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American Graffiti: Behind the Scenes and Around the Block

American Graffiti: Behind the Scenes and Around the Block

Summer’s almost over and school is about
to start again, but I think there’s time to go cruising up and down the streets
of Modesto one last time, so my question today is… Where were you in 62? Hi I’m Jeff and welcome to A Million
Movies. Today we’re gonna talk about some little-known facts about one of my
favorite summer films, the 1973 classic from George Lucas, American Graffiti. So let’s
get started. One thing about American Graffiti that
people may not know is that it’s in part an autobiographical film from George
Lucas. He took inspiration for three of the characters from his own life. The first was Terry the Toad. Terry
represents George when he was a freshman in high school. He admits he was awkward. He was nervous around girls, and that’s the character that Terry represents. As
George moved into later years of high school, and then on to junior college, he got
very involved with the custom car culture around Modesto. And that character at that time of his life inspired the character of John. And John is involved
in hot rods and street racing just like George was during those years. And
the final character inspired by George Lucas’s own life is Curt, played by
Richard Dreyfuss. And that that character represents George as he was moving on in
his life becoming much more serious and moving on to study at USC. The shooting
schedule and the budget limitations that George Lucas worked under are legendary.
He shot the film about 28 or 29 days. His total budget was $775,000. The
budget came from Universal Pictures and American Graffiti was part of a series
of films that Universal greenlit in the early seventies. They’d seen the success
of what they call sort of semi-independent films like Easy Rider and
they decided to greenlight five films that would be made for less than a
million dollars. The directors would have a little bit of autonomy to come up with
something creative and different and then they would be released and
hopefully generate enough profit to keep the program going. The other films in the
series besides American Graffiti were The Hired Hand, The Last Movie, Taking Off, and Silent Running. All of those were part of this special program that
Universal Pictures have put out. Now what was going on with this was
that George had to find ways to be really efficient both with time and money, and
he did a couple of things that really helped with that. The first was that he
shot, often in the dialogue scenes in particular, with two cameras. So instead of having multiple setups where he would have to move the camera around and readjust the lights, he worked it so he had both cameras shooting at the same time. Hugely efficient for getting both sides of the action at the
same time, and shooting the scenes just one or two times and then moving on to the
next one. Another way George Lucas was able to save money was he got a crew
that worked very cheap, and a lot of them worked for free. Instead of being paid, George Lucas
promised them that he would give them a title credit in the movie. Now in 1973,
only department heads typically would get their credit with their name at
the end of the movie or beginning of the movie, so given the opportunity to have your name actually in the movie was a big deal for a lot of these crew members and
they accepted the deal. They said that we won’t get paid and will work on your film, but we
are excited to see oour name up in the movie. Now because budgets and time
were so tight there are a couple of instances where
things that weren’t in the script happened and George Lucas liked what
happened and decided to keep it and use that first take. A couple of examples I
can point to… at the beginning of the film, for example, Charles Martin Smith
who plays Terry the Toad is pulling up to Mel’s Drive-In on his Vespa, but he
loses control and slams into the building. That wasn’t in the script, but
George Lucas liked it. It added a bit of humor and a little bit of surprise.It
was the first take, you got it, let’s move on and get the next scene. Another example of this happening was
when Carol, played by Mackenzie Phillips, is in the car with John, played by Paul Le Mat, and a group of girls pull up beside them and throw water balloons. The
water balloon was supposed to hit the side window next to Mackenzie Phillips and splash her in the
