Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz

Jim Gianopulos (Former Studio Chairman/CEO) on Making Successful Movies, Greenlighting Projects, & More!

May 18, 2023 Kevin Goetz / Jim Gianopulos Season 2023 Episode 19
Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Jim Gianopulos (Former Studio Chairman/CEO) on Making Successful Movies, Greenlighting Projects, & More!
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Kevin is joined by Jim Gianopulos, former studio head of 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.

Jim Gianopulos, Studio Head
Jim Gianopulos is a highly influential executive in the entertainment industry, known for his visionary leadership. With a career spanning decades, he has made significant contributions to film and television, overseeing major blockbusters such as Titanic, Avatar, and more recently, Maverick: Top Gun. Under Jim’s leadership at Paramount Pictures, he took a studio that was at an operating loss of nearly $500 million a year and built it into a significantly profitable studio. Gianopulos is celebrated for his exceptional creative instincts, strategic acumen, and unwavering dedication to storytelling, making him one of the most influential figures in modern cinema.

Influential filmmakers and the privilege of running a studio (10:42)
Jim talks about his early influencers in the film industry such as Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes, his Greek heritage, and the privilege of running a studio.

Searchlight's Marketing Strategy (20:57)
Jim and Kevin talk about Searchlight's brilliant marketing strategy, and how they took creative risks on movies like Slumdog Millionaire.

Ice Age (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.

Avatar's Budget (30:12)
Jim talks 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.

Castaway's Ending (34:50)
Jim discusses the audience screening of Castaway  and how audience reaction led to a change in the film’s ending that was crucial to its success.

Testing Movies with Audience Feedback (39:28)
Jim and Kevin discuss the importance of testing movies with audience feedback and how it helps to serve the audience better.

The Release of Top Gun: Maverick (45:12)
Jim talks about the pressure and decision-making process behind the release of the movie Maverick during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Changing Entertainment Landscape and the Green-Lighting Process (48:23)
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.

Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Jim Gianopulos
Producer:  Kari Campano

For more information about Jim Gianopulos:

For more information about Kevin Goetz:

46s Film Making
46s: Filmmakers talk origins, challenges, budgets, and profits.

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Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz 
Guest:  Former Chairman/CEO of 20th Century Fox & Paramount Pictures Jim Gianopulos
Interview Transcript:
 Announcer (00:02):

There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.

Kevin Goetz (00:23):

There's a green-lighting rule that I advocate for often. It's in my book, Audienceology. It's in my new book that I'm writing right now called How to Score in Hollywood. That is every movie if made and marketed for the right price should make money. The other thing that I advocate for is make a movie for everybody. If you're particularly at a studio, make a movie for somebody, but don't make a movie for nobody, demographically. We'll talk more about that in a little bit. My guest today lives by those guiding principles and has lived by those guiding principles for quite a long time. I have such respect and affinity for my guest today, and that would be Jim Gianopulos, an industry titan. He has been in our business for over 40 years, four decades.

Kevin Goetz (01:25):

And what's amazing about Jim is that he has had the opportunity to run not one but two major studios, that would be 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures. The films that he's been involved in and with range from the nobodys, which we'll talk about that happen to win Academy Awards like Birdman and 12 Years A Slave, Slumdog Millionaire, to movies that were for somebody like Sonic the Hedgehog, Ice Age, Devil Wears Prada, and Life of Pi. And then of course movies for everybody like Titanic and Avatar. And most recently, the revival of a franchise Maverick Top Gun and kept that Mission Impossible franchise alive and well and strong. It's just an extraordinary number of accomplishments. I can't even list them here without getting sort of emotional.

Kevin Goetz (02:32):

And I have to tell you that in just three years when Jim took over Paramount, he took a studio that was at an operating loss of nearly $500 million a year and built it in that short time to being a significantly profitable studio. I remember two weeks before he got the job, we had lunch. You were actually offered another job. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you were debating, should I take that job? And I said, well, you know, Paramount Pictures, if they come a knocking, would be a really great thing. And I remember you saying, you know, Kevin, it's really hard to turn that battleship around in the harbor and it takes a long time to do it. Well, my friend, not only did that come to fruition, but you did it. Jim, welcome.

Jim Gianopulos (03:28):

Thank you very much, Kevin. It's great to be with you.

Kevin Goetz (03:31):

Oh, thrilled.

Jim Gianopulos (03:32):

Friends for many, many years.

Kevin Goetz (03:33):

Oh, well we have been through I feel like it's warfare in a way. Yeah, yeah. You know. Yeah. Let me start off with something because we're both Brooklyn boys. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, the year is 1952. Right. Oh God. And you were born in Brooklyn? Yep. Greek parents. Yep. Both mom and dad. Yep. I bring that up because you are so proud of your Greek heritage.

Jim Gianopulos (03:51):

Oh, I didn't have a lot of choice.

Kevin Goetz (03:54):

Well, but I feel like you have taken it to almost another level. Yeah. Like you visit Greece every year. Yeah. You've been doing that for years and years.

Jim Gianopulos (04:01):

It’s a cultural identity that, you know, my dad took a different approach than many immigrants. Many people want to assimilate as quickly as possible. And I remember even as a kid, he said, you know, you're going to be American the rest of your life. First you've gotta be Greek. And I spoke Greek with him until he died. I was raised…

Kevin Goetz (04:16):

They spoke Greek in the house.

Jim Gianopulos (04:18):

Not my mother. My mother was much more fluent. And he spoke, he built a big business, but he always spoke with a big accent. And he was more fluent and facile in Greek, which was a disadvantage to me, especially as a teenager.

Kevin Goetz (04:32):

What was his business?

Jim Gianopulos (04:33):

He was in the shipping business. 

Kevin Goetz (04:35):

Wow. Yeah. Did he encourage you to go to law school?

Jim Gianopulos (04:37):

Well, I think they were very proud when I did it. 

Kevin Goetz (04:40):

But just to go to college was probably…

Jim Gianopulos (04:41):

Going to college was actually, yes, that was a big get. And they were very proud of that. And I decided after that, that I did want to go to law school. I first wanted to be a blues guitarist, and I realized I was never going to be Stevie Ray Vaughn and make a living on it. So I decided, well maybe I could be their lawyer. <laugh>. So I went to law school as an entry, as an opportunity to get into the entertainment business.

Kevin Goetz (05:04):


Kevin Goetz (05:20):

Now, being a lawyer, young lawyer, you get out and what's your first big job?

Jim Gianopulos (05:24):

My first big job actually came out of my time in Boston. I was very involved in the music scene and I had met and known a lot of people that went on to musical careers and through my…

Kevin Goetz (05:35):

Wait, as a guitarist or as a? 

