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Lucas tilts at studio tentpoles

'Star' man sees shrinking pic biz

George Lucas has a message for studios that are cutting their slates and shifting toward big-budget tentpoles and franchises: You’ve got it all wrong.

The creator of “Star Wars,” which stamped the template for the franchise-tentpole film, says many small films and Web distribution are the future.

And in case anyone doubts he means it, Lucasfilm is getting out of the movie biz.

“We don’t want to make movies. We’re about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we’ve moved away from the feature film thing because it’s too expensive and it’s too risky.

“I think the secret to the future is quantity,” Lucas said.

He spoke to Daily Variety after the groundbreaking ceremony for the renamed School of Cinematic Arts at USC.

He gave $175 million — $100 million toward the endowment, $75 million for buildings — to his alma mater. But he said that kind of money is too much to put into a film.

Spending $100 million on production costs and another $100 million on P&A makes no sense, he said.

“For that same $200 million, I can make 50-60 two-hour movies. That’s 120 hours as opposed to two hours. In the future market, that’s where it’s going to land, because it’s going to be all pay-per-view and downloadable.

“You’ve got to really have a brand. You’ve got to have a site that has enough material on it to attract people.”

He said he’s even discussed the subject with Pixar’s Steve Jobs and John Lasseter.

“If you don’t do very many movies, and you’re really lucky, and you really know what you’re doing, you can get away with it. But you know at some point you’re going to lose a game.”

Lucas said he believes Americans are abandoning the moviegoing habit for good.

“I don’t think anything’s going to be a habit anymore. I think people are going to be drawn to a certain medium in their leisure time and they’re going to do it because there is a desire to do it at that particular moment in time. Everything is going to be a matter of choice. I think that’s going to be a huge revolution in the industry.”

That doesn’t mean Lucasfilm is diving into online distribution, though. “Having had a lot of experience in this area, we’re not rushing in,” he said. “We’re trying to find out exactly where the monetization is coming from. We’re not interested in jumping down a rat hole until such time as it finally figures itself out.”

Nor is Lucasfilm’s exit from features instant or absolute. “Indiana Jones 4” is still in development. “Steve (Spielberg) and I are still working away, trying to come up with something we’re happy with. Hopefully, in a short time, we will come to an agreement. Or something,” Lucas said, without a great deal of enthusiasm.

Lucasfilm also is working on “Red Tails,” a film about the Tuskegee airmen of WWII.

“I’ve been working on that for about 15 years,” he said, adding that he’s also been working on “Indy 4” for 15 years.

And Lucas Animation does plan to start making feature films — eventually.

“Right now we’re doing television, which looks great. I’m very, very happy with it,” he said of his toon division. “And out of doing the animation, we’re getting the skill set and the people and putting the studio in place so we can do a feature. But it’s probably going to be another year before we have the people and the systems in place to do a feature film.”

Lucas admitted the big-budget strategy has done well for him in the past, but said, “We’re not going to do the $200 million investments.”

He calls himself “semi-retired” but reiterated his plans to direct “small movies, esoteric in nature,” after his other projects are launched. He expects to serve as exec producer on the two features and the TV shows, including a live-action “Star Wars” skein.

At the USC groundbreaking, Lucas was honored amid cannon shots of confetti and fanfares from the USC Marching Band for his gift, the largest in the school’s history.

Other bizzers in attendance included Lucas pals Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg.

Lucas said the gift is intended to set an example for the rest of the entertainment industry, as well as other universities.

“In a lot of industries, the people in the industry give a lot of money to the schools that produce the people who are their employees,” he said, pointing to the auto industry as an example. “The film industry doesn’t seem to be too enthusiastic about that idea. I’d love to see the industry do more.

“As self-interest, it’s good to have the best trained people working for you. And the best trained people come from film school.

“The world of moving images hasn’t had a lot of respect (in academia),” said Lucas. “But it’s the major form of communication in the 21st century.”

This $175 million, he said, is meant to “put other universities on notice that this is an important discipline that needs to be fostered.”

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