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John Swartz lives in London for the production of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which will premiere in December 2016. 

Q&A with Ohio University alumnus, co-producer of new 'Star Wars' movies

The co-producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story graduated in 2005 at Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered in December, some of the cast and crew were already hard at work filming in London for the next project Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

John Swartz, a co-producer of the films, arrived at the London premiere with the crew. Even though Swartz had just finished a tiring 10-hour work day, his mind could not stop racing during the screening, remembering the difficulty of certain shots.

“My first time watching it, I had a hard time shutting my brain off,” the 2005 Ohio University alumnus said. “When you work on something like that, it’s sometimes hard to separate yourself from it.”

He returned to the theater later that week and rewatched the movie not as the Force Awakens co-producer but as the Star Wars fan he has been since he was young.  

“It was huge to be able to see my name as co-producer up on the credit screen,” Swartz, 31, said. "The Star Wars movies were a big part of what inspired me to make movies in the first place. It’s a huge responsibility to work on Star Wars because of how important it is to so many people.”

The Post talked with Swartz about his rising career at Lucasfilm, advice for recent graduates and his favorite Star Wars character.

The Post: What exactly do producers do?

John Swartz: Producing is a wonderfully vague job description, which is one of the things that I love about it the most. Working on big movies is tough and one of the things that I love about producing, and about moviemaking in general, is the combination of so many different art forms. A big part of producing is helping to make sure the vision that the director has is disseminated among all of those people. I got to be involved in the creative process of (Star Wars), the business aspect of the movie and the studio aspect.

P: What was it like working under Kathleen Kennedy (president of Lucasfilm)?

JS: I started assisting her in 2008 at the Kennedy/Marshall Company. I worked as her production associate with The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse and Lincoln. She has so much experience. … To be able to work for her is an incredible experience to have with someone who wants to do what she does, which is exactly what I wanted coming into the job. She’s very inclusive, so I got to sit in on all these meetings and be a part of these creative and business discussions that were going on about Lucasfilm and about Star Wars and Disney.

P: Is co-producing a stepping stone for producing? Is that what you ultimately want to do?

JS: (Producing) is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I spent a lot of my time at OU focusing on how to learn. I’ve been trying to learn ever since. The ultimate goal is producer, and co-producer is a very happy start for me. To be able to interact with the director and the heads of departments, like the production designer and the costume designer and the casting director, it’s really helped me to understand how to produce better.

P: The Force Awakens has been a huge hit. How do you feel about its success?

JS: Up to the release, there was a lot of pressure on Star Wars. I am a fan myself, and I wanted it to be great. You could feel that pressure from everything around you and wanting that movie to be great. All the news coming out of the LA premiere was that it was fantastic and people love it. That made me so happy to hear.

P: How does the story of Rogue One line up within the saga?

JS: We’re doing these stand-alone Star Wars movies that take place in the Star Wars universe but aren’t part of the saga — the saga being the Skywalker story. The story takes place between Episodes III and IV. It’s about a team of rebels that are on a mission to steal the plans of the Death Star, which is the story that continues with Princess Leia and Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. We’re not an episode number, which is fun because we’re going to introduce a lot of new characters that people haven’t seen before. But we still get to keep all of that familiar Star Wars design that people know and love.

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P: Who is your favorite Star Wars character?

JS: I think Yoda is my favorite character — Yoda from Empire from Strikes Back. Discovering Yoda and the way he talked about the Force and what it meant to him was such a fun ... and also soulful experience. To be able to experience Yoda and feel something. You watch this puppet show Luke Skywalker actually how connected the universe is … Yoda will always stick in my mind because of that.

P: Do you have any advice for students getting their name in the film industry?

JS: For everybody just starting out or even a few years in, do everything you can do. The more things that I tried at OU, the more I understood what I loved about specific parts of the job. I ended up finding producing because of that. Be involved in everything to find out what it is that you love. Meet people that you’d like to work with and that you like collaborating with and tell stories together.


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