Published January 16, 2003
More from my conversation with George Lucas this past Sunday night (you can read Part 1 of this interview in Monday's column):
The director says he's got plans for his post-Star Wars career. After 30 years of being tied up with the phenomenally successful series, Lucas will set off to make "more personal" films after 2005.
"I'm going to go from complete success to complete failure," he told me, without a wink or a smile. On the contrary, Lucas said he anticipates utter rejection from his fans once Star Wars concludes. "I'm going to make a bunch of movies like THX," he said, referring to his earliest effort. "And if people don't like it, too bad. There will be no Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan for me," he said of pal Steven Spielberg's "serious" movies."There won't be any big dramas or Oscars."
Lucas did tell me that of the current movies in release, he loved Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. "We showed a print of it at the Skywalker Ranch," he said. "I was amazed by what he did with it and where he went. It was terrific."
But Lucas' own career is clearly on his mind these days. He's busy working on Chapter III of Star Wars, which links Attack of the Clones to the original Star Wars.
"I know what I want to do," he said. "It was mapped out from my original writing for 30 years. But still you have these two pieces — Clones and Chapter IV — and you have to make them fit together. You're going to see a lot about Anakin and Luke and Princess Leia's mother, all the adults. And of course Luke and Leia will be infants in it."
I asked him whether he cared about the criticism of Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin in Clones. "Not a bit," Lucas said, "this is a talented kid. Years from now people are going to say, was he always so good, and look at Clones, and realize yes."
Lucas also told me that he and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson have become good friends, commiserating with each other in Australia and New Zealand on their shoots about making their two series.
"Essentially, Peter is making three three-hour movies out of one book," Lucas said. "And I'm making six two-hour movies from one book." Of course, Lucas wrote his own book, but the mythology harkens back to Lord of the Rings. "We discuss it a lot because they are similar in nature," said Lucas.
I must say that I've met a few of my heroes in my lifetime and some of them have been disappointments. But George Lucas turned out to be refreshingly candid and enormously pleasant. We don't see him in New York very often; I hope once Star Wars wraps for good he'll come here more often. And so, yes, "The Force" is with him!
The combined sales of the top 10 albums was less than 750,000 CDs last week. That's right. According to hitsdailydouble.com, this morning the record industry wakes up to the house on fire.
Unbelievable? But true. Norah Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Avril Lavigne posted far smaller numbers than predicted; the album chart was more of a disappointment than anyone could imagine. And this was after the Grammy nominations, an event which should have boosted sales.
It's hard to imagine such a thing happening in the movie business, where tight controls by the people in charge would never permit a 10-year run of poor quality product to overtake the business. What "explicit lyrics" and sampled music have been to the music business could only exist in movies if suddenly only soft-core porn were released weekly to movie houses.
I'm curious to see what the record company presidents are going to do about this frightening dip in sales. The next major release isn't until Jan. 28 -- that would be the new album by R. Kelly, the singer currently under investigation for engaging in sex with minors.
"It will not happen."
This is the definitive word, folks, from my source at Sony Music regarding Michael Jackson. With the departure of Tommy Mottola also comes the last word on Michael Jackson, take it or leave it. There was some flicker of thought that Mottola's end meant a chance for Jackson to reignite his relationship with Sony and Epic Records.
But now I am told that is not a possibility. Jackson will get the masters to his albums back in five to eight years, possibly. But he still owes the company $200 million in loans. He will be paying the interest on those loans for a long, long time, perhaps forever.
"The loan won't be forgiven. Why should it?" asked my source. "We're happy to collect the interest. But Michael is done here as far as new recordings."
Indeed, the Sony label for which Michael recorded — Epic Records — will be under the same scrutiny as all the other labels within the company. "This is a period of cost-cutting and consolidation," said another friend intimate with the destruction of Warner Music Group. "They're getting the same treatment we got."
Meanwhile, since we're on the subject of Warner Bros., how about this embarrassing development? The studio took an ad in the booklet for the New York Film Critics dinner the other night. All the other studios were congratulating their respective winners. Warner, which has no winners, and no nominees, just plopped their logo on a white page and called it a day. No other type on the page. This was like a straight line begging for a punch line. Here's the punch line.
Everyone is asking what happened to Warner Home video head Warren Lieberfarb. I hear he had a showdown with Alan Horn and Barry Meyer, the stout-hearted men running the company. Lieberfarb is said to have written a memo about the future of Warner and its relevance to quality movie making. That's when he was shown the door.
Warner will have a make or break year in 2003 with The Matrix Reloaded and its sequel. There's also a third Harry Potter movie. But what happened to filmmaking? Has Warner, like Disney, simply given up and ceded that territory to the indies and New York producers? I suppose Lieberfarb asked that question himself. But the din of people discussing Batman and Superman movies must have washed him out.
On top of this, I hear that Darren Aronofsky's film, Fountain, which Warner Bros. pulled the plug on last summer just before it began shooting in Australia, may be back on. Aronofsky told me recently that this was a possibility and I've heard it elsewhere. Warner effectively pillaged Fountain when it needed star Brad Pitt to come be in Troy, a bazillion-dollar epic I'm not sure anyone wants to see.
Aronofsky has not had the best year. A film he co-produced and wrote but chose not to direct, called Below, was shall we say, swept aside by Dimension/Miramax this fall. Despite a good cast and the usual sci-fi mumbo jumbo, Below took in $589,424 in three weeks before disappearing altogether. There's a rumor that it's playing in Singapore.