WORDS: Will Peischel PHOTOS: Georgie de Mattos
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We sped through the hills behind Atascadero as the sun retreated behind us — the radio clock’s numbers grew increasingly bold. The scene was tense, even from inside our blue Honda Civic. The car’s tires skidded through the dirt as we rounded up the Creston ranch’s hill.
The photographer and I were already late.
The expanse of dirt plots scattered with the occasional vineyard field yielded to an enclave of tall, lush trees as we crossed over the property line and curled up the slope. At the top of the hill stood a large two-story house facing off against two rectangular warehouses across the small parking lot.
This was the property of Todd Fisher: entrepreneur, film producer, Hollywood artifact collector and brother to Carrie Fisher, the original Princess Leia.
One friendly introduction later, we embarked on Fisher’s grand tour and sales pitch.
His home exists on a plane somewhere between film set and museum — imagine a Pottery Barn magazine page dense with Hollywood artifacts. According to Fisher, there was a point when more than $30 million of film paraphernalia was stored on his ranch.
“This is a Revolutionary War flag,” he said, pointing to a wall. “It was given to my sister by Paul Simon as a wedding gift when they were married back in the late ’70s.”
Additional relics included a camera — which shot the original Star Wars Trilogy — patches worn by the airmen who flew the atomic bomb-dropping Enola Gay, custom saddles worn by Fisher’s parents in a 1950s Rose Parade and countless other artifacts eBay users would commit unnameable crimes to get their hands on.
“Well, my mother took it upon herself when I was very young to get me to save and reserve the film industry’s artifacts,” he said. “She wanted to preserve as much as she could. Along the way, that rubbed off on my sister and I.”
Without skipping a beat, Fisher led us to the elusive beige warehouse: Stage 32. The moniker stood in tribute to MGM’s original 31 sound stages.
This was the core of the Fisher family’s current project, Hollywood Motion Picture Experience (HMPE). The company has origins in his mother’s Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, started by Debbie Reynolds in the 1960s.
Fisher’s ambition is to maintain a working film production company here on his property in San Luis Obispo County. He sees this space as an untapped resource, open enough to produce anything he and his team want.
“Everybody is making movies in those places, San Francisco and Los Angeles — more so L.A.,” Fisher said. “We’ve all seen all of that. We haven’t seen this as much. A movie like ‘Sideways,’ for example, showcases this area and people say, ‘Ooh, ahh, that looks so nice.’ There are a lot of things within an hour drive around here that have not been overused. There’s also a resource of people here hiding that nobody realizes.”
The doorway opened up to a massive 6,000-square-foot space. The white walls were lined with a grate of black bars, all illuminated by lights glaring down from the 28-foot ceiling. The space featured a rotating stage, endless set lights, a working Jeep and every other film amenity one could imagine. Clearly, Fisher had a few extra bucks lying around.
Fisher may embrace the nostalgic attitude of films from the mid-20th century, but he appreciates that its new technology gives his dream feasibility, whether through cameras that shoot in 4000 pixels, drones or stations that render 4K film in real time.
“Technology progressed,” he said. “You could never have done all the post-production work that we can do here. A technological revolution has taken place. This never would’ve happened 25, even 20, years ago. We could always have a sound stage here but never be as self-sufficient as we are now.”
Fisher and his production team aren’t the only ones who stand to gain from this. According to both Fisher and Theatre and Dance Department Chair Josh Machamer, discussion regarding a possible mentor partnership between HMPE and the Cal Poly department is underway.
“Well, right now there’s no formal plan on the agenda or anything curricular wise,” Machamer said. “What I can say is that we, in terms of the department and other entities, have had some conversations and visits with HMPE as far as their facilities and what might be exploring the possibility of what would be good for students and respective departments.”
Theatre arts sophomore Sophie Canter also sees the potential in local mentorships.
“I think a possible mentorship would definitely provide a positive experience for students looking to build up their resumes,” she said. “Especially when every part of film production is available there.”
Even if a legitimate relationship with Cal Poly is a distant ambition, HMPE has already begun drawing up schematics for future projects.
“I would say a year from now it will have completed at least one motion picture and will be in the middle of the next one,” Fisher said. “Our goal for the next two years is to complete at least four films. So we expect to have four films completed. As you know, you move up a little at a time, then get more aggressive.”
Fisher has an optimistic air. The future may not be clear, but he looks forward to it nonetheless.
“Around here we’re looking for cooperation and support,” he said. “And looking for the mutual benefits that a movie business can bring to this region.”