Jim Gianopulos (05:37):

Well, I played, but not really seriously. I just knew all the key musicians in Boston, Bonnie Rait in particular. I was a Bonnie groupie for many years as her career took off. Anyway, one thing led to another and I got a job at ASCAP. It was like the greatest job in the world, even though I wasn't paid very much. But the job was basically to reach out to musicians, songwriters, record companies, publishers to just go out there and proselytize for ASCAP and make deals to bring their publishing rights and their music rights into ASCAP. In the process of that, I kind of knew everybody in the industry. You dated me with the 40 years. I mean, every time I hear that, I think, shit, That's been a long time.

Kevin Goetz (06:17):

I'm only a few behind you, man. Well, okay, well still, but I mean 10.

Jim Gianopulos (06:21):

You reflect on it and it's just what a, you know. I know, I know.

Jim Gianopulos (06:25):

Long, strange ride it's been, and when all of a sudden they created this industry, this, this new technology called video and, and the movie companies realized they didn't have the music rights. And so somebody said, well, who do we get to go figure out these music people? And I was actually dating this girl that worked at NBC at the time, and she said, well, my boyfriend knows all those people. And so one thing led to another and then I got this job and the next thing I know I'm working at what was then a joint venture between Columbia Pictures and RCA. And so that one thing led to another, led to another. You know.

Kevin Goetz (07:05):

How did you get into the movie business? 

Jim Gianopulos (07:07):

I started at RCA Columbia Pictures running, or was the number two guy at the video division, which took off like a rocket. 

Kevin Goetz (07:19):

And that was just the perfect place at that point.

Jim Gianopulos (07:20):

It was.

Kevin Goetz (07:21):

it was like printing money in a way.

Jim Gianopulos (07:22):

It was, some people in that industry thought that they had invented water and it was their doing, look, the business was an obvious great attribute and great opportunity for people to see movies that they didn't have access. So one thing led to another and then I, part of that job was actually another kind of exotic job, which was to go around the world and set up all the operations for Columbia Pictures.

Kevin Goetz (07:45):

Oh wow.

Jim Gianopulos (07:46):

So it's like, go to Spain, hire.

Kevin Goetz (07:48):

Was this the first time they had their own international operation? 

Jim Gianopulos (07:50):

Yeah. This is like the birth of the business. Good to be in the right place at the right time.

Kevin Goetz (07:54):

And at that time, for the listeners who don't know the percentage of America versus international or foreign. It was not was what? No, it was 90-10, 80-20.

Jim Gianopulos (08:05):

Yeah. And you know, these people with blue blazers would go off into the international markets and come back with money and nobody really knew what they did. And it turned into a business. And so that job entailed going around the world as I started going to Spain, hire managing director, hire marketing head hire a bunch of people, finance people, whatever, go on to Italy, let's do it there. And so as a consequence of that, really learned my way around.

Kevin Goetz (08:33):

How many offices did you open? Ish. Ish.

Jim Gianopulos (08:36):

Well, ultimately, one way or another, either our own office or some kind of relationship, joint venture distribution deal, probably 60. We kind of opened the world, you know.

Kevin Goetz (08:47):

That's extraordinary, and the overhead to support that was extraordinary, wasn't it? 

Jim Gianopulos (08:50):

Yeah. But it was worth it. 

Jim Gianopulos (08:54):

It didn't take very long before this medium just took off. Basically, at the time you had three broadcast networks. People didn't have anything in there.

Kevin Goetz (09:03):

More movies begot more movies.

Jim Gianopulos (09:04):

Exactly. And so, you know, along the way HBO was building and growing and so forth. But all of a sudden, you know, there were 3000 movies down the street for $2. That was a sea change in people's entertainment habits.

Kevin Goetz (09:17):

Absolutely. I'm going back to Brooklyn for a second. I can't help but <laugh>. So you're a young guy. A young Jimmy dreaming of music, probably.

Jim Gianopulos (09:27):

So my grandfather was this wonderful man, an immigrant, and he liked movies, but mainly he liked hanging out with me. And he also wanted to improve his English. So he used to take me along to the movies. 

Kevin Goetz (09:38):

First movie? First movie?

Jim Gianopulos (09:40):

Oh God. Sampson and Delilah. Can you imagine? Wow. That stands out. Because I thought it was actually pretty cool at the time. But he was not discriminating about what movies we saw actually was usually geographic to the theater. Remember a movie called The Collector? I don't. Okay. Well it was about a guy who basically picks up women and keeps 'em in his basement. It was a breakthrough film.

Kevin Goetz (10:02):


Jim Gianopulos (10:03):

At the time it was a British film. So he took me and I was like eight or nine years old, <laugh>. And it was just like.

Kevin Goetz (10:09):

Now today they'd call Child Protective Services.

Jim Gianopulos (10:11):

Exactly. Yeah. So anyway, but we went to a lot of movies and I would always be translating to him and people would be shushing us because they would hear it. Anyway, but I developed from that a love of movies. And then when I was in college, I was, you know, going to end the war, end racism and do all of that. I was in political science, but I saw these electives and the electives were cinema studies, film appreciation, stuff like that. But wait a minute, you can watch movies and talk about them, and get credit for it. I'm in.

Kevin Goetz (10:39):

Who are some of your early influencers? Like filmmakers?

Jim Gianopulos (10:42):

Oh, Marty Scorsese was, I remembered seeing Mean Streets when it first came out and thinking, who is this guy? I mean, it opens up Jumping Jack Flash. I mean, it was just like ridiculous. And I thought, this guy's a genius. Wow. How come people don't know about this movie?

Kevin Goetz (10:58):

What about John Cassavetes?

Jim Gianopulos (11:00):

Oh, of course. Well look, you know, we claim all the Greeks.

Kevin Goetz (11:03):

Well, that's what I'm trying to say. Because I, you know, Gena Rowlands happens to be one of my closest friends.

Jim Gianopulos (11:07):

Oh wow.

Kevin Goetz (11:08):

And she's still with us in Palm Springs.

Jim Gianopulos (11:10):

I met John at the end of his life.

Kevin Goetz (11:12):

Did you? I never had the opportunity to meet him.

Jim Gianopulos (11:14):

I finally met him. Yeah.

Kevin Goetz (11:15):

But I can't help thinking about the Greek connection. Oh, of course. He was such a renegade filmmaker. Oh, sure. And what they did, brilliant. I mean, they still own, Gena still owns the house that they shot Woman Under the Influence, by the way.

Jim Gianopulos (11:26):

By the way, the house, he probably mortgaged three or four times over the course of his career.

Kevin Goetz (11:30):

What I loved is they went off, they'd make a movie for money to pay for the movies that they wanted to make.

