Wow. Who would have thought that almost 2 years ago, I’d find myself actively watching a cartoon from the DisneyXD cable channel…and I don’t even have cable!?
Daron Nefcy’s series Star vs the Forces of Evil, managed to push my buttons, given it’s weird humor, as well as it’s own take on ‘magical girl anime.’ Because of it’s unconventional storytelling (being written by myriad storyboard artists and writers), the show is often fascinating, in seeing where it’s episodes will lead.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard of Daron and a number of the show’s staff appearing at numerous events, but was never able to be near any of them. This year, there was word that she would be attending the bi-yearly D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. The Expo is a celebration of all things from The Walt Disney Company, and seeing several items related to Star on the show’s itinerary, I decided to check them out!
With the impending release of the 1-hour Battle for Mewni Season 3 special that weekend (actually, the first 4 episodes of Season 3), I expected a few extra events revolving around the series, but everything related to Star, I found to only be happening on the first day of the Expo.
One thing that bugged me about some fan-related events in the past, is that noone was able to record or chronicle most of what had taken place in them (such as the last few panels out of San Diego Comic-Con!). With that in mind, I decided to focus on chronicling what I experienced during this year’s expo.
And so, on Friday, July 14th, 2017, I found myself in an enormous line, snaking around the outside of the Anaheim Convention Center, mere steps from the Disneyland Resort. Some in the line, had been there since the night before, attempting to get into some of the bigger panels throughout the day.
Once I had made my way through the masses of humanity and onto the convention floor, I immediately headed to the D23 Expo Arena, for their first panel of the day: From Screen to Page: “Gravity Falls” and “Star vs the Forces of Evil.” The panel would cover the process of creating books for both of the series.
(Note: while there was discussion about Gravity Falls at the panel, I’m only going to be focusing on the information regarding Star vs the Forces of Evil).
Before I could even sit down, I was already smiling, seeing a number of cosplayers who came dressed up as characters from the show. However, there were no obscure characters I could see, but plenty of Star Butterfly’s and Marco Diaz’s. The majority of Star’s were dressed in her ‘ghost squid’ dress, though one was dressed in Star’s royal Mewnian dress, and one had her green dress from Season 2.
Our panel’s moderator claimed he was a big fan of both series, and first brought out series creator Daron Nefcy, and Dominic Bisignano. While many of us know Daron as the creator of the series, many might not be as familiar with Dominic, but he’s been a part of the series since the beginning!
Along with working on the book Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension, Dominic has worn many hats on the show, working as a storyboard artist, writer, director, and voice-actor (he voiced the minotaur woman in the Quest Buy segment from Season 1, as seen on the left).
We also heard from several people from Disney Books, who worked on the guide as well. What was great to hear, was that the people from Disney Books, are also fans of these series , and oftentimes, want to put out a great fan-pleasing product!
Also during the panel, Daron and Dominic managed to spill some secrets in regards to some of the show’s episodes:
- The segment in Season 2 titled Ludo in the Wild, was originally going to be completely silent, with the little bird-creature never saying a word. However, voice-actor Alan Tudyk watched the piece, and improvised all the dialogue and sounds Ludo makes during the sequence, and it was soon edited to incorporate his ad-libbing.
- When it came to the Bounce Lounge’s music from the Season 1 segment Party with a Pony, Dominic said he told composer Brian H Kim, to make it sound like “bad German techno music.” (Personally, I rather liked what Kim came up with).
- Upon viewing a layout of Star’s 3-story bedroom that she magicked at the Diaz’s house, Daron and Dominic explained how they didn’t have a fully-realized floor plan, and could often play around with what was on the upper floors.
There were also questions that were asked, that had been submitted via Twitter. Of course, the moderator saved the biggie for last, about making the fanshipping mania known as “Starco,” canon.
Both Daron and Dominic weren’t saying yes or no to that one, but did say that they didn’t believe in ‘forcing’ characters into relationships, reminding me of a line Marco said to Tom in Mr Candle Cares (“You can’t make Star be your girlfriend, unless she wants to”).
When the moderator asked a question about what Daron thinks about the fandom, she made mention of how she was somewhat intrigued by people on Twitter, who created accounts based around the show’s characters. One she made special mention of, was supposed to represent Marco’s parents (Raphael and Angie Diaz). A call was put out into the audience to see if the account’s creator was with us, but there was no response.
We were also treated to two Star-related surprises at the panel.
The first was a short clip from the Battle for Mewni Season 3 premiere, where a younger Moon Butterfly, goes to meet with a monster general, some called “the lizard”…but whom most of us know, as Toffee!
The second surprise, was the announcement that another book related to the show would be coming out at a later time: Star’s Magic Instruction Book!
It looks to follow the same route as the creation of the Gravity Falls Journal 3 book, taking a fictional tome, and filling it out with more material. My one hope is we’ll finally be able to decipher the Mewnian language (something I’ve been trying to do since Season 1!).
When she had come onstage, Daron was carrying something that looked like a copy of Journal 3, but was in actuality, what I assumed to be a physical mock-up of the instruction book! Holding it aloft, it is about the same size as Journal 3, and not the 4-foot tome that almost broke Marco Diaz’s back. Of course, one wonders if there may be a limited edition, with the kind of care and detail afforded to the limited edition release of Journal 3.
In discussing the book and what was inside it, Dominic made note that he felt that when it came to reading books, Star was a ‘skimmer.’ This meant that she would skim a page for some words, but not read through everything. Apparently, there was more to the spell that gave Marco his monster arm in the Season 1 episode of the same name (though I guess we’ll need to wait to find out what more there was, besides “Releasio Demonius Infestica”).
After the panel, I headed off to the autograph signing for Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension.
Rules for the event were that no outside material could be brought into the signing area, and that anything signed, had to be purchased from the Expo. What was most bizarre about this rule, was that for a book signing (of which I’ve attended quite a few!), there was noone at the signing area, with books to purchase!
If you wanted the book, you had to walk a ways over to the Disney Consumer Products booth, and purchase it there.
When I got to the Products booth, there were signs near the books saying “get this autographed,” but the message seemed vague. It didn’t explain who would be doing the signing, or more importantly, when and where it was happening! I could imagine someone buying the book, and then finding out they had missed the event.
When I returned to the signing area (see picture on left), I was surprised to find that the line for Daron and Dominic held only a few dozen people, while for the Gravity Falls creators, their queue had been closed off, as I gazed upon several hundred people on the other side of the signing area! Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be getting a copy of Journal 3 signed that day.
While waiting in line, there was still plenty to see and do, given that many of us who were there, were fans of the series. It was exciting to discuss episodes and scenes with some people that were just as crazy about things as I was! One girl was eagerly quoting lines from the film (oftentimes not caring that her voice was escalating in volume, as she excitedly quoted a number of familiar scenes!).
Speaking of crazy, my vote so far for best Star/Marco cosplay at the expo, goes to this couple (right), who dressed up as Princess Star Butterfly, and Princess Marco Diaz, from the St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses episode! The fact that they went all-out to do these obscure costumes definitely shows they’re pretty big fans. Plus, the woman had custom-made her own Flying Princess Ponyhead!
When it was my turn to finally meet Daron and Dominic, I was pretty excited, and explained how even though I was outside the show’s target demographic, the storytelling kept me intrigued, let alone how Star was the first series that had made me put down money for season passes on iTunes!
While I had their ears, I also decide to lay down a few fan theories I had.
One of them was based on Glossaryck of Term’s rather laissez-faire attitude in recent episodes, which I attributed to him being able to see from the beginning to the end of time. I didn’t get a yes/no answer, but Dominic said I was “on the right track.” Plus, as a bonus, he drew a little image of Glossaryck above his signature when he signed my book (left).
Another theory that I posited to Daron, was regarding Star’s wardrobe, which is decidedly retro when compared to what the other kids in Echo Creek are wearing.
I felt that when the Royal Family -arrived on Earth in the first episode, the King and Queen saw what people in the Earth dimension were wearing, and decided Star needed proper attire to fit in. I imagined that they had stopped at the first clothing store they came to…which happened to be a thrift store, and Star had stocked up on retro dresses from 30-60 years ago.
Daron said she thought it was an interesting theory, though in early ideas regarding the series, she said she felt that Star would have gotten some of her outfits and accessories from a Halloween store. This would have led to Star even using a pumpkin-shaped trick-or-treat basket, as a purse!
Along with her added information about the series, Daron graciously signed my book, AND, drew a little sketch of Star (right)!
I also had to ask Daron, if we were ever going to see the end of the Deep Trouble, 8-issue comic series (that had stopped running shortly after issue #4 was released in January). Sadly, Daron said she didn’t know if we’d get the next 4 issues, with the possibility that low sales and limited availability, might have contributed to Joe Books stopping it’s publication of the title. I did hint to Daron, that I hoped maybe one day, the final 4 issues could be collected in some type of trade paperback (which has currently been done for the first 4 issues).
As I exited the signing area and was putting my book away, I suddenly saw a guy in an aquamarine shirt attempt to enter through the exit.
“Sir, you can’t go in there,” said the security guy nearby.
“No it’s okay, I work on the show,” he replied.
As I looked at the guy’s face, I suddenly realized, I was standing in the presence of Adam McArthur (aka the voice of Marco Ubaldo Diaz)!
I quickly voiced that Adam was correct, and a few seconds later, the guard let him enter the signing area. As he did, I struggled to try and get out my book and a pen, but by then, Adam had sidled up to Dominic and Daron, and become a part of the signing for the rest of those in line.
I was still hoping to get the chance to catch Adam when he left, so I went for a short walk, hoping to be back in time for the signing to end. However, I returned to find the area empty.
After that, my attempts to see the Expo’s big feature animation panel involving Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Animation Studios, were met with bitter failure, as I and many others were shut out due to the huge crowds (many of whom had lined up since the day before to get into that panel!). With nothing else big to wait for, I puttered around, eventually heading outside the front of the convention center, taking a gander at the numerous cosplayers milling about.
As I headed back towards the convention center’s front doors, I suddenly heard someone calling out to me. I turned to my right, and to my surprise, there sat Adam, with a friend of his!
He claimed he had only meant to pop in and say ‘hi’ to his coworker/cohorts, but did say he was willing to spend a little time to talk with me, if I wanted to. I have to say, getting some time to talk face-to-face with Mr McArthur, made the loss of not getting into the animation panel melt away in seconds!
