Marc Platt ’82 has been a giant in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years. He has served as president of production for three film studios (Orion Pictures, TriStar Pictures, and Universal Pictures), produced Broadway hits, practiced as an entertainment attorney, and handled business affairs at a major talent agency. He now heads Marc Platt Productions, a production company for feature films, television, and theater. This year, his critically acclaimed film La La Land was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, tying the record for the most nominations. Platt, who produced Wicked, Bridge of Spies, Legally Blonde, and Into the Woods, among many other credits, recently spoke with Editorial Director Samantha Dillard about his illustrious career.
You’ve said that you entered law school in part to learn the business side of entertainment. What made you choose law school instead of business school?
When I was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, I produced a small, Off-Broadway musical at the Theatre at St. Clement’s on West 46th Street. When it opened, it met with some initial success, and I had some opportunity to move the production to a larger venue where it could enjoy an open-ended commercial run. I discovered that most of the people involved around me were professionals in the Broadway business or entertainment attorneys. But I lost the opportunity—I never got to move the musical. After that, I thought that I ought to be the smartest person in the room, not just creatively, but from a business standpoint. And it seemed that the business of entertainment was filled more with attorneys than it was with MBAs.
What did you imagine your career path to be when you entered law school?
I wanted to be a Broadway producer. In fact, for the last year and a half of being at NYU, I interned for two Broadway producers and ran back and forth to Washington Square to take classes. Through my brief but intense legal experience, I was really introduced to the film business, and my ambition grew beyond the theater into the film world as well. My early career in Hollywood was as a film executive, eventually running three different studios. It took me a long time to get to where I thought I’d be when I entered law school and a very long time to produce my first Broadway show, and it was lucky for me that first show was Wicked.
What were some of the legal issues you encountered as an entertainment lawyer?
I first practiced entertainment law at a firm. Most of what I did was what I call the backend of transactions. A deal would be made, and I would be involved in the drafting of the legal memos or contracts that memorialize those deals. After I left the law firm, I was a business affairs attorney in-house at a large talent agency, and there my job was almost purely negotiating the actual deal and then sending a deal memo to an attorney to draft the contract.
Has your legal background given you any advantages throughout your career as a producer?
It certainly has helped me navigate the process that is involved in getting and bringing projects to fruition. I understand the mindset, language, and what the sensitivities of the other side are, and it definitely makes me more effective in helping facilitate agreements and coming to an agreement of the minds. It has for sure made me a more effective producer on the business side. A producer has a lot of creative responsibly, and the creative decisions are probably the ones that matter the most, but my business acumen, which I developed from being a lawyer and obtaining my law degree from NYU, definitely made a vast difference in my day-to-day life as a producer and has given me a strong advantage.
You’ve mentioned that when working on a project, it is incredibly important that the team of collaborators trusts the producer. Could you elaborate on that?
I think trust is a vital ingredient in anything one does in life and particularly in a group of people. In making a film or producing a Broadway show, one is creating a world, and there are many people involved, and often a lot of financial investment at stake. It’s important that a team be unified, first and foremost creatively, and then in terms of their mutual trust. The producer is the leader of the team, and I’ve worked hard to earn that trust so that whatever the particular vision of a project is, that vision can be fulfilled because everybody’s working on the same page, trusting each other.
Has any one project of yours been a particular passion project?
I have to say most of my projects are passion projects or I wouldn’t pursue them. Years ago I was chairman of a studio called TriStar Pictures, and I made a film called Philadelphia. That film was inspired by a number of things that were going on in the world around me and a lot of people that I knew. It was a time where the subject matter was very taboo and very challenging to get a project like that made, even as chairman of a company. But I did, and that remains one of my personal crowning achievements of my career.
Certainly my musical Wicked, which is wonderful entertainment but at its heart is a story about tolerance—much like Philadelphia—about outsiders, politics, and the kind of leadership that comes and goes historically that sometimes exploits populations using fear and other factors. There was a lot in Wicked beyond its entertainment value and great music that spoke to me. It was first a novel, and when I read it, I thought, “This is articulating many ideas and themes that I care about.”
Bridge of Spies was a passion of mine, both from the legal aspect of it and because it was another story of an outsider pursuing justice. I thought it was very relevant to tell a story about the things that sometimes men can do that governments can’t, particularly in this day and age.
Legally Blonde was a passion. I have daughters; I always want them to have the highest self-esteem and feel that anything is possible for them. I saw that as more than just a comedy. I saw it as a story of empowerment, particularly female empowerment, and was very conscious about it as a dad of daughters.
And La La Land, because I love musicals. I’ve produced many musicals and continue to do so, and that was such an homage to the cinematic musical that it took my heart.
What kinds of projects do you see yourself drawn to in the future?
I think one of the things I love most about what I do is that I don’t have an answer for that. I can’t tell you exactly what I’m doing a year or two from now. I know the Wicked film is in the makes, I know I’ve got films I’m shooting now that I’ll be in post-production for, but, you know, an idea or script or book or filmmaker may come into my office tomorrow that I don’t know about today and that’s going to all of a sudden take up all of my time and my creative energy a year from now. I know as I get older I am much greedier about the time that I spend producing projects, so it has to be something that I really care about and with people that I really want to spend the time with, but what that may be, I don’t know. There are certain events in the world that have sort of taken my attention, so there are subject matters that I’m in pursuit of now that I think are interesting that have more social and political relevancy today. I’m always looking for entertaining ideas. I think the world needs to be entertained now. I’m always looking to bring joy into the world. I’m always looking for stories that can be musicalized because I love music so much. But mostly, I happily can’t tell you.
You and your wife established the Julie and Marc E. Platt Scholarship within the AnBryce Program. What compelled you to give back to the law school, and why in that way?
I loved my experience at NYU. I’m very loyal to the institution. I’ve always admired NYU’s commitment to public interest law and the public sector. As someone who benefitted from a law school education and could afford it, it’s my way of giving back to that institution and showing my gratitude for that education and all that I’ve benefitted from it. It was easy to want to help those individuals who are worthy of such a law school experience and helping those who couldn’t afford it. I’m happily and proudly a participant in that program.
Do you have advice for lawyers interested in using their law degree in a less traditional way?
First of all, one certainly can. I think one should distill out the skills that one learns from law school, which is a more academic theoretical discipline, and give it a few years of practical application. In my instance, my transactional skills certainly gave me and continue to provide an advantage of getting things done, being able to make agreements happen, make deals. I’m a big believer in legal education and what the law degree can provide, even as the marketplace for lawyers has changed substantially since I was in law school.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at NYU Law?
I remember friends that I made, some of whom are still my lifelong friends. I remember certain outstanding teachers. I love teaching and teachers and have great respect for the impact teachers have had on me throughout my entire academic life, and NYU was no exception. I can remember Torts with Sheila Birnbaum ’65, Civil Procedures with Stephen Gillers ’68, and just being inspired and provoked and challenged by professors was a wonderful thing. I also remember fondly participating—sometimes writing, directing, producing, and starring in—the Law School musical.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo: Fox/Joseph Viles
Posted September 1, 2017