Jim Gianopulos (11:36):

Oh yeah. 

Kevin Goetz (11:37):

Which was so genius.

Jim Gianopulos (11:37):

Yeah. One after the other, which is part of what you go back to when you say the privilege of running a studio. And look, they're tough decisions and you have to be responsible for them and you have to bear the consequence of them. But it's very different when you're someone like John Cassavetes or any many great producers over the years that made one after the other and hoped the one before worked so they could afford the one they wanted to do next.

Kevin Goetz (12:01):

Part of what I have always, I guess, admired about you, but also really connected with you on, is innately you're an artist.

Jim Gianopulos (12:08):

Well, I don't know about that. I certainly appreciate the art form. I mean, you can't be around…

Kevin Goetz (12:13):

But you're, you're not only an appreciator of it, you're a fighter for it. And you have fought for it. You don't green-light movies like the ones I mentioned earlier, and certainly don't think you're going to win Academy Awards for them. But your old partner, Tom Rothman, likes to say, you know, look, it's this fiscal prudence mixed with this creative kind of risk. Right. And, I know you've always lived by that mm-hmm. <affirmative> and it's hard. But you've had such a reverence for the artists involved. I've watched it. I've seen it. The filmmakers, the respect that you have. Look, you have a fabulous and wonderful Greek temper. I've been on one side of it before, but at the same time you are about as fair as they come.

Jim Gianopulos (12:54):

Well, thank you for that. I mean, for all of that, you know, and I'll take the temper too, but occasionally.

Kevin Goetz (12:59):

But you also are one, you get it out. Oh yeah, it's over. It's over.

Jim Gianopulos (13:02):

It's over. Yeah. Yeah. 

Kevin Goetz (13:04):

Which, when I first got…

Jim Gianopulos (13:05):


Kevin Goetz (13:05):

Somebody said that to me and I was like, he's like a Jew <laugh>. Yeah. Just don't, don't take it too seriously.

Jim Gianopulos (13:10):

Yeah. My amazingly wonderful wife Ann, who is a wasp from the Mayflower, took a little getting used to that because I, you know, it would be like some burst. Not at her, but whatever it was. And it'd be over and she would be just still thinking about it the next day. And I'm, honey, that was, that's over. That's done. That's nothing. Anyway, she and I have reconciled that.

Kevin Goetz (13:32):

And you know, I'm a big Ann fan.

Jim Gianopulos (13:34):

Well everybody is. She's, everybody likes her better than me. So I'm used to that <laugh>.

Kevin Goetz (13:39):

She's delightful. She deserves it. But you guys have sort of like great parts of yourselves that make up that whole. Oh yeah. You know what I mean? Oh yeah. It's just, it’s wonderful.

Jim Gianopulos (13:48):

She's, she's the greatest person I know, period. 

Kevin Goetz (14:41):

What was the one call you got, phone call, about a job that you went, oh my God, I just got fill in the blank.

Jim Gianopulos (14:51):

Well, just about every <laugh>, just about every job, you know, I got, I mean…

Kevin Goetz (14:57):

Yeah. But there had to be one that was like.

Jim Gianopulos (14:58):

Well, when they finally made the decision and they put Tom and me together and Tom and I were really close friends. 

Kevin Goetz (15:04):

Who makes that call?

Jim Gianopulos (15:05):

That was Chernin. That was Peter Chernin, my patron saint.

Kevin Goetz (15:08):

Wonderful man.

Jim Gianopulos (15:10):

He is a great man. Wonderful man. He is one of the, I think one of the smartest people his business has ever seen. Period.

Kevin Goetz (15:14):

A hundred percent. Did he call you and Tom like kind of at the same time to tell you both that you were going to be co-chairs? Like how'd it work?

Jim Gianopulos (15:32):

Yeah, ultimately he did. The rumor mill was bubbling about who's going to get it.

Kevin Goetz (15:37):

But you were there already.

Jim Gianopulos (15:38):

Oh yeah, yeah. I was running international and Tom was the head of production, basically. The way Peter said it, ultimately, he couldn't make the decision and he put us both together, which was sort of genius.

Kevin Goetz (15:45):

It, it worked out because it's not a one-person job.

Jim Gianopulos (15:49):

Well yeah. And I think we had complementary skills we learned from each other. And it's also great, even though I eventually ran studios alone, as Tom does now. It's great to have. And you always have someone, the sounding board and someone that you really trust, hopefully more than one inside the company. But to really truly be partners, take some of the burden and some of the, it doesn't change the risk because now you're both in the soup if you've done it wrong.

Kevin Goetz (16:14):

A lot of stars say that. They say that. I don't want to do that picture because I don't want the responsibility of the entire picture on my shoulders.

Jim Gianopulos (16:19):

No. Ultimately, whoever says yes to great privilege to have that green light. And you bring in voices and you ask marketing and you ask the international folks and you ask the video folks. And, but in the end, you're making that decision.

Kevin Goetz (16:31):

What was his superpower?

Jim Gianopulos (16:35):

Tom's really passionate, really understands the nuts and bolts of production and the creative process. I mean, he's shown it over the years.

Kevin Goetz (16:42):

And what's Jim Gianopulos superpower?

Jim Gianopulos (16:44):

Well, I think some of that, but also understanding the way media and technology is evolving and the way these markets are evolving.

Kevin Goetz (16:52):

I go to another lunch that we had in the Fox commissary and I was saying, I see based on consumer behavior that home video is really waning. And you were like, well, it might be, but let me show you. And you picked up one of those little pieces, little pads of paper they had there with the little golf pencils mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you, I think I may still have it, you illustrated for me the model of how it would really affect the studios in such a significant way. For sure. And I almost couldn't believe it how the financial sort of backbone was home entertainment.

Jim Gianopulos (17:28):

Well, in the great years of the home entertainment and then ultimately the pay television business, there was a net under every decision you made. I mean, things might not go as well as you hoped theatrically, but you'll fill this pipeline of the video industry, whether it was at Walmart or Best Buy or the rental channels. So you ended up having created, you know, an awareness of the movie, an interest in the movie. People that didn't see it theatrically were still interested and there was a lot of money to be made. 

Kevin Goetz (18:00):

Yeah. You looked at the wall. Yeah. And you said, imagine that I'm here and that's a bullseye. Yeah. And look, I can hit it pretty easily. That's

Jim Gianopulos (18:10):

That’s the difference between some of the movies, the great Searchlight movies that they made, you know, like an X-Men or a Die Hard. You could be off a little bit on a big movie like that because of its pre-awareness and scale. And I might not have finished as well as you would hoped or in some respects. But there was a built-in audience for that franchiser for that film. And then you had a movie like you mentioned Slum Dog that was a bullseye.

