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TPM Producer - Rick McCallum


DVD Press Conference
September 7, 2001

JW - Jim Ward
VL - Van Ling
RM - Rick McCallum
PH - Pablo Helman
RD - Rick Dean
JS - Jon Shenk

JW: OK, the next person I'd like to bring up here and introduce is somebody that if you didn't know before you came here you certainly know him by now after having lived through his saga in helping to create the Episode I The Phantom Menace. I'd like to introduce Rick McCallum, the producer.

OK, so this is the man, the guy that produced the film and certainly lived through not only the film but this DVD as well, and you also saw everything he lived through in terms of the documentary that Jon put together, so, any questions for Rick? Let's start out right over here.

Q: How do you think you came off in the documentary?

RM: That's why I have a fast forward, I just skipped over it. It was very interesting to see how much weight I've gained and lost throughout the whole production (laughter), that was the most interesting thing to me.

Q: You were very direct, for instance when the situation was very grim in Tunisia you said things colorfully and did you have any concerns about including this? Or did you not care?

RM: No, not really. I mean it's a very weird thing, especially when there's a documentary crew. It's not easy for me to be totally natural around it. But you know after awhile you get kind of used to it. But no, there's never any real issue because in the end of the day we knew the guys who were making the film and they were all pretty trustworthy so it wasn't too bad. I was glad that they weren't there for 90% of the time.

Q: Well I had to laugh because since you cuss so much in the documentary, are you concerned about the young kids that will be watching that?

JW: No, we bleeped it out.

Q: But, I think most kids these days know what that is.

RM: Everything I've learned is from my kids.

Q: My real question is, as far as the DVD, are you excited about all the extras? But as a filmmaker you work so hard on the episode that, what about the DVD itself?

RM: There are two big issues for me. One of the things that was very difficult was that we virtually were making the film right up until three weeks before the film was released. In fact we were in London shooting six weeks before the film came out. Then we had to supervise the making of 5,000 prints. Plus if you backstep, for 10 weeks we had been working on the digital master for the four theatres that we had shown in New York and Los Angeles. So we were just burned out. There was nothing for us to do. The film came out, we had three days where we rushed around to New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco watching the openings, and then virtually that following Monday George and I started prep on Episode II. The thing that we knew that we didn't want to do was just take the typical route where there's a video master out there for the videocasette, and then somebody takes that, throws it down, and lays it out on the DVD, you have 15 minutes of how great it is working with George and isn't Rick nice and his hair is weird and all the other strange stuff that you get on it. We wanted to make it special. But that that takes a long time. I set up the DVD before I went to Australia. We worked on it for six months. We had to cast for a crew. We had to wait for the supervisors, we wanted Pablo as our chief digital effects supervisor on the DVD. He was on another film. We had to get the artists that we wanted that were available. We had to face the whole reality of was it possible to actually even do this? We wanted Van Ling. You know there's a whole bunch of real things, it was like making another movie. And you've got to remember that up until Episode I, the largest film digital effects wise was Titanic. And that had about 450 shots. We had just under 2100 visual effects. And this DVD represents, I think it has the third most effects of any feature film that's ever been made. So you know it was a really complicated process and it was very time consuming, we knew it was going to take a long time. But I think it was worth it. You know we loved it, we loved the whole idea of it. And more importantly for me personally, is that at least within the context of DVD it's really about quality. There's nothing more frustrating than in the case of Episode I which was a process that lasted over four years, you spend so much time making it, then you spend so much time mixing it, millions of dollars. And then you let it out to the world and you know there's probably less than 100 theatres where you can actually see the film that we actually made, or hear it in the way we've mixed it. And DVD, believe it or not, still represents probably, in terms of the audience, the largest possible audience the best visual experience that they'll ever actually see the film. Because most of the stuff when you go to a multiplex outside of a major city is just junk. So, on those two levels I was very happy.

JW: The question is, is there any particular scene in making the movie Episode I that was challenging to you?

RM: They're all painful in their own little way when you think back. But no, I personally like locations the most because you never know exactly what 's going to happen. And to me that dynamic is very exciting, especially when you're dealing with the temperatures that we had in Tunisia. Tunisia is a country I personally like. I love the crew that we had, we shot there before on Young Indy. They're all difficult in their own little way because you've got this army, and it's like a small village. And one day an actor will get hurt in a car accident, another person will get sick, you know everything is all off side, you never know what's going to happen. Studio work is much easier, you just know what you've got. Usually everybody can get home and get back to work relatively easily. So I think probably, I haven't answered that question but I like locations the best.

JW: Who was really the target for Episode I?

RM: Well you've got to remember it's a saga. It's a saga of family, it's also going to be in six parts. It's designed to be seamlessly interconnected. In fact in terms of DVD it's what Van Ling was saying, one of the reasons why we didn't go straight from the digital master is that you know there have been three previous films, and they were films, and there's a look. And as he also mentioned in terms of relationship to Bug's Life and some of the other Pixar films is there are two different aesthetics. Personally, for me, and this is going way off the question, the digital release of the film that we had in four theatres came closest to the film that we actually made because it was the only time that we could be in a theatre and actually see the film and hear it that closely resembled what it was that we had made. But the issue about whether or not it's for kids, you just have to take a deep breath and wait for the whole thing, because it all makes sense. It has to start somewhere, and there is a reason why Anakin is eight years old in Episode I. And when it's all over it will all make sense, both thematically and in terms of the evolution of Anakin's character.

