Tale chaser: James G. Robinson


There is nobody in the business less "Hollywood" than James G. Robinson, the chairman and CEO of Morgan Creek Prods. And there are few people more outspoken -- as The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Galloway recently discovered when he sat down with Robinson in his Bel Air home.

The Hollywood Reporter: You have a new film coming out, "Georgia Rule," which is being distributed by Universal. Are you pleased with it?
James G. Robinson: You have these three women, and they just mesh together. When you watch them on the screen, you believe they're the characters they are playing. You have a grandmother (Jane Fonda), a mother (Felicity Huffman) and a daughter (Lindsay Lohan), and all three of them have issues. And you watch how these three women work things out, and it is fun -- I am not kidding you. I have watched this damn movie 50 times.

THR: How do you choose your projects?
Robinson: Obviously, I am governed by the need to believe a
project will be financially successful. However, there are some projects I have made where I would like for it to break even, but if I don't break even -- where it is not going to cost me too much -- I go ahead and make the movie. (1989's) "Enemies: A Love Story" -- I made that because I believed in it. This is one of them right here. This is one I made for personal reasons.

THR: What were those reasons?
Robinson: First of all, I had never made a women's movie, ever. And if you look at my track record, we haven't stayed with any particular genre -- we are all over the place, and that's fun for me. Maybe if I got into a groove, it would be a lot easier and safer, but it's important for me to have fun here.

There's a lot of things for me that go into choosing a movie. From the top: Is it a good script? Because if it's not a good script, why don't we just stop right here? I sit down with a lot of people. I don't isolate myself in a vacuum. I want to know your opinion and (another's) opinion. So, we get by that, and then I bring in my foreign-sales people and say, "How is this thing going to play?" And they give me their opinion as to what they think it could do in various territories. Now, I don't always agree with their opinion for all the territories.

I believe there are universal subjects. When a woman gives birth to a child, do you think that woman feels any different if she is in Australia or in Nigeria? It is identical, universal. Now, I am walking you through this -- there is no simplistic formula. Let's just say I think we'll do fine around the world. OK, now can we cast it? Can we get the right director? Is the budget the right budget for this film? Everything is fluid. It's story, director, cast.

THR: Your films are completely financed by Morgan Creek, including prints and advertising. Universal takes a distribution fee but has no other stake in the films?
Robinson: Just like (the company's previous deal at Warner Bros.).

THR: Would you rather spread the risk?
Robinson: Well, if I spread the risk, I also dilute the profit. I have a view that, if you think it's a risky movie, don't make it. A lot of movies are made for the wrong reasons. A lot of movies are made in this town because there is so much money from all these funds. You are better off if you are lean and mean.

THR: How do you look at Morgan Creek's run over the past few years?
Robinson: We had a period of time where I think we kind of lost our way, and I relied too heavily or listened too much to a couple of people in the company who are no longer there, and we are back to the old formula. I let people talk me into making movies or talk me into doing things a certain way to protect my downside. And you know what? When you start doing that -- well, you've heard the joke about, "What is a camel? A camel is a racehorse designed by committee." (But) I have only had one film lose money. I am doing things today -- in the last few years -- like I did in the beginning.

THR: So, at what point did you veer off-track?
Robinson: I think (I went) way off-track probably 10 years ago, 12 years ago. I had a group in that company that pretty much -- they almost destroyed the company. I had to rebuild the company from ground up -- from the ground up. I haven't pulled a salary out of the company in eight years. How many people in this town own companies, they pull their money out and take the money and run?

THR: When did the company return to being what you wanted it to be?
Robinson: Within the last two years. (But) I don't believe in sitting around talking about past wars and past victories, and I see a lot of (self congratulation) in this business everywhere. I run and hide from places, like a bar or restaurant or whatever (where they do that). I don't want to be happy or satisfied. I want you to know that right now. I don't like being comfortable.