To start, can you tell us your role and describe your day-to-day responsibilities?
I’m a senior producer on Lucasfilm’s Franchise Production team. We cover both franchise animation and non-fiction content. Specifically, the LEGO Star Wars portfolio is my primary role. I’m really proud of the three specials that we’ve done in collaboration with Atomic Cartoons, Skywalker Sound, writer David Shayne, and our Lucasfilm leadership team including Josh Rimes, James Waugh, and Jacqui Lopez.
As the company develops its overall strategy, we brainstorm what stories can be developed for LEGO Star Wars. Once we’ve settled on an idea, that’s my trigger to initiate the production. They give us the best release window, which sets the parameters for what the plan could be. I lay out a schedule and put together a budget with our finance team. We then take that back to our leadership and explain how we need these blocks of time and budget in order to achieve the goal. From there, we build the team of partners.
So putting this plan together is a core element of your role?
Yes, once a show is greenlit and starts development, all the creative, technical, and logistical choices arise over the course of production, and you refer back to the plan. It lets you know what you might be compromising if you make a certain decision. What are its consequences? It’s my job to communicate that to make sure everything aligns with where we want to be.
You’re sort of laying out the tracks in front of the train and preparing for changes in the route along the way.
Yes, we have something that we call the “waterfall schedule.” It’s like a primitive version of the game Tetris! It’s a graphic representation of this big plan. It’s a little harder today as we work from home, but before the pandemic, I’d print out this large schedule on the wall. Different colors and shapes track different pieces of the puzzle. You can see how everything relates to each other, and when changes come, it’s like playing Tetris and fitting things back together.
Were you always passionate about getting into movies?
I’ve always had that passion, and also for storytelling in general. I was born in New Jersey, but when I was five, we moved to England and I went to a boarding school. We had a TV there and we watched older films like the Keystone Cops or Harold Lloyd, as well BBC and nature documentaries. Then I’d come home and my parents would show me American TV shows and movies like the original Star Wars trilogy.
And how did you start working in the field?
It was the early 1990s, and I was one of those punk rock kids who was a little bit lost, and not sure what I wanted to do. A friend of mine had a dad who was an art director, and he encouraged me to try film school. I joined the film program at Loyola Marymount University. The wheels started turning.
I took a cinematography course with Bill McDonald, who is now the dean of UCLA’s cinematography program. His class was a turning point for me. I did fairly poorly at the beginning. It was a big learning curve, but I was determined to be successful and make cinematography my thing. I read the A.S.C. manual cover to cover and tried to become the best camera technician I could be.
So, before you worked in production, you started your career as a camera operator.
Yes, I spent about a decade working on independent narratives and documentaries. Early on, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was moving to San Francisco, so I moved there as well. It was a lot harder to find work, so I found a job as a rental technician and built up a network. I began working on short films, sketch comedy shows, and DJ battles. That opened me up to multi-camera work at live events, including live projections. I learned to embrace the available technology to create the image we needed. I then worked on an HBO documentary about kids running for student government called The Third Monday in October as well as a documentary called The Bridge.