face. Instead it hits her full in the face. Instead of being angry like the
script called for her to be, she can’t help but laugh. George liked the way the reaction came
across. He thought it was genuine, didn’t affect the story too much, and he kept it as
a first take. A third example of how this happened is when
Terry is trying to get money from Debbie at the liquor store and Candy is waiting
for him in the car and as he comes back. She asks, “Did you get it… you get it… you
get… you got it.” But she flubbed the line and she went to George Lucas and said I want to reshoot that scene because I flubbed the line. And George said no, it’s fine let’s go. Moving on. So there are great scenes where the takes were not perfect, but they were real, and because of the tight schedules and tight budgets, George Lucas said that’s good, that’s good, let’s go and we’ll go
to the next shot. Harrison Ford and George Lucas would of
course team up to make Star Wars a few years later, but in this movie, Harrison
Ford’s role is relatively small. And George Lucas went to him and said
Harrison, I’d really need you to cut your hair. Your hair is too long for a
character in 1962. Harrison responded that my role is too small for
me to cut my hair for, but I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll wear a hat. George Lucas agreed and
Harrison became the cowboy of American Graffiti. If there’s a narrator
of American Graffiti it’s probably the Wolfman Jack character as the DJ on the
radio. He was cast specifically because George Lucas remembered hearing Wolfman Jack on the radio when he was in high school living in Modesto and he wanted
him to be part of this movie. It reignited Wolfman Jack’s career. He
became a pretty big celebrity in 1970’s because
of his role in American Graffiti. And there’s actually a scene in this movie
where Wolfman Jack makes a prank phone call to a pizza place, and on the other
in the line it’s actually George Lucas answering the phone. One of the things that we might
not think is unique today, but was unique in 1973, is actually the soundtrack.
Before American Graffiti, and a few years earlier, Easy Rider did this is well,
soundtracks were primarily music written specifically for that movie. With
American Graffiti, George Lucas identified 40 different songs that were
of the time period… that you would have heard in 1962, that
he wanted to include in the film and use that as the soundtrack. The studio
really had a problem with that. Getting the rights to all those songs
and paying the fees to use them was going to jack up the costs and the budget of this film. They really pushed back hard. It wasn’t until George Lucas’ friend,
Francis Ford Coppola, decided to come on as a producer and throw in more money
to the budget that the studio agreed to let George Lucas use the songs that he
wanted to use. Now today, using oldies in a soundtrack isn’t as big a deal. You’d
hear the songs in movies from The Big Chill and Dirty Dancing. The songs are being used in movies all the way to today, but in 1973 it was pretty unusual and was something that the studio really
pushed back hard on. In the sock hop scene, you’ve got Steve played by Ron Howard
dancing with Lori, who is played by Cindy Williams. As they start to dance, you can
hear the announcer make an announcement that this is a snowball dance. “Last year’s class president, Steve Bolander, and this year’s head cheerleader, Lori Henderson.” A snowball dance is one where two people
start to dance and then they break apart to find other partners, bring them on to the
dance floor, and then after a few seconds those two couples break apart and bring
other people dance floor. That continues to repeat until everybody’s back on the
dance floor. Now the dialogue between Steve and Lori is so intense that they
never break apart even though they’re the only two people dancing. So if you watch the
kids in the background, you can actually see them start to get a little anxious
waiting for their turn to join the dance. The executives at Universal were not
crazy about the title American Graffiti. They didn’t think the public would know what it meant and they wouldn’t be able to sort of associate it with this film. They
suggested a movie title… Another Slow Night in Modesto. Francis Ford Coppola suggested Rock Around The Block, but obviously George Lucas
pushed back and was able to keep the movie with his original title in mind, which
