Day 577 – Deborah Fine

Deborah “Debbie” Fine was the Director of Research at the George Lucas Research Library. Before joining Lucasfilm, Fine did research work at American Zoetrope for Francis Ford Coppola’s films Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II.

Sadly most of the information I was able to find about Fine’s career was not from an interview, but from her obituary. Fine died in late 2019 after retiring from Lucasfilm in 1995. Her obituary (which you can read here) mentioned how Fine encouraged Lucasfilm’s purchase of the Paramount Studios research library (this was a huge deal) and detailed many of her career milestones.

Career highlights include supervising research on several of the blockbuster Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, managing the massive research behind the 3-season historical drama series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and supervising the cataloguing and management of the Lucasfilm archives.

Fine was credited as a researcher on several Lucasfilm productions including More American Graffiti, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, and Howard the Duck.

Jeffrey Chown’s book Hollywood Auteur: Francis Coppola includes this look at Fine and Coppola’s relationship, “Many filmmakers want research done merely to verify or contradict something they’ve already decided. Or, they ignore what you give them. Francis Coppola, on the other hand, has a way of absorbing everything that comes his way. He has a great sense of history and respect for detail.”

The book War Films by James Clarke notes that some of the topics Fine researched for Apocalypse now during research that took place between 1975 and 1977 included, “Information about the North Vietnamese army, Cambodian ruins, China Beach, PBRs, and USO shows.”

Fine makes several appearances in J.W. Rinzler’s book The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. For Raiders of the Lost Ark Fine researched the Ark, World War II history, and details such as what newspapers characters might be reading in the 1930’s.

Lawrene Kasdan who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark: “I had always hated doing research, but I was introduced to Debbie Fine. She brought me research about the era, about South America at that time, Egypt, about Hitler’s interest in the occult.”

Rinzler’s book also includes Fine’s notes from the first draft of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. According to Rinzler she noted, “the Maharajah would not partake in monkey brain, and that the torture scenes were ‘violent.'”

Fine also led the research effort in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, diving into questions such as whether or not the Grail could be tied to Scotland historically.

J.W. Rinzler’s book The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi talks a bit about Fine’s work researching US locations for “unusual or extreme environments” and mentions a memo Fine sent to George Lucas and Howard Kazanjian with her edits of the opening scroll for Return of the Jedi. She reportedly added the “that” and the “than” in the second paragraph below.

Little does he know that the Galactic Empire has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful that the first dreaded Death Star.

I think we’ll never really know what I’m guessing are the dozens, if not hundreds, of ways Fine’s work helped shape the original Star Wars trilogy and the history of Indiana Jones stories in film and television. But her role in preserving the artifacts from Lucasfilm productions is clear from the foreword to the book From Star Wars to Indiana Jones – The Best of the Lucasfilm Archives Fine wrote in 1994.

Here are the two opening paragraphs:

The archives of Lucasfilm came into being out of practical necessity. After eight years of producing the Star Wars trilogy, there was an accumulation of “stuff,” which had been stored wherever storage could be found–a closet here, a warehouse there, cubby-holes at England’s Elstree Studios, inaccessible corners of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). It was all the physical things needed to make the movies and their extraordinary effects, ranging from simple pencil sketches to elaborate models of space vehicles and grotesque creature heads. No one referred to this “stuff” as artifacts, and no one thought about museums. The dilemma was storage.

That changed. on a spring day in 1983, just before the release of Return of the Jedi. Someone had the idea to take a publicity shot of George Lucas amid a sea of models and miniatures used to make the trilogy. ILM then added a starfield with the ominous Death Star under construction hovering overhead. It wasn’t until that day on the gigantic ILM soundstage that we had seen all of these pieces in one place. We were stunned by the volume of it. George turned to me and said, “You know, we need to save all this stuff. We need to start an archive. You’re in charge of it.”

After Fine retired from Lucasfilm in 1995 she authored the book Star Wars Chronicles which included hundreds of photographs, production stills, and sketches from the Lucasfilm Archive. This is not an easy book to find for less than $200, so if you have it, please treasure it.

Search the 365 Star Wars Women Archive to find all the posts that have been done for characters and women working behind the scenes sorted by films, TV series, books, etc. (canon & Legends) here.

Read 50+ interviews with women who have worked on Star Wars projects here.

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