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Help Support Features Interviews James Clarke
James Clarke interview
by Jawad Mir - posted on July 12, 2002

Filmmaker and Editorial Writer at DreamWorks SKG Fansite, James Clarke came out with his first book on Steven Spielberg last year which was probably one of the most fun and conscise look at the director's movies.
This year Clarke has come out with the look at the man behind Star Wars. The Pocket Books Essential look at George Lucas is yet again another achievement by this young author.

First you wrote a book on Steven Spielberg and now George Lucas. Tell us why you chose this man (Lucas)?

Well, like so many of your site’s visitor’s George Lucas is a major figure in our imaginative lives. Back in 1989 when "TIME" magazine reviewed "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade" the reviewer described Lucas and Spielberg as our “storytelling dads” and I think that phrase really sums up the great affection people feel for the work of them both. It’s not just a kind of amazement at what they do but some warmer feeling too which is great. I also felt that I had not really read a book about Lucas’ films which really dealt specifically with his skills as a director and the way he tells stories cinematically. Often, with writing about Lucas, people refer to the mythological element but this always seems to neglect the more purely cinematic concerns of his work. So, it was really an attempt to kind of balance things out a bit. I hope that readers find it interesting. And of course, to be able to write about another movie making hero is very satisfying. I am very lucky. If you’d told me when I was a kid that one day I’d write books about Lucas and Spielberg’s films I would never have believed you.

How many years of research did you do? Was most of it general knowledge since you are a big fan?

Well, I didn’t have even a year to write the book. I had six months pretty much – June to December 2001. When I was commissioned we did not realize that "Attack of the Clones" would be released virtually simultaneously around the world. Originally I had included a kind of ‘best guess’ chapter about the movie, drawing on what had been made public by late last year. Then , in April of this year, my editor said I should go and see "Clones" the day it opened in the UK, May 16th. So, I did. Immediately after the 11 am screening I went home and spent the rest of the day writing the full "Clones" chapter that is in the book. It is very satisfying to know that my little book is as up to date as can be. The book went to the printers a few days later and came out pretty much a week or two ago here in the UK. Of course, it is available at and
Going back to my research for the book, in a sense I had written the material full out in my head through all my years as a fan of Lucas’ work. It had been a dream to write such a book, so over the years I have imagined what I would say many times. That ties in too with the fact that I have a fair deal of material to hand , as I am sure many film fans do: the books, articles and so on.

This book that looks at his movies, does it cover everything? Does it discuss Lucas film companies?

Lucas book cover.

Yes, it does. Obviously, the focus, as the "Pocket Essentials Film Director" series indicates, focuses on Lucas the film director. That is essentially the first half of the book. Some people might think it is odd that "Empire" and "Jedi" only get a ‘mention’ but I really wanted to steer a very clear course in this book. The second part of the book takes us through those films George Lucas has executive produced and developed and in some cases supported and encouraged. I think most media coverage has overlooked that part of his career which is a shame. I guess my hope might be that someone might read the book and just be interested to learn what else he has been involved in. And of course, I refer to Skywalker Ranch, the Educational Foundation and ILM.

What is your favorite Lucas movie? Tell us why and how you ended up watching it?

Whilst I am tempted to say "Star Wars: A New Hope" I think I’ll go for "American Graffiti". I remember reading about it when I was very young, probably when my mum bought me the "Star Wars" novelisation with the photographs in the center. As I recall "Graffiti" gets mentioned there. I always used to think it was a black and white film because I had seen black and white stills from it in a film book once. Of course, there is hardly a more colorful film out there. It used to run on UK television now and again, but always too late for me to watch as a kid. This was back when VCRs were not that widespread. Finally, I saw it first on BBC2 back in spring 1988. I was astounded. I loved it. I finally got it on DVD last year – it is a great disc and that sunset that they composted in for the 25th anniversary is a nice touch. I love the film’s energy and sense of hope too. If you get the chance to read my book the very last sentence is really a way to celebrate this terrific film. I watch it every year. Lucas’s films are so vividly realized they really do make you feel like you are visiting a place.

How do you find the new "Star Wars" trilogy with the classic one?

