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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace is released on VHS globally on April 5, even as Ep 2 is in pre-production; and so is the DVD, as producer Rick McCallum tells ANDREW L. URBAN.

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 desk.

"Around the world, simultaneously"

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, simultaneously.

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 effort"

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 grin.

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 satellite.)

"soundtracks are 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."

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Rick McCallum is too modest, when he claims he was an unsuccessful producer when he teamed up with Lucas. In fact, he began his career as a producer working with one of Britain's most esteemed screenwriters, the late Dennis Potter, on the screen adaptation of Pennies From Heaven, starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. He also worked on two films with Nicolas Roeg; Track 29 and Castaway, and has won a number of awards for his work in television.

Since 1990, McCallum has worked only with George Lucas. The two have collaborated on the feature film Radioland Murders, and the critically acclaimed TV series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. And the two Star Wars Trilogies.

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