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Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Future of Cinema

JHM columnist Joseph L. Kleiman listens in as the co-founder of DreamWorks’ Studios talks at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.



Texas Instruments’ DLP Cinema is the finest digital film experience around. If you’ve been fortunate enough to see a digital film presentation at a major cineplex, chances are it was projected in DLP. If you’ve seen Universal Studios’ “Shrek 4-D,” you’ve also send DLP projection. So how does DLP Cinema work?

1. A digital projector based on DLP Cinema? technology transfers the digitized image file onto three optical semiconductors known as Digital Micromirror Devices, or DMDs. Each of these chips is dedicated to one primary color-red, green, or blue. A DMD chip contains a rectangular array of over one million microscopic mirrors.

2. Light from the projector’s lamp is reflected off the mirrors and is combined in different proportions of red, green and blue, as controlled by the image file, to create an array of different colored pixels that make up the projected image. Think of the DMD mirrors as the colored cards held up by an audience in a sports arena to create a giant image. Each person holds up a single colored card, yet when combined, these thousands of cards create a picture. If the card colors are changed, the picture changes too.

3. The DMD mirrors tilt either toward or away from the light source thousands of times per second to reflect the movie onto the screen. These images are sequentially projected onto the screen, recreating the movie in front of you with perfect clarity and a range of more than 35 trillion colors.

That’s right – 35 trillion colors! And studio executives love it. Almost all of Disney’s major films are being shown at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater (which Disney owns) in DLP Cinema. Eddie Murphy loves it. Practically all of his films over the last five years have been released in DLP (I’ll never forgive myself for seeing “Pluto Nash” just because it was being shown in this digital format). George Lucas is gaga over it. And Jeffrey Katzenberg, the cofounder of Dreamworks and former head of The Walt Disney Studios thinks DLP is the future. Here’s what he had to say during Rich Templeton, TI’s CEOs keynote speech at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show:

RICH TEMPLETON: Now, from small screens to big screens, options and quality for digital TV and video continue to improve. We’re seeing the same kinds of improvements as people move from their living room to go out on the town. Going to the movies is one of the great American pastimes and DLP Cinema is TI’s solution for bringing incredible picture quality to the digital movie theatre. DLP Cinema relies on our most advanced Digital Light Processing technology. It can create 35 trillion different colors and that’s more colors than you can capture with film.

To give you a peek at how life at the movies is changing, we’ve installed a DLP Cinema in the back of this theatre and we’re going to use it to visit with our next guest. He’s everybody’s favorite ogre, our swamp-loving fellow who churns out box office revenue like dragons breathing fire. Via the wonder of DLP Cinema, here’s a true fairy tale hero, “Shrek.”

(Screen lowers and segment of “Shrek 2” is shown in DLP Cinema)

Now, we couldn’t actually get Shrek here today in person; it turns out he had a conflicting engagement in a land far, far away, but we do have a live guest that we’re very excited about. In fact, he’s one of the key people behind the company that created “Shrek” in the first place.

He’s produced some of your all-time favorite movies, he was the president of Paramount Pictures and chairman of Walt Disney Studios. Today he’s the cofounder of DreamWorks Studios and CEO and director of DreamWorks Animation. Please welcome Jeffrey Katzenberg. (Applause.)

DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg (l.) talks with Texas
Instruments CEO Richard Templeton at the International Consumer
Electronics Show, which was held earlier this month in Las Vegas, NV.
Photo by Jonathan Kleiman. Copyright LPN Media.

RICH TEMPLETON: Well, Jeffrey, thanks for coming to our show today. I think you did have a chance to participate this morning in Carly Fiorina’s keynote, so I guess we should call this your CES sequel or Katzenberg 2, if that’s okay. You’re an expert at sequels.

It’s really fascinating, you saw the example of Shrek playing and what’s happening and in many ways digital is revolutionizing the movie and the film business. And maybe you could take just a couple minutes, give us a sense, maybe starting on the creativity side, what does it unlock, what does it let you do?

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Well, let me talk about it in terms of both on the animation and the live action side. First on the animation side, you know, digital has really created a revolution in our business. In literally less than ten years now we’ve seen the business pretty much transition from 2D into CG. And I think probably the most compelling thing about CG is how immersive it is for the audience. It really is an opportunity for us to take our audience into a world that’s got a verisimilitude, a sense about it that feels as though it really envelops you in its story and in its characters and it’s allowing us to tell different stories and to tell the story that we do tell in way more complex and creative ways.

