Producer John Davis favors popular entertainment, toplined by household names, often featuring special f/x and marketable across multiple generations.
“We’re in a great period for the movies,” says Davis, whose producing credits have ranged from sci-fi (“Predator,” 1987) to thrillers (“The Firm,” 1993), comedies (“Grumpy Old Men,” 1993), actioners (“Behind Enemy Lines,” 2001) and family (last year’s “Daddy Day Care”). “It’s a time when diversity is truly being fostered. We’ve created all kinds of opportunities where movies of any size can be made.”
In an age when retaining on-lot studio producing gigs is rare, Davis has managed to thrive by being both prolific and eclectic in his choices. With Davis Entertainment, he’s quietly created a mini-empire at Fox, the studio his father, Armon Davis, once ran.
The younger Davis has amassed a producing resume of some 60 titles, for film and TV, earning a total of more than $2 billion worldwide.
“John has been a truly unique producer here,” says Hutch Parker, president of production at Fox, where Davis has a first-look deal. “Not only has he delivered a very high number of films for us each year, but he’s done so with a very high level of material that’s smart and commercial.”
Parker adds that Davis has a keen sense of the marketplace and talent, as well as a good eye for on-the-rise execs to help run his company.
Finding and consistently churning out successful commercial product is what studio producing is all about. But there are subtle nuances to these pics that Davis says producers must continue to tap.
He finds commercial properties have morphed from what was known simply as “high-concept” to “unique concept,” defined as a movie idea that may not be 100% obvious but has been packaged properly, with the right mix of a popular star and new technology.
Pre-sold concepts, such as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, work because there’s a freshness in the return to old and beloved stories.
“I’ve always been simple about what material I want to do,” says Davis. “I make movies that I want to see. Because I am a changing person, that will change, too. I also make movies that my kids want to see.”
Directors who have worked with Davis appreciate his openness, calm and humor on the set as well as the discreet ways in which he gives suggestions.
“He’s always got an eye on the heart of the material,” says Peter Hewitt, helmer of “Garfield,” one of four Davis releases due in theaters this summer. “He’s always interested in what will make people care about characters. With ‘Garfield’ he was very concerned in making this cat who’s a bit too fat seem real enough.”
“What John understands as well as anyone is that a commercial family film needs to have heart,” agrees Steve Carr, who helmed Davis’ Eddie Murphy starrers “Dr. Dolittle 2” and “Daddy Day Care,” both of which took in more than $100 million at the domestic box office. “That’s John’s mantra. He knows that if you don’t believe in a character, and don’t like them, you don’t have a film.”
“He knows about movies and he gives a lot of respect to the filmmaker,” adds John Woo, who helmed Davis’ recent actioner “Paycheck.” “On the set, he is a quiet man who never yells or panics. He makes everyone feel easy and happy to do their work. He wants to do good for the movie.”