For me, life was very different back in the 1990’s.  I was married, had three children that were still, well, children. My hair was brown and my waist was 30″. I was a workaholic, spending at minimum 12 to 14 hours a day at work.

I had left ILM in the Spring of 1992 and had decided to start a competing VFX company because I believed then, as I do now, that VFX and animation are key ingredients to marketing and ultimately selling tickets to films.

My original vision in starting this new company was to create something similar to LucasFilm, a content production company that produced films, TV, new media ( as it was called back then) and videogames.  But I wanted a new kind of LucasFilm, a company fueled by creativity and technology, but with partner/owners that trusted creative collaboration with their employees. I saw the new venture as a new kind of studio. A gathering of exceptionally talented men and women that could create new stories with cutting edge technology. Sort of the same concept that Mssrs. Lassiter and Catmull had at Pixar, but in the live action vain.

Back then, a group of the most senior execs and creatives at ILM were frankly fed up with the way things were going at LucasFilm. Given the zeitgest of the Bay Area and the heady times of Silicon Valley’s IPO mania, it seemed to several of us at ILM, that we should take the burden of LucasArts… Skywalker Sound, ILM, etc. (at the time it was indeed a financial burden) from George and manage this company ourselves…. sort of a management/creative buy out. The only problem was, George didn’t quite see it that way! And try as I may to get to Mr. Lucas and explain what I and his most trusted cadre of creative, technical and business employees wanted to do, I could never get through the impenetrable wall of Lucasfilm’s president Doug Norby.

In fact, Norby and I saw things so differently at times that I found it, towards the end, difficult working for him.

Case in point… As an executive, I wanted the managers that reported to me to be appropriately incentivized in reaching or exceeding the goals of the organization. No brain science needed… a bonus compensation plan needed to be structured. As a CEO of other creative organizations prior to my stint at LucasFilm, it was obvious to me what we needed to do.  Doug Norby on the other hand was a Harvard educated, ex McKinsey employee.  He felt that we needed to hire some consultants to help us structure this simple plan, even though IMHO, LucasFilm had an experienced HR staff that could easily put a plan in place.  After countless meetings and lord knows how much “consulting” money spent, we had our plan.

I explained the plan to my execs… Jim Morris (now of Pixar fame), Ed Jones, Marty Schindler and a few others. We were very focused at exceeding our plan and getting paid our bonuses. At the time we were not compensated like our counterparts at other Bay Area companies and retention of senior execs was critical to the success of ILM. Upon completing our fiscal year, the ILM team,  as the euphemism goes, “hit the ball out of the park”. Unfortunately, Norby’s divisions struck out. And given the over all financial picture, Norby and the Board decided not to pay any bonuses that year. Now, I’m a realist and when there isn’t enough money in the corporate coffers to pay out bonuses, well, then the bonuses should be paid when the company DOES have the money to do so. Sounded fair and reasonable to me.  It didn’t to Norby.

I explained the situation to my execs. They were flabbergasted, to say the least.  They were asked to do the impossible and they did…. and now the bonus that they had been promised was not forthcoming… ever.

I met with Norby and explained the situation.  He told me that it was the Board’s decision ( The Board by the way, was a group comprised mostly of Norby’s friends and associates). I asked to speak to the Board.  I wrote a memo to the Board.

The Board meeting was relatively calm and proper ( which brings up the old joke… ” Why don’t WASP’s have orgies…. too many thank you cards” ). The decision was made… no bonuses this year and the Company did not have any obligation to pay them, ever.

I found this outrageous. Norby said his hands were tied. I decided that I could no longer work for Doug and walked into his office to tender my resignation. Interestingly enough, Norby opened his top desk drawer and handed me my resignation letter! I guess he was a lot smarter than I had given him credit for.

I returned to my office and had told my Assistant, Suzy McLaughlin, what had happened.  She too was shocked.  I packed up my office and stealthily left the Kerner campus late that Friday evening, never to return to LucasFilm again. When the following Monday morning came, it was as if I never existed at ILM ( and interestingly if you see any LFL sponsored documentaries about ILM or read any LucasFilm approved books about ILM, my name never shows up…as if my years at the Company never existed). There are remnants of my tenure however… the transition to digital, some Halloween Parties that are still talked about in hushed tones and… during my six (6) year term there, five (5) Oscars for Best Visual Effects. In fact, after leaving ILM in 1992, they have only won three (3) Oscars in the next eighteen (18) years and one of them was for JURASSIC PARK, a film that was well into production when I left ILM !!! Not a bad record for a guy that never shows up in the history books!

