Reticent George Lucas Has Single-Minded Work Ethic

(p. C12) Although sometimes mocked by his contemporaries for his laborious approach to screenwriting (the script for “Star Wars” would evolve painfully over two years, as Mr. Jones describes in detail), Mr. Lucas developed for “Star Wars” a prodigious range of characters and settings. He had always loved make-believe, he recalled, “but it was the kind of make-believe that used all the technological toys I could come by, like model airplanes and cars.” Mr. Lucas earned respect as a shrewd and unsentimental negotiator. “I don’t borrow money,” he would say flatly, and his work ethic was second to none. From the outset, he foresaw the potential of merchandising, and by the late 1970s virtually every child in America and around the world would cherish his or her “Star Wars” figurines. In 1975, he established Industrial Light & Magic, a company that has produced the special effects not just for Mr. Lucas’s films but also for many Oscar-winning titles of the next 20 years, including “Jurassic Park.” He believed in the potential of computer games and perhaps regretted having sold his brainchild Pixar to Steve Jobs in 1986, far too early. He embraced the digital era, even predicting the advent of pay-per-view and online streaming.
Mr. Jones returns time and again to Mr. Lucas’s single-minded personality, in which work almost always took precedence. Fiercely independent, he was quite simply “the boss,” refusing to compromise with studio demands. Mr. Jones notes that Mr. Lucas has had “an inherent ability to hire the right people, and a preternatural knack for asking the right questions.” Diagnosed early on as a diabetic, Mr. Lucas has eschewed drugs and liquor. Reticent but not quite a recluse, devoted to his children, he hovers tantalizingly beyond the reach of the gossip columnists.

For the full review, see:
PETER COWIE. “A Death Star Is Born.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C12.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title “George Lucas: The Edison of the Movie Industry.”)

The book under review, is:
Jones, Brian Jay. George Lucas: A Life. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.

Department of Motor Vehicles Staffed by Sloths

The video clip above is an authorized “embed” from YouTube.

(p. D3) . . . “since the trailers have been playing everywhere, I can tell you a bit about one of the best things in “Zootopia”–an extended sequence set in a Department of Motor Vehicles office where all the clerks are sloths. That’s a funny notion, to be sure, and the main sloth, a clerk named Flash (Raymond S. Persi) has a deliciously distinctive demeanor. But the sequence’s great distinction is how confidently it is developed. In an era of quick cuts and speedy action, Flash is remarkably…outlandishly….hilariously….and memorably s-l-o-w. Kids will be imitating him for a month of Saturdays.

For the full review, see:
Morgenstern, Joe. “‘Zootopia’: Beauty and the Beasts.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 4, 2016): D3.
(Note: the ellipsis at the start is added; the internal ellipses are in the original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 3, 2016, and has the title “‘Zootopia’ Review: Beauty and the Beasts.”)

Did Feds Try to Sully Sully’s Reputation?

(p. B3) Even before this weekend’s release of the Hollywood movie “Sully,” about the pilot who safely landed a disabled US Airways airliner on the Hudson River on a frigid January day in 2009, a rebuttal campaign is already underway by some of the participants in the real-life story.
The federal investigators who conducted the inquiry into the flight contend that “Sully” tarnishes their reputation.
. . .
Allyn Stewart, a producer of the film, said it was not a case of taking creative license to ratchet up the drama. “The story is told through the experiences of Jeff and Sully, and so they felt under extreme scrutiny and they were,” Ms. Stewart said.
Jeff is the co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, played in the film by Aaron Eckhart.
Captain Sullenberger, who retired from US Airways in 2010, said in an email that the tension in the film accurately reflected his state of mind at the time. “For those who are the focus of the investigation, the intensity of it is immense,” he said, adding that the process was “inherently adversarial, with professional reputations absolutely in the balance.”

For the full story, see:
CHRISTINE NEGRONI. “Safety Agency Challenges True’ Story told in the Film ‘Sully’.” The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 10, 2016): B3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 9, 2016, and has the title “‘Sully’ Is Latest Historical Film to Prompt Off-Screen Drama.”)

