It was 1981 when Sid Ganis, then Senior Vice President of Lucasfilm, Ltd., and Nancy Hult Ganis, a reporter/writer for KQED, the PBS affiliate in San Francisco, met while working on the PBS presentation of The Making of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. As Nancy recalls, “Our paths happened to cross by mere chance – a day before or a day after and I may not have been the one assigned to handle that project for PBS since my background was more in news and public affairs. And it clicked. About a year later we ran into each other again and the spark was definitely there, and, well, it just grew brighter.” Thus was born one of the industry’s most successful and long lasting marriages and partnerships.
Today, Sid and Nancy helm Out of the Blue… Entertainment, one of Hollywood’s most respected production companies. Based at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, CA, Out of the Blue… found box office success with its first two productions: Columbia Pictures’ Big Daddy, starring Adam Sandler, and Touchstone Pictures’ Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Most recently they produced the Lionsgate/2929 feature film Akeelah and the Bee, starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. “It took us a long time to get Akeelah and the Bee made,” Sid says, “but it turned out to be a totally satisfying experience from the point of view of the finished product and our working relationship. It was extraordinary good news for a married couple to be able to work in harmony together.”
Prior to founding Out of the Blue… , Sid became a legend in the industry for his marketing prowess. He held various positions at Sony Pictures, including Vice Chairman of Columbia Pictures and President of Worldwide Marketing for Columbia/Tristar Motion Picture Companies. Before joining Sony Pictures, Sid served for five years at Paramount Pictures. As President of the Motion Picture Group, he green-lit the box-office hit Ghost and purchased the rights to Winston Groom’s novel Forrest Gump, which would go on to win six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Previously, Sid served as SVP of Lucasfilm, Ltd., working closely with George Lucas on the production and marketing of The Empire Strikes Back, and the first two installments of the Indiana Jones trilogy. Ganis won an Emmy for producing the behind-the-scenes documentary The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Nancy Ganis has more than 25 years of experience as a television, feature film and documentary film producer/executive focusing on Americans democratic values and institutions – particularly public education. She began her career in the newsroom of KQED in San Francisco, moving on to documentaries such as The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the groundbreaking Straight Talk series on health with Drs. Judith Reichman and Peter Scardino, and many documentary short subjects on teen pregnancy, public education, pesticide contamination, nuclear proliferation, and health care. She has worked with numerous filmmakers including Saul Zaentz, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg as well as with various motion picture studios such as Lucasfilm Ltd., Columbia Pictures and Paramount on film projects from Amadeus to Punchline.
In 2005, Sid was elected President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a position he calls his “full-time, part-time job.” At the moment, Sid’s especially eager to talk about the Academy’s remarkable exhibit celebrating Akira Kurosawa, whose 50-year career earned him an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. “This is the Academy at our most expansive,” Sid enthuses. “It’s the most definitive Kurosawa retrospective and look at his artwork in this country ever. It’s a major installation – two galleries worth of Kurosawa’s incredible art. Today we call them storyboards – but what he did was artwork. He designed his movies frame by frame in terms of the look of the movie and the shots before he filmed them, and the images are stunning. So we have the films, beginning with Rashomon, and the unbelievably colorful artwork that goes with his films. It’s the quintessential version of what the Academy does beyond the Oscar show.”
Back at the Out of the Blue… offices on the Sony lot, things are bustling. In the works, a TV series at Sony created by Nancy with ABC, and a dozen films in various stages of development. So how do Sid and Nancy divvy up their responsibilities? “It works out beautifully,” says Nancy. “We both have different skills and they compliment each other very well. Sid is very good at working in the public arena, with the studios and the executives, and I’m really comfortable working with the creative aspects, the production staff, handling the equipment on a shoot, really working in the trenches, so to speak.” It’s a tight operation. Nancy explains, “We have a young, dynamic, international staff who are great, and sometimes sharper and smarter than us. They feel comfortable enough to challenge us every step of the way. They are encouraged to speak their mind on creative choices, and that’s just what we want.” Sid adds, “We also have an agreement in the office about new projects; if the majority doesn’t like it, out the door it goes. Everyone has a sense of ownership.”
This is Sid’s fourth, and by Charter, last term as President of the Academy. His acclaimed skills as a marketer have served him well, though he rarely touts his accomplishments. As Sid tells it, “Being out there in front of the public is part of what marketers do, so I feel very comfortable in that role. But the other part of it is that it’s the honor of honors. For somebody who has been in the movie business practically since he was a kid, being the president of the Academy is humbling and a great honor.”
And what happens post-presidency? Sid doesn’t miss a beat. “I’m a member of the Board of Governors and will remain on the Board for a while. The excitement of what’s going to happen next year is that I’ll still do my work for the Academy. Right now we’re in the early stages of building the museum, and I will remain very involved. It’s huge. The museum will be open year-round and become a landmark attraction for Hollywood and the greater Los Angeles area; a place for watching and learning about film and filmmaking, for exploring film’s relationship with the greater world and for listening to stories told by filmmakers themselves. I’m going to stay involved until I’m there, standing next to whoever the President is, as the ribbon is cut.” Sid continues, “And of course, Out of the Blue… will be cooking on a number of projects, and I’ll be the extra hand. Nancy and our staff will be doing a gigantic portion of the work and then I’ll be around to help out as well.”
For all his passion about the Academy and Out of the Blue… , Sid’s greatest joy is in talking about family. “We have two grandchildren now … who knows, there might be a third before too long. It’s a big focus of our lives. So when the Academy ends who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to spend a little more time with the grandkids. One of whom, by the way, is of an age where he kinda gets the fact that poppa goes to that place that has a big Oscar in the hallway. He knows that much about it.”
For Sid and Nancy, a couple with deep roots in the business, they consider First Entertainment one of their most valuable relationships. In fact, they rave about the credit union with unabashed enthusiasm. “They’ve been really great,” says Nancy. “When juggling our lives and helping our kids and getting loans they were always right there to help us out.” Sid exclaims,“Right there. Handy.Easy. Communicative. Not bureaucratic. They get it. Nancy, the right words?” Nancy underscores the point. “They understand the clientele they’re dealing with and all the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of our business.”
Sid continues, “We’ve worked with a lot of other financial institutions, and that’s how we’ve formed our opinion. We’ve worked with many, many over the years. And the credit union is remarkable.”
“I really do think that’s why lending institutions have developed entertainment divisions,” says Nancy, “Because it’s such a different breed. But for the most part you still don’t get that level of understanding and personal service … not like you do with First Entertainment.” Sid adds thoughtfully, “We’re very fortunate. We have happy, good, full lives, Nancy and I. And in a very real way, this is thanks to the credit union. Nancy, am I overstating it?” Nancy shakes her head in response. “No. They’ve enabled us to accomplish great things and to help our kids when there was a crunch. They’re like family.”