This is not your father’s theater—unless your father is George Lucas. Instead of simply designing a high-end home theater to show off equipment options to clients, Johann Peters, co-founder of Longview, Wash.-based custom installation firm Charisma Productions, helped create a place that would make friends, clients and almost all others jealous. His role model? It was the mack daddy of all demo theaters, better known as George Lucas’ “The Stag,” which is part of the super-geek’s sprawling Skywalker Ranch in California.
Sure, it isn’t surrounded by Lake Ewok, but this 16-seat demo theater does have its perks, including tons of THX home components and speakers, as well as a pro-grade JVC digital projector, JBL subs and Crown amps and a Mackie mixing console. “There is nothing remotely close for demo purposes in other showrooms in Oregon,” says Peters. Just Oregon? He might have a leg up on the galaxy.
The idea for the replica came after Peters attended a THX-certification session at Skywalker Ranch in 2000. Peters was mesmerized by a viewing of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” “You only have to see a film once to know why I decided to model our room after The Stag,” he says.
You could also say that Peters is just a bit of a “Star Wars” geek. “I went to the last ‘Star Wars’ convention, I own three copies of ‘Cinema by the Bay’ autographed by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola—and there are only 100 in existence,” Peters says. “I also have every authorized signature of living members of the primary cast in ‘Star Wars,’ and a lot of things I’m not mentioning”—which could include that he saw the original film 11 times back in the summer of 1977.
While the employees at Charisma Productions loved the idea of a Stag replica, Peters’ business partner, Jayson Rogen, wasn’t enthused by the theater’s $100,000 price tag. “In business relationships you always have a passionate dreamer and a bean-counting realist,” Peters says. “Think of the history of great partnerships—Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant or even dare I say, Spock and Kirk. There are just a ton of compromises back and forth in these partnerships and it can be worse than a marriage sometimes.” But Peters got his way, and in return, Rogen can sometimes take the credit for this awesome display area.
To pull this job off, Peters obviously couldn’t ask Lucas for the blueprints to help build his dream demo room. The guy seems to have more secrets than the CIA. (“You’d be surprised how sneaky people are when they go into stealth mode while taking pictures on Skywalker Ranch!,” Peters claims.) Instead, Peters relied on research, his THX training and the virtual 360 tour of The Stag on Skywalker Sound’s Web site.
Peters’ theater isn’t an exact match: it doesn’t have seating for Lucas’ 300 closest friends and it’s also a different color. “I personally felt that a brightly colored room is too reflective for projection from a home theater perspective,” Peters says. Not that he doubts the Jedi master; he just didn’t have the budget to overcome those obstacles.
He did, however, have plenty of connections in the consumer electronics industry, and he relied on many of them to help bring the theater together. “I can choose for myself what advice to keep and what advice to use,” Peters says. “Frankly, I feel the person who stands as an island among their peers and won’t talk to other installers or professionals in the CE industry is foolish.”
After eight months of work, Peters was extremely pleased with the project’s outcome. “To theater enthusiasts like myself, The Stag represents the Holy Grail of the creator [George Lucas],” he says. “George Lucas always strived to get the best image and sound possible. I’m really just preaching to the masses about the advantages of digital cinema in a dedicated theater or media room environment, just like George.”
Aside from the business and envy of the masses, the theater also allows Peters to get a quick peek into his childhood every now and then. “It brings me back to those early years that ultimately shaped me into the A/V installer—or “Star Wars” geek—I am today.”
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Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.