I really enjoyed "The Phantom Menace". I saw it five times when it came out in 1999! I obviously wasn’t busy enough. I just remember thinking this is so much more fanciful than the original releases. And that is of course saying something. I liked the fact that "The Phantom Menace" was such a young person’s film. I guess we are all guilty of it, but I think the downside of nostalgia got the better of us all in the summer of 1999. My favorite sequence in the film was the underwater stuff in the bongo sub, it was simply very dreamy. "Attack of the Clones" really did take things up a level though in terms of the intricacy of the plot didn’t it ? What I liked best, as I think a lot of people did, was the sparring between Obi Wan and Anakin. It was like Indy and Henry Jones Sr in space which is no bad thing and no surprise either. My favorite exchange between them was towards the end of the film where Anakin wants to save Padme but Obi Wan will not let him. It is also amazing to think that the range of scope that CGI environments can offer now makes the original trilogy seem almost like a smallscale piece. What I like very much about the new ones is that there seems to be more space to explore more ideas. It’s just all far more lavish. And can you believe there is now going to b a fourth Indiana Jones film? Amazing.

What future books are you working on? Tell us a bit about them.

Well, I have just finished a new film reference book due out this Christmas and I am also getting going on a book for the British Film Institute which will be used in schools in the UK. The idea there is to use films as a way of getting young people to deal with social issues. I also have a couple of ideas for other film reference books which I think are pretty good. If I saw them on a bookshelf I’d buy them. But then I guess I would say that! And of course, I am working on some fiction too and am ever hopeful that someday it will be published.

You are an author and a filmmaker. What projects are you working on right now?

Most of my time right now is spent writing and to be able to say that is amazing to me. However, amidst all that I am co-writing and producing an independent feature, on a super low budget. We will shoot on DV and edit on Final Cut Pro. We have a website which is Right now we are confronting the greatest hurdle: raising financing. The guy I am working with self funded his own action movie feature last year, "The Beacon", and we decided to team up. He is as big a "Back to the Future" fan as I am and that film is one of our touchstones for this "Soul Searcher" project. I am also involved in the development of animation series for children which is getting a lot of interest at this early stage. I have written a script based on the concept bible for the project and that has been well received. If anyone reading this wants a cartoon series writer for hire just let me know. Last year I was lucky enough to do some work for an animation company here in England writing scripts for a project they were putting together. I don’t know what it is like in North America but over here things take a long time to get through the system. Someday I’d like to do some writing work in America.
The other thing I am doing right now is producing and writing a short film with a community video organization in London and the aim there is get young people engaged with video and also to create a really smart short film that we can eventually put out to festivals and so forth. I have started writing the script and we shoot at the end of July / early August. It’s a small project and a worthwhile one.

How did your first book on Steven Spielberg do in terms of sales? Are you proud of it?

Spielberg book cover.

I think it did ok. What was interesting and exciting was that a month or two ago the book was reprinted. The first run went to about 2,000 copies I think. The reprint went to 50,000! The book was reprinted and given away as a freebie with the UK movie magazine HOTDOG in May of this year. Now that was weird, to see so many copies of my book everywhere I went – newsagents, supermarkets, petrol stations. It is very nice to have something out in the world and yet in a funny way it feels as though I never wrote it. What is freaky, too, is wondering who the people are who did read it. I guess the same thing happens with the Internet. With a physical book, though, it is a little different. What is also a bit weird is how suddenly with your name on a book people think that you must really know something about that given subject, but the truth is my thoughts are no more or less valid than anyone else’s about, in this case, some films. Hopefully, the Spielberg book will get a second edition soon as it needs to include "Artificial Intelligence", "Minority Report" and "Catch Me If You Can". You know, the more films Spielberg makes the more amazed I am. In fact, I don’t even bother saying anything anymore when I come out of one of his films. Reading the "Minority Report" reviews makes me ever more eager to see the film. Have you read the Armond White review at Now that’s a good review.

Did you approach Lucasfilm or any of his other companies?

The one thing we did do was write to Mr. Lucas before I even began the book , more out of courtesy than anything else I suppose. I always say this, but it is important: "The Pocket Essentials" books that I have written are ‘author’ studies and certainly not biographies. They recount certain points about the career of the given filmmaker but really the focus is on trying to explore what is interesting and consistent across a body of work. Really, I just hope it adds to the fun of watching the film or rerunning it in the screening room of your memory.

If you were a producer and had to choose from Zemeckis, Lucas and Spielberg as a director, who would you pick and why?

I’d choose Robert Zemeckis. Why ? I just really like the energy and humor of his films.


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