was American Graffiti. One of the great scenes of American Graffiti was actually
improvised. It’s the scene towards the end where John and Terry are talking after the
drag race where Falfa has wrecked his car. Terry comes over to congratulate him and
John says… he was admitted he was losing. “No, I was losing it.” “What?” “He had me, man. He was pulling away from me but just before it crashed.” “You’re crazy. I saw it now, you creamed him from right off the line. I think he never had a chance.” That scene was scheduled to be shot at
another time. The actors hadn’t prep for it, so when it got moved up, they totally
just improvised the scene and shot it right there. To give the movie more
authenticity, George Lucas really wanted to make sure there were lots of cars on the
streets, so he put out a call to the people in the cities where they shot
requesting that if they had older cars, classic cars, to come out – and some were
paid $25 a night for the use of their car. The locals really got into the
shooting and made the the shoot more like what cruising was like in 1962.
Between takes, there were even some drag races that happened up and down the
streets, so it was sort of like going back in time. The entire scene was like it was in 1962 even though it was 1973. George Lucas was able to include an
internal reference, an inside joke, in American Graffiti. The one that most
people know about is the license plate on John’s car. If you look at it it says
THX 1138. This is a reference to George Lucas’
previous film which was THX 1138, and that license plate is now actually on
display at Skywalker Ranch, the Lucasfilm’s headquarters in Marin County.
There’s a pretty famous story about Universal’s reaction to seeing the film.
They really didn’t like it. They didn’t know what to do with it and, in fact, they
put it on a shelf for six months while they tried to figure it out. They went and did a screening of it at
Northpoint Theater in San Francisco and the crowd loved it, it got a great response.
The head of Universal was actually there and even after seeing the crowd response,
he still didn’t know what to do with it. Francis Ford Coppola, who had come on as a producer of the film, immediately turned to the head of Universal and offered to
buy the film from Universal on the spot. Universal had second thoughts. They
decided to release the film, and i’m pretty sure they’re glad they did.
It made 35 million dollars on a $775,000 investment. They made 35
million, which is a pretty good turn around and really cemented George
Lucas’ career as a writer and a director. The poster for American Graffiti has a very distinctive style, and if you recognize that, there’s a good
chance you’re like me and we’re a reader of Mad Magazine when you were young. The artist of this poster is Mort Drucker, and Mort Drucker was a long
time artist on Mad Magazine. One sort of the coincidental thing about this was in
addition to drawing this poster, Mort Drucker had to draw the art that went
along with the the the parody that they did of America Graffiti when they did the
parody in Mad Magazine. So he did the poster and the parody. After American Graffiti,
Ron Howard and Cindy Williams were actually reunited in television. Ron
Howard had gotten the role of Richie Cunningham on Happy Days, and when Garry Marshall decided to do a spin-off of two girls from Milwaukee, he brought in
Cindy Williams along with his sister Penny Marshall to be Laverne and Shirley.
So there are actually great episodes of Ron Howard and Cindy Williams reunited
on the cast, on the set of Happy Days. So those are my little known facts about
American Graffiti. Thank you for sticking through it. I really appreciate it. Let’s go to the countdown. Today we
talked about The Hired Hand, The Last Movie, Taking off, Silent Running, Easy Rider… I mentioned The Big Chill and
Dirty Dancing. We referenced THX 1138, and of course we talked about American
Graffiti. That brings our total down to 999951. That’s it for today. I really
appreciate you joining me for this episode about American Graffiti. If you
enjoyed this video, I hope you watch my other ones and perhaps subscribe to this
channel. That would really help me out. If you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions… anything… please put in the comments section below. I’d love to read that, and hopefully I’ll see you on the
next episode of A Million Movies.

