Rick McCallum Talks Tone and Logistics of Live-Action STAR WARS TV Series; Describes it as “EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on Steroids”

     January 11, 2012

Everybody knows the name George Lucas. Whether you love or hate the guy, his name is instantly recognizable and sends off the first few notes of John WilliamsStar Wars score in your head. Another name you may or may not know is Rick McCallum. McCallum’s relationship with Lucas began on the early 1990s TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, after which Lucas tapped McCallum to produce the three Star Wars prequels. Steve recently talked with McCallum to discuss the World War II action-adventure pic Red Tails (which Lucas and McCallum produced), and while we’ll have the full interview up closer to the film’s release, we wanted to share a few tidbits with you today.

McCallum talked at length about the long-in-the-works live-action Star Wars TV series, discussing the show’s tone, the logistics of doing an effects-heavy series on television, how soon the show might come to fruition, and a lot more. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.

rick-mccallum-george-lucasThe budget issues on the live-action TV series (working title Star Wars: Underworld) are well-documented. The difficulty of getting great-looking visual effects done on a television budget is the chief sticking point standing in the way of production:

“This is the best way to put it into perspective: we did Episode III—which is one of the larger of all the Star Wars films in relation to set construction, visual effects, the amount of visual effects and everything else—and that was made for $100 million which was unheard of even five years ago, because had it been made by any studio or anywhere in the United States it would have been easily double that price. So imagine an hour’s episode with more digital animation and more visual effects and more complicated in terms of set design and costume design than a two-hour movie that takes us three years to make, and we have to do that every week and we only have $5 million to do it. That’s our challenge.”

star-wars-yoda-imageSo how close are they to overcoming the challenge? Let’s just say don’t expect to see Star Wars on any network schedules this fall:

“It’s not a challenge that I think can be dealt with in the next year or two years, I think it’s gonna be a little bit more longer term goal.”

McCallum said that one of the most expensive aspects of the series is the CG characters:

“[George has] come up with so many extraordinary digital characters that are onscreen for 30-40 minutes. Most people who love movies and kind of understand the process realize that if you do a character like Gollum or Jar Jar or any major digital character, that costs twice as much as having Tom Cruise in a movie. You get 150 people working for two years on a 40 minute performance and they all make serious money, you just add it up; that’s gonna be a serious $20-30 million character. That’s our problem, how do we get that down?”

star-wars-attack-of-the-clones-imageThe producer went on to lay out the other specific issues they’re trying to overcome, including the overwhelming number of virtual sets that are needed:

“[With] digital 3D matte paintings, how do we cut the time from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 days? On a television budget, on television screens it doesn’t have to be film res, but each one of these are major challenges for us. How do we get virtual set software? Because we can’t build any of this stuff. I mean we could do it if we did it in a traditional format where we have one set with all the characters, but George doesn’t work that way. We have 40-50 set pieces per hour, every minute and a half to two minutes there’s another set. Well we can’t build that and do that every week, that’s virtually impossible, so we have to come up with virtual set software and an environment that allows us to be able to do that on blue and green screen and be able to turn those backgrounds around really, really fast. We’re getting there, but it’s not perfect yet and it’s still too expensive.”

star-wars-episode-v-the-empire-strikes-back-imageWhile production is still a ways off, over 50 scripts have already been banked for the show once it gets the go-ahead. Regarding the tone, McCallum revealed that it’s actually quite a bit darker than the film series:

“It’s much darker [than the movies]. It’s a much more adult series. I think, thematically, in terms of characters and what they go through, it will be…if we can ever get it together and George really wants to pursue it, it’ll be the most awesome part of the whole franchise, personally…It’s Empire Strikes Back on steroids.”

