Although the average filmgoer may not detect the connection of films such as “Groundhog Day” and “Little Women” to this summer’s action blockbusters “Spider-Man” and “Men in Black II,” they all represent Columbia chair Amy Pascal’s passion for quirky projects and solid storylines. Although Pascal had a reputation for being a champion of women’s stories (“A League of Their Own, “28 Days”), her testosterone-driven summer slate has proved that her taste is much harder to pigeonhole. The unifying factor might be that her pics represent unconventional choices with regard to talent or story.
“Amy goes with her gut, not her finger in the wind, and her authentic intuitive reaction to a story, a script, a director makes her stand apart from most others,” remarks producer Doug Wick (the “Stuart Little” pics). “To her it can seem obvious, to others risky or unexpected. I remember when we had a budget crisis on ‘Stuart Little.’ I scheduled an emergency meeting on a Saturday at my house, and Amy came prepared with intelligent, smart and useful notes, nothing arbitrary. That’s why she’s so well liked by creative people. She uses ‘we’ to share the work, not to take credit.”
Wick’s producing partner Lucy Fisher agrees: “She’s a hard worker, too, as educated and thorough with story notes as the newest and hungriest executive. Having been on both sides of the fence, I realize how joyful it is working with her.”
With “Little Women,” Pascal found a project that was inspiring and had great universal appeal. Indeed, that is her guiding principle. “Whether the idea is large or small, I look for the universal idea that has broad appeal,” she says.
“Nobody at the studio wanted to make ‘Little Women,’ but Amy was our champion,” says producer Denise De Novi. “The thing about Amy is that she possesses an intellectual mind combined with a deep sense of humanity. It’s a very powerful combination. Plus she has a great perspective on the business. You’re up, you’re down, but she stays hungry.”
Joe Roth, who runs Revolution Studios, says Pascal’s business sense has improved over the years. “To me, more than anything, she’s great at convincing you of her point of view. Talent is swayed by that. She’s passionate and impassioned. But she pulls it off because she backs it up with intelligence.”
Thus, when Pascal fought for Tobey Maguire to star in “Spider-Man,” it was because his look and persona embodied the essence of alter ego Peter Parker. “You wouldn’t have been able to develop the backstory that was so essential with a movie star,” Pascal explains.
And when director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charles Kaufman collaborated on the quirky “Adaptation,” Pascal was instrumental in supporting their vision. “She represented the bottom-line pressures without ever making the movie something it’s not,” Jonze says. “The one thing she consistently pushed was that we make it emotionally true, particularly when there’s a big tone change in the movie.”
According to “Spider-Man” producer Laura Ziskin, Pascal always had a vision for the studio that was based on the demands of the marketplace. “The job she has is the job she wanted. She’s very good at identifying issues or problems. The biggest change in her is that she’s learned to temper her passion with the practicalities of the business.”
“The key is keeping management in there as long as possible, so the people you can count on with relationships grow with you,” Roth says. “You learn from your mistakes every day.”
Now that Columbia has achieved a summer to die for, will the profits from “Spider-Man” be used to fund risky films as well as franchise properties?
“We will make a diverse slate of product,” Pascal insists. “You can’t just have franchises. As we did with ‘Ali’ and ‘Adaptation,’ we will put them together so they make sense financially.”