IN his filmmaking career, George Lucas has done everything from epic movie features and TV commercials to rock videos and educational films. But his talent for storytelling has never made its way onto weekly television - until now.
Mr. Lucas, who brought to the screen the trilogies "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones," has written and produced a one-hour, weekly TV series called "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles," each of which is filmed on location around the world.
ABC plans to launch the series with a two-hour premiere episode on March 4 (8-10 p.m.), followed by weekly shows on Wednesdays (beginning March 11, 9-10 p.m.)
"ABC is walking through the minefields with this one, and I'm following close behind," Lucas says in an interview.
Rubbing a hand through his dark beard, now sprinkled with gray, Lucas continues.
"I was up front with the network. I told them I wasn't turning the movie into a TV series. It's completely different. It's the story of Indy coming of age, meeting men of history, and being educated through these experiences.
"The example I gave ABC was 10-year-old Indy meeting a young American art student, Norman Rockwell, in Paris in 1908. The two become involved with an aged Edgar Degas, who is trying to make an artistic point with a brash upstart named Pablo Picasso."
Smiling, he adds, "Of course, the learning portion about the 'isms Post-Impressionism, Cubism, etc. - is blended with the boys following the artists on a wild night in Paris. As you can tell, I occasionally juggle people and places to cover more TV territory."
In the series, Lucas shows Indy at three different ages: as a 93-year-old who begins each episode by telling a story, and as either a nine- or 16-year-old Indy living out the adventure. (The episodes are not in chronological order.) One week, the teenage Indy, wanting to be a freedom fighter in World War I, enlists in the Belgian Army. Another week, nine-year-old Indy meets a boy his own age at a cricket match in India and travels with him to the Sacred City of Benares, gaining insights into several of t he world's religions.
Filming has already been done in such far-flung places as Oxford, England; St. Petersburg; Beijing; Cairo, Nairobi, Barcelona, Paris, and New Delhi. Each episode rings in at about $1.5 million, Lucas admits, a figure he says he is proud of.
m known for doing big-budget projects, but what most people don't understand is what I did for $40 million would have cost $80 million. I've had 20 years experience working around the world, and I've invested a great deal of money in various digital production techniques and learned a lot about planning productions."
The TV series provides a creative outlet totally different from feature film, he says.
"The trouble with features is you usually do one every three years; in this series we're doing the equivalent of eight or nine features every year.
"When you've got a production that only goes a couple of weeks, you can try things, and if they don't work, you haven't really lost a whole lot. Whereas on a big movie production, it's very expensive."
Lucas is ahead on his scripts - he's written 35 so far. How does that translate into savings? If episodes one, five, and 19 all take place in France, he can film them while the cast and crew are in that country, he says.
The idea for the series "all began when I formed a foundation for school projects," Lucas explains. "We were working with a model for what the 8th grade could look like using interactive education. We were using computers and video discs, filmed and computer experiences in what could be called a modern version of a textbook. For a prototype, we selected history and focused specifically on turn-of-the-century events.
"While the foundation continued with interactive education, my mind couldn't get out of the 1900s. I kept wondering what a young Indiana Jones would do if he had met Theodore Roosevelt, or Poncho Villa, or Archduke Francis Ferdinand.
"I just couldn't let go of the idea. It was like a faucet had been turned on in my brain.
"I decided it should be a series of chronicles and that a 93-year-old Indiana Jones should be the storyteller. I had some talks with Harrison Ford about playing him, but when you consider he would be lathered in makeup, it would be like acting in a rubber mask. It didn't seem feasible. Perhaps if I write about Jones when he's 50, Ford and I might talk again."
Instead, Lucas signed veteran actor George Hall for the role of the elder Jones.
Next, Lucas decided to tell the stories with the teenage Indy sharing two-thirds of the adventures. This gave Lucas enormous latitude in the scripts, added variety, and also shrunk the budget. While Corey Carrier, the 9-year-old Indy, is filming in Egypt, Sean Patrick Flanery, the teenage Indy, is doing a segment in New Mexico.
Lucas wrote scripts for the entire first season before he ever ventured to Paramount to discuss the idea. Officials there liked it and then went to ABC. Paramount followed through by pre-selling it worldwide. There is interest in a program for the schools, and an "Indiana Jones Diary" to help young students with geography and history.
"I have scripts for next season, too," he confided. "There doesn't seem an end to the ideas which keep surfacing."
One thing that was central to his plan was to introduce Indy to great people in history. There are segments with everyone from Lawrence of Arabia, to Freud, to Mata Hari.
"I knew if I could have the stories written in advance, I would be able to plan ahead, cut costs." Lucas is so passionate about the series that he says he works 70 hours a week and 90 percent of that time is on "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles."
"I know I can tell a story, and when I can figure out how to get it to the public, I'm happy. I'm just a guy who likes to make movies."