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Sid Ganis: ”I'm a part of this thing, motion pictures…”

It’s an interview I’d been trying to get for eight years: SID GANIS, the former SVP of Lucasfilm, who played a critical role in the marketing of the first two Indiana Jones films.


That title alone reads rather impressively, but there’s a lifetime of other achievements to add to it. He was President of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group, President of marketing and distribution at Columbia Pictures (and later made chairman), served ten years on the board of directors at Marvel Entertainment, four consecutive one-year terms as the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (and is currently its VP), and produced such films as the comedy BIG DADDY and the acclaimed drama AKEELAH AND THE BEE.


After years of back and forth emails, with numerous conflicts due to Mr. Ganis’ extensive travel and business commitments, my jaw almost hit the floor when he called me and presented a firm date for us to finally meet. It was two months’ advance notice, and in the days leading up to that date, I prayed repeatedly to the movie gods to keep us both in good health, my car in running order, and no last-minute conflicts.


I arrived at the filming location, and had everything ready to go ahead of schedule. Still I was anxious, and a jumbled bunch of raw nerves. Mr. Ganis’ participation was a major coup for the project, I knew.


Not to mention, he could provide more insight into Richard Amsel’s most famous works.


“I don't know whether it was Harrison Ford or Indiana Jones that it expressed, but it was all brand new. … I think you have to take that into consideration. It was all brand new. Nobody ever heard of an 'Indiana Jones'. Nobody ever heard of an ark – of a 'Raiders of an Ark'. What's an ark? You know, an ark of something that you drive around with animals in?" Ganis laughed. "We had to deal with all of that, and we'd certainly had to deal with the image of Indiana Jones. And goodness gracious, Richard Amsel just nailed it. Nailed it.”


I mentioned Howard Kazanjian’s story of how the powers that be were somewhat alarmed by the size of Amsel’s signature on the first RAIDERS illustration, and how they had it reduced for the final poster.


“He's, well, yeah, he, I mean, he signed his work like many artists do, thank goodness, only he signed it BIG,” Ganis laughed. “I think a little bit bigger than most artists sign their work. … We're trying to create a whole new character here, and we were probably oversensitive, and his signature was probably over large, so we had to reach a meeting of the minds. And I think we did, his signature became either lighter or smaller, I forget which. …


“When we saw Richard's comp, I can speak for myself, but I can also speak for Lucas and Spielberg in this case. … They knew it. They knew it when they saw it. I mean, isn't it with everything, when you see it finally, or when you read it on the page, or when you see it on the screen and it's pretty damn close to perfect? You KNOW it. I knew it for sure, and I … I certainly showed George Lucas the comps, and, uh, yeah, he, he knew it.”


I asked about the team’s consensus regarding Amsel’s second poster, used for the film’s rerelease in 1982.


“I loved it!” Ganis laughed. “For one thing, we were in the same ballpark with the same artist. … We all knew that it was a really good campaign, top to bottom part of the job. And Richard's work was part of the job. Big job, big job. Launching this strange movie about serial, about what it was like to go to the movies in the old days and see these cliffhanging serials…and the creators, Lucas and Spielberg were pleased. And how could they not be? The results were what they were, what they were, you know?”


Ganis laughed again. “And even Harrison (Ford), he kind of grumbled, ‘Ah, pretty good,’ which (coming from him) is a high compliment.”


My conversation with Mr. Ganis was not limited to just RAIDERS and Indiana Jones. We talked about Amsel’s declining health, and all the lost opportunities in light of his death. Movie marketing was never the same.


Ganis lamented how different things were between the then and now. “You wanna draw a picture? What are you doing? Drawing a picture? Why can't you show the real thing? … But when you have guys like the people you've been talking about today, like Bob Peak and Tom (Jung), and Richard and all those guys, and Drew (Struzan), I mean, these are, these are the people who make a reality even more than a reality. How lucky we are to have those guys.”


My heartfelt thanks to Sid Ganis for his generous time and insight.

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