EDITOR’S NOTE: MORE ON UNCLE G’S NEW DIGS.Lucas's New Headquarters Give Bay Area Film a Lift
By SHARON WAXMAN
SAN FRANCISCO, July 15 - Daylight streams through the windows of George Lucas's gleaming new $350 million headquarters, situated conveniently - and to some degree, surprisingly - in the middle of the Presidio, a former Army post on the edge of this city, where the public can mingle beside the Yoda fountain with company employees. EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE GROOVY PIC, BELOW.
For decades Lucasfilm, the director's privately held company, and its two main divisions - LucasArts, the video game producer, and Industrial Light and Magic, a leading designer of movie special effects - were tucked away in barely marked structures in northern San Rafael and behind the impenetrable walls of nearby Skywalker Ranch.
But as of last week, the company has adopted a new attitude, embodied in this four-building complex, the Letterman Digital Arts Center, in the federally owned park that once boasted an Army hospital and a 13-acre parking lot. Passers-by cannot enter the buildings, but they can press their noses up against the glass of George Lucas's world. And they do, literally.
"This is very public, and it's deliberate on our part,"
said Micheline Chau, the president of Lucasfilm, eating lunch in the company commissary, with its panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the TransAmerica building downtown. "We spent a lot of years hidden away, and I'm not sure if it was good for the company as a whole. The world has changed. To be the epicenter of the digital revolution, we have to be out here, evangelizing EDITOR’S NOTE: IS THIS A WORD? the cause."
City and regional leaders are counting on the new company headquarters to do exactly that, hoping it will serve as a highly visible symbol of the area's connection to the entertainment business and as a magnet for film production and expertise.
"There's something symbolic in it
," said Stefanie Coyote, executive director of San Francisco's Film Commission, speaking of Mr. Lucas's decision to move his operation to the city from northern Marin county. "When he was in Marin, people legitimately bypassed San Francisco. He's putting San Francisco back on the map as the leader in film entertainment technology."
The Bay Area suffered a blow when it lost two beacons of its film community in recent months. Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope facilities shut down in December,EDITOR’S NOTE: ISN’T THIS THE 2ND OR 3RD TIME FFC HAS GONE BANKRUPT WITH ZOETROPE?
and the Saul Zaentz Film Center in Berkeley, founded by Mr. Zaentz, the veteran producer of "The English Patient" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," has virtually ceased its activities since January.
But San Francisco and its neighboring city across the bridge, Oakland, have both been investing in renewed efforts to draw Hollywood studios back to the area by converting decommissioned military space and other unused real estate, like a former Amtrak station, for film shoots. The musical "Rent," produced by Revolution Studios, was shot here in part this year, as was the Fox Searchlight drama "Bee Season." Both films are to open in the fall.
Last week, San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, named a new task force to transform the city into a "digital Hollywood," as the city's announcement read.
And a former Army post, 70 acres along the Oakland waterfront, is being used as a "film incubator" for 23 small companies, including a special effects house.
But potentially the biggest new project in the offing is an ambitious plan by the Los Angeles-based Wayans brothers - the family of comedy actors, directors and producers - to convert that same 70-acre space into a film studio and entertainment complex. It would include a high-rise hotel, theaters and restaurants, similar to the popular Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
"We're very serious, we believe this is going to happen
," said Will Adams, director of business development for Wayans Brothers Entertainment. "Oakland was not on my radar. I was talking to New York, Miami, Atlanta, when a colleague of mine from Oakland, Jane Green, heavily recruited me."
But he quickly became a convert. "I believe it's a sleeping giant
," he said. "There aren't many places where you have 70 acres of waterfront property to develop."
This month, Oakland entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Wayans brothers to pursue the project, which could break ground as early as next year. The Wayanses estimate the overall venture would cost some $700 million.
