In its May 1990 issue, the sadly-missed Premiere magazine published an article, highlighting ten young movie executives, and suggesting that these were people with very big futures ahead of them in the industry.
Given that much is written about movie executives, without actually digging much deeper to find out who they actually are, I thought it was worth tracing what happened to these ten, and – 26 years later – whether Premiere was correct in saluting them as the future of the industry.
Senior production VP, Paramount Pictures
Pictured in the article on an office swivel chair with some snazzy purple socks, Lance Young, Premiere wrote, had been “groomed for big things since joining Paramount at the age of 23.” He was 30 at the time the article was published, and by that stage had been instrumental in luring The Hunt For Red October to Paramount. Crucially, he earned his pedigree the old fashioned way, working as a runner on the likes of E.T., before slipping into a posh suit.
Young’s no longer directly in the movie industry, but he did have a good run. He left Paramount in 1993, and according to his LinkedIn page was one of those who formulated Paramount’s “tent-pole strategy to develop and produce event films,” noting that “objective for middle level and low budget films was to maintain upside while mitigating risk.”
He then moved to Warner Bros as executive vice president for three years (overseeing the likes of The Pelican Brief and Free Willy), before quitting – to go and make a movie! There’s something that happily goes against the cliché of the movie executive right there. Young wrote and directed Bliss, starring Terence Stamp, and then moved in 1999 to DreamWorks Animation, where he would stay for the next 11 years as head of creative affairs/production.
Since then? He did a year at a financial firm, and set up Create Studios/CineAlchemy, that until the start of the year was working on films, promotions and commercials. He was also an interim CEO of Orpheus Interactive until April this year, which made the mobile game of Sons Of Anarchy. He now does consultancy work, specializing in entertainment and media.
Executive VP of production, Columbia Pictures
Now here’s a familiar name. Pascal was 32 at the time of the article, and declared in it that “I always knew I wanted to be in the movie business.” As such, she landed a job as secretary to producer Tony Garnett, and within a few years was developing the Sesame Street spin-off movie Follow That Bird.
She moved to 20th Century Fox in 1985, developing projects such as Say Anything and Revenge Of The Nerds 2, and moved to Columbia in 1988, soon shepherding Awakenings through the system. Her sign-off quote in the 1990 piece? “Eventually, I’m going to make movies. I’m going to make movies, no matter which way I go.”
Amy Pascal is making movies. Right now, she’s a producer on the Barbie movie and on Spider-Man: Homecoming. Most notably, though, she was head of Sony Pictures Entertainment from 2003 to 2015, with the infamous cyber-terrorism attack on Sony’s servers – tied to the release of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview – the catalyst for her leaving the role, and moving to directly producing films.
She’s had some career so far. She was two years into her first Columbia/Sony stint when Premiere predicted her as one to watch, and by the time she’d left in 1994, she’s helped bring the likes of Groundhog Day and A League Of Their Own to the screen. She left for two years to be president of production for Turner Pictures, and was hired back at Columbia in 1996.
Ten years later, she landed the top job, and films that she oversaw on her watch including the Spider-Man series, The Da Vinci Code, three James Bond films, and The Social Network. She left the job in May 2015, and now runs Pascal Pictures. She’s arguably the most successful of the ten executives that the Premiere article cited.
Production VP, Hollywood Pictures (Disney)
Interestingly, Disney wouldn’t have anything to do with Premiere’s 1990 article, citing “its philosophy of corporate anonymity” (right now, Kevin Feige is a movie executive with a profile nearly as high as some of his films’ stars). But of Hirschhorn, the magazine still revealed that he graduated from Harvard with an economics degree in 1979, and originally got his movie break working for the American Sack Theatres chain of screens.
In 1983, he was lured to be an assistant at Universal, and a year later, he became director of feature development at the Mount Company, associate-producing Bull Durham while he was there. A jump to Fox Broadcasting saw him helping to set up 21 Jump Street, and as an independent producer, he was executive producer on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And then he landed the Disney/Hollywood Pictures job…
Busy, but less so in movies.
Hirschhorn stayed at Disney until 1999, in an assortment of roles. He helped launch the Hollywood Pictures label in the first place, and became an executive vice president at the studio, with films on his watch including The Santa Clause and Quiz Show.
Then he became president of Walt Disney Television And Television Animation (WDTATA, beautifully), relaunching The Wonderful World Of Disney in 1997, and overseeing all the live action films and animated series across the assorted channels.
He left Disney and founded G4 Media in 2000, a television network in the States dedicated purely to videogames. From 2006 to 2008, he was chief creative officer for Retirement Living TV, and now he’s president of AXS TV in the US (covering MMA, music, festivals and comedy), where he’s been for the past seven years.
