It’s hard enough for me to believe that for nearly a decade I’ve been the curator of the world’s largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia at Rancho Obi-Wan. But working behind the scenes on a national television commercial and KraftStarWarsRoom.com? What are the odds?
Yet there I was in late June on a soundstage in Southern California, taking part in the making of a KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese commercial that’s currently running. My temporary title: specialty prop handler. Hungry Man Productions called us out of the blue in mid‐May asking if we would consider renting some items from Rancho’s collection of more than 300,000 pieces to be used on the set of a TV commercial. The production team visited the museum in Petaluma, California in late May. They took photos and started compiling a mental list of possibilities.
In June, production designer Paul McConnell started emailing us set concepts. I learned that everything started with the story. “The collector is a father of a nine‐year‐old boy and dad has a secret Star Wars room. He’s going to be showing it to his son for the very first time….”
Initially, the concept was that the Star Wars room would have shelves lovingly arranged with vintage and modern toys, high-end prop replicas, action figures, etc. I started pulling items from the collection and arranging them on a bookshelf in my office, taking photos and sending them to Paul.
Then Paul and I started talking about the Dad. Who is he? A casual collector? A completist? Neatnik? Disorganized? As the days passed, the Dad’s personality was becoming clearer. He was a disorganized completist who had a bit of everything. The room was crammed full; every nook and cranny had something in it. I had been curating the set according to how we currently display items at Rancho Obi-Wan. Now what? I started thinking back about nine years ago. And that brought memories of the state of the collection when I first arrived in Petaluma. OK, got it!
Over the course of a week and with the help of Rancho volunteers Duncan, Anne, Lorena, Dan, Jon, Sean, and Lucas, we cataloged and packed 754 items to go to a soundstage at Universal Studios in North Hollywood, California. When I arrived on Stage 6, the set was already built and our crates were waiting. We spent several hours unpacking everything. Then Paul looked at me and said “OK, Anne, tell us what to do.” Say what? So with lead-man Danny Perkin and product specialist Keith Disciullo, I helped supervise the entire art department in loading the set with collectibles. At first, I was in museum mode, placing everything neatly on the shelves, but Paul gently guided me into the mindset of the character. “How would this room look if you were a disorganized completist?” Ah, yes! A lot of the joy in collecting is the hunt. But once the hunt is over, the items are just placed wherever there is space. Done!
There was a center shelf on the set which was considered the “hero space,” where the actors spoke most of their lines. I learned that items in the background of a set are considered set dressing, while items that are handled by the actors and have closeups are called props. After lengthy discussions, positioning, and testing with the art department and the director, the hero prop that I had picked out, a 1979 Palitoy Talking R2-D2 from the United Kingdom, was approved.
The next day at 5:30 a.m., Stage 6 had become a hive of human bees. The buzz of 70-plus craftsmen and women was palpable. Production crew, cameras, catering, electricians, grips, art department, wardrobe, makeup, sound, actors, advertising agency, and the client all seemed choreographed into an intricate dance, never bumping into each other and seemingly able to read each other’s minds. At some point it was decided that the ceiling of the set had to be removed to allow for proper lighting. An army of men suddenly appeared with ladders and eased the large ceiling slab off the set and stored it out of the way.
When the actor who portrayed the Dad in the commercial saw the set for the first time, I heard him mutter “Oh man, I’m going to have to rethink this character. This guy is crazy!” At that moment I knew we had accomplished something special.
A perfect example of “It’s not what it is, but what it looks like” occurs a few seconds into the commercial as Dad and Son walk into the room. On the wall behind them are two lighted Hasbro Force FX Lightsabers and the Rawcliffe Darth Vader store display with lighted lightsaber. The problem with these three items is that they emit noise when first powered on and then, after a short time, they turn themselves off. In order to have them on for the camera without emitting noise, Keith cleverly covered their sound boxes with felt furniture pads to mute as much sound as possible. During filming, just as director Hank Perlman yelled “Action!” Keith would turn on all three items and immediately crouch behind the hero space. Take after take, Keith would jump up to turn on the sabers and then throw himself back into hiding. Taping took eight hours, leaving everyone exhausted but exhilarated.
My four days on set was a crash course in commercial production under the tutelage of Paul, Danny, and Keith. With more than 750 items from Rancho Obi-Wan in the 16×20-foot room, what collectibles from the last 38 years can you identify in the images below? For a full preview, check out Kraft’s microsite .
Production Designer Paul McConnell’s initial set design with neatly-arranged collectibles.
My initial collectible curation based on Paul’s designs, which also reflects a neat display currently used at Rancho Obi-Wan.
Paul’s subsequent designs based on Dad’s personality as a disorganized completist. Some of Rancho’s back aisles look strikingly similar!
Final set dressing for the 16×20 foot room serving as Dad’s secret Star Wars lair.
The “Hero Space” where the actors delivered their lines and interacted with the collectibles and iconic Star Wars KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese boxes. Green tape is the standing marker for Dad and red tape is the standing marker for the Son.
Director Hank Perlman takes a photo of assistant director Mike Cavagrotti and product specialist Keith Disciullo as they act out the scene. This blocking, reviewed right before filming, helps everyone understand placement and camera angles more concretely than with paper storyboards.
Anne Neumann is general manager of Rancho Obi-Wan, the non-profit museum that houses the World’s Largest Personal Collection of Star Wars Memorabilia. To find out about becoming a member or taking a guided tour, visit www.ranchoobiwan.org.