Joe Levy and Joe NussbaumI recently had the opportunity to speak with 'George Lucas in Love' Producer Joe Levy and Director Joe Nussbaum. If you haven't seen the film, be sure to stop by MediaTrip.com (on October 12th) and check it out.
Steve Head: You guys spent two days on principal photography and three weeks, before and after, in prep and postproduction?
Joe Nussbaum: Right.
SH: Where did you guys do the post production?
JN: We did all the post production at a place called 3-OH!-05 Creative Advertising. It's a movie trailer house where I was working at the time. It's a full post production video & sound, five Avids. In fact our editor is the staff editor at 3-OH!-5, our sound guy is the chief sound guy at 3-OH!-5, and the guys who did our titles is another editor at 3-OH!-5. It was a whole in-house favor.
SH: Were any of them also USC students?
Joe Levy: The people at 3-OH!-5 weren't our USC contingency, but we had quite a big USC contingency. Our director of photography, Eric Haase, our composer Deborah Lurie, our casting director Jeremy Jones.
Debbie is quite an incredible composer. Both Debbie and I were in the USC film scoring program. She was the year after I went through the program. She's kind of developed this low budget, underground method of incredibly high-budget sounding score production. It's kind of the same philosophy, the same methodology we went with in making our film. Take limited resources and try to make something look a lot more expensive than it actually was.
SH: What kind of camera equipment did you use? Did you shoot on 16 or 35?
JL: We shot on 35. Panavision actually donated a camera package to us. The vendors that we worked with were incredibly supportive of the film. Incredibly, both before and after.
JN: I'd say Panavision and 3-OH!-5, the two of them were our biggest assets.
JL: And after it was made, CFI did all of our processing.
JN: Yes CFI!
JL: They in large part are responsible for an actual film print existing, as far as being able to go to festivals and have our academy awards submission screening and what not.
SH: Can you tell us about the academy screening?
JL: In order to qualify for the academy, you have to screen for three days in a row, two screenings a day in a commercial, paying, Los Angels theatre. So we did that with the assistance of the Landmark Theatre chain. So we qualified, and we got our application and film into the academy. So now we sit around and twiddle our thumbs until February 15th to hear if they liked it, and if we get a nomination.
SH: That would be great. You would be the first film with an internet premiere to be nominated for an academy award.
JN: Yes. Although, technically speaking, part of the rule that was stipulated with the academy, was we had to make sure it was shown in a theater in LA, before we went on the internet. So technically, by academy standards, that was our premiere. But we might be the first film that's ever been released on the internet to be nominated.
SH: Do you guys have any plans to show it in a theater sometime soon?
JL: We just came back from Toronto Film Festival, and this weekend we're going to be at the Mill Valley Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival.
SH: The Actors. How did you decide on choosing everybody?
JL: That was a pretty big USC contingency as well. The person who played young George actually went to film school at USC, and was there when Joe and I were there. For me, history has been a bit revised. I have since become a film major, when actually I was a music major. Joe was a film major.
JN: Actually, Joseph worked at the film school.
JL: And I produced a film in the film school. So, I was a cinema student. I just didn't graduate from cinema. But anyway, Martin Hynes, who is a working writer/director in the industry, graduated. I think he was a graduate student when we were undergrads. He played young Lucas, and he was just uncanny in his resemblance.
SH: It worked. Most definitely.
JL: A funny story is that Joe kind of had the initial revelation to get him because he remembered that he had a tape of Martin's short film that he made when he was at USC.
JN: Which he also starred in.
JL: Right. And he looked at it, and it looked at it, and we were taken right away. And ironically, eight days... it was eight days, right Joe?
JN: Yeah. Eight days before I called him, he had shaved the goatee that he had had for seven years. And we were like NOOOOO! Grow it back!
SH: Did he? Or did you guys have to resort to makeup?
JL: He grew it back.
JL: Lisa Jakub, who played Marion, she is just a friend of all of ours.
JN: She's been a very successful young actress. She's been acting since she was a little kid. She was the older sister in Mrs. Doubtfire.
JL: She was Randy Quaid's daughter in Independence Day.
JN: She was in the movie Matinee. And when she was a real little kid, she was in Rambling Rose. She was Diane Ladd's daughter.
JN: Everyone else entirely was cast by our casting director, Jeremy Jones, another USC student. He had worked in casting for a couple of years.
