Produced By: Paramount's Jim Gianopulos Stresses Originality as the Key to Deciding What Movies to Make

THR_Jim Gianopulos_03_0434_1 - THR - H 2017
Austin Hargrave

The studio exec took part Saturday in a wide-ranging conversation with producer Neal Moritz at the annual Produced By conference.

Paramount Pictures chief Jim Gianopulos on Saturday stressed the importance he places on originality in deciding what movies to make since those are the movies that will bring audiences into theaters.

In explaining the factors that he considers in greenlighting a movie, he emphasized “the uniqueness, the originality of the film is the first thing.” He then asks, "What is the audience for this film?" Only then does he finally consider the economics: "What is the cost of this movie, what can it bear financially, what is the risk profile?"

Gianopulos, who has been chairman and CEO of Paramount since March 2017, was taking part in a conversation with Neal H. Moritz, producer of the Fast and the Furious franchise, among other films, who himself has signed a new first-look deal at Paramount. They spoke at the opening session of the Producers Guild of America’s annual Produced By conference, which is being held this weekend on the Paramount lot.

"More than ever, originality is the key today," Moritz agreed. "You need something new, fresh, unique."

Gianopulos cited the recent success of John Krasinki’s horror tale A Quiet Place, which was made for just $18 million and has grossed $322 million worldwide. The movie began with an original idea — a family has to remain silent to avoid monsters attracted to sound — but the exec explained that what elevated the pic above a mere genre offering was “it was thematically broader than that” because it also asked the question, “How do you protect your children from the dangers of the world around you?”

Whether it’s The GodfatherA Quiet Place or his own Fast and Furious franchise, “What they all have in common [is] they are about family,” observed Moritz. In the case of Fast and Furious, he added, “We mention the word 'family' in our movies about 50 times in each film.”

Gianopulos also cited another maxim that he lives by when deciding on which movies to make: "Make it for someone or make it for everyone." He pointed to the studio's recent femme-centric Book Club as a pic that it made "for someone" since it was a modestly budgeted film that could be aimed at older women. And he described the upcoming Mission: Impossible – Fallout as a movie the studio has made "for everyone."

"I commend it to you with a money-back guarantee," he said.

Questioned by Moritz, the veteran exec also underscored the importance of having women executives, as well as others representing diverse viewpoints, as part of the studio's decision-making team. "Women are half our audience," he said. "Diversity is the right thing to do, and it's the audience that's out there."

The two also discussed Sonic the Hedgehog, a film adaptation of the video game that Jeff Fowler is directing and which will be the first movie Moritz produces under his new deal with Paramount.

To convince the studio of the viability of the project, Moritz explained that he produced a three-minute scene to illustrate its tone and attitude.

"It was instantly engaging," said Gianopulos, who described Sonic as "a quasi-juvenile delinquent."

To inject heart into the project, Moritz added, “What we are trying to do with Sonic is make a movie about a small-town police officer and Sonic, who are both in need of a friend.”

Moritz asked Gianopulos if there was one movie he regretted not making.

Gianopulos, who served as chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment before joining Paramount, recounted that his grandmother had been a classics professor and he grew up with tales of the Greek myths and so had always wanted to make a movie about the battle of Thermopylae and had been developing a script he hoped would attract the interest of a filmmaker like Ridley Scott.

But when Gianopulos had the opportunity to become involved in 300, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the battle, he turned it down, thinking — incorrectly, as it turned out — that it would be too much of a cartoon.

"I missed the window," he admitted, acknowledging his own personal prejudices got in the way.

Moritz confessed that he turned down an offer from Sony to produce Spider-Man because it would have required him to cancel his honeymoon.

Asked if there was a particular filmmaker who ignited his love of film, Gianopulos related that as a student at Boston University, majoring in political science, he wandered into a movie theater showing Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and "was just blown away — by its attitude, its integration of music, its freedom."

Moritz, for his part, cited the work of producer and director Roger Corman, whose films instilled in him a love of genre movies.

Gianopulos, who is now engineering a turnaround at Paramount, said that he decided to take on the challenge of overseeing the Hollywood-based studio because he saw it as a chance to restore a historic institution.

"It was an opportunity to be part of a renaissance," he said of his decision. "That’s something you don’t turn down."