As I sat down eagerly, I first had to thank Adam for giving me a shout-out on my Birthday earlier this year. For those wondering, when the ‘Star-bomb’ of Season 2 episodes hit, Adam did a live Marco Diaz stream, where you could tweet him questions to try and answer. This took place the same day as my Birthday, and I had a huge smile hearing him say my Twitter handle (and even getting my last-name right!).
We talked a bit about those Marco chat sessions, leading me to ask about a hunch I had.
During the chat, someone had asked for the recipe to “Marco’s Super-Awesome Nachos,” and Adam had read off a list of ingredients and directions. When I picked up Star and Marco’s Guide a few weeks later, I noted the recipe seemed the same, and Adam confirmed that he had been reading off an early copy of the book he had on hand during the Q&A event!
It was right after this, that I decided to see if Adam would sign my copy of the guidebook. He gave his signature a little message as well (see left), and I will say, I did eat some nachos the next day at a nearby Rubio’s (any chance to have their super-awesome fish tacos!).
I was also curious, given how Marco can scream and yell a lot, if Adam ever lost his voice after any sessions. I was assured that that hadn’t happened, though when it came to some video game vocal roles, Adam said he had to push himself a bit harder.
My inquiry about his voice, had come about thinking of him screaming in the episode Monster Arm, which I claimed was my favorite episode.
Upon hearing this, Adam related a fun little story. Apparently, when he sometimes encounters voice-actress Grey DeLisle (who voices Jackie Lynn Thomas on the show), she playfully greets Adam with one of her lines from the episode (what that line is, I’ll leave for you to figure out).
I was also curious, if there were any episodes Adam worked on, where he really had a hard time keeping a secret. That turned out to be the case with Running with Scissors, where he was really excited about playing an older version of Marco. We even had a little discussion regarding the mind-bending nature of that segment’s ending.
Eventually, Adam was drawn away by some other people he and his friend were meeting. He apologized for cutting the conversation short, but I was fine with it. He had given me some of his time, and personally (especially at conventions with this many people), I never want to be ‘that fan’ of a series, who monopolizes the time that others can partake in.
By the way, In case you’re wondering, I did not ask Adam about ships or anything top secret (I don’t want him to lose his job, and there’s plenty of other fans who can ask that stuff, and get vague yes-or-no answers). My goal is to usually inquire about some things that I can get answers to.
So that was my crazy “Star Day,” which went pretty well, considering the helter-skelter insanity of the first expo day.
Both Daron and Dominic were great to talk to (though I probably could have asked more in-depth questions of them for hour!). Originally, Adam wasn’t scheduled to show up, but his appearance was quite a surprise. I and many fans have thrilled to him giving little shout-outs and appearances on social media, and it was nice to see he was just as personable in person! I will admit, much like how Star got distracted by ‘certain things’ in Running with Scissors, I found my brain going on auto-pilot a few times as Adam talked, because his voice just seemed to drift into Marco’s so effortlessly, that I began to imagine it was Marco talking to me at times.
While all of my Star-stuff happened on that Friday, I managed to carry over some of that fandom to the next day, when I and a person at the Airbnb we were staying at, decided to line up 5 hours before the Saturday live-action film panel. Having over 5 hours of time to kill, we began looking for ways to keep ourselves pre-occupied.
Along with discussing pros and cons regarding animated and live-action Disney films, I had mentioned my liking the Star series, and had downloaded some epsisodes onto my iPad for viewing, which we proceeded to watch over 3 hours of (one that seemed most appropriate to our line-waiting, was the Goblin Dogs episode!).
To my surprise, my companion was enjoying them and cracking up, as well as asking some questions about the show.
Later on when we met up for dinner, she said she had gone back to the Airbnb, and looking for stuff on Hulu, saw that the show’s two seasons were available. However, due to the sketchy wifi at the place, she was unable to watch any episodes, but claimed she planned to watch more at a later date!
So yes, we may have another person joining he fandom! She also got a kick out of Princess Smooshy’s “Cameraphone” line in the Sleep Spells episode, and in a Facebook post, included that in a hashtag, giving me a laugh!
Sadly, I had no way to watch The Battle for Mewni that day, but given the Star-related hijinks that I had been a party to those 2 days, I was feeling pretty happy. Though for some of you wondering what I thought of the first 4 episodes of Season 3, my review of them will be coming over the course of the next 2 weeks.
When I was growing up in the safety of suburban Iowa, it was the works of filmmaker Tim Burton, that brought a strange intrusion of the bizarre and the macabre into my life, with his imagery of clowns, swirls, and striped monstrosities.
In the last few decades, another intriguing filmmaker emerged…one who has channeled his own personal and eclectic tastes (many of them similar to Burton’s), into films and projects that appeal to his love of The Victorian Era, steampunk, and creature features.
That person, is filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (see left).
The writer and director of films such as Hellboy and Crimson Peak, Del Toro is also a connoisseur of collecting items, some of which, are strange and unusual to many.
On his property in Los Angeles, there is a place he refers to as The Bleak House (named after the novel by Charles Dickens). Within it’s walls, he has curated a vast collection of personal mementos, as well as toys, collectibles, rare production art, and items from the various films he’s worked on. Being a fan of horror and science fiction, he has often remarked that he based his private abode on “The Ackermansion,” the home of Famous Monsters of Filmland‘s editor, Forrest J Ackerman.
When word and imagery of Del Toro’s private abode reached the mainstream media, there were quite a few that were enthralled by what they saw. Key among them was Kaywin Feldman, the director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (aka MIA). After reading an article about Bleak House in 2011, Feldman wanted to find a way to share some of Del Toro’s collection with the world, via an exhibit, that became what is now known as: At Home With Monsters.
Working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), MIA coordinated a 3-city tour (now 4 cities!), to showcase the exhibit from 2016 through 2018.
Monsters arrived at MIA in March 2017, and recently, I decided to take it in. I will admit, that it did feel like a ‘homecoming’ was taking place, when I headed back up to Minneapolis.
17 years ago, while attending college in the state of Iowa, a classmate and I drove up to MIA, to view the traveling exhibit, Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. It was one of the first exhibits regarding film and entertainment items that I ever saw, and in a sense, At Home with Monsters is very close to that previous exhibit in terms of it’s content.
For the At Home with Monsters exhibit in Minneapolis, a portion of The Bleak House collection is distributed through eight different areas, each one with a specific theme.
Each section also contains several audio/visual items that help offer atmosphere to specific portions of the collection. There are specially-mixed series of sounds to help provide mood, and flat-screen television sets provide videos that tie into each room’s themes. A few rooms even have projected visuals to enhance portions of the collection.
There are also interactive iPad displays throughout, that give glimpses into several of Del Toro’s personal journals. Plus, the exhibit is bi-lingual, with each room’s summary presented in both English, and Spanish.
Of the various areas, I found myself most enamored with the one titled Childhood and Innocence. In most of Del Toro’s films that include a child or children, they are often never fully-protected from danger, whether it be Mako Mori as a child in Pacific Rim, or the young Carlos in Devil’s Backbone. Oftentimes, the children in his films try desperately to cling to something safe, but find the world around them to be an unforgiving place, much like in the old Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Notable in this room, were a number of original concept art pieces Del Toro owns, some from his own films (like Pan’s Labyrinth), and others from early animated Disney features. Like Hansel and Gretel amazed by the witch’s candy house, I couldn’t help but ‘eat up’ the inspiring concept art of such Disney artists like Gustaf Tenggren, Eyvind Earle, and even Mary Blair!
Concept, production, and original art pieces are a major highlight of the collection. Along with some of Del Toro’s own art, there are pieces by the likes of James Cameron, Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, and many more. There are also a number of art pieces from the last decade, some of them digital, but often tying into Del Toro’s love of the macabre, or the unusual.
Also of note, are a number of full-size figures from Del Toro’s films (such as the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth at right), along with several, specially-created wax figures. Two of the most notable, are wax figures of H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe. Del Toro has claimed that both authors have had a great presence in his life’s work, and that presence is also felt throughout the exhibit.
Over the years, Del Toro has often talked of wanting to make a film adaptation of Lovecraft’s famous novella, At the Mountains of Madness. Around 2011, he had attempted to get the film made, but sadly, it sounds like his passion project may never come to pass.
However, a reminder of what could have been is included in the exhibition, in the form of a 2-foot tall maquette (see left) by the production company Spectral Motion. Made in 2011, it gives us a taste of what the six-foot-tall albino penguins in Lovecraft’s novel may have looked like! I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft, but this definitely has me intrigued to know more about the famous story.
Out of all the films that Del Toro has directed, it feels that the two that stand out greatly in the exhibit, are Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth. I will admit that while plenty of space had been given over to some of his more elaborate and memorable films, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more concept or prop art related to Pacific Rim.
One small part of the exhibit that had me most intrigued, involved references to Del Toro’s love of Luchadores (aka Mexican wrestlers). Wrestling is an influence in the fights within Pacific Rim, and in the TV series The Strain, where a luchador known as The Silver Angel, helps it’s heroes fight vampires.
The Silver Angel may be a reference to one of the most famous of all Mexican wrestlers (who also wore a silver-colored mask!), El Santo. Going through the section labelled Magic, Alchemy, and The Occult, I was very surprised to see on it’s walls, a framed piece that contained Santo’s Screen Actor’s Guild membership papers and membership card, which revealed his true identity (many never saw Santo’s face, until after he retired in 1982)!
Of course, a highlight of the show, are the numerous references to famous movie monsters, from Nosferatu, to The Metaluna Mutant (from the 1955 film, This Island Earth), and most famous of all: Frankenstein’s monster.
It is Frankenstein’s monster that is most prevalent throughout the exhibit, with one of the most eye-opening pieces, being the huge, 7-foot-tall head that famously hung above The Bleak House‘s entryway.
It truly is an amazing sight, seeing the pores, stubble, let alone all the little creases and details! Artist Mike Hill, who fashioned the likeness from Boris Karloff’s depiction of the monster, also contributes his talents to other figures throughout the exhibit, including several based around likenesses of characters from the 1932 film, Freaks.
Yes, there’s plenty to see throughout the exhibit, and I won’t lie: I spent over 5 hours going through it, 3 times over! However, I will admit that after seeing other exhibitions and shows in my lifetime, there was definitely room for a little improvement.
