Star Wars Celebration: Fans explore all corners of the convention universe

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The Mos Eisley Cantina theme played over loudspeakers on the Anaheim Convention Center’s second floor as 13-year-old Zachary Clayson, clad in Jedi robe and tunic, maneuvered a remote-controlled yellow robot to where a young woman was standing with an infant. The little robot — a replica of a “Star Wars” hangar deck scrubber droid — nudged the woman’s ankles. She smiled and bent down, giving the baby a closer look.

“My favorite part of Star Wars Celebration is probably just driving this thing around and seeing people’s reactions when they see it,” said Clayson, who traveled with his father from the San Francisco Bay Area to attend the fan expo.

At Celebration, the big panel presentations with the likes of J.J. Abrams, Carrie Fisher and Anthony Daniels may be generating the most buzz online, but for the estimated 60,000 “Star Wars” fans in attendance, there’s plenty of fun to be had elsewhere at the convention center.

The expo, which runs through Sunday, features a Lego X-Wing workshop and free-building area, droid races, a Princess Leia fashion show, a cosplay contest, a room devoted to family-friendly activities, a “Star Wars” tattoo competition and more. (Check out our overview in the video above, by Times photographer Allen J. Schaben.)

Zachary Clayson, 13, maneuvers his homemade scrubber droid, interacting with convention-goers at Star Wars Celebration 2015. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Zachary Clayson, 13, maneuvers his homemade scrubber droid, interacting with convention-goers at Star Wars Celebration 2015. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

For Clayson, the convention offered an opportunity to show off the scrubber droid — which his father helped him build, based on the model in Naboo in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” — as well as his Jedi Padawan costume and custom-made lightsaber.

“He built it himself out of my parts bin,” said dad Mathew Clayson on Friday. “He picked out all the parts and put ’em together.”

It was the first fan convention for Zachary, but Michael Clayson has been attending similar events for 30 years, he said, and has been building science-fiction props since he was a teenager. Little robots like the scrubber droid are a hit on the convention floor, he said.

Zachary Clayson, left, and Mathew Clayson show off their hangar deck scrubber droid, which they built together. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Zachary Clayson, left, and Mathew Clayson show off their hangar deck scrubber droid, which they built together. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

“What’s great is that the kids tend to relate more with the smaller droids,” he said. “Artoo, they love Artoo, but they’re afraid to get too close to him sometimes. But with the little scrubber droid, they get right down there because it acts like a little dog.”

Nearby was the Star Wars Celebration Family Room, which offered activities such as Ewok decorating, youngling lightsaber training, a children’s costume showcase, kid-friendly guest speakers and more. In the Family Room on Friday, Michael Baird, from Detroit, and his 6-year-old daughter Avery, and Jason Sywak and his children Logan, age 9, Tabitha, 8, and Natasha, 3, from Phoenix, took a break from the convention floor craziness. All of them were wearing Darth Vader T-shirts.

“We try to keep the kids rooting for the right group, but when it’s the adults nerding out, it’s like, go dark side,” Baird said.

For Sywak and Baird, who have been friends since college, “Star Wars” has been a lifelong passion. As a child, Sywak watched the films  at the home of his aunt, who had them on Betamax. Baird’s parents took him to see the first movie when it was in theaters.

“The moment that the crawl ends and the star destroyers fly overhead, in the movie theater as a young kid, it’s overwhelming,” Baird said. “You’ve never seen anything like that before, and you’re transported immediately.”

Jason Sywak, left, and his children Natasha (3, on his lap), Tabitha (8, second from right) and Logan (9, far right) are joined by Michael Baird, center, and his 6-year-old daughter Avery in the Family Room at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Jason Sywak, left, and his children Natasha (3, on his lap), Tabitha (8, second from right) and Logan (9, far right) are joined by Michael Baird, center, and his 6-year-old daughter Avery in the Family Room at Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

This year’s expo marks the friends’ third excursion to Star Wars Celebration, but the first time they’ve brought their families.

“The kids like ‘Star Wars.’ We grew up with it, and they’re growing up with it. And our wives let us bring them,” Sywak said, laughing.

Their wives were in line to purchase Star Wars Celebration limited edition Hot Wheels cars featuring the pink R2-KT droid, and their kids were playing in the Family Room. Tabitha and Avery worked on some “Star Wars”-themed coloring sheets, taking a page from their favorite “Star Wars Rebels” character, graffiti artist Sabine Wren.

“She dyes her hair, and she paints her walls and her bed,” Avery said.

“When she was trying to beat a bad guy, she painted on the ship,” Tabitha added.

“I like it because it’s good guys versus the bad guys,” Avery said. “I like people versing each other.”

