Jump to content
Jonathan Flanagan

Gil Taylor v George Lucas

Recommended Posts

I'm not really a fan of the whole world of Star Wars but was aware of the relationship (or more accurately, lack thereof) between Gil Taylor and George Lucas. In an interview in Conservations With Cinematographers, Taylor makes it clear he had virtually no contact with Lucas and was largely left to his own devices on how to photograph SW. How on earth did a situation like that arise, given that the relationship between director and DOP is probably the most important on set (other than perhaps, with the actors). I understand that Lucas wanted Geoffrey Unsworth (who was unavailable)primarily, I assume because of his 2001 duties but instead settled for (2nd choice?) Taylor as he had shot Dr Strangelove. Presumably the two men actually met  beforehand and discussed the project, so what went wrong in their relationship so quickly and whose fault was it?  Was it personal or professional or is Lucas just not an easy man to work with or for, as his behaviour seems rather petulant and childish given his responsibilities? I understand he wasn't great with actors either and Alec Guinness hadn't got a clue what was going on or what he was meant to be doing!

Admittedly I've only read Taylor's brief side of things and I understand Lucas wanted to fire Taylor but never did, (presumably because they feared the British crew would walk if they did). Either way there must have been a very awkward and strained atmosphere on set, hardly conducive to great film-making. 

Edited by Jonathan Flanagan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm sure there were regular production meetings to plan things out, and tests, and I'm sure there was a job interview.  Lucas might not have been the most talkative of directors or was just too busy to spend my time with the DP before shooting began. Who knows. Not every director and cinematographer gel together as a team. Taylor was later fired by John Milius on "Conan" -- but Taylor shot a number of movies for Polanski, who I'm sure was a tough director. It sounds a bit like Lucas was overburdened making "Star Wars" and wanted Kurtz to take care of things like crew relations for him.

Reading between the lines, in the 1970's British crews could be somewhat hard on young American directors -- Michael Crichton was grateful to Geoffrey Unsworth for going out of his way to make the crew respect him, by suggesting he screen "Coma" for the crew (they were shooting "The Great Train Robbery" and Crichton didn't feel that "Coma" was relevant, but after the screening, the crew started treating him better because they knew he could direct.)

I just finished reading J.W. Rinzler's book on the making of "Aliens" and Cameron did not get along with the U.K. crew, but then, the author suggests Cameron might have had a hard time with a big union crew if he were in Los Angeles -- Cameron just wasn't used to union restrictions yet, not after a small film like "The Terminator". When Cameron tried to fire A.D. Derek Cracknell, there was a crew mutiny and all worked stopped until Cracknell was rehired.

I don't really envy either Lucas or Cameron in either case, they were under a lot of pressure to make a big movie on a limited budget and schedule with a lot of unknowns to work out.  When the studio has a gun to the director's head everyday like that, I'm sure personal relations can sour quickly on set.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Rinzler book on SW gets into this Taylor thing pretty heavily, so it is worth getting for that (even though it completely omits mention of the 1976 Fall shutdown of ILM, instead only noting a brief downtime the year before, which calls into question just how definitive the account can possibly be.)

I think Lucas lost his first choice DP because of a schedule delay or conflict (incidentally, several key bts personnel, including Unsworth, John Barry, Leslie Dilley and Roger Christian, were all on Fox's LUCKY LADY before SW got started), and Taylor had just shot THE OMEN for the same studio, so Fox really wanted him and supported him enormously even after he ran afoul of Lucas and especially Kurtz, who in the end wound up shooting stuff without him (I think it is the opening stuff when Vader boards the Princess' ship.) There was a lot of hassle back&forth about the stocking filter behind the lens on Tatooine exteriors, which seems weird since GL originally wanted to use a ton of diffusion throughout, so I don't know why he would have objected to this rather subtle and limited use. (Never understood his wanted a documentary look mixed with heavy diffusion ... can you imagine how horrid the bluescreen work would have looked if the live-action had been shot with diffusion? And diffusion can get really nasty when you go multiple generations, too.)

