There weren’t really viral videos in 1999 – but one of the earliest, with a George Lucas story at its heart, had real ramifications for its makers.
The blockbuster movie season of 1999 was set to be dominated by one film. It’s easy in hindsight to sneer at Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, but the excitement building up to its release was off the chart. Queues formed weeks ahead of its release, and lots and lots of other movies were happy to give it a wide berth.
But in the midst of all of that, one man saw an opportunity. A way to properly break into the industry.
At that stage, Joe Nussbaum had been working on an assistant to a production executive in Hollywood, and was looking for a way to get his work noticed. Figuring – not incorrectly – that Star Wars would be high on people’s radar, he thus had a rather successful brainwave. A short film, very relevant to 1999. He thus sunk his energies therefore into said short, that married up Star Wars with the Oscar-winning feature Shakespeare In Love. It would be called George Lucas In Love.
He started working on the film with Timothy Dowling, and the pair came up with the story that was written into a script by Nussbaum and Daniel Shere. Nussbaum would direct it himself.
The story of the movie took us back to 1967, when George Lucas was a film student at the University of Southern California. Trying to get inspiration for a film that he could make, we see him sat at his typewriter and, well, things start to happen. The full film is at the bottom of this post, and it’s better to watch it than me try to badly explain it to you.
The movie then took two days to shoot, with three weeks spent preparing the film and a further three weeks in post-production. Nussbaum edited the production at a movie trailer company’s facilities, where he was working at the time.
With his film in place, the challenge for Nussbaum was then to get his work noticed. At this stage, in the first half of 1999, the world wide web was nowhere near the level of mainstream as we see it today. ‘Going viral’ wasn’t yet a thing, although the movie George Lucas In Love – as Nussbaum would call it – would arguably be one of the first videos to do so.
The stylish production soon found itself the talk of Hollywood, with producer Joe Levy able to get it under the eyes of one or two people. That, in turn, quickly led to Variety magazine getting interested. It all snowballed from there.
“I knew if I was an exec who got a tape called George Lucas In Love, I’d watched it”, Nussbaum told Entertainment Weekly magazine in July of 1999. Tapes were duly sent, the film was duly watched, and as that same EW article reported, ‘the must-see featurette has already been widely circulated among Hollywood’s executive suites – which was exactly Nussbaum’s goal’.
Not only did his film have his moment where it quickly became the talk of the trade – with George Lucas himself amongst the many who saw it (coming to that shortly) – it would land Nussbaum the offer to direct a feature that he was hoping for. It was DreamWorks – a company itself in its relative infancy – who came forth with an offer. It had a script for a film called Slap Her, She’s French that it pushed in Nussbaum’s direction. He wouldn’t ultimately make the film, nor would DreamWorks. Instead, that particular project would end up a 2002 independent release with Piper Perabo in the lead (Melanie Mayron was the ultimate director, and Academy Award-winner Alan Ball was one of those who worked on the screenplay).
Nussbaum, though, wouldn’t have to wait long for his shot. His first feature would be the teen comedy Sleepover, that was made for MGM. Brie Larson, Jane Lynch, Evan Peters and Steve Carell were amongst its ensemble. It’d be the start of a run of directing work for him, with features including Sydney White, Prom, and spin-off American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile. He continues to be an active director of television too, and a career was born off a terrific piece of lateral thinking, tied to a very well appreciated short.
It’s worth noting that Timothy Dowling, the co-writer of George Lucas In Love, did rather well too. He’s penned screenplays to films such as Role Models (a firm favourite around these parts), Pixels, Just Go With It, This Means War and Office Christmas Party.
Whether someone could pull off what they all did back in 1999 is questionable, given that viral videos seem to come and go with alarming regularity in the social media age. But for the purposes of this story? It worked.
And as for Lucas’s reaction? Well, when George Lucas In Love received a special edition DVD release in 2001 (with the VHS having hit the top ten charts the year before), in the extra features was the letter he wrote in response. As Nussbaum proudly told The Force, “he really responded well to the film. He thought it was great. He thought it was funny. And I think he really thought of it as a homage to him, and not of any kind of a slight”. The letter was framed on Nussbaum’s wall.
Here’s the final film in its full – and make sure you hang around for the sting at the end…
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