Rubbing Elbows with CEOs: Annenberg Alum Mark Gill’s Secrets to Box Office Billions

Mark Gill, President of Millennium Films and USC Annenberg Journalism Alumnus (’83), believes that the upcoming generation of filmmakers and content creators “will have to be a lot better” than ever before.

The Los Angeles Times. Miramax. Warner Bros. Entertainment. Rogers & Cowan. These are just a few of the companies that Mark Gill has made major contributions to in the past few decades. Having graduated from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism (’83) and soon thereafter realizing that his passion lies in cinema, the alum considers himself fortunate to have only nearly escaped the clutches of a few relatively uninspired journalistic pursuits. “My heart just wasn’t in it,” he shared with communication and entertainment scholars at USC Annenberg on Tuesday.

Gill, thankfully, had the opportunity to spearhead the production of several Oscar-winning films from some of the aforementioned studios and even served as the CEO and co-founder of The Film Department, an independent production company. He’s one of the few brilliant minds behind titles such as March of the Penguins, Goodwill Hunting, Frida and Olympus Has Fallen. He now considers himself “lucky to be doing something I love to do.”

In Tuesday’s dynamic discussion, he referenced the financial impact and performance of Hollywood’s biggest films domestically and overseas in the past few years. While Brazilian and Russian box office numbers are plummeting, Chinese box office performance is up 34% each year, and things are looking good at home, too. Though multimedia education is struggling to push boundaries abroad, American cinema has the “unique capability,” Gill claims, to “breed characters that change themselves.”

As the number of wide release films plummets in the United States, the quality of each film will have to skyrocket, Gill wagers. He’s a firm believer that “mediocrity will be punished,” and that windows of opportunity for big-budget films may be shrinking: “You guys will have it so much harder than I do. There’s no room for mediocre films on the big screens anymore.”

Despite these challenges, the alumnus believes that the following pieces of advice will help aspiring producers, writers & creative minds get ahead:

  • Know the culture of film; know what’s current and what isn’t. The most astute people trace the large shifts in the news, economy and culture.
  • While there’s value in analytical thinking, analytics aren’t everything. Not every success can be gleaned from a spreadsheet. Good communication will combine analytics and place the film in an emotional context. Focus on how the audience will feel when they exit a theatre. Learn behavioral economics.
  • Be nice. In this industry, people would rather work with people who are nice.
  • Lead by asking questions; it helps people to feel that they’ve been heard.
  • You’ll benefit from finding the perfect balance between being a “giver” and a “taker”.
  • Adopting optimistic attitudes toward advancing racial and gender diversity in film is “much needed.”
  • Networking gold: Be able to carry on a conversation and apply researched knowledge. Coming highly recommended by a friend or current/former employer is a big plus.

His chief piece of advice? “When everyone tells you not to do something, that’s probably the thing you should do.” (Disclaimer: He also cautions against rash, dangerous decisions but stands by this principle as it relates to creativity and filmmaking)

Cheers,

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