The quote in CINEFANTASTIQUE about Gil Taylor's short tenure on CONAN from Millius read, 'he was terminated with extreme prejudice' and also noted 'his methods were ... unsound.' 

Just to be clear, I'm not a SW devotee (I only like the first two, and mainly only like the first one because I think the editing is just amazing), but I talked to a lot of guys about it for a Cinefex article back in the 90s so I got fairly immersed in it for awhile. I imagine you could probably go on a site like theforce.net and find all sorts of tidbits. 

David, does the ALIENS book get into why the original DP got canned? I have assumed it was JC's idea to put the fear of god into the crew by firing somebody major early on, and it would have tied in with being around the time James Remar, the original Hicks, departed too. That particular DP could get kinda prickly ... the one time I was supposed to interview him (I think it was the Tom Hardy Kray Bros movie), he stopped the interview five minutes in when he finally remembered the studio hadn't screened the film for me beforehand (I probably see only five percent of stuff in advance of covering it, so that is business-as-usual for me) and basically imploded the article on the spot.

I remember Cracknell having issues on a couple of other films in the 70s ... one might have had to do with the 'blacking up' of white stuntmen on LIVE & LET DIE in one instance, but I don't recall the other one, except that there was some kind of uprising where he backed a faction favoring the director being replaced in mid-shoot.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the considered replies, guys. I didn't know Taylor was fired from Conan, perhaps he was just too old school for the movie brats, although it was no.problem for Spielberg and Dougie Slocombe and his British crew on Raiders etc. 

Apparently James Cameron organised a screening of The Terminator at Pinewood for his crew, to demonstrate his abilities but none of them turned up! I understand Dick Pope was fired  because he was overlighting the sets when Cameron wanted a much darker moody look,  similar to Alien.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Rinzler book mentions some stylistic discussions with Dick Bush but the main reason he was replaced was that they were falling behind schedule and he said to Gale Ann Hurd that her schedule was not achievable... at which point a Fox executive told Hurd that she had to fire any DP who said something like that because Fox was committed to that schedule and budget.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it's probably a bit incautious to get into why certain situations and certain people end up not seeing eye to eye. There are so many complexities, from simple creative differences, scheduling and union issues, pay and conditions, the intervention of other people, and the flow of information is so interrupted from the closed environment of a film set, and any report that does come out so riven with politics, that any objective analysis is almost impossible. Many claims made about this sort of situation quickly end up being wildly, laughably inaccurate (believe me, I know.)

Within all that, I would point out that the late, great Dick Bush had been an officer in the Royal Military Police and was therefore almost certainly a rather specific type of personality. Cameron is also a rather specific type of personality. It's no great shock.

P

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Dick Bush, not Dick Pope.

Geez, I'm sorry, you're right, I mixed them up. I've mixed up Dick Pope with Bill Pope before too, even though I've interviewed the latter a couple of times successfully.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, KH Martin said:

I've mixed up Dick Pope with Bill Pope before too, even though I've interviewed the latter a couple of times successfully.

You should interview both and put it in a book titled "The Two Popes", I don't think that title has been used yet...

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Conan" was shot here in Spain with a Spanish crew. So the story they keep telling me over the years is that Gilbert Taylor started the movie and was taking exposure risks. When the dailies for a particular scene arrived, they found out the stuff was underexposed and was unusable. Taylor apparently blamed the Spanish lab, and asked the production to send the negatives for processing and dailies to London, at least from that point. But the rushes still came underexposed, near black, they hardly had an image. Problem was apparently that they were using Todd-AO 35 high speed anamorphic lenses and they their T/stop markings weren't accurate, causing exposure mistakes. The production fired the 1AC who hadn't test them properly, and that was Taylor's son. So the father simply walked away with him and the production brought DP Duke Callaghan, who was mostly doing TV at the time, but had shot ten years before "Jeremiah Johnson", a film that had been scripted by John Milius. Ironically, both Taylors went to work again for De Laurentiis in the USA on "The Bedroom Window" (1987).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember Freddie Francis complaining about the amount of light he needed to use on "Dune" because of the speed of the Todd-AO anamorphics that DeLaurentis owned.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

I remember Freddie Francis complaining about the amount of light he needed to use on "Dune" because of the speed of the Todd-AO anamorphics that DeLaurentis owned.

