A few steps were necessary before Platt, already a very smart guy, could walk into a room and know that he was the smartest guy at the table.
His first stop was NYU Law School, where he made the Law Review his first year. By the following summer he had landed an internship position with Elizabeth McCann and Nelle Nugent, then among the premier producers on Broadway. The experience he gained while interning for them the next two years “taught me the Broadway business,” he says simply.
His goal on graduating from law school was to start working as a Broadway producer as soon as possible. But when McCann suggested that he practice entertainment law for a while to get some practical experience, Platt took her advice. After about a year in the trenches of entertainment law, his lucky phone rang. On the other end was Sam Cohn of International Creative Management (ICM), one of the top agents in the business, with a large and glittery stable of clients.
“I need to hire a lawyer who can sit at my desk and negotiate on behalf of my clients, because I have so many of them,” Cohn told him. “It’s a full-time job just being on the phone with me and then taking the deals I make and translating them into contracts.”
Platt was intrigued by the opportunity, and so, at the ripe old age of 25, he found himself at the table with Mike Nichols and Woody Allen and Meryl Streep and Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg and Arthur Penn and Peter Yates and Robert Benton …
“It was a wonderful time, a very exciting time for me,” he says convincingly. “I got to know Bob Fosse very well, which was a thrill for me. Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, two great stage actors, adopted me as sort of their grandchild. I learned an awful lot, not just about the business of Broadway but the business of filmwhich, it very clearly and very quickly became apparent to me, was a much bigger business in some ways than the Broadway business.”
At that point the Siren song of Hollywood began to reach his ears.
“I started to get offers to come out to Los Angeles, first as a lawyer and then as a production executive,” he says. “That is essentially a creative producer working on behalf of the studiohiring a producer and director, deciding which films get made, supervising the development production and post-production of films on behalf of the studio, which served as both the bank and the distributor. That was something that I took to with much ease, quite frankly.”
By then he and Julie had their first child, Samantha C’05. “We decided, ‘Let’s try L.A. for a year or two, and then we’ll come back to New York,’” he recalls. “That was 18 years ago.”
He started as vice president of production with RKO Pictures, then took the same title at Orion Pictures, whose management he knew from having represented Woody Allen for ICM. “It was a fantastic company,” he says. “Woody made all of his movies there.”
Two particularly memorable projects came across his desk there. One was a film about a disillusioned Civil War veteran who heads West and forges a new life among the Sioux. Actor Kevin Costner, who had never directed a film before, brought in the screenplay, half of whose dialogue was in Sioux.
“Kevin brought it into Orion Pictures and said, ‘Not only is this film three hours long, and not only is half the film not in Englishit’s subtitledbut I’m going to direct it and star in it,’” recalls Platt. “And thank goodness all of us at Orion bought into it, and he made quite a great film and won eight Oscars, and the rest is history.”
For Platt, it was, once again, a matter of following his passion.
“When I have thought with my heart over my mindand not just with Dances With WolvesI’ve often done great work and had great success,” he says. “That’s the scariest place to be becauseespecially when you’re on the business side of thingsyou tend to inform everything with your mind. What looks good on paper, what makes economic sense, what is the right résumé for a project, is not necessarily a recipe for success.”
The Silence of the Lambs was originally brought to Orion by Gene Hackmanwho “ended up falling out of the project,” says Platt, at which point “we gave it to Jonathan Demme.” The result was a multiple-Oscar-winning thriller whose main serial-killer character, the cannibal Hannibal Lecter, became a household icon of terror and transformed Anthony Hopkins into a superstar. It was also widely viewed as an artistic triumph.
With two huge hits already on his resume, Platt, at the age of 31, was promoted to president of production at Orion. (In Hollywood, the terms president and president of production are often used interchangeably.) He was, by his own account, “at the pinnacle of film-making in Los Angeles.” And he was just getting started.
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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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COVER STORY: Passion Plays