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When the first trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey appeared online Dec. 20, sharp-eyed Hollywood insiders might have noticed a familiar yet unexpected name listed as executive producer: Alan Horn, the former Warner Bros. president who departed the studio in April with a nudge from Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.
Horn’s journey to Middle Earth for his first producing credit, reflects his role in overcoming big obstacles to get a two-part adaptation of The Hobbit made. He “was really key in solving all the issues around it,” says Horn’s successor, Jeff Robinov.
So much so that when Horn left Warners, the brass asked him to remain involved with the Hobbit films that Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is filming in New Zealand. Horn then turned to former Warners co-chairman Bob Daly to help him make a deal of his own. The agreement stipulated that Horn would function, for the purposes of the project, as if he were still in his old job at the studio. And Daly urged Horn to take executive producer credit — something that Robinov says everyone at the studio agreed was fitting.
Saying yes to the job was not a no-brainer, says Horn, 68. As he left the studio he ran for 12 years, he wasn’t prepared to retire but wanted to avoid making long-range decisions right away. And this was a commitment: The first film opens in December 2012 and the second in December 2013. On top of that, the distance to New Zealand is great. But finally, Horn says, “I just thought, ‘Ah — why not?’ ” He politely asked Jackson, his partner Fran Walsh and co-writer Philippa Boyens for their blessing with the arrangement.
The troubles getting the films launched could fill volumes. Jackson sued the studio (at that point, New Line) in 2005 over revenue from the billions-grossing Rings trilogy. After that was patched up, Jackson planned to produce Hobbit with Guillermo del Toro directing. The studio was to team with MGM, owner of the Hobbit film rights, to co-finance the project. But MGM was in a world of financial woe. Meanwhile, the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien sued New Line for fraud and breach of contract, seeking to block any Hobbit film. That was settled in 2009, but in 2010, after intensive work on the project, del Toro departed, ostensibly due to delays caused by MGM’s financial straits (he retains a screenwriting co-credit). As if all these tensions weren’t enough, there were labor issues involving actors in New Zealand that prompted legislative action in Warners’ favor.
Horn has made three trips to New Zealand, and he’s planning a fourth in February. “It’s been very good,” he says. “The studio’s been respectful of my position, and I’ve been respectful of the studio. It’s a complicated shoot, but it’s been a very comfortable production from a relationship standpoint. It’s somewhat of a lovefest.” And he says the work is on time and within its budget (said to be about $250 million per film).
Horn also is overseeing Warners’ theatrical ventures, now cooking up a stage version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, aiming to debut in London in April 2013. Asked whether he is receiving a fee or backend for his Hobbit work, Horn says: “There is an arrangement under which, with success for the studio, there will be a tip of the hat to me. But I’m doing this mainly for the fun of it.”
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