“What I love about being a producer is that first comes passion,” Platt is saying. “Now, your passion does have to be informed by intelligent thinking. It does have to be informed by business, by the marketplace, by financial analysis. But I’m lucky that everything I do starts with passion. I get to pursue stories or individuals—talent—that stir my insides. Being in a position to be the facilitator of that—of taking that passion or someone else’s passion and talent and translating it into something that can be shared by the world—is an exhilarating process.”

He is sitting in an empty conference room in Marc Platt Productions’ East Coast offices on West 44th Street in Manhattan, talking animatedly about his rather extraordinary life as a show-business producer. He’s dressed casually in jeans and a gray fleece jacket, which goes nicely with his healthy head of short silvery hair. On the table before him are a script, a pencil, and a BlackBerry, which every now and then he checks discreetly.

For a guy who works mostly out of the spotlight, he’s quite at home in an interview. Toss him a question and he’ll answer that one and four or five others on your list without catching his breath. Though he talks quickly, and occasionally karate-chops the table for emphasis, he has his engine under control. Which is a good thing, because that motor clearly revs at a very high speed.

Consider what Marc Platt Productions has going on right now. There’s Wicked, of course, which now has three companies bewitching the nation, and is streaking toward a September opening in London. Also across the pond, a Matthew Bourne ballet production of Edward Scissorhands recently performed to mostly glowing reviews around the United Kingdom, and will open in the U.S. in December. Last month, Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, starring Platt’s old pal Julia Roberts, opened on Broadway; the entire run sold out before the first performance. Then there is the ABC miniseries about the 9/11 Commission, starring Harvey Keitel, which will air, fittingly, the second week of September. (Platt doesn’t venture into television very often, but a week after our January interview, he was on TV accepting a Golden Globe for Empire Falls, his HBO movie with Ed Harris, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward.)

That list doesn’t even touch on the long string of film projects in various stages of development, or the even longer string of smash hits (Legally Blonde, Sleepless in Seattle, Jerry McGuire) and artistic triumphs (The Silence of the Lambs, Dances with Wolves, Philadelphia) he has produced with Marc Platt Productions or, before that, as a top executive with Universal Studios, Tri-Star, and Orion. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

“I often characterize my days as: I get up and I get to work and I run as fast as I can all day long—and about 10 times a day I run smack into a brick wall, and it knocks me down on my rear end,” Platt says. “But every so often when I hit the wall, there’s a door there. And I get to run through the door. It only happens infrequently, but once you run through that door, it’s quite glorious.”

 

If The Marc Platt Story doesn’t come to your neighborhood multiplex anytime soon, it won’t be because the subject isn’t an engaging and intriguing character, or that he doesn’t have an outstanding supporting cast. He is, and he does. But if you’re looking for a storyline with conflict and crisis, failure and redemption, you’ll have to juice the facts a little. Because the basic arc of Platt’s life so far has been a steady, hard-working, turbo-charged ascent into the Successosphere.

He has always loved telling stories—all kinds of stories, in all manner of media, from a variety of vantage points. As a little boy in Baltimore, and later in high school, he often found himself directing plays—sometimes just neighborhood kids in backyard productions, sometimes on real stages with curtains and sound systems and lights.

“I clearly liked being in charge, so I guess that still remains in my personality,” he says with a laugh. “It sounds silly, I suppose, but a play is a play, whether it’s in your backyard or a high-school stage or in the Quad or on Broadway. When you’re learning in all those environments, it all adds up to helping one become a good storyteller.”

April 1976. Platt, still a freshman, is trying to figure out how to stage a production of Peter Pan, which he is directing in the Quad for the Quadramics. As he walks around the lower Quad, his eyes light on a small courtyard, with little bay windows and porches around it, at the eastern end near 36th Street. A klieg light goes on over his head.

“It had a sort of Victorian, English feel to it,” he recalls, “and it just hit me that I could actually use the structure of the Quad as the set. And when Wendy’s looking at Peter Pan, she actually stood on the porch and looked up at the sky. So I didn’t have to build much of a set.”

