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Chris Columbus: Finding fresh franchises

Youth Impact Report 2010: Bigscreen Chaperones

I’m hoping to grow up at some point,” filmmaker Chris Columbus says. “But maybe that’d be a mistake. The way the film business is today, young people are the only remaining guaranteed audience.”

Columbus is well positioned to deliver that group. He began his career writing family friendly movies such as “Gremlins” and “The Goonies” for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and hit paydirt directing the “Home Alone” comedies and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Factor in his involvement producing the first three “Harry Potter” films (and directing the opening two entries) and helming this year’s fantasy-adventure “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” and you have, outside Spielberg, the industry’s strongest track record in finding meaty parts for young actors. “It’s exciting to go out there and put someone onscreen that the audience doesn’t know,” Columbus says. “When it works, there’s no better feeling.”

That’s a reason Columbus remembers the “Potter” movies as one of the most satisfying experiences of his life. He and cinematographer John Seale shot the first, “Sorcerer’s Stone,” partly like a documentary, running three cameras continuously because they never knew what their young, inexperienced cast members would do.

“The first two weeks, they were just so glad to be there that it was really about getting them to stop smiling all the time,” Columbus remembers. “Now I watch the new movies in a theater in San Francisco or New York and it’s very surreal, very emotional. It’s a wonderful thing to see these kids grow and become better actors with each film.”

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