100 thoughts on “American Graffiti: Behind the Scenes and Around the Block”

  1. We cruised in southwest Ohio in the late 60's to about 1971 when we graduated from high school. Cruised the Country Kitchen (Like a Bob's/Frisches Big Boy), The Parkmoor, Cassano's at Town& Country, Howard Johnson's at Town & Country, The John Patterson Monument at Community Golf Course, The Carillon down on Patterson Blvd across from then NCR, Southland 75 on 741 across from the Dayton Mall. Good memories, innocent times, we're in combat to various degree 6 months later… and life never had the kindness nor good things to look forward to in the future………………ever…………………again.

  2. I graduated high school in 1962. Many Saturday nights were like the movie. In 1985 I asked Wolfman do some voice tracks for my Modesto radio station for the annual summer Cruise Night there and played AG soundtrack Oldies all evening long. Lots of fun and the listeners loved it!

  3. BS.
    The songs weren't of the 1962 era like this guy says.
    Most were from the mid to late 50's.
    I know because I was part of that crowd at the time.

  4. "It is such a grounded and 'human' film with so many interconnecting characters(great acting), that made everyone in the audience love it. The epitaph: John Milner is killed by a drunk driver, Terry is missing in action in Vietnam, etc) as Curt's plane is flying away was so sad, and made me go back to see it over a dozen times because I never wanted the story to end or any of the characters to die. It was funny, happy, but also sad".

  5. Gorge Lucas loved racing cars, he rolled his Fiat so cut the crushed roof off installed a mickey mouse role bar and seat belt, so the next time he rolled it his seat belt detached leavening him safely in the road, then the car hit a tree crushing the drivers compartment, he would have died if his safety belt held, I thank God I got to be a part of that 60’s cursing & custom car and motorcycle culture, building custom choppers swapping car engines custom paint etc. I feel sorry for snowflakes of today who can only watch movies about those wonderful but crazy times. Before gangs drugs and Godlessness put an end to cruising!

  6. Another small fact , there was a young high school girl who had a small part where she spoke to Ron American graffiti, years later this same girl played Jim Lovell's wife in Ron Howard's apollo 13.

  7. Didn't he have his carpenter in that move? Some guy named Ford something, Ford Prefect? That doesn't seem right. Well it was Ford something.

  8. rose coloured glasses!great film and story but lets not forget there were still jails full of criminals,rapes and murders back in those days,horrific car accidents,muggings etc,life never has been a nice fairly tale and never will be.

  9. Turned 19 in 73, i was stationed in north Fla. Think i watched that movie the year it came out, as i did Star Wars in 76. Really enjoyed this movie.

  10. I did not watch it all because I have heard the exact same stuff from Lucas, Copola, Howard and others actually involved with the movie several times before. Like I said, I did not watch all of it, so I don't know if you credited the "Bonus Section" of the DVD that the movie is printed on called "The Making Of American Graffiti." "Play all", as your one and only source. I will give you credit for being pretty darn accurate, (from all I saw), to that bonus section though. You must have watched it several times too. That makes you a "tape recorder". 🙂

  11. Very well done review of a movie for us old folks now that I'm one to remember a simpler and less complicated time a.k.a. fubar as these times are.Thanks will watch all reviews cause they are done professionally…

  12. I'm from lil ole England…?.and this scene and cars is very much magnified here…you think it's good…
    It's a bit of a dream from this shore…this film replaces what we couldn't see.
    Why can't American car designers wake up and dream tin again?
    More jelly moulds coming up sir.

  13. In 62 I was in Madrid Spain. Was in a military family. The early 70's were spent in Modesto an most of the cities in the Valley. Was good times

  14. I do believe it was the first movie to have a wall to wall soundtrack, it was the first movie to tell the story in four sections instead of being a Lineal Formula, and they actually played the music in an alley way and recorded it there then added those recordings to the movie, instead of just adding the real recording to the soundtrack. this is so that it would sound like the music was coming from everywhere around and make it feel like the music was coming from all the radio's in the cars and bouncing off the walls and windows in the street.

  15. I grew up right through the 60's had a beast of a car for drag night we had our own places to go. I loved the show so much I bought an authentic green electric guitar with the whole cast autographing it. I looked for a poster or 8×10 but never seen one. I paid a premium price for it I never want to sell it, I hope my daughter keeps it with all my other pictures which I have over 100 now. I have the dvd so I can watch the toad hit the side of the building time after time.