In terms of cinema, the Bay Area has probably been most profoundly influenced by Mr. Lucas. From the 1970's onward, his interest in the technological possibilities of film led to the founding of Industrial Light and Magic, the creation of the THX Sound System at Skywalker Sound and many other innovations. Other local entertainment companies - the animation giant Pixar; the special effects company the Orphanage; and even DreamWorks' animation center, PDI DreamWorks Animation in nearby Redwood City - have historic connections, through friendship or employment, to Mr. Lucas.
And the 865,000-square-foot Letterman center (the name remains from the hospital that once stood here) creates its own benchmark. For the first time, the LucasArts gaming company and Industrial Light and Magic will be in the same location, sharing the same computer system - said to be the largest in the industry - and simultaneous access to a single digital library. Thus all the images created for "Star Wars" films, for example, can be easily reused by designers working on a video game, which was previously not the case."A lot of people talk about convergence, but we have the benefit of being under one roof, so we're doing it, not just talking about it,"
said Cliff Plumer, Lucasfilm's chief technology officer, who has had the unenviable task of moving both companies to the Presidio while not interrupting the vast flow of data in their daily work.
The broader film industry is trying to create links with the lucrative video gaming industry, and Lucasfilm is now well positioned to do so. Jim Ward, who is president of LucasArts and also head of marketing and distribution for Lucasfilm, said he expected the most growth in the company would come from the gaming division."We want to be a Top 5 publisher,"
he said, adding that LucasArts was currently eighth in size among gaming companies. "No other entertainment company has the expertise in theatrical, home entertainment, gaming, visual effects and sound effects. But we're not some big corporate studio. In terms of people and structure, we're still a small business."
Lucasfilm does not disclose its annual revenues, but press and industry estimates put its 2003 revenues at about $1.2 billion.
Mr. Lucas has said that with the "Star Wars" epic complete, the film and television side of his company will focus on smaller films and work more independently of him. Ultimately the new complex in the Presidio will house 1,500 employees. The first 200 LucasArts employees moved in last week; Industrial Light and Magic and other Lucasfilm workers will move in August and September.
One person who will not be moving, however, is Mr. Lucas. The company's attitude may have shifted, but some things haven't changed, Ms. Chau noted. "He's staying at the ranch
," she said. EDITOR’S NOTE: LOL! (WON’T HE BE LONELY OUT THERE BY HIMSELF? GIGGLE).
The Yoda fountain at the new Lucasfilm headquarters. "We spent a lot of years hidden away," said Micheline Chau, Lucasfilm's president.The Lucasfilm Licensing Archives Revealed
The first floor entrance to the Licensing Archive is a staging area for incoming samples.The second floor holds the majority of the Licensing Archive's assets, including most of the items from the vintage eraManaging the Myth
By Pete Vilmur
In the minds of many fans, and especially collectors, the Lucasfilm Licensing Archive has long been a source of endless fascination, thought to reside in a secret location and to contain boundless volumes of toys and other wares from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other Lucasfilm properties. Its relative lack of press compared to the more high profile buildings within the sprawling Lucasfilm complex in the hills north of San Francisco have only further mystified its status, evoking images akin to the expansive warehouse interior seen in the closing credits of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Actually, the Licensing Archive appears like many other storage facilities, with rows of shelves holding scores of cardboard boxes and containers, each dutifully labeled for contents and location. The entire inventory of the Licensing Archive was recently moved and organized in a new facility on the Lucasfilm property, pulling up stakes from a secret location within the industrial district of nearby San Rafael.
Overseeing this massive undertaking was Archive Supervisor Marc Wendt, who actually began his career with Lucasfilm in 1994 as a project employee.
"My job was described initially as a six month project removing stock from a room at Skywalker Ranch which was slated to become a Foley stage,"
explains Wendt. "During the course of my project George announced that he planned to make three more Star Wars films, which resulted in an increase in licensing activity and a subsequent extension of my project for another six months."
Eleven years later, that original six-month project has spanned into a career that has allowed Wendt to witness some of the most robust merchandising in the company's history. Wendt's honed organizational skills and strict attention to detail have made the Lucas Licensing Archive a model of efficiency.
