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Wherefore Lucas After Disney?
by Karl Cohen
George Lucas brings his Empire's characters into the Disney Family for long-term conservation. photo: courtesy Disney
When George Lucas, who is 68, announced that he is selling his empire to Disney and is “retiring,” to devote more time to philanthropic causes and personal projects, the news was greeted with excitement. He is giving Disney plans for the next three “Star Wars” films and for other projects.
Lucas, who was believed to be worth about $3.3 billion before the sale (Forbes Magazine, 9/2012), will receive about $4.05 billion in stocks and cash. He says that his properties will be carefully managed by Disney well into the future.
In 2010, Lucas signed
The Giving Pledge
, started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, to get America's wealthiest individuals and families "to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice."
"I am dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education," Lucas said at that time. "It is the key to the survival of the human race. We have to plan for our collective future… and the first step begins with the social, emotional and intellectual tools we provide to our children." In 2006, he gave $175 million to his alma mater, the University of Southern California.
The sale means Disney will own the existing films made by Lucas, his companies, and other properties. George will continue to own Skywalker Ranch and other physical properties like Big Rock Ranch in Marin County, Calif. Why is that?
I can imagine Big Rock Ranch becoming an idealistic think tank since it is already a quiet retreat from the world. Deer and other wild animals live there; a stream flows between the buildings and into a lovely pond; the views from the buildings are of nature, not manmade structures. Right now it houses offices for Lucas' script development (TV shows animated in Asia) and his license division.
A sketch of Lucas' new property, Big Rock Ranch, to expand the Skywalker and animation services. photo: courtesy Lucasfilm
Nestled in a private valley near Nicosia in northern Marin, the Skywalker Ranch was designed as a media factory. Some of the buildings were built for specific film-related functions including sound recording facilities and screening rooms. It is reasonable to assume it will continue to house Skywalker Sound and other post-production facilities for both Disney and non-Disney productions.
The big question is not what Lucas plans to do, but what the Disney Corporation will do? Will they milk the former Lucas properties for all they are worth?
They are good at that and recent history indicates they are quite willing to cut less profitable business adventures (see the demise of ImageMovers Digital, their Paris and Orlando animation studios, etc). How soon will it be before they cut segments of ILM’s business and/or move other units to LA?
More “Star Wars” films mean that the billion dollar franchise will continue to prosper, but how long will ILM continue to seek out less profitable projects from non-Disney producers?
Will another animated feature like the innovative and anti-hero-ed “Rango” (2011), voiced by Johnny Depp, ever be created by ILM? (Not funded by Lucas, it was a work-for-hire project originated by Gore Verbinski.) Will Disney let either ILM or Pixar ever venture again into unchartered directions and create something as unique as “The Incredibles" (2004)? Will ILM eventually be asked to just focus on special effects for action adventure Disney productions and/or will quantity and profit become more important than quality?
George Lucas and John Lasseter, the Pixar head who is also the Principal Creative Advisor for Disney. photo: courtesy Disney
Disney seems to be happy producing more of what they think their target audiences wants. Right now sequels and profiting from franchise agreements and theme park attractions are in. Pixar has been gearing up to produce more than one film a year.
With the success of “Brave” (2012), Pixar’s most traditional film to date, will Disney ask Pixar to play it safe and make more films like that? "Brave" is a fine film and should win an Oscar or two, but Pixar is capable of a lot more than safe, traditional storytelling.
I hope my concerns are unwarranted, but there are dark spots on Disney’s track record. Here's to hoping the material will remain innovative and the work kept local.
Posted on Dec 12, 2012 - 01:19 AM