Andy Fickman can do the industry’s proverbial mailroom-to-filmmaker story one better: He started out as a tour guide at Universal Studios. “That just got me into the door in Hollywood,” recalls Fickman, a Texas native.
Working his way up from trams, Fickman also focused on the legit theater, directing popular plays in Los Angeles and New York. He adapted one of those stage shows, the marijuana-obsessed musical “Reefer Madness,” into an Emmy-winning production for Showtime in 2005.
“‘Reefer Madness’ got me so much notice it really was a huge launch,” Fickman says.
Turning his ‘Reefer’ high into feature gigs, Fickman directed two back-to-back family pics, Amanda Bynes starrer “She’s the Man” and the $147 million-grossing “The Game Plan,” in which Dwayne Johnson meets his match in 8-year-old Madison Pettis.
“I learned so much from Amanda Bynes, who’s been acting since she was 8,” Fickman says. “I realized that working with young actors, you’re really just working with a talented actor, no matter what age they are.”
Before “The Game Plan” had even wrapped, Disney tapped Fickman to helm its retooling of the 1975 sci-fi adventure “Escape to Witch Mountain.” He cast Johnson immediately and knew exactly which young actress he wanted for the lead.
“AnnaSophia Robb broke my heart in ‘Bridge to Terabithia,’ and she was the first person who came to mind for ‘Witch Mountain,'” he says. “I surrounded her with all these seasoned vets like Ciaran Hinds, Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino, and they ended up asking every day, ‘Where’d you find this kid?’ She’s amazing.”
The family genre is one Fickman, the father of an 11-year-old son, is happy to master. He’s heard the stereotypical warnings about working with kids, and he doesn’t agree.
“I’ve come across many actors who are far more childish in their behavior than any of the kids I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “I think the key is connecting, not approaching kids as ‘child actors.’ ”
Recent breakthrough: Paired child actors with Dwayne Johnson in sleeper hit “The Game Plan” and big-budget Disney reboot “Race to Witch Mountain.”
Role model: “Amanda Bynes to this day continues to impress me. And AnnaSophia Robb – I have absolutely loved everything she’s ever done.”
What’s next: “Race to Witch Mountain,” with AnnaSophia Robb, opens March 13.