Having been without a top executive since February, Industrial Light and Magic has signed on veteran producer Sam Mercer as its head of studio — just in time for a slew of new Star Wars blockbusters.
At first glance, it seems like an odd fit, given that ILM’s new leader, who assumes many of the oversight duties of general manager (and former president) Lynwen Brennan, has never actually worked in the visual effects industry proper. Mercer is most notable for his long-running partnership with director M. Night Shyamalan on seven films, including The Last Airbender, the controversial live-action adaptation of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s Peadbody-winning animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Mercer also co-produced Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, as well as Congo and other films, with Amblin Entertainment co-founder Kathleen Kennedy, who in 2012 became president of Lucasfilm and brand manager of the rebooted Star Wars franchise. Mercer’s extensive experience with Kennedy led her to suggest him to Brennan, who was promoted in February to general manager of Lucasfilm and to whom Mercer will report. Indeed, Kennedy asked Mercer “point blank” if he wanted the ILM job on the set of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, Amblin co-founder Steven Spielberg’s directing debut for Disney, which Kennedy is also co-producing with Mercer.