March 30, 2009 / 4:16 PM / 10 years ago

George Lucas goes back to film school he shaped

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - When filmmaker George Lucas went the University of Southern California in the 1960s, it was considered “nuts” for him or his fellow film school students to think about a career making movies.

Filmmaker George Lucas speaks to reporters as he arrives for the Ford's Theater Grand Reopening Celebration in Washington February 11, 2009. REUTERS/Molly Riley

But the times and filmmaking have changed since then and on Sunday the USC School of Cinematic Arts celebrated its 80th birthday by dedicating new 137,000-square-foot facilities that features sound stages, screening rooms and state-of-the-art digital equipment.

“Back then, the industry was closed,” Lucas said as he led a tour of the new $175-million complex. “You really had to be related to somebody. There was no hope.”

Filmmaking changed, in part, because of a new generation of directors that included Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola.

“The only one at that time who actually made it directly from film school to directing a movie on a studio lot was Francis Ford Coppola, and he was the messiah savior of film students at the time.”

Lucas went from the USC film school to a scholarship with Warner Brothers, where he hooked up with UCLA film school graduate Coppola.

“We became friends because we were the only two people on the set who were under 50 years old and who had beards, and who had gone to film school.”

By 1973, Lucas made “American Graffiti,” which received five Academy Award nominations. In every year since 1973, at least one former student from the USC school has been nominated for an Oscar. Lucas released the first of his “Star Wars” epic movies in 1977.

Lucas joked that film students are often still misfits on college campuses, “but everybody wants to be like us.”

Lucas and his Lucasfilm Foundation contributed $75 million to the construction of the school’s new classrooms and equipment. His foundation also funded the School of Cinematic Arts endowment by $100 million.

The film school began in 1929 after Douglas Fairbanks Sr., a fencing partner of the USC president, suggested that the university start teaching the new art form, which had only a few years earlier developed movies with sound.

A statue of a swashbuckling Fairbanks is featured in the Spanish-style courtyard near the new George Lucas and Steven Spielberg buildings.

Speaking to a crowd during the dedication of the new buildings, Spielberg, who is not a graduate but was awarded an honorary degree, said USC School of Cinematic Arts alumni have won 78 Oscars and garnered 256 nominations.

“If all of the alumni didn’t show up for work tomorrow morning, Hollywood would grind to a halt,” Spielberg said.

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