at my film festival, and I'm hoping that Randal will come actually. Don Glut (spells You should know who Done is, if you don't, look him up. But they all went to school together. Now Francis Coppola was there, but he's older and he's obviously an important figure and Walter Murch is about George's age, and they all work together. So there's there's a little USC Mafia. Charlie Lippincott was there. And I'll tell you this one little story because you'll see some of the irony of this and it will also give you a good picture, I think, or a useful picture.
I got to make a senior film when I was at NYU. They only picked, I don't know, three or four people to do it and Haig — I remember him inviting me out and talking to me about what I wanted to do with my whole life, and he ended up picking me to direct the film, and he paired me up with John Byrum, who's another guy (spells name). Look John up. In fact you've reminded me that John is going to be showing one of his films tonight. And I'm going to hang around, I haven't seen him — he used to live around the corner from me — I haven't seen him for a very long time, so I'm hoping to visit with him tonight.
Interesting coincidence. He directed The Razor's Edge with Bill Murray, which they're showing at the Rubin Museum tonight? If you're not doing anything, you might get yourself over the Rubin Museum, and I'll introduce you to him, because [00:44:00] he was at NYU at the time.
At any rate, I made a film that John wrote the original script for and it's called Item 72-D. The script. And the title was changed a little bit to item 72-D: The Adventures of Spa and Fon. Which has an absolute definite EC comic book influence. It's in IMDb, I've chucked some of the credits in from time to time, but an incredible number of people worked on it who went on to do other things. It was it was a kind of seminal East Coast film. And George made a film, I'm sure you already know the title: THX 1138. And we both used to end up in the same film festivals and competitions, and I never saw George's film. I've actually never seen the short version of THX 1138. I've never seen it. I've seen the feature a couple of times. But I've never seen the whole short from beginning to end.
But people used to come up to me and say oh, you're the guy to made THX 1138, and I used to get really pissed off. I don't know if anybody went up to George and said oh, you're the guy that made Item 72-D. They're very different films. Item 72-D is science fiction, but it's very tongue-in-cheek and it has a different tone and look to it. THX is a very serious film. George was very serious, he was a serious guy. [00:46:00] He's still kind of a serious guy.
I just saw him not two months ago at the at the premiere Red Tails, I hadn't seen him in a long time, and he looked great and... It's funny, he said this to me years ago, he said "when you have good friends, and you haven't seen each other for a long time, it's just as though you pick up the conversation from where you left off," and it's true. I was very happy to see him.
You know, if we just sort of... the problem was it a movie premiere. You can't really talk because there are people have never met him, and they all want to talk to him. So I've learned over the years that public situations are not really a very good place to visit. But he's very low-key, and shy, and he's a very private person. He learned over the years how to do public presentations, he's pretty good at it, but it's not his thing. So, we, each of us, on different sides of the continent both made science fiction and by coincidence they both have numbers in the title, and they were both seminal in a way. Mine, from my personal point of view didn't lead to my doing as many things as I would have liked to in my life, and George's [00:48:00] did.
I suspect that that's more because of, that he was in Hollywood. Are you familiar with with a book called The Outliers? Have you read it?
MH — Yes.
ES — It's terrific. I only just discovered it two weeks ago, and I am now a Malcolm Gladwell acolyte. So I've actually considered all this. I took a look at the people from from my circle of friends who I've known now for a great many years, and the ones who were very successful, and the ones who were very successful or the ones who were not successful at all. And I think in some ways it fits Gladwell's hypothesis that there are things that they all have in common. They're all within a couple years of each other in are. It's true of DePalma, and Scorsese, and Lucas. Francis is substantially older than everybody. Francis Coppola, so I don't know how you account for him exactly, but it doesn't nearly fitted into that idea. Do you recall what I'm talking about Steve Jobs and... and all of us were were movie nuts.
What I say to people when I get to know them a little bit, is that I've seen far too many movies. I've seen more movies than a normal human being ought to. When I [00:50:00] was a kid I used to sometimes see eight movies a day in an era when there was no videotape and no DVDs. You had to go to theaters or catch things on television. It wasn't easy, and I became part of a subculture that collected 16mm films because that's how we saw movies.
Oh a couple of the people that were part of the New York scene work were John Davison who produced RoboCop, and other songs you can look up Da Vi, Som and his partner was Joe Dante. Joe didn't go to school with us, but he was always there. I love Joe, he's great, he and John and about half a dozen other people, we used to get together and watch movies together all the time. And you can see that that's a quality that all these people had in common.
I got to know George and Gary Kurtz very well over the years, I mean we became really close friends, and we used to, I remember, we'd go over to Carrie Fisher's house. She was a wonderful hostess. She'd have these great little movie parties, well there you go. She'd invite everybody over and show a 16mm print of some movie. And when George and Gary were in town, which was frequently, it's how I got to know them because they would come to New York all the time about American Graffiti. We'd go over to Carrie's house and the three of us would end up in a corner in the quietest [00:52:00] place in Carrie's apartment, that we could find, talking about movies. Did you see this? Did you see that? How was the editor? Did it really have good, cinematography. George would come into New York, and he and Marcia and Paul Hirsch and his wife and I, and my friend Mark, we'd go out to the movies together. That's what we did, we'd go to the movies.
