Fewer Bankable Stars, Smaller Parties and Less 'F—ing': Next Gen's First Class on Hollywood's Evolution
Power players Stacey Snider, Nina Jacobson, Gavin Polone, Michael De Luca, Kevin Huvane and more alums of the 1994 class share candid stories of the way things were, from taking abuse as a "badge of honor" to why awards season wasn't always such a drag.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In 1994, Hollywood still held on to the vestiges of its small-town origins. But the industry was changing, and the catalysts were a new crop of leaders that solidified as THR's first Next Generation list. As Michael Ovitz and his other partners ruled over CAA, a quintet of ambitious agents in their late 20s -- Premiere magazine called them the "Young Turks" -- were poised to take over the agency in 1995, just as Ari Emanuel and his ICM cohorts would defect to found Endeavor. Those agents and others were tipping the balance of power in Hollywood toward actors as Jim Carrey scored $20 million to star in The Cable Guy. And just as Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and ousted Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg founded DreamWorks Studios, the modern indie movement took off in October 1994 with Pulp Fiction. Many on that first Next Gen list would go on to run studios (Stacey Snider, Nina Jacobson, Rob Moore) and agencies (Kevin Huvane, Bryan Lourd and Richard Lovett at CAA, Emanuel at WME), and several became top producers (Michael De Luca, Gavin Polone). To commemorate the 20th Next Gen issue, THR asked them to look back. If Hollywood is high school with money, then consider this a 20th class reunion.
STACEY SNIDER: (then, president of production, TriStar Pictures; now, partner, DreamWorks Studios): What strikes me about then and now is that, notwithstanding the fact that Jurassic Park topped the box office in 1993, TriStar Pictures also nabbed three of the top spots with such diverse fare as Philadelphia, Sleepless in Seattle and Cliffhanger. Studio executives could confidently make a mix of movies -- and we did.
NINA JACOBSON: (then, senior vp production at Universal; now, runs Color Force, producer of The Hunger Games): The romantic comedy was still alive and well -- it was the time of Julia Roberts and Sandy Bullock. And the female-driven thrillers -- the Sherry Lansing thriller. But I also worked on a lot of body-count movies in the mid-1990s. I got an education working on Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. It was the age of the Under Siege films, with Steven Seagal. I don't know why that he-man genre went away, but it eventually did. It must be a cultural thing. Or maybe it's that the special-effects movies got so big [in the 2000s] that they started to dwarf guys just punching and kicking each other.
CARLA HACKEN: (then, ICM agent; now, runs Paper Pictures): There were a lot more movie stars and specifically a lot more female movie stars. There was Michelle Pfeiffer, Holly Hunter, Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts. Now, when I try to buy a project and I have to think about how many actresses there are that you could actually make the movie with, it's not a lot.
LIZ GLOTZER: (then, president of production, Castle Rock; now, producer on Before Midnight): Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Will Smith -- people used to be able to sleep at night thinking: "That's a big movie star. He's going to open my movie." I don't think anyone feels that way anymore. I don't think there are more than a handful of people right now that people say, "If you get him, I'll be OK …"
ROB MOORE: (then, CFO, Walt Disney Television; now, vice chairman, Paramount): A top priority was developing films for stars. Now the priority is on developing franchises.
GLOTZER: Brad Pitt actually came in and met on The Shawshank Redemption. For a smaller part -- he wasn't that big at the time. I think he came in for the part Gil Bellows played. He was already on the cusp of breaking out, and he had liked the script. In the end, he didn't want to do it -- it was too small a part.
CHRISTINA KOUNELIAS: (then, senior vp publicity, New Line Cinema; now, chief marketing officer, AMPAS) I remember when Jim Carrey got offered $20 million in 1994 -- it felt like it was a benchmark. New Line had only paid him $7 million for The Mask or Dumb and Dumber, so it made us seem smart.
HACKEN: Oh my God, I so remember that. I remember being in a staff meeting and talking about it and all the agents being really excited. It was this [realization] that if you had one big movie star, you could make serious money.
