Lawrence Kasdan Talks Diving Into Documentaries For The First Time With Light & Magic, The Genius Of ILM & More [Interview]

Lawrence Kasdan is a legendary screenwriter and director. The man is responsible for writing some of the great adventures of our time, from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to "The Empire Strikes Back," and he's also tapped into grounded dramas like "The Big Chill" and "The Bodyguard." But recently, Kasdan wanted to head into completely different territory: documentaries. 

Kasdan was bitten by the documentary bug while making a short doc with his wife, Meg Kasdan. Titled "Last Week at Ed's," the film chronicled the last week of business at West Hollywood diner Ed's Coffee Shop, a staple in the area. After that, Kasdan started taking meetings about potential documentary subjects, and when the prospect of covering the history of the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic came along, he couldn't resist. Having worked closely with the likes of George Lucas and the VFX geniuses and ILM, Kasdan was granted unprecedented access to anyone and anything to craft a comprehensive portrait of the house responsible for some of Hollywood's greatest magic tricks. And the result is the Disney+ documentary series "Light & Magic."

Leading up to the release of "Light & Magic," we spoke with Kasdan about putting the six-part documentary series together, asked him what makes ILM so special for filmmakers like him, and how he would feel about potentially working on some follow-up films for "The Big Chill" and "Solo: A Star Wars Story."

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'We had access that no one else had ever had'

What inspired you to make a documentary about Industrial Light & Magic? Obviously, you have a history with some of ILM's key players, especially George Lucas, but you've never really done anything like this. How did this come together?

I got interested in documentaries. I made one with my wife, and I liked it. And I thought, "Well, what else could I do?" I started meeting people, and I met the people at [Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's production company] Imagine, and they said, "Well, what are you interested in?" And I said, "Well, I'm interested in the history of visual effects," even though it is not the technical side. I wanted to see who created this stuff. And they said, "Well, would you consider ILM?" And I said, "That's where I went to high school." I said, "I would love to go back to ILM."

And I found all the people that I knew about. You know, Joe Johnson and Phil Tippett and Denis Muren, and these are mythical figures to me, and I was there when they were kids. They were the same age as me ... and then they were followed by generations of people like Ellen Poon and John Knoll, who did amazing things, too. So I thought, "This is really rich material."

I assume you got to dig into the Lucasfilm archives to learn a lot about the work that they did, especially the projects that you weren't a part of. Was there anything that you saw that you that felt particularly special to you, or was very cool just to see with your own eyes?

Well, I felt that way about practically everything they pulled out of the archive. We had access that no one else had ever had. And George [Lucas] was for it. And [Lucasfilm president] Kathy Kennedy was for it, and the incredible staff of archivists and librarians up there were for it. So I put everything I wanted to in. I could have put a lot more that I loved in. You know, even at six hours, which I think a lot of people will say, "Really?" But six hours, you can't get all the great stuff. And particularly when you have access to that kind of material. I loved it all.

Do you think that there might be a chance that there'll be some extra footage that's released after this?

Anything's possible.

'I think what the genius of ILM is, they adapt to the job at hand'

Being a gifted storyteller yourself and having worked on a lot of the movies that ILM brought their movie magic to, what do you think makes Industrial Light & Magic so special as far as meshing with people like yourself and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg? Because it really feels like everyone at ILM is also a storyteller themselves.

Yeah, absolutely. And the people that have worked there productively, the directors, they know they don't have to have the answers. They have to have the questions. They have to give some vision of what they're going for. But if they work with ILM, they will get something maybe completely different that's fantastic.

So I think what the genius of ILM is, they adapt to the job at hand, and they're not even looking to solve it in the way they solve something else. They want to take everything they know and combine it with something brand new to solve it in a new way. Well, that's very inviting for any creative person, and that's the place to go.

Was there a filmmaker or a key VFX artist that you really hoped to speak with for this documentary, but simply couldn't make it work for whatever reason?

No, no one living. No.

Well, that's fantastic. Do you think that you'd like to tackle more material like this? Is there maybe a documentary about Skywalker Sound that would be just as interesting?

I'm sure it would be as interesting. I think that I want to do something completely different. I'm interested in people and every walk of life. I'm interested in all kinds of disciplines. I have enormous respect for people who are good at things, you know? And they could be making a rug. It could be doing special effects. It could be creating a medicine. I'm interested in all those people. Where do they come from and how do they do it?

'But they don't ask my opinion, and they're right not to'

You have two sons [Jonathan Kasdan and Jake Kasdan] who have followed in your footsteps as filmmakers. Jonathan has even worked on a couple of the franchises that you're so renowned for. Is there ever a situation where he comes to you for guidance, like if he feels that he's written himself into a corner?

No. Never. No, he doesn't, but we had fun doing "Solo" together, and he's now doing "Willow." It's a big enterprise. It's so expensive and long. It's eight hours long and he's doing things that I never did. And he's been working on it full-time for several years. I love that he's busy. And Jake does these big effects movies, too. But they don't ask my opinion, and they're right not to.

Sadly we lost William Hurt earlier this year and I couldn't help but be reminded of "The Big Chill," which is a favorite of mine. And it actually made me wonder if you had ever thought of doing a follow-up with those characters after all these years.

Well, the studio very much wanted [that]. They still want to do it. I think it's a terrible idea. But Bill was in four of my movies, and I loved Bill. He was not an easy person, but he was a great actor. We met when we were both very young, and we were doing our first movies. He was a great person to work with, and he had his problems and he had troubles, but I respected him enormously. The work he did with me on "Body Heat" and "Big Chill" and "Accidental Tourists," he's great.

To wrap up here, I was wondering if you have any hope of seeing the dangling narrative threads from "Solo" reconciled at some point, whether it's a TV show or a sequel.

I would be fine with that. There are a lot of people that would like that to happen. But there's plenty of people who could do it, with Jon [Kasdan] and Ron [Howard] and you know.

"Light & Magic" is streaming now on Disney+