The year is 1999. Everyone’s freaking out over Y2K and recovering from The Phantom Menace. Joe Nussbaum, graduate of George Lucas‘s alma mater USC, puts out a short film called George Lucas In Love. Maybe I’m just projecting, as someone who can remember getting some heavy use out of her VHS copy, but if you were a Star Wars fan back in the early, Wild West days of the Internet, chances are you saw it. A Shakespeare In Love parody about ol’ Uncle George, George Lucas In Love was massively successful (see: It was the top-selling movie on ickle baby Amazon.com for nearly three months, outselling even The Phantom Menace, which is pretty impressive for a nine-minute short) and got Nussbaum a leg up into the film industry: He’s since had a flourishing career on TV, most notably with MTV’s Awkward..
15 years (yes, it has been that long) after its initial, pre-YouTube debut, George Lucas In Love is finally entering the 21st century with an HD release on iTunes. Nussbaum took the time to chat with us about George Lucas In Love and offer his advice on how other creators of geeky shorts might replicate his success. And! We’re also giving away a George Lucas In Love poster, done in the style of the legendary Drew Struzan and signed by Nussbaum. Scroll to the bottom to enter.
Rebecca Pahle (TMS): I know you used George Lucas In Love as your “calling card,” but to what extent would you say it led to you having the directing career you have now?
Joe Nussbaum (JN): This is an easy one to answer. George Lucas In Love totally and completely led to the directing career I have now. To this day it comes up in almost every directing meeting that I take. It honestly amazes me.
TMS: I know this question is broad–like, four years of film school broad—but as someone who made the leap from a what’s basically a fanfilm (if an extremely professional-looking, successful, and high-quality one) to a directing career, what’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to all the geeky short filmmakers out there who want to do the same?
JN: Geeky or otherwise, they need to make something that’s both great and special. The great part, in some ways, is easier. Hone your skills, push yourself, get great actors, fight for a great look, hire a great crew, etc. With talent, skill, and a strong will, a great film can be made. It’s the second part that’s harder. To truly get noticed, it has to be special. There has to be something about it that makes people stand up and take notice. Something they’ve never seen before, something they weren’t expecting, a one of a kind voice, a new twist on something old. The good news is that the best path to making something truly special is to make something that you absolutely love. Something you’d be dying to see. If you’d be dying to see it, then chances are someone else will too. Before I made GLiL, I shot some spec commercials which I thought were really good. They got me nowhere. Years later when I was actually directing commercials, I asked someone in the industry about it. I said that I thought my spec commercials really looked like spots that were on the air. He looked at me and said something brilliant. He said that wasn’t good enough. For a spec commercial to get noticed, it has to be better than what’s on the air. It kinda blew my mind, but I know he was right.
TMS: GLiL already had a lot of industry and festival buzz surrounding it by the time it made it online. Obviously nowadays YouTube is the first stop for a lot of filmmakers, and there are many more shorts making the rounds than there were 15 years ago. Do you think things would go differently for GLiL if it’d been released today?
JN: I don’t know. I suppose it could get lost more easily, but on the other hand, things that people like spread so much farther so much faster now. If people liked it as much as they did then, I think it would actually be bigger and seen by far more people now.
TMS: I read that George Lucas liked GLiL and sent you a congratulatory letter about it. Can you tell us what he said, or are you keeping that close to your heart?
JN: We actually included the text of the letter on our DVD release back in 2000, so it’s no secret. He said: “Steven Spielberg sent me a copy of ‘George Lucas in Love‘ and I just wanted to tell you how great I thought it was. It was funny, wonderfully directed, the acting was terrific, and you obviously did a lot of research because I noticed some dialogue based on Toad from ‘American Graffiti‘. I wish you the very best of success with what I hope is a promising filmmaking career.” It remains framed on my office wall.
TMS: On a scale of 1-10, how much are you looking forward to the new Star Wars movies? Does it go to 11, or have you cooled off in the last 15 years? Is there anything specific you’re excited about?
JN: I’m at 11 all over again. There’s nothing specific, I just want a great story with great characters to root for.
And now for the contest!
One winner will get a copy of this lovely George Lucas In Love poster, signed by Joe Nussbaum:
To win, follow us on Twitter and Tweet this:
I’m #inlovelikeGeorgeLucas with the George Lucas In Love poster contest at @TheMarySue. http://bit.ly/1nfJIOG
and exactly this, no changes or additions, by this Monday, June 9th, noon EST. We’ll DM the winner (which is why you have to be following us) to get shipping information. The contest is open those in the continental US only. Good luck!