Two of the most high-profile independent moviemakers of the last half-century, George Lucas and Robert Redford, came together at the “Power of Story: Visions of Indendence” panel at the Sundance Film Festival with critic Leonard Maltin on Thursday afternoon to discuss their experiences in the industry.
In a wide-ranging conversation that went from both men’s origins as movie fans — something that Lucas said didn’t happen until he was in college studying photography, joking “before that, I was just a dumb kid that loved cars” — to the origins of Lucas’ creative empire, the three men focused on the restrictions of the studio system and the benefits of working independently.
“What I admire about what [Lucas has] done is, he’s been able to control his whole universe,” Redford said of his fellow guest. “Not only is he going to make the film, he’s going to come up with a way to handle the whole thing so he’s not dependent on anybody.”
Lucas, for his part, was more down-to-earth about what he’s been able to create in ILM, Skywalker Sound and Lucasfilm as a whole. “In the process of [making] Star Wars, there were no visual-effects houses, so I had to make one,” he explained. “Everything I’ve ever done has been to make the process easier and to open up the imagination. Every job in ILM has been created for a particular shot or a particular movie.”
He also talked about the importance of independent filmmakers to own their work, not just the technologies or processes involved in creating it. “Anybody who says they make money in post-production is lying. Anybody who says they make money in visual effects is lying,” he said. “If you own the movie, you make a lot of money.”
Redford also talked about the way in which working outside the studio system could open up new avenues of creative expression, in addition to technical processes. “If you’re going to work independently, you get to work outside the studio system which is very restrictive in its thinking, but it means you have to be very creative,” he said. “One of the virtues of independent film is that it forces you to be resourceful.”
Both men expressed that they believe that independent filmmaking is more exciting than the current mainstream industry, which Lucas likened to a “circus” that is more concerned with spectacle than story. For Redford, one of the most exciting things about independent cinema is the possibilities it affords for different voices to be heard.
“The future of the industry is in the hands of women and young people,” he said at one point. Explaining that he believes that today’s youth has swapped detachment for activism, he said that “young people want to be given the reins… and I think women, because of their nurturing sensibilities, you put that together and that’s the way to go.”
Other topics touched upon during the panel included the studio’s desire to change the name of American Graffiti, the importance of licensing agreements and Redford’s lessons about singing in jail in Oklahoma. Watch the entire panel below: