Former AMPAS prexy has had storied career

Marketing, publicity, distribution, production – Sid Ganis has seemingly done it all. He got his start at 20th Century-Fox in New York City in the early 1960s, and after stints at Fox, Columbia and Seven Arts he became senior VP at Lucasfilm in 1979, and worked with George Lucas in marketing such blockbusters as “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” In the 1980s he segued to prexy at Paramount where he oversaw such hits as “Top Gun” “Fatal Attraction” and “Ghost.” From 1992 to 1996, he returned to Columbia as vice chairman and prexy of worldwide marketing for Columbia/Tristar, and then in 1996 founded his own company, Out of the Blue Entertainment. With wife Nancy as a partner, and in association with Adam Sandler, he produced “Big Daddy,” “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” “Mr. Deeds” and “Akeelah and the Bee,” and found time to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for four consequent one-year terms until 2009.

Here’s his career as he and a number of associates see it.

Sid Ganis on Joseph L. Mankiewicz

My whole movie career began with Joe and an incredible stroke of good luck. Ken Hyman, head of production at Warner Bros. knew I wanted to get into production. I’d had some experience in New York, working on the set of “You’re A Big Boy Now,” Francis Coppola’s first film, and I loved it, so when Kenny asked if I wanted to go to L.A. I jumped at it. And Kenny attached me to Joe. I knew his work, but nothing else, and I became the assistant to his producer Doc Erickson, on “There Was A Crooked Man.” I was on the set every day and it was thrilling to hear Joe hold court with his wry theories about Hollywood, studios, actors and politics. (It was) my first taste of the relationship between studios and artists. And the more I understood all that, the more I respected Joe. And now, as I look back, I realize just how special that time was.”

George Lucas on Ganis the marketer

I first met Sid through Francis Coppola; he was working as a publicist at the time, and we were really just acquaintances, but I always liked him. After “Star Wars,” I decided to create a marketing department within Lucasfilm. I immediately thought of Sid; he was a good marketer and had an easy way with people. Sid came on as we were gearing up for “The Empire Strikes Back,” and he was fantastic. We both wanted to explore new ways of doing things. Sid would go to comic book conventions to drum up interest among the science-fiction fans. We both had beards and we were the same height, so people would sometimes mistake him for me – which was great, because Sid was such a people person. My films were my voice, but Sid made real connections with people, from the fans to the media. This was hugely important because he was the face of the company. Sid headed up marketing for films ranging from “Return of the Jedi” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Kagemusha,” and “Latino.” He helped push through some really adventurous campaigns. One project I remember in particular was the “Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Sid produced the film and won an Emmy award for it. When Sid decided it was time to leave Lucasfilm he came to me with the bad news and the good news. The bad news-I was losing one of the best marketers in the business but the good news was he was headed to Paramount where he would be launching my next two films— “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Tucker.”

Frank Mancuso on Ganis’ Paramount years

Sid was a brilliant marketer because he has the DNA of the common man and the eye of the general public, so when he created a campaign, it was like the public saw it all through his eyes. He also had a exceptional talent for handling and communicating with the talent. He created a sense of partnership with them, and he always had a great sense of humor, which you really need in this charged world. At the same time, he was extremely professional and a very experienced executive, and the talent always trusted him and his judgment. And they were very successful years for the studio. We had huge hits – “Top Gun,” “Fatal Attraction,” the “Indiana Jones” and “Star Trek” franchises, and films like “Accused,” where Jodie Foster won the Oscar. So a lot of very high profile successes, and Sid was a big part of it all.

Josh Goldstine on Ganis’ Columbia years

“I met Sid in 1991 and it’s a funny story. I was very young and he offered me an intern job there and I was thrilled to be working with him. Then I found out that he’d offered the very same job to this girl! He was such a positive guy that he’d literally promised both of us the same job. I got the job and later ended up marrying the girl, so it all worked out. It was a very exciting period in Columbia and Sony’s history as Sony had just bought the studio and we had this new lot on the old historic MGM site. They’d just done “Boyz in the Hood,” which really shook things up. Sid first came over in this corporate role, helping Peter Guber lead the company, and then overseeing all the marketing and distribution, and it was all about building this new studio on the bones of the old lot. So he was there with Peter redesigning a new Columbia logo and creating a new image for Sony and the lot. I was basically his right hand man in marketing and I went to every meeting with him and learned the ropes. That was the start of my career.”

Doug Atchison on “Akeelah and the Bee”

Sid saw me give my acceptance speech when “Akeelah and the Bee” won the Nichol Fellowship, the Academy’s award for un-produced screenplays, and he happened to be sitting next to my sister and told her, “I really want to read the script, here’s my card, I’m a producer.” So I ended up meeting Sid and he’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met, and he immediately understood what I wanted to do. He championed the script, he recognized the challenges of getting it made, and he always supported me creatively. He has an amazing ability to synchronize the often conflicting forces of art and commerce, and get everyone pointed in the same direction. It ultimately took five years to get the film made, but he never gave up.

Laurence Mark on Ganis’ Academy presidency

Throughout his presidency Sid didn’t seem remotely afraid to open new doors, and without knowing what’s behind them, and in all sorts of areas. That was certainly true of last year’s Oscar show. He wasn’t afraid of surprises, and he had a boundless curiosity, which Bill Condon and I always enjoyed. He could look at a situation from a zillion angles, get a kick out of it and then deal with it. He gave us an enormous amount of leeway last year. The show seemed to want to embark on a new chapter, and Sid encouraged us to think freely so we’d have a shot at making that happen. We wanted to have some fun with it all, and have some mystery about exactly what we were doing. But mystery in Hollywood is scary, and to his credit he let us keep some secrets – and kept secrets with us, which is worthy of an Oscar in itself.

Sid Ganis on Out of the Blue Entertainment

“Here I am at 70, feeling very young. The kids I work with and know around the business seem to be interested in hearing my stories and experiences, instead of saying, “He’s just another old dude.” When we talk about marketing today versus the old days, it gives them some perspective. My company has several TV projects and films in the pipeline, including “The Governess” with Jennifer Lopez and a film version of the 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” As difficult as it is to get films made now, we approach them all with the same enthusiasm I’ve always had. I just wish the tastes of American audiences were broader than they appear to be by the grosses. People are always predicting the collapse of Hollywood, but worldwide cinema marches on regardless. And year after year we learn that the theatrical presentation of movies will survive in some form. When I was president of the Academy, I said to the TV audience in my first year – that the future of movie-going is safe and sound – and five years later I feel the same way.”

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