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“Star Wars” fans Sharon Jackson, left, dressed as Mission Vao, of Las Vegas, and Kyle Jackson, dressed as Chewbacca, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed “Star Wars” fans Corin Zinninger as Darth Reuan, Sharon Jackson as Mission Vao, Kyle Jackson as Chewbacca, and Brennan Zinninger as Carth Onasi, all of Las Vegas, pose for pictures during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Costumed “Star Wars” fans pose with toy lightsabers during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration held at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dressed as “Star Wars” character Oola, Moe Hunt of Chicago poses with Roxy the Rancor during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A “Star Wars” fan dressed as Darth Vader leads a parade of characters from the 501st Legion costume organization as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fans from the 501st Legion costume organization show off their Stormtrooper gear as they make a dramatic entrance into the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A security guard inspects “Star Wars” fan and Modesto resident Steve Gwin, a member of the worldwide 501st Legion costume organization, during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Star Wars characters from the 501st Legion costume organization parade through the halls of the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Charlotte Davis, 2, of San Diego, plays with bubbles from a bubble-making R2-D2 during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Danielle Young of Salem, Mass., is dressed as Princess Leia during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham of South Carolina shows off her costume — “Frozen’s” Queen Elsa as a Sith — during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Molly Ingham, right, of South Carolina shows off her costume — “Frozen’s” Queen Elsa as a Sith — during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fans Anthony Lopez, left, of Sacramento and Torri Robbins, right, of Denver show off their Shadow Trooper costumes during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fan Anthony Lopez of Sacramento shows off his Shadow Trooper costume during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jovan C. of Norco checks his phone while dressed as Luke Skywalker during the 2015 Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center on April 16. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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David Vazquez of Puerto Rico dresses as battle-damaged Darth Vader. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A man who goes by the name of “Hyper” poses as a beach-ready stormtrooper. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Actor, stuntman and performer Lucky McQueede of Santa Clarita performs as Darth Maul cyborg, right. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Youngsters learn how to use light sabers during a Jedi training seminar. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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The Hodge family: Kelly, Milo, 6, and Dave, of Nashville sport their homemade biker scouts outfits from “Return of the Jedi.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A Star Wars Celebration attendee enjoys an exhibit at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fans view the Hot Wheels’ Life-Size, 150-mph Darth Vader car, based on a C5 Chevrolet Corvette. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dylan Stalker of Long Beach, dressed as a combination of a spartan and Boba Fett, stands next to a giant Jabba the Hutt model. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Stryder Brown of Los Angeles is the Hip Hop Trooper, whose pumping music gets him dancing at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Retired Sidious,” otherwise known as Delyn Murie, 74, of Riverside, uses his imperial walker to get around at Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Excitement rises among fans waiting for “Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Participants in a Princess Leia look-alike contest compete before Carrie Fisher took the stage. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Contestants parade across the stage during the Princess Leia look-alike contest. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher and her dog, Gary, onstage during the “Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher” event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Carrie Fisher onstage during the “Date With The Princess: Carrie Fisher” event. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A youngster is prepared for a lightsaber fight as he walks through the dark shadows at the Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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“Star Wars” fans travel to their next destination at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Dwayne Smith of San Francisco poses as a Hammerhead action figure. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jessica Odell of Lisburn, Ireland, is dressed as Maris Broud from “The Force Unleashed” video game. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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William Teague of Austin, Texas. views dozens of Star Wars figures lined up in a display by the Kotobukiya company. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, artist Damian Cain of Britain shows off his Luke Skywalker tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, Vinny Romanelli of New York City gives Angela Byrd of Modesto an angelic R2D2 tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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In tattoo alley, David James of Arcadia shows off his Darth Nihilus work-in-progress tattoo. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Malcolm McNeil of Ventura takes part in the X-Wing Experience Star Wars Battlefront. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Robert Gomes of Walnut, Calif., is Darth Tannos in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Eric Cajiuat, of Fullerton, is Jedi Elvis in the Millennium Falcon scene. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Chandra Chang of Los Angeles poses as R2D2 Hello Kitty — or R2Kitty — in front of “The 20th Century Space Opera” oil on canvas by Robert Xavier Burden. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A fan takes photos of some of the extensive collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the Rancho Obi-Wan Star Wars collection booth. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Jennifer Hobart, of Fullerton, creates her own Star Wars character with special contact lenses. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Fans dress in character and recreate the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Calvin Heins, 12, of Los Angeles, wears a Jawa costume in front of a replica of the Mos Eisley Cantina from “Star Wars.” (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A young girl readies her lightsaber as she walks though the shadows at the Star Wars Celebration at the Anaheim Convention Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Members of the 1st Imperial Stormtrooper Detachment of the 501st Legion march in formation through the crowd during Star Wars Celebration. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Not far from the Family Room was a hall devoted to the R2-D2 Builders Club, an international community of hobbyists who build replica robots from the “Star Wars” franchise. The room echoed with a chorus of Artoo’s hallmark beeps and chirps.

Among the many droids on display was R3-K2, a black-and-silver droid custom-designed by Michael Hawkins of Canoga Park.

“I’m trying to create kind of my own take on what an Imperial droid would look like,” Hawkins said. “It’s very new and not fully completed.”

Hawkins has been working on the robot for about a year during spare evenings and weekends, using acrylic, steel, resin and aircraft aluminum.

“Most of the parts that I’ve used are salvage, or some don’t meet the club’s specs,” Hawkins said. “If you want an Artoo, and you want it to look like the perfect version of an R2-D2, it has to look just like the one on screen, and that takes a little bit more accuracy. But here, I can kind of do things myself and play with things and customize things more.”

Eventually, the robot will sport additional acrylic details, lights and sound, though maybe not Artoo’s happy beeps.

“I might make it a little darker,” he said. “Less optimistic. Something that would be intrinsic to an Imperial droid.”

Michael Hawkins, of Canoga Park, Calif., poses with his custom-built R3-K2 droid. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Michael Hawkins of Canoga Park poses with his custom-built R3-K2 droid. (Noelene Clark / Los Angeles Times)

Hawkins joined the R2-D2 Builders Club when he was 15 years old, and credits the hobby with keeping him engaged and inspired.

“I didn’t get to go to college. I always wanted to, but the circumstances didn’t permit,” he said. “But it’s kind of weird, I feel like I got somewhat of an education, because you learn how to work with materials, you learn about electronics, about fiberglass, about resins, acrylics, threading, almost like engineering. … You just kind of take one part at a time. Every part is a different project, and it teaches you something new.”

For Hawkins, building “Star Wars” vehicles offers an outlet for creativity and imagination.

“You can kind of dream things and immerse yourself in ideas, play with thought,” he said. “I work in upholstery, so for me, my week is somewhat boring, but to be able to spend the weekends working on a robot, machining metal or laser cutting things, welding things, soldering things, and then to see it come to life, it’s exciting. What do we do with our free time? Most people go home and putz around on the Internet for a couple of hours, and then your night’s gone, and you don’t really have much to show for it after a year. But a little bit here, a little bit there, a couple of hours every night, and I get to see a robot come to life.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark |@LATHeroComplex

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‘Storied Streets’ a family project, with Susan Sarandon guiding the way

Just a few weeks after college graduation, Jack Henry Robbins accepted the invitation of a homeless man and rode a city bus with him from Santa Monica to skid row.

It was the first stop on Robbins’ nine-city cross-country tour as director of “Storied Streets,” a new and startling documentary that his mother, Susan Sarandon, executive produced. There, he and his young crew came face to face with the stereotypes they so earnestly sought to dispel.

“That was by far the one place I felt in danger,” said Robbins, 25, talking about skid row this month amid the dark wood and leather of the dean’s office at his alma mater, USC, where the film was being screened.

“And that’s the part of being homeless that scares us, the people who are aggressive and on drugs or mean to you or threatening. The truth of it is, though, that’s a small percentage of the people who are homeless. As we went into different parts of America, it was way less threatening.”

The film comes when documentary has proved to be an especially influential and news-making medium, exposing government espionage (Oscar-winning “Citizenfour”) and a celebrity cult (“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”), reopening a cold-case murder (“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”) and questioning animal-training practices at Sea World (“Blackfish”). Cable networks have taken note of the renewed interest, with HBO and Showtime, plus online streaming service Netflix and others, entering the production and distribution game.

“Storied Streets” is one of eight films selected by Sarandon, as this month’s guest curator, for AMC’s subscription-based streaming service SundanceNow Doc Club series. Every month, the service enlists a high-profile artist to choose his or her favorite documentaries to feature for the next month.

Sarandon chose “Storied Streets” and another documentary she helped produce, “Waiting for Mamu,” about Nepali social worker Pushpa Basnet, who rescues Katmandu children from prisons where they’re held with their incarcerated mothers. That film helped earn Basnet CNN’s Hero of the Year Award in 2012.

Also on Sarandon’s list were the Oscar-nominated Hurricane Katrina documentary “Trouble the Water”; the Canadian film “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” which deconstructs the false hope of the famous breast cancer campaign; and the Sundance Jury Prize winner “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” a profile of the outspoken Chinese artist.

“What ‘Storied Streets’ and ‘Mamu’ have accomplished is incredible, and Harvey Weinstein hasn’t even gotten behind them,” quipped Sarandon. “Now when you make a documentary, you have to know what you’re aiming toward.”

The Oscar-winning actress is as famous for her progressive politics and social activism as she is for her film roles. When Thomas Morgan, a Charlotte, N.C., investment banker with filmmaking aspirations, landed in her New York pingpong club looking to make a documentary about homelessness, she offered to executive produce and bring in her son to direct.

“So many of these people could be contributing to society,” said Sarandon. “It’s all about imagining possibility. Which is the only absolute truth. If you take possibility away from people, I don’t know how you go on.”

By early 2014, Sarandon and Morgan had formed their own documentary production company, Reframed Pictures, in her Chelsea loft in hopes of using “Storied Streets” and their other films to spur social action. Sarandon said the company now serves as an “idea lab.”

“Storied Streets” not only launched her son’s career and her production company, it has already prompted Sarandon to testify before Congress on hate crimes against the homeless and has reached 30,000 viewers through a coordinated streaming effort with the National Coalition for the Homeless during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week last November. Hulu and M-GO are also streaming the film this month. By fall, the film is expected to make its TV debut via various PBS affiliates.

Robbins is tall and lanky with a friendly smile like his father, Tim Robbins, whose 23-year relationship with Sarandon ended in 2009. He has a gregarious demeanor that’s more at ease on the set of the TV mockumentary he’s now directing for Comedy Central than on skid row at midnight. As he reflected on the film, Sarandon, 68, sat next to him, exuding a quiet sort of gravitas.

In August 2011, the younger Robbins and his crew caravanned from skid row in two cars to Las Vegas to Denver to St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., to Kentucky, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., ending in New York. They stayed in cheap motels and with relatives along the way. Meanwhile, Morgan, the film’s producer, and a separate crew conducted a few interviews near his home in Charlotte, including with children camping out in the woods with their destitute parents.

Robbins’ crew was a young group, all film-school friends from USC whose relative naivete and discreet technology granted them access to people he believes might have steered clear of more seasoned filmmakers.

“Everything was done very small, to not draw attention,” Robbins said.

They filmed on hand-held digital video cameras with small boom microphones that attached to iPhones, giving an intimacy and immediacy to each portrait. In one, a former homeless schizophrenic-turned-activist describes the nightly beatings he endured from strangers. In another, a college-educated, homeless veteran blends in on a subway car because he has nowhere else to go.

In Denver, the crew spent all afternoon outside dumpsters with some longtime addicts scavenging for scrap metal. Robbins perched on a curb to record their stories of car accidents that led to painkiller dependency that led to heroin.

“It was quite an interesting circumstance to be cut loose from college and be interviewing people who were cut loose from civil life,” said Robbins. “To be thrust into a subject matter like that was really eye-opening, touching, grounding.”

