Ex-Disney exec Garner: hands-on, not done yet


Few executives escaped from Michael Eisner's disenchanted kingdom with their Hollywood careers unaffected. Disney president Michael Ovitz famously exited the business. Former studio chairman Peter Schneider returned to his theater roots; of late, he has been working on a musical version of "Sister Act." And though Joe Roth, Schneider's predecessor as Disney chairman, enjoyed a good post-Disney run with his Revolution Studios, that once-robust company is winding down.

Like many of his one-time colleagues, former Disney co-head of production Todd Garner emerged from one of the most turbulent periods in that studio's history scathed, but with his desire to make movies intact.

And after transitioning from executive to producer, Garner now faces his first test as his Broken Road Prods. ushers in its first film, the Ice Cube comedy "Are We Done Yet?" a Revolution production that Sony opened Wednesday. The company -- which references the Rascal Flatts song "God Bless the Broken Road" -- is aptly named considering that Garner survived Eisner's reign as well as the rise and fall of Revolution, where he joined Roth as a partner in the company.

"I made it through all of the tumultuous times (at Disney) throughout Ovitz," Garner says. "It wasn't so much about surviving it. It was a pretty amazing time to be at Disney. It was the gold rush period there. And then Frank (Wells) died, which was awful, and then Jeffrey (Katzenberg) left, which was weird because it felt like your parents were getting divorced. And then it started to get really surreal."

That's when Disney bought ABC/Capital Cities, creating a media colossus without rival, and Eisner hired CAA uberagent Ovitz as Disney president -- a decision that came to define Eisner's tenure.

"You saw it quickly devolve," Garner says. "It got really funky. When everyone is reading the business section of the paper instead of doing their work, (it's problematic)."

Once ensconced at Revolution with friend Roth, Garner enjoyed more freedom to be hands-on creatively as he shepherded such films as "Anger Management," "XXX," "Are We There Yet?" and "13 Going on 30." But he yearned for something more.

"Revolution was designed to be a five-year company," Garner says. "For me, after three years, I was moving further and further away from what I wanted to do, which was to be on the set and be intimately involved with the movies. And you can't be doing that if you're making seven movies a year."

Despite overseeing more than 100 films as an executive, he says he always coveted the producer's job.

"No matter what, when I was an executive, even if I came to work in flip-flops and board shorts, I still would have been a suit. (But) when people said, 'You're the bank,' it didn't feel like me."

Garner harbors no ambitions to make the next "Babel" or "Crash." He loves comedies and Bruckheimer-esque action thrillers.

The mission at Broken Road is to make "big, entertaining movies that people go out to see with their families, to laugh or be thrilled."

The company has about 20 movies in development, including the Sandra Bullock vehicle "One of the Guys." Up next is the thriller "Next," starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel, which opens April 27.

"What we're trying to do is develop things internally, package them with actors and/or directors and then see if anyone wants to buy it," he says.

Having worked with everyone from Eisner to Ice Cube, Garner has begun to see the similarities. So, what do Eisner and Cube have in common? "They've both very tenacious about their careers," he says