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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

See ya, Hollywood: Chris Lee chooses Hawai'i

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

"I'm a Hawai'i guy," says producer Chris Lee, who recently filmed "Superman Returns" in Australia. Lee is stepping down as president of the Legendary Pictures studio to devote time to fostering film in Hawai'i.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | Jan. 28, 2003

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In the end, Chris Lee said, the high-powered film studio he was to have helped launch in buzz-addicted Los Angeles just couldn't compare to the precocious film school he had already nurtured in Hawai'i.

"I'm a Hawai'i guy," said Lee, who recently stepped away from his new job as president of Legendary Pictures, the start-up studio he helped found with a group of Hollywood veterans. "I've been very lucky with the opportunities I've had in my life, but what it came down to was I didn't want to leave Hawai'i."

Lee's contract with Legendary would have allowed him to stay on as founding chairman of the University of Hawai'i's Academy for Creative Media. But by severing his executive ties to the studio, Lee said, he will be able to devote more time to developing programs and raising money for the still-growing school, while still working as a producer on Hollywood film projects.

Lee declined to discuss specifics of his "buyout" with Legendary, but did say he will continue to work with Legendary as an executive producer on upcoming film projects.

Fellow Legendary executives were surprised but understanding of his decision, Lee said. Variety has reported that Jon Jashni, the former head of Giant Pictures ("The Hurricane") will become chief creative officer.

Led by chairman and CEO Thomas Tull, Legendary made a huge initial splash last year by signing a $500 million, 25-film agreement with Warner Bros. Pictures, immediately establishing the studio as a major player in the film industry. As president, Lee a former president of production for Tri-Star Pictures and Columbia Pictures would have been responsible for directing the studio's creative decisions.

Lee spent much of last spring and summer overseeing the production of Legendary project "Superman Returns." He said he expects to produce more films and continue his collaborations with "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer, a close friend, and that balancing administrative duties with his periodic film projects won't be a problem.

With his considerable reputation, wide-ranging contacts and ambitious vision for the local film industry, Lee's continued involvement is seen as critical to the ongoing development of the three-year-old film school.

The Academy of Creative Media now serves more than 200 students in film production, screenwriting, indigenous filmmaking, computer animation, video game design, critical studies and other areas. Its students have produced some 300 short films. Last year, its students collaborated with Scion Hawaii to produce three short commercials that were aired locally. Four students also accompanied Lee to Australia, where they worked as interns on "Superman Returns."

In addition to the long-term goals of promoting indigenous filmmaking, developing and retaining a deep pool of skilled film professionals and helping the local film and video game industries compete internationally, Lee also is addressing several short-term goals:

  • If all goes well, the Academy of Creative Media could become a degree-granting program within a year.

  • The school is asking for money to add two more faculty positions (another position is currently being recruited) and to help produce its first wave of Hawaiian language films.

  • The school is working to complete technological links that would allow for an "educational pipeline" among Hawai'i high schools, community colleges and the Manoa campus.

    Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.