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Lucasfilm’s Lynwen Brennan on Building Resilience and Helping to Lead the Future of Entertainment

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To celebrate Women’s History Month, spotlights the executive vice president and general manager, following a path that began in Wales.

Lynwen Brennan’s introduction to the visual effects industry came, literally, by accident. Raised in the coastal town Tenby, Wales, as the daughter of two school teachers, the now executive vice president and general manager of Lucasfilm grew up loving music and movies, but could not have fathomed she’d find a path into the film industry half a world away in California.

Then tragedy — which would lead to opportunity — arrived. Brennan had just graduated from the University of London with a degree in geography and biology, when she fell off a bobsled-style rollercoaster. She was so badly injured that the doctors anticipated amputating her foot; hearing the dire prognosis, her mother took action. “My mother spent 12 hours straight massaging my leg, determined to get a pulse in my foot,” Brennan tells When the physicians arrived to wheel Brennan to the operating room, her mother begged them to perform another ultrasound and check again. “And they heard a very, very faint pulse,” Brennan says. Those same doctors were able to save the limb, but the story would have ended quite differently if not for her mother’s insistence and proactive problem solving. “I think that was a great example of not taking ‘no’ for an answer and just so much determination and strength of will,” Brennan says. The ordeal “definitely built resilience in me and taught me that sometimes bad situations can lead to something unexpectedly good. I also recognize how lucky I have been.”

Brennan comes from a long line of determined Welsh women, including her grandmother. “We’re not from money. My grandmother was a scullery maid in a big house and she was determined that her only child, my mum, would get to go to the grammar school, which up until then had really been focused on boys,” she says. “So, my mum ended up being the very first person in our family to go on to further education.”

Had the accident not-upended her life, Brennan was on-track to follow her mother’s path to a more typical vocation, perhaps in education or law. However, in the year it took for her to relearn how to walk, her brother was serendipitously launching his own special effects software start up.

Fear, love, excitement

Brennan grew up in awe of the movie industry. She can still recall going to see her first movie in theaters, the blockbuster hit Jaws, in her Brownie uniform. The film left her both terrified and entranced by the power of the screen. “It definitely was an awakening of how all-encompassing those stories can be, and how they can really make you feel something, whether that be fear or love or excitement,” Brennan says. “It began a lifelong fascination with film and storytelling but never occurred to me that it was something I could be a part of.”

While Brennan recovered from her accident, her brother was creating a company called Parallax and a digital paint software called Matador, and asked her to join him. Brennan intended for it to be a detour; instead, it was a launching pad, and she’s now spent nearly 25 years with ILM and Lucasfilm. “I fell in love with it almost immediately,” she says. “In a startup, you’re a part of a really small, scrappy team, and you’re doing something that seems impossible and you’re working on something that has never been done before.”

And one of the small firm’s first clients was George Lucas’ own Industrial Light & Magic, which was working on Jurassic Park, the groundbreaking film that would bring dinosaurs back from extinction and change the future of visual effects with computer-generated imagery. For Brennan, watching a brachiosaurus lumber onto screen reaffirmed her decision. “I remember just knowing from that moment, ‘Oh, I’m not going back to university. I am staying in this industry. I have no idea how, but I’m going to work at ILM one day.’”

“Of course we can”

To quote Brennan’s mother, “Everything happens for a reason.”

In the late 1990s, Brennan got a call about an entry-level position at ILM, working on Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. At the time, she once again thought the foray and move to northern California would be a short-term stop over. Instead, she stayed and worked her way up the ranks within ILM, eventually becoming president while on maternity leave in 2008. In 2015, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy tapped Brennan to serve as general manager of Lucasfilm and oversee all day-to-day operations of not only ILM, but all the Lucasfilm businesses. In her time with Lucasfilm and ILM, Brennan has had a hand in countless innovations that included the launch of the company’s immersive entertainment division, and the creation of Stagecraft, the technological marvel that immerses the cast and crew of The Mandalorian and other productions in a cutting-edge wraparound LED screen environment, allowing for planet-hopping escapades filmed in a single real-world location. She oversaw the expansion of ILM from a small northern California operation to a global entity, with studios in Singapore, Vancouver, London, Sydney, and most recently Mumbai. And day-to-day, Brennan meets with every department across the franchise, from budgeting and finance to publishing, games, and franchise strategy.

“One of the things I love about my job is that every single day is different and, in each day, the unexpected always makes an appearance and I always learn something new,” Brennan says. “I could be talking with ILM about their global expansion or I could be meeting with Skysound about the advancements they are making in sound technology, or with our games team in a greenlight meeting for an upcoming console game or with our franchise creative team about our upcoming Young Jedi Adventures series and the accompanying toy lines for the youngest Star Wars fans. I can genuinely say that I get to work with the best teams in the business who I learn from every day — but most importantly they are wonderful colleagues who are drawn to Lucasfilm because they are fans themselves and every single team is looking at what they do through the eyes of the fans.