Let me give you a teeny, little example of this. In 1988 “The Little Mermaid,” which was the last movie that was inked and painted by hand, the color palette for the character of Ariel, the lead, originally was designed with 11 colors in terms of different aspects of skin tones, hair, costume and the movie was over budget and behind schedule and in order to get it back on schedule and budget we cut the number of colors from 11 to 7.

RICH TEMPLETON: It sounds like our industry sometimes.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Right. And so today if you were to make that, as you look at Will Smith’s character in “SharkTale,” there are 300-some-odd colors used and it’s unlimited, it could be any number of them.

So it’s had such a dramatic impact and become an enormous creative tool for the artists, empowering them in ways that I think none of us really imagined or anticipated. Well, I shouldn’t say none of us, I’d say John Lasseter did, who really is the pioneer of CG animation.

Interestingly, on the live action side of it, DreamWorks released this last summer a movie called “Collateral” with Tom Cruise that Michael Mann directed and it probably represents to this moment in time right now today in terms of what’s been in the movie theatres probably the most ambitious film that has embraced digital production, digital cinematography in the process of making this movie and for Michael, who we talk a lot about this, as a storyteller creatively he literally would not have made the film were it not for the creative empowerment that came from digital production. His ability to shoot at nighttime, his ability to shoot, you know, almost 30 percent of that movie literally takes place in a cab. With film you could never get a depth of field, you could never actually get a sense of the environment of Los Angeles as you were moving through it, the movie would have been too claustrophobic. The shots that he did it at night, the coyote walking across the street, literally not achievable using film.

So from a creative standpoint I think Michael would say that the film was not something that he could have or would have been able to make without this new technology.

RICH TEMPLETON: That’s fascinating. How far in terms of we’ve got the revolutionary leaders like yourself and working with folks like you, how much change have we seen or are we just at the beginning in terms of the impact on the creative side?

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Well, it is very much just the beginning. Again, for CG animation there’s now been nine movies made in history that are really sort of the full bells and whistles production. And you think of that nine pictures in the …

RICH TEMPLETON: I think of your name associated with a lot of those nine.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Well, not enough, thank you. But that is a business that’s not out of the in, we’re not past our toddler stage yet and the sky is the limit. I mean, the opportunities, the rate of change, the rate of empowerment that comes; this again is a tiny example of this one little detail, the facial structure mechanism for the character of Shrek, so in the three years between “Shrek 1” and “Shrek 2” the complexity of what we were able to do in “Shrek 2” is times ten what we were able to do on “1.”

So whether it’s the amount of controls — and these are all things that our artists use to act, eyebrows, skin movements, cheeks, jaw line; it’s just the more and more detail and complexity that we give to it the better the acting is. So this rate of change, I have to say that I think Moore’s Law actually seems to have its own application in our business, which is every 18 months it seems to double in its speed and its complexity and its capabilities. It’s missing that part of getting half as expensive each time though so that part is not working out so well. We’ve got half of Moore’s Law, the other half we’ve got to work on.

RICH TEMPLETON: Well, it’s clear as we look out into the world today that communications and entertainment are driving technology and I think you just really hit the nail on the head. We are investing tremendous amounts of money to put more capabilities in extremely creative people’s hands like yourself and fascinated by it. But I know also as it comes the aspect of moving the creative side to the production, post production and then distribution there’s a lot of change going on and underway. Can you speak a little bit about what you see there?

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Sure. Well, I’d kind of divide it into a couple things. First is as a productivity tool again it’s having a tremendous impact and we do actually see savings. The fact is again just looking on the animation side of it first, our costs of our films have actually stayed pretty constant now for the last three years and since our movies do take between three and four years to make, we actually can look out over thenext three years and see again that it’s holding pretty constant. That’s a six year period of time. Clearly the costs for manpower goes up a little bit every year but we are getting productivity savings that are offsetting the sort of natural cost of labor that goes up. So there is a value on that.

On the live action side, again Michael Mann, you know, I have to use as sort of the example of the moment, there is absolutely no question, first of all he can do a take that’s 17 minutes long, in film you’ve got to stop, you’ve got to change cartridges and you don’t have the capability of doing that. The lighting packages, all of the support personnel involved in it, the stuff is so much lighter and more mobile and all of those things, so
once again there is a real productivity savings.

