Up until 2005, Charles Roven was a fairly successful Hollywood producer with “Three Kings,” “12 Monkeys,” “City of Angels,” “Cadillac Man” and a pair of “Scooby-Doo” movies. Then “Batman Begins” provided a high-octane boost to his Hollywood trajectory.
He’s one of the few producers with 10 films that have grossed at least $100 million worldwide, and yet he doesn’t have the name identification of a Jerry Bruckheimer or a Scott Rudin. In a way, he represents the best of both worlds: His commercial success doesn’t come at the expense of critical acclaim.
In a career dating back to 1983’s “Heart Like a Wheel,” he has worked with a wide spectrum of filmmakers, including perfectionists with behemoth budgets like Christopher Nolan (the “Batman” trilogy); scrappy filmmakers who work on the fly like David O. Russell (“Three Kings,” the upcoming “American Hustle”); fanboy idols like Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel” and the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman”); quirky visionaries whose work breaks all the rules like Terry Gilliam (“12 Monkeys,” “The Brothers Grimm”); and family-friendly proponents of populism like Raja Gosnell (“Scooby-Doo” and its sequel).
Hannah Minghella, Sony’s president of production, says Roven has the ability to work effectively in multiple genres at once. She noted that in addition to “American Hustle,” Roven’s developing a trio of Sony projects: videogame adaptation “Uncharted,” sci-fier “The Juliet” and the comedy “Winter’s Discontent.”
“Chuck has a dexterity with material that inspires confidence,” she says. “He has a great eye for material and holds all of us to a higher standard.”
In a recent interview at the Sunset Boulevard offices, Roven admitted that he’s become accustomed to wearing several hats at once, if not working nonstop.
“ ‘American Hustle’ is sort of the antithesis of the mega movie,” the 64-year-old Roven says. “On ‘Batman vs. Superman,’ we started soft prep in June, and we’ll be shooting eight months later. We started on ‘American Hustle’ in March and it’s coming out next month. We had planned (to start shooting) in February, but David rightly felt obligated to campaign for the Oscar, and we’re happy he did.”
That campaign — for “Silver Linings Playbook,” which drew eight Oscar nominations and a win for Jennifer Lawrence as lead actress — put stress on the prep for “American Hustle,” but Russell was up to the challenge, Roven says.
“It’s not like David doesn’t shoot a lot of stuff — he does,” he adds. “A lot of directors, if they shoot five or six takes, they’re fixing a nuance. An important nuance. They want choices of an emotional range. But David — take one and six can be wildly different, not just in terms of the range and nuance. And the action can be very different, so you really have to look. There are pieces of gems in one and four and five. You have to look at (all of) them.”
So the post-production team had three editors rather than the usual two, and conducted four test screenings, plus four for “friends and family.”
Greg Silverman, president, creative development and worldwide production at Warner Bros, says Roven is “undeniably tenacious – that’s a given. But he’s also formidably creative, which makes for an elusive combination. And he’s opinionated for good reason: he has the imagination and financial acumen to see a complex production succeed on every level.”
With all that’s been going on, Roven’s also been prepping for “Batman and Superman” with Deborah Snyder, with whom he worked on “Man of Steel.” It’s only been five months since “Man of Steel” opened.
“We felt that we accomplished our goals with ‘Man of Steel,’” he says. “Our intention was to bring Superman into the 21st century with a contemporary character and a different kind of superhero than what’s out there right now.”
Also key in “Man of Steel” was to set the stage for the next film; Roven and Warners execs began talks after the movie had grossed $200 million worldwide in its first weekend.
“We knew we had created a world and we had left Easter eggs in the movie that let people know that in the universe that Zack was creating, there was the possibility of other DC characters besides Clark Kent,” Roven says.
At that point, there was no script. “We had a sketch of an idea, the beats of a story that David Goyer worked on with Zack,” Roven says. “We have a first draft, and we’re continuing to work with it. Those scripts are never fully finished until the movie is in the theaters. We love the characters — we think that Ben (Affleck) is going to be a really great and interesting Batman.”
Studio executives unveiled the “Batman vs. Superman” project in July at Comic-Con, and announced Affleck as their choice for Batman a month later, setting off a firestorm of debate about Affleck’s worthiness.
Nevertheless, Affleck is the man the producers wanted.
“We wanted a guy who had a certain age and a certain gravitas to what he had done in terms of his recent work,” Roven says. “If you take a look at ‘The Town’ and ‘Argo,’ he plays a couple of serious guys in those movies. He’s a big man. He’s also a mature man. As you see him and Henry together, one definitely has much more experience just by looking at him. That’s what we wanted, particularly juxtaposed against our Superman.”
Roven is also prepping “Warcraft” for Legendary Pictures.
“I have a great partner in Alex Gartner, who’s in Vancouver with our director Duncan Jones,” Roven says. “I was there last week. I’m in an editing room on ‘American Hustle’ and in the production office in Pasadena on ‘Batman’ and flying up to Vancouver for ‘Warcraft,’ which will start in early January.”
If all this starts to make Roven sound like an automaton, collaborators will assure you there is heart behind the driven professional. “I interviewed a number of producers to work with me on ‘Three Kings,’ the first really big movie I worked on,” says Russell, still scrambling in post on “American Hustle.” “I was an admirer of ‘12 Monkeys,’ and when I met Chuck, he was just a very soulful person. His wife (Dawn Steel) had just died. He’s very driven but also he has passion. He was talking about his wife and I just fell apart. He had this heart thing, and he would get the emotional kind of thing that I want to do in movies.”
But the heart thing is tempered by a commitment to moviemaking that knows no bounds. “I put in a lot of hours into my work, and if you talk to those close to me, they would say I’m a workaholic,” Roven notes. “But the fact of the matter is I love my work. I kind of jump out of bed every morning. I work on the weekends. I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to have fantastic partners — Deb and Emma, Richard Suckle and Megan Ellison are all fantastic.”