JL: He also played the guy in the tag that has the Duck Named Howard.
SH: How did you guys come up with the story?
JL: Tim, the person who plays Han Solo, he's credited for the story also.
JN: Tim and I came up with the story together, and then I actually wrote it with a different guy, Dan Shere. Joesph and I had spoken about doing a short, and then Danny and I had been talking about ideas and trying to come up with an idea for about two months, when Tim threw at us the notion of parodying Shakespeare in Love. But his idea was to parody Joe Esterhas. I think the thought behind it was 'who is more antithetical to Shakespeare?'. It was pretty funny. But I don't know. I didn't feel like pressing my life savings and all my time and energy parodying a guy that really doesn't do anything for me. He doesn't excite me. I came up with George Lucas in Love while I was on the phone with Tim. And we basically hammered out approximately 90% of what you see on the screen, in that first phone conversation.
SH: When you're watching the film, does anything strike you which a viewer wouldn't consider?
JN: I don't know if anyone cares about this, but I really liked it. When Darth Vader first burst into the door, the shot we go to is a reaction that George and his roommate both, immediately their heads whip to the door. And there was one take where the roommate dropped the bong off of his little side-table there, and it clattered to the ground. And in character, (which Jason kind of cut it in places totally groovy) he glances back at it and looks really worried. And then looks right back at the door. It was so great! It added just an extra little jolt to the moment, like he was really sort of shocked and taken aback by Vader's entrance. So that's the take we used. It's a good thing because this is a lesson to actors. If Jason had dropped the bong and turned to the camera and said "Aw s*** I need another one. Sorry. Cut. I dropped the bong." we wouldn't have had that take. But he just like jerked his head down, looked at it, looked a little frightened, and then looked back up. And it made actually the perfect, prefect entrance. Always stay in character, no matter what happens.
SH: Do you guys have any plans to eventually release the film on video or the music on CD?
JL: For the music, I wouldn't say we've discussed doing any kind of a commercial distribution of it.
JN: It's just seven minutes of music.
JL: We've been talking about video and DVD at a certain point.
SH: And how about the poster. What did you have to do to get it done?
JL: We've also been talking about marketing the poster. But it's not definite. We didn't come up with the poster in order to sell it. Ironically, we came up with the poster because the Toronto Film Festival wanted posters. I talked to Joe about it. I said "I've never seen a short film with a poster." So we thought maybe we can take a production still and put together something really nice.
JN: The first thing I thought of was, lets take a production still, go to Kinkos and make one big copy and print it. I'm thinking, Toronto wants to get a poster, so lets take $80 bucks and spend it on a poster. But then I thought "what would the ideal poster for this be?" And I started talking to Joseph about Drew Struzan. His paintings I'm sure you know. And we both got really excited about it. I contacted Drew Struzan. I sent him the film, and he loved it. We talked, and he was going to do it, but not on any kind of schedule. He said the rest of his summer was booked. Which of course it is. I mean, the guy is the king. So, I said "thank you so much." And that was that.
Meanwhile, the only person I know in the world who knows anyone connected with anyone who can draw, is this guy (who I barely know) who works on The Simpsons. So I figure, what the hell. I call him up. I say "Do you want to draw a certain kind of poster for me?" He said, "I can't actually draw that well, but I know someone who could do it. Paul Wee." And it turns out, luckily for us, he's also a big fan of George. And the poster he did just blew us away. We couldn't believe it.
JL: Not only were we blown away because it far exceeded our original idea for what the poster should be, but it far exceeded what we thought he was going to be able to turn out. I have to tell you, he kind of under-sold it in a way. Because of the limited amount of time we had, all we knew was we were going to get a monochromatic poster, I don't think there was any way we could have imagined that we were going to get this incredible piece of art back. And the ironic thing is, it took him half as long to do the actual artwork as it did for me to do the text layout on the poster. He did it in a weekend.
JN: On Saturday morning, not even that early, I brought him some videographs. And Monday morning I got a call that he had brought the artwork to completion.
It's really been the most incredible experience for me, and I'm sure for Joseph as well. We've been so lucky to work with such incredibly talented people. I mean, that poster was the final chapter in the whole process of someone doing such great work, so quickly. Debbie wrote that music in five days.
JL: And recorded it in about an hour and a half.
