Jim Gianopulos, Studio Head

Kevin is joined by Jim Gianopulos, former studio head of 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. Kevin talks to Jim about his background, career in the movie industry, and his guiding principles for making successful movies. Gianopulos has been in the movie business for over 40 years and has had the opportunity to run two major studios, 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. He has been involved in a wide range of films, from Academy Award winners like Birdman and 12 Years a Slave to blockbusters like Titanic, Avatar, and Top Gun: Maverick.

Jim Gianopulos’ moviemaking philosophy

Throughout the interview, Gianopulos emphasizes the importance of being part of the creative process with talented people and watching them take a project from a blank sheet of paper to a successful box office result. He also acknowledges the role of luck and timing in the movie industry but stresses the importance of making bold decisions and taking calculated risks.

Background and early influences

Gianopulos shares personal anecdotes, including his love for movies that began when his grandfather would take him to the theater. He also discusses some of his early influences in the film industry, including Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes.

Searchlight’s Marketing Strategy

Jim and Kevin talk about Searchlight’s brilliant marketing strategy, and how they took creative risks on movies like Slumdog Millionaire.

Jim on Searchlight’s strategy:

we always had this thing of the gray box we called it. So a few weeks in, Searchlight would have a full media plan ready, but in the early weeks when they’d open in 2 or 4 cities and let the movie breathe, breathe and find its audience and find its critics and get critical response as it built, we would hit a point where they’d be on a few hundred screens and they’d push the button.

Insider stories about Ice Age, Avatar, Castaway, and Top Gun: Maverick (27:02)

Jim shares a story about the almost missed opportunity with Ice Age, the decision to keep it, and the success of the franchise. He goes on to talk about the challenges of greenlighting Avatar due to its expensive budget and new technology. He shares what it was like to work with James Cameron on the blockbuster film. The pair discuss the audience screening of Castaway how audience reaction led to a change in the film’s ending that was crucial to its success. The conversation turns to the pressure and decision-making process behind the release of the movie Top Gun: Maverick during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim on discussing the Avatar budget with Rupert Murdoch

I said, well, I honestly, he’s not finished it, you know, some of the tech is proving a little difficult, but it’s looking great. He said, well, is it going to be any good? I said, no, it’s going to be really great. And he said, well, how do you know that? I said because he won’t stop making it until it’s great. And that’s why I can’t tell you what the final budget’s going to be. And he hung up on me.

Testing movies and audience feedback

Jim and Kevin discuss the importance of testing movies with audience feedback and how it helps to serve the audience better.

Jim on a conversation with Ang Lee on the audience testing process:

At one point he asked me, what do you think? I said, well, you know what, it doesn’t matter what I think. And it doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what they think. It’s not between what the studio chuckleheads think and what this great creative talent thinks. It’s ultimately what the audience thinks. And the best evidence of that is when you put it in front of them.

The changing entertainment landscape and the green-lighting process

Jim discusses his thoughts on the future of movie theaters and why he believes they will always exist. The conversation turns to the flexibility of film distribution and how movies can be moved between theatrical releases and streaming platforms.

Tune in to hear Kevin and Jim discuss Jim’s career in the movie industry and his guiding principles for making successful movies. Throughout the conversation, Jim stresses the importance of making bold decisions and taking calculated risks. The pair discuss the importance of audience feedback and testing in making successful movies, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing the movie industry in the current landscape.

Don’t Kill the Messenger, hosted by movie and entertainment research expert Kevin Goetz, brings his book Audienceology to life. This bi-monthly podcast takes a peek behind the filmmaking curtain as Kevin talks with famous filmmakers, studio executives, stars, and other creatives about movies, filmmaking, audience test screenings, and much more.

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