GAVIN POLONE: (then, UTA agent; now, producer): Back in 1994, the head guy at a movie studio or television network would make a decision on what sort of movie or TV they wanted to make based on what their gut instinct was. Today you have to go to the greenlight committee, and then people have to go model everything based on all the different revenues that are coming in. So it's much more of a numbers game; it's much more corporate.
MOORE: Studios were focused on volume and market share. Now, the focus is on picture profitability.
GLOTZER: Shawshank would never be made at a studio today. I mean, it was barely made at a studio then -- an all-male prison movie with a first-time director. But I feel a lot of the movies we made then as studio movies just wouldn't be studio movies today.
HACKEN: When I think about the people who shaped and molded my career back then, they were individuals -- they were not cookie-cutter. They had big personalities. Stan Collins, Ed Limato -- they don't make people like that anymore. I can't point to anyone today that seems like they were made in their image. People are not rewarded for having big personalities anymore. On the other hand, there were some bad personalities too: There was one particular agent I worked for who used to throw things at my head. But you can't get away with that stuff anymore. I feel like the generation I came up under, you wore the abuse as a badge of honor -- it was part of paying your dues. You did not complain if Ed Limato had you doing nothing but driving around town picking up his dry cleaning, and you had a master's degree from Columbia -- nobody cared. It was like, this is what you have to do, and the people who survived proved their mettle. But the generation after us just wasn't raised that way. They're like: "Screw this. I'm not going to be treated this way."
POLONE: I'll tell you one thing: There's less f---ing going on now. The sexual politics have changed, and that's probably a good thing.
By 1994, home video revenue and television were supplementing traditional theatrical revenue, and the year's top movie, Forrest Gump ($677.4 million), grossed more internationally than domestically.
BRIAN MEDAVOY: (then, manager at More-Medavoy; now, manager at Medavoy Management): The '90s were glorious years. It was a different time, with a lot more money being spread around. Everything was more lavish; the afterparties were more lavish. There were afterparties -- they're few and far between these days.
MICHAEL DE LUCA: (then, president and COO, New Line Productions; now, producer): There were private plane rides; there were homes in the Caribbean; there were rafting trips. You heard stories about cars being given out when a movie opened well to all the principals and members of the crew. There was a lot more casual luxury spending. That's all gone.
POLONE: I remember going to a premiere on the Fox lot where they built an entire ice rink. There were 5,000 people on that lot. Or the premiere for Con Air, when they had three DC-10s flying everybody to Las Vegas. Nobody does stuff like that anymore.
MERYL POSTER: (then, senior vp production, Miramax; now, president of TV, The Weinstein Co.): The Oscar party for Pulp Fiction was legendary. It was at Chasen's, the night before it closed. Everybody in Hollywood was there. And that afternoon I happened to have lunch with George Clooney -- this was back when he was on ER. I didn't really know him; nobody knew him. He met me for lunch at the Four Seasons, and I thought that he was so great, I invited him to our Oscar party. He came with Noah Wyle and with Duff [Karen Duffy], who used to be on MTV. And they got there early, so I gave them a table. Getting a table was a big deal because so many people wanted them, but I thought: "They're so nice. F--- it; I'm going to give them a table." That night, I introduced George to Harvey and Bob [Weinstein], and I introduced him to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. And that's when From Dusk Till Dawn happened, in that room.
HACKEN: Now, awards season is a drag. It used to be so glamorous. But it's a drag now because there's a million events you have to go to. If you're lucky enough as a producer or as an agent or as a studio executive to have a film that's getting attention -- which I have had as an executive -- it's exhausting, the amount of things you have to go to.
MEDAVOY: There were a lot of changes going on in the business in 1994. It was the year when Jeffrey Katzenberg wrote that memo that got him fired from Disney.
POLONE: I remember reading it and agreeing with his point of view and, more importantly, his intensity in pursuing his goals for the company and the necessity that everyone under him share that intensity from the top down. I attempted to do the same with those under me at UTA. Jeffrey's example had much influence on me.
MEDAVOY: I don't know if it's true, but I heard that the Katzenberg memo was the basis for the "mission statement" in Jerry Maguire. It was big news, that memo.