SH: How did the recording session go?
JN: Now that's the crazy part. We go into the studio. We have three hours to record the music, with an eighteen person orchestra. And the equipment malfunctions. For two hours, they can't fix it. I'm staring at the clock as it's ticking. So I had every musician sort of being paid under-the-table at that rate for 3 hours. And Joseph and I are out back worrying about how were going to pay them overtime. Where are we going to get the money? How many should we keep? Should we keep half the violins? What should we do?! And 9:00 rolls around, and the session is going to end. And I see all the musicians filing out. So I turn to Debbie and say, "They're taking their last break before they go back in for overtime?" She says, "No. They're done. They got it." I said "What?!"
I'll tell you this, the whole adage of cheap, quick or good... choose two of the three because you can't have all three... time after time with this production we managed to do it cheaply, quickly, and it turned out all right.
JL: We had our share of malfunctions along the way.
JN: Oh yeah. Another friend of ours just made a short film. And on the set, they took the pictures of the poster, and they had someone with a video camera, and someone taking really good still photographs. And I was thinking, I would have done all of that, if I had known. We had no idea. It's one of the things I'm really kick myself about. We don't even have any good photographs from the set. It's unbelievable. We have one roll of bad snapshots that my brother-in-law took.
JL: (Laughing) Our photographs are pathetic. What we did to get photos was we ended up taking really high-res grabs off a digi-beta, and did a lot of color correction. For the most part, they look like stills.
JN: Joseph did a great job with the stills. It's the perfect example to me of when we were making this is was like we were wetting our feet along way to getting this film done. I didn't think I would have a framed letter from George Lucas up on my wall.
SH: He wrote you a letter in response to the film?
JL: And we got one for sending him the poster as well.
JN: He really responded well to the film. He thought it was great. He thought it was funny. And I think he really thought of it as a homage to him, and not of any kind of a slight.
JL: Our intent was to make the poster for Toronto. And little did we know it was going to become such a coveted item.
JN: If someone had said to me on the set "what are you going to do for the poster." I would have said (laughing) "F*** you. Let's try to get this shot done." You have no idea that anyone's even going to like what you're doing.
SH: When did you first see the completed film? Or when did you guys finally say "This is it. This is what we're going with."
JL: It was somewhere around May 15 that we decided this is the 'locked' picture. So we made all of our editing choices by then. And then we were working on sound and music. But it was May 24 when we had our final tape that we were going to hand out to people, so they could just sit down and watch. We actually started giving out the film while it was in duplication, which it was in for a while because we were making hundreds of copies. There were a few people around town who we gave it to early.
JN: Joseph's connections were a big part of that. I gave it to like two people, and one of them was my girlfriend.
SH: You guys had a write-up in Variety, and all of a sudden, the news was out. To me, the buzz sort of started with that.
JN: That was a total Joseph-thing.
JL: I used to work at William Morris for an agent who represents Quentin Tarantino. He's the head of his department. And he was speaking to Michael Fleming one day and talking about it (GLIL). And about ten minutes later I got a call from Michael and he said "I'm running this in my Thursday dish column."
JN: He said "Do you want to be in Variety?", and you said "Yeah", and then the AP picked up Michael's column, then USA Today, NBC. And separately, my new-found manager at that point hooked us up with the Hollywood Reporter and CNN. So it was really hitting on two fronts.
JL: But before all of the press, it was simply just being circulated, copied and re-circulated in Hollywood.
JN: And that was Joseph's big time. At that time I remember saying, "I sent a copy to my Mom and I gave a copy to Abby." And then he's like, "well my list of 100 industry contacts has been now distributed to." It all worked out.
And here's two cool things. We were on version 3, this is picture editing time, and the difference between version 2 and version 3 was very slight and we didn't know 'were we done', or 'were we not done.' "I think this is really close." "I don't know." And then I go into work the next day, and the editor is not there. And someone walked in and said "Ryan's wife had the baby!" So we were like, "Well, I guess we're picture-lock."
SH: Maybe part of the creative process is sometimes you just have to stop, or else you just keep creating.
JN: Good point.
JL: Fate definitely was on our side.
JN: And the other little detail, which I always forget, is that Martin and Lisa had never met before the first rehearsal, and they've been dating ever since.
JN: Yup. They're an item. So I guess life is imitating art.