SIUC student goes from defense contracting to directing scene under Hollywood sign

Casey Lambert said he is looking to do something different with his life.

Though he’s spent much of the last several years overseas as a defense contractor, he went to Los Angeles with a film crew during spring break to shoot under the Hollywood sign for his senior thesis film, “GLX 1973.”

The film portrays George Lucas’ struggle to make “Star Wars” in the late ‘70s. The name refers to the working title of “Star Wars.”

However, along the way to shoot in Hollywood, Lambert encountered some problems.

It was difficult to get a permit to shoot around the Hollywood sign, which Lambert said he wanted to shoot near to add authenticity.

The scene his crew filmed depicts Lucas’ filming of an iconic scene of “Stars Wars,” when the character Luke Skywalker looks into the sunset after he’s told he must stay at his family’s farm on the planet Tatooine. Lambert said the scene was filmed at the same location Lucas used.

Many film schools in California have systems in place for students to get permits and insurance, he said. However, since he’s a student at SIUC, the process of getting insurance and a permit was more challenging. The location costs a million dollars’ worth of liability damage, and he needed insurance to be able to cover that, he said.

“When I heard that number, I was a little taken back by it,” Lambert said.

He had to have permission from the property owners, prove he was a film student and have insurance to cover the liability, and show all of this before Film L.A, a nonprofit film permitting organization, would give him the go-ahead.

Lambert was able to meet all these requirements and was allowed to do the 3-hour-long shoot, he said. It was the only scene his crew filmed in California.

Since becoming a film student, Lambert, a senior from Herrin studying cinema-photography, said he has been inspired to move into film production and away from the military.

While working in Afghanistan and Iraq as a defense contractor and being a student on and off in 2010, he said it was difficult trying to balance the two in his life.

“This is my second degree that I’m working on here … I’m looking to change and do something else with my life,” Lambert said. “I’ve been in the Marine Corps for 14 years.”

Lambert said he spent an additional four years as a defense contractor for Intelligent Software Solutions. One of his duties, he said, was to train coalition forces in Afghanistan. During Lambert’s last time overseas, which lasted from January to July of 2011, he wrote the script for “GLX 1973.”

He has lost count of how much money he has spent in production of the film, he said, and is afraid to know the amount. All he knows is that it’s more than $10,000, some of which was contributed by crew members.

Lambert said he has paid for most of the production with money he earned as a defense contractor.

After coming back to the United States to start school for the fall 2011 semester, Lambert said he got the news his script would become a film for his production class with Robert Rowley, associate professor of cinema-photography.

Rowley said out of nine students, he chose only three to produce their scripts.

He said he chose Lambert’s script because it was both well-researched and well-written. It is also the largest and most ambitious student film he’s seen at the university, he said.

Douglas Vito, a senior studying cinema-photography who plays George Lucas in the film, said he doesn’t have much passion for acting but wanted to help Lambert in the production because its script was well-written.

“I had to help him,” Vito said.

During the production of “GLX 1973,” Vito said, there have been challenges to playing Lucas. Vito said his main purpose for the character has been showing Lucas as a real person and not the larger-than-life interpretation fans have of him.

“A lot of people have very strong opinions of George Lucas, especially lately and how he’s changing ‘Star Wars’ and what not,” Vito said.

Lambert said his goal is to submit the movie for “The Star Wars Fan Film Challenge,” which is an event normally held during Comic-Con in the summer. He said he’s been a fan of the films since the original released in 1977, when he was 3 years old.

With “GLX 1973” now in post production, Lambert said he is a little nervous to show it to others.

“You never know how people are going to receive your film,” he said.


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