Joe Johnston Sketchbook is the proud seller of several items from Miki Herman’s film memorabilia collection. Joe Johnston’s lifelong friendship with Miki Herman goes back 40 years to a much different time and different place. Their friendship began at ILM in Van Nuys, California (1977) during the making of the original Star Wars and then off they went to Marin County for the rest of the original trilogy.
Miki Herman was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From an early age, she dreamt of moving to California to be an artist in an artist’s colony. She went on to major in Fine Arts at the University of Minnesota where she became so interested in film she dropped out of her senior year and headed west to California where she graduated from San Francisco State University. Her diploma was signed by both Ronald Reagan and S.I. Hayakawa during a period of unrest and police brutality. After graduation, she sent her resume to Francis Ford Coppola with compliments on his weekly City Magazine. He wrote her back on a nice handwritten postcard, thanking her for the kind words (which she thinks is the mark of a great person). He didn’t, however, have any job openings at the time, so Herman naively moved to Los Angeles to become a “filmmaker.”
There were not many women in film at that time, but Herman did manage to fall into production by volunteering at AFI where she worked on some independent grant short films. She met a lot of people in the industry from whom she solicited freebies and favors. Jim Nelson was especially helpful. Shortly thereafter, she landed a job at Lucafilm Ltd. to work on Star Wars: Episode IV with George Lucas, Gary Kurtz (Producer), and Charlie Lippincott (Head of Publicity and Merchandising). She worked closely with Charlie Lippincott as a production assistant. She also assisted with 2nd unit pickups in Death Valley, the Cantina/Greedo pickups. Most notably, she followed George Lucas around from ILM special effects dailies to the editing room and sound mixing stage where she took notes for him so they’d stay on track and complete the film on schedule.
After the film was released, the ancillary market exploded and as she knew all of the ILM shots, props, costumes, robots and actors, Herman made the perfect fit to coordinate TV shows, photo shoots, clips for commercials, and toys. She became a “robot roadie.” She worked closely with Gary Kurtz, Joe Johnston, the labs, and foreign distribution. Following her consulting work for Lucasfilm on the Star Wars Holiday Special, Herman then became the production coordinator at ILM for the Empire Strikes Back. Following her work on Empire, she was the Unit Production Manager for Blue Harvest AKA Revenge of the Jedi which later became Return of the Jedi. After Jedi, Miki co-produced the first season of The Ewoks and Droids Animation Hour, contracting Nelvana who did the animated Boba Fett segment for the Star Wars Holiday Special as well as hour long animated special, The Great Heep, for ABC.
Miki Herman had many great adventures during her time with Lucasfilm while working on the original trilogy. One of her favorite memories was scouting every redwood forest from Santa Cruz to British Columbia in search of just the right place. She went on to study psychology and became a licensed psychotherapist. Looking back on her times with friends, those from the film business congratulate her for “doing something worthwhile” in becoming a psychotherapist while those outside the film industry wonder why she’d “want to do therapy” after being part of something so huge in cinema history. Her answer is always the same: “Licensed psychotherapy no different from the film business. People come to me with problems, but I don’t have to solve them. All I have to do is have compassion and understand. When you get on a path, you don’t know where it will take you, but it’s important to have faith and believe in yourself.”