SBJ/May 12-18, 2014/People and Pop Culture
The Sit-Down: Thomas Tull, Legendary Pictures
His company is behind blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” and “300” (and opening Friday, “Godzilla”), he owns a piece of his favorite football team, and he once scouted for the Atlanta Braves.
Published May 12, 2014, Page 30
I ’ve been a lifelong die-hard Steelers fan since I was a little boy and when Mr. [Dan] Rooney called me, I think at the end of 2007, and said, “How’d you like to be my partner?” I stammered something, said yes, went home, told my wife and she said, “Well, how much?” and I said I had no idea, I just said yes. It’s a true story.
It’s as cool as I thought it would be, and it’s a real privilege to be a part of.
We just had a board meeting the other day. I called him Mr. Rooney and he’s constantly saying call me Dan, but to me it’s like being with the pope, so he’s Mr. Rooney.
Whether you are selling tickets in a theater or DVDs or live experiences or sports, we all have to realize that there are many more entertainment choices available today than have ever been available before. The competition is tougher, the bar is higher for that experience and people also, whether they’re passionate about Batman or passionate about the Steelers or the Yankees or whatever, they want to have a deeper connection and experience.
We hear from everybody with every story and what you sometimes have to explain to them is it’s not that this big game or this huge sports figure isn’t interesting. It’s just not a story that we can tell on a global basis in a two-hour format called a movie.
To me it’s what type of adversity did this situation face? Is it something that connects with people that even if you’re not a sports fan that you can go and understand what’s going on? “42” happened to be set in the baseball world, but I would argue the Jackie Robinson story is much bigger than that and much more important.
This is probably the first and last time I will ever do this. When my CFO and others came down the hall to see me and they said it’s not an expensive movie relatively speaking for us, but geez, this isn’t going to play international — it’s period, it’s baseball — I said, “We’re in a position where we need to do this and I want to do this and I’m making the movie,” and it turned out to be a hit for us. But, candidly, it’s not why we did it.
The type of movies that Legendary makes, we’re probably 60 to 65 percent international [box office]. We have a large presence in China with our Legendary East office and the deal we have there with China Film Group, so it’s big.
A guy named John Stewart from the Braves foolishly sent me down and the Braves figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to help them out on the major league level. I was a pretty good player, but not at that level, and then I ended up scouting for them for a couple of years.
You get a little check and a Buick. … I had an Atlanta Braves business card. It was pretty cool as a young kid. They didn’t figure out I didn’t know what I was doing, so it worked out OK.
I grew up 45 minutes away from the [Baseball] Hall of Fame. It’s an incredibly special place to me and last summer I was recognized. … I told Jeff Idelson at the hall if you’ve now reached the point where you’re [going] to have a ceremony for me, you’ve got to take a hard look in the mirror, my friend.
Not too long after that they asked me to join the board, and I’m new to the board so I have a lot to learn, but I think everybody recognizes that there is work to do and things need to evolve.
Going to see “Inception” or “Godzilla” or “Batman” on an Imax screen or at least in a format at your local theater with the crowd, to me, is still very compelling. Movie theaters have been written off incrementally for many years that it was the end, and yet I think it’s part of the cultural fabric here.
Overseas it’s something, especially in emerging markets, that is a different experience. They have wealth in the middle class growing. There has been tremendous growth in that area.
We’re generally very hands-on producing. We can’t do what we do on 10 or 12 movies a year.
When I was a kid I was a movie geek. I loved Batman, Superman, Godzilla and it turns out I get to make those, which is crazy. And the Steelers. I don’t know where the leprechaun is or whatever, but it’s been a pretty crazy ride.
We have the privilege of being in another Chris Nolan movie, “Interstellar,” later this year and we have a movie called “As Above, So Below” coming out in August that we’re pretty excited about, and our first movie with Universal, which is “Dracula” in October, so we’ve got a pretty full slate.
We’re very rarely surprised. Good or bad.
Most of the time we test the movie. You go, you’ll put an audience together, they’ll fill out a card afterwards with a score and all this. So, we had a little movie called “The Hangover” and the biggest problem that we had in the test is the audience was laughing so hard that they would laugh over the next joke, so that one I walked out and said I don’t need to see the cards. This might be OK.
We want to have a deeper, richer experience with brands that make sense to be next to ours, and so we talk about being around, among and infused into the entire experience. Whether that is online. Whether that is being around the set and talking about the story from the beginning, but it all has to be elegant.
We couldn’t put Nike in “42.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense, or in “300” for that matter, but the point is you have to pay attention to brands, understand what their goals are and how they want to connect. … Regardless of the check or the check size, if the answer is, “We just can’t do that,” then it’s not interesting to us.
We’re in the middle of a thing with Snickers right now with “Godzilla.” I don’t know how many saw the Snickers commercial where he goes on a rampage, they give him a Snickers bar and he calms down. Some of the things we’re doing with them are really interesting.
I’m a curator for my sons, but my wife and I — thankfully she is really cool about it and she actually is a big fan of baseball cards — so we have mostly game-used stuff, so uniforms, bats, gloves, hats and then on the other side, baseball cards.
I grew up in upstate New York, so passionate Yankee fan, but we live part time in Pittsburgh and Andrew McCutchen is a good friend and he’s a great guy and with Clint Hurdle and the job they’ve done there … it’s American League, National League. You can get away with that a little bit.
In Pittsburgh they have a saying. If you hear somebody say about someone, “You’re too big for your britches,” you’re done. It’s over. So I never want to hear that phrase in Pittsburgh or anywhere else. I just understand how fortunate I am across the board, and I just try to constantly keep that in mind.