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ director J.J. Abrams unveils trailer at Star Wars Celebration

The first full-length trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was unveiled Thursday morning, offering fans an extended look at what is perhaps this year’s most anticipated film.

Director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy introduced the two-minute trailer during the Star Wars Celebration fan expo in Anaheim.

The trailer begins with narration from Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker, the protagonist of the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

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“The Force is strong in my family,” he says. “My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too.”

It’s unclear whether he is addressing a member of the Skywalker family or another character altogether.

The trailer shows scenes from Jakku, a desert planet not unlike Tatooine, where the wreckage of an Imperial star destroyer is seen in the dunes. It’s not the only classic “Star Wars” ship — the trailer also features X-wings, TIE fighters and, of course, the Millennium Falcon.

The teaser also introduces a mysterious chrome stormtrooper and lingers on a shot of Darth Vader’s melted mask.

John Boyega, who plays a new character named Finn, and Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, feature strongly. But longtime fans might be most excited to see Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), the scoundrel smugglers who helped Luke and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) defeat the Galactic Empire in the original trilogy.

“Chewie, we’re home,” Han Solo says.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is set to open Dec. 18 and will see stars of the landmark original trilogy reprise their iconic roles alongside a large ensemble of newcomers including Boyega, Ridley, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark |@LATHeroComplex

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‘Finding Neverland’ ready to fly after a bumpy trip to Broadway

A week from opening night, what might charitably be called a charge of creative tension ripples through a rehearsal for the new Broadway musical “Finding Neverland.”

The show’s choreographer is jumping on the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne theater to switch up the pacing of a fantasy sequence. Kelsey Grammer is standing stage right, working on a joke about cucumber sandwiches.

His costar, “Glee’s” Matthew Morrison, is mentally running through a number that has been overhauled so many times the musical veteran has taped a crib sheet on a strategic spot inside the orchestra pit so he can keep the lyrics straight.

“Can you get your crocodile tail on?” a voice projects from the middle of the theater. It belongs to Diane Paulus, the Tony-winning director on whose back this long-scrutinized, much-fiddled-with show is riding. “Wear it lower, so it’s not at your waist,” she added, continuing to address a cast member from the whimsy-filled ensemble scene. “Then you can get to the lamp post in time.”

As “Finding Neverland” prepares to open Wednesday after a gestation period of nearly five years and a budget of at least $20 million, the theater world finds itself with an unusually big bet. Adapted from the 2004 London-set film about playwright J.M. Barrie (played by Johnny Depp), a widow and her lost-boy sons, “Finding Neverland” marks Harvey Weinstein’s debut as a Broadway creative producer — and implictly asks whether the brassy film executive, who has turned his share of magic tricks in Hollywood, can repeat those feats on Broadway.

That, however, is only one of many points of intrigue for the show. The story about the struggles of author Barrie (Morrison) to create the play “Peter Pan” in the early 1900s has faced nearly as many challenges as its lead character.

“Finding Neverland” is based on a well-liked but hardly iconic movie, conjures up Peter Pan but contains few scenes of the flying hero, brings together some especially disparate creative personalities and seeks to maintain the film’s whiff of tragedy while laying on plenty of pop songs. The show’s music was composed by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy —the Brits behind the long-running chart-topping boy-band Take That (probably best known in the U.S. for their 1995 singalong, “Back for Good.”)

Says Weinstein, directly, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

The screen-to-stage trend has gone into overdrive in recent years, particularly in musicals, reaching far beyond Disney Theatricals shows (“The Lion King,” “Aladdin”) to such less obvious source material as “Rocky,” “Once,” “Big Fish” and the upcoming “Waitress.”

That craze has sent many an enterprising producer to his library and prompted the opportunity-minded Weinstein to embrace “Neverland” as a stage piece. After all, the film embodied Weinstein productions of that era, which also included “Shakespeare in Love” and “Chocolat” — light comedies in foreign settings that proved surprisingly popular. “Finding Neverland” seemed just the right genteel fit for modern Broadway.

Matters hardly proved that simple.

A U.K. tryout with the Tony winning director and choreographer Rob Ashford was panned by critics in 2012–the problem was too much emulation of the film, Weinstein believes–forcing a ground-up reconstruction when the project reached U.S. shores with Paulus, at her American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

The production’s arrival in New York wasn’t the end of the road, either. In recent weeks, “Neverland” has undergone the kind of eleventh-hour adjustments that are large even by the standards of new musicals.

“It’s been a challenge,” Grammer says before a recent preview performance. ” ‘Rigorous,’ I think, would be the word.”

On the rehearsal day, the company is working out the kinks of “All of London Is Here Tonight.” The number was written just a few days before, nearly halfway through previews, but is now the anchor of the show’s troubled and oft-changed opening.

The addition of “All of London” illustrates the challenge of adapting films for the stage. Many movies, especially period dramas, start off slowly, with much necessary exposition. But musicals require a big number to set the tone.

“You can’t just try to re-create what happened on film,” Paulus says. “It won’t work. The opening just felt too stuffy,” she added of the earlier attempts. “It didn’t feel right.”

Paulus in recent years has directed well-regarded stagings of “Hair” and “Pippin,” among others–revivals that tend not to face the same obstacles as new musicals. She says that she doesn’t believe all the down-to-the-wire work would translate into post-opening wrinkles.

“Andrew Lloyd Webber was backstage the other night, and he told a story about how ‘Oklahoma!’ had a different name right before it opened,” she says. “You take comfort in all the war stories of opening numbers and other changes that went into hit new musicals at the last minute.”