Kevin Goetz (18:36):

So you got that at a turnaround, didn't you, from Warners or something? <laugh> 

Jim Gianopulos (18:41):

Searchlight had been so obviously successful artistically and commercially and in awards and in every way that at one point, Warner decided to do a specialty label. And when Slumdog came in, it was a little rich for Searchlight’s budget limits, and obviously wasn't obvious on the page. And so they reluctantly passed and it went to Warner Brothers. And in the interval between the time of production and the result of the film, the Specialized label had been closed. They just decided it wasn't a good deal idea after all. And so you had these people who were looking at gigantic movies in the mainstream part of one of…

Kevin Goetz (19:28):

It wasn't made yet?

Jim Gianopulos (19:29):

It was finished. They showed it to them through the lens of people who were doing all of these massively huge budget and fox off potential movies. They looked at this little thing and said, maybe we'll take it direct to video. And Danny Boyle, who had a long history with us at Searchlight, ran to his friend Peter Rice and said, Hey, I have a chance to take this away. Would you release it? Would you take it over? Peter looked at it and we talked about it and we obviously said yes. And the rest is history.

Kevin Goetz (20:03):

Cut to you called us to test it. Yeah. <laugh>, we went and tested it. I remember the recruit ratio was some outrageously high recruit ratio. Right. A recruit ratio means that for one invitation that you give out how many people actually show up.

Jim Gianopulos (20:19):

Except a free ticket to see it.

Kevin Goetz (20:19):

An average recruit ratio might be like an eight to one or a 10 to one ratio. Right. A really great one is a four to one. This was like a 25 or 30 to one. And that was not helping the cause. Right. But when those scores came back it was unanimous. So great. It was unanimous. So great. It was just such a winner from an audience satisfaction point of view. But what's still great is, because you can have the biggest, most satisfying movie that no one still wants to see, but your campaign was great. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> the word of mouth, the critics got behind it and it took a ball sack to do it, and you all did it.

Jim Gianopulos (20:57):

Well, that was what Searchlight did better than anyone. I still think they do it better than anyone. Even under Disney, that cultivation of critical response, the gradual rollout, the letting the word of mouth catch up, all of those, not media driven necessarily until a certain point. You know, 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. Either we'd push the button or we didn't.

Jim Gianopulos (21:43):

But they were better at it than anyone.

Kevin Goetz (21:44):

They really are. And as you said, still at it.  Before in the intro, I mentioned making a movie for somebody, for everybody. But don't make a movie for nobody. Right. When I mean that demographically is a movie like Slum Dog Millionaires is like a movie that is demographically challenged. <affirmative>, it's a psychographic identifier. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So for a studio, what whoever's saying yes, that is a risk mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And the fact is it's execution driven. But every now and then, one takes one, as I like to say with you and people at Searchlight, is you actually earn the right to do that on a number of pictures. Not everyone has done that. And perhaps if you were a different studio, you wouldn't have taken that chance.

Jim Gianopulos (22:25):

Well, that was the business that Searchlight was in, was taking massive creative risks on things.

Kevin Goetz (22:30):

But as you said, it broke the model a little bit. But you still, well…

Jim Gianopulos (22:33):

Yeah, when Danny first brought it in, it was expensive and they passed at first. And I think they were hoping maybe that they could get Danny to pull the budget down a little bit. But Warner was so eager to start out this division that they just said Yes. And they just green-lit it.

Kevin Goetz (22:51):

So, let's talk about the other side of that equation when we come back after these messages. 

Announcer (23:01):

Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book Audienceology by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never before revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of audienceology into focus. Audienceology, How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love, from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster. Available now.

Kevin Goetz (23:33):

Okay, so we're back here with Jim Gianopulos and we were talking about movies for nobody. I want to really switch gears.

Jim Gianopulos (23:40):

Hopefully, you don't make movies for, I mean, that is the one place you don't go.

Kevin Goetz (23:44):

Yeah, well, and by the way, I'm aware of the double, I'm aware of the double negative. You don't start out that way. No, never. Never. You don't. But the great thing is, is that in this day and age, in the streaming world, you can certainly make movies demographically for nobody because you're not spending advertising dollars. So you can find the needles in the haystack. Right. You can find the psychographic identifiers that bring people together. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is a great thing for our business. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it's, as a result, producing some great films, but the movies for everybody. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I want to say under your watch at Fox at least, were there four franchises built?

Jim Gianopulos (24:27):

Oh, there, well, like I haven't, I've never added them up.

Kevin Goetz (24:30):

I'm talking new franchise, like new that you didn't inherit. I mean, Planet of the Apes.

Jim Gianopulos (24:35):

Yeah. Well, that, but that pre-existed.

Kevin Goetz (24:38):

I won't comment, but it pre-existed and then you really made it.

Jim Gianopulos (24:41):

Yeah, that's true. That was one of those times when we finally decided to go digital with the apes and do it properly. And it was an extraordinarily expensive choice. We looked at it and we went through a whole production plan and said, well what about prosthetics? And yeah, well we've done that and the right way to do it and to convey true emotion and to be able to make these apes real characters. In fact, they were such good characters that PETA was still complaining <laugh> 

Jim Gianopulos (25:15):

I was like, well wait a minute, they're digital.

Kevin Goetz (25:19):

Oh my Lord. So yeah, you gotta love that. That was good. Here's how you know you have a hit, you test the movie and Andy Circus is here. I'm pointing to the side of my head because there's a green dotted Sure. CGI figure right to the left. And you are watching this, but you're emotionally invested. Oh yeah. And the scores are huge. Oh yeah. At the end. Oh yeah. And you're like, oh yeah, what happens when this is completed?

Jim Gianopulos (25:51):

We'd always introduce the film with, this is what it's going to look like now. This is what it's going to look like. 

Kevin Goetz (25:56):

Yeah, but you can say that till the cows come home.

Jim Gianopulos (25:57):

I know. And people do need to make that leap of faith or embrace that concept as they watch the film.

Kevin Goetz (26:02):

When I did the original Beauty and the Beast, and it was almost all sketches, I want to say 85, 90% sketches only like an uncolored coloring book. And the scores were just huge. And you just said a great story and great music. Yeah. And these characters that came to life even in the, you know, coloring book form. Yeah, yeah. Were so extraordinary. 

Jim Gianopulos (26:27):

Yeah. And you could tell, especially with animated films, they're tested very early in the process and you really need people to use their imagination mm-hmm. <affirmative> and carry those images of what the completed characters will look like and settings will look like and carry them over into sometimes the literally pencil sketches.