Looked pretty good, though...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I recall that complaint from Freddie Francis. Most of DUNE was shot in fact using rear adapted anamorphic zooms, not prime lenses. DUNE also was De Laurentiis’ last Todd AO anamorphic feature, he switched right after that to JDC Scope Anamorphics. In fact Todd AOs dissapeared from the map till the current anamorphic trend resurrected them.

Gil Taylor had already shot FLASH GORDON (1980) for De Laurentiis on Todd AO 35 high speeds a couple of years before he started CONAN. He was hardly new to them.

He had shot in fact the first Todd AO 35 feature, McBETH (1971), though the lenses on that film were the first generation of Todd AO anamorphic lenses designed by Richard Vetter, not high speeds, based on Cooke Speed Panchros (second generation were fast Canons).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Did you see the documentary about the making of “Mad Max” — they said they bought a set of Todd-AO anamorphics from Sam Peckinpah and they were so beat-up that they used mostly the super-wide 35mm for the movie because it was in the best shape!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Ignacio Aguilar said:

I recall that complaint from Freddie Francis. Most of DUNE was shot in fact using rear adapted anamorphic zooms, not prime lenses. DUNE also was De Laurentiis’ last Todd AO anamorphic feature, he switched right after that to JDC Scope Anamorphics. In fact Todd AOs dissapeared from the map till the current anamorphic trend resurrected them.

Gil Taylor had already shot FLASH GORDON (1980) for De Laurentiis on Todd AO 35 high speeds a couple of years before he started CONAN. He was hardly new to them.

He had shot in fact the first Todd AO 35 feature, McBETH (1971), though the lenses on that film were the first generation of Todd AO anamorphic lenses designed by Richard Vetter, not high speeds, based on Cooke Speed Panchros (second generation were fast Canons).

DUNE using anamorphics caused problems in other areas too. I think the old CINEFANTASTIQUE double issue on that film is online someplace, and it might be there I recall reading that at least some of the VFX stuff was shot in anamorphic, which creates huge problems with things like starfields, because you need to shoot oval stars instead of round ones. Plus panning the camera on them becomes a nightmare because they'll change shape, so you wind up with static starfields.

I think DUNE is a pretty sharp looking movie, and certainly the one that seems to suffer least from the use of LightFlex. It's like Francis had a light painterly touch in scenes like Paul and Jessica with the Rev. Mother up front, which still looks wonderful to me. The process work and some of the other vfx are godawful, but the foreground miniatures are well-nigh perfect. And the cast, except for the lead (who I've described as a black hole that sucks from everything around it), is pretty wonderful. (full disclosure, I love Kyle M in THE HIDDEN and TWIN PEAKS, but he exudes zero charisma in DUNE, one of the aspects that has made me think a lesser actor who had some starpower would have worked better. I know Rob Lowe turned it down after Matt Dillon (!?), so clearly Dino exhausted his options before Lynch got to cast his choice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If John Dykstra had stayed on as VFX supervisor, then more of the visual effects plates would have been shot in VistaVision (spherical), solving that problem with shooting starfields.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looking back on the book and the two filmed versions, I think there is sort of an inherent structural problem in that the book brings up a number of interesting, complex characters like Duke Leto, Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho, Dr. Kynes, etc. (all generally well-cast) -- with the hint that they all have interesting back stories to be revealed... and then most of them disappear once the Harkonnens take over Arakis. Once Paul is out in the desert, to me, it all gets a bit less interesting... but that may partly be due to the stage-bound quality of a lot of the desert scenes in the movie and SciFi Channel series, which should have been more like a "Lawrence of Arabia" sort of experience. Maybe the new version will solve that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They lost a ton with Dykstra's departure. The idea that they would shoot the worms in direct sunlight -- as evidenced by the first worm appearance, which I guess is one of the few Apogee shots that is in the film -- is a great one. I'm sure Dino was probably always at odds with Dykstra's tech-minded approach to things, which kind of begs the question why he hired Apogee in the first place. Don't recall Lynch ever discussing the VFX much, or his involvement with JD.

