It's raining cats and dogs as I schlapp across the Sydney's
Fox Studio's professional complex of converted ex-Showground
Pavilions, portable office boxes and purpose built sound stages;
the single story round building (an ex Pavilion) with glass walls
looks drab in the rare grey light of a Sydney summer squall. On
the glass door there is a makeshift paper sign that simply says
JAK Productions. Pushing inside to the unpretentious entrance
area which boasts a two seater and a coffee table, I announce
myself. I'm here to interview Rick McCallum - I can see him
across the open office floor behind a glass wall, sitting at his
"Around the world,
The relaxed atmosphere and the casual environment are at odds
with the function of the place as the nerve centre of not one but
two of the most anticipated and historic movies of all time: Star
Wars Eps 2 and 3. McCallum is the producer. George Lucas is the
writer and director, and he's still at the Lucas ranch in
California. (JAK are the initials of his three adopted children,
Jett, Amanda, Katie.) McCallum is heading up the advance party,
already in pre-production (which starts in June, just 10 weeks
after my visit). But it's still too early to say much about Ep 2,
except that it's being shot entirely digitally. McCallum is
carving out some time to talk about the imminent release of Star
Wars Ep 1: The Phantom Menace, on video. Around the world,
My rainsoaked shirt sticks to my chest as we settle into what
looks like a board room and start talking. McCallum is a big man,
his hands like a big butcher's hands, his face clean shaven, his
dark brown hair in a soft crewcut and his gaze direct. He is
wearing a dark polo shirt open at the neck and the manner of a
genial host. "There's nothing different on the video,"
he says in answer to my first question, "that'll come - with
the DVD," he and I say simultaneously and laugh.
"real time and
Why the DVD is not out has been a matter of conjecture. Some
say it's a commercial decision to milk the film for its VHS
potential before releasing the DVD. McCallum says it's simply
lack of time. "We just didn't have the time. . .we didn't
want to just slap the video transfer onto the DVD. We want to put
some real time and effort into it. But that day will come soon -
and some things are worth waiting for," he adds with a wry
If you are waiting for the DVD, you shouldn't be disappointed
- at least with the volume of extras: Lucas and his team shot
close to 600 hours of footage, starting from the dawn of the
concept and the designs stages. "George wants to show the
compromises that have to be made, the struggle to be able to create
his vision . . . "
But the issue at hand is the VHS release. "Both George
and I were desperate to make sure we had the highest quality
transfer…so if you have the right tv and the right sound
system, you'll see the best that you can on any video right
now," says McCallum with confidence. "The quality of
presentation is a big thing for us."
Well, that's at least proven. Lucas is renowned for his
obsession with high quality image and sound presentation.
McCallum says that in many cases, it's easier to see the films we
make the way we make them at home, than it is a cinema. And it's
only greed that makes it so…the technology exists to show
films at their peak. There's nothing more depressing than having
spent millions on your sound mix, you go down to your local
multiplex and two of the surround speakers don't even work, the
centre channel is turned in the opposite direction, the sound is
echo-ey, the volume is too low, the picture is too dark . .
That's why McCallum, with admitted self-interest, suggests a
THX certified sound system at home to watch Ep 1. But he is
optimistic about change in the cinemas, and cites his latest
experience at the Hoyts La Premiere in the Fox Studio complex,
where he caught a screening of The Beach. "Australia is
leading the way in showing films in the best environment, both
technically and in the greatest comfort."
(By 2005, McCallum predicts, movie theatres will be showing
high quality digital images - with digital sound - received via
complex pieces of art"
For Lucas, sound has always been crucial: "For George,
it's 50% of the experience," says McCallum. "He's
always been obsessed by the soundtrack - his soundtracks are
complex pieces of art." Not surprising, really, since Lucas
started out as a sound recordist and went on to become a
documentary filmmaker. He tackled the camera "and finally
found his true passion, editing," says McCallum.
"Francis Coppola taught him to write - but now he knows
every facet of filmmaking."
And what's it like working with Lucas? Well, says McCallum,
with one of those conspiratorial smiles, "I control
him…." he grins. "Nah…look, as a producer I
have the luckiest job in the world. George is great. Us teaming
up was the meeting of the most successful director in the world
at the time and the most unsuccessful producer. That was me. I'd
made more unsuccessful and unseen films than probably anybody.
But I think it was like finding a puppy . . . George always says
if you want to make a pure film, take a puppy and put it on the
highway, and you'll have all the drama and emotion… George
felt like that with me and he put me on the highway."