He’s a crowd pleaser

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - PA­TRICK GOLD­STEIN

It’s no se­cret that Hollywood is an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by latte-sip­ping, Prius-driv­ing, Obama sup­port­ing lib­er­als. But at most film stu­dios, the ex­ec­u­tives usu­ally check their pol­i­tics at the door, hap­pily mak­ing movies that are loaded with as much vi­o­lence and foul lan­guage as any NASCAR race. But dur­ing most of Alan Horn’s nearly 11-year ten­ure as pres­i­dent of Warner Bros. — a reign that will come to a close in April when he passes the torch to Jeff Robi­nov — there has been lit­tle doubt about how much the stu­dio’s movies have re­flected Horn’s per­sonal val­ues.

In the Horn era, smok­ing in films was largely ver­boten. Bad lan­guage was kept to a min­i­mum. Vi­o­lence was al­ways un­der scru­tiny. Af­ter Horn saw Martin Scors­ese’s first cut of “The De­parted,” he told the filmmaker how

much he ad­mired the movie but quickly turned the con­ver­sa­tion to­ward a cou­ple of par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent scenes that the stu­dio chief wanted toned down. Horn was not shy. He even once called up John Tra­volta to ask why the ac­tor had to chain-smoke in one of the stu­dio’s thrillers.

When I had lunch with Horn one day, I asked if it was re­ally true that he’d blown a gas­ket when he read a script for one of his ac­tion films that had one of its he­roes driv­ing a Hum­mer. Well, he hadn’t ex­actly blown a gas­ket, since Horn is a soft-spo­ken guy who rarely raises his voice. But yes, Horn said, it was true that he’d called one of his pro­duc­tion ex­ecs and sug­gested they find an­other car. In a clas­sic ex­am­ple of Horn’s con­cern for bal­anc­ing art and com­merce, he didn’t in­sist that the hero drive a Prius. Af­ter all, it was an ac­tion movie. So the hero drove a Porsche.

In the last cou­ple of years, Horn, who is in his mid-60s, be­gan to back off, de­fer­ring a lit­tle more to the sen­si­bil­i­ties of his younger ex­ec­u­tives. He was not a huge fan of the raunchy hu­mor in “The Han­gover,” but it was a film Robi­nov pushed hard to make, and one, Horn freely ad­mits, that led to a huge fi­nan­cial wind­fall for the stu­dio. To Horn, run­ning the stu­dio has al­ways been a bal­anc­ing act. He wanted to do the right thing, but he also saw him­self as a cor­po­rate stew­ard of the Warner Bros. brand, so do­ing the right thing has to be some­how in har­mony with con­tribut­ing to the bot­tom line. Per­haps that’s why, if Horn leaves a legacy at the stu­dio, it will be one largely re­flected by the ar­ray of Big Event movies the stu­dio re­leased. When we talked Thurs­day morn­ing, he spoke of hav­ing dual ac­com­plish­ments.

“I’d like to think I con­trib­uted to cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that made Warn­ers a highly de­sir­able place to work, be­cause a big part of the joy in mak­ing movies is the plea­sure of work­ing with so many good peo­ple,” he said. “But I’m also proud of hav­ing a role in cre­at­ing our Big Event strat­egy. When I came to the stu­dio in 1999, we only had one event film, ’The Per­fect Storm.’ And over the years, we’ve evolved to the point where we first had two or three a year, and now to the point where we have six or seven each year.”

Horn has never been com­fort­able with cut­tingedge movies. One stu­dio ri­val joked that “the kind of movie Alan most likes to make is the four-quad­rant movie.” In a way that’s true, since if you pressed Horn to name his fa­vorite Warn­ers films, they’d largely be PG-13 come­dies, thrillers and fam­ily-ori­ented en­ter­tain­ment, be it the hugely suc­cess­ful “Harry Pot­ter” and “Ocean’s Eleven” se­ries, the Chris Nolan-di­rected Bat­man films, “Get Smart,” “Sherlock Holmes” or fam­ily films like “Happy Feet” and “Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory.”

In a word, Horn was al­ways look­ing for crowd­pleasers. He was per­haps the first stu­dio chief to get out of the spe­cialty film busi­ness, clos­ing down Warner In­de­pen­dent Pic­tures, largely be­cause WIP, with the ex­cep­tion of “March of the Pen­guins,” made dark, of­ten down­beat movies he didn’t like. When I asked Horn about his biggest re­grets, they were vir­tu­ally all ex­am­ples of more prob­lem­atic films that were out of his taste range. He ini­tially passed on “Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby,” forc­ing Clint East­wood to find out­side fi­nanc­ing for the film that went on to win the Os­car for best pic­ture.

“I didn’t em­brace it,” he ad­mits. “We even­tu­ally made it, but I wish I’d seen it as clearly as Clint did.” Horn also passed on mak­ing “Traf­fic,” an­other Os­car-lauded film that was di­rected by Steven Soder­bergh, who later be­came a fix­ture at Warn­ers, mak­ing its pop­u­lar “Ocean’s Eleven” se­ries, along with films like “The In­for­mant!” “It was a mis­take,” Horn says. “If we’d done ’Traf­fic,’ we would’ve had a re­la­tion­ship with Soder­bergh even ear­lier.”

But Horn’s mis­takes were few and far be­tween. Over the last decade, Warn­ers has been the most con­sis­tently profitable stu­dio in the busi­ness. In 2009, its do­mes­tic di­vi­sion had its best year ever, earn­ing a record $2.13 bil­lion at the box of­fice. It takes a lot of Big Event pic­tures to make that kind of money, but un­der Horn’s stew­ard­ship, no one has done a bet­ter job of mak­ing Big Event pic­tures than Warn­ers.

Horn was, at heart, a busi­ness­man who grew to ap­pre­ci­ate the craft in­volved in pick­ing, nur­tur­ing and mak­ing good movies. He was al­ways leery of veer­ing too far from the main­stream, be­cause he be­lieved that his cus­tomers — the movie­go­ers — were most com­fort­able with mass-ap­peal en­ter­tain­ment. When I’d some­times call to com­plain about a par­tic­u­larly dread­ful film — like this sum­mer’s “Clash of the Ti­tans” — Horn would al­ways re­mind me of how much money it had made around the world. If it was so bad, he’d say, why did so many peo­ple flock to see it?

Still, the movies Horn loved the best were the ones that earned crit­i­cal plau­dits — and made a lot of money too. He was al­ways concerned about what he called “the shield,” the logo that peo­ple see at the be­gin­ning of a Warner Bros. film.

“We don’t have a brand like Pixar that in­stantly grabs peo­ple,” he told me Thurs­day. “But I’d like to think that the shield stands for qual­ity of prod­uct. If we make a drama, it should be com­pelling. If we make a com­edy, it should be funny. All we’ve re­ally tried to do while I’ve been here is make first-class en­ter­tain­ment.” pa­trick.gold­stein @latimes.com

MAKE IT FUN: Warner Bros. Pres­i­dent Alan Horn says he looks for “first-class en­ter­tain­ment.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.