JW: Why isn't there a DDS track on the DVD, I'll just take that and it really comes down to what you exactly said. It was a bit budget issue and that's one of the hard decisions that we had to make on this thing. You know in an ideal world yeah, but we just had to give it everything we wanted to do, make that call.

Q: Sometimes filmmakers are reluctant to do commentaries, but you got everybody, yourself, George, everyone involved in the making of the film to sit down and watch and give your observations. I was wondering what that was like?

RM: Well for me personally it was very weird because I was in London, and I had to do it on a tie-line and so it was very uncomfortable for me, I didn't have enough time to actually sit back and really think about all the scenes because we were in the middle of shooting for Episode II. But I think everybody else really got into it, they really enjoyed it because in the end of the day it allows you to do two things. It helps you, if you're honest with it, you remember the pain of actually doing it. And then also what it meant in context and how you got through it. And I think everybody was candid enough, you know people like Dennis Muren and John Knowles and everybody else who was working on the film for such a long period, it gave them an opportunity to actually reflect back on their experiences, what it was like to actually do that specific shot. Because that's the whole dynamic, especially the world that we're moving into whether you're making a small, traditional, dramatic film or big special effects film, there's so many effects shots. And for the first time we're breaking the barrier of visual effects companies where we're actually working as a team. Because they're two totally different, distinct groups. You know when you're making a movie it's a totally different experience than when you're working on the special effects. Different kind of skill set, different kind of person altogether. But I think what was one of the best experiences for me on Episode I is it was a total collective dream and nightmare for a long period of time for a lot of people.

Q: You mentioned that making the DVD was like making a movie, another movie. Can you talk about how much it cost to put the DVD together? What kind of investment you guys have in it?

RM: It cost (laughter), that's something, you know, does it matter?

Q: I think it's interesting.

RM: Let's put it this way, it cost a lot, it took a lot of effort, a lot of time.

Q: How many Kevin Smith movies could you make? (laughter)

RM: Well it depends. Based on his last one?

JW: What do you think of the DVD technology itself?

RM: Well right now, within the world that we live in, there's nothing that comes close. I mean, the thing I love about it is it's potential, especially when we deal with storage issues because as Van Ling said, right now we're dealing with a storage problem and you do have to pick what you think, and that's what I think he did a brilliant job of, one of the many things that Van Ling did was focus us and say OK, yes I know you think this is interesting but I think for the general audience this is the best thing. I think there's enough stuff here for hard core fans, for filmmakers, for everyone else. He really balanced that out for us really nicely. But what I do love about it, is it's future potential to be able to go in directions where you do have the access and, the ability to be able to store a phenomenal amounts of material. So that people who are into making films, could have 20 or 30 hours of material, I don't know if Jim has mentioned we probably shot about 600 hours worth of behind the scenes footage. Not that that would all work, but you know there's a good 2-3 hours about how to design costumes. There's 2-3 hours about setting up and budgeting a movie, scheduling a movie. Unfortunately right now with the limits that we can't use all that material. But there is that material and one day, in fact it's one of my worst nightmares that I'm going to get the call from George saying, you know I've got a really good idea let's put out a 250 hour DVD. I don't know if you guys have seen Terminator 2, you know one of the things I loved about that and what Van Ling did, you can go in many directions. If you were a hard core film freak and you really love Cameron and you want to understand how he made the picture you could go in that direction. There were so many areas where you can go and that to me is really the essence of DVD technology. But what I love about it more than anything is just the sheer quality for the average person.

JW: In the world of digital technology and DVDs and such, is there a final cut to a movie?

RM: Philosophically I have no problem with it, in fact, I love it because what's always prevented any filmmaker from doing this in the past is just the cost. We all love movies here. And think about it. There are 300 movies made by the studios a year, and there's another 700 made by independents. And for us probably in this room we easily see two or three movies a week. And we love them. And it's one of the few things in the world where you can go week after week after week, and still be so deeply disappointed and still every new week say hey let's go to a movie. And that becomes still another adventure, another hope that the movie is going to be good. And the truth is, nobody ever sits down at a table and says hey let's make a bad movie. No producer, director, writer says God I've got a really great idea for a shitty film. It doesn't work that way. But something in the process, something about the compromises, the timing, the studio, the phenomenal pressure that artists have to go through, causes something to go really wrong. And often there is this other film there. Not always but often there is another film. And if somebody can actually have the wherewithal, the tools to be able to actually change that, it doesn't mean necessarily that you're going to like it any better or that you're even going to see it. But it's no different than a writer being able to re-write and re-write, or a painter who used to paint, you know when the Impressionists used to paint on a canvas they didn't have enough canvas so they'd just paint over and keep on changing. It's like rehearsing a play. But that's never been done in film before because of the sheer cost. And one of the great things about doing the Special Edition was we were able to go back and do the original Star Wars New Hope exactly the way George wanted it. The way he had written it. Whether people liked it, it didn't matter, it was his movie and he couldn't make it when he first made it because there were so many compromises he had to go through. So, philosophically, I have no problem with that I think it's great. It's like the internet. You kind of democratize the process, you have these incredible tools to allow everybody to make a movie. It doesn't mean the movies are going to get any better, in fact there's going to be a lot of shit on the internet for a long time, but it does allow people who aren't socially adaptable or don't have the skill set to be able to enter into the system of Hollywood, who have great ideas, may not have the personality to sell themselves but actually are full of ideas and can tell a story that allows them to be able to do that.

JW: OK, that's great. Thanks a lot Rick.

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