Sully’s book, on which the movie is loosely based, is:
Sullenberger, Chesley B., III, and Jeffrey Zaslow. Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

Good Niche Movies Can Be More Profitable than Blockbusters

(p. 5D) “Counterprogramming is the framework to get the most
bang for the buck for movies that aren’t necessarily going to be blockbusters. ”
Counterprogramming has become a crazy expensive game of chicken, Dergarabedian says.
Scheduling a rom-com next to a superhero franchise or a horror movie on Valentine’s Day is a classic ploy, he says, but there’s no formula that’s guaranteed. “You still have to be able to deliver the movie,” Dergarabedian says. “People are looking for different and good. You can’t just rely on being the other option.”
. . .
“A lot of these are David and Goliath matchups,” Dergarabedian says. “But it’s about who wins the profitability derby. That can ultimately be more important than where you rank on the chart.”
To determine success, look at how well the audience is served rather than money, says Erik Davis, managing editor for Movies.com and Fandango.com. The greater the disparity in the genres, the better the position to succeed, he says.
Though Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 performed modestly against BvS, Davis considers that scheduling a a win. “They (both) have potential to mine their specific audience,” he says.

For the full story, see:
Heady, Chris. “Studios Think Outside the Box (Office).” USA Today (Thurs., July 7, 2016): 5D.

Standard Oil Money Funded Homage to Oz

(p. A1) Vandals are slowly destroying the Land of Oz, a small private theme park nestled atop Beech Mountain, N.C., built on land bought years ago with money from a Standard Oil fortune. Thieves and urban explorers have carted off polka-dot mushrooms, a pair of cement lions and, most hurtfully, pieces of the golden-hued path that runs through the park.
“It’s magical,” says Vicky Conley of Morganton, N.C., who took her son to Oz last year when he was six. “People should leave it alone.”
. . .
(p. A8) In 1966, Mr. Leidy’s grandfather Page Hufty–an insurance pioneer and real-estate developer in Palm Beach, Fla.–bought land on Beech Mountain. His wife, Frances Archbold Hufty, was the granddaughter of John D. Archbold, a titan of the Gilded Age and John D. Rockefeller’s right-hand man at Standard Oil, which was dissolved by the government in 1911.
Mr. Hufty leased some of the land to other developers, who wanted a summer theme park to complement their ski resort.
The Land of Oz opened in 1970, amid much fanfare about the 70th anniversary of L. Frank Baum’s classic book. Debbie Reynolds stopped by. So did Ray Bolger, who played the Scarecrow in the 1939 movie. At least 300,000 people visited the first year, says Neva Specht, a historian and a dean at the College of Arts and Sciences at Appalachian State University.
By the second year, she says, it was one of the biggest attractions in the Southeast, and it graced the cover of “Southern Living” magazine.
. . .
But the park quickly became more of a white elephant than a Merry Old Land. Attendance dropped, as families were lured away by splashier attractions like Disney World, which opened the following year in Orlando, Fla. The developers went bankrupt, and Mr. Leidy’s grandparents eventually gained ownership.
. . .
Mr. Leidy installed fences topped with barbed wire, but thieves cut through. Security cameras didn’t seem to deter anyone either. Mr. Leidy is now hiring guards.
. . .
Mr. Leidy says he doesn’t know what lies in store over the rainbow, but thinks his grandparents would be proud.
“Until we figure out a long-term plan here,” he says, “it’s important to me to protect it.”

For the full story, see:
CHRISTINA REXRODE. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Even a Wizard Can’t Save Oz.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 18, 2015): A1 & A8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 17, 2016, and has the title “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? Even a Wizard Can’t Save Oz From Vandals.”)