Donald De Line
Production VP, Walt Disney Pictures
De Line was 31 when Premiere sang his praises, having slipped into the movie business at the age of 23. That was when he worked with Gary David Goldberg on the casting of the first season of Family Ties (a first encounter with Michael J. Fox), and Disney hired him as a direction of production in 1985, promoting him the year after to vice president of its Sunday movie division. There, De Line would oversee more than 20 made-for-TV films. He went to work for a few months heading up Michael J. Fox’s production company, and Disney re-hired him in 1988.
At the time of the article, De Line was “working on the prequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and “he’s said to be next in line for the number-two Touchstone [Pictures] slot, now held by David Kirkpatrick.
Well, that Roger Rabbit prequel never happened.
Still, De Line got his Touchstone promotion in 1991, and he would then subsequently become president of Touchstone, involved in films ranging from Father Of The Bride through to Ransom, Rushmore, and Armageddon.
He then was hired by Paramount Pictures in 2003, where he was head of production. Yet he would be there for just 14 months, losing his job when Brad Grey replaced Sherry Lansing as chair of the studio. Grey brought his own people with him, and De Line was out.
However, he had long since set up his De Line Pictures banner, and would develop projects primarily for Warner Bros, including Body Of Lies, Yogi Bear, and Observe And Report. More recently, he produced Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, and the DC Comics/Warner Bros misfire, Green Lantern. And he executive produced the Wayward Pines TV show, from M. Night Shyamalan.
He is one of Hollywood’s most successful producers.
Executive vice president, 20th Century Fox
Tom Jacobson originally had dreamed of making documentaries, and he earned his stripes after graduating at Yale at a PBS TV station, and on very small independent films for Roger Corman. He slowly climbed the ladder to become a production manager, and after a stint at the late John Hughes’ production company, Hughes Entertainment, he was hired by 20th Century Fox in 1989.
John Hughes, for one, was a fan. Jacobson had co-produced Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and was reportedly of huge help with the behind the scenes complexities of getting Home Alone 2: Lost In New York made.
Jacobson earned a promotion to president of worldwide production at 20th Century Fox in 1992, and whilst there, he got films such as Die Hard With A Vengeance and Independence Day on their way to the screen. He would stay at Fox for six years in all, and from there, would work on a series of movies for other studios, including Mission To Mars and Mighty Joe Young.
From 2003 to 2005, Jacobson was also co-president of Paramount Pictures. Another of Premiere’s candidates who made their way to the top.
Now though, he heads up The Jacobson Company, working on film and TV projects. Amongst his most recent credits was the TNT TV series, Proof.
Production VP, Warner Bros
One of the youngest of those featured in the article, Lisa Henson was 29 at the time of its publication. The daughter of Jim, she admitted in the piece that she didn’t really get into the movies until the 1980s, and that it was seeing Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Shining in quick succession that made her fall for film (although she’d worked on a couple of Muppets films in various capacities by this time).
She landed a job as executive assistant at Warner Bros in the 1980s, alongside Mark Canton and Lucy Fisher. Projects there included Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Purple Rain. By 24, she was director of creative affairs, and at 25 she got her job as production vice president. By 1990, she had already worked on Batman, Lethal Weapon 2, and Gremlins 2 for the studio.
This Premiere article was good at predicting studio high-ups. At the age of just 33, Henson was lured to Columbia Pictures in 1993 as president of worldwide production (following her previous boss, Mark Canton). Amongst her projects there were Sense & Sensibility, Little Women, Fly Away Home, and The People Vs Larry Flynt. By the late ’90s, though, she was at The Jim Henson Company, and to this day, she holds the role of CEO.
That certainly keeps her busy, too. The Jim Henson Company remains involved in film, television and education, with several projects in development.
VP of production and acquisitions, Universal
At 39, Jim Jacks was the oldest executive featured in the piece, but I warmed to him immediately for being the person who helped persuade Universal to make Field Of Dreams. “I like all kinds of movies – horror movies, hard-action movies, esoteric movies”, he told Premiere.
Jacks’ background was as a financial analyst on Wall Street, before deciding he wanted to write films instead. He didn’t get far with that, but did make the jump to cinemas, booking films for the Circle Theatres chain in Washington for two years. He persuaded Circle to heavily back Risky Business ahead of it becoming a sensation, and his bosses advised him to make a film (which they invested in). He duly produced Raising Arizona.
He landed a job at Universal in 1987 (after Circle had turned down backing Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead!), with an apparently self-imposed remit of bringing independent filmmakers into the studio world, and duly worked with Clive Barker, Spike Lee, and Stephen Frears. His projects included Darkman, Do The Right Thing, and Tremors. Even in 1990 though, there was a sense that it was the films rather than the politics that interested Jacks, with his stated desire to end up where he can “work the picture.”
