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Museum work doesn't come cheaply
BRC paid $56.7 million; firm's president got $3,600 per day

Bob Rogers, president of BRC Imagination Arts, the firm that designed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, negotiated a $3,600-a-day pay rate for his work on the project, according to records obtained by The State Journal-Register through the Freedom of Information Act.

The Illinois Capital Development Board records indicate that BRC was paid a total of $56.7 million since 2000, the first year of its contract.

Roughly half of that money went to pay for BRC's own expenses, Rogers said. The other half went to more than 30 specialized vendors with whom the Burbank, Calif.-based company subcontracted.

CDB, the state's construction agency, paid the museum's bills with a combination of state, federal and city of Springfield funding.

Although CDB's records of BRC's expenses stack about 8 inches high in large three-ring binders, BRC's own work expenses are not documented. BRC's contract did not require the company to account for its costs or for payments made to vendors whose charges totaled less than $25,000.

Financially, Rogers said BRC "did OK," but added that his firm had plenty of expenses

"American Airlines, TWA - a bloody fortune," Rogers said. "Five and a half years of travel and meals and apartments. Huge payrolls."

As for Roger's $3,600 rate, he said by the time final negotiations were settled, the original figures that were agreed upon were irrelevant.

"I can't relate (that rate) to anything CDB paid," Rogers said. "There's no one-to-one rate."

CDB's documents offer an in-depth look into the huge costs and detailed work associated with the museum.

Of BRC's contractors, Autofilm Historical Association received the largest payment - nearly $12 million. The association, a BRC sub-

sidiary, hired all the union actors and voice talent BRC used for the museum's media and paid for such things as camera rentals, production equipment and stage construction for the museum's videos.

Rogers said it's common for firms in his industry to use such subsidiaries to hire members of entertainment guilds. Once a firm becomes a guild member, such as with the Screen Actors Guild, it is obligated to use only guild workers.

"We don't want to have every actor we ever use have to be a SAG (member)," Rogers said.

Another vendor was Murphysboro-based Brees Studio, which BRC paid roughly $600,000 to create the lifelike trees, plants and murals that surround the museum's display of Lincoln's boyhood home.

The studio, led by owner Gary Brees (he listed his title as "Big Cheeze" in his BRC contract), made casts of real Illinois trees and decorated the scenery with models of native mushrooms and plants, including snake root. Scholars suspect Lincoln's mother died of snake root poisoning, after drinking milk from the family cow that might have munched on some.

Brees also had to make sure some trees fit perfectly around the building's steel support columns.

BRC paid roughly $320,000 to LifeFormations, a Bowling Green, Ohio-based firm, to make the dozens of life-like historical figures placed throughout the museum. The most expensive was the slave father, which cost $14,383. Spare hands for the Lincoln family group that stands in the museum plaza cost $667 a pair.

Much of the elaborate work required modifications and fixes. A memo from LifeFormations about an Abe figure indicates something was wrong with its head.

"Replace the previously approved head in order to fix the color problem," the note reads. The fix cost $2,222. An original set of Mary's arms was made too small. LifeFormations charged $1,500 to enlarge them.

Technifex, a California-based special-effects company, was paid $91,330 to make the seats shake in the Union Theater. It took a few dollars more - about $96,000 - to put together the "cannons" that fire smoke rings out into the audience. In the Ghosts of the Library show, the feather pen that appears to fly out of its inkwell and write the Gettysburg Address is a $15,350 "gag."

All payments are based on a February accounting report, the latest available from CDB. Rogers, who referred to the report as a "snapshot" in time, said most vendors have been paid in full.

The documents also contain anecdotal information about the design and creation process. An old script for the museum's 1860 campaign commercials, which NBC's Tim Russert anchors as if they are a part of a contemporary presidential race, is called the "Koppel Version." While many lines of script for various screenplays used throughout the museum include references to historical source material, some memos call for taking "liberty with many newspaper quotes" and adding material to make Lincoln opponents "more obnoxious."

Rogers stands by all of his company's work.

"If you read between the lines, this is not off-the-shelf stuff," Rogers said from his office in Burbank. "We were required to be 'world class' and 'state of the art.' You can't do things (like this) in ordinary ways. You do things in ordinary ways, you'll get ordinary results."

Rogers said BRC's contract with CDB was not arrived at easily.

"It was a little more than (the state) wanted and a little less than what we wanted. We would liked to have seen more (money)," Rogers said.

"In the end, we mutually agreed on what had to happen. And it turned out fine. The results speak for themselves."

Since opening in mid-April, the museum received its 100,000th visitor early last week. More than 400,000 people are expected to visit the museum the first year.

Pete Sherman can be contacted at 788-1539 or pete.sherman@sj-r.com.





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