On that very Monday after my hasty exit, there was a commercial ready to shoot… a Miller Lite spot that was to be directed by a friend of mine. In fact, it might have been the only commercial he has, or has ever since, directed. Miller Beer wanted a special director for this spot where people morphed and aged. I called my then buddy, and asked him if he would consider directing a TV spot for us. After several rather heated discussions with his agent, Jeff Berg of ICM  (why do agents have to be so…. difficult ?), we came to an agreement and closed the deal.  Miller was thrilled. The agency was thrilled. And the ILM crew was excited to be working with this genius filmmaker once again. But when Jim Cameron showed up on Monday morning looking for me…. well there was “some ‘splainin’ to do”.

Miller Lite Commercial Director James Cameron

Word travelled quickly. Scott had indeed left the building. And no one (except Diane Holland) knew where he went or why he left. At the time there were about 350 ILM’ers, and as its General Manager, I had the good fortune to know and have a relationship with most of them.  My disappearance, aided by Jim Cameron’s appearance was being discussed everywhere within the ILM Kerner facility. Norby must have heard the rumblings all the way over at SkyWalker Ranch (some 10 miles away) because he called for a Company meeting to be held on the ILM stage.

According to many ( I was not there, so I can’t validate this as fact), the stage was packed by ILM staff.  Norby, cardigan sweater, hushpuppies and all took to the podium. He had explained that Scott had decided to leave LucasFilm to “pursue other ventures”. The crowd was agitated.  Someone screamed for Norby’s resignation, others called him a liar and still others demanded the truth about where I had gone and why I had left. The Company Meeting had not gone well. The SF Examiner had gotten leaks that things were coming apart at LucasFilm and that key people were leaving the Company . The next day the headlines screamed in the business section of the SF Examiner ” EarthWars in LucasFilm”.

That night the Academy Awards were being telecast and George, who had not personally ever won an Academy Award, was being feted as the recipient of the Irving Thalberg Award.  Now, I’m not sure what GWL knew about the goings on at ILM that day, but I can only hope that the news of the turmoil at his company did not ruin his special and well deserved Oscar.

A few weeks later, my family and I were trying to sort out what we would next do… I had no job, and had just started looking for possible investors and partners for the new incarnation of this new VFX company ( the ILM folks were not interested in leaving the Marin area and possibly moving to SoCal). The future seemed scary. I had 3 kids, a stay at home wife and no visible means of supporting them. I decided that I would splurge and take them out to a local San Rafael Mexican eatery. We walked into the establishment and there sitting at a table with his young daughter, was none other than George himself.

In the years I worked at LucasFilm, I only spoke to George a handful of times. But seeing him there eating his enchilada with Amanda, I just had to come over and say something.  After all, my over all experiences at ILM and LFL were great and if it wasn’t for George, my world, and indeed the world, would not have been the same.  So…I cautiously approached.  He looked up at me, and I said ” Thanks George for all that you and ILM have done for me and my family”, and George looked at me, with a blank stare and said ” Sure….    by the way, what’s your name?”




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Banned From The Ranch

08 May 2011

It was back in the early 1990’s when I was at LucasFilm Ltd., heading up several divisions… Skywalker Sound; LucasArts Attractions; Editdroid/Soundroid and Industrial Light and Magic. One day I was in LA on the Disney lot, visiting then Head of Production, Bruce Hendricks, to discuss our bid on the ROCKETEER (that story for yet another post). When I was leaving the lot I happened to notice that Disney was hosting, for its employees, various seminars given by great artists. I thought to myself…. “LucasFilm should invite some really cool people to lecture as well, after all, we’re cool”.

So, I returned to San Rafael and with the help of a few folks, started to brainstorm some ideas regarding who we would invite and how we could “pay” for this speakers series. At the time (and probably to this day), ILM did not have any discretionary budget to do these kinds of things. After all, ILM was barely in the black, and the rest of the LucasArts divisions were losing money. But, we did have that big beautiful ranch, with vineyards, acreage beyond imagination, beautifully landscaped grounds, our own fire department and the most luxurious of accommodations for guests.

Armed with the possibility of an overnight stay at Skywalker Ranch and hosting a dinner at the Main House, I began to troll for speakers.

My fishing expedition was short… I had a few bites immediately. I placed a call to Tim Leary and to Laurie Anderson (the performance artist), and interestingly enough both were excited about the possibility !

