Friday, July 23, 2010

FILMMAKING: What George Lucas Did to Me - Part 2

While I was a teenager I of course built models of X-wings and Tie Fighters. I wanted to work in a prop department but other than interest and ambition I knew I didn't really have anything to offer. I got married in 1985 and we had one child right away. My life was now committed to a family life and all the responsibilities that entails. My dream of making movies was put on the back burner while I worried about getting a paycheck. It was shortly after the crash of the economy in 1982 and keeping a job was not easy. I was laid off from 4 jobs in the 1980's alone.

I still researched movie making though and I even worked on several stories. I didn't know anything about script form but I organized my writing in a way that made sense to me. I wrote a couple car movies and one about a demon that wants to go good. None of these got finished, but I still have the writings.

In the early 1990's I started working at Ford. While I was working on the assembly line I got a notion for a story and after defining a few key elements I watched this whole story unfold in my mind over the next 8 hours of my shift. I wrote down the key scenes and then wrote in the filler. This rough draft is finished except for one scene. Again, not in proper script form but I could rewrite it that way now. My story telling was more refined and creative.

Also while at Ford I passed the apprenticeship test and started training as a Toolmaker in the machine trades. This provided me with something I could offer a prop shop; machining skills. The very first thing I made after learning how to make a cut on a lathe was Luke Skywalker's lightsabre from "The Empire Strikes Back." I machined it out of aluminum and copper just like the original. I hadn't even learned how to use the lathe to it's capacity yet, but I knew how to make a cut, and the freedom to make a Star Wars prop as a "learning tool" was all I needed!

About 1998 I spent 9 months at a replica prop forum working with some other guys trying to figure out exactly what Han Solo's blaster looked like in the close-up of him withdrawing his blaster in the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars. I did a screen capture of my VHS movie on my computer that I had installed a WinTV card in to do so. It became famous at the forum and was known as the "Lucasberg Capture," my user name. I even machined a prototype of what I thought the scope mount, the part at issue, looked like. My prototype proved to be wrong, but now I knew.

Ultimately I machined my own scope mount, grill, and muzzle that I used on a die cast replica of a C96 Broomhandle Mauser, along with a real scope. I even soaked the muzzle in a chemical for turning aluminum black, when it says not to do so, in order to make it look like it was burned from hot laser bolts. It smoked and smoldered in the chemical. I think it looks great.

The scope is not 100% accurate, so if anyone has a Compac Superscope I would be very interested! I have also, since this picture was taken, fitted real wooden Mauser grips on the gun.

What next? Darth Vader's lightsabre in the first film was made from an M.P.P (Micro Precision Products) 1930's flashgun. Think of the old press cameras in the black and white movies, with the tall shiny post on the side that had a huge reflector on top for the flashbulb. That post on the side held the batteries for the flash as well as housed the electrical connections. Remove that reflector and you have a lightsabre! Of course the prop department added a few bits to give it more character.

A real M.P.P flashgun was almost impossible to come by, and certainly more than most could afford, only because other Star Wars geeks were looking to get their hands on one. They were made in England but they were a copy of the Heiland flashgun made in the US. I got a 2 cell (2 battery, as opposed to the correct size, longer 3 cell) Heiland flashgun, cut the bottom half off, and added a chrome sink tube to make it longer. The tube was held in place by the clamp in the middle that would clamp the flashgun to the camera. I did not put the Heiland screw-on cap on it because it was inaccurate. Instead, I machined an M.P.P. cap out of aluminum. It's not actually a cap but rather a plug that pressed into the sink tube. I machined it though so that as you look at it you cannot tell it is not screwed on.

The ultimate prop, to me, would be a Stormtrooper blaster. Well, in the movie they were made from a British Sterling MK4 L2A3 submachine gun. It is not legal for me to own a machine gun so I bought a "demilitarized" one.......that means cut to pieces. When the pieces arrived I thought "How the heck am I ever going to get this thing back together?!

Well, what I did was machine a sleeve to reassemble the pieces onto. I TIG welded everything and performed 8 detriments to the gun so it could never be used again, and I won't go to jail. The scope is a real World War II tank scope, just like the ones used in the movie. The aluminum fins are kind of a hybrid of the variations between the first 3 original movies. It is what I remember it to be though, even if it is not screen accurate.

Ultimately, this gun was used by a prop shop in California from which a mold was cast and hard rubber replicas were made. I got one of the first pulls of my gun from the mold as well as a hard rubber replica of an MG-34, which was also used by the Stormtroopers.

I've also made a Luke Skywalker lightsabre from the original Star Wars movie from the same kind of flashgun used in the movie; a Graflex 3 cell flashgun.
Enough about propmaking.
In 2004 my car arrived from Australia. I am building a replica of the Mad Max Interceptor with it. I got a great idea for a back story to the car from the movie. This inspired me to learn proper script form. I got several books on writing screenplays, downloaded a free writing program, and went at it. It took a year and a half before I pronounced it finished. I registered it with the Writer's Guild of America and I also have a copyright on it. I've also got a second script in rewrite.
In 2006, with my kids being grown now, I decided to get a camera and start shooting "something" to learn how to use the camera and how to use the editing program. With computers making editing so possible I saw that there was no reason I could not pursue my dream of making movies! My work being posted on Youtube even caused the owner of a really elaborate project to recruit me to be his Director of Photography.
I started with an old, used, professional level Super VHS camera. Now I have an HD digital camera. I am also acquiring an editing program that is a step up from typical, home use, beginner programs. I shot some things for fun, then made a few videos for contests, and now I am in the process of shooting my short film, Musclin'.
So, this is what George Lucas did to me, all because I went to see his movie back in 1977. If I did not see Star Wars I don't know that I would have done all that I've written about. How was I to know?
- Steve Olander
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