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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

BEHIND THE SCENES: THE BFI's ''STAR WARS' ON SET' EXHIBITION - 2014


 
STAR WARS - back home in the UK, for a special exhibition at the BFI Southbank. Exhibition images: Scott Weller.

Uniquely bringing the best of British and International Science Fiction in film, TV and literature under one encompassing and fascinating umbrella, the British Film Institute’s ambitious Sci-Fi: Days of Fear & Wonder 2014 season was a triumphant success deservedly garnering much praise from visitors and critics. Of particular note to fans of George Lucas STAR WARS universe was its incorporation of a very special gallery exhibition, which ran up to 5th January, 2015, showcasing UK behind the scenes Script Supervisor Ann Skinner’s original, and fascinating, noted-packed 1976 reference script, alongside a choice selection of never-before-seen costume/continuity Polaroid images, featuring both the film’s cast and its incredible sets, that proved to be the veritable nostalgic icing on the cake.
 
Ann Skinner (sitting down) takes notes during filming of scenes on the "Rebel Starfighter" (aka Rebel Blockade Runner) during July 1976. Image: LUCASFILM. All other on set 1976 images: Ann Skinner.

The gallery’s enthusiastic curator, Nathalie Morris, kindly took some time out of her busy schedule to correspond with STAR WARS AFICIONADO about its behind the scenes conception…
 
The cover to Ann Skinner's unique continuity script for THE STAR WARS.
An example of one of the script's heavily notated pages- from Han's "Boring conversation, anyway" speech! 

STAR WARS AFICIONADO: Hello Nathalie, what was the genesis of the gallery exhibition? Was it from the continuity script already held in the BFI special collections, your involvement in researching women in film, or was it something that had always been in the pipeline via the BFI sci-fi season?

NATHALIE MORRIS: The BFI’s major season, Sci-Fi: Days of Fear & Wonder provided the perfect opportunity for us to exhibit Ann Skinner’s continuity script for Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. The script is accessible for research purposes but it was wonderful to be able to display large parts of it for everyone to see. We regularly display objects from the archive’s collections at BFI Southbank, but Days of Fear & Wonder enabled us to mount an exhibition focused not just on one film, but on a single item (albeit one containing many individual parts!).

Ann Skinner (firmly holding her continuity script) with Sir Alec Guinness on his first day's filming in Tunisia - March 1976. Image: LUCASFILM.

Ann donated her script to the BFI National Archive several years ago. It forms part of her larger archive of papers and continuity scripts for other films she worked on such as DarlingFar From the Madding Crowd and Oh! What a Lovely War. Continuity is a fascinating area and the scripts we hold in the archive (from Ann, but also from a number of other script supervisors) are among some of my favourite objects in the collections. They often include notes and on-set Polaroids that provide completely unique views of the making of films.

How long did it take in preparation, and just what involvement did Lucasfilm have in the project? Did you and the designers select the imagery, or was Miss Skinner additionally involved?
 
A selection of Ann Skinner's continuity Polaroids from the Tunisian deleted scene filming of April 1976.

The exhibition took around 6 months to prepare. The script has over 150 pages (many annotated on the reverse as well as the front) and nearly 180 photographs, so selecting what to show and how best to display it was a major undertaking. Luckily I’m a huge Star Wars fan so I was very happy to have an excuse to immerse myself in the script and repeatedly re-watch the film. I was keen to show as many photographs and script pages as possible, particularly of iconic or deleted scenes – as I thought this is what Star Wars fans would get most excited about. At the same time I wanted to make the exhibition accessible to those who may not know the film well, or perhaps hadn’t even seen it before. So what we displayed also followed the narrative of the film, avoiding any spoilers of course!
 
Classic movie lines, with Ann Skinner's notes, were specially blown up for the gallery exhibition.
The Atrium area at the BFI Southbank- a popular spot for STAR WARS fans!

Lucasfilm have been incredibly helpful and supportive throughout, even supplying official star maps for us to try and incorporate into the exhibition design. I said I wanted the design to make you feel like you were in the middle of a galaxy of stars and our designer, Riccardo Spina, did a wonderful job of this. He also lifted annotated quotes directly from the script which we used as part of the exhibition design on the walls. These included a slightly different version of the famous opening lines, reading here: ‘A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away’). I was really keen that Ann herself featured in the exhibition, so we reproduced a fantastic photograph of her on location in Tunisia, with her script and typewriter to hand.
 
Costume continuity/reference notes/Polaroids for Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew on their first day's filming at Elstree- April 1976.
Notes and Polaroids for the Imperial officers (Peter Sumner and Malcolm Weaver) in the Death Star Docking Bay control room set at Elstree. 

Did you have a chance to speak to Miss Skinner at length about working on the original film? Was it just another film to her (like it was to so many of the UK filming crew of that time), an oddity, or did she have a hunch it was going to be something successful in her daily working with Lucas?

For Ann, the film was just another job. She had no idea at the time that Star Wars would become the phenomenon it has. Ann and I spent lots of time together talking about her working processes and how she saw her role as being that of ‘the editor’s agent on the studio floor’.

We knew that we really wanted to display the script and focus an exhibition around it. Ann was hugely supportive of this, especially because it shows that donating something to the BFI National Archive means that it won’t be shut away in a vault forever – it will be used and seen by a wide range of people, while being kept safe and preserved for future generations.
 
A rare image of an unmasked Dave Prowse with Peter Cushing- May 1976.

Did you personally have a favourite part of the exhibition- a script segment or specific imagery? And why?

I really like everything that we displayed, but some of my favourites were the image of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin out of character and smiling broadly on-set, characters with parts of their costumes missing (Darth Vader without his helmet, a sandtrooper without his trousers, Greedo without his mask). These really make you feel like you’re on-set, in the instant that Polaroid was taken, seeing what the crew saw. These images were not created for public distribution but as part of the production process. And there’s something that still seems incredibly magical about instant photography, even in the digital age: with Polaroid you have a single photograph that was created in that moment.
 
Another rarity, this one showing the British X-wing pilot extras assembled at Shepperton Studios in 1976.

Do you recall where and when you first saw STAR WARS? Did it impact your life?

I first saw Star Wars as a child in the 80s. For me it’s as important as any fairy tale or other story that you encounter when you’re young and which stays with you all your life. It works just as well as an adult when you can appreciate different elements too: the energy and skill of all aspects of the filmmaking, the humour, the pedigree of the cast, the universe the films create, and the wealth of cinematic references they draw upon. Watching The Empire Strikes Back again recently, I really appreciated its elements of screwball comedy with all of that fantastic verbal sparring between Han and Leia. How could they not be destined to end up together?


STAR WARS AFICIONADO sends out a big thank you to Ann Skinner, Nathalie Morris and the BFI for their dedication and enthusiasm in bringing this splendid gallery exhibition to reality.

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