I think the place that people are focused on right now, and rightfully so because it’s the place of greatest opportunity in a way, is how do you now move into the distribution and the exhibition side of the business and there’s lots of talk, there has been a lot of talk about it over the last few years and there is absolutely no question about if; it’s when.

And I think from a filmmaker standpoint and a distributor standpoint and an exhibitor standpoint it cannot happen soon enough. It has tremendous, tremendous cost savings involved in it on all sides of the equation and ultimately, which I think will be the real driving force for it, is for movie-going. It is such a richer experience, the quality of presentation in a great digital cinema is unequal. And we’ve had a lot of experience with it on the animation side of it.

And I can tell you that if you look at “Shrek” on film you are seeing at the very most, in perfect presentation at the very most 80 percent of what, in fact, we have created. You don’t see a tremendous amount of atmosphere and detail and lighting. On one of these great monitors, an HD monitor and a high-end DVD what you would see would blow you away in the detail and the creativity and therefore the viewing experience.

And to me one of the things I’m really excited about, because again it’s sort of at the essence of what we do, we create our product three-dimensionally. So the richest experience for a moviegoer is actually to see it three-dimensionally. One of the things that will happen I think in reasonably short order of cinema around the world converting from film to digital will be a broadly available exhibition of movies in 3D, not as a gimmick but as an immersive movie-going experience unreplicateable in your home, by the way, which is part of why it’s just good business. As the home experience gets better and better and better, if exhibition, if this business is going to stay robust, it must offer a better experience.

And again exhibition has done a fantastic job. For all of you going today, you know now the movie theatres that you go into have stadium seating in them, their presentation is terrific, those boxes that were around 10 and 20 years ago are for the most part gone and the cinema experience is way, way better today than it was even five or ten years ago. But then when you look a handful of years into the future, we have to offer the audience a
unique experience and I think the digital cinema and digital presentation is of the essence to us achieving that.

RICH TEMPLETON: Well, we are in many ways lined up. As you see the demo of the 1080P TV that’s over your shoulder, it makes a brilliant image when you see it exhibited, but what you’re doing creatively …

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: If I can carry it, I can take it, right? Isn’t that the rule? (Laughter.)

RICH TEMPLETON: I’ve got a chance to slow you down versus Howie.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: I should say. (Laughter.) Howie didn’t get away with the good stuff. (Laughter.)

RICH TEMPLETON: But really as we keep taking even the home experience up we agree very strongly we want to put more powerful tools in your hands and in the exhibition hands to create a very unique experience in the cinemas. We’re hoping that breaks through pretty soon and we hit that curve.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Well, I think it is, you know, a number of the things that we’ve done together people have followed and TI has been a great partner to DreamWorks. “Shrek” was the first animated movie accepted into competition at the Cannes Film Festival in over 50 years and when we brought it there one of the things that we were able to do was to get the Cannes Film Festival also for the first time ever to have a digital presentation and people were blown away by the quality of what they were able to see.

Once again this last September the Venice Film Festival invited “SharkTale” and for those of you that were at the presentation this morning you know I talked about some of the drama of our getting the movie finished in order to make it there. The other half of the equation was the drama of putting up a six-story inflatable screen, one of the largest screens ever built, and the fact that this was inflatable, and then we put it in the middle of San Marco Square in Venice and showed “SharkTale” in digital with TI projectors and it really was an extraordinary experience.

And I think that what we are trying to do is to kind of coax along all the involved parties, including the consumer and the media to create this real interest and real demand for something that makes tremendous business sense.

RICH TEMPLETON: Well, Jeffrey, maybe I’m asking a dangerous question but can you pick your favorite film that you’ve worked on or is it always the next one?

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: “Madagascar” is my favorite film ever. It will be out in May of this coming year. (Laughter.) It’s really, really funny.

RICH TEMPLETON: That was not an arranged prompt.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: And I brought a trailer of it just in case I was asked that question.

RICH TEMPLETON: Well, the best part that I find about this opportunity today and getting to sit with some of these is I get to actually see these trailers before my kids do and they come home and tell me about them, so a great opportunity to be here and to see that. So do you want to try to give some introduction to the “Madagascar” clip that you have and give us a sense of what really stands out or what’s different or unique in your mind of
what the team has achieved?

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: No, not really. (Laughter.) Just play the trailer and then we can talk afterwards.

RICH TEMPLETON: So they should watch some other movie coming out this year? But, no, please, if you have any setup on it or if we want to just …

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: No, I think we can run the trailer and it actually kind of tells the story, which is what a good trailer does.