Much of the success of “Never” will depend on the music. Rather than have Barlow and Kennedy write songs off the script — a typical approach — Paulus and Weinstein sent them off to compose music independently. That may explain why many of the numbers — which include the female solo “All that Matters” and the male duet “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” — sound as much like radio-friendly pop numbers as musical standards.

“I needed to be honest; I’m not someone who writes musicals. I’d never done it before,” Barlow says. “So I just said, ‘Let me have the experience of sitting down at a piano and seeing what moves me.’ ” That process went on for a year, at which point Barlow and Kennedy delivered 19 songs to Paulus–which were then worked and reworked to fit into the musical.

One number in particular, the Elton John-esque “Something About This Night,” has had a bumpy road. The song, under various titles, at first came early in the show. It was then pushed further and further into the production, so much so that “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pushed out entirely and didn’t even make the final show,” Barlow said. (It did, three songs from the end.)

For all of “Neverland’s” pop gloss, it also contains a melancholy vibe, as Sylvia (played by the theater go-to Laura Kelly, one of the few British-born actors in the show) suffers a series of tragedies. “There’s a lot of uplift but also something sad and emotional, which I think makes this unique,” Kelly said.

Cannes 2015: Emmanuelle Bercot’s ‘La Tete Haute’ to open festival

French actress and filmmaker Emmanuelle Bercot’s coming-of-age drama “La Tete Haute” will open the 2015 Cannes Film Festival on May 13, marking the first time in the event’s 68 years that a female director’s film will open the proceedings, organizers announced Monday.

Bercot’s film follows a juvenile delinquent (Rod Paradot) from childhood to adulthood; Catherine Deneuve, Benoit Magimel and Sara Forestier costar.

In recent years, Cannes has favored high-profile, star-studded opening films such as “Grace of Monaco” (2014), “The Great Gatsby” (2013) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011). This year the gathering is taking a different approach with a less splashy French film.

“The choice of this film may seem surprising, given the rules generally applied to the Festival de Cannes Opening Ceremony,” event director Thierry Fremaux said in a statement. “It is a clear reflection of our desire to see the festival start with a different piece, which is both bold and moving.”

It has not been announced whether “La Tete haute” will premiere in or out of competition. The official selection for this year’s festival will be unveiled Thursday.

Joel and Ethan Coen will preside over the festival’s main competition jury, Isabella Rossellini will chair the Un Certain Regard jury, and Abderrahmane Sissako will lead the Cinefondation and short film jury.

The Cannes Film Festival will take place May 13-24.

Follow @ogettell for movie news

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

Box office: ‘Furious 7′ still in driver’s seat; ‘Longest Ride’ comes in third

“Furious 7” again raced to the top spot at the box office this weekend.

The latest installment from the Universal Pictures franchise dominated domestic ticket sales with $60.6 million in its second weekend—still robust despite a 59% drop from its opening weekend.

When factored in with its massive $143.6-million opening, that pushed the film’s total to $252 million — a best for the franchise.

With a whopping $190-million price tag, the film crossed the $200-million mark, on Friday, in just eight days — surpassing the studio’s previous record for that milestone, set by “Despicable Me 2” in 11 days.

The action film, directed by newcomer James Wan and serving as the final film for the late Paul Walker, showed in 4,022 theaters.

And in less than two weeks, it has sped past the $800-million worldwide mark, with a big boost coming from China.

It opened in first place in China on Sunday, with an estimated $68.6 million — the highest-grossing one-day result ever for the country.

“Furious 7” has the ensemble (including Walker, Vin Diesel, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez) reaching high speeds around the globe from London to Los Angeles, Tokyo, the Dominican Republic and Abu Dhabi and back to Los Angeles.

Midway through its production, things took a turn when Walker died in a car crash. The release date for the film shifted from July 2014 to this month.

Computer effects were used to complete Walker’s remaining scene. And Caleb and Cody Walker, Paul’s brothers, were brought in as stand-ins.

Curiosity as to how the film would handle the death of Walker has likely helped fuel ticket buying — though Nicholas Carpou, Universal’s head of domestic distribution, thinks fan interest in that was more of a factor in the film’s first weekend.

“While curiosity could be a factor, the first weekend would have been the one to quench that thirst,” Carpou said. “But what we’re seeing in some cases is that people are seeing it multiple times … there’s tremendous interest on what this group of characters does next and what exploits they undergo.”

“Furious 7’s” refusal to slow down meant DreamWorks Animation’s “Home,” with $19 million, landed in second place in its third week while this weekend’s romance newcomer “The Longest Ride” roped in the No. 3 spot.

The Nicholas Sparks romancer, starring Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson, brought in $13.5 million from 3,132 locations — in line with projections.

 The 20th Century Fox film, about a rodeo star who romances a college student, cost $34 million to make and did better than the most recent Sparks’ adaptation, “The Best of Me,” which opened last October to $10 million.

Still, “The Longest Ride” was on the low end of debuts for a Sparks adaptation — “Safe Haven” took in $21.4 million in its opening, while “The Lucky One” took in $22.5 million.

“As the film moves forward and word of mouth spreads, things will pick up,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’shead of distribution. “There’s a clear playing field ahead for a romantic film. And we saw that its strong suit was between the coasts.”

Though it didn’t find love with critics, audiences gave it an A CinemaScore rating. And as Aronson noted, the bulk of ticket buyers came from middle America and, as expected, the film skewed female (73%).

Also this weekend, “Get Hard,” the prison comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, came in fourth place with $8.6 million in its third weekend. The Warner Bros. R-rated comedy, which cost $40 million to make, has hauled in $71.2 million to date.

