With one of the most highly anticipated films coming out this weekend, NFTS students were thrilled to be treated to a masterclass with the Producer of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Ram Bergman (Brick; Looper). According to a roundup of reviews on the BBC website, the critics are “in raptures” using words like "rousing", "thrilling" and "addictively bold” to describe the film.
The session was hosted by director, screenwriter and Empire’s Contributing Editor, Nev Pierce, who opened by asking Ram what it was like to work on one of the biggest franchises of all time. Ram reflected back to his childhood where he grew up in Israel and was 8 or 9 when the first Star Wars movie came out: “It was the first time I realised what you can do in movies. A whole new world opened up for me. That was the period that got me interested in making movies.”
On how the opportunity came about, Ram explained, “Lucasfilm president, Kathleen Kennedy approached Rian (Rian Johnson is Star Wars: The Last Jedi director and Ram’s long-time collaborator) and asked him to direct episode 8 before JJ had even started filming episode 7. He was shocked! He then called me. We had never made a big studio movie or a studio movie, period. We wanted to make sure we would have a good experience but we were so excited and thought we’ve got to do this! Three and a half years later, I can honestly say we had the best experience in the world.”
According to Ram, Disney and Kathy gave them as much freedom as they wanted in making the film: “It felt like we were making a Rian movie. We got complete freedom and I cannot speak more highly of the experience. There was really no difference between making this film and our movie, Brick. Apart from the budget and the scope, the day to day process felt intimate and just like the indie filmmaking process we were used to.”
Nev asked Ram what kind of challenges he faced in making the film. Ram replied: “There were 125 sets, which is a lot! With a 100 day shoot, that meant more than one set a day and some of the sets were huge! We took over the whole of Pinewood and that still wasn’t enough space for us. But we had a phenomenal crew. I really appreciated the craftsmanship of every department from the art department to the creature department. From construction to VFX, we were working with the best people in the business, which was hugely rewarding.”
Ram and Rian brought in DoP, Steve Yedlin and Editor, Bob Ducsay. The rest of the crew were either hired by Rian and Ram or had already worked on Star Wars. Ram continued: “It’s part of my job as Producer to create an environment that’s best for the movie and to make sure everyone works together in the best way. I like to work with people who have a point of view and are not afraid to share it. People who push you rather than simply implementing the director’s vision ultimately lead to a better result.”
One of the students asked Ram about making his first feature with Rian, Brick. Ram said: “Rian was trying to make Brick for seven years but hadn’t managed to get anywhere with it. I read the script and said the way he was trying to make it was wrong. He was going after the wrong budget level. The seven years meant he knew every detail of the movie so by the time we shot it, he had a clear vision and was very prepared.”
Nev asked Ram how he chooses who to work with. Ram explained: “As I progressed in my career, I decided I only wanted to work with talented people who are good human beings, which is a rare combination in our industry. Rian is a truly good human being and a unique filmmaker. If I just work with Rian for the rest of my left, I’ll be happy. There’s no ego, it’s purely about the work.”
On working with editor, Bob Ducsay, Ram said: “Bob played an integral part in Star Wars. He is a guy with great energy and is not afraid to give his point of view. So much is about dynamics, to know when and how to say, we should do it this way.”
Nev wrapped up the session by asking Ram to give the students some advice for their future careers. Ram pondered and then said: “All I know is hard work pays off. You need a vision of what you want to be doing and then you need to figure out how to get there. Be committed to your vision. Connecting the dots isn’t as hard as committing to what to do.”
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out in cinemas from today.