(Video segment, followe by applause.)

RICH TEMPLETON: Fantastic is all I can say.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Well, we’ve got our fingers crossed. You know, each one of these movies we just try and do something that’s unique, never been seen before and, as I say, with a technology that just seems to empower the artist and push their imagination, we just love making these movies, it’s a lot of fun for us. And you know we are, we’re very, very excited about this.

RICH TEMPLETON: Well, we certainly loved seeing it. All of us are either parents or grandparents or children that haven’t grown up yet and seeing these films like “Shrek 2,” we’re looking forward to this, I just can’t describe the feeling it gives. I know how our kids react to it. It’s a great presentation so you guys should be extraordinarily proud of what that team can do and has presented.

So we certainly appreciate you joining us this afternoon and running the Katzenberg 2 sequel. We wish you the best of luck with “Madagascar” and we encourage you to keep wowing the consumers of the world.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: Well, thank you, Rich, appreciate it.

RICH TEMPLETON: Thanks very much.

JEFFREY KATZENBERG: And, as I say, we appreciate what you guys are doing.

RICH TEMPLETON: That’s great.


RICH TEMPLETON: Jeffrey, thank you. (Applause.)

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Film & Movies

“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”



News came late last week that NBC was cancelling the “Magnum PI” remake. This series (which obviously took its inspiration from the Tom Selleck show that originally debuted on CBS back in December of 1980 and then went on run on that network for 8 seasons. With its final episode airing on May 8, 1988).

Anyway … Over 30 years later, CBS decided to remake “Magnum.” This version of the action drama debuted on September 24, 2018 and ran for four seasons before then being cancelled. NBC picked up the “Magnum” remake where it ran for one more season before word came down on June 23rd that this action drama was being cancelled yet again.

FYI: The second half of Season 5 of “Magnum” (10 episodes) has yet to air on NBC. It will be interesting to see when that final set of shows / the series finale gets scheduled.

This all comes to mind this week – out ahead of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” because … Well, if CBS execs had been a bit more flexible back in 1980, the star of the original version of “Magnum PI” (Tom Selleck) would have played the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which was released to theaters back on June 12, 1981.

That’s the part of the Indiana Jones story that the folks at Lucasfilm often opt to skim over.

That Harrison Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice to play Doctor Jones.

Auditions for Indiana Jones – Harrison’s Not on the List

Mind you, Steven Spielberg – right from the get-go – had pushed for Ford to play this part. The way I hear it, Lucas showed Spielberg a work-in-progress cut of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And Steven was so taken with Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in that Irwin Kershner film that he immediately began pushing for Ford to be cast as Doctor Jones.

Whereas Mr. Lucas … I mean, it wasn’t that George had anything against Harrison. What with Ford’s performances first in “American Grafitti” and then in “A New Hope,” these two already had a comfortable working relationship.

But that said, Lucas was genuinely leery of … Well, the sort of creative collaboration that Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. Where one actor & one director repeatedly worked together. To George’s way of thinking, that was a risky path to follow. Hitching your wagon to a single star.

Which is why – when auditions got underway for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1979 — Mike Fenton basically brought in every big performer of that era to read for Dr. Jones except Harrison Ford. We’re talking:

  • Steve Martin
  • Chevy Chase
  • Bill Murray
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Peter Coyote
  • Nick Nolte
  • Sam Elliot
  • Tim Matheson
  • and Harry Hamlin

Casting a Comedian for Indiana Jones

Please note that there are a lot of comedians on this list. That’s because – while “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in development — Spielberg was directed his epic WWII comedy, “1941.” And for a while there, Steve & George were genuinely uncertain about whether the movie that they were about to make would be a sincere valentine to the movie serials of the 1930s & the 1940s or more of a spoof.

It’s worth noting here that three of the more ridiculous set pieces found in “Temple of Doom” …

  • the shoot-out at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai
  • Indy, Willie & Short Round surviving that plane crash by throwing an inflatable life raft out of the cargo hatch
  • and that film’s mine cart chase (which was not only inspired by Disney theme park favorites the Matterhorn Bobsleds & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but some of the sound effects that you hear in this portion of “Temple of Doom” were actually recorded after hours at Disneyland inside of these very same attractions)

…  all originally supposed to be in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I’ve actually got a copy of the very first version of the screenplay that Lawrence Kasdan wrote for the first “Indy” movie where all three of these big action set pieces were supposed to be part of the story that “Raiders” told. And I have to tell you that this early iteration of the “Raiders” screenplay really does read more like a spoof of serials than a sincere, loving salute to this specific style of cinema.