What struck me most, was the rather helter-skelter way that certain items from the collection were labeled…and sometimes, not labeled at all.
Having visited The Art Institute of Chicago, I am often used to seeing an art piece’s label, that gives it’s name, artist, and medium (aka what was used to make the image). Surprisingly, none of the art pieces here (that were a part of the Bleak House collection) mentioned their ‘medium.’ I felt this was rather odd, as a few times, I couldn’t be sure if what I was seeing was a licensed print, or an ‘original’ art piece.
Some items are set up to seem almost like typical ‘oddities on shelves,’ and have no label whatsoever. It struck me as a little odd for a few, as I doubt the average museum guest would have recognized the infant Dren from the Del Toro-produced film Splice, or the Prince Nuada puppet maquette from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, settled amongst a group of marionettes.
Despite some hiccups here and there, I was very impressed by what had been brought to the Midwest.
Personally, Minneapolis is not a place that I would have imagined displaying The Bleak House’s trappings, much less find one of MIA‘s directors being the ‘mastermind’ behind the whole touring exhibition!
This is also the first exhibit I’ve seen, that actually has an R-rating, and trust me, it is definitely warranted (note: the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth is ‘anatomically-correct!’).
This was another factor that impressed me: the museum was willing to display an exhibit like this, with restricted access.
In Chicago, entertainment-related exhibits that display items from popular culture like Harry Potter, The Muppets, as well as the life of Walt Disney, often find their way to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. However, the museum is often stuck with the addendum to make exhibits like these, an all-ages experience.
MIA’s ability to not ‘cheapen’ the experience, was definitely a welcome sight, as the culture in Middle-America can often be somewhat prudish and narrow-minded, when it comes to what Del Toro’s Bleak House contains.
As of the time of this review, the exhibit is in it’s final weeks before it closes at MIA, on May 28, 2017.
Following it’s closure in Minnesota, it will then go on to The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where it will be on display from September 30th, 2017, through January 7th, 2018.
AGO was originally to be it’s last stop, but in recent months, the touring exhibition has been extended to include Mexico City, for the year 2018 (however, no museum location or start/end date for the city has been set yet).
If you have an open mind and are somewhat fascinated by the strange and unusual, then At Home with Monsters is a highly recommended show to take in!
Of course, if you are unable to make it to any of the exhibition showings, a companion book to it’s catalogue has also been released (see right), with a number of images showing some of what is on display, as well as anecdotes and notes from Del Toro himself, on his personal collection.
While the book is a wonderful little memento of the exhibition, I still say that nothing compares to being inches away from it’s wax figures, elaborate costumes, original artwork, and much, much more!
Some days, it seems you just can’t get a museum built. That seems to be the case for George Lucas in recent years.
As he entered his 70’s, the famed (and much-loathed) director, began to consider his retirement from the world of filmmaking.
Along with selling his company Lucasfilm (as well as it’s big name titles like Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to The Walt Disney Company in 2012, Lucas also had plans for his personal art collection, which contained a number of illustrations, filmmaking materials (not just from Star Wars), and paintings (most notably, a number of them by Norman Rockwell!).
Over the years, Lucas has been known for donating to the arts and education, and had now decided to invest over a billion dollars of his own money, to ‘gift’ his art collection to the public, placed in a museum he’d fund out of his own pockets.
But first, he needed a city.
His first attempt to make his museum a reality, hinged on obtaining a parcel of land near San Francisco’s Presidio, located in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, after 2 years of trying to work with the Presidio’s board, he was unable to secure the area he had hoped for.
When the plans fell through at the Presidio site, a number of other cities came calling. Out of all of them, it was the invitation of Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, that caught George’s eye.
His wife Mellody Hobson hearkened from the city, and Lucas himself had been known to visit there as well. What was being offered with the museum, was definitely something different than the other art-based museums within the supposedly world-class city.
Of the different sites that were shown to Lucas, the one he gravitated towards, was a parcel of land, between the city’s Soldier Field stadium, and McCormick Place East convention center facilities. Currently the site of an overflow parking lot for Chicago Bears football games, architectural renderings by the MAD Architects firm, showed a return to a more natural environment, though many were agog at the unusual ‘naturalistic’ art style of the museum being proposed.
However, the efforts were soon hindered by a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, who claimed that the deal undermined the city’s Burnham Plan. The plan claimed that the city’s lakefront property was not for sale, and was to remain “open, free, and clear,” for the citizens of the city.
Lucas and the Mayor’s office attempted to come to a compromise with the group, but after 2 years of neither side willing to budge, plans fell through in early May of 2016.
With the Windy City behind him as an option, Lucas returned to the west, where a number of cities once again attempted to gain his favor.
It was in the Summer of of 2016, that Lucas made a change from his usual decision-making process. Instead of singling out one city, he gave two the option of vying for his museum: Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Both cities were given time to submit proposals, and once Lucas selected a site he deemed worthy, the MAD Architect firm went to work. Instead of just transplanting the Chicago site design to the west coast, the architects worked around the environments, to give each a unique design.
Finally, in the fall of 2016, the proposals and designs were unveiled to the public.
For San Francisco, the location chosen was on a stretch of landfill, known as Treasure Island. The site of a decommissioned naval base, the city had long been looking to revitalize it, for residential and commercial development.
5 years ago, Lucas’ first pitch to have his museum placed in the Bay Area, did not go over well. His request for a bayside spot for his museum, was denied by the Presidio Board, causing him to seek out a new location.
When the Chicago deal started to fall apart a few years later, San Francisco did call upon George, claiming they were willing to welcome him back (though not at the original location he requested).
As he returned to the west coast for ‘attempt #3,’ Lucas kept designer Ma Yansong along for the ride.
The designs Ma came up with for the Treasure Island location, reflects on the more open space that was being considered, compared to the rather confined parcel of land in Chicago.
The organic architecture has a better chance to ‘breathe,’ and ‘opens’ up in a more horizontal fashion. Windows are more abundant than in the Chicago design, allowing more natural light in, and views towards San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean.
Back when I posted my article about the aftermath of Chicago losing it’s bid for the museum, there was little information as to where the museum might go if Los Angeles was chosen.
Unlike San Francisco with it’s famous Bay Area waterways, Los Angeles is land-locked, leaving many to wonder where Lucas would consider placing his museum.
When word came that Exposition Park was chosen, I was a little surprised…at first.
Located near Lucas’ alma mater (The University of Southern California), the site for the Los Angeles proposal, didn’t boast any bodies of water close by. However, the area seemed oddly reminiscent of the Chicago location Lucas had wanted: within walking distance of a nearby stadium (in this case, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum), a number of local museums, and…the proposed structure would be built atop two areas that were currently serving as parking lots for the park!
Ma Yansong’s design for this proposed area, seemed to ‘elevate’ the museum experience, compared to his previous designs.
While the last two designs by MAD had taken up considerable ground space, the bulk of his Los Angeles design, made it look like the museum was ‘hovering’ over the area, with several structural ‘bases’to support it. Landscaping and greenery were also included among the upper tiers, giving the structure a melding sleek curves, intermingled with the organic.
Unlike Chicago’s very public land ‘battle,’ the two cities where Lucas was considering to put his museum this time, brought forth proposals and land selection choices, with minimal public outcry. Both cities seemed to welcome George Lucas and Melody Hobbson with open arms, eager to make the third time the charm, wherever he might consider.
Checking social media, I scanned tweets and some other postings, but found very little online dissent, like the kind that exploded out of Chicago (thanks to Friends of the Parks painting Lucas as an out-of-control billionaire, looking to cheat the good citizens of the city out of lakefront property).
The only dissent I saw, was from the head of Salesforce in San Francisco. The head of the company, felt that for being generous with his ‘gift,’ Lucas should also channel some funds into the city’s infrastructure as well, if they were to accept his museum.
Originally, word was that around the beginning of 2017, there would be a decision by the museum’ s board, on the chosen location.
Early word pegged a January 6th announcement, but the day came-and-went, and news out of California, was that the announcements would be postponed until the end of the month.
However, on January 10th, 2017, around 3pm Pacific Standard Time, an official press release appeared on the museum’s Facebook page.
A decision had been made, and the lucky city was: Los Angeles!
I will admit, when the announcement came, I was surprised!
This decision seemed counter from the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations: a landlocked space in the heart of Los Angeles, with what seemed the most minimal of natural space. Even the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin took a jab at the museum’s placement in a snide tweet (then again, almost all of his tweets had been condescending towards the museum), wondering why Lucas did not choose the water view like some assumed.
On further observation, I soon began to consider why George had chosen Los Angeles’ Exposition Park.
Going back over the location on Treasure Island in San Francisco, I could definitely see it’s positives. The museum would be allowed to have a much larger ‘footprint’ on the land being provided. Plus, San Francisco sees Lucas as one of it’s more famous citizens, and, it’s location across from San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero, seemed a decent setting. One could imagine looking across the waters, and seeing the structure’s stark-white exterior rising up from the surroundings, also possibly lit up as evening set in over the Bay Area.
Unfortunately, while the location would have been picturesque, I believe the decision to not build on Treasure Island, came down to two factors.
The first factor, is access.
Currently, the only way to access Treasure Island, is by using Interstate 80, heading east out of San Francisco. The access route onto the island, leads one through the smaller Yerba Buena Island that connects to the landfill.
The city’s plans to turn the island area into a new place for development, could mean that new construction projects would be lined up in the future. However, with current infrastructure changes happening on I-80, it could have been seen by Lucas as a possibly hindrance regarding ‘easy access’ to the location.
There had been some thoughts, that much like the ferries to Alcatraz Island, a ferry service could also be utilized to transport people back and forth, beetween the Embarcadero, and Treasure Island. There was talk that the amount of money to help construct a service, would have been folded into the museum’s plans. It is possible, that Lucas may have drawn the line on just how far he was willing to stretch his ‘gift.’
The second factor, is isolation.
Both the Presidio and Chicago locations, had a setup that seemed to be picturesque to Lucas: a location close to easy access for families and tourists, while also near the shores of a major body of water, sandwiching his museum between the natural elements on one side, and man-made elements on the other.
When it came to his choices for the third go-round, he had to make some tough decisions.
San Francisco would give him a chance to have a picturesque view near water, but he would be isolated, ‘adrift’ on an island, with limited access for visitors.
