How did you get the part of Hologram SRT?
I used to live in a theatrical hotel in Hollywood that housed a lot of performers that came here from all over the world and stayed there while they were here working. We gathered at the pool or in the lobby and swapped lies about the business. Mr. Duvall was there and a big time sports nut. A bunch of us used to get together and play flag football.
Robert was hired to do THX, but after auditioning every black actor in San Francisco, Robert suggested they take a look at my work.
Zoetrope Studios flew me up to the city. I guess I did the right things, because they hired me on the spot. I had three days to prepare for a 10 week shoot.
What was it like working with George Lucas?
At first, it felt like we were doing another student film. However, when the final cast was assembled, we worked very hard at letting George know that we were all responsible to Warner Bros. for the 1 million dollars they fronted us to bring them a product that warranted their going out on a limb to an unproven, first time director. In fact, everyones rep was on the line.
I think George was not comfortable with ACTORS. We were not chess pieces he could move around in his technical wizardry. Every day, before we shot a scene, the four of us would brainstorm to get to the subtextral content in the script , on film. We kept telling George this film will not work unless we are able to breath life into these characters. Unless an audience can connect with these life forms, who live in that real world, we would have nothing!!
George wasn't too happy to have to deal with our ideas, but he came around.
What was your impression of the white sets that were used in much of the movie, as well as the race-car tunnels?
That set was built at a small studio once owned by Elvis Presley. It took two sound stages to set up the camera with it's 5 foot long, 1000MM lens.
The floor of one stage was constructed with curved walls up to the catwalks, then painted white.
The first time I entered the stage, I found myself lifting up my feet as if I were walking in knee deep cotton. You had to hold your arms out for balance until your eyes could focus on depth perception.
To use this lens, it took five people to operate it.
Two people in headsets to adjust the two focus rings on the 18" appiture, a third in a headset to adjust the camera, and the operator also on-line.
This whole unit was set up at the back of one stage, facing out the huge sliding doors, across the street into the other stage of the white set, were the fifth part of the crew was stationed on the catwalk, in headphones.
The lens was so huge, nothing would be in focus under 250 feet.
On the floor of the white stage, were distance marks for the camera focus, radioed to that crew by the person on the catwalk.
As the actors moved through the stage, passing these marks, adjustments were choreographed like a huge ballet.
Just out of camera range, sat George atop a four step ladder, directing.
This may sound strange, but, as I watched this circus unfold, I looked over to George, and I swear I saw a halo reflected around his head.
With his beard and longish black hair, he, for a split second, looked like one of those cameo shots of JESUS you might see on the wall of your friends bathroom. Somehow, even the black horned rim glasses he wears, fit in the whole image.
The tunnels used for the car and motorcycle chase scenes, were the Broadway tunnel in San Francisco, and the Alameda tunnel between the Oakland, CA. airport, and downtown Oakland.
The jet cars were actually Chapperell race cars that had plastic appliances added to look like they were jet powered. The same was true for the Triumph motorcycles.
Continue to part 2 of the interview
THX 1138 is © 1971 Warner Brothers, and © Lucasfilm Ltd. used without permission for non-commercial purposes.