A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Battle for Endor – Guest Commentary from Ken Wheat

Well, one of the strangest things about us doing this was the way we found out we were up for the job. During the winter of 1984-85, we were working our asses off to get a deal for our film Lies, which had been selling pretty well overseas, but didn’t have a domestic theatrical deal. So we cut a trailer, and went down to Birmingham Alabama to do a test market release of it. Which was a disaster. It was mid February, and they had the worst ice storm they’d had there in years. We’d brought our star Ann Dusenberry down with us, and while the three of us were interviewed on Good Morning Birmingham, we could see the monitors behind the hosts, which had warnings running along the bottom of the screen saying “Do Not Drive This Weekend.” So the screenings were a total bust.

We got home and there was a message on the answering machine at our editing room. A guy named Tom Smith had called from Lucasfilm, and asked us to get back to him as soon as possible. All we could think of was, “how could we owe money to George Lucas?” Lies had been finished with considerable debt attached, and the conclusion was more than reasonable. Then we figured the call must have been relating to a crew member of ours who needed a reference. That made more sense. So we called, and Tom said he was producing this second Ewok TV movie, and wondered if we were interested in directing it.

It turned out we had sent a tape of Lies over to Amblin because we’d heard they were looking for new directors for Amazing Stories, and when George had asked Spielberg (or Tom had asked an Amblin exec, perhaps) if they’d come across any non-DGA directors who might be good for the Ewok thing, our tape was among those that was passed along.

We flew up to see George about a day later, and on the plane we talked about what to do with the film. We hadn’t been wild about the first Ewok film, especially about the Burl Ives narration, and the slightly sappy tone. So we talked about films we loved as kids, and when we saw George a few hours later, we told him we loved Swiss Family Robinson, and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, and several other adventure things along those lines.

He thought pirates sounded great, but figured they should be really big to contrast the small size of the Ewoks. And he had just watched Hiedi with his then 5 year old daughter, and he liked the idea of the grumpy old man and the orphan girl. None of us were wild about the rest of the family, so he said fine, we’ll just kill them all off in the opening scene.

And the rest of the story is history.

The writing of the script is something else. We were just hired to direct, but since no writer was yet attached, the story was roughly worked out between us and George in a four hour session, with a second four hour session the next day filling in the details. That second story session brought in Production Designer/second Unit director Joe Johnston for input, and Producer Tom Smith whipped it all into a 25 page treatment.

The writer who was hired was British, and there was a real push to get the script done quickly. We spent about 4 days a week commuting from LA to Marin to work on design ideas and scout locations, and on April 1st we moved up there to start full time preproduction. That day the script arrived from England. And it SUCKED in a huge way. Everybody was freaking out, because it was so bad that there was fear that the plug would be pulled on the whole thing. At which point everyone started looking at us. “You guys could write it, couldn’t you?”

This was one week before casting and set construction was set to begin. So we spent one week splitting our time between writing in a motel room, while scouting locations at and around the Ranch, and working with our storyboard artist at the same time. (Paul Chadwick of Concrete and Matrix fame, who had done the storyboards and designs for Lies.) For that matter, Paul was a co-writer in a way, because in many case toward the end of that week, we were just writing action scenes based on thumbnail doodles he was doing.

So the Force was with us and we got the script done, and a few weeks after that we shot the thing.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | guest commentary | , , , | 1 Comment

The Battle for Endor – Guest Commentary from Jim Wheat

Here’s a treat for our tens of readers: We have commentary from the writers and directors of The Battle for Endor. First from my uncle Jim-

Making this movie was certainly the highlight of our career. George turned over the keys to his kingdom and pretty much let us do what we wanted. We also got to work with some of the most talented people around.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. We were working with minors in three of the four main parts, so scheduling was a nightmare. We pretty much lost the kids about an hour after lunch, so filling the day took some doing. We worked with a camera double for Cindel, so much of the time over-the-shoulder shots and long shots are not Aubree, but a look-a-like.

The other teenager on the set was Nikki Botelho, who played Teek. The plan was to create a mechanical creature to be operated by a team of puppeteers. After the first day of shooting with the puppet, it became clear that it just wasn’t going to work. But there was Nikki, who was playing an ewok, and who wasn’t very much bigger than the mechanical Teek. So while we quickly rearranged the schedule, the creature team spent a long weekend and created a costume for Nikki with just a smiling mask. A few days later they had an articulated head that could be controlled by puppeteers made the ears move, the eyebrows rise, and the smile broaden. Nikki was a great performer and really brought the costume to life.

Most of the guys who played the marauders were basketball players, who were challenged to a game by the ewoks… but with little people rules (the ball has to bounce off the ground before you can rebound). I’m pretty sure the ewoks won.

All of the actors put up with a lot. The costumes were hot and awkward, and after a long day of shooting were dripping with sweat. One day Michael Jackson came to visit the set and he LOVED the ewoks. The only problem was that he insisted that the ewoks kept their heads on between takes so as not to break the illusion of cute little furry creatures playing in the forest. It was pretty cruel to make the actors wear their headgear any longer than necessary, but super stars are super stars.

We spent the most time with George in the editing room. That’s where George believes movies are made, and he would come in and chop away at the film. As the picture kept getting shorter and shorter, we started to worry that it wouldn’t fulfill the requirements of ABC. But George wasn’t concerned. “You’ll come up with something.” The producer, unbeknownst to us, had built a ‘George Factor’ into the budget. An additional two weeks of shooting. It was decided that we would shoot a new sequence involving a dragon and an ewok hang glider. The next day, Joe Johnston came in with the storyboards and we got busy building a cave set. What had originally been an easy escape into the forest became a cliffhanging adventure for Wicket and Cindel.

May 12, 2010 Posted by | guest commentary | , , , | 1 Comment