Los Angeles would give him the yang to San Francisco’s yin. While it would be land-locked, the location in Exposition Park, would mirror his thoughts to keep his museum close to other tourist spots, and like the Chicago location, allowed easy access to other museums that families and tourists could also visit.
I like to imagine that Lucas’ wife Mellody had a hand in steering him towards this decision. Word was she was sad when her hometown of Chicago failed to secure the museum, and I could imagine her reminding George, that while he might favor picturesque, his museum was also seen as a learning center. Families in large cities may like to go to museums, but there would be considerable effort to get to the museum, if it was on Treasure Island.
Los Angeles is known for not being easy to get around in, but unlike Treasure Island, there are also other ways to get to Exposition Park. Several bus routes border it, and the city has a Metro Rail line, that services both USC, and the park.
Also like Chicago, it’s museum campus contains three museums currently: The California African-American Museum, The California Science Center, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Most notable, is the park’s Science Center, which made headlines in the last few years, when NASA allowed the Space Shuttle Endeavor, to be transported to the facility, as it’s final home.
The Center is also planning a major expansion, that would place the shuttle vertically, with it’s booster rockets and external tank attached, making it the only space shuttle to be displayed in this configuration, in the world.
From my perspective, it looks like smooth sailing from here on out for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts. In the time since the announcement, I haven’t heard word of any preservation groups in Los Angeles, raising a ruckus like the Friends of the Parks group in Chicago did.
The most dissent I read, was mainly from those wondering if Lucas was so wealthy, why didn’t he use some of his money for other purposes? But then again, it seemed no different than articles in Chicago that claimed Lucas trying to build his museum here, was a waste of time and money.
As it stands now, word is that the project will probably take 5 years, with groundbreaking sometime this year, and an estimated completion date, sometime in the year 2022.
Hopefully, Lucas’ struggles have come to an end, and he can get to work overseeing the construction of one of his final projects, within our galaxy.
*I chronicled my following of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art‘s 2 year journey from announcement to death in Chicago, in my 5,700 word blog post from May of 2016. This post continues where that one left off. If you’d like to read more about the rocky attempts to bring a new museum experience to a “world class city,” CLICK HERE
The Night Chicago Died
Ever since May 3rd, 2016, it felt like Chicago’s plans to keep the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in its city, were pretty much dead.
It all started in June of 2014, when it was announced that after reviewing different locations in the city, filmmaker and philanthropist George Lucas, had decided to build his Museum of Narrative Art, on an area along the shores of Lake Michigan, between the Soldier Field football stadium, and the McCormick Place East convention hall. The site in question, was currently serving as an ‘overflow’ parking lot, used several times a year during Chicago Bears football games.
While many of the necessary hurdles were cleared, one was unable to be cleared so easily.
Shortly after the museum’s announcement, a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, filed a lawsuit, claiming that under a local ordinance, that the land belonged to the people of Chicago, and was not to be given away to others.
Even though there was the promise of Lucas himself paying for the construction and endowment of the museum (valued at around $800 million), the group dug in their heels and refused to ‘play ball’ or negotiate, claiming that the Museum Campus grounds (which also housed The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Adler Planetarium), were off-limits. If Lucas wanted to build his museum, they were more than willing to point him to other areas away from his chosen spot.
What followed was almost two years of negotiations, as the museum’s designers and the city tried to find a compromise.
This included reducing the museum’s ‘footprint’ on the parking lot area, and giving over more space to greenery and prairie, as well as a very expensive ‘Plan B.’ ‘Plan B’ called for a $1.2 billion plan that would keep the parking lot intact, but raze the McCormick Place East convention hall, placing the museum there, with the additional 12 acres of space left over, converted back into park land.
But even this rather expensive plan would not sway the group into dropping their lawsuit.
And so on May 3rd, 2016, word was officially released by the Lucas Museum, that other cities were being considered. Lucas had already spent 2 years from 2012-2014 trying to get his museum built on a specific area of the Presidio park in San Francisco, and it seemed that was about how far he was willing to wait for Chicago as well.
A number of additional items were offered to the group as incentives, but still they refused.
The public also attempted to show their support, with a number of persons protesting outside Friends of the Parks’ downtown Chicago headquarters, and a local man named Gino Generelli, who collected 2,500 signatures for his pro-museum petition, and delivered it to the group’s headquarters.
Finally, in mid-June, with public sentiment seeming to be building against them, the group offered up a list of demands.
However, the list was deemed as “extortion” by a number of people.
It called for such requests as:
- A 100-year moratorium on any further Lakefront development
- 5% of the museum’s ticket prices going to fund additional parks projects in the city
Though the one that was almost a slap in the face, was that after claiming a month ago, that they would not accept the ‘Plan B’ site build, the list claimed that this would be the only site they would allow (meaning the original parking lot site was still off-limits).
And what of the parking lot site? That was also listed under the demands, that it be ‘reclaimed’ as green space.
After word that they would not accept that ‘Plan B’ site back in May, the Mayor had called off further interest in it, and instead attempted to get the lawsuit regarding the parking lot site thrown out. The parking lot site would also be simpler, as the ‘Plan B’ would have still meant that $1.2 billion would be needed to raze McCormick Place East, and compensate for its leveling.
Maybe if the list had been submitted 3-9 months earlier, the Mayor and associates from the Lucas Museum might have considered negotiations, but given that the non-profit was dropping this on them 23 months after the lawsuit had been filed, it looked more like them saying, “If Mr Lucas wants his Museum, he’s going to pay…and pay a lot.”
Shortly afterward, the group sent out a notice through social media, that they had been contacted by the museum’s associates, and been given a 24-hour deadline to end the lawsuit, or the museum was going to leave Chicago in the dust.
The 24-hour period ended with no deal, and on June 24th, 2016, a notice was issued that the museum was no longer going to become a lakefront addition to the Museum Campus…but would instead, be heading right back where it started from: California.
In the aftermath of the museum officially leaving the city, the Friends of the Parks group dropped their lawsuit, and were hailed by numerous persons as local heroes, having thwarted an evil outsider who looked to destroy public land (even though it was already a parking lot, and it would have also meant additional green and recreation space around the museum area).
One can only assume that maybe 50-60 years ago, there would have been little chance of stalling in getting the museum placed on the campus, but in the 21st century, priorities on what constitutes ‘importance’ to a “world class city,” have definitely changed.
Plus, Chicago as a whole never fully seemed to embrace what the museum was, or what it could do. The average person were quizzical as to what “narrative art” was, let alone the media taking every chance to call it “A Star Wars Museum,” as if it was going to become some warehouse/museum of the filmmaker’s prop collection.
But then again, the Midwest often isn’t as open-minded towards film, animation, or narrative art for that matter. While I and a select few were understanding of what was being offered, trying to convince persons on things that are more foreign than sports or local business, is often like trying to talk to a brick wall.
And so, The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will surely fade from the larger collective memory of Chicago, Illinois. A city that could have had something amazing, something wonderful…but as is often the case, I’ll most likely end up visiting it when it opens where all the things regarding film and animation fascinate me: California.
Back to California, Part II
Back in February of 2016, there was word that San Francisco, CA, was looking to see if Lucas might give them a second chance, after the refusal to build his museum on land near the Presidio, on the west side of the city.
Rumor was that Oakland was even attempting to throw their hat into the ring, and a number of cities in the last week since the Museum claimed it was heading west, have also added their voice. They include Sacramento, Vallejo, and some have even recommended Lucas’ hometown, of Modesto.
However, much like his wanting the museum in Chicago and San Francisco, I still see the location George wants, being one of ‘convenience.’
Many seem to be under the impression that Lucas will build his museum, and then just walk away, but given where he’s wanted it (near a natural location, with other museum and family facilities), he surely is expecting to come out to and visit the museum as well, once it’s completed!
As of the time this post is being written, two locations are prominently being mentioned as possible locations.
Though full location details have not been finalized, I thought I’d discuss what has been brought to light in the last few weeks.
Location Option #1: San Francisco
Unlike the previous location near the Presidio that Lucas originally was going for, the city has been talking in the last few months, about offering him a place on a man-made island, dubbed Treasure Island.
The ‘island’ in question, was actually created by landfill, and is attached to the smaller, Yerba Buena Island. Both landmasses sit between San Francisco and Oakland, and are only accessible by the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Treasure Island, at over 568 acres, was originally constructed in the 1930’s, for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. With the country entering into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Naval and Auxiliary Air Station was soon located there.
For some time now, the city has been trying to redevelop it into a tourist destination. One difficulty towards this is that the only access point for many, would be along the Bay Bridge, and an additional network of roadways and ramps would be necessary to make it more easily accessible for the typical volume of tourist traffic.
Word has been ‘floating’ around, that a water-taxi service could be put into place, to allow persons from the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf areas to the west, to travel to the island. Though the Mayor has happily mentioned this in a few articles I’ve read, I doubt Lucas will expand his proposed monetary amount to include added infrastructure improvements. I’m sure that will need to be something the city will need to consider.
Even so, current word is that the plans for the island’s rehab, will be a 2o-year, $5 billion project. The island will be rehabbed to become almost like a floating neighborhood on the bay. Plans call for park, office, residential, retail, and hotel space…and it’s a good bet that the city would love for the museum to become the crown jewel of the project.
There may be an advantage to coming back to San Francisco for George. Given he chose them originally, but came back after attempting to look elsewhere, the city may be a little more eager to work with him, than the Presidio board was a few years ago.
Also, unlike Chicago that sees him as an arrogant billionaire, George is more of a hometown hero for the city San Francisco. Basing much of his Lucasfilm production company around the Bay Area, and even consolidating his numerous facilities (Lucasfilm, Lucasarts, and Industrial Light & Magic) into the Letterman Digital Arts Center in 2005, when the facility opened.
It should also be noted that Treasure Island also figured into a Lucasfilm-produced film.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and his father attempt to leave Germany, by way of the Berlin Airport. Treasure Island‘s Administration Building, ended up serving as the exterior for the establishing shot.
Location Option #2: Los Angeles
Though George Lucas is a filmmaker, many assume that he harkens from the City of Angels, where the filmmaking capital of the world resides. However, Lucas over the years, has often made mention that he shuns the moviemaking system there, and since the 1970’s, chose to make and finance his own films, in the San Francisco bay area (like his friend, Francis Ford Coppola).
