March 2018 Alum of the Month: Laurence M. "Larry" Mark '67

Laurence M. "Larry" Mark '67 is an award-winning film and television producer whose acclaimed hits include Jerry Maguire, As Good as It Gets, I, Robot, Dreamgirls, Julie & Julia, and, most recently, The Greatest Showman which, released in December, has now amassed over $350 million worldwide and is in North America the highest-grossing original live-action movie musical of all time and currently the fourth-highest-grossing live-action movie musical of all time.

Mark attended the Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, Mass., prior to coming to Hotchkiss, which he entered as a lower mid. He was heavily influenced by several faculty members, and he credits them with helping to prepare him for his future path. "The teachers I remember most vividly include Blair Torrey, who had us reading romantic poetry under a tree outside the classroom, which was its own kind of theatre.

"I also very fondly recall George Milmine, whose course in British history had me fascinated by the wonders of London, and I still continue to go there once or twice a year. David Demaray tapped me to head the Hotchkiss Dramatic Association, and the music faculty helped me produce and direct my first 'Laurence Mark Production' - 'Hotchkiss a G.O. G.O.,' which was a benefit for the School's Greater Opportunity summer program. We took songs from popular Broadway shows and rewrote the lyrics to spoof life at Hotchkiss. It was my first real taste of producing."

After receiving a B.A. from Wesleyan University, Mark went on to New York University and earned an M.A. in Cinema Studies. Having set his sights on becoming a producer, he landed his first job as an intern at United Artists. "There is no guidebook on how to become a producer. You simply have to find your own way. I was just out of grad school when David Picker, who was the President and CEO of United Artists, gave me the opportunity in the form of an internship to spend time with top executives at the company to witness firsthand the workings of a movie studio. When he became an independent producer about nine months later, he offered me a job as Bob Fosse's production assistant on Lenny - an unforgettable on-set experience. Shortly thereafter, David became President of Paramount Pictures and brought me with him to work in the marketing area."

Mark was soon heading up the Publicity Department in New York when Barry Diller, Chairman and CEO of Paramount, suggested that if he wanted to become a producer, he should relocate to Los Angeles. Mark did exactly that - although never giving up to this day his New York apartment. Upon the move, Paramount appointed him Vice President of West Coast Marketing.

From there, he moved into the creative end of the business and as Vice President of Production at Paramount and Executive Vice President of Production at Twentieth Century Fox, he was closely involved with the development and production of such films as Terms of Endearment, Trading Places, The Fly, and Broadcast News.

In Los Angeles, Mark soon went out on his own and established Laurence Mark Productions, which is currently headquartered at Sony Pictures Entertainment, where the company has a long­term production arrangement with Columbia Pictures. Mark received an Academy Award nomination for producing Best Picture nominee Jerry Maguire, and he executive-produced two other Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, Working Girl and As Good as It Gets.

Mark garnered an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe nomination as Executive Producer of Political Animals, a limited series for television starring Sigourney Weaver, which received four Emmy nominations and won one for Ellen Burstyn as Best Supporting Actress. Also for television, Mark was an Executive Producer of When We Rise, the critically lauded, eight-hour limited series that chronicles the history of gay rights and aired last year on ABC.

With Bill Condon, Mark served as producer of the celebrated Hugh Jackman-hosted 8lst Academy Awards, which earned him an Emmy nomination. The show itself received ten Emmy nominations and won four of them.

Before that, Mark produced Dreamgirls, which won three Golden Globe Awards, including one for Best Picture. It also received eight Academy Award nominations, the most of any movie in its year, and won two of them, including one for Jennifer Hudson as Best Supporting Actress.

Among Mark's other producing credits are Last Vegas, The Lookout (which won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature), Last Holiday, Finding Forrester, Bicentennial Man, Anywhere but Here, The Object of My Affection, Sister Act 2, The Adventures of Huck Finn, and Black Widow. He also produced the cult favorites Center Stage (plus its two sequels) and Romy & Michele's High School Reunion.

When asked what projects tend to interest him, he says, "Every producer operates differently. For me, the choices are almost always character-driven. The people - the characters - usually grab me even more than the story, and emotion is key - hoping the movie will touch your heart in some fashion."

"Projects happen in a variety of ways," he explains. "For example, I was standing in the wings watching Hugh Jackman rehearsing a number for the Academy Awards telecast, and I turned to my fellow producer of the show, Bill Condon, and marveled, 'Isn't Hugh the best showman ever?' And that got me thinking about P. T. Barnum and his 'Greatest Show on Earth.' I then mentioned to Hugh the idea of doing an original movie musical inspired by the life of Barnum, and it immediately sparked his interest - even though at the time there hadn't been an original movie musical produced in over twenty years. We pitched the film we had in mind to Fox, where Hugh had been in a series of very successful Wolverine movies - and we got the go-ahead to develop a screenplay."

According to Mark, it then took seven years before the film began shooting - "mainly because not only did the script need to be right, but also there needed to be a batch of hopefully terrific songs. We got very lucky in 'discovering' Benj Pasek and Justin Paul before they wrote the songs for Dear Evan Hansen and the lyrics for La La Land."

The Greatest Showman was rather slow out of the gate, but business picked up very quickly and held strong. It became, according to a headline in The Atlantic, an "astonishing success, a massive word-of-mouth hit." The soundtrack became No. 1 on the Billboard charts very early on and is still in the top five, and one of the songs, "This Is Me," has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. "It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride," says Mark, "but is ending up as something of a phenomenon. It's very rare for a movie to falter at the outset and then build an audience so speedily and have such incredible staying power."

For Mark, a typical business day can go one of two ways. "If a movie is in production, then I'm often on the set. If there is nothing in production, I'm in the office working on a variety of projects in various stages of development, trying to move each one closer to the starting gate."

When asked what has been the biggest change he has experienced during his career, he responds that "It's the marketing of a movie that has become so remarkably expensive - and as a result, studios and financiers are less willing to take risks. Once upon a time, studio heads could just go with their gut - but that doesn't happen very often now as many more factors need to figure into the equation."

As for the future of movies, Mark notes that "People will always, I think, want the experience of seeing a movie in a theatre. Although you might enjoy watching a movie at home, there's something wonderful and special about the communal atmosphere of a theatre and a really big screen that can't be duplicated in your living room."

For Mark, the parts of the job he enjoys the most are working with writers and the casting process. "Casting is exciting for many reasons, because actors frequently have great insights that they are willing to share and also because if a series of actors is having difficulty with a scene, it may very well be the scene that needs work."

Mark adds, "I believe the most critical part of a producer's job is to make certain that he or she is getting the best work from every single person on the cast and crew. Hotchkiss tended to inspire the best from its students, and it can certainly be said that Hotchkiss lit the match that ultimately sparked my career in 'show business' - a term, by the way, that P. T. Barnum, the greatest showman himself, is said to have invented."

Follow this link to view the trailer for The Greatest Showman.