The Company’s Icons Unearthed: Star Wars is Sure to Please Fans of George Lucas’s Universe
The Nacelle Company, founded by Brian Volk-Weiss, is an award-winning American diversified media company. Established in 2017, they’re crushing it when it comes to creating pop-culture content that will have geeks and nerds worldwide salivating.
The company boasts scripted and unscripted production, podcasting, publishing, records, distribution, development, marketing, and management divisions and they’ve produced hits such as Netflix’s docu-series, Down To Earth with Zac Efron, The Movies That Made Us, The Toys That Made Us, and Kevin Hart’s Guide To Black History. They’re also responsible for Behind The Attraction for Disney +, CW’s Discontinued, Sony’s Mad About You reboot, All The Way Black for BET+, History’s Grant, and History’s Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek.
The company is dedicated to showcasing groundbreaking stories and pop-culture history through its signature documentary filmmaking style, unique distribution system, and a consistent desire to never stop exploring. Simply put, if it’s geeky, nerdy, or pop culture-y, The Nacelle Company is probably interested in it!
One of The Nacelle Company’s most recent projects is Icons Unearthed, a new anthology documentary series that will focus on some of the biggest movie and TV franchises in history. Icons Unearthed launched on ViceTV on July 12 with the first episode in a six-hour deep dive into the Star Wars universe, that covers Episodes I-VI. You can catch episodes of the show on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on ViceTV.
Icons Unearthed: Star Wars uncovers the unknown secrets of the Star Wars universe through exclusive and candid interviews with Marcia Lucas, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Paul Hirsch, Phil Tippett, Rick Baker, Ken Ralston, John Dykstra, Howard Kazanjian, Julian Glover, Ian Mcdiarmid, Gus Lopez, Tom Spina and many more. Icons Unearthed: Star Wars is narrated by Michael Pennington, who portrayed the iconic character Moff Tiaan Jerjerrod in Return of the Jedi.
We had a chance to chat with Brian Volk-Weiss about The Nacelle Company, what they’re working on, and what it was like working on Icons Unearthed.
Scott (GNN): Since last, we spoke (Take a read of this interview we did with Brian in June 2021.), you’ve clearly been doing nothing. Your company has just stayed stagnant. You haven’t grown any or branched out any.
Brian Volk-Weiss (BVW): Going backwards.
GNN: Yeah, right? So, if you could, just give us a quick CliffsNotes version of what the Nacelle Company and Comedy Dynamics have been up to in the last year.
BVW: Basically, for the first part of my life, I’ve been a fan of Walt Disney’s flywheel, which you can Google to learn more about. For the second part of my life, I’ve been a fan of Jeff Bezos’s flywheel.
For anyone that doesn’t know what a flywheel is, which I didn’t for a while…I did not go to business school…the premise of a flywheel for a business is that anything the business does affects at least two different things. So, with Disney, they could do a movie about Frozen, and then one day there is a ride about Frozen and a book about Frozen.
Our television business has been doing okay, so we launched a bunch of ancillary departments to support our television business. And again, by the nature of a flywheel, in theory, our TV business will support our new ancillary businesses, which include books, toys, and podcasts.
So, we launched three new divisions within the last 18 months. Our first three toy lines actually have been announced: Robo Force, Power Lords, and, I believe, Sectaurs. I’m sure I’m leaving some stuff out. Our first real book came out about three weeks ago, City of Likes by Jenny Mollen, which has been a massive success, to put it mildly. And I can brag about it because I basically had nothing to do with it. And then on the podcast front, I mean, we’re putting out two or three a month. And they also are doing really well for the most part.
