At sea with Steven Spielberg & George Lucas
This wasn’t a Kon-Tiki thing.
We weren’t castaways on Treasure Island.
And I wasn’t adrift in the Indian Ocean with Steven and George.
But it's a great story and here's how it all began.
I am not a photographer. All that mechanical stuff makes me weep. But I needed to learn how to shoot slides to use as guides for my paintings. You see, I was using vintage batik fabrics as inspiration for my backgrounds. They're hand-made, very complex and detailed. I loved painting them. By projecting a slide onto the canvas, it would be easier to render these patterns. So I decided to get into photography. I wasn’t going after a Master’s, I just wanted to learn the basics so I could get the shots I needed. My husband, who is a director, knew it cold. So he suggested I begin by using some of the basic settings: F.8 at a 60th of a second and shoot in the open shade.
One of my sisters is a world-class decorator whose work has appeared on the cover of Architectural Digest. So I raided her vast collection of vintage batiks and launched myself into the world of pattern and decoration. Here is one of my early paintings that resulted from my first efforts in photography.
My obsession with pattern and decoration led me to want more, more, more. What could that be? GOLD! I would learn gold leafing and add it to my paintings. They would become contemporary interpretations of medieval illuminated manuscripts. All I had to learn was how to do it. Little did I know how hard this was going to be. But, if it’s hard, I want to do it. I’m surprised I haven’t tried to climb Mt. Everest.
But back to photography. I wanted to shoot tree branches without leaves and I finally found the perfect location on Motor Drive, near 20th Century Fox studios. I got some great shots and they worked well for my paintings.
So I’m feeling pretty confident and start carrying around my camera where ever I go, just like the paparazzi.
About this same time, my husband was producing “Star Trek II- The Wrath of Khan.”
He was working on the visual effects for the film at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’s special effects company in San Rafael, California. At the same time they were working on Star Trek, ILM was creating the effects for two of Steven Speilberg’s films, Poltergeist and E.T.
You’ll get a kick out of this. To keep the location secret, ILM was situated in a bland strip mall and the name on the door was Kerney Optical. But behind that door was a wonderland of creativity. I saw the cloud tank where they created the poltergeist. It looked like a huge aquarium filled with oil or water. They would add a milky white substance that would move around like a wispy apparition. Pretty cool.
Then they showed me the model room where all the space ships and fighter planes for Star Wars were created. A lot of really young men were fiddling with plastic model airplane parts. They would trash anything that looked like the airplane itself and keep all the pieces that joined the parts of the models together. They were using these tiny plastic bits to give texture and dimension to the space vehicles like the X-Wing fighters and the Death Star space station. I felt like it was a visit to Alibaba’s cave.
ILM completed all the visual effects for Star Trek, Poltergeist and E.T. at the same time. They decided to have a big celebration for everyone who had worked on the films. It began with a very private morning screening of E.T. to be followed by a party on a ship cruising around San Francisco Bay.
Of course, seeing E.T. was an extraordinarily moving experience. The theater was filled with movie pros all looking for more Kleenex. Afterwards, outside the theater, I noticed Steven Spielberg talking with George Lucas. I pointed them out to my husband who replied, “No, that isn’t them.” I insisted that it was! He looked again and said, “ You’re right.” He walked up to Steven and congratulated him on E.T and then thanked George Lucas for the groundbreaking effects produced by ILM.
After many congratulations all around, we went down to the harbor to board the ship for our party. Great fun, food and music.
I was told that no photographers were allowed, but here I was with my camera on my shoulder, feeling very uncomfortable and trying to be inconspicuous. Suddenly, an assistant to Steven Spielberg approached me and said that he was wondering if I would take his picture along with George Lucas? They said they had never had their picture taken together in all their years of friendship. I immediately said, “Of course, I’d be happy to take any photos that they would like.“ So, I asked them to stand together, looking this way and that. Get this – I’m directing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas! I finish and I’m given their cards so I can send them the photos. I had just taken photos of two of the most famous filmmakers in the world. Forget batiks, flowers and branches! Forget gold!
When the party ended, my husband and I drove back to our hotel in San Francisco . We went up to our room and I started to rewind the film in the camera. I heard nothing. Nothing. I froze. I opened the back of the camera and discovered I had forgotten to put film in my camera! No film. NO FILM!
I couldn’t believe it. I’d just blown the biggest photographic opportunity of my life. Blown it. The good news was that Star Trek II was a huge success and so were E.T. and Poltergeist. The bad news was that I had forgotten to put film in my camera.
If I'd had film in my camera, if I'd been in Morocco, if I'd known what I was doing,
then this is the photograph I would have taken.
Mea culpa, George and Steven.