McCallum said that they originally envisioned the series as “Deadwood in space,” so it’s easy to see where that darker tone comes from. The producer elaborated on the Deadwood comparison, conceding that we won’t necessarily see any Jedi throwing around the word “fuck”:

“Obviously, we changed it for where we couldn’t go in terms of language. It was to be serious performances, very complicated relationships, unbelievable issues of power and corruption, greed, vanity, pride, ego manifesting itself at levels that only equal the world that we live in now, but, as I said, on steroids.”

So while we’ll have to wait quite a while for the live-action Star Wars series, it certainly sounds like it’ll be one of the most ambitious feats of TV storytelling ever attempted. Keep an eye out for Steve’s full interview with McCallum which is chock-full of information on Red Tails, the future of visual effects, and George Lucas’ filmmaking plans in the years ahead.


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  • Reggie

    Well Rick good luck with that. Won’t be holding my breath for this one.

    • don

      They are more worried about special effects then story again. The original trilogy did’nt need expensive cgi to seem other-worldly. If the show took place on a planet with mostly humans, and they designed it with sets that could be reused, it could work.

      Look at game of thrones, they use cgi often but its not in your face, its simple and effective.

    • Daniel

      Seriously. Does anyone believe McCallum’s hype any more?

    • Tarek

      I’m not holding mine either.

      Mehhamania at work. CGI fest. that’s all what Luca$ is able to do.

  • Northern Star

    Yeah George, back to making those small, independent, experimental little movies you always said you’d go back to once ‘Star Wars’ was done, how about doing something NOW, namely remastering the original trilogy’s theatrical versions and putting them out in anamorphic widescreen DVD’s and Blu Ray’s…

    If this series was something wholly original, and not ANOTHER ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Indiana Jones’ related product, I’d be a lot more excited! What people don’t seem to realise is this series may sound good, until you actually see it, and you discover it’s 50 hours of people talking about taxation and trade regulations, and the CGI that Rick McCallum is talking about is for creating a photo-realistic accountants office…

    • Tarek

      Alas Northern star, Luca$ is artistically speaking, as dry as a desert dust. I don’t expect anything good from that guy…

      • Northern Star

        Yeah, you’re right, Tarek dude, Luca$ hasn’t had an original idea since ‘Radioland Murders’ – and even THAT was conceived back in the 1970′s – it’s crazy how this guy continues to get publicity, he hasn’t made a film in SEVEN years (he only did re-shoots for ‘Red Tails’), yet he has still some kind of permanent presence in the film world!

        The ‘Star Wars’ saga consists of SIX FILMS (whatever you think of the latter three), nothing more and nothing less, and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ is the only Indiana Jones film I care to acknowledge, apart from those, give me a project that Luca$ has been involved in that has no connection to ‘Star Wars’ or Indiana Jones, and was conceived AFTER the 1970′s… you can’t think of one, this charlatan has been running on fumes for two decades, go think of something original, and then send your yes-man McCallum to sell it to the hordes, you tit…

      • Northern Star

        … and before someone points out ‘Red Tails’ as a project Luca$ concieved after the 1970′s, that ISN’T an originalvidea, it’s based of an historical event, I’m talking about ORIGINAL ideas here people…

  • Reggie

    Here’s an idea George why don’t you cash out totally on Star Wars and sell all filmmaking rights to Fox and retain merchandising that way you can continue to squeeze blood from the Turnip and Fox can continue to give the fans what they want more movies without you ruining them.

  • biji m.

    “… if you do a character like Gollum or Jar Jar or any major digital character, that costs twice as much as having Tom Cruise in a movie.” oh god, he sounds PROUD of jar jar. gollum was one of the most astonishing feats of special effects ever made. there had simply been nothing that even came close to that character when two towers was released. oh, and his character had pathos, great purpose and consequence to the events that unfolded, became a cultural icon (come on, everybody has at least one friend that goes “myyypurrrrecioussss” … no? just me? alright), was not an embarrassing, clumsy, probably retarded racial caricature and all other kinds of good stuff that a great movie character make. jar jar binks, for the love of god, is STILL infamously lame – thirteen years later. im just going to assume that this rick mcallum organ blob spoon and fork operator is completely useless as a film producer

  • Johnny Utah

    How do you make a Star Wars TV show under $5 million an episode?