GNN: Speaking of Jeff Bezos, it feels like you’re becoming the Amazon of pop culture! I mean, you’re all things under one roof…
BVW: We’re a trillionth, billionth of Amazon probably, but, we did a show last year with History Channel called The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek. We’re putting out a book. We’ve already put out a podcast. We have a new show that just came out on Vice called Icons Unearthed. The first series, if there’s more, which we hope there will be, was about Star Wars. It’s on at 10 o’clock on Tuesdays, on ViceTV. That will also will be supported with books, podcasts, and…well, not really toys. We’d probably get in a little trouble for that. But that being said, that’s the idea of what we’ve been trying to do.
And the other thing, I think it’s worth mentioning, and this is going to sound so cheesy, but we actually did it, so it’s not as cheesy as it may sound. I really did see COVID as an opportunity to expand, because we are very lucky because we own our content for the most part and we own our distribution system. Because a lot of people were home, COVID was not that bad for our distribution arm. So, I realized in the middle of 2020, if we played our cards right and we bet on ourselves, we could actually come out of COVID stronger than we went into COVID. And it’s too early to tell, but I think we’re on the right track.
GNN: On the one hand, it’s funny. I really thought COVID was going to give me an opportunity to catch up on my TV watching. I was saying, “I’m going to catch up on every single pop culture thing on the planet.” But then you get burnt out a little bit. There’s just so much pop culture now, it’s just impossible to keep up.
On one hand, I think it’s too much. But on the other hand, I think it’s never not enough. If you want to be positive about it, you could do a double negative and say, “There’s never not enough to watch.”
BVW: True, but I mean, it’s what I always say is because, using again Star Wars as a reference, I’d rather have bad Star Wars every now and then to get the good Star Wars. A lot of people have problems with the Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan. I did not like Boba Fett, but there are pros and cons to Obi-Wan. I’m not a fan of Last Jedi at all, that’s putting it nicely. But I’d rather get a Last Jedi every couple of years if that means the following year, we’ll get a Rogue One. I love Solo; I know that’s not always a popular opinion, but for me, it’s worth getting the great Star Wars and just ignoring the bad Star Wars. To me, the Book of Boba Fett not being great doesn’t change the fact that I can’t wait for the next season of The Mandalorian.
GNN: It’s funny you mention that because that was a question I had for you. Other than maybe Weird Al, I’ve never been a fan of something that it just keeps going, like Star Wars, which seems like it’s never going away. Can you ever get too much Star Wars? It sounds like that’s a big, “no,” from you.
BVW: Yeah. Yeah. To me, it’s a no-brainer. It’s like bad pizza. First of all, people say there’s no such thing as bad pizza. That is not true at all. There’s absolutely bad pizza, but don’t eat the bad pizza! If you get rid of pizza, then you’ll never have great pizza.
So, yeah. The best example I can give, I think, of this, again, with Star Wars. Look at the last season of Clone Wars. The penultimate four episodes were as bad as Clone Wars has ever been. In the last four episodes, I would put that up there with Empire Strikes Back. I think that is, without a doubt, the greatest Star Wars ever made, those last four episodes. So, I’d rather sit there and be on my phone kind of zoned out during the prior four episodes if it means the next four are coming.
GNN: So, speaking of Star Wars, one of the main reasons I wanted to do the interview with you is a new show you mentioned you’ve released: Icons Unearthed, which you mentioned earlier. The series focuses on Star Wars and kicked off on Vice TV on July 12.
BVW: 10 PM on Tuesdays.
GNN: I’m not a big Star Wars guy. I liked the movies, but I haven’t seen any of the shows, even though The Mandalorian looks good. I’ve watched two episodes so far, and I’m really digging it. It did get me thinking and I started to wonder, on one hand, I love watching documentaries. On the other hand, it’s like the whole, “You don’t want to see how your food is made,” kind of stuff. When you see that lightsaber was made out of a camera, and you pull back the curtain, it kind of kills that sense of wonder. I feel the same way about DVD commentaries. How do you feel, overall, about that kind of stuff?
BVW: It really depends on the movie. I’ll give you a great example. I’m glad you brought up the commentary because I wouldn’t have thought of it. One of my favorite movies of all time is Se7en. That is one of the most bizarre commentaries in history.