So in the Gladwell sense I suppose that's our 10,000 hours. The difference was, I think, that I suppose this is relevant in that I'm so glad you read that book, because I read this book, and I thought "Oh, this guy he he got it right," because I've been thinking this for many years, but he articulated it so perfect, and with such wonderful research. I've always believed this I. Think that this notion of the self-made man is bankrupt, that there are too many factors that go into why this guy succeeds and that guy doesn't. And you can beat yourself up too much thinking that it's your own fault, but it's not really. It's very metaphysical in an odd way, without trying be too mystical.
Kurt Vonnegut had it right. The [crosses in one Peters] (sp?) — if you don't know what that is, read Cat's Cradle.
MH — I don't unfortunately.
ES — Oh well check out Kurt Vonnegut, he's wonderful. But that probably has nothing whatsoever to do with Star Wars, but the rest of this does because it... Jonathan Rinzler, do you know Jonathan?
MH — Yeah.
ES — Well he and I had lunch one day. [00:54:00] He came to New York. I had some of the only photographs of Ralph McQuarrie's studio, so I've been giving those back to them. And I love Jonathan, he's a great guy, he's very smart. His dad is a really interesting person. I'd still want to meet Johnathan's father, but he said to me — we were sitting in a restaurant — he said, "you know I love talking to people who were there when Star Wars first happened," and I keep thinking about that, I mean I suppose I was a witness to this along with many other people and I contributed in truly a very modest way, but I saw it as an evolution and a process.
I told you that story about having everybody raised their hands and say who was alive before Star Wars existed, and only a couple people were. So you, and you know, younger people see Star Wars as a fait accompli. But those of us who were involved in it saw it as a long ongoing process; took years. And I watched it change day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. So. The East Coast had the NYU film school and there were film studies courses at other schools like School of Visual Arts... not School of Vis... Yeah, maybe it's School of Visual Arts a little bit and The New School and Columbia had a tiny little bit. But most of it was very [00:56:00] academic and not terribly focused on filmmaking, whereas USC was in a city with an active film business.
Charlie Lippincott used to tell me stories that the people that gave out equipment at USC for production would partly by circumstance and partly on purpose give you a really hard time. And the philosophy there was if you could manage to actually make a film at USC, given all the shit they threw at you, then you had a small possibility of making a film in the industry.
So a major difference. I think between the east and west coast scenes. Was that the West Coast scene was very, very focused on production. They may have had nuts and bolts, technique, craft. philosophy, history courses, but on the East Coast it was much more focused on art, and philosophy, and metaphysics, and criticism. I remember taking a lit crit course — literature criticism course — and they would read these books, they were these big 200 kids in the room kind of courses. People would dissect these books, and I remember getting fed up with because I thought it was really irrelevant. I mean I used to write a lot. I wrote a novel when I was 11 years old. So my focus in life was always on making things, being [00:58:00] into the process.
I took a history of radio course A really interesting course. I won't say too much about it because I could go on, but one of the people who taught the course— oh I don't remember his name now, but I remember his face, and he... Very well— he was Orson Welles's floor manager for the Mercury Theatre on the radio, and it was he who really directed The Orson Welles Mars broadcast. He was the floor director. And he used to talk about that. He was really pissed off at Orson for taking all the credit, but the truth is that Orson was in the cast. So he was active, and this is the guy who did all the queues and did the actual directing, you know all the practical directing.
But they wanted us to write a paper about something. I thought, "well that's a waste of time" and I was spending a summer at the University of Hawaii studying Chinese, and there was a television station there, and I conned them into letting me do a radio show. So I produced and directed a radio show based on Ray Bradbury story, and I turned that in, and I had — well this will tell you all about me, and then I think we'll stop because I'm going to need lunche and you can meet me, we'll do this a little more — but it was a... Ray Bradbury wrote a lot of radio scripts, and one of them was called The Meadow, it was about a movie studio that was being torn down and it was a metaphor for world peace. It's actually a pretty wonderful story, The Meadow.
So [01:00:00] I had been very heavily influenced by British filmmaking. I don't know if you've ever noticed this but in British film and television to this day credits are in reverse order. The final credit in the film is the director's credit. Whereas in this country the first credit is the director's credit, right? It's the preeminent credit, it leads the average person to believe that the directors actually make mobies, which is the biggest piece of nonsense I've ever heard.
But I love British films. I grew up on the Ealing comedies, and all kinds of things. You can ask me about that if you think it's relevant, but suffice it to say that I was a big brithead when it came to movies. I found them well written, beautifully acted, subtly directed, wonderful cinematographers. I mean the British film industry in its day was terrific. But the director's credit was always last, at the end, so when I did this radio show there were these two kids that worked at the station and so I gave them co-directing credit, and I took the last credit.
And so I brought this radio show back to my professor and turned it in as my project and he said well "it was really pretty good," he said, "but what did you do on it?" And I said "well, I did the whole thing. I produced it, I adapted the script, I directed it," he says "well, but you know all these other people have their names on it". I learned a big lesson from that.