However, his journey becoming a filmmaker did send him to the city, where he studied at The University of Southern California (USC), which has also churned out a number of famous filmmakers including Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and many others.
Throughout the years, George has not forgotten his alma mater, and has often made generous donations to their film school. One of the biggest donations he made was in 2006, which totaled $175 million, and a more recent donation in the fall of 2015, was as a means to promote diversity in filmmaking.
Just south of the main USC campus, lies Exposition Park.
Originally a racetrack and fairground area (word was camels were even raced here!), it was re-developed in 1909, and much of the rather ‘unsavory fare’ of the day, was soon replaced by gardens and museums.
With the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium at its center, and several other sports-based structures at its southern area, the bulk of its museums are along Exposition Blvd areas close to USC.
These museums include:
- The California African American Museum
- The California Science Center
- The National History Museum of Los Angeles County
Current word is, that the city of Los Angeles is offering Lucas a spot on the Exposition Park grounds, though just where the facility could be built, noone has said.
Much like San Francisco’s Presidio Park and Chicago’s Museum Campus, Exposition Park does offer something for families and schools to partake in, allowing one to experience several different places in a short walking distance from each other.
The park did make the news a few years ago, when its Science Center, became the final resting place for the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Analyzing the Choices
Though the Treasure Island location has been mentioned regarding San Francisco, there’s been no solid word on just where in Los Angeles Lucas may see as a potential site. The Exposition Park location, has been the only one mentioned verbally so far in the news regarding Los Angeles.
Word is that both cities are being given 18 months to submit proposals to Lucas and his board members, after which, a decision will be made. Hopefully, third time will be the charm, and there will not be an overly-picky non-profit organization that will step forward.
Unlike the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations, if one looks at the two areas currently being offered, Lucas may have to make a compromise.
Both of his previous locations, were near an area with other museums, but also nestled in a nature-like area, near a body of water.
The two current choices, do not come with all these things:
- The Treasure Island location would afford Lucas a chance to build his museum in San Francisco, and get the watery/natural view he’s so eager to have…but the museum will most likely be seen as a singular tourist destination, with no word on any other museums or learning facilities nearby.
- The Exposition Park location would put Lucas among a number of the city’s prominent museums, and also place him next door to his world-famous alma-mater. However, there is a limited amount of space currently available, and one wonders if the footprint of the museum would need to be shrunk down further than its last iteration. Plus, the fact that the park area is landlocked, means that a more sprawling natural environment, may be out of the cards. One could almost imagine maybe putting the museum in the center of the park’s famous rose garden, but I’m sure that would ire a lot who view the 7.5 acre garden as important to the park’s heritage.
Word is that like the Chicago proposal’s design, organic architecture will also be used for the California location. The MAD Architect firm from China, is still being considered for the design-work, and word is they have reviewed the site at Treasure Island. One rumbling is that the design will be similar to Chicago’s natural look, but with more windows.
At least we can be sure that in both of these cities, the architecture will be met more favorably than the negative bashings from the Midwestern peons, who dubbed the Chicago design, as “a salt pile,” or “Jabba the Hutt.” But then again, organic architecture is largely a foreign concept to a world filled with buildings that are more angular than organic.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Lucas Museum is being fully embraced by those in California.
Recently, the CEO of Salesforce named Marc Benioff, took to social media, feeling that the city of San Francisco should ask for more “social support” from Lucas, if he wishes to build there. Benioff’s feelings were that additional money should be donated by Lucas, for schools, hospitals, and homeless programs.
It seems that even back in California, you can’t please everyone, and I guess in the 21st century, it’s tough to be a philanthropist.
Epilogue…and one more vision from the past…
And that brings us to today. While much of social media is filled with persons congratulating the Friends of the Parks group and vilifying Lucas as a maniacal foreign outsider, very little word has been coming out of California, as the details are still being worked out.
Though I’m sure I’ll be keeping tabs on (and blogging about) the future decisions for the Museum, and trying to keep the facts straight since so many online have not really grasped the history of the project, or the ups-and-downs of what even went on in Chicago over the last 2 years (many on social media couldn’t get their facts straight on which location the museum was originally going to be built on!).
Though in the wake of the death of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago, some new information has been released in the last few days.
A number of firms were commissioned to come up with designs for the lakefront museum. Though the only designs shown were from the MAD architect firm in China, word has recently surfaced that New York-based architecture firm, OMA, also did some design concepts. In the last few days, they have been showing several of the images they did on their Instagram accounts, revealing what they proposed.
Unlike the more amorphous look with no right-angles that MAD made, what OMA designed, was more angular in design, with a translucent outer-dome area above, almost making it look like a jellyfish.
The museum in their design, would seem to ‘float’ above the area, with the space below it re-purposed from the parking lot, into “a new urban park.” Though whether the museum would have underground parking, they didn’t say.
The concept would be that the main area of exhibition, would be on the extended, “suspended galleries” that spread out from the central ‘atrium tower.’ The upper levels would be protected by a ‘membrane’ of ETFE pillows (a high-strength, translucent polymer).
In one of their descriptions, OMA claims that the building’s design, offers “8 times the public space it occupies,” in its hovering state.
It was nice to see what OMA proposed for the site, and does make one wonder, now that the dream is dead in The Windy City, if we may see additional architecture firms show their own ideas for what might have been for this “world-class city’s” chance to move further into the world of narrative art.
When I first heard about George Lucas’ plans to build a museum to house his extensive art collection, its plans were being presented to The Presidio Trust in San Francisco, in 2013.
Lucas’s vision was to build his museum on park land near the north side of the Presidio (a converted military base near The Golden Gate Bridge), giving it a bay view. The upside to the proposal, was that George would fund both the construction, and endowment for the facility, which would be in the multi-million dollar range.
However, after altering his building design to fit more in line with surrounding structures and guidelines, the Trust was not willing to give him the area he wanted. Though they offered him another section (closer to his Lucasfilm headquarters, away from the water), Lucas decided to pull up stakes and look elsewhere.
A number of other cities voiced their eagerness to take on the project, with George soon accepting the invitation from Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel.
It seemed like a slam-dunk choice, given that Lucas had married Chicago native Mellody Hobson in 2013, and had now expanded his stomping grounds to the Windy City (where he had been seen at several events).
In the Spring of 2014, a small meeting was held at the Chicago Cultural Center, where a number of persons in the community, were encouraged to come and sound off on the museum.
My friend Donna and I eagerly attended, but most in attendance, were there as representatives from surrounding neighborhoods, and communities.
The majority that came to the podium, envisioned the museum as an iconic facility, that could bring about a rebirth to their ailing communities across the Chicagoland area (one even mentioned how maybe a monorail could take those to the Museum if it were built on the far south side community he supported).
My thoughts on the museum when I got up to speak, were moreso the rantings of a kid who came from Iowa, and was enamored with ‘what’ the Museum could be, instead of ‘where.’ I didn’t quite have the same mentality as those in the room. All I knew, was that I wanted what was being offered to the city.
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art’s ability to show a variety of art styles beyond the norm (including storyboards, concept, and illustration art), was a big draw for me. There was also talk of how the facility could be used for film screenings/premieres, lectures from those serving in the industry, and…a way to show kids in the Midwest another side of art, that was not currently available!
After leaving that meeting, I couldn’t help but think in my head, that while many had high hopes that Lucas would choose their community surrounding the city, I could easily imagine him looking to centralize the location, closer to the heart of the city.
…and lo and behold, I was right.
The announcement came a few months later, with word that Lucas had chosen an area between the city’s Soldier Field stadium, and McCormick Place East convention center structure. The space was currently serving as a parking lot, used mainly for tailgating for Chicago Bears football games.
However, with the announcement, came word from a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, that a lawsuit was being filed. The group claimed that the new structure violated the “Lakefront Protection Ordinance,”meant to protect the lake front from private enterprise building upon it (even though Rahm claimed the museum would be a public institution).
A number of other hoops were quickly jumped through regarding approval of the project, but when it came to the lawsuit, it was not easily dismissed, with the judge handling the case, claiming it had a valid point to be looked into further.
Acceptance of the museum didn’t get much better a few months later, when the MAD Architect Firm from Beijing (whom Lucas had commissioned to design the structure), unveiled their design:
Needless to say, its radical design immediately rivaled the metal-and-glass retrofitting of nearby Soldier Field, as well as led to all sorts of nicknames from a city that couldn’t understand why George couldn’t just ‘build a building.’
The design garnered such nicknames as “the salt pile,” as well as “Jabba the Hutt.”
The fall and winter period, as Chicago moved into 2015, didn’t get any better. The judge handling the FOTP lawsuit upheld the request to keep any work from taking place, claiming the lawsuit had merit in regards to the concerns of the Parks group.
Even the mayoral election that Spring brought up the museum, with rival candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, claiming it as “a monument to Darth Vader,” pretty much cementing that he wasn’t a fan.
Not much was brought up regarding the Museum in the summer of 2015, but by the fall, revamped renderings from MAD revealed a “compromise” to its design:
The design reduced the size of the museum, but also showed that they were willing to add park and prairie area to the surrounding grounds, nestling the design in a more eco-friendly landscape.
But even this didn’t placate the Friends of the Parks, let alone word soon after that the Chicago Plan Commission, had approved leasing the Park District land to the Museum, for just $10, as part of a 99-year lease.
Things then started getting testy in the early part of 2016, when word spread that Lucas might look elsewhere, given the sluggish approval pace. A number of people then threw out their own proposals for alternate sites. Some eagerly suggested again that George bring his museum to one of the south side communities (such as the former South Works US Steel site, 9 miles south of the Chicago Loop), while others said he should build it across the street from the lakefront. Several even suggested that the filmmaker rehab an existing structure downtown.
Famed architect Helmut Jahn even suggested that the Museum could maybe me ‘melded’ into the framework of the nearby McCormick Place East structure, re-purposing it.
Some have to wonder if that idea, may have led to the “Plan B” proposal, that was shown in late April.
The new proposal, called for razing the McCormick Place East convention building. The Lucas Museum would keep its same footprint size, with this latest proposal claimed as a win-win for park and lakefront fans: it would leave the Soldier Field parking lot untouched, AND add 12 acres of parkland onto the former East site, that the museum’s footprint didn’t touch.