BVW: David Finch, it’s like he legally was required to say the F-bomb every fourth word. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He never did five words in a row without dropping the F-bomb. Also, I don’t know what movie Brad Pitt was talking about, but it wasn’t Se7en. And Morgan Freeman…he wins it. He wouldn’t say anything for 20 minutes. And then for example…this is a real example…it would be the library scene. And you hadn’t heard from him in 20 minutes. And then all of a sudden, he goes, “The French word for library is bibliothèque.” And then he doesn’t talk again for 20 minutes.
The reason I bring this up is I have never watched that movie again without thinking of Morgan Freeman saying the French word for the library during the library scene. And I never watch it without thinking again of, “What’s his name saying the F-bomb every 4 seconds?” So, it does affect you. But at some point, at least speaking for myself, when you’re a fan of something, you’re just trying to get much out of it as you can after a certain point.
I’ll give you a modern example: Top Gun: Maverick. I’m not even that big a fan of the first one. I respect it. But I’m not a crazy fan; I’ve only seen it two or three times. I have already seen Maverick twice. I could go again if I weren’t so busy. I think it might be one of the greatest movies ever made. I don’t even know why. It is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. But I can feel it in my soul, I am now trying to vacuum up everything about it. I’ve watched every video on YouTube about it; I was at Comicpalooza in Houston last weekend. I bought the Hot Wheels Top Gun set. I’m obsessed with it.
So, for me, when something goes from, “I like it,” to, “I’m obsessed with it,” yeah, I have to watch those commentaries.
GNN: So, that leads us back to Icons Unearthed and Star Wars. When we last talked, I learned you were a big Star Wars fan from a very early age, correct? It’s not something you recently stumbled upon.
BVW: I mean, I’m in show business because of Star Wars. I would be a dentist or a banker in New York or worse if not for Star Wars. I was so young when I saw it. I didn’t know the word, but I basically thought it was a documentary. And I don’t remember any of this. But my mom told me for months or years, I don’t know, that whenever anybody would ask me, “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d be like, “I want to join the rebellion. I want to fly an X-Wing.”
And my pretty business-minded parents, especially my mom, that kind of freaked her out. So, she bought me a book for five-year-olds about the making of Star Wars. I still have it. And it was mind-blowing. It was C-3PO with the mask off. And you could see Anthony Daniels’ face. The Death Star wasn’t the size of a moon. It was eight feet wide. And ever since I had that realization, all I’ve ever wanted to do is, I mean, what I’m doing.
GNN: So, I went and looked, and when I Googled, “Star Wars Documentaries,” five or six popped up right away. I’m sure there were more, but that was what popped up in the immediate results. So, with multiple Star Wars documentaries out there, what was your motivation to do another one?
BVW: So first of all, I guarantee you there are more than five or six Star Wars documentaries.
GNN: Oh, yeah. This was just the five top results.
BVW: Right. I guarantee you the number is over 50. I mean, listen, I know this might be a weird thing for me to say, but a lot of what we do has been done before. We weren’t the first people to do a He-Man documentary. We weren’t the first people to do a Star Trek documentary, far, far, far from it. But we have two things that most other companies don’t have.
Number one, we have the ability to produce these independently, so I don’t have to worry about somebody saying something, and then the network or the studio, “Oh, we can’t use that. It’s too edgy.” So, if Viacom had made The Center Seat: 55 years of Star Trek, I don’t know how much they would have been in there about a lot of the things we covered, especially about how Roddenberry didn’t get along with certain people. I’m pretty sure we would have had to have cut that out if we had been making that for Viacom. So that’s the first thing. We can show stuff that a lot of people can’t show.
Number two, we are in a situation where, because of all our other businesses, we can self-finance these, which includes self-financing a 90-day research phase. So, if you’re a brilliant filmmaker working out of your garage in Poughkeepsie, and you have a job or two jobs, you might be a better filmmaker than me. In fact, you probably are. But I don’t have a part-time job. I mean, I have a pretty big company now that has the financial means to hire the right researchers, the right producers.