 

I think your analysis of the structure issues is dead-on. Personally, I've always found the Harkonnens to be OTT evil in the novel, which worked against credibility evinced throughout most of the rest of the book. The OTT aspect is something Lynch plays to  very successfully for me. When I finally read the novel and the three sequels that were out right before the theatrical debuted, my takeaway was that you could have shrunk Duncan and Gurney into a single character very easily, and that a good screenwriter could have done a better job with Yueh's motivations and actions than Herbert ever managed (have never read the Rudy Wurlitzer draft of DUNE that was done when Ridley Scott was going to make it, wonder if he addressed that, or if he was too busy creating horrid taboo scenarios like Paul fornicating with his mom to produce Alia!)

 

Back in the 90s, a friend of mine thought the way to tackle DUNE was to start with the Harkonnen attack and get to the Fremen by the end of act1, but his take was to just drop all that went before, which to me seemed like too much to lose. Maybe the right way is to start with the Harkonnen attack, but then drop in the important earlier stuff (Paul's hand in box, ferinstance) in flashback as P & J make their way through the desert and through conversations with Fremen. I think that THE STAND is taking an approach along these lines, so it'll be interesting to see how that is accepted. Obviously the new DUNE isn't going that route since it is just doing the first half of the novel (presuming concluding with P&J meeting the Fremen?), but maybe the next version will try that in 2040 or whenever.

 

I think I'm one of the few people who liked the book and the Lynch but hated the miniseries (actually gave up on it with only a half-hour to go), largely because I felt the license they took was much more outrageous than Lynch's version, with respect to Shaddam's daughter among other things. I picked up both miniseries on DVD this year at thrift stores as business expenses for the now-suspended articles I was doing on the new DUNE's cinematography, editing and VFX, but haven't actually tried watching them yet, though I managed to rewatch both the theatrical and Judas Booth versions of the Lynch during the summer. (I don't think a year has gone by in the last 20 that I haven't watched it at least once.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/27/2020 at 7:39 PM, Jonathan Flanagan said:

Lucas wanted Geoffrey Unsworth (who was unavailable)primarily, I assume because of his 2001 duties 

No.

The films are a decade apart.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
41 minutes ago, Mark Dunn said:

No.

The films are a decade apart.

 

Er, yes, I am aware of that. I was referring to his work on 2001, not the reason for his unavailability, hence the brackets.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Did you see the documentary about the making of “Mad Max” — they said they bought a set of Todd-AO anamorphics from Sam Peckinpah and they were so beat-up that they used mostly the super-wide 35mm for the movie because it was in the best shape!

Wow! I have never seen that doc, I'm not a fan of the first "Mad Max", though I love the sequel.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to think Unsworth took "A Matter of Time" instead of "Star Wars" but you're right, "A Bridge Too Far" was shot almost exactly in the same dates as "Star Wars".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think GL,s  actual first choice of DP for SW as Haskell Wexler ..(American Graffiti).. who read the script and sent it back to Lucas with " this will never work" written on it .. his son Mark Wexler told me this ..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



  • CineLab



    Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS



    Paralinx LLC



    Metropolis Post



    Broadcast Solutions Inc



    Tai Audio



    FJS International



    Abel Cine



    Gamma Ray Digital Inc



    Wooden Camera



    G-Force Grips



    The Original Slider



    Serious Gear



    Rig Wheels Passport



    Ritter Battery



    New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment



    Glidecam



    Just Cinema Gear



    Visual Products


    Cinematography Books and Gear
×
×
  • Create New...