PG-rated “ Cinderella,” meanwhile, rounded out the top five with $7.2 million. The Disney live-action film has brought in a domestic total of $180.8 million during its five weeks in theaters.

On the smaller scale, artificial intelligence thriller “Ex Machina” opened in four theaters with its limited release. The A24 film, which marks the directorial debut of “28 Days Later” writer Alex Garland, tok in $249,956 over the weekened, with an impressive $62,489 per-screen-average—likely bolstered by strong reviews. The sci-fi film will expand to more theaters on April 24.

I tweet about TV (and other things) here: @villarrealy

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

11:05 a.m.: This post has been updated throughout to include audience demographic data, studio reaction and additional background. 

The original version of this post was published at 9:12 a.m.

Unnerving consideration of artificial intelligence in ‘Ex Machina’

Shrewdly imagined and persuasively made, “Ex Machina” is a spooky piece of speculative fiction that’s completely plausible, capable of both thinking big thoughts and providing pulp thrills. But even saying that doesn’t do this quietly unnerving film full justice.

The compelling directorial debut for novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, “Ex Machina” is also an involving chamber drama featuring emotional moves and countermoves by a trio of individuals played by Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander. Except one of them just happens to be machine-made.

The title “Ex Machina” comes from the Latin phrase deus ex machina, translated as god from the machine. Its origins have to do with Greek drama, but the reference here is to man playing god, to the unthought-of complications involved in creating sentient life.

Stories about artificial intelligence are a frequent science fiction topic, from Czech writer Karel Capek’s 1920 play “R.U.R.” (which coined the term “robot”) to Spike Jonze’s invisible “Her.” But the lumbering image that the word “robot” conveys is all wrong for Ava, stunningly played by Vikander, a creature of otherworldly delicacy and beauty who intentionally doesn’t look like AI we’ve seen before. Simultaneously naive and knowing, she seems to be discovering the world right before our eyes.

Before we get to Ava, however, we meet Caleb Smith, expertly played by Gleeson, who here combines a smidgen of savvy with his trademark open-faced innocence.

Caleb works for Blue Book, the world’s most successful Internet search engine, and the film opens with his winning first prize in a company-wide lottery. He’s to spend a week with Blue Book’s brilliant and fabulously wealthy but reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Isaac), who lives such a removed life in the wilds of Alaska that you can helicopter for two hours over his property and still not reach his house.

As played by the chameleon-like Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis,” “A Most Violent Year”), Nathan is a formidable individual, intimidating mentally, physically and psychologically. With his buzz cut, full beard and imposing physique, the man is arrogant and self-involved. He clearly thinks he knows it all, but does he, and even if he does, how completely can he be trusted?

Nathan’s compound (filmed in Norway) is not just a house; it’s a research facility filled with “enough fiber optic cable to go to the moon and lasso it.” Living alone except for Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), an enigmatic Japanese servant who speaks no English, Nathan has been working on creating artificial intelligence and now wants to put his creation to the test.

So Caleb is there, as it turns out, to do a kind of Touring test (conceived of by the British mathematician of “The Imitation Game”) on Nathan’s creation to determine whether Ava is capable of experiencing real emotions or just simulating them.

One reason for the success of “Ex Machina” is that Ava herself, in terms of design, acting and technology, is such a remarkable and compelling creation. Conceived by the comic book artist known as Jock, her look combines shiny mesh with translucent material on her arms and torso that reveal the mechanism within. “You can see that I am a machine” is one of the first things Ava says to Caleb, and, after six months of post-production work by Andrew Whitehurst of VFX house Double Negative, the film’s visual effects supervisor, that edgy combination of human and machine is exactly what we see.

None of the effects would function as persuasively as they do without the initial work of Swedish actress Vikander, best known for that country’s Oscar-nominated “A Royal Affair.” In addition to being a fine actress, Vikander is trained as a ballerina, so she’s capable of unsettlingly precise movements that convincingly position her as a combination of human and machine.

“Ex Machina” is structured around a series of daily conversation sessions that Caleb has with Ava in a glass-walled observation room, increasingly intimate chats that Nathan eavesdrops on via closed circuit cameras.

As these two chat, banter, even flirt, their emotional connection strengthens, which raises any number of tantalizing questions. What are the implications, the responsibilities, the consequences of getting emotionally involved with a machine?

Garland has written science fiction screenplays before (“Sunshine,” “28 Days Later,” the adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”), and he is completely at home in the genre. It was, for instance, his idea that Ava’s intelligence comes from Nathan’s ability to hack into all of the world’s digital devices.

Even more impressive, given that this is his directing debut, is Garland’s ability to keep the film quiet yet intensely involving. A scene of Ava putting on clothes is as erotically charged as someone taking them off in a more conventional feature.

Garland has also hired all the right people, including cinematographer Rob Hardy, editor Mark Day and production designer Mark Digby. The film’s aural element, combining sound design by “Gravity” Oscar winner Glenn Freemantle with a score by Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Ben Salisbury, is calculated to keep us off balance and unsettled from beginning to end. In a film like “Ex Machina,” that’s just the way it should be.

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

Scott Eastwood thinks ‘The Longest Ride’ bucks a Nicholas Sparks trend

Scott Eastwood is no wimp. He was gonna ride a bull, studio be damned.

He had obeyed Fox’s orders to stay off the 2,000-pound animals during production of the new Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Longest Ride” — even though he was playing a professional bull rider.

“But I was like, I’m not gonna promote a movie and act like I’ve been a bull rider and know what it’s like without actually bucking a bull,” said Eastwood, who is every bit Clint’s son.