That performance of Peter Pan took place during Spring Fling, which must have made for some interesting audience participation, especially since the curtain time was something like 11 p.m.

The character of Mrs. Darling, incidentally, was played by a fellow freshman named Julie Beren C’79, who now goes by Julie Beren Platt [see sidebar]. Perhaps not surprisingly, she remembers the production as a “terrific, fun experience.”

The eccentric structure of the Quad offered other opportunities for the resourceful showman. When the Quadramics staged A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which requires three doorways, Platt incorporated the three archways that lead from the Upper Quad into the Triangle.

Then there was the nightclub.

“There was a basement in a building that leads into the lower-level Quad that a group of us turned into a nightclub of sorts,” he recalls. “We got some money from the University, refurbished it, put in lights, and had weekly coffeehouses and cabarets and performances. So the production of that entire coffee-shop venue, and producing the performances every week, was, without really realizing it at the time, a terrific education, involving creative decision-making, logistical challenges, people problem-solving—all elements of what I do as a producer.”

Among those in the club’s opening-night lineup was Paul Provenza C’79, now a film producer and comedian [“Is Nothing Profane?” Nov/Dec], who says that the experience he gained in that venue helped him break into professional stand-up comedy. That it happened at all, he adds, “was in no small part thanks to Marc’s vision.”

Unlike some students, Platt didn’t drift about in search of a calling—even though his calling was not directly related to his academic studies. He was a Phi Beta Kappa sociology major and, in retrospect, something of a poster boy for a liberal-arts education.

“What was great about Penn was that I was able to follow my academic pursuits, which were not in the entertainment arena,” he says. “And yet I could still exploit my creative desires to the maximum. I’ve always felt that that better prepared me not just for law school but for being a storyteller, because I was exposed to so much. What I loved in particular was the vibrancy of the student performing-arts culture, and that there were so many opportunities to produce and direct and act, because so many of the programs were student-run.”

The summer after his freshman year, Platt auditioned—successfully—for a way-off-Broadway musical called Frances. Though it’s a stretch to say it changed his life, it certainly helped focus his ambition.

“That production was very well received in Philadelphia, so the director was talking to me about what to do about it,” he recalls. “My entrepreneurial side came out and I thought, ‘Well, maybe there’s a way to take this to New York.’ And so the marriage of entrepreneurial endeavors and creative endeavors sort of cemented [in me] at that time.”

Paul Provenza remembers that side of Platt emerging: “Marc and I used to watch each other perform quite a bit, and we talked a lot about our dreams and desires to get into show business—and how we were both setting the stage to do just that by getting involved in as many projects as possible at Penn.” While Platt was a “very gifted singer and performer himself,” Provenza adds, “he was very clear that the business of show interested him more—he knew even then that he would rather produce and create projects and help bring other people’s visions to reality than perform himself.”

By his senior year Platt was traveling to New York three times a week, and he managed to raise enough money to put on “an off-Broadway equity showcase” of Frances.

“It was during that experience that I realized being a producer was a very exciting thing,” he explains. “It satisfied my creative needs; it let me be in control; and it allowed me to satisfy the business side that interested me. Dealing with lots of people, and having a very large vision of something—I found that more satisfying than being an actor.”

Frances was “very successful” in its relatively small venue, says Platt, and its success prompted him to try to move it to a larger venue “where it could really have a commercial run.”

Enter Reality, stage right.

“I was confronted with agents, and managers, and lawyers,” he says. “I knew what to do creatively; I knew what worked on stage and what didn’t. But I didn’t really understand the business vernacular; I didn’t know the issues; and I lost the opportunity to move that show to a larger venue.”

He pauses, just for a moment.

“I vowed then and there that I was always going to be the smartest guy in the room,” he says. “Because I wasn’t going to work so hard in a creative pursuit and then not know how to facilitate it to becoming a commercial success.”

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/08/06

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COVER STORY: Passion Plays
By Samuel Hughes