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Variety Keynote Speaker Alan Horn Sees Opportunities in Expanded Portfolio

As Walt Disney Studios co-chairman and chief creative officer, Hollywood veteran Alan Horn oversees the most enviable content portfolio in show business.

In step with his co-chairman, Alan Bergman, Horn has command of monolithic brands like Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar — to say nothing of the 21st Century Fox film assets the men added to their purview when Disney closed that historic acquisition in March for $71.3 billion.

Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety Editor-in-Chief Claudia Eller at Variety’s Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank on Nov. 13.

As a founding executive of “Seinfeld” producer Castle Rock Entertainment and a longtime honcho at Warner Bros. Entertainment before joining Disney in 2012, Horn is no stranger to effective management in the legacy movie business. But the imminent streaming wars — arguably led by Disney Plus against market dominator Netflix — has the seasoned exec pivoting to exciting new places.

“The criteria we operate under, as always, is quality. That’s the origin point of everything we do,” Horn tells Variety. “Disney Plus gives us the opportunity to make films we would otherwise find challenging in the theatrical marketplace.”

Horn points to a trio of movies the studio released in the past five years — Kevin Costner’s “MacFarland, USA,” Jon Hamm’s “Million Dollar Arm” and Lupita Nyong’o’s “Queen of Katwe” — as “absolutely first-rate films that all lost money. Now we can make those for the new medium of Disney Plus, that price right for that service. It’s exciting for us.”

Horn can’t stress enough his partnership with Bergman, which he says is helped by the latter’s 23-year institutional memory of the storied Burbank lot, combined with Horn’s own deep and practical knowledge of the creative process and production.

“Our jobs as executives are not just, ‘See you at the premiere.’ We have shared values of straightforwardness and being honest with whom we deal. We don’t pull punches.” he says.

As a manager of over 1,000 employees across brands and studio divisions, Horn’s mantra is based on a word he finds dramatically overused in corporate culture, but one essential to the Disney brand: family.

“What the word means to us is that it’s understood our employees, from senior executives on down, are treated with affection and gratitude and respect,” says Horn.

He cares little for the drama stirred up by adored franchises like “Star Wars,” which made headlines this month as “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss exited director duties on a planned trilogy of films.

“That was a function of a number of things including their new deal at Netflix,” Horn says of Weiss and Benioff. “It’s all fine and business as usual, and Kathy Kennedy is in charge. I’m always surprised by the amount of controversy around these things, but it’s the way of the world.”

The next galaxy Horn will explore professionally is the freedom Disney now has to develop grown-up themed films, via the Fox labels.

“I’m fond of saying that when the curtain goes up and the audience sees Disney’s magic castle logo, they may not know what they’re going to see, but they know what they’re not going to see,” he says.

“With Fox, we can deal with adult themes — action, violence, sexuality, a hard PG-13 or even R. It’s exciting to think of doing these pictures through the Fox labels. Magic, but no magic castle,” he concludes.

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