Walden Media CEO Cary Granat’s got a simple explanation for his secret in casting young performers — he’s a dad.
“Most of us at Walden have kids and are close to them,” he notes with a laugh. “And that makes it much easier when we talk with child actors. I’m horrible talking to stars, but with kids, it’s great because they bring such an energy and a rhythm.”
Five-year-old Walden has become a major player in family films — with young performers usually playing the key roles in such diverse offerings as “Charlotte’s Web,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
“The key thing for us is that the kids really are the stars of the films,” Granat notes.
And a key for Walden execs is that the young performers bring along a “passion” for books — since nearly all Walden projects have been developed from popular children’s literature. Granat and partner David Weil, head of parent company Anschutz Film Group, note that young star AnnaSophia Robb (who made both “Bridge” and “Because of Winn-Dixie” for Walden) is now writing her own mystery series.
Walden’s guiding principle is fairly straight-forward: producing films that the entire family can attend. As a result, the company works extensively with educators, librarians, museums and after-school youth programs.
Outside of the “Narnia” franchise, Walden’s one of the least flashy film production companies in Hollywood. But it’s on its way to becoming an increasingly high-profile supplier of G-rated and PG-rated fare. After opening a dozen pics in its first five years, it now has seven films opening over the next 12 months, including “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” and “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” this fall, “The Water Horse” at Christmas, “Nim’s Island” (with Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin) in April, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” in May, “Journey 3D” in July and “City of Ember” next October.
Though all the “Narnia” films will go out through Disney and “Journey 3D” is a New Line release, nearly all of Walden’s future films will go through Fox, thanks to the Fox Walden joint venture created a year ago to market and release family films with marketing vet Jeffrey Godsick in charge. “The Seeker” will be the company’s first film under the Fox Walden banner.
Recent breakthrough: “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Charlotte’s Web” each earned more than $82 million at the domestic box office.
Role model: “Hal Roach and Steven Spielberg. Both are huge inspirations, and both blazed trails for family entertainment.”
What’s next: Seven pics in the next year, from “Narnia” to “Nim’s Island.”