I had been at LucasFilm for several years at that point and was one of two Sr V.P’s, yet I had only met George Lucas once.  It seems GWL (as he was monikered), was rarely around anymore, and as I was number two in the corporate hierarchy, decided that I needn’t ask anyones approval to start this guest artist seminar.

The first speaker was to be Timothy Leary of  “turn on, tune in, drop out” fame.  Dr. Tim was about 70 years old at the time and seemingly interested in video games, new media and was of course quite a storyteller. Leary had started his career as a PhD at Harvard in the Psychology Department, was an icon of the 60’s, hung out with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Marshall McLuhan and back in the day, was the high priest of psychedelia.

While having dinner with my family one evening, the phone rang and my then wife answered it.  She turned to me, phone in hand whilst I was swallowing a forkful of mashed potatoes and said “Scott, it’s for you, it’s Timothy Leary”. Tim and I spoke for about ten minutes and we had a deal. He could stay one evening at Skywalker Ranch, we would host a dinner for him and he would give a talk to Lucas employees.

The date was set. Tim filled the Sprockets Theater at C building at ILM, there was an SRO crowd. Tim took to the stage and started to talk about new media and games. It seemed he had recently developed this new videogame called “VIRTUAL VALERIE”. Dr. Leary proceeded to wax poetically and showed some game play. To my surprise (and I believe most of the audience), VIRTUAL VALERIE was an adult interactive erotic computer game. At the “No-Tell Motel” Valerie has virtual sex with the player. The goal is to help Valerie achieve orgasm. OMG!

That evening I hosted Tim and a select group (maybe 10) ILM employees to a dinner in the “Main House” at Skywalker Ranch. Back then, ILM was situated in a strip mall environment on the wrong side of the tracks of San Rafael CA. Skywalker Ranch on the other hand, is located up in the rolling hills of Nicasio CA, amidst the splendor of live oak trees and very high end architectural structures ( it is said that GWL has an edifice complex). In fact, several of the invited guests, some of ILM’s top talent, had never set foot on the Ranch. The dinner was highly anticipated, especially by two of the invitees, Steve “Spaz” Williams and Mark Dippe. Spaz and Mark were two very key artists on T2 ,one of the films that we were doing the effects for at the time and I wanted to show my gratitude for all their brilliant work. In addition, they were some pretty cool dudes and lets just say, a bit counterculture, if you know what I mean.

My assistant paved the way for the guests to be allowed past security at the Ranch… yes, they have their own police department as well.  Everyone gathered in the parlor of the Main House, a three story replica of a victorian mansion, supposedly built in the late 1800’s ( actually built in the 1980’s… again, another story/blog for yet another time). Drinks were served amidst the replicas of Indiana Jones ( his fedora and whip encased in a glass display) and StarWars ( Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber also on display). The grand staircase was cordoned off to the “riffraff” ( us ).  We were only allowed access to the ground floor as GWL’s office was beyond the velvet ropes.

Dinner was catered, the conversation was interesting and as the night progressed, Dr. Tim weaved some incredible tales.  All of us were enraptured with the good doctor, well almost all of us. It seemed that Spaz and Dippe, with beer bottles in hand, had disappeared.  I thought they had gone outside for a cigar, as Spaz was wont to do.

The evening ended.  It was a glorious night and as I drove home to Sleepy Hollow ( yes, I lived in Ichabod Craneville), my then wife, Kate and I started to review the evening.  I thought Tim was brilliant.  Kate thought Leary had meandered a great deal and was unable to truly communicate.  I guess I was more counter culture than I had thought.

The next day I arrived at my office at the strip mall and I had several messages from R.Douglas Norby, LucasFilm’s CEO and my boss.  Doug and I rarely saw eye to eye.  He looked like Mr. Rogers but was a lot more conflict avoidant. He stood about 5′ 6″, wore cardigan sweaters and had no knowledge (IMHO) of how to run an entertainment company.  His last position was the CFO of Syntex, a pharmaceutical company best known for birth control. He was the poster child of green eye shade types (bean counters), yet he was GWL’s hand picked boy and he made sure that any and all information that was to go to, or come from George, was through him.