  16. In 1962 I was doing the same thing. Only not as many cool cars. I was 17. Loved the movie as well as Easy Rider.

  17. American Graffiti is in my top ten of favorite films, a kind of valedictory for my generation, and without any doubt the best time to come of age in America, or any place else. It has become an iconic part of cinema history, and a flashback to the best years of our lives. I still love those characters, that music, and those cars. Like the man said "the best years are the first to flee." This review includes a number of facts about the making of the film that I didn't know, and it was very interesting to watch. I remember wondering when I first saw the film whether Toad's crashing his scooter was actually in the script, and if so, admired how well he did it. But, as I suspected, it was a happy accident that occurred during shooting. Most of us, I suppose, identified with Curt, who struggled as we did, with having to leave behind what he has come to realize, even before it was gone, that those years were very special. And John, who refused to leave it behind. But, like Lucas, there's a little bit of us in each of them.
    It was the last of our innocence. As a kid I spun records at the local radio station, and played all that music, my dad had those cars (and yes, we dragged them), and we fell in love all the time. Returning from overseas during Vietnam, I flew into San Francisco during the Summer of Love, and I thought of those guys over in Modesto, and those times. I thought of Toad, who we thought had died in Vietnam, together with so many others. and the world turned again. I wish I had a time machine, but failing that, I still have American Graffiti. Thanks.

  18. I was at Vanderbilt Hospital in the 100 Oaks Mall (Nashville, TN) last week and in the children's hospital in a window was a small model of the diner, cars and people from the movie!! I was very much made to smile. Around the small model were train sets the kids could push a button to activate. When they activated the switch the diner lights (including the menu/speaker polls) would light up. Each car from the movie was represented in the model. This movie lives on and on!

  19. Class of 62 here. Everything that happened in the movie also happened on the east coast. Cruising, drag racing especially at E-Town. Gonna watch the movie next week on Starz.

  20. During the 'snowball dance. if you watch the line of kidds as they get closer, you will see a lighting guy crouching behind.

  21. Many people here are regretting the loss of those good old days — me too. Many are saying 'What happened to them?' Welllll, Those days were of leisure–there was hard work but then leisure time was honored–but it is a bit expensive. Since then we have had almost constant overseas wars to the cost of 4 Trillion$ of dollars since 1979–so not including the expenses of Vietnam. $4,000,000,000,000 has to be paid to the war industries and related expenses so there is not time to hang out, build hot rods & etc. Immediately after the period this movie portrayed the Vietnam War escalated–In the movie's afternotes, I think it said Toad was 'lost in Vietnam'–along with 50,000 others who were mostly conscripted. The generation portrayed became the most vocal anti-war generation ever–were they heeded??

  22. Always one of my favorite movies I saw at the drive-in theater in 1973 in Milwaukee Wisconsin I was 8 years old I have seen it no less than 75 times always loved the music and it too

  23. In Cleveland we had Allen Freed and the Moondog Coronation Ball,he coined the phrase Rock and Roll,it’s sad that the hall made his family remove his ashes from the Rock Hall this year.

  24. that cant be your car must be ya mamas car well at least I dont have to pull over to let a funeral go buy lol

  25. The very first but brief drag race scene between Milner and Falfa, when you can hear the v8's of the 32 and 55 giving it all they had, and the buildings in the background were flying by, is one of my favorite car scenes in a movie.

  26. Saw it with harold & maude. Man what a double. Still high from this and that was in 73. Loved the end notes which made it bitter sweet. Brings Ned Ryerson to mind for those who didn't seize the day. And ah the music. Hello baby!!! Always wanted to join the Pharaohs. Maybe one day …

  27. If memory serves me correctly, This was the first movie, with the intertwining, different stories, about different characters, all connected, some how.

  28. You should be proud of this film soooo Americcannnn …. I am Southamerican and I can tell you in those years only middle-class and high class people could live such a a life, as you can see in mexican, argentinian and brazilian films and tv series.

  29. Crusin' on the weekend in my friend's '55 Chevy in Harrisburg, PA; up and down 2nd Street. Ahhh how well I remember. AG made a lot of money from those of us who did not only remember but actually lived that film.

  30. In 1962 I was so much more cool than Lucas, Modesto, San Rafael and Petaluma. I was cruising the streets of San Bernardino in my father's International pickup, unless I was riding my 150 cc Honda.

  31. I worked at a theater that showed this. The manager told me our next movie was called AMERICAN GRAFF-A-TEE…

  32. Good video narration. Many of us older people may have known a lot of that stuff but it's good to refresh our memories and . . . yeah, we learned some new things too.