POLONE: I remember having lunch with Jeffrey at Ca Del Sole soon after he formed DreamWorks and his telling me that he'd put money away to fight the lawsuit over the money Disney owed him and thinking how cool that was, and how I wanted to be able to have the resources to stand up to a Goliath and beat them. Ultimately, that happened [at UTA].
With the Big Four networks dominating and cable a niche player, such series as Seinfeld (NBC), Home Improvement (ABC) and Roseanne (ABC) regularly lured 30 million viewers an episode.
POLONE: Being a star, especially a television star, was very different in 1994. Think about how many people watched Ted Danson on TV -- nobody gets those numbers anymore. Go and look at the shows that got canceled back in 1994. [They] probably had three times the ratings of shows that are today considered successes. The pie has been sliced up so thin that what was a failure back then would be the biggest success there is right now. Mad Men is a hit show, but it gets a fraction of the audience hit shows got in 1994.
HACKEN: There was a real differentiation between film and TV actors in those days: TV actors were kind of second-class citizens. Being big on television was actually a detriment to getting a film job. That started to change because of Friends and ER. I mean, when George Clooney was able to become a movie star, that was a big deal. I represented Julianna Margulies, and we were all like, "Dang, these people are going to get movies now!"
MEDAVOY: Everybody I was working with in '94 was a complete unknown: Tobey Maguire, Cicely Tyson, Maria Bello. I remember signing this kid out of Canada named Ryan Reynolds … all unknowns at the time.
CAA, under its original partners, was about to undergo a shake-up in summer 1995 as Ovitz and Ron Meyer left for Disney and Universal, respectively. At the same time, Emanuel and his ICM pals were plotting their own agency.
KEVIN HUVANE: (then, CAA agent; now, CAA partner and managing director): It was a really good atmosphere at CAA in 1994. We had no idea anything was coming. I remember having fun; we were doing great work and having fun at the same time.
DE LUCA: Ari was Ari, but you did get the impression that he couldn't be confined to working for someone else. That was pretty obvious.
The success of Pulp Fiction ($213.9 million worldwide) and the growth of the home video market were revitalizing indie films.
KOUNELIAS: It was a great time to be making indie movies. There was a real creative spirit at New Line, a willingness to take risks and go where other people didn't go to find new audiences. In 1994, New Line had just moved from New York, and there was a great architect who had built the offices for us on Robertson Boulevard. Nobody else was on Robertson back then -- it wasn't the hub it is now. But we were next to Chaya and right across from The Ivy.
DE LUCA: The home video market was booming, and there was a real need for movies. There were new filmmakers coming out of the woodwork. Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell -- they were literally coming out of the blue. It was a perfect storm of their upbringing, their influences and the tools of filmmaking getting a little more affordable and available to people. It seemed like there was a generational shift going on in both the filmmaking talent and the demographics of moviegoers, and it all boiled up to the surface in the mid-'90s.
CARLOS GOODMAN: (then, attorney at Lichter Grossman & Nichols and Tarantino's lawyer; now, partner at Bloom Hergott and Tarantino's lawyer): Pulp Fiction was special. When it was filming around L.A., I'd go to the set, and I could feel that something unusual was happening. Everybody wanted to do that movie, every actor in town. I remember Bruce Willis really wanted to do it, but he wanted John Travolta's part. He got in the movie anyway, of course.
HACKEN: Sundance was really huge. I signed Hugh Grant [there]. I was representing Elizabeth Hurley and we became friends, and she said to me that [her boyfriend] Hugh was unhappy with his agent and that he had this movie in the can [Four Weddings and a Funeral] directed by Mike Newell . So after opening night, we had a big spaghetti dinner at the ICM condo. Hugh came, and we signed him right there. He skyrocketed after that; he was offered everything. But then, in the middle of filming Nine Months, CAA stole him from us.
POLONE: I'm not so sure if what happened to Hugh Grant [his arrest for soliciting a prostitute] would be such a big deal today. That kind of thing seems to be happening every five minutes. It would be on TMZ, along with 50 other things that happened.