Working for Uber Allows Flexibility for Aspiring Actors

(p. 8) Not long ago, being a waiter at the Ivy or a salesman at Fred Segal was considered the reliable way to earn a living until one got a big break in a Wes Anderson film and got picked up by a major Hollywood agency like CAA or WME.
But Krystal Harris, 27, an actress who appeared in the recent Kevin Hart film “About Last Night,” quickly realized those sorts of jobs were overrated. So now she works primarily for Lyft.
“I was a lead hostess at three different restaurants,” Ms. Harris said. “It really didn’t allow for much flexibility at all. I ended up getting fired for going to an audition. Even when I got my shifts covered, they gave me a hard time.”
In 2013, she turned her Ford Escape into a roving cash register. She had total control over her hours, never needing to clear her schedule with anyone for a last-minute audition. There weren’t even rules against working for both Uber and Lyft.
When acting gigs were hard to come by, she drove as many as 40 hours a week, earning what she estimated was about $20 an hour after Uber and Lyft took their commissions (generally around 20 percent). If the casting gods shined on her, she simply shut off the apps.
“When I’m really on a roll, I don’t have to work,” she said. “As long as my insurance and registration are up to date, I can go back.”
Mr. Totten had a similar experience. Before driving for Uber, he worked at a half-dozen restaurants. All those jobs ended when he had to take off for auditions, or was caught trying to learn lines on the job. Once, he refused to shave because a casting director was looking for someone with stubble.
“My look is my scruff,” said Mr. Totten, who is blond and blue-eyed, with a James Dean meets 90210 appeal. “As soon as I started driving for Uber, things got better.”
. . .
(p. 9) Recently, Mr. Totten considered getting a new side job. “I’m probably going to do Postmates,” he said, referring to the app-based service that delivers artisanal food in under 60 minutes and guarantees its drivers a minimum of $25 an hour. “You can’t live on this anymore.”

For the full story, see:
JACOB BERNSTEIN. “Drivers With Head Shots.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., JAN. 24, 2016): 1 & 8-9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 23, 2016, and has the title “The New Side Job for Actors and Artists in Los Angeles: Driving.”)

Ten Quit, or Were Fired, “to Honor the Other 290”

(p. 1) A hellbent quest for authenticity produced some indelible on-set moments for Alejandro G. Iñárritu as he directed “The Revenant,” his two-and-a-half-hour opus of death, love and improvised surgery in the American West of the 1820s.
. . .
(p. 20) There were enough grumblings from the crew about delays, safety and overall misery that The Hollywood Reporter published an article in July in which one source described the experience as “a living hell.” Ten people either quit or were fired during filming, Mr. Iñárritu said, and he will not apologize for that.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said. “Of the 300 we started with, I had to ask some to step away, to honor the other 290. If one piece in the group is not perfect, it can screw the whole thing up.”
. . .
“Standing in a freezing river and eating a fish, or climbing a mountain with a wet bear fur on my back — those were some of the most difficult sequences for me,” said Mr. DiCaprio, who is considered a strong contender for an Oscar nomination for his performance. “This entire movie was something on an entirely different level. But I don’t want this to sound like a complaint. We all knew what we were signing up for. It was going to be in the elements, and it was going to be a rough ride.”
. . .
In person, . . . , Mr. Iñárritu has the chilled-out affect of a man who meditates every day and loves long walks. The only hint of intensity, and just a tinge of anger, comes when he discusses other movies. Too many of them today are like the products of fast-food chains, he said, ordered up by corporations that prize predictability and sameness over all else.
“What about going to a restaurant to be surprised?” he all but shouted. “That’s the risk that everybody avoids! In the context of cinema now, this movie is a bet.”
Raised in Mexico City, Mr. Iñárritu, 52, is the son of a banker who would eventually file for bankruptcy and end up selling fruit and vegetables to hotels and restaurants. The younger Iñárritu started off as a radio host, playing music and writing provocative, comical sketches with a political bent. He studied theater and learned to direct by shooting brand-identity commercials for a television station. By the time he landed his first feature, “Amores Perros,” released in 2000, he had spent hundreds of hours behind a camera. Then came “21 Grams” (2003), “Babel” (2006) and “Biutiful” (2010).

For the full story, see:
DAVID SEGAL. “That Bear and Other Threats.” The New York Times, Arts&Leisure Section (Sun., DEC. 27, 2015): 1 & 20.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2015, and has the title “About That Bear: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Discusses Making ‘The Revenant’.”)