Kevin Goetz (26:45):

And the other great franchises, Ice Age, I believe. Right, right.

Jim Gianopulos (26:50):

Ice Age almost got away.

Kevin Goetz (26:53):

That's unbelievable too.

Jim Gianopulos (26:54):

Almost got away. We had, well I shouldn't say, but, well, we did, we had a partner it was a nascent animation division at the time at Fox and we had had some big disappointments. And so now we have this movie and our partner got a little nervous and it was. Was that Blue Sky or? It was Regency. Blue Sky was our studio. Oh, got it. And Chris Wedge was the director and ran the studio. And we had full marketing plans and they got a little nervous and said, guys, we can't afford a big loss on this thing. Should we cut our losses? Should we cut our losses and sell it? And I was against it. And we were back and forth on it. Disney actually offered to distribute it with some, you know, the unattractive deal. But that was the option. And so they went to the court of appeals, which I always call churning. And my argument was simple. I said, at this point we have all these people have been working really hard putting all these campaigns together and co-pro promotions and all of this here and all over the world. We could go to them and say, yeah, you know what, thanks a lot, but we're going to give this to Disney. Or we could go into them and say, look, we've kept this because of the quality of your preparation and the effort you put in. Now, don't fuck it up. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so that's what we ended up doing. And then to our surprise, <laugh>, it turned into Ice Age.

Kevin Goetz (28:44):

And you know, billions later.

Jim Gianopulos (28:45):

Yeah. Billions later.

Kevin Goetz (28:46):

And The Kingsman was another one. 

Jim Gianopulos (28:48):

Yeah. Yeah. Well.

Kevin Goetz (28:49):

How do you like I know all these? <laugh>. Yeah. Very good.

Jim Gianopulos (28:52):

Well look, look, again, this is what you said earlier about being part of the creative process with some really incredibly talented people. Part of the thing, yes, you know, you get to be the studio head and all of that stuff and make these big decisions and fly around all over the place. The real privilege is to be with people that are enormously talented and to watch them take something from a blank sheet of paper to what we did in those research screenings or eventually into huge box office results and to be adjacent to greatness, to real creative talent. 

Kevin Goetz (29:26):

God, that first ending scene with those explosions. Yeah. And that it was like on paper.

Jim Gianopulos (29:32):

By the way, okay. What was it like? We tried, I tried to talk, we tried to talk him out of it and it didn't sound right and it looked stupid and we thought it would look stupid. And he said, don't worry, don't worry you. And I love it. It's going to be great. It's going to be great. And it was, I mean, it was way out there, but it was great.

Kevin Goetz (29:48):

Now you probably are known, well it would be you and Peter and, and Tom, for, and maybe even Mechanic before that all sort of cumulatively or in some way making decisions on some of the biggest bet movies that we've ever had. I mean, talk to us about Avatar. Is it all a bet on Jim?

Jim Gianopulos (30:12):

Yes. He had given me like a 20-page version of Avatar called Project 880, not long after Titanic. And the time lapse between the end of Titanic and the beginning of Avatar was primarily about getting the technology that was adequate to convey both facial features and that emotion to be able to create that world. So when the time came, knowing Jim and loving him, knowing that Titanic went substantially over budget, whatever budget we were looking at because of the technology was so new, the imagery and all of the aspects of that of the film creation process was so new. We knew that it was going to be a very expensive movie. And it started out being an expensive movie. People look back and say, well you green-lit Avatar. Unbelievable. It really came down to a choice. Do you want to be the one who said no to James Cameron after Titanic? Or the one who said yes. And maybe it didn't go as well as you'd hoped. 

Kevin Goetz (31:21):

Did you ever think that this could be my job?

Jim Gianopulos (31:25):

Yeah, it's always your job. You know, you… 

Kevin Goetz (31:27):

Because it was such a big bet.

Jim Gianopulos (31:28):

Well yeah, but you screw up enough over time, you're batting average falls below a certain level and it's always your job. And you just hope your batting average stays above that.

Kevin Goetz (31:37):

Well, you've had an extraordinary batting average. 

Jim Gianopulos (31:39):

Very lucky.

Kevin Goetz (31:40):

<laugh>. I remember when the first trailer came out, it was not accepted. It was rejected. Yeah. By a lot of folks. Yeah. These blue creatures.

Jim Gianopulos (31:48):

Because they didn't know what to expect. They had no idea.

Kevin Goetz (31:50):

Exactly. I remember being on a call with you and others, but I have to say Tony really sort of turned that around.

Jim Gianopulos (32:04):

Same thing happened with Titanic. It was glub, glub, glub and all of that, and at the time poor Bill had to deal with that, he took most of the slings and arrows. But yeah, we finally showed, I think it was an eight or nine-minute reel or something, and it just, people went…

Kevin Goetz (32:18):

People went crazy. 

Jim Gianopulos (32:19):

People went crazy.

Kevin Goetz (32:20):

I always think of my job as somewhat of a consiglieri or a rabbi or you know, and hearing the behind-the-scenes sort of angst of when you have this much invested and then people are just not getting on board initially has got to be the most terrifying feeling, I do.

Jim Gianopulos (32:37):

<laugh>. Well, I got a call once from Rupert and he said, what's happening with this avatar movie <laugh>? I said, well, it's coming along, you know, the images are great <laugh> and it's going to, I think it's going to be really great. And he said, well how much does it cost? I said, well, the budget was this, but we're pretty much over that budget. And he said, well, how much is it going to cost? And I said, because I never lie, you know, I, you know, tried to…

Kevin Goetz (33:00):

Right. You always put it straight.

Jim Gianopulos (33:02):

Put a nice shine on it. But I would never lie to him because he's too smart for that. And I, I said, honestly, I don't know. He said, what do you mean you don't know? I said, well, I honestly, he's not finished and it, you know, it's some of the tech is proving a little difficult, but, 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. <laugh>. And he hung up on me.

Kevin Goetz (33:34):

God, you gotta, you gotta love that story. Oh God.

Jim Gianopulos (33:38):

That's a true story. Oh, that's a true story. Jim's mad at me when I told him that story. He said, it's not true. I was always careful. Well, yeah, okay. 

Kevin Goetz (33:45):

But it did prove, but it's not about Jim's point of view, But it had to be with your belief in Jim, and managing Rupert, which is like, Hey, this is what I’m hearing? And what I can do? I have faith in you. You know?

Jim Gianopulos (34:00):

But you know, actually Rupert would get cranky once in a while. You know, we don't make enough for the middle of the country or we're not in the center, you know, it's a little Hollywood. But he was always very supportive.

Kevin Goetz (34:11):

You don't believe in your lieutenants. I mean, I don't know what you're going to do.