Jacks didn’t last much longer in the world of studio films, leaving Universal in the early 1990s to co-found Alphaville films with fellow Universal alumnus Sean Daniel. Alphaville’s slate would feature Tombstone, The Mummy, Hard Target (Jacks was instrumental in persuading John Woo to make films in America), Dark Blue, and The Gift (the 2000 version).
He left Alphaville in 2004, though, and after then didn’t have as much luck getting films off the ground. He tried to get The Princess Of Mars made at Paramount, for Sky Captain director Kerry Conran to helm. He was also trying to get a western made, based around Homer’s The Iliad.
Jacks, though, died of a heart attack at the age of 66, back in 2014. He was widely recognized as a studio executive who loved, and fought for, filmmakers.
Senior VP for motion pictures, Imagine
David Friendly’s career began as a journalist, earning a job as a Newsweek staff writer at the age of 22. He moved on to become movie columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and in 1987 – at the age of 30 – he was offered a producing deal at Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment. His former roommate’s screenplay, The ‘Burbs, became his first project.
Friendly stayed with Imagine until 1994, executive producing the My Girl films, For Love Or Money, and Greedy. Come 1994, though, he took the job as president of Davis Entertainment, where projects ranged from Sylvester Stallone vehicle Daylight through to Out To Sea.
Friendly moved to 20th Century Fox towards the end of 1990s (his pawprints are on the Big Momma’s House franchise), before joining Deep River Productions in 2000. It took Deep River six years to get Little Miss Sunshine made, and when Friendly left the firm in 2006, he produced Meet Dave and Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son for Fox.
More recently, he’s co-directed the documentary Sneakerheadz (exploring those who collect sneakers), and produced the new film from Die Hard 5 director John Moore, I.T.
Production VP, Universal
Hal Lieberman originally moved from New York to Los Angeles in his early 20s with the intention of teaching. But while he was working at the placement office of the University of Los Angeles, he saw a job offer come through for a production assistant on a movie. The name of the film wasn’t revealed, but it turned out to be Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty.
Lieberman thus became Beatty’s personal assistant for a year, writing screenplays on the side. But by his early 30s, he was stuck. He thus got a job at Disney working on The Wizard, before moving to Universal and helping to turn Problem Child into a hit. Which is about when Premiere caught up with him.
Lieberman’s career skyrocketed. He made his way up to become president of production at Universal, and films made on his watch included Apollo 13, Liar Liar, Reality Bites, and The Nutty Professor.
Once he’d completed his stint at Universal, Lieberman moved on to producing in 1996. Again, this kept him busy. Films such as Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, U-571, Around The World In 80 Days, and the first two Vacancy films followed.
He continues to develop pictures, but also, in 2012, he was hired by the Los Angeles Film School to head up its Entertainment Business Bachelor of Science Program. He also runs his own production company, The Hal Lieberman Company.
President of production, Largo
By the time Premiere covered him in its feature, the-then 31-year old Lloyd Levin had already helped develop Die Hard, Predator, and K-9, and was one of those overseeing Die Hard 2. He had been writing screenplays since his mid-20s, and got his movie break by becoming a script reader for producer Larry Gordon. When Gordon became president of 20th Century Fox, he quickly appointed Levin.
Gordon would set up The Gordon Company, and then move across to Largo, where Levin followed. But even at the time of the article, it’s clear there was a frustrated filmmaker here. Levin had sold an unnamed script to Carolco, and expressed the wish to move from being an executive to a producer. “I think I’d rather be much more directly involved,” he mused.
Largo Entertainment backed films such as Point Break, Malcolm X, and Timecop, but by the mid-1990s, Larry Gordon had left (Largo would be out of business by the end of the decade). Lloyd Levin, meanwhile, never got that screenplay made, but he did stay true to his word, and move into producing movies. Lots of movies, in fact.
You can’t fault the man’s taste, either. Projects he’s produced include Mystery Men, Hellboy, Watchmen, Boogie Nights, Event Horizon, and the Tomb Raider movies. He has a couple more movies in development now too.
Premiere’s crystal ball really wasn’t bad, and there was certainly a sense in the ten people it followed that a love of movies was at the heart of their career choices. A good number rose to the top of certain studios too, and they remain involved – with the exception of the late Jim Jacks – all involved in the movie industry to varying degrees today.
Since 1990, of course, more and more studio executives have come from business and financial backgrounds than filmmaking ones. The chances of any consumer magazine running a similar article now are surely slim too. A pity. It’d be interesting to meet just a few of those faces behind the summer of movies many of us have just sat through…
This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.