Casting Indiana Jones – Jeff or Tom

Anyway … Back now to the casting of the male lead for “Raiders” … After seeing virtually every actor out in LA while looking for just the right performer to portray Indiana Jones, it all came down to two guys:

  • Jeff Bridges
  • and Tom Selleck

Jeff Bridges as Indiana Jones

Mike Fenton was heavily pushing for Jeff Bridges. Having already appeared with Clint Eastwood in 1974’s “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (Not to mention that “King Kong” remake from 1976), Bridges was a known quantity. But what Fenton liked especially liked about Bridges when it came to “Raiders” was … Well, at that time, Jeff was just coming off “Heaven’s Gate.”

Mind you, nowadays, because we’ve all now had the luxury of seeing the director’s cut of this Michael Cimino movie, we recognize “Heaven’s Gate” for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But 40+ years ago, that honestly wasn’t the case. All audiences had to judge this movie by was the severely truncated version that United Artists sent out into theaters. Which – because “Heaven’s Gate” had cost $44 million to make and only sold $3.5 million of tickets – then became the textbook example of Hollywood excess.


Long story short: Given that being associated with “Heaven’s Gate” had somewhat dinged Bridges’ reputation for being a marketable star (i.e., a performer that people would pay good money to see up on the big screen), Jeff was now looking to appear in something highly commercial. And the idea of playing the lead in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (the “Jaws” & “Close Encounter” guy) and produced by George Lucas (Mr. “Star Wars”) was very, very appealing at that time. Bridges was even willing to sign a contract with Spielberg & Lucas that would have then roped him into not only playing Indiana Jones in “Raider of the Lost Ark” but also to appear as this very same character in two yet-to-be-written sequels.

Better yet, because “Heaven’s Gate” had temporarily dimmed Bridges’ star status, Jeff was also willing to sign on to do the first “Indy” film for well below his usual quote. With the understanding that – should “Raiders of the Lost Ark” succeed at the box office – Bridges would then be paid far more to appear in this film’s two sequels.

That seemed like a very solid plan for “Raiders.” Landing a known movie star to play the lead in this action-adventure at a bargain price.

Ah, but standing in Mike Fenton’s way was Marcia Lucas.

Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones

Marcia Lucas, who had seen Tom Selleck’s audition for “Raiders” (And you can see it as well. Just go to Google and type in “Tom Selleck” and “Indiana Jones.” And if you dig around for a bit, you’ll then see a feature that Lucas & Spielberg shot for “Entertainment Tonight” back in 2008 [This story was done in support of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”]. And as part of this piece, George and Steve share Tom’s original audition for “Raiders.” And what’s genuinely fascinating about this footage is that Selleck’s scene partner is Sean Young. Who – at that time, anyway – was up for the role of Marion Ravenwood) and kept telling her husband, “You should cast this guy. He’s going to be a big star someday.”

And given that George was smart enough to regularly heed Marcia Lucas’ advice (She had made invaluable suggestions when it came to the editing of “American Graffiti” and the original “Star Wars.” Not to downplay George Lucas’ cinematic legacy, but Marcia Lucas was a world-class storyteller in and of her own right), Lucas then reached out to Spielberg and persuaded him that they should cast relative unknown Tom Selleck as Doctor Jones over the already well-known Jeff Bridges.

Now don’t feel too bad for Jeff Bridges. When he lost out on playing the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Jeff then accepted a role in the very next, high profile, sure-to-be-commercial project that came along. Which turned out to be Disney’s very first “TRON” movie. Which was eventually released to theaters on July 9, 1982.

Back to Tom Selleck now … You have to remember that – back then – Selleck was the handsome guy who’d already shot pilots for six different shows that then hadn’t gone to series. Which was why Tom was stuck being the guest star on shows like “The Fall Guy” and “Taxi.” Whereas once word got out around town that Selleck was supposed to play the lead in a project that Spielberg was directed & Lucas was producing … Well, this is when CBS decided that they’d now take the most recent pilot that Tom had shot and then go to series with this show.

That program was – of course – the original “Magnum PI.” And it’s at this point where our story started to get complicated.

“Magnum PI” – Two Out of Three Say “Yes”

Okay. During the first season of a TV show, it’s traditionally the network – rather than the production company (which – in this case – was Glen A. Larson Productions. The company behind the original versions of “Battlestar Galactica” & “Knight Rider”) or the studio where this series is actually being shot (which – in this case – was Universal Television) that has all the power. And in this particular case, the network execs who were pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes worked for CBS.