Jim Gianopulos (34:13):

He was always, you know, willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and, and ride with you. And you know, case we screwed up, he'd get a little cranky. But back to the Greek thing, he would let it go the next phone call as well. <laugh>,

Kevin Goetz (34:26):

You and I have been through, as I said, probably scores of, I want to maybe say hundreds of screenings over the last 35 years that I've been doing this. And give me an example, Jim, from your point of view of a screening that really was impactful and that, but for the fact that you did this, you wouldn't have had enormous success. And what was the change?

Jim Gianopulos (34:50):

The one that stands out, which is now ancient history, is Castaway. We finally changed the ending. That was really no matter the quality of the film, the quality of Tom's performance, the fact that we miraculously, and a lot of this goes to Beth Gabriel, but the fact that we miraculously made a movie that half the movie is in silence when he's alone on the island. And yet it was so emotional and so powerful, and then the audience just did not buy the ending. And when it came time to figure that out, and we all went to Bob Zemeckis, and we never, it was never going to be like a total Hollywood happy ending. Right. But it needed closure and the audience was…

Kevin Goetz (35:32):

And emotional satisfaction.

Jim Gianopulos (35:33):

Correct. And the audience, even though you didn't get the girl, but at least he had closure.

Kevin Goetz (35:38):

And that made a substantial…

Jim Gianopulos (35:39):

That made a substantial difference.

Kevin Goetz (35:40):

And in numbers as well. Yes. Oh yeah. Now what about, I'm thinking of Sonic the Hedgehog. Yeah. I mean, first of all, that was a stroke of genius, but that movie was, you want to tell us about the initial rendering of the creature?

Jim Gianopulos (35:59):

Well the thing about Sonic, you know, I give a lot of credit to Jeff Fowler, the director and Tim Miller and Neil, certainly the producer brought it to us. But Tim and Jeff did a rip-a-matic as you know. They did like this, I don't know, four or five-minute reel that they mocked up. And what it showed us was the attitude of the film that the film played on multiple levels. It was fun for kids to have this great hero that was pint-sized, but at the same time had an, you know, it's sort of an attitude. It's a little bit of a juvenile delinquent, but something that people could enjoy. So we set out and made the movie and had a great script, all of that, and comedy and all the rest. And we tried to make Sonic from a 2D character into this 3D CG character and went too far. So the bad news was the audience ripped us up. I mean, they were really pissed. The good news is there were millions of them. I mean, well the outpouring on the internet was just massive. Which of course just reinforced the notion that there's a big audience for this historic…

Kevin Goetz (37:19):

But it's about how do you spend, spent good money after bad? Or do you spend, or how do you say there was…

Jim Gianopulos (37:24):

There was no choice. We knew there was no choice. The degree of response on the internet was so huge that we said, well, we have this built-in audience and if we piss them off then what do we got left? So, you know, we, we bit the bullet, and I forget how much it was, but it was in the mid…

Kevin Goetz (37:40):

It had to be significant. Cause it was…

Jim Gianopulos (37:42):

Yeah, it wasn't fully animated and rendered at the time, but most of it was. Yeah. But the other thing was for that fan base to then say to them, we heard you and we fixed it.

Kevin Goetz (37:54):

That's a mark of authenticity that you can't manufacture. And you guys did listen to that. 

Jim Gianopulos (37:59):

Well, you know.

Kevin Goetz (37:59):

And people in your own studio, Liz Raposo was so instrumental in, in really shepherding that I thought, and others. But I wanted to also ask you about Life of Pi, which was a…

Jim Gianopulos (38:10):

Oh, Beth carried that on her back and kept telling us, and we all loved the book. We all loved Ang, Tom knew Ang from an earlier life And there was another aspect to it. You say you don't make things for an award. That's true. You make movies with fiscal responsibility. But this was challenging because of the nature of the story.

Jim Gianopulos (38:34):

We had a director who will remain unnamed, who actually at one point was on the movie and concerned about the budget. And he came to us with a plan to do it with a live tiger and a boy. And he had this…

Kevin Goetz (38:51):

He did tell me this, but I don't know, I still don't know who the director was.

Jim Gianopulos (38:54):

<laugh> When, when she said he wants to do it with a live tiger and a boy. He thinks he can do it. I said, well, you're going to need more than one boy <laugh> if you do it with that.

Kevin Goetz (39:02):

That was great.

Jim Gianopulos (39:03):

So he finally bit the bullet. So then Ang brings back the movie and Ang is a very spiritual person. And there was a, there is a lot of spirituality in the underlying book and people were so engrossed in the story and the pace of the story and then the outcome that some of it was a little heavy.

Kevin Goetz (39:21):

It was a calibration issue, wasn't it? 

Jim Gianopulos (39:23):

It was a big calibration issue. And look, you're talking about Ang Lee, one of the great directors.

Kevin Goetz (39:28):

One of the greats.

Jim Gianopulos (39:28):

One of the greats. And it's always difficult. 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.

Kevin Goetz (39:49):

And so Ang and I, I want to say it was down in Laguna, Ang and I were in the lobby, and that's where he said to me, Picasso never tested his paintings.

Jim Gianopulos (39:57):

Yeah, He hated the process.

Kevin Goetz (39:59):

And I said, you know, Picasso's supplies probably cost him 2 cents. Yeah. And if he didn't like the painting, he'd put in the back of his closet. I said, the studios handed you all over a hundred million dollars to make a movie. They have a responsibility to serve the audience. Sure. And also get a say in this. Yeah. I mean, we had a thing, a respectful thing. Yeah. But it was nonetheless, it was a back-and-forth about the validity of opening this up to audience feedback. Yeah. And he's one of those guys who tests almost all those movies. It might be reluctantly, but he does respect the audience. He does. He really, he does. 

Jim Gianopulos (40:36):

He really does. All of them do. It's, look, it is a little shocking when you've worked on something for years.

Kevin Goetz (40:41):

I can’t even imagine.

Jim Gianopulos (40:42):

I mean, people just, they, you know, these directors, writers, especially the writer-directors who created out of whole cloth, the amount of time and effort and planning.

Kevin Goetz (40:52):

Their children, children, they're giving birth to children. 

Jim Gianopulos (40:55):

And so that's why I always tried, when we do those screenings, you know, say, look, well, you know, we'll talk about it tomorrow to just keep it simple at the end. Keep it simple at the end of that, because when they come out of that screening room, you know, and there's this wall of studio faces, because no matter how much we tried to trim the troops that went, you always had to have several people from marketing, people from international, people from here.

Kevin Goetz (41:16):

And they weren't all Something About Mary or Borat. Yeah. Or, you know, which were crazy numbers. Yeah. Jim, give me a movie that no matter what we did right, how many times we tested it, it just couldn't get past itself. Even though it was a good movie.

