(wrote this one awhile back, never got around to posting; testing if that’s even possible from China)

Industrial Light and Magic is dead.

Not the digital effects company, but the old ILM – the model shop that did Star Wars. The one that spun off from ILM under the name Kerner Optical. The one that, I think it’s fair to say, for which moviegoers have more sentimentality.

I only got to visit once, in 2004, before the company split in two. The location of the facility was a closely-guarded secret, and the directions were confusing. One wrong turn and you end up at San Quentin Prison (we did). When we got to the address given, we thought we must be in the wrong place. It was a suburban neighborhood, with a street full of large, nondescript buildings.

As we approached, a pair of door-to-door salesmen were exiting one of the buildings, politely escorted by a plainclothes man with a walkie-talkie. As they left, they angrily yelled, in between hurling epithets, “I didn’t even know you were security! I bet your neighbors aren’t such dicks!” – only to realize that in the doorway of the neighboring building now stood another plainclothes man with a walkie talkie. The next building, too. And across the street. Suddenly these two were surrounded on all sides by security. And we realized, as we came to the doorway marked Kerner Optical Company as camouflage, that every building on Kerner Street was ILM.

It was a memorable trip.

I thought about this when sitting in the airport recently, when, amidst the news coverage, the business section began talking about the weekend’s box office receipts. Specifically, what movies had been flops, what wasn’t making money, in short, what was rotten about Hollywood nowadays.

Everyone has an opinion on the Oscars. Nobody has one about the annual chewing gum awards.

Hollywood is an odd place to fail. The industry’s failures are messy, frequent, public, and oddly personal. I wonder sometimes if financial analysts get told they’re forcing diarrhea down the public’s throat – because it’s happened to me. I wonder if BP employees have their opinions completely denigrated and told that they should shut up and go back to their, air-quotes, “job” – because it’s happened to me.

(Hell, I wonder if that happens to people at *Pixar*.)

It gets to me because if it didn’t, I couldn’t do my job. I work long, long hours, on projects for which I often don’t care. But I push. We all push. Because we love our work and even if it isn’t the best movie in the world, it is our job to make it the best movie it can be. We have to make our part shine. So we do. And then?

“Putting lipstick on a pig.”

“Polishing a turd.”


I’ve heard them all. I’ve said them all, in spite of myself. I mean, I drew a picture of one of the main characters from the movie I just worked on – split into pieces, blood and entrails everywhere – and put it easy view of one of the most heavily-visited areas at work. There is an on-going joke about me doing an art show somewhere on campus titled “I am not a team player.” Mea culpa.

It’s easy to be a cynic. It’s easy to poke your nose into someone else’s business and proclaim your opinion. Hell, some people build their entire existence around it. Little Roman emperors, giving gladiators thumbs up or thumbs down. But it’s not sustainable. Just look at the tales of two Conans (one, two). How they took positive stands even when they had every reason not to. Because to do otherwise would destroy them. Would destroy what they love. Would render them incapable of doing their jobs.

It’s harder to create than to consume. It’s harder to wrestle with life’s imperfections than to dismiss the entirety of this sometimes-difficult, often-disappointing world with one queasy “meh.” It’s hard.

So here’s to the old ILM. Thank you for the good times. And to the new ILM, here’s looking forward to more stellar work.