Unlike the first plan, this one would end up needing an extra monetary boost…to the tune of $1.2 billion that the city would need to find. The funds would go to razing the McCormick Place East structure, and add additional room to the McCormick Place structures on the other side of Lake Shore Drive, to compensate for the floor space lost from the East building.
Even with the costs to demolish and add-on regarding McCormick Place, Lucas would still fund the museum’s building construction and endowment out of his own pocket.
Murmurings were that this might be the compromise to go with (since the parking lot situation was still tied up) and that Lucas might be okay with the new location, as a viable option! Even so, many complained that with a number of the city’s current issues, spending a billion dollars to knock down a building and build a new one, was really sounding more like a desperate “vanity project” on the mayor’s part.
And then came May 3rd, 2016.
In the morning, word came that the Friends of the Parks were suspending their lawsuit.
To many, it looked like there might finally be a compromise! Surely there must be some hope that the new proposal to raze the convention hall had some merit!
However, as the day wore on, it soon became apparent that this was not the case.
An additional note from a representative of the Parks group a few hours after the suspension news, claimed that they were actually not willing to accept the mayor’s “Plan B.”
The general message was, “while we aren’t against the museum, we don’t want it anywhere near the lakefront…however, we are more than willing to help the museum team find a new location away from the lakefront.”
A few hours later, Lucas’ wife Mellody Hobson then released a statement, claiming that she and her husband, were now officially looking elsewhere for a place to put the museum, and painting the FOTP persons in a not-so-rosy light.
Though she didn’t say the plan was dead, her words, along with the thought that FOTP would surely file a lawsuit blocking any action on the “Plan B” site/proposal, pretty much signaled the end for the city’s chances. By the end of the day, the d-word was being seen across numerous postings and articles on the internet.
Needless to say, I went through the rest of that day feeling numb. Social media didn’t help dull the pain, with most tweets online sounding like kids who were glad to be rid of the equivalent of a herring pie, given by their grandmother.
As well, looking for any talk about the project on social media over the last few years, had largely been persons just retweeting or reposting currently-running news articles.
If there were others out there who shared my same views on what could be, I never seemed to find them. The most I would often find, was the typical internet snark of people calling it “A Star Wars Museum,” or complaints about its unnatural design.
I had a lot in my head that had been building up over the last few years, and as with quite a few other blog posts I had done, I thought I’d get out some of my own views right here, on my blog.
This entire post is also one of the longest I’ve ever written for my blog (over 5,000 words), so you might want to have a sandwich or a drink nearby, if you wish to settle in for the long run. Above you got a summary of the 2-year debacle, and now, you’ll be able read some of my observations and thoughts, regarding what transpired.
Chicago isn’t a town largely known for its understanding of art
Though we do have one of the premiere Art Museums in the world, Chicago often suffers from the same issues that most Midwestern areas do: they don’t quite ‘get’ art.
From the start, many couldn’t fathom what “narrative art” was. For someone like me who had grown up understanding about concept art, storyboards, and costume design, it made sense…but to most people, they are usually more enamored with the finished product than the ‘why’ or ‘how.’
Most often think of art in the Midwest in the simplest terms, and sometimes, the only way to get around the weirdness of some art, is to give it a ‘simple name’ or go with the old adult standby (“that looks like something my kid could do!”).
Take the structure known as Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. It’s a massive curved, mirrored structure…but to many, given its kidney bean shape, it is moreso referred to as, The Bean.
Chicago has also had those who scoffed at other artistic endeavors over the years. In the heart of the loop, is a 50-foot sculpture, made by Pablo Picasso. Though one would assume getting a Picasso in your city would be cool, many were opposed to it back in the 1960’s (with people at the time mentioning everything from a statue of Ernie Banks, to a giant pickle would better suit the site!). Editor Mike Royko was even quoted as saying upon its unveiling, “Interesting design, I’m sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect.”
Much like the Lucas Museum, it was considered by the artist as “a gift.” Four charities and foundations paid for its $350,000+ price-tag, but Picasso himself was offered a $100,000 payment (which he refused to take).
Chicago has moreso been a town that deals in the realms of business and sports: very ‘adult’ things that feel more like the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the average American. You’re more apt to find someone to talk to you about last night’s baseball game at the watercooler, than to have a discussion regarding The Art Institute’s latest Van Gogh exhibit.
Most locals couldn’t fathom the design of the structure
Unlike the more straight-lined design that Lucas proposed on the Presidio site, his designs for Chicago were going to take on a more ‘natural’ look.
In a stage interview with Charlie Rose (in the fall of 2014), Lucas claimed that the design would be more organic (“like a sponge,” he mentioned at one point), claiming that organic architecture was where he felt design was headed.
Most Chicagoans didn’t get the memo though, when the MAD Architect firm from China, revealed that first design. To most of the pedestrian minds in this major city…it was just, ‘weird!’
It wasn’t so much a sponge, but was moreso void of straight lines, almost like it had grown up through the grassy landscape, like a strange fungi.
It’s stark white structure looked mountainous, with several areas of its design, boasting upper levels would provide several areas to take in views of the surrounding landscape, with a 360-degree viewing area under an awning at the top.
Such stylings are relatively foreign to our shores. Many structures in our country, largely keep with the standard square and rectangle function (with minimal curvature).
Even so, the design of the museum wasn’t foreign to the MAD Architects. They have also designed a number of other organic structures, with the most recent completion being the Harbin Opera House, which was completed in China, in December of 2015.
As one can see from this concept picture on the right, its design and integration into the surroundings seems to mirror what Lucas was going for with his lakefront design. Even the description of the Harbin structure, told how it’s design was based on the thought that it had been ‘sculpted’ by the twin forces of wind and water.
One has to wonder if that same thought, may have influenced the architects when they were coming up with the Lucas Museum’s design.
In the shadow of Star Wars
To many out there, it’s hard to think of George Lucas, without someone immediately bringing up Star Wars.
Since it was announced, The Lucas Museum earned the rather pedestrian nickname of, “The Star Wars Museum.” And to many who read that, that’s all they could see: this weird structure being little more than a repository for props and production material related to George’s films. Pretty much, a shrine to his greatness as a purveyor of popular culture personification. Even mayoral candidate Chuy’s referencing it, shows how little the locals know, or are willing to know beyond the norms.
What many don’t realize, is that George’s entire life hasn’t always been the pursuit of a mult-billion dollar space opera. Throughout much of his life, Lucas has been a fan of (and studied) anthropology. That seems to be one of the main threads that have weaved through all of his works.
THX-1138 is an anthropological what-if, pushing into the future, based on observations of where we’ve come as a society, and intermingled with the Orwellian tones of 1984.
American Graffiti deals with the teen culture of the early 1960’s, as well as exploring the social norms and political climate, before the upheaval of American values in the late 1960’s.
With the Star Wars series, George was able to take his knowledge, and whirl it into a potent mixture that translated into a space adventure, intermingled with the shades of the sometimes hokey Saturday Matinee Serials of the 1930’s, along with political views of the young, standing in contrast to the rigid systems of an Empirical governing body.
Even with his personal art collection containing pieces by the likes of Norman Rockwell, R Crumb, and John Tenniel, many instantly zoomed in on the sight of anything Star Wars, claiming it as still being the main reason for the facility.
I will admit that though I did shun people calling it “The Star Wars Museum,” part of me did find the design that was proposed, somewhat similar to an early concept of structures from the planet Alderaan.
Though we never saw the surface of the planet (it was destroyed by the Death Star in the 1977 film), concept artist Ralph McQuarrie had done a painting, showing a number of rounded white structures, nestled into a green area by a body of water. Though the museum’s height would not reach those of the spires in McQuarrie’s work, one can’t help but feel some similarities if one looks at the concept and space that was being requested for the build.
There is, no, compromise
Throughout the entire debacle, has been mention of the non-profit organization, Friends of the Parks.
As soon as the announcement was made for the parking lot area next to Soldier Field, they immediately claimed they would file a lawsuit to ‘protect the land.’
I think many (including the mayor) didn’t think that case would come to anything, but as the lawsuit kept things halted for a year and onward, he must have started feeling the heat.
He even attempted to ask for the chance to start razing the parking lot (before a decision was made), but was denied even this. The federal judge handling the case, kept pushing onward, requesting the administration turn over all the information it had in regards to how the parking lot site was chosen (with some assuming it was possibly the only site offered).
The main weapon the FOTP organization used, was that the proposal was being done so on public land, left to Chicago via Public Trust Doctrine, which claims that the land should not be used for private enterprise, and remain open to the public (even if that land being considered, is currently occupied by a parking lot).
Given the way the events have gone, it has felt that the Mayor handled things in a decent light, moreso than one would expect. Unlike the days when the likes of the Daley administration would use some of that old-fashioned “persuasive power,” word about the handling of the situation, saw Rahm and the Lucases attempting to reach some form of compromise.
Everything from scaling back the size of the museum, to contributing space to park land, seemed unable to deter the main body of decisions at FOTP from even reconsidering.
There was also concern over the leasing deal being given to Lucas in regards to the spot, in which he would pay $10 for a 99-year lease on the land. Given the current money shortcomings in the city, many felt that the Mayor’s decision was not really ‘charitable,’ but more of a drop-in-the-bucket to a philanthropist valued in the billions of dollars (and to many when the b-word is used, “enough” is never enough).
Even in regards to ‘what’ kind of museum it was was up for debate. FOTP contested that its purpose was more for private purposes, as Rahm contested that it was a public museum. I went looking around online, and found a rather interesting article by The Huffington Post. It seems that in this day and age, the fine line between public and private, is pretty tricky to decipher.
Though in the end, the non-profit organization has never been one to back down from anything park-related. They vocally opposed the futuristic retro-fit on Soldier Field some years ago, and also were against Richard M Daley’s decisions to build parts of his 2016 Olympics bid on park land, as well as his plans to move the Chicago Children’s Museum over near Grant Park.
When it comes to the lakefront, the group has taken an all-or-nothing approach. Last October, word came they were in support of a proposal, dubbed The Burnham Sanctuary.
The sanctuary would reclaim 19 acres along the same area where the Lucas Museum has been proposed to be placed, though as one can see from the rendering, there would be nothing but parkland and trails. Plus, given that the entire area would be devoid of any revenue-generating structures, one would assume it would take someone (an institution or two) with very deep pockets to make this proposal a reality. Rahm Emmanuel’s “Plan B” proposal that called for the removal of McCormick Place East was estimated at $1.2 billion, and one has to assume that this project would most likely be hovering in the same price area.