So he and his “boys” drove up to a Moorpark ranch a few months ago. He rode a bull for a few seconds, got thrown off and walked away unharmed. It might not have been the smartest career move, but he describes himself as an adrenaline junkie. He’s like one of those guys on a dating website who tries to look macho by posting pictures of himself flying helicopters, practicing jujitsu or surfing gnarly waves — except these are all things the 29-year-old actually does.

Which is why it seems slightly out of character that Eastwood’s big acting debut is in a movie from an author who has cornered the market on saccharine tear-jerkers.

In fact, just a few years ago, Eastwood scoffed at the idea of appearing in a Sparks film. He was asked to audition for 2010′s “The Last Song,” which is pretty much remembered only as the movie Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth fell in love on. He would have played Hemsworth’s part, which he thought seemed one-dimensional: “Good looking guy on beach.”

But then the script for “The Longest Ride” came around. “It’s Nick Sparks, but it’s actually really cool,” his team told him. George Tillman Jr., the filmmaker behind the Biggie Smalls biopic “Notorious,” was directing. And Eastwood would be playing a bull rider — a former champion trying to come back after an injury when he falls for a local North Carolina art student (Britt Robertson).

“I really like ‘The Notebook’ because it’s a little grittier, and this felt like that,” the actor recalled. “The character was doing something. He had drive.”

Eastwood had driven up to Los Angeles for the day from San Diego, where he moved seven years ago after graduating from Loyola Marymount. He’s been trying to make it as an actor for the past decade, but he refuses to live in Hollywood — just like his dad, who has long kept a distance from the film business in Carmel.

Eastwood isn’t one of those kids who hates having a famous parent. He thinks his dad is a “badass.” (This is a term he uses a lot.) The guy who carried the gun and got the girl. A hero.

“I’d be sitting at home and all of a sudden a Clint Eastwood marathon would come on TNT, and you could watch 10 of your dad’s movies,” he said. “You realize he’s bigger than life. He’s a legend. He got to play all of these cool characters and tell stories and travel all over the world. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”

Growing up, Eastwood didn’t always live with his father. He spent about five years of his childhood in Hawaii with his mom, Jacelyn Reeves, a flight attendant with whom his father had an affair while he was living with Sondra Locke. (Eastwood has six siblings whom his dad fathered with five different women.)

But he saw his dad a lot. He would get to visit film sets like “The Bridges of Madison County” and hung out in Sun Valley with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not that he had a silver spoon in his mouth. He often auditioned for his father’s movies and didn’t get roles, like the lead in 2006′s “Flags of Our Fathers,” which went to Ryan Phillippe. (He ended up with a cameo.)

“My dad has never given me money. I’ve parked cars and bartended to pay the bills,” Eastwood said. “He’s old school. He’s like, ‘Go be a man.’ And he was smart. He saw enough [messed] up rich kids that never had to work for anything in their life and don’t value a dollar.”

On “The Longest Ride,” he was in the company of many actors with famous show business relatives. Alan Alda, who plays an elderly man Eastwood’s character befriends after rescuing him from a car accident, is the son of Broadway star Robert Alda. The film also stars Jack Huston, grandson of John Huston, and Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and great-granddaughter of Eugene O’Neill.

“I kept saying we had to get together and have dinner to talk about our families,” recalled Alan Alda. “Scott is at ease talking about his dad. He may be tired of talking about their relationship, but he doesn’t show it.”

Carl Franklin replaces John Singleton as ‘Tupac’ director

All eyez are on Carl Franklin now. The “Devil in a Blue Dress” director has replaced John Singleton at the helm of “Tupac,” the long-gestating biopic about rapper Tupac Shakur.

Greg Mielcarz, executive vice president of marketing and publicity at Morgan Creek Productions, confirmed to The Times that Singleton left the project over creative differences a few months ago and Franklin has taken over as director.

The film, which has had several false starts over the years, is moving “full steam ahead,” according to Mielcarz. Casting began Monday, and the production is aiming to start in September. Open Road Films will distribute the biopic in the U.S.

Franklin is an actor turned director who has largely worked in TV. His directing credits include episodes of “The Newsroom,” “House of Cards,” “Homeland” and “The Affair.”

The Wrap first reported the news about Franklin replacing Singleton on Tuesday. Afterward, Singleton posted a screenshot of the report on his Instagram account and criticized the film, which he had been attached to on and off for a few years.

“Real talk! The reason I am not making this picture is because the people involved aren’t really respectful of the legacy of Tupac Amaru Shakur,” Singleton wrote. The director, who worked with Shakur on the 1993 film “Poetic Justice,” added that he’s “still planning a movie on Tupac.” (When reached by The Times, Singleton’s manager declined to comment.)

Singleton also referenced Morgan Creek’s two-year legal battle with the slain rapper’s mother, Afeni Shakur, who oversees Shakur’s estate. He wrote, “How you gonna make a movie about a man when you suing his mother to get the rights to tell his story?”

In February 2009, Morgan Creek sued Afeni Shakur’s Amaru Entertainment after she demanded extensive creative approval on the film. The parties came to a settlement in 2011 only for the project to suffer another setback when presumptive director Antoine Fuqua departed a few months later.

Mielcarz declined to comment directly on Singleton’s post but said there are “no legal issues outstanding” with Shakur’s estate and the filmmakers have the estate’s “full blessing.” Afeni Shakur is an executive producer on the film.

“Tupac,” written by Jeremy Haft and Ed Gonzalez, is to chronicle Shakur’s life and legacy, including his rise to stardom as a hip-hop artist and actor, his imprisonment for sexual assault, his controversial time at Death Row Records and his involvement in the East Coast-West Coast rap war of the 1990s.

