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PGA’s Milestone Award Honoree Tom Rothman: “Let’s Fight For Originality”

Deadline logo Deadline 1/29/2017 Anthony D'Alessandro
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“Talent will always follow material.”

That’s one of the axioms that Sony Pictures Motion Group Chairman Tom Rothman has lived by in his 30-year career, which was celebrated tonight by the Producers Guild with the Milestone Award.

Prior to the ceremony, Rothman told Deadline it was a rule he followed from his late mentor Dawn Steel: “Material is the most important thing and it really still is the most important thing in terms of making meaningful movies.”

“To me integrity is everything, your word is your bond” added the studio chief about another rule he abides by in his career, “The people you deal with need to know that if you said something, you’ll stick by it. That’s what I tried to do for 30 years. It’s very important with artists, producers, partners that you’re straightforward and steadfast. One of the things that I’m proud of after 30 years is that my word is good and I cherish that.”

Hugh Jackman, in introducing Rothman before his awards, shared a story of just how good Rothman’s word is. During a lunch when Jackman was on production with X-Men, “He told me that he believed in me from the moment when he saw my tape. That I was the guy (to be Wolverine). But when watching my dailies, it was like watching someone with lampshade over a light; that I was holding back. He said ‘You’ve got to follow your gut and be bold.’ It was hard to hear his honesty, and I figured this was the talk he gave for a studio executive, maybe 10 days before they got fired. It kind of freaked me out. But he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I’ve got your back, now go have fun.'”

“He could have fired me,” said Jackman, “But he wasn’t being a studio executive, he was being a friend,” adding that Rothman is a guy “who is a 100 miles a minute, loud, untucked shirt, shoes off, bouncing a lacrosse ball and drinking two Diet Cokes.”

Before turning over the podium to Rothman’s daughters Elizabeth and Nora, Jackman exclaimed, “Tom, I and everyone in this business believes in you, believes in your awesome talent, your character, your razor sharp wit, but above all, you’re a guy who has the guts to dare greatly and you do it all the time.”

His daughter Elizabeth shared that in 2000, her father held up a comic-book of X-Men one Sunday when he was reading scripts and asked if it should be made into a movie. “I responded, ‘No!’, but in the face of doubt, the man follows his nose and great instincts of what the next great big thing is and he entirely ignored me.”

She added, “I once asked my dad why his name doesn’t appear at the end of the credits…he pointed to the company’s logo and said ‘That’s my team. I play for that team.'”

A reel played showing the pics which Rothman has been behind during his career; read Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law which he co-produced, Fox’s Master and Commander, Zach Braff’s Garden State, and of course X-Men among others.

Taking the podium, Rothman said, “When I looked at that reel, I had two thoughts. First when they cut out all the stinkers, it looks pretty damn good. Speed 2 didn’t make the cut.”

He shared a funny story about how he foresaw problems with the movie before it tanked at the B.O. Speaking to his Fox production executive at the time Kim Cooper, Rothman said, “Can’t it go any faster? She said, ‘It’s going very fast for a boat.'”

The studio chief also thanked a number of his mentors throughout his tenure from Samuel Goldwyn to 20th Century Fox to Sony including Rupert Murdoch, Bill Mechanic, Peter Chernin, Jim Gianopulos, Arthur Klein, Dawn Steel, Richard Zanuck, Tony Scott, Amy Pascal, and David Picker (“the man who brought me to Hollywood 30 years ago” said Rothman).

Rothman mentioned that the most cherished films on the reel “were flops, but they were distinctive and I stood up for them” before sharing his philosophy with the crowd on how the industry should move forward.

“Let’s not go gentle into a good night of IP autocracy. I had franchise fascism, but I thought it was a little much, so I switched it. Let’s fight for originality. Too much homogeneity will stall off our beloved artform.”

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