Having what many collectors might consider to be a dream job, Wendt was never a Star Wars collector before taking on the position eleven years ago."Prior to 1994, I had never purchased or collected any Star Wars products,"
admits Wendt, "though I was well acquainted with the films and had seen them many times."EDITOR’S NOTE: YEAH. I HADN’T COLLECTED ANY OF IT BEFORE 1997. IT’S A SLIPPERY DARN SLOPE, AIN’T IT?!
In lieu of hands-on Star Wars collecting experience, Wendt did bring a set of skills and experience to the position that he'd gained while interning at the Bill Graham Presents Archive, a concert production company in the Bay Area. While there, Wendt became dedicated to the field of archiving by learning how to store and preserve an extensive collection of posters, tapes, apparel, and other concert memorabilia. With the monumental task of organizing, storing, and preserving an ever-expanding archive the size of Lucas Licensing's, clearly someone with Wendt's experience was essential.Preserving the Legacy
For fans who are not collectors by nature, the need to store and preserve samples of the various product lines produced through the years by a company like Lucasfilm may not be immediately clear. Wendt explains that product samples are sent to Lucasfilm in order to give everyone in the development chain a final look at what is being produced for retail, and to assure quality and continuity throughout the product lines."We also use these samples for business purposes, like trademark protection
," continues Wendt, "as well as to provide access to samples for the various departments for reference." The
archive also serves in part as a personal collection of sorts. "Licensing provides copies of everything to George, so that he sees them and can request additional quantities of samples, for charities, gifts or other uses."
Even with his busy schedule, Lucas still finds time to enjoy the toys and other wares spawned by the various properties he's created. "George looks at final production samples several times a month,"
explains Wendt. "His name is first on my distribution list, so he sees everything I get."
Wendt recalls a rare instance where he caught Lucas at his office during a routine delivery of the latest toys. "He and I got into a discussion about a Chewbacca 12" figure which, for the first time, had real hair,"
remembers Wendt. "He clearly enjoyed talking about the items and looking at everything. It was a fun moment and the genuine enthusiasm he showed in the product has always been a source of inspiration and satisfaction for me
." EDITOR’S NOTE: UNCLE GEORGE JUST MAKES THESE MOVIES SO HE GETS FIRST CRACK AT THE COOLEST TOYS! TEE HEE.
Fans have often wondered if Lucas keeps a personal collection of the items produced by the Lucasfilm properties. Early on, a separate "posterity collection" was actually established in the Lucasfilm Archive at Skywalker Ranch to house those items he wanted set aside. Items produced since 1994, however, have all been stored alongside the regular inventory within the Licensing Archive building. Wendt is responsible for preserving this collection by maintaining a fixed number of any given item so as to leave the posterity collection intact.
Aside from processing the scores of items that flood into the Archive on a daily basis, Wendt has had plenty of time to determine which items rate high on his own personal list of favorites.
"What I think is cool tends to be different than some of the more dedicated fan collectors,"
admits Wendt. "First and foremost I love the super-8 film reels for A New Hope and Empire -- those pieces just say so much about the time in history and the passion the audience had for these films. They pre-date VHS, and were the first way the public could actually own these films and watch them at home -- they demonstrate an important part of our licensing history."
"As far as unusual or unknown parts of our collection
," continues Wendt, "there are the uncut Topps trading card sheets from 1977, and the vintage Takara Japanese action figures -- Darth Vader, C-3PO and stormtrooper. It's incredible to see Japanese language backing boards on vintage product -- it really drives home the scope of influence these films have had on the world."
Of course, Lucas Licensing's Archive is not limited to the Star Wars properties, although they do make up the vast majority of it. "Some of the more unusual items in our collection are the Indiana Jones action figures and vehicles as well as the Willow toys. Both are pretty rare and not so well known to collectors, which make them all the more exciting to me. Probably my personal favorites are the Fernandes Guitars, specifically the Yoda model."