Doug read me the riot act.  He had gotten word from Jane Bay, GWL’s assistant, that George was really upset about Tim Leary being at the Ranch.  According to Norby, GWL thought that Tim was a drug dealer and a degenerate and how dare I invite someone to Skywalker Ranch without his approval.  I explained to Doug who Tim was and how artists at ILM thought it really cool that he could tell us, first hand, what it was like to hang with the likes of the Beatles. Leary was now 70 and had not done any psychedelics for years.  I did not however mention a word about VIRTUAL VALERIE.  Doug reprimanded me and told me that the rest of the lecture series was cancelled. I tried in vain to explain to Doug that we were a collective of artists and not chemists… he was having nothing of it.

The next day I get another call from Norby, only this time he really had his cardigan in a twist.  It seems that the Skywalker police had discovered two members of our dinner group, beers in hand, sitting on the couch in…. GWL’s private office.  They had set off the infrared alarm system whilst sipping some Rolling Rocks and discussing whether George really knew had to use the Editdroid editing system that was sitting opposite them in Lucas’ office. This time Norby didn’t want to hear any excuses.  It seems that GWL told Jane Bay who told Norby that he wanted these two guys fired.  The problem was…. the Skywalker police didn’t really know who the perpetrators were! When the “cops” barged into GWL’s office, they demanded to know who the two vagabonds were.  Spaz and Dippe told them they were Scott Ross and Ed Jones ( then ILM’s head of Post Production).  The officers replied that they knew Scott Ross… and neither of these guys were Scott Ross.  At which point Spaz points to Dippe ( who is half Asian) and says “He’s  Lincoln Hu “( a Technical Director at ILM).  I, of course knew that was Spaz and Dippe, but I was afraid to tell Norby as Lucas wanted the two “criminals” fired immediately.  Unfortunately, these two criminals were the brain trust behind James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2, and if I fired them… well, I was positive that Cameron would put my gonads in a vice ( yet another post at another time) and that Columbia/TriStar would sue the crap out of us.

Now, Lincoln Hu was a technical director at ILM and was a computer scientist. He was not a digital artist, he had training in mathematics and technology. Lincoln was also a very nice fellow… well mannered, soft spoken, self effacing and Asian.  Mark Dippe was the fellow that was caught with Spaz in GWL’s office, and while he too was very nice… he was self confident, fun loving, brilliant, sarcastic, and very hip. He was Amerasian.

But Norby wanted the two perpitrators fired immediately.  I talked Norby down off the ledge and explained the repercussions of such public beheadings. Finally understanding the impossibility of allowing Lucas to get his wish, we negotiated a settlement.  George had agreed to allow the two most important digital artists at ILM to continue to work on T2 yet there were still to be punishments.  No raises for a year.  No working on any StarWars movies ever ( if they were ever to be produced again). And finally…. They were not allowed to ever visit Skywalker Ranch.  They were Banned From The Ranch!!!

The unfortunate part was that the wrong people were being banned… the SkyWalker Police still thought that the two baddies were Ed Jones and Lincoln Hu.

That had to  be cleaned up pronto.  I called Norby and explained that the Sky walker Po Po had ID’ d the wrong fellas.  Identities were corrected.  Lincoln Hu and Ed Jones records were expunged…. And Spaz and Dippe were brought to justice.

Lincoln  was ecstatic, well as ecstatic as an Asian software engineer could be!

A day later, Lincoln’s phone rang.  Now I assume that Lincoln’s phone rarely ever rung, but this time the caller was special, it was R. Douglas Norby, nerd CEO, on the other end. Lincoln at first didn’t believe it was Doug, I mean, Doug never really called anyone at ILM ( including me). But there it was… Norby’s secretary was asking Lincoln to hold on as Doug Norby was calling. Lincoln waited patiently. Finally after a few minutes, the  Mr. Rogers patois as thick as water, Doug said” I’d like to thank you Lincoln for  understanding the mix up.  I’m really sorry for what happened. Please understand that you are eligible for raises, if you deserve them… that you can continue to work on T2 and that you are most definitely not banned from the ranch”.  Lincoln thanked Doug and then Norby says” Oh, yes, by the way, thanks for the brownies and cookies that you sent to my office “.  Lincoln was puzzled at Doug’s last statement and thinks for a second, then said “ Doug, did you eat any of the brownies?”.  Doug answered, “why, no ?” Lincoln quickly interjects, “ Well don’t…. they weren’t sent by me…. And they might be, well, Alice B Toklas brownies!”  Doug replied “ Alice who?” After all, he was Mr. Rogers!

And that is the end of today’s tales from the scripts…. One final note however…a year or two later, several ILM’ers would leave the company to form their own VFX company. The name?  Banned From The Ranch.





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