The Empire's New Digs: George Lucas launches SF media center

I traveled to San Francisco this weekend for the launch of George Lucas' new Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio park. I interviewed Mr. Lucas, and filed reports for NPR's "Day to Day" radio show and Wired News. Both the radio segment and the online article include snapshots of the scene on opening day, and a view from inside — an unusual mix of history and future is evident throughout the complex. Snip from Wired News story:

Technology may soon spell doom for the big blockbuster, predicted the king of blockbusters himself — George Lucas. Speaking at the grand opening of his brand new Letterman Digital Arts Center here in San Francisco's Presidio national park, Lucas said the internet and digital distribution will force Hollywood to refocus on smaller projects.

Theatrical and licensing revenues from the six-part Star Wars series have topped $13 billion and continue to grow, but Lucas believes the days of such high-budget epics may soon be over.

"I'm not doing $100-million movies anymore," Lucas said on Saturday. "I'm more interested in smaller ones. Each time you do a $100-million movie, the chances are greater that you're not going to make your money back."

He added: "Box office numbers have been going down since WWII. They're on a slide and will continue to be. The profitable areas are now television and DVD, and the entire paradigm is shifting dramatically," Lucas said. "People will always go to theaters, because they will always like a social experience, but I don't think it's going to be as big as it is now."

Lucas said he will not be alone in Hollywood. The growth of home theaters, new delivery mechanisms and alternative viewing devices like mobile phones will inevitably alter moviemaking.

"The big tent-pole movies will be the first victim of the rapid technological changes we're seeing now," he predicted. "We're just not going to see those being made anymore."

Image: a statue of Yoda looks out over a courtyard between buildings at the LDAC complex (XJ).

Link to Wired News story with photos.

Link to NPR "Day to Day" radio segment, with additional photos — "A Digital Film Studio on Prime S.F. Real Estate."

One thing that didn't make it in to either story: Senator Barbara Boxer's cellphone going off repeatedly throughout Lucas' speech to reporters at the press conference. It was kind of an obnoxious polyphonic ringtone of some awful song. She was right in the front row, like 5 feet away from him on the podium, so it was super awkward. Everyone else in the room heard it loud and clear, but she seemed to be having a tough time finding the device in her purse. Happens to the best of us.

See also Jessie Scanlon's Wired Magazine story, "The New Heart of the Empire": Link.

Reader Comment: Lloyd Fonveille says,

I heard your radio report about the opening of George Lucas's new studio in San Francisco and enjoyed it very much. I was surprised to hear Lucas blame the current decline in the box office on piracy. I have another idea about what's causing it, which the book The Experience Economy has helped me think about in a new way.

Link to Lloyd's blog post on the subject.