But with so much in the way of marginally stable materials like photo-chemical film stock and paperback books filling the shelves of the Archive, certain measures must be taken in some cases to ensure their longevity. Therefore, some of the materials are stored in a humidity and temperature-controlled space. Wendt hopes that someday the entire collection will benefit from such measures.
"Eventually, these materials are going to graduate from memorabilia status to artifact status and the challenge until then is to apply the resources we have in a smart way. I am confident that as we reach the point where more proactive measures are necessary, it will be part of our budgeting process to fund some of the conservation projects."
In addition to conservation, the need to occasionally downsize the collection is another responsibility Wendt must contend with, as was the case with the recent move of the Archive to an on-site location.
As anyone who collects can tell you, downsizing can be a painful process, especially on the scale required to streamline a collection the size of Lucas Licensing's.
"I had some very difficult feelings about that move," Wendt confesses, "because when I set it up, it was completely empty, unlike the Skywalker Ranch Archives. There was something very satisfying and personal about the off-site archive. I had personally supervised the construction of the shelving, and the layout of where things went, so when we purged it and moved it, there was an inescapable feeling of attachment and resistance to change."
As a result of the move, some extraneous merchandise was allocated to charity outlets throughout the U.S. and to places as far as Indonesia and Afghanistan.
As the materials have been slowly surfacing in these markets, collectors have been buzzing about the potential of hitting the mother lode at one of the outlet locations. Wendt is just glad the product has been put to good use.
"Ultimately, I try very hard to avoid anything being wasted, so we'll donate to charity or recycle what cannot be reused. I've made several large donations to Toys for Tots over the years, and we recently worked on a project that put toys, t-shirts, shoes and bedding in the hands of people who needed them for just the reality of day-to-day living. I'm not sure it mattered that Luke Skywalker was on the warm blanket they slept under, but I know I sleep better knowing that blanket didn't end up in landfill. I am proud of the fact that my managers spent the extra dollars to implement that ideal."
As Episode III merchandise continues to pour into the Archive, and with the possibility of a Star Wars television series and a fourth Indiana Jones film in the future, the need for more space may again present itself, potentially requiring further consolidation of Archive assets."You can only purge so much,"
explains Wendt. "Eventually you get down to the limits of what the core collection is and ultimately it has a fixed size."
It is often asked if the Licensing Archive possesses one of every item ever produced by a Lucasfilm licensee. Almost, explains Wendt. "With so many products being developed in so many countries worldwide it is a challenge to track all the items produced, and a challenge for the licensees to make sure we get everything. Overall the licensees are really good about this part of the process, but we have had a few things slip. I don't want to single anyone out, so I'll just say that Sith Happens." EDITOR’S NOTE: GOSH. I JUST NEVER GET TIRED OF THOSE FUNNY DWEEB JOKES. (SMIRK).
Ultimately, the fact that an Archive exists at all is due to the foresight of Lucas himself, who early on recognized that keeping a physical record of all products bearing his company's trademark would be an indispensable resource for future days. A collector himself, perhaps it's not so hard to see why such lengths would be taken to preserve his merchandising legacy. Of course, he also just plain enjoys the stuff."I know that he is like many of the fans
," muses Wendt, "in that he enjoys the feeling of getting that new Star Wars collectible or toy item in his hands. I know, because I have seen the smile on his face myself."
Thanks to Lucas and a curator like Marc Wendt, future generations should be able to share that smile for years to come. EDITOR’S NOTE: AMEN AND HALLELUJAH, BROTHER!!!
In the Blink of an Eye - 36 Frames in the Life of a Jedi
By Marc Wendt
Well, as the fans know over the course of producing the prequels, several different people have had the ultimate fantasy come true, that of being in a Star Wars film. In my case I was among several lucky people who got to play Jedi extras in the battle of Geonosis. As you can imagine, I could go on and on about this experience but, I'll try to be brief here.