As of this writing, there has been no further word of any takers to make the sanctuary proposal a reality.
Struggling for Freedom
One thing brought up on a number of occasions, was many feeling like the citizens of Chicago were kept out of the decision-making process. Some felt that Lucas should have attempted to be more out-going, and come forward moreso to the community as a whole, rather than seemingly just having private, closed-door sessions (word was, discussion for the Presidio site had the same approach).
Even so, George has largely not really been a big fan of committees. He’s been noted over the years as being rather quiet, and oftentimes some of his ideas, are not so easily stomached by a number of persons.
Much of his early filmmaking career was being told what he could and could not do. When Star Wars gave him his “freedom,” George set out to largely do things his way. There’d be no studio executives second-guessing his decisions, and he’d bankroll his own productions, following the success of his 1977 film. Since then, he’s largely been used to being his own person.
Some would claim him selfish, but come on: wouldn’t you want that kind of ease? One of the hardest things about being an artist or a creator, is many times having to deal with someone placing restrictions on what you do.
He’s also never been one to compromise easily. One can see that in a number of instances over his career:
- When American Graffiti was released, Universal Studios removed 5 minutes from the final print he turned in. After Star Wars was a success, he was able to convince them to put back the cut scenes.
- Though many praised and loved Star Wars: A New Hope, Lucas had gone on record saying how much of what he released, wasn’t up to his standards. When the 20th anniversary Special Edition of the film was released in 1997, he was able to add scenes in, and revamp certain effects shots, soon after saying it was closer to what he saw in his head.
- Talk of a fourth Indiana Jones film had gone on for quite some time, though George was adamant that since Indy was now in the era of the B -movies (the first three films had followed adventure serial stylings of the 1930’s), the film’s ‘idol,’ should be related to aliens (which were often a staple of 50’s B-movies). In the end, Lucas compromised with his friend Steven Spielberg, by making them “inter-dimensional beings,” that looked like aliens.
Lucas’ (Final) Passion Project
At age 71, George most assuredly realizes he’s in his twilight years. His selling of Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company, pretty much cut him off from having a hand in any future films related to that company’s properties.
With his adopted children off and out in the world on their own, Lucas has turned his attention to his wife and new daughter, along with getting the museum completed.
Even so, it isn’t like Lucas has hoarded his money over the years. He is one of the most well-known philanthropists in the world, often making donations to numerous arts and school programs (he and his wife have also donated $25 million to a Chicago after-school program in recent years). There was also word that much of the $4 billion he received as part of the deal with Disney regarding his company’s sale, would also be used for philanthropic purposes.
Given he has turned away from filmmaking entirely, the museum is surely intended as his swan-song.
Some have said his adamant feelings about its location are a bit selfish, but one should also consider seeing things from “a certain point-of-view.”
Architect Helmut Jahn pretty much hit the nail on the head, when he claimed in one interview, that George most likely wants to go ‘all-in’ for the project. This could explain why Lucas has been so adamant to dig his heels in, and not be swayed from certain stipulations: It’s the last major project he’ll have a hand in, and he wants to do it his way.
Of course, my mind often kept coming back to that Cultural Center meeting, where many kept wishing for the museum to enhance their specific neighborhood/community.
Many in Chicago I saw on Twitter as the lakefront battle raged, just kept throwing out all sorts of locations. Though many look at it as just a building, many never seemed to consider Lucas’ original plans in San Francisco, or what was being discussed in Chicago.
There seemed to be a pattern to the areas of interest, in that they be located near a body of water. That seemed to show that Lucas didn’t want his structure to become land-locked. It wasn’t to be like Disneyland, surrounded by hotels, residences, and restaurants. He wasn’t looking to create a Star Wars theme park or shrine to his space opera…this was a museum, and he seems to want it to be a place, that could be allowed ‘breathing room.’
There also is the consideration on how one would access the museum.
The locations Lucas chose in San Francisco and Chicago, are in prominent spots, located around parks and recreation (as well as main thoroughfares). This leads me to believe that Lucas himself was not looking at just building the museum, and walking away. After all, if you have such a great collection of art, surely you’d want to go down and see it every once in awhile.
The Presidio site would have been close to his Lucasfilm headquarters, which had moved into the new Letterman Digital Arts Center in 2005. The site he chose, would have been right across Highway 101, which he surely was familiar with.
In Chicago, word is that George and Mellody have an apartment in a prominent building on North Michigan Avenue (some have even seen George taking a meal in the food court of Water Tower Place). If the museum had gone in at the southern end of the Museum Campus, it would have been easy enough for Lucas to make a straight-shot down the street for visits.
Though there’s been no official confirmation that The Lucas Museum is dead in Chicago, Mellody Hobson’s letter pretty much seems to signify that she and her husband are done waiting to deal with the current lawsuit (which is still in its pre-trial phase).
Word came at the time of this writing, that an appeal had been filed by the mayor’s office to dismiss the lawsuit regarding the parking lot (the main spot Lucas chose), but one has to figure it’s just one last gasp in the final process of pulling the plug. The mayor’s dream would most likely be for an immediate dismissal of the lawsuit, but one could see this thing dragging on for years…many that George is not willing to wait for.
Much like the submitted US Steel site offer a little while ago, the city of Waukegan (located an hour north of Chicago), has recently said they would welcome the museum along their lake front…though one has to figure if Lucas wasn’t willing to move his museum 9 miles south of Chicago (to the steel plant site), he most likely isn’t prepared to go further north. As well, whose to say the small town doesn’t have their own non-profit group gunning to make that space “open, free, and clear?”
The building of the museum will be an endeavor that will take several years, and I’m sure George would love to see it realized before he turns 80. The Chicago proposal expected an opening in 2019, though if the third times the charm and he finds a city willing to give him a lake view, one would probably expect to now see it open in the year 2021.
Personally, I’ve pretty much given up hope that I’ll ever see the museum built here. When it was being considered for the parking lot site near Soldier Field, it felt like a decent location, with minimal issue for “taxpayer consequences.” My faith in the project wavered when the proposed “Plan B” moved it further south, and included the $1.2 billion amount that would need to take care of removing and compensating for the McCormick Place East convention structure (a plan which would require state approval, in a state whose government is currently dead-locked on a number of other financial issues). I wasn’t as over-the-moon about it as the first site, but thought I’d wait to see what would happen…though deep down, the word ‘billion’ attached to that proposal didn’t sit well (former mayor Daley had used that word a few times when it came to discussing the costs of Chicago’s attempts 10 years ago to be the Summer Olympics’ host-city for the 2016 games).
Its a pity that Chicago lost out on getting The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. For me, I saw it as being the one shot that the city could use, to get exhibitions regarding animation and film, the likes of which have been shown in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. I could easily imagine the world-touring Pixar Exhibition, or maybe even the Tim Burton Exhibition, being part of the gallery space that would house temporary exhibitions. And though some have told me online that “we already have art museums,” I can’t see them expanding their scope beyond what they currently offer.
I’m sure The Art Institute of Chicago would never dedicate space to something like exhibiting stop-motion sets and creations from the likes of Laika Entetainment, or properly give over space to the production art of the golden age of Warner Brothers cartoons. Even the chance that The Museum of Contemporary Art would consider such things, seems like a fever-dream, and The Museum of Science and Industry wouldn’t showcase such things, unless it could work in a learning segment for kids. I guess in seeing how some other exhibitions regarding cartoon and animation art have been presented in several of my visits to California, it feels like the city is sorely lacking the capacity to open up past’ the norm.’
Some online who have seen me wax poetic about my thoughts on the museum, have inquired if I’m thinking about the city, or myself. I still feel that the museum could be a benefit to a place that many amazing exhibitions bypass in favor of more world-renowned cities, or overseas venues (Chicago often feels like a second or third-tier city much of the time). Chicago keeps wanting to pride itself on being a world-class city, but I often feel when it comes to more regarding the arts, that well-roundedness is sorely missing, and often leads persons like myself and others, to travel elsewhere, to seek out those things that we often know will never be considered for the museums the city houses.
Mellody Hobson said in her letter the other day, that many kids in the area would be missing out on what the museum could offer, and I agree with her. I wanted to study animation growing up, and coming from the state of Iowa, finding a place that would seem to encourage one in that regard, was non-existent. The museum’s intent to focus on a mixture of different media arts, makes it a unique creature, and one could definitely imagine the items on display here (as well as various programs and activities), inspiring future filmmakers, many who would be eager to escape the city’s confines, and head out west (or possibly consider the local film or animation programs at Columbia College).
One of the major cities that has come up in the news, has been Oakland, CA, which is right across the bay from San Francisco, and word is, they would be willing to discuss giving the museum a lakefront placement. I personally feel George will take another look around California. He’s spent much of his life in Northern California, and if he can stay close to the Bay Area, he won’t have to go far to visit the museum.
One can imagine him maybe one day in 6 years, taking his daughter to the museum. They would be seen walking around its curved floors, admiring the illustrations by John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham. Maybe they’d sit in one of the theaters for a bit, listening as a film historian lectured about Kurosawa’s Rashomon, before heading up to the cafe at the top for a snack. As their attention turned to look out over the waters to the western horizon, the skyscrapers of San Francisco would fill George’s eyes, as he thinks about where he’s come from, and where he’s going.
I hope you’re able to find a community willing to help you make your museum a reality, George…it’s a pity Chicago wasn’t able to give you a hand.
In 2010, Joe Walser and a dedicated group of Back to the Future fans, came together to pull off We’re Going Back: The 25th Anniversary Fan Celebration of Back to the Future. The event took fans to many of the film’s locations, held meet-and-greets with cast and crew, and much, much more!
I almost considered going in 2010, but held off…figuring that when the big future-date in the film’s sequel hit, I’d find myself traveling to Hill Valley, in the year 2015.
I jetted out to the west coast in late October, and was soon surrounded by several hundred fans, as we wandered the Courthouse Square, rode DeLoreans on railroad tracks, flew around on hoverboards, and found ourselves at The Enchantment Under The Sea dance (to name just a few things).
Returning to the present, I decided to add my trip to the Journeys Through Life section on my blog, telling a little about my once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It had certainly been a wild ride for the We’re Going Back event. But like all good things…it was time to draw the festivities to a close.
