Before Lucasfilm or American Zoetrope, or many other independent film enterprises in the San Francisco Bay Area, there was director John Korty. An inspiration to George Lucas among others, and longtime collaborator with Lucasfilm, our company mourns the recent passing of this intrepid and independent filmmaker.
John Korty’s association with George Lucas began in the 1960s when the young filmmakers met in San Francisco. Lucas had yet to direct a feature film, but Korty had already made several in the Bay Area, including The Crazy-Quilt (1966) and Funnyman (1967). The Midwestern native had come to California and found success as an independent director outside of Hollywood, something recent film school graduates like Lucas were eager to do as well.
In the nearby coastal hamlet of Stinson Beach, Korty had established his own makeshift studio, complete with equipment for every stage of the filmmaking process. Visiting Korty’s self-sufficient facility was a breakthrough for Lucas and his friend Francis Ford Coppola. With control of the production tools, a film studio could be anywhere. American Zoetrope was soon established in San Francisco by Coppola and Lucas, with Korty joining as one of its first associated filmmakers. Lucas’ THX 1138 (1971) was Zoetrope’s debut feature, and Lucasfilm, Ltd. was established soon after.
Korty’s Stinson Beach studio had also helped inspire an initial plan to locate American Zoetrope in rural Marin County, a dream deferred to George Lucas and Lucasfilm, who would build Skywalker Ranch over a decade later.
Remaining part of the filmmaking community, Korty’s first collaboration with Lucasfilm was also the company’s first animated feature-length film, Twice Upon a Time (1983). Made in partnership with Korty Films and the Ladd Company, the film was written and directed by Korty and created by a dedicated crew in Mill Valley who utilized a distinctive cut-out style of animation that Korty dubbed “Lumage.” Twice Upon a Time premiered the same year as Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and was the first production to be sound-mixed at the company’s newly-built facility in San Rafael, which sported a custom sound system that was the forerunner of THX.
Lucasfilm partnered again with Korty Films to make its first television-feature. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure was directed by Korty, shot entirely in northern California, and premiered on ABC in November of 1984. Featuring the popular Ewok known as Wicket (performed by Warwick Davis), Caravan proved a success with viewers and inspired a sequel the following year.
John Korty’s award-winning career included everything from episodes of Sesame Street to the celebrated Civil Rights story, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). Lucasfilm joins the filmmaking community of northern California and the world in honoring his contributions to the art form and the seminal role he played in the ultimate founding of our company.