A call went out for people who had martial arts skills. I was one of many to audition and was ultimately selected along with several others to perform for the cameras against the big blue screen. I remember being fitted for my Jedi costume several days before the shoot, putting on the tunic, finding boots that fit, a belt and a robe that was not too long. My adrenaline was pumping, I could hardly breathe for all the excitement, or maybe it was the doughnuts.
We had been rehearsing and practicing our fight moves for weeks, both at home and in the gym, then, on the day of the shoot, we arrived early for make-up and hair. My character was fitted with a long braid in the back, my eyebrows were extended and my skin and hair color were aged to give me a more mature look. As myself and all the other newly minted Jedi were lead out of the dressing area on to the set, we were given our choice of lightsabers. I picked out one that felt right in my hand, checked it for balance and moved it around swoosh swoosh humming the noise to myself unconsciously, it was not as heavy as what I had been practicing with which gave me a sense that my moves would look and flow even better than in rehearsal.
Moviemaking involves a lot of waiting, so each of us tried our best to practice our moves without disturbing the excellent work of the costume, make-up and hair artists. It was a great feeling to be walking around among my colleagues who had all been transformed into Jedi. You could feel the glow of excitement in everyone as they waited their turn. Then, one by one, each of us went up there on the field of blue under the hot lights, to face imaginary bugs and battle droids. Just like any fan, I had dreamed of and acted out being a Jedi as a kid watching the movies, but I could never have imagined then, that I would be on a Star Wars set, in costume, wielding a real lightsaber, but there I was, actually selected to be a Jedi. I still get excited and emotional when I think about it or tell the story.
One by one, we went through our routines under different lighting set-ups, using our imaginations and our lightsaber skills, we each fought against what were at that point, invisible forces of evil in the galaxy.
When it was all said and done, the compositing team at ILM used us to fill out the arena shots in this epic battle sequence. Ultimately, after the shoot all the Jedi extras would still have to wait for the film to see which of us made the cut. For this we had to wait months and months while it was finished.
Many months later, after the hard work of my colleagues at ILM the film was done. I remember the first few times I saw the film, I looked and looked but could not see myself in the sequence. I was disappointed, but I consoled myself with the fact that I knew I had been there, and held the saber, so I would always have that, but it was hard not be disappointed. Then, several long months after that, I got my copy of the film on DVD and decided to go through the sequence frame by frame and look again. For what seemed like an hour I scrolled frame by frame through the sequence looking intensely at each shot thinking please please let me have made the cut even in a small way. When I finally saw myself, I was ecstatic and let out a huge whoop and jumped up and down on my sofa. There I was, a small figure in the back ground to the left of Obi-Wan Kenobi, wielding a blue lightsaber against several lowly battle droids for all of about one-and-a-half seconds, or 36 frames. If you look at the film in real time I am unnoticeable, but that didn't diminish my enjoyment one bit.
When I reflect on my job in archives and my good fortune, I am filled with the wonder of it, the sense of how unbelievably lucky I am to have gotten to experience these things. Wow, what can you say, except, thanks George!EDITOR’S NOTE: AND HE EVEN GETS A BACK-STORY! THANKS INDEED, UNCLE G!
From the Lucasfilm Holocron:
Ichi-Tan graduated near the bottom of his class at the Jedi Temple as a youth, but through persistent effort and countless hours of studying at the Jedi Archives, Ichi-Tan passed his early training exams with a thorough understanding of galactic law and treaties. His unorthodox fighting style meant frequent defeat in his sparring exercises against other more graceful Jedi apprentices. Yet, once in a while, to their great surprise, this style would result in a stunning underdog defeat of one of the top seated swordsman in his class. Striking swiftly and with a penetrating style, the matches were over quickly when he did win them. Adept at communications and negotiations, Ichi-Tan became involved in the Diplomatic Corps which kept him close to the Galactic Core. He resided in the galactic law section of the Jedi Temple archives, before being called to duty by Mace Windu for the Battle of Geonosis. His weakness in longer more protracted contests against multiple foes may have been a pivotal reason he was lost so early during the conflict.