News Column

Bye George? Lucasfilm! Wow

Oct. 31, 2012

Nels Johnson, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

Chewbacca, wookie

Expressions of amazement reverberated through the Marin Civic Center as stunned officials reeled in surprise following word that Lucasfilm was being sold to Disney.

"Wow!" said Supervisor Susan Adams. "Wow, oh wow!"

Robert Eyler, CEO of the Marin Economic Forum, had a similar reaction to the $4 billion stock and cash deal involving Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound -- but not the Marin ranches owned by Lucas.

"Wow!" Eyler said. "I didn't know anything about it. I had no idea this was coming."

Eyler, who earlier in the day told business leaders in San Rafael that the county's failure to close Lucasfilm's Grady Ranch film studio deal was an economic "debacle," noted that Disney pulled a post-production studio out of Hamilton Field two years ago and added it may mean the company is coming back to town.

A Disney spokesman said in Los Angeles said the "present intent is for Lucasfilm employees to remain in their current locations."

"It sounds like a good match," said Supervisor Judy Arnold. "It would be great if this would bring Disney back to Novato."

But no one could say for sure how the new ownership would affect Marin County, and few aside from Eyler offered to speculate. Several officials said privately that the sale may explain why Lucas earlier this year abandoned plans for the Grady Ranch studio after years of effort.

"If Disney has a lot of projects in the pipeline

... this could easily increase the digital filmmaking and post-production work done in Marin County," Eyler said, "and may draw more filmmaking back to Marin as a result or as spinoffs."

Eyler also noted that the deal "puts a much larger economic engine in contact with Marin County in Disney," and added that on balance, "I think this is a good thing for Marin. This may be a step forward to erasing the loss of Grady Ranch."

Lynne Hale, a spokeswoman for Lucas, noted that Disney had acquired the entire company and wanted all employees to stay where they are. "This is an exciting time for us," she said. "Disney brings tremendous growth opportunities for all our creative talent."

"No theme parks at Grady!" she added in a brief email to the Independent Journal. "George still owns all the real estate so the ranches stay with him."

The filmmaker apparently will continue studying the merits of a housing complex for low-income seniors at Grady Ranch.

Marin Community Foundation CEO Thomas Peters said that "thanks to Mr. Lucas's remarkable generosity, the foundation's preparatory work on developing affordable housing on the Grady Ranch site is right on target." Peters added that "letters soliciting statements of interest and qualifications from a number of the area's top housing organizations are in process, and we continue to be most grateful for the opportunity to jointly address one of the county's most poignant needs."

Lucasfilm employees at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco's Presidio were guarded, saying they had been briefed not to talk to the press, but two were willing to share their reactions without giving their names.

"I'm excited," said one employee as he walked back to his building from the Starbucks on the campus holding a container of coffee. "It's as much of a surprise to us as it is to you," he said, a sentiment echoed by others on the campus.

"Most people are going to be scared. We're going to be under the gun pretty soon," the employee said. "I welcome change, but that's just me."

Other employees were even more tight-lipped, though four did confirm that they had just heard the news Tuesday and "we only know what we read in your paper," as one worker put it. One said, "We know as much as you do."

"I'm not worried," a six-year veteran of Lucasfilm at the Digital Arts Center said. "Let's see how it goes."

Academy-Award-winning filmmaker John Korty of Point Reyes Station was influential in Lucas setting up shop in Marin County. Korty, a longtime friend and cohort of Lucas, had a mini-studio in Stinson Beach in the late 1960s, inspiring Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola to move north.

He said Lucas may be "tired out. ... It buckles my knees to think of trying to run a company that big and that complicated."

Asked if the sale to Disney signals the end of so-called Hollywood North, Korty said he believes "the concept of Hollywood North was a bit artificial.

"It just referred to Francis (Coppola) and George. The best thing now is that Hollywood is everywhere. There are people making films in Seattle or Omaha or Louisiana. ... The idea of Hollywood as a place where all films get made is long past."



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Source: (c) 2012 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)