And when it came to the first season of “Magnum PI,” CBS had a deal with Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television which stated that the talent which had been contracted to appear in this new action drama would then be available for the production of at least 13 episodes with an option to shoot an additional 9 episodes (This is known in the industry as the back nine. As in: the last nine holes of a golf course).

Anyway, if you take those initial 13 episodes and then tack on the back nine, you then get 22 episodes total. Which – back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, anyway – was what a full season of a network television show typically consisted of.

Anyway … The contract that Selleck had signed with Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television & CBS stated that he had to be available when production of Season One of “Magnum PI” began in March of 1980. More to the point, Tom also had to be available should CBS exercise its option to air 22 episodes of this new series on that television network over the course of “Magnum PI” ‘s first season.  

Which then made things complicated for George Lucas & Steven Spielberg because … Well, in order for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to make its June 12, 1981 release date, that then meant that production of the first “Indy” movie would have to get underway no later than June 23, 1980.

But here’s the thing: Production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was scheduled to run through the first week of July of that same year (1980). So in order for Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” he was going to need to be wrapped on production of “Magnum PI” by June 22, 1980 at the absolute latest.

So Spielberg & Lucas went to Glen A. Larsons Productions and asked if Selleck could please be sprung from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligations by June 22nd. And they said “Yes.” Then Steven & George went to Universal Television and asked executives there for their help  in clearing Tom’s schedule so that he’d then be available to start work on “Raiders.” And they say “Yes” as well.

Spielberg & Lucas now go to CBS. But instead of the quick “Yeses” that they got from officials at Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television, it takes those suits at the Tiffany Network weeks before they then decided to say “No, they couldn’t release Tom Selleck early to go work on ‘Raiders’ “ because …

I’ve never really been able to get a straight answer here as to why CBS execs dug in their heels here. Why they flat-out refused to release Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation and allow him to go shoot “Raiders.”

Payback from “The Star Wars Holiday Special” Trash Talk

That said, it is worth noting that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS back in November of 1978. And given that – in the years that followed —  Lucas wasn’t exactly shy when it came to saying how much he hated that two hour-long presentation (Or – for that matter – how George really regretted caving into the requests of CBS execs. Who had insisted that television stars long associated with the Tiffany Network – people like Art Carney, Harvey Korman & Bea Arthur – be given prominent guest starring roles in “The Star Wars Holiday Special”). And I’ve heard whispers over the years that CBS executives preventing Tom Selleck from appearing in “Raiders” could be interpreted as the Tiffany Network getting some payback for what George had said publicly about the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Harrison Ford Comes to Rescue “Indiana Jones”

Anyway … It’s now literally just weeks before production of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is supposed to begin and Spielberg & Lucas have just learned that that they’ve lost their film’s star. CBS is flat-out refusing to release Tom Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation. So Steven & George now have to find someone else to play Indy … and fast.

The real irony here is … The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in the Summer of 1980. Which then shut prematurely shut down production of the first season of “Magnum PI.” (As a direct result, the first full season of this action drama to air on CBS only had 18 episodes, rather than the usual 22). And because this job action lasted ‘til October 23rd of that same year … Well, this meant that Tom Selleck would have actually been free to start shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on June 23, 1980 because production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was already shut down by then due to that AFTRA strike.

But no one knew – in May of 1980, anyway – that this job action was going to happen in just a few weeks. All that Steven Spielberg & George Lucas knew was that they now needed a new lead actor for “Raiders.” And circling back on Jeff Bridges was no longer an option. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff had agreed to do “TRON” for Disney. And – in the interim – Bridges gone off to shoot “Cutter’s Way” for MGM / UA.

Credit: EW

So this is where Harrison Ford enters the equation. As he recalls:

In May of 1980, I get a call from George Lucas. Who says ‘I’m messaging a script over to you this morning. As soon as it gets there, I need you to immediately read this script. Then – as soon as you’re done – I need you to call.

So the script arrives and it’s for ‘Raiders.’ I read it and it’s good. So I call George back and say ‘It’s good.’ And he then says ‘Would you be interested in playing Indy?’ I say that it looks like it would be a fun part to play.

George then says ‘ That’s great to hear. Because we start shooting in four weeks. Now I need you to meet with Steven Spielberg today and convince him that you’re the right guy to play Indy.’