Jim Gianopulos (41:35):

You reminded me of the Farrelly Brothers and that popped in my head.

Kevin Goetz (41:37):

I think Peter would say that too. 

Jim Gianopulos (41:38):

Yeah. They came to us with this brilliant, brilliant idea, this pitch. And the idea was guy meets the girl of his dreams. This just this dreamboat, he's never believed that he could be with this woman. And then, you know, they eventually they get closer and then they have this ridiculously raucous amazing sex. And it's just an incredible, and on a parallel track, he's looking for his parents and some idiot private eye comes back and says, I've found your parents. And it turns out that this woman is his sister or so he's led to believe and erroneously, but that is now he finds out his sister. So he's devastated. And then it turns out she's not. So the rest of the movie is him chasing.

Kevin Goetz (42:29):

I know the thought, the cringe factor.

Jim Gianopulos (42:31):

Right. It, it sounds, you know, it's one of those like what were we thinking collectively, what were we thinking? Even the Farrellys, the audience could not get past that idea as we tried to create some marketing materials. The whole gist of the movie is that pitch, is that McGuffin. It's the fact that that girl that he's just had this wonderful thing with is his sister. Oh, but she's not.

Kevin Goetz (42:54):

Even Ricky in The Flash. Right. You know, the great Meryl Streep. Is there anyone better? I mean like, but it's Meryl Streep. 

Jim Gianopulos (43:00):

They didn't want to see Meryl do that.

Kevin Goetz (43:01):

They didn't want to see a mother. Right. Couldn't accept a mother leaving her children for following her dream. Yeah. Like that was not okay. Yeah. I think if a, if a man had done it, it would've been more tolerable. How awful a statement that might be. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But the fact that a mother did it and then it's coming back now to regain this sort of affection of her children just didn't fly. So let's switch gears to one of your most proud moments in the business. You're leaving a test screening and you're saying, I cannot believe this is ours. I can't believe this is mine. This is going to be a hit. I am so excited. Remember a moment? That particular moment?

Jim Gianopulos (43:46):

Oh, many. When I got to Paramount.

Kevin Goetz (43:48):

Wasn't Quiet Place on your?

Jim Gianopulos (43:49):

That's the one I was going to mention. I got there just in time to green-light to say yes to a train that was already kind of in the station and about to leave. But then we saw it and, and look at it. The movie was $17 million and you just looked at the quality of it. I mean, look, it was a genre movie.

Kevin Goetz (44:07):

But it was lightning in the bottle.

Jim Gianopulos (44:09):

It was just lightning in a bottle. And you saw that audience popping out of their seats. And that's the other thing about the research process, whatever the cards say. And you know, I always advocated, give people a way to write in a coherent, legible way. And we always struggled with that because people are with those tiny pencils and. But you can also read the room as the film plays. Okay. The Quiet Place, you can just count the jump scares and the quality of tension and the engagement. But you could also see the troughs in a movie. Oh, I see. You're just reading the audience from the back. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you get a sense of, you know, when they're fidgeting, when they're fixated on the movie, when they kind of feel a loss of their focus at times. I know you always count how many people left to go to the restroom, did they come back? Correct. And all that. So, but you know, you just get a sense of the rhythm of the film that way.

Kevin Goetz (45:02):

And the old titans, the old studio chiefs, Louis B. Mayer and so forth all did it, all talk about it.

Jim Gianopulos (45:09):

It was Sam Goldwyn with when my ass itches, I know I got a problem.

Kevin Goetz (45:12):

You bet. Yeah. Absolutely. So yeah, I was going to ask you about being in the room when Maverick was screened mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And it was to me a perfect movie.

Jim Gianopulos (45:24):

It was a perfect movie. We had to keep it on the shelf for a couple of years. I kept saying to people, I know people always say this, I promise you this movie is fun, because, you know, we kept holding it back.

Kevin Goetz (45:37):

I saw Tom Cruise the other night, by the way, and he still acknowledges your support. Well, in such a big way. No, no, Jim, seriously.

Jim Gianopulos (45:45):

It was, it was the right thing to do.

Kevin Goetz (45:46):

I know, but come on, you, the pressure, I can only imagine the pressure you got from your board.

Jim Gianopulos (45:51):

There was, yeah, there was some serious pressure there. 

Kevin Goetz (45:53):

What made you do it? Hold it off?

Jim Gianopulos (45:55):

It was the right thing. Look, first of all, you see that movie in a world that's under the massive impact of Covid. The early days it was easy. The theaters were closed, so duh. Right. But even as Covid started to get under control, you know, people were still reluctant. You're sitting there and somebody's coughing a couple of rows over.

Kevin Goetz (46:17):

I still think of it.

Jim Gianopulos (46:17):

Right. So there was that, and then you see this movie and Tom said, this movie's going to do a billion dollars. And I believed him having seen it. Yeah. The question was how well will it travel? You know, the thing about that movie is too, it's not jingoistic.

Kevin Goetz (46:33):

Gung ho America?

Jim Gianopulos (46:33):

It's not jingoistic, it really isn't. It's not even militaristic. It's just about people coming to terms with their capabilities and to build a team and to demonstrate.

Kevin Goetz (46:44):

To come back to your roots and all of that.

Jim Gianopulos (46:45):

All of that. So it was, I mean it played on every single level and certainly Tom was the moving force all along the way.

Kevin Goetz (46:53):

I know. Because I can't say enough good things about him. Yeah. Because he is just such a rallier of troops and he just has that ability. Some reshoots.

Jim Gianopulos (47:02):

And he did some reshoots. And you know, he came back for some more money <laugh> and look, we could see enough to know that. So it didn't make sense in a world in which, the Covid impact was 20 or 30% of the box office even for big movies. And today it's off about 20% across the board. But then we weren't sure how much it would impact a really successful, powerful movie. But if you just said it's 20 or 30% and you have a billion-dollar potential, sure. It's not a lot of math to say, well we should hold this until the right time.

Kevin Goetz (47:38):

The interesting thing that's happened is that, and I knew this was going to happen based on the research we had done pre-Covid, is that there were going to be actually more people going to the movies in the next 10 years, but seeing far, far fewer movies. Yeah. So I was just going to end with a question because we could talk here all day. Yeah. Which is, tell me, Jim, where do things go in, let's say, I won't even go 10 years from now, but five years from now. Does it follow the same trajectory as I'm talking about fewer movies, major successes, a lot of small ones that sort of are struggling. Yeah. Um, what happens to movies? Is there a consolidation of screens? What do you see?