  33. The soundtrack was a money maker all it's own. I remember driving back to college from St. Louis, Mo. back to Fayetteville, Ark. Uof A and I played the hell out of this 8 track through the Ozark mountains. Great memories.

  34. in 1962 I was in my Dad's testicles and my Mom's ovaries .. LMAO but they were making good use of my Dad's back seat of his '50 Chevy Fastback.. I came along by 1966.

  35. I was lucky enough to have lived that time and place. The activity in the movie was known then as “dragging 10th Street” – endlessly circling 10th Street looking for girls or cars to race. Just as in the movie, the races were held on a quarter- mile marked off on Paradise Road in farmland outside Modesto. In the movie Mckensie Phillips says she goes to Turlock High. I went to Turlock High and graduated in1962. It’s thirteen miles south of Modesto on highway 99. The movie is dead on what took place every Friday and Saturday night in the summer. Simpler times that will never come again. I have only watched the movie a few times. Why watch it when you have lived it. The movie would likely flop today. Not edgy enough or violent enough.

  36. John Milner was the best.Toad the same.Wish I could by a 32’ ford but my wife is attached to our oldest son. That’s the asking price.First born male son,Your house and 3 weekends of debauchery with your wife and daughter thankfully not at the same time.Best looking 58’ Chevy ever. Big boat of a car but cool in this movie.Harrison Fords Bob Falfas. 55’ was sweet as well.

  37. I was a teenager when this film came out. I was in my late teens. This film as huge. The 1950s nostalgia was strong. And this film spoke to the youth. I could of course, well remember that era. But the assassinations , Vietnam, race riots, campus riots, Manson murders all had taken place since. America’s innocence was gone, then came this beautiful tribute, this colorful memory of that era.

  38. Never a mention of Harrison Ford (Falfa) girl in the black 55 Chev. Her name was Debralee Scott (RIP)
    anyone have any additional info on her??

  39. I first saw this movie after I returned from SouthEast Asia. It was being put on by the USO at our base in Okinawa in 1973. Loved it, now have watched it time and time again.

  40. I never lived this life but I LOVED this movie. I was 9 in 1962 and I fell in love with this movie when I first saw it on tv but regrettably, I never saw it at a theater. My dad worked with Candy Clark's uncle.

  41. Great break down of a great movie. man, bornn in '57 but didn't dig AG,,,until i saw it. great
    saw a Jeff Beck clip mentioning the movie Hot Rod Gang. Opens with cars driven down the sidewalk..

  42. The scene where Richard Dreyfus & the gang go to the minute golf course to steal money out of the pin ball machines was filmed at Pinole Minit

  43. The scene where Richard Dreyfus and the gang go to the miniature golf course to steal money from the pin ball machines was filmed at Pinole Miniature Golf in Pinole, California, my home town. I played many a round of golf there both before and after the movie was made. Unfortunately, the course closed sometime in the early 1980’s.

  44. Iconic film! One that I love which is out of my time, but dear in my heart.

    Edit Add: The comments for this video, wow! Reading everyone’s stories about their experiences, a time period, where they were, what life was like, it is epic!
    Thank you for taking the time to make this video and sharing the hidden gems! These are backstories and unknown facts I never knew. Very cool!

  45. Not filmed in Modesto…car crash scene was filmed east of Petaluma in the area of Frates Road…rest of it filmed in & around Petaluma & San Rafeal…

  46. It was a great movie about a great time. BUT what only the locals knew, Modesto was a podunk place back then. The REAL action happened in Walnut Creek California! Everyone from counties around would go to Walnut Creek. There were hot rods, muscle cars, and even family cars coming out to hang out, race, burn out, drink here and there, flirt, try to find a date or a mate, and yes, plenty of police activity. It was so big, the locals complained and the police tried several ways to shut it down. It was a MUCH better night "Cruisin the Creek" than anything going on in Modesto!

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