Of course, given that Spielberg had been pushing for Ford to pay Indy ever since he had first seen that work-in-progress version of “The Empire Strikes Back” … Well, Harrison’s meeting with Steven was very, very short. And just a few weeks later, Spielberg, Lucas & Ford were all at the Port de la Pallice in La Rochelle. Where – on the very first day of shooting on “Raiders” (which – again – was June 23, 1980)– the scene that was shot was the one where that Nazi sub (the one that Indy had lashed himself to its periscope by using his bullwhip as a rope) was arriving at its secret base.

And all of this happened because Harrison immediately agreed to do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the part of Indy was first offered to him in mid-May of 1980.  

Before “Star Wars” was “Star Wars”

So why such a quick yes? Well, you have to remember that “Empire Strikes Back” wouldn’t be released to theaters ‘til May 21, 1980. And no one knew at that time whether this sequel to the original “Star Wars” would do as well at the box office as “A New Hope” had back in 1977 (FYI: “Empire” would eventually sell over $500 million worth of tickets worldwide. Which is roughly two thirds of what the original “Star Wars” earned three years earlier).

More to the point, the four films that Harrison had shot right after “A New Hope” / prior to “Empire Strikes Back” (i.e., “Heroes” AND “Force 10 from Navarone” AND “Hanover Street” AND “The Frisco Kid”) had all under-performed at the box office. So to Ford’s way of thinking, taking on a role that Tom Selleck was no longer available to play – one that had the potential of spawning two sequels – seemed like a very smart thing to do. Especially after three years of cinematic stumbles.

By the way, whenever this topic ever comes up, Harrison Ford is very gracious. He always makes a point of saying that he’s grateful to have gotten this career opportunity. More to the point, that he still feels kind of bad that Tom Selleck never got the chance to play this part.

Tom Selleck After “Indiana Jones”

That said, we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Selleck. After all, the original “Magnum PI” proved to be a long running hit for CBS. And in an effort to smooth over any residual bad feelings that may have resulted from Tom being forced to give up “Raiders” back in May of 1980, Selleck was eventually allowed to create his own production company (i.e., T.W.S. Productions, Inc. As in Thomas William Selleck Productions). Which – after the fact – was then cut in on some of those “Magnum PI” -related revenue streams.

More to the point, while “Magnum PI” was on hiatus following its second year in production, Selleck flew off to Yugoslavia. Where he then shot his own Indiana Jones-esque film for theatrical release. Which was called “High Road to China” in the States, but – overseas – was promoted as “Raiders of the End of the World.”

FYI: Warner Bros. released “High Road to China” stateside 40 years ago this year. On March 18, 1983, to be exact. It didn’t do all that great at the box office. $28 million in ticket sales versus $15 million in production costs.

And over the years, there’s even been some talk of finding a way to maybe set things right here. By that I mean: Finally finding a way to officially fold Tom Selleck into the world of Indiana Jones.

Could Tom Selleck Work with Indiana Jones?

The way I hear it, between the time when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was theatrically released in May of 1989 and when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” debuted in May of 2008, there were a number of ideas for Indiana Jones sequels tossed around. And from what I’ve been told, there was at least one treatment for a fourth Indiana Jones film written that proposed pairing up Harrison Ford & Tom Selleck. With the idea here being that Selleck was supposed to have played Ford’s brother.

Obviously that film was never made. And – no – I don’t know what state Indiana Jones’ brother was supposed to be named after.

This article is based on research for Looking at Lucasfilm “Episode 80”, published on June 29, 2023. Looking at Lucasfilm is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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Film & Movies

Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?



Will Metro Ever Get Made?

First came “Cars” in June of 2006.

This Pixar Animation Studios production did so well (Of all the high grossing films released that year, “Cars” was No. 2 at the box office. Only “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” sold more tickets in 2006) that Disney execs asked John Lasseter to develop a sequel.

“Cars 2” came out in June of 2011 and also did quite well at the box office (It took the No. 7 slot in the Top-Ten-for-ticket-sales that year). Which is why Disney then asked Pixar to prep a follow-up film.

“Cars 3” would eventually arrive in theaters in June of 2017. But in the meantime, Disney & Pixar began exploring the idea of expanding this film franchise. Largely because the amount of money that the Mouse was making off of the sales of “Cars” -related merchandise was … To be blunt here, mind boggling.