Although Shakur was and remains an iconic figure in the hip-hop world, it’s an open question whether his story will have widespread commercial appeal. Last year a Broadway musical based on his songs, “Holler If Ya Hear Me,” closed after running for less than two months.

Follow @ogettell for movie news

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

‘Furious 7′: ‘See You Again’ songwriter inspired by a different loss

New Jersey native Charlie Puth had been in Los Angeles just a few days when he was asked by his music publishing company to come up with a melody that could pay tribute to the late Paul Walker in “Furious 7.”

It was hardly a special invitation. Puth was one of more than 50 songwriters — many of them well known — who were asked to submit suggestions for the soundtrack. Only a small handful would be chosen.

In fact, the musician was so low on the list for this open competition he hadn’t even been among the dozens of candidates shown footage from the film for inspiration.

But Puth, 23, and publishing company stablemate Justin Franks laid down a simple lyrical idea — that the singer missed his friend during an eventful time and couldn’t wait to share some news with him eventually.

“It just seemed to occur to me from out of nowhere,” Puth said in a phone interview this week. “And basically 10 minutes later Justin and I wrote it, we sent it off, and I thought we’d never hear about it again.”

As it turned out, they would. The filmmakers, Universal Pictures and the soundtrack label Atlantic Records went gaga for the song, titled “See You Again.” After narrowing it down to a small group of finalists, Atlantic executives and Universal’s music guru, Mike Knobloch, decided to go with “See You Again,” commissioning the rap star and “Fast & Furious 6″ contributor Wiz Khalifa to drop verses about family around Puth’s vocals and piano.

“It was such an uncommon scene that we needed the song to come before the artist,” Knobloch said, explaining how he and others decided to eschew the time-honored practice of finding a big-name musician for a key soundtrack number even thought to do so posed a bigger commercial gamble. “It didn’t matter that Charlie was unknown — in fact it helped because it didn’t take you out of the moment,” he said.

The song then went through an extensive note-giving and production process — there’s a Middle Eastern-flavored sample and other flourishes–and months went by, as beats were added, dropped, and added again, all atop Puth’s simple melody. By the end, Knobloch and his team had a song they liked, and director James Wan and producer Neal Moritz had threaded “See You Again” around and through the poignant final scene.

Their work paid off. Puth’s blend of ethereal soul — a kind of more soaring spin on Sam Smith — mixed with his afterlife-tinged lyrics and a high-piano riff have combined to empty out Kleenex boxes in multiplexes across the country. (Lyrical excerpt: “It’s been a long day without you my friend/ And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again/ We’ve come a long away from where we began/ Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”)

Though unabashedly sentimental, the song is also highly effective, its power boosted by the offscreen Walker back story it subtextually describes. “See You Again” has shot up to No. 1 on iTunes and is beginning to get airplay on nearly every major pop and R&B station. The video, which intercuts the artists with the Walker flashback scenes from the film, has become a viral sensation.

“The chorus felt really big and felt like it was saying something really important for what the moment was going to be,” said Kevin Weaver, president of Atlantic’s film and television group, adding that he thought the song fit a range of moments. “It can be about a death but also someone you miss and can’t wait to see at a barbecue and talk to.”

“See You Again” also worked for “Furious 7″ because of the balanced note the scene struck in the film. In real life Walker died, but at the end of “Furious 7,” his character, Brian O’Conner, was given a poignant retirement send-off in which he’d be living with his wife and raising a family.

“The first time we heard it we knew this was the end song,” said Moritz. “It had a sense of longing and sadness but it was also uplifting as well. And we didn’t want the end to be totally sad.”

In part that mix is the result of Puth’s own influence. In writing the song, he said he was thinking of a friend who also died abruptly. Puth declined to provide too many details, but said that tragedy also involved a car accident and that he felt his late friend’s presence in the studio that day as he held the belief they could one day communicate again.

By putting an unknown musician at the center of one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, “See You Again” demonstrates what happens when the giant machine of film music meshes with the more democratic Internet, where Puth first made a name for himself.

The singer grew up in southern New Jersey’s Monmouth County, raised in a devout Catholic tradition. He had little interest in music until one Ash Wednesday, when the organist was a no-show. Puth, who says he knew he had perfect pitch, was a last-minute fill-in, and before long he was playing regularly at church. He soon attended and graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and the Berklee College of Music, and  began performing jazz covers on YouTube, where he was discovered by Ellen DeGeneres. The host booked Puth on her show and even signed him to eleveneleven, her label for unknown artists.

“It’s not typical for a breakout song to come about like this,” said Weaver, who has more recently been cultivating Puth, with Atlantic’s A&R President Mike Caren. “But people are discovered in new ways all the time,”

Puth has an EP hitting this summer and also co-wrote and performs on another single, “Marvin Gaye,” paired with Meghan Trainor; the song offers a ribald twist on the prom as attendees are encourages to let their hair down, and then some.

But it’s been “See You Again” that’s quickly become a calling card for Puth. Franchise star Vin Diesel even texted him from a junket saying he couldn’t stop singing the vocals at interviews.

Puth said he knows that a hummable spring hit could become overplayed very fast (just ask Carly Rae Jepsen), exhausting even to its creator.

But the musician said that such a result is unlikely in this case. “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this song,” he said. “It just has a quality that I think can speak to a lot of people in their own way. I’m still not sure how it happened.”

He even has other versions planned — an orchestral one and possibly another take with Khalifa, who Puth never met while recording the original.

He said he might have a more impromptu rendition as well.