    Its simple Rick it really is.

    CGI characters like Gollum or god forbid Jar Jar dont add anything to the TV show beyond the superficial. Go back and use good old fashioned techniques like rubber and latex or even puppets.

    The use of digital 3D matte paintings. You dont need them either try building real practical sets and reuse them like any other TV show does.

    Good TV is about the characters not CGI characters and CGI matte paintings.

  • biji m.

    oh my god he sounds PROUD of jar jar. jar jar binks is about as far away from gollum as a character, effect and importance and relevance to their respective film’s roles. rick mcallum = useless carbon blob, useless producer too, apparently

    • Frank

      McCallum has always been nothing more than a paid yes man and promoter for Lucas. Lucas is his boss.

  • Reggie

    It’s obvious that Rick has become George’s Bitch

  • Frank

    McCallum has always been nothing more than a yes man and personal PR man for Lucas. Lucas is his boss.

  • Edward Lee

    Never happen. ‘Nuff said.

  • snapperhead

    Excuse me, Mr McCallum, but please don’t talk about Empire Strikes Back on steroids. Empire did not need steroids. It didn’t need digital characters. It didn’t need virtual sets. And it didn’t need you, you useless yes man.

  • Robbie

    Empire on steroids??? Sounds a bit DS9 to me. We don’t want dark we just want Star Wars.

    Best thing they could do with this show is jettison all this CG bullshit along with Lucas. Time for him to step aside and let some younglings loose on the universe.

    Also, is it just me or do the prequel blurays simply accentuate that fact that the actors are standing in front of a greenscreen?

  • Eddie Fitz

    McCallum’s an idiot. Good point about “worried about F/X more than stories again”. These guys are total idiots. Deadwood in space? That’s an insult to Deadwood right there. There’s no conceivable way Lucas and McCallum could come up with a show that has anywhere near the depth and detail of Deadwood, and the storylines and character interactions that show laid out. I really hope both McCallum and Lucas have something happen to them in their lives that simply makes them stop. Complete fools the pair of them. Anyone who falls for this guy’s words deserves to be disappointed.

  • polishvendetta

    “Deadwood in space”

    So in other words it will be Firefly?

    Seriously if sci-fi tv shows like Firefly, Startrek, and Galactica can be made and profitable… then a Starwars tv show should be a cake walk. Even if they added an extra 50% to the biggest scifi series budget, it still wouldnt cost 5 mil per episode.

    The people who own and work on starwars have completely lost touch with the fundamentals of film making.

  • Liz

    Oh for crying out loud! Is this for real?

    Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica (the new one): all of these series gained large and loyal fan followings (and spinoff series too) with only moderately pricey effects, cheap sets, and “aliens” that were just actors with prosthetic makeup or weird hairdos. Memo to Lucas & McCallum: you don’t have to break the bank, just hire decent writers and actors and the audience will follow. CGi is totally unnecessary. The original Star Wars movies (you know, the ones people liked) didn’t have any at all!

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  • SMF

    People are going to hate me for saying but so far clone wars is pretty good. Dispite being aimed at the kiddies. Its tackled some dark and complex stuff already so I can believe a show aimed at adults could easily do the same. But let’s wait and see…

    As for the special effects I think Lucas and McCallum are hung up on the budget. Lucas is an perfectionist, I can see him cringing at the thought of it looking sub par. Its the HD age and it would be difficult to get away with the wobbly sets and rubber aliens, you would have fans complaining as much they do, at all digital effects.

    But McCallums just a prat. Hung up over the budget because he wants his masters overly ambitious project to work, rather then do what other TV shows execs do and scale back the ideas to fit with what’s viable.

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  • militant marker

    And when are all you genius’s starting your series?

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  • bubba

    Tahnk you Easter Bunny, Bok-Bok!

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