Don’t believe me? Well, then consider this: In just the first five years that the “Cars” film franchise existed, global retail sales of merchandise related to these Pixar movies approached $10 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”

So is it any wonder that – while Pixar was still trying to get a handle on what “Cars 3” would actually be about – the Mouse (through its DisneyToon Studios arm. Which produced home premieres like those “TinkerBell” movies) began actively looking into ways to expand this lucrative franchise?

“Planes” – The First “Cars” Spin-Off

The first “Cars” spin-off to arrive in the marketplace was “Planes.” This Klay Hall film (which was set in “The World Above Cars”) was released theatrically in August of 2013, with the Blu-ray & DVD version of “Planes” hitting store shelves in November of that same year.

“Planes: Fire and Rescue” followed in the Summer of 2014. And while a “Planes 3” was definitely put in development (At the Disney Animation panel at the 2017 D23 Expo, John Lasseter not only shared a clip from this film. But he also revealed that this project – which, at that time, was entitled “Space” – was slated to be released theatrically in April of 2019) … This animated feature was abruptly cancelled when DisneyToon Studios was shuttered in June of 2018.

But wait. There’s more … In addition to the aborted “Planes 3,”  Disney had other “Cars” spin-offs in the works. One was supposed to be built around boats. While yet another was supposed to have shined a spotlight on trucks.

“Metro” – The World Below Cars

And then there was “Metro.” Which was supposed to have been set in the inner city and focused on what went on in “The World Below Cars.” As in: Down in the subway system.

Just in the past week or so, a few pieces of concept art for “Metro” have surfaced online. Giving us all an intriguing look at what might have been. These preproduction paintings suggest that this “Cars” spin-off would be far grittier than … Say … the sort of adventures that Lightning McQueen & Mater would typically have out in Radiator Springs.

Metro - Cars Spin-Off Movie Poster
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney

That said, it’s worth noting here that – just in the past year or so – we’ve seen Disney & Pixar attempt to expand the turf that these two characters could comfortably cover. Take – for example — “Cars on the Road,” that nine-part series which debuted on Disney+ back in September of last year. This collection of animated shorts literally sent Lightning McQueen & Mater off on a road trip.

So who knows?

Given that Bob Iger (at Disney’s quarterly earnings call held earlier this week) revealed that the Company now has sequels in the works for “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Zootopia” … Well, is it really all that far-fetched to think that – at some point further on down the road – Disney & Pixar will put yet another sequel to “Cars” in the works?

One that might send Lightning McQueen & Mater off to explore the gritty inner-city world that we glimpsed in all that concept art for “Metro,” that never-produced “Cars” spin-off.

Time will tell.

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Film & Movies

Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland



This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.

John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.

Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.

Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.

What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.

Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

When Did Disneyland Start Opening 7-Days a Week?

It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.

Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Early Disneyland Operations – Ticket Books and Ticket Booths

So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.

So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.

Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.

Disney Parks Getting Too Expensive

Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.

Walt Fixes “Expensive” Impression

What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.

Lightning Lane – Raising Prices

Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).

And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.

Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.

“Spend Dollars to Get People Back” – Disney Cutting Corners on Projects

Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”

That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.

Disneyland Parking Closing on Mondays & Tuesdays

Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:

While the gross income of Disneyland was greater this year than in any prior year, the operating expenses for this family fun park were likewise up substantially primarily to two factors.
(1) Operating a seven-day week throughout the 1957 – 1958 week against a six-day week the year before.

(2) Increased costs due to rising salaries and the
inauguration of a 40-hour week. This resulted in lower net profits compared to the prior year.

So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.

Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.

Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:

This current year, we are operating the park during the winter months on a five-day schedule with resulting savings in operating costs and in the hope that a full week’s business can be compressed within the five days.

So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:

Again this year, as in each year since Disneyland Park first opened in 1955, new records were set for total attendance and per capita spending of park visitors.
The change to a five-day operating week during the 1958 – 1959 winter season from the seven-day schedule in effect the previous year has worked out very well. Reduced operating hours helped to control operating costs in the face of increased wage rates and other rising costs.

Making it Right for the Disneyland Hotel

Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?

What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.

It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”

Extending the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel

And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.

And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).


Magic Kingdom Golf Course at Disneyland Hotel

That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.

  • Hole No. Three was Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • Hole No. Five was Matterhorn Mountain

Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.

This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.

Additional Disneyland Hotel Expansion and Offerings

It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sort of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.

All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.

It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.

Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have ALL of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.

Walley World Shooting Locations

And back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation”… The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions.

The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track).

Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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