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Jonathan Glickman is feeling like he’s on top of the world — and in some ways he is. His office, where he’s been working most days during the pandemic, is the penthouse suite atop the Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Boulevard. It’s the headquarters of Glickmania, the production banner he launched in early 2020 when he transitioned from president of the MGM Motion Picture Group, a position he held for eight years, to producer. It was a full-circle moment, returning to the role he had when he entered the entertainment business in the 1990s, but the timing was far from auspicious. He moved into the office the week of the lockdown that sent the movie business into a free fall. Still, the change seems to have revitalized his spirit: He is discovering new avenues for storytelling via a joint venture with iHeartMedia, working on a podcast with Questlove as well as a horror musical with Alice Cooper and Maya Hawke, and is in preproduction on the Addams Family TV show Wednesday and Creed 3, among others. Glickman says he’s “incredibly jazzed about what a producer can do in today’s world.”
As he prepares to launch his first production, Aretha Franklin biopic Respect (opening Aug. 13), the married father of two teens who lives in Hancock Park offers his thoughts on the changing nature of the job, why a theatrical release still matters and the elephant in the room: Amazon’s impending acquisition of MGM.
Did you have Amazon buying MGM on your 2021 bingo card?
Ever since [former co-heads] Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum and I went to MGM (in 2001), there was talk of selling it. When we walked in, the studio was in bankruptcy, and the notion was that we’d be there for two or three years, turn it around and sell it. The company started doing extremely well, and the investors decided to roll with it for a while. But in the background, there was noise that it was going to be sold. In terms of Amazon, it’s not surprising a company that has a streaming service would want the assets of MGM, in terms of its library and production ability.
What is the most exploitable asset MGM has?
Obviously there are the 4,000 or more titles that MGM has, but it’s unclear what assets sort of evolve and reveal themselves over time. We walked in thinking that the Rocky franchise was pretty much played out. We didn’t know a guy like Ryan Coogler was going to come in with a brilliant concept of how to revitalize the IP. The Handmaid’s Tale is an MGM title. That wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card that it would be a TV show. So it’s little unclear what is going to be exploitable [to Amazon]. My suspicion is that there’ll be gems underneath that people aren’t expecting that will have intrinsic value, not because they’re names but because they are good stories.
Have you talked to Barbara Broccoli regarding the MGM deal?
I do speak to Barbara frequently, but I don’t ask her many questions about it because I’m sure she gets a lot of it. Barbara and Michael [Wilson] are such incredible producers that there is an instinct to stand back anyway, and they have a deal that protects them. The business may change, but they will not be pushed into doing something they don’t want to do.
Would they ever agree to a non-theatrical release?
I don’t know. It’s a mom-and-pop shop, not a huge enterprise. They’re going to do what is good for their business and makes sense in the long run. The environment may be changing, but they will be able to dictate what they want. They’ve maintained the [James Bond] franchise for over 50 years by doing it their way. There aren’t a lot of franchises you can say that about.
Are movies leaving money on the table by having a day-and-date theater-streaming strategy?
We are in such uncharted territory, even beyond COVID, trying to grasp the idea of what is the consumer appetite. I’m sure money is being left on the table, but we’re in an experimental and disruptive phase, and it’s difficult to know how to monetize something in the exact right way. As somebody told me, this period of the movie business isn’t like the invention of television; it’s like the invention of electricity. That’s how much things have changed.
At this stage, what’s the value to a studio in a theatrical release?
A theatrical release still seems to be critical to create a new franchise or a pop culture moment. If Knives Out had been first on Netflix, it probably wouldn’t be worth the money Netflix paid for the next two films. I do think it’s critical for the studio to have a vibrant exhibition business. I wish they were more symbiotic, and that if a movie wasn’t working theatrically, there was some way it quickly goes to a PVOD or streaming release and both sides could benefit from it. That could make people take theatrical risks more.
Do you think we’ll get transparency from streamers?
Ultimately, yes. I think one streamer, in order to be more competitive, will start showing the numbers, and that will force it all to change.
Since your days making Jerky Boys, a lot has changed. Being a producer seems way harder now: For example, studios make fewer movies. Do people still want to be producers?
I do think people still want to be producers. Do they want to be feature film producers to the extent they did when I came in? My guess is that it’s a little bit less interesting at this moment. But to be a TV producer, a digital producer, a podcast producer, video game producer? There is always a desire to create stories. And, frankly, I’m as enthusiastic about the job as when I started back with Joe Roth and Roger Birnbaum in 1994. It’s a remarkable time if you’re entrepreneurial and you look to see the opportunities to create stories and to do so where you have skin in the game. That’s where the producer occupation has lost itself, with the birth of the streamers and becoming a more fee-based business instead of an ownership business. It’s hard to find something where you have longevity and are tied to a project for life.
Is being in the fee-based business all that bad?
While it’s great to make your fee — and you can’t shake your head at guaranteed money in this environment — the thrill of being a producer is having a movie like Rush Hour, which was a $30 million movie that people weren’t paying attention to, and you think, “Hey, maybe this could be a franchise,” and it paying off. If Neal Moritz was making Fast & Furious today, he’d get a buyout deal and Netflix would own all the rights. Producers have to be entrepreneurial to get those underlying rights. At MGM, I had the benefit of seeing Walter Mirisch, Irwin Winkler, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli succeed so much because they are brilliant producers, but also they are able to be as brilliant as they are because they own part of the underlying rights. That is what I want to aspire to.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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