That’s the other thing. I would say 80 to 85 percent of the people working on Icons Unearthed, started with us on Toys That Made Us season one. So, I’ve been working with the same people for six years. For a production company, I mean, that is rarefied air. I mean, that’s the kind of thing I brag about to friends, not in the business. They’re like, “Why are you bragging about that? How come you never talk about your awards?” And I’m like, “Because the awards are B.S. It’s all B.S.” Being a production company that can consistently employ the same people for six years, that’s hard. That’s really hard. So that’s the other thing we bring to the table. And because of the fact that we’ve been working with the same people for so long, and we’ve basically been in production on documentaries like this non-stop for six years, when we greenlight a show like Icons Unearthed, we don’t have to look around for Phil Tippett. We don’t have to look around for John Dykstra. We have their email addresses. We have their cell phones. So that’s sped up.
That allows us the time and energy to find Marcia Lucas. She’s never done an interview before. It’s her second interview ever. But it’s her first filmed interview, and her first interview was like 45 years ago, and it was a small town newspaper in Northern California. So, because we don’t have to waste time trying to hunt down Phil Tippett and Rick Baker, we’re able to get somebody like Marcia Lucas that nobody had before.
So, I think if you take all the stuff I’ve been saying and combine it, that’s what we bring to the table.
GNN: That was one of the next questions. How easy or difficult was it to get Marcia Lucas, that being her only recorded interview? Is it an easy thing? Hard thing? I mean, you have enough people you’ve worked with before. Did you get them to kind of vouch for you?
BVW: It’s the weirdest thing about making shows like this because the people you would think would be hard are usually moderate to easy and then the people you would think would be easy are super-duper crazy hard. Marcia came about the way a lot of our interviews with people like her came about. We interviewed somebody else, I believe it was Richard Edlund. And we’d already interviewed him for the Ghostbusters episode of Movies That Made Us. And he said to us, actually, “This was great. Always good to see you. Who are you trying to get that you don’t have?” And I’m like, “Our white whale, Marcia Lucas.” And he’s like, “Well, who are you talking to?” And we gave him the names. He goes, “No, no, no, no, no. Call her assistant.” So, he gave us her assistant’s name and number, email address, everything. Took about two weeks of back and forth. And then on a Tuesday morning, I woke up; I was supposed to be flying to New York later that day, and I had an email saying that Marcia said yes, and she was available, quote, unquote, “between tomorrow and nine days from now.” And with somebody like Marcia, you don’t wait for nine days. I canceled my trip to New York. Literally, that was about 30 meetings that would have to be pushed back six or seven weeks. Everything had to be rescheduled. And I flew to Hawaii at 2 o’clock that same day and interviewed her the next day. A six-hour interview.
GNN: That’s incredible. Now, here’s an ignorant question, because, again, obviously, I don’t do anything like you do, so this could be the stupidest question in the world. When you do something like this, do you even toss out a line to George Lucas or do you know how difficult it is so you don’t even bother?
BVW: That’s not a stupid question at all. But of course, we do. We do for a bunch of reasons. One, if someone like you in an interview asked me, I look like an idiot if I don’t say yes. But number two, we hear a lot of stuff that people say about him, and I’d love his opinion to see if he agreed or disagreed. And by the way, through the most random of means, I know that George Lucas saw the Star Wars episode of The Toys That Made Us, and I know that he loved it. But we tried super-duper hard to get him, and we didn’t get him. And by the way, in his defense, I don’t blame him. I mean, I don’t want to talk about the same thing for 50 years.
GNN: Well, then he shouldn’t have done something so damn awesome. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t do anything good. You do something half-ass horrible, then no one comes looking for you.
BVW: You tell him that!
