Lesson #4: Be Innovative

“It’s not a business,” says Lucas. “It’s trying to create something interesting that you’re proud of, and try out creative ideas that may seem really off the wall, may work or may not work.” From his films to his technology to his business strategies, Lucas has made a career out of taking risks and being innovative.

A colleague within Hollywood has said of him, “George is Obi-Wan; George is Yoda; George is the Force!” Awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Visual Effects Society in 2004, Lucas’ technological achievements through ILM have themselves revolutionized the industry. ProTools, Avid, Pixar, 5.1 THX, the ‘digital studio backlot’ and Hi Def digital moviemaking are all creations of Lucas.

One of Lucas’ initial creations in 1975 was the first device that was able to simulate flight on-screen. Hooking up computers to cameras, Lucas took motion-control photography to new heights. He also hooked up computers to motorized models, inventing the ‘go-motion’ technique. In 1985, Lucas’ ILM created the first ever computer-generated character for Barry Levinson’s Young Sherlock Holmes.

“With each film, I pushed the envelope of technology,” he says. But, the goal for Lucas was not to revolutionize moviemaking. “We were struggling”, he recalls of his experience filming Star Wars. “We were having a lot of problems. It’s very hard to do special effects and create those illusions and it was obvious right from the start that being able to use digital technology to create those illusions would be a huge advance and make things much more facile.”

Lucas had no choice but to be innovative in order to realize his goals. “I knew that if we could advance the world of special effects, we could do more kinds of movies.” ILM continues to be one of the most innovative and successful companies today with respect to cinematic technologies.

In addition to his innovative technology, Lucas pioneered revolutionary business and contract strategies with respect to his films. Sacrificing his director’s salary for a percentage of box office revenues and merchandising and sequel rights was, at the time, unheard of. “I got the licensing rights because I figured they wouldn’t promote the film and if I got T-shirts and things out there with the name of the film on them it would help promote the movie,” says Lucas. Having control over merchandising would also help Lucas maintain creative control over the Star Wars brand.

The film studio agreed since they placed little value on what Lucas was asking. “The whole idea that licensing was a revenue stream didn’t really occur to anybody including me,” he said. It would prove to be a costly mistake for the studio and one of the most successful gambles in Lucas’ career. “As it turned out, the film was so successful we were able to make toy deals and we began to start the whole idea of action figures, of tie-ins, of toys that go along with movies.” With sequel rights, Lucas was able to finish his trilogy on his terms and reap the financial benefits. “I’m able to tell the story the way it’s meant to be told, and I don’t have to listen to what studio market research does.”

The innovative way in which Lucas attained rights over his films is something that will last forever, literally. “It’s all being buried with me,” says Lucas. “All copies of the two trilogies will be brought to my gravesite within one month of my death and laid to rest with me.”

Lucas is an example of the success and immortality that can come from being innovative. He continues his dedication to innovation and learning through the George Lucas Educational Foundation and Lucas Learning Ltd., a software company that strives to create an “uncommon learning experience”.

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