When Ken Stovitz, a co-partner of Overbrook Entertainment, first met Will Smith, he asked him what his goals were. Smith said he wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. Then Stovitz asked him who his role model was. Smith answered Bob Hope.
“For a 20-year-old kid to want to be Bob Hope, who was probably the ambassador of show business to the world, was unique,” Stovitz says. “I thought, ‘Let’s try that.'”
A native of Los Angeles and an attorney, Stovitz practiced law for only a brief time before offers rolled in from Disney and ICM. He worked as an agent at ICM for almost two years before jumping to CAA in 1989. He spent the next 18 years in the motion picture department of CAA, representing both Smith and Lassiter.
“I must confess, I was always the agent who said ‘I’m never going to leave and join a client,'” Stovitz says. “I had seen a lot of people do it and fail miserably. I sure have to eat my words with a lot of people now.”
Stovitz says he, Smith and Lassiter had been looking to build the company for years when Smith called him and asked him to change their golf date to a meeting at Smith’s house, saying it wasn’t “a golf conversation.”
“I thought to myself,” recalls Stovitz, “you don’t invite someone over to your house to break up, right?” He called Lassiter, who wasn’t exactly forthcoming, but did assure Stovitz the news was positive. As Stovitz explains it, the negotiation took no longer than 30 seconds.
“It had started 14 years earlier, building a relationship with James and Will,” he says. “He said, ‘Let’s do it,’ and then we started talking about kids and life.”
That was less than two years ago (Overbrook was founded by Smith and Lassiter in 1998). Since then, Stovitz has seen Overbrook produce five films, including “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Hancock” and “The Human Contract,” which is the feature directing debut of Jada Pinkett Smith.
Overbrook has just launched an interactive division. Run by Guy Primus, former group product marketing manager at MSN Entertainment, Stovitz says he hopes Overbrook’s interactive unit will be the first to create successful storytelling online.
“If someone can actually do it, we’re trying our best,” he says. “We’re spending our money doing it.” Stovitz says Overbrook will launch its first online property in the first quarter of 2009.
In general, Stovitz says he focuses on the creative side of the business at Overbrook, avoiding day-to-day negotiating to leave time for creating, developing and producing.
“James (Lassiter) probably does more strategic thinking about the overall growth of the company,” Stovitz says. “I do the nuts and bolts of creating — identifying or creating concepts or ideas, meeting with writers and directors and actors, working to transform ideas into screenplays or teleplays.”
And once those ideas are born, Stovitz refuses to set limits on their possible reach. “We only believe in hitting home runs in every country of the world,” he says. “There’s a map of the world in my office that literally covers the entire wall. That’s my market. If there’s a universally relatable human emotion in a project, then we want to deliver it to the entire world.”
Doug Belgrad, co-president of Columbia Pictures, which has a producing deal with Overbrook, says Stovitz “is usually one step ahead of everybody else in figuring out how to make things work.
“He’s got a lot of positive energy that people feed off of,” Belgrad adds. “Plus, he’s savvy and sophisticated about the inner workings of agencies and studios.”
One of the films that Overbrook has placed on the front burner is a remake of “The Karate Kid,” with Smith’s son Jaden — who co-starred with his father in “The Pursuit of Happyness” — attached.
“We all agreed it was really important to get the remake of ‘The Karate Kid’ off the ground,” Belgrad says. “Ken worked very closely with the writer to develop a strong screenplay draft and has been instrumental in building a bridge to our partner in China (China Film Group Corp. chief exec Han Sanping) who is going to produce the movie. When he knows specifically what the goal is, he’s able to move things forward very efficiently and effectively.”
Adds Stovitz: “We share a common mantra: No one will outwork us. People may be smarter than us, or better-looking than us, but no one will work harder. We actually believe that the work is the gift.”