Jim Gianopulos (48:23):

I've been on the board of USC, the cinema school for many years, for 15 years. I finally agreed to teach a course.

Kevin Goetz (48:30):

I have to just say this because I remember at our most recent lunch, about a month or two ago, you said to me, this is who you got <laugh> these goddamn kids.

Jim Gianopulos (48:37):

Oh yeah.

Kevin Goetz (48:38):

Oh wait, listen, you should be kissing the ground when you hear who the teachers were.

Jim Gianopulos (48:45):

Oh please.

Kevin Goetz (48:46):

I called some of my friends, is what Jim said. Okay. You called Ted Sarandos, and Bob Iger. Yeah. Who else? JJ Abrams.

Jim Gianopulos (48:57):

Ava DuVernay.

Kevin Goetz (48:58):

These are for how many students?

Jim Gianopulos (49:00):

They were taking selfies at the end of the class. Oh my God. Well, I didn't realize that the lectures, I thought it was like a 60 to 90-minute lecture. I'd go up, tell some war stories and stuff, and I find out that it's a three-hour session each time, times 13. Sure. How the fuck am I going to talk about for three hours? So what I would do is I would write a two hour kind of overall lecture, and then I reached out to friends, as you said, and they would do the last hour.

Kevin Goetz (49:25):

And what friends? My friends turned out, what friend you have, they turned out what they turned out.

Jim Gianopulos (49:29):

So the kids got a thing. But the subject of the course was the future of creative content. My second stupid mistake, because I don't think anybody knows the future of AI, the most recent evolution in AI, which I think is going to transform the business mm-hmm. <affirmative> enormously. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, it's obvious to say at this point hadn't even happened yet. But back to, you know, I do think theaters will always exist. I think there's something unique, not just in the collective experience of being in the theater, but there's also something to be said. And that's why some truly devout theatergoers are always annoyed by somebody texting or on their phone or annoyed, is it's a single purpose experience. You bet. You put yourself in that room for the single. You're not talking to your friend or your wife or your spouse or your whatever. You are there to experience this film along with everyone else.

Jim Gianopulos (50:22):

But that's your single purpose. And you might have a 60 or 80 or 90-inch screen at home. You don't have a 60-foot screen at home. So there's something to be said, both for the scale of the experience and the nature of it that I think will always exist. Now the other thing that I have said all during this period when media keeps coming back and saying, what do you think is going to happen? Blah, blah, blah. There's so much to watch at home. It's not like people just found out that there's stuff to watch at home. There's been stuff to watch at home in an almost unlimited amount for 20 years. Yes, the streamers have put a lot of new content and exciting content and a variety of content, all that good stuff. But it's either stay home or get off the couch. So I think that will always exist. And I think that, you know, we've always said stay out of the middle. Those sort of McMovies that always filled out a schedule, filled out a slate, I think is going to obviously be fewer of those. But if you see something like Everything Everywhere All at Once, a very specific kind of movie, a very ambitious, a creatively ambitious movie which found its groove, found its audience.

Kevin Goetz (51:31):

Well it became so polarizing, but far more in the love category.

Jim Gianopulos (51:35):

Yeah. And in the polarization. Yeah. Of that reaction. I know there was curiosity, you know, and awareness. So what's it all about? How come he likes it and how come she liked it and he didn't like it? What, let me go find out. So there was something said for that.

Kevin Goetz (51:50):

That’s right. And, and by the way, I'm going to just change that word. Why did that person love it and that person hate it? Yeah. It was that kind of thing. Yeah, it was, it elicited such an emotional, and I think that was the genius of the movie and also why it won the Academy Award.

Jim Gianopulos (52:04):

Well, but also one of the aspects of studios in particular, and I think some of the streamers are finding their way into theatrical releases now, and recognizing the value of a theatrical platform. But even if you stay with the mainstream studios, the idea that you can make a movie, find out maybe it didn't quite reach your ambition and expectation. And so instead of going to chase it with tens and tens of millions of dollars of marketing money, let's just put it on the streamer and people will see it as part of their subscription and be quite happy, or not. And then alternatively, Smile, we originally made for Paramount Plus. They looked at it and said, holy shit, this thing really plays. So the ability to move films from one end to the other, back between those two media, I think gives a certain flexibility. Flexibility. Those who have to say yes to it to say, look, you know, there's always the possibility,

Kevin Goetz (53:02):

But in the green-lighting process, in the green-lighting process, you better understand that its financial model must lean towards the streamer. And if you're lucky enough to have the opportunity for it to go theatrical, then go back to the bank. 

Jim Gianopulos (53:14):

Well, I think it goes in both directions because you define your expectations at the outset. You say, we're making this for a theatrical.

Kevin Goetz (53:20):

That’s what I'm saying.

Jim Gianopulos (53:21):

You declare yourself then find out, but then you find out that maybe it doesn't quite rise to that level. And I think that's a great flexibility. A lot of great films being made that justify their existence.

Kevin Goetz (53:34):

I just think that last scenario is the most scariest, which is if you go in thinking it's theatrical, you're almost getting to expose that you have to spend the money to go theatrical. Why I think that is a strong model now is because most studios are smart enough to know that this is a big bet movie and we are going for it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and the flexibility to me works better on the other side where you then make something that is meant for the streamer, but could be theatrical and then depending on how it turns out, then you can decide to spend more, yeah, the greater. You have another studio in you?

Jim Gianopulos (54:11):

No, I don't think so.

Kevin Goetz (54:13):

Oh, we need you, man.

Jim Gianopulos (54:14):

I think two is plenty, and I was privileged to do both of those.

Kevin Goetz (54:18):

Well, I think that you have so, so much to offer and still, and I learn from you every time I talk to you, you're an extraordinary…

Jim Gianopulos (54:26):

I learn from you too, every time.

Kevin Goetz (54:27): 

Thank you, Jim. But you're, you're an extraordinary executive and even a more extraordinary human being and philanthropist, and I just love you, man.

Jim Gianopulos (54:36):

I love you too, brother. Thank you.

Kevin Goetz (54:37):

To our listeners, I hope you enjoyed our interview. I encourage you to check out some of the incredible films that we've discussed here today that Jim has overseen and there are a lot of them. For other stories like this one, please check out my book, Audienceology at Amazon or wherever books are sold, or through my website at You can also follow me on my social media at KevinGoetz360. Next time on Don't Kill the Messenger, I will welcome Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen who produced among other things, the Twilight Saga and the Maze Runner series. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the movie-making process. Your opinions matter.


Host:  Kevin Goetz

Guest:  Jim Gianopulos

Producer:  Kari Campano


(Cont.) Jim Gianopulos (Former Studio Chairman/CEO) on Making Successful Movies, Greenlighting Projects, & More!