“Many of us were lucky enough to work with George [Lucas] and we take the responsibility of carrying forward this incredible galaxy he imagined very seriously,” she continues. “At the same time, it is important to not be too reverent that you become afraid to make some bold choices and also be afraid to have fun. We get to make Star Wars. That’s a pretty joyous thing!”

Brennan’s last 10 years have been spent working alongside Kennedy on strategic planning and every aspect of business operations. They are two of the top executives at a company where more than 50 percent of the leadership team are women, including Carrie Beck, executive vice president of Lucasfilm development & production streaming, Momita SenGupta, the executive vice president of physical production, Pippa Anderson, the senior vice president of post production and Janet Lewin the SVP Lucasfilm VFX and GM of ILM, among others.

“I’m incredibly lucky to work for Kathy. She is so often described as a force of nature, and it is just so very apt for her,” Brennan says with a laugh. “I feel like I naturally gravitate to women who have that determination, have that energy, but also have an empathy and are willing to really support the people around them.” Brennan has found that to be true of Kennedy as well as former ILM president Chrissie England and former vice president in animation Gail Curry. “I’m really lucky to have had such amazing colleagues,” Brennan says. “Kathy is such a fearless leader that she’s always pushing us to do our best work.”

If Kennedy’s mantra is “It’s got to be great,” inspiring the crew to keep elevating, pushing forward, and evolving what’s possible in filmmaking, Brennan’s might be “Of course we can,” the affirmative response to Kennedy’s call for greatness, “meaning the idea that nothing is impossible and we can get it done,” Brennan says. “It’s hard, but we’re gonna do it anyway. That is certainly something I live for.”

But Brennan is equally keen on compassion and the simple personal rule of striving to be kind. “Because how you build the culture that is so important to any company is through trust,” Brennan says. “And I think you get that through empathy. That is something that I really try and live by every day.”

Different lived experiences”

Brennan has been surrounded by strong women all her life and colleagues have remarked that even when there are challenges, Brennan never panics. That steadfast resolve comes from her upbringing, overcoming her accident, and the multitasking she honed when she became a mother to her 14-year-old son.

“I became president of ILM while I was on maternity leave. And I will say that those five years of juggling being a mom, needing to really be there for their physical needs as well as their emotional needs, and having a leadership position in a big company [were challenging] — talk about building resilience!” Brennan recalls with a laugh. “You build such an ability to multitask and an ability to really concentrate your efforts and be really efficient with your time and to just drive through exhaustion. Now that my son is older and doesn’t need me quite as much, sadly, I realize that I’ve learned this ability to manage so many things at one time that I’m not sure I would’ve learned if I hadn’t had that journey. I think that there is something remarkable about what women, and indeed all parents, can do.”

And Brennan is cognizant that tomorrow’s industry titans and dreamers may be in the audience of the next ILM or Lucasfilm project, as enamored as she was all those years ago watching Jaws, and ready to bring their own unique voice to the process.

“I look at Deborah Chow directing Obi-Wan Kenobi, and what an incredible job that she did. She created a series that was uniquely hers. And Leslye Headland’s doing the same thing with The Acolyte. I don’t think anybody else would’ve been able to tell those stories in the same way,” Brennan says. “And Carrie Beck, our executive vice president of development, she is just so inspirational. I love seeing her sensibilities coming into the stories. It’s all led by Kathy, but I love seeing all these different voices that have different lived experiences that can make our storytelling richer. And I love seeing the results of that. And that’s really what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

Looking back on her career so far, Brennan is most proud of the way Lucasfilm has persevered through decades of change. “It has evolved, of course,” she says. “Each of our businesses are very different than they were 24 years ago when I started, but at the core there is an incredibly strong sense of camaraderie, a fearlessness to go into unknown territory knowing you will figure it out with colleagues who will not only have your back but push you forward and make you better… One of my favorite people in the universe, John Knoll, is always saying ‘a great idea is a great idea no matter where it comes from’ and I think that sums up the culture here in a wonderful way. So many great ideas abound here, my job is to make sure we nurture an environment that they flourish.”

In the last decade alone, Brennan has been awarded the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2016 for her contributions in support of the UK’s visual effects industry, the 2019 Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Film and Television from the British Academy of Film and Television Art in Wales, BAFTA Cymru, and the prestigious Visual Effects Society Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022.

For Brennan, growing up in Wales started the journey that led to this moment, and every challenge along the way helped shape the kind of leader she would become, but even the more difficult moments have had their benefit. “In hindsight, I see how it’s informed my life in the sense that even some of the worst moments in your life end up setting you on the path that you’re meant to be on. And I never dwell on if something doesn’t go the way I expected it to go. I really go into it with, ‘OK, this is actually a great new challenge. Let’s figure this out. Let’s follow where this goes.’”

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