The final day would send us away from Los Angeles, and east towards City of Industry, CA. Along with having a name I always found a little odd, this city was well-known for the Puente Hills Mall. It was Puente Hills, that would play the part(s) of the Twin Pines Mall, as well as the Lone Pine Mall.
It was in the southern area of the mall’s parking lot, where Marty and Doc first graced audiences with the reveal of the DeLorean Time Machine, as well as the first time-travel experiment, and a nail-biting chase scene.
However, our journey would begin on the northern side of the mall, as we entered near the AMC Theatre’s Puente Hills 20 complex…but not before many of us stopped to ogle a Part 1 styled Time Machine.
Today, we’d be sitting in one of the theatres, to hear from a number of persons who had worked on the trilogy.
Our first guests of the day, were Kevin Pike, and Michael Scheffe (see left). Kevin is notable for being the effects supervisor on the first film, while Schaeffe did concept work for all of the films.
Michael provided some of the most interesting tidbits of the day, when he revealed a slideshow of his concept work done during the trilogy.
We got to see items like the original concepts for the Luxor taxi cab in Part II, as well as the first concept imagery of the Mr Fusion power generator…which in the original concept, was a Westinghouse product.
I’m sure Michael wasn’t expecting it, but upon hearing that he was instrumental in the design of KITT from Knight Rider, I gave him a little ‘thank you’ for having a hand in designing two of the vehicles that captured my imagination as a child (KITT was my favorite screen-used vehicle, until the Time Machine came along).
During the lunch break, I took a moment to wander the mall, whose carpet and furnishings still echoed a bit of its pre-21st century history.
Stopping into a See’s Candy store on the lower level, the woman working behind the counter commented on how many Back to the Future fans were in the mall today. I quickly explained about our big event, and she encouraged me to send some of our cohorts over for free samples.
A fun moment came when I quoted to another woman, Doc’s “I remember when this was all farmland as far as the eye could see” bit, regarding the mall area.
Her response? “I remember when this WAS all farmland.”
Returning to the theater, we were then introduced to the trilogy’s two editors: Arthur Schmidt, and Harry Keramidas. I had the chance to speak to them the night before during the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, but it was nice to hear them reminisce about their time on the film.
Editing can often be a thankless job, but in truth, some films have been saved by editing (like Jaws and Star Wars). Both Arthur and Harry, I hold in high regard, because they each edited two of the first film’s most crucial scenes: The mall car chase (which was edited by Arthur), and the clock tower finale (which was edited by Harry).
Next we were introduced to David DeVos (see right), who had done work on Back to the Future: The Ride. DeVos had also been a tour guide at Universal Studios, and given his rapid-fire vocal introduction, I didn’t doubt it!
Though not part of the main production staff on The Ride, DeVos did contribute to helping extend out the queue videos, after the ride was first introduced at Universal Studios Florida.
DeVos also shared stories about the building of the main queue building, let-alone the testing of the ride vehicles…including the time one of the vehicles was put on one of the highest settings.
Sadly, the real-life work schedules of several of our expected guests, kept them from appearing. However, always willing to lend a hand for the BTTF community, Terry and Oliver Holler (see left) took to the stage, and gave a presentation regarding what led them to becoming one of the most famous couples in the fan community.
The Hollers shared stories about building their Time Machine in the early 2000’s (when they had to rely on pausing their VHS copy of the films to figure out what part went where), as well as the various places where their vehicle had taken them over the years.
Our next guest, was Michael Klastorin (see right). Klastorin had been the Unit Publicist on the 2nd and 3rd movies, and had just released Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History book (which I had picked up the night before at The Enchantment Under The Sea dance!).
Michael shared a few stories regarding his experiences working on the films, as well as researching the book. Notable among them, was his attempts to interview Eric Stoltz in regards to his early involvement in the first film…which yielded a rather interesting (if humorous) endgame.
Our final presentation, talked about the music of the films, as well as the sound mixing process. On hand for part of the presentation, was Dennis Sands, one of the trilogy’s sound mixers, and Mike Mattesino, the producers of several upcoming releases of the trilogy’s soundtrack albums.
A highlight was when we were shown just how important sound mixing can be to a film.
We were shown portions of the first film’s skateboard chase, but without Alan Silvestri’s musical score, and just the sound effects. It definitely was a strange sight to behold, and showed a number of us how important sound mixing could be to the final scene.
We were also informed about upcoming soundtrack/audio releases, including newly-extended score releases for the second and third films.
As the afternoon turned to twilight, we headed out the south portion of the mall, and onto the parking lot area, many of us had largely seen, only on film, for the last 30 years!
In the weeks leading up to the event, the We’re Going Back event planners had been busy. Several of their above-and-beyond workings had included:
- A replica of the Twin Pines Mall sign that had been specially made, and placed in the same place Marty had encountered it in the film.
- A replica of Doc Brown’s white truck, that had been placed under the same lights as in the film.
Tonight, a good portion of the parking lot where the film’s time-travel experiments took place, was roped off especially for us.
Chairs had been set up for an evening screening of Back to the Future, and the event had brought out people from all over.
Several different DeLoreans parked behind our seats, as we waited for the appropriate time, and a number of costumed folks could be found in all shapes and sizes, wandering around the area!
Throughout the week, while we had been celebrating the films on the west coast, the majority of the film’s major players had been on the east coast, taking part in numerous show appearances. That evening, before we were scheduled to start our film viewing, a Skype call was made to Christopher Lloyd in Washington D.C.
Though the connection was not perfect, we were able to get a few words in with him, regarding his feelings on the films, as well as some of his favorite moments.
Even our official Marty impersonator, Tyler Dunivan, jumped in for a few words, stunning Chris.
“Is that Marty!?” he exclaimed, causing the audience to roll with laughter and applause.
Chris did mention how he liked working on the third film the most, and when he mentioned “he had a girlfriend” in that film, the event organizers had a fun moment.
Erica D Breig had shown up for the day in her amazing Clara Clayton outfit once again, and was brought forward into the call.
“Emmett!” she exclaimed. “When have you been, I’ve been so worried about you!”
On the projected screen, you could see Chris’ eyes scanning his computer monitor, before they went wide, and with a shocked expression he shouted: “…CLARA!”
Of course, we were coming up on our official start time to screen the first film. To get the screening started on the right foot, Chris was able to give us a great big: “GREAT SCOTT!!”
While I wanted to sit down and watch the film like everyone else, I got ‘itchy feet’ during the first 10-20 minutes, and wandered around, watching the crowd. Eventually, I took my seat, and enjoyed the rest of the film with a few of my new friends.
My first viewing of the film was on VHS in 1986. It wasn’t until its 25th anniversary re-release in theaters, did I finally see it on the big screen. Since then, I’ve seen it 4 more times with an audience, including tonight.
One thing I’ve noticed in watching the film with a live audience in the past year, is how much the audience really got into some scenes.
It was fun to see everyone whoop it up when the DeLorean made its first time-travel journey, or how they applauded for George telling Biff to “leave her alone,” let alone the build-up and release of the clock tower’s big lightning strike scene!
A fun moment was that during the Libyans’ chase scene, a live recreation happened around us! A VW van speedily chased a DeLorean Time Machine around the perimeter of the viewing area, as a few die-hard fans rushed from one side of the parking lot to the other, trying to get a good shot of the recreation.
As the film drew to a close, much like those preview audiences in the early days of the film’s development, there was applause and leaping to our feet, as the DeLorean flew into the future…which was now (to us) the past.
Following the film, many of us quickly gathered near the screen…for it was time, to find out who had won some of the awesome prizes from the We’re Going Back raffle!
Raffle tickets had been sold online and during the event, and now it was time to see if the gamble had paid off. This would be one of two different raffles, with an additional one taking place after the event.
As many of us watched, all manner of Back to the Future related products were awarded, several of them signed by various members of the crew. My hope to win a signed copy of The Art of Drew Struzan was quickly dashed, as none of my numbers were called.
The mac-daddy of all the raffle items, was a custom Boosted board, whose board design was based off of the 2015 Hoverboard Marty rode. This $2,000 valued prize quickly found its winner that night, and its new owner quickly hoisted it over his head, as Joe Walser, and Tyler Dunivan, looked on.
As the auction came to a end, it was time for some true emotions…it was time for many of us, to say our goodbyes.
It was hard to believe that 5 days ago, we had all queued up in front of California Pizza Kitchen on Hollywood Blvd (or near the Hollywood United Methodist Church), and gotten our wristbands and vouchers for the event.
I could almost hear Alan Silvestri’s music cue titled “Marty’s Letter” in my head, as I saw all manner of persons hugging, crying, and even promising that we’d do this all again…in 2020.
My new friends and I, almost like Marty finding himself late for school, found ourselves chasing down our tour bus, as we left the Mall, and returned to our drop-off point in front of the Loews Hollywood Hotel. Even here, goodbyes and promises to ‘keep in touch’ were made, before many of us dispersed off into the night.
Later on that evening, at the Orange Drive Hostel off of Hollywood Blvd, my mind was a whirlwind of thought over the last 5 days. As I turned to look at my phone, I soon saw that it was coming on to 1:20 am, on October 26th 2015…30 years from the time when Einstein had been sent one minute into the future, becoming “the world’s first time-traveler.”
While I drifted off to sleep, a couple dozen fans (who most likely had their own vehicles!), were still at Puente Hills Mall, and celebrated the event with a group picture.
Quite a change from 30 years ago. Bob Gale recounted on the DVD commentary for the first film, that at the exact time in 1985, word was 2 dozen people had shown up at the mall, thinking something was going to happen.
Nothing did…but here it was, 30 years later. The film’s fandom had grown and evolved in ways that in the Summer of 1985, its creators could never have fathomed. That fandom has stretched around the world, and had produced a fan-made event that celebrated one of the most satisfying film trilogies of all time.
Sure, fandoms like Star Wars may be considered bigger (and more lucrative), but the last five days had shown, that the fandom of The Back to the Future trilogy, was a grouping that seemed like “A Match Made in Space (and Time).”
Originally, this was where I planned to end my remembrances of those 5 days in October of 2015…but in the end, I found my mind criss-crossing across other thoughts, that could not be contained in these 5 parts.
Come back soon for the conclusion of the We’re Going Back: 30th Anniversary Celebration. There’s a few more things to talk about, before we let go of the past…