GNN: Yeah, I know, right? So, is there anyone else that you reached out to that you wanted to be involved with and just couldn’t or didn’t?
BVW: A lot of people. I mean, I came close to getting Harrison Ford. I mean, we were close to scheduling dates, and it just didn’t happen. I really wanted Billie Lourd. That also pretty much, I think, was close to happening, and then there were schedule issues. A lot of this is a gray area, but. I mean, I didn’t think we would get Mark Hamill. And believe it or not, we got a lot closer to Harrison Ford than Mark Hamill. But we got Anthony Daniels, we got Billy Dee Williams, we got Ian – I’m sure I’m mispronouncing this -McDiarmid, he’s the guy who plays the emperor. We also got Howard Kazanjian. I mean, that interview was mind-blowing.
By the way, Rick Baker never does interviews. So, we got a lot of people that were great. But yeah. Do I wish we’d had Harrison Ford? Absolutely. And not just because he’s famous, not just because he’s Han Solo. But I know a lot about him. He’s a smart guy. So, to have heard his point of view on the making of those movies, I mean, that would’ve been just so interesting because he’s smart.
GNN: Especially the early days of filming the movie, again, not knowing the end result. If you watch the first episode of Icons Unearthed, not knowing Star Wars at all, you’d be like, “How did this movie ever get made? You got to be kidding.” It was a disaster from day one.
BVW: First, I mean, you’re absolutely right, but I’ll give you a specific. I’d love to ask him this. Here’s what I don’t get. Harrison Ford, before Star Wars, he’d been in a couple of things, including American Graffiti, but he had been out of work for a while. He was literally so broke, he was doing carpentry at Lucasfilm, fixing doors, fixing chairs, fixing whatever. They wouldn’t let him read for Han Solo, but he, very clever with a couple of other people, got the job of reading with the other actors playing.
So, when Carrie Fisher tested for Princess Leia, Harrison Ford, with no belief whatsoever he would play Han Solo, in the auditions was doing the Han Solo lines. And eventually, they were getting close to shooting, and they hadn’t booked the part. They wanted Kurt Russell. They wanted Christopher Walken, all these really interesting choices. And they finally ran out of time and gave it to Harrison Ford.
I’ve known that story my whole life. I’ve also known the story that he only had a two-picture deal, whereas everybody else – Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels – everybody else had a three-picture deal. So, what I would’ve asked Harrison, and I’ve always been dying to know, is, “You didn’t have a pot to piss in. How did you have the confidence to negotiate such an aggressive deal?” Which, by the way, I mean, changed; they all did okay, don’t get me wrong, because George generously gave each one of them a quarter point after A New Hope came out. He didn’t even have to do that. It was really smart that he did. But I do believe Harrison was able to get a real good deal for Return of the Jedi.
GNN: Well, I’ve enjoyed the documentary so far, Icons Unearthed. Folks can watch it on Vice TV…
BVW: 10 o’clock Tuesdays, 10 o’clock, Tuesdays!
GNN: So, again, they can watch that on Tuesdays, 10 o’clock, Vice TV. You mentioned earlier, that you currently don’t have any more Icons Unearthed in the works, but you’d like to.
BVW: Yeah. I mean, the show is doing well. We are hopeful we will be making more. That’s all I can say right now.
GNN: Perfect. And any other non-Star Wars or Icon Unearthed projects you want to mention? You mentioned the book, and the podcast with Gates McFadden is out there. Any other projects people should be on the lookout for?
BVW: It’s always a tough question to answer because we have, I believe, 11 shows in production right now. The only ones I can talk about are Down to Earth season two, which is coming soon on Netflix. A Toy Store Near You season five is coming on Amazon pretty soon. I think those are the only shows that have been publicly announced. I don’t think any of the others have.
GNN: Well, thank you very much for your time! That about wraps things up!
BVW: I appreciate that very much. I don’t take it for granted, your support, so thank you.
GNN: No problem, man. Good luck and have a great weekend.