Exclusive Interview: 20th Century Fox CEO Jim Gianopulos

*Translated in English by Evangelos Goulas.

At a young age he worked as a sailor on a tanker ship and traveled almost everywhere in the world. He says he always had the desire to discover the world.

While being a student in Boston, MA during the anti-war movement for Vietnam, his dream was to get involved with shipping, but instead he got himself into deeper waters than the ones he imagined.

He took over the wheel of 20th Century Fox, one of the biggest movie studios in the world. In California the waves are bigger and harder in that field but Greek-American Jim Gianopulos made Hollywood realize that Greeks are not abandoning the ship that easy.

From the moment he took over the profits for the company are rising high. Forbes named him the man-phenomenon for the entertainment industry and reported that everyone wants to work with him. He didn’t change his -hard to pronounce- last name, making all Los Angeles to learn it. He is fluent in Greek and his family roots are from Istanbul.

Besides his high position Gianopulos is very easy going and he gladly invited us at Fox in Beverly Hills.
A Greek who enters his office for the first time will notice three things, his big and honest smile, plenty of photos from premieres and movie festivals, and a bouzouki.

Do you play bouzouki?

Yes but not very well yet. This instrument was a gift from a friend on my 50th birthday, and ever since , whenever I have some free time I am practicing. I am very good with the guitar though.

What is your place of birth?

I was born in Brooklyn, NY. My father and I always believed that you can maintain your cultural identity that’s why our house was a classic Greek house.
We always talked in Greek and many times when we had a disagreement he had the advantage to use the language better than me.
I feel Greek that lives in United States. Saying that you are an American is a political statement that doesn’t match with your cultural background.

What did you study?

In University I graduated with a degree in Political Science. Right after that I studied for 4 years in law school and then I did my masters in International Justice.
I wanted to get involved with movie production companies but it was a big advantage to have that knowledge in Legal.

Did you go to Greek school?

Of course. Most kids were going to a Greek school to learn how to speak Greek but I didn’t like school, I preferred to have free time.
During your time at the University in United States there were many anti-war movements. Have you ever participated in one of them?
When the Vietnam war begun I was studying in Boston. At that time you would either be in some kind of anti-war movement or fighting the war in Vietnam.
I believed that the war was a big mistake and I participated in anti-war activities. I didn’t care who organized the protest but all I cared was our voices to be heard.

Did you get drafted?

I’ll tell you what happened. After the end of my first year at the University my godfather offered me a job to work on a tanker ship. I thought that it would be a beautiful adventure and I accepted it. In three months I traveled the world but when I left with the ship I forgot to fill out some paperwork that was required so I won’t get drafted as I was a student at the time. A month and a half later and while I was traveling I received a telegram from my mother that I was called to serve in Vietnam by the American army. One thing that crossed my mind was never to return, but I presented the papers that proved I was a student. There was a law that protected the students from being drafted.

When and how did you start getting involved with the entertainment industry?

After finishing my masters in International Justice I worked in an attorney’s office. After that I worked as a consultant for ASCAP organization , that is responsible for the copyright of American music.
During the 80’s when videocassettes production started there was a need for someone that knows the entertainment world and his job would be to protect the work of those that made movies and export them in videotapes.
I’ve accepted to work for Columbia Pictures. My job was to create offices around the world so I can export the movies of the company on video. Right after that I went to Television and to be more specific with funding and distributing movies until the time that I stepped into the position I am standing now.

Are the filmmakers nowadays free to do the movies they want or the material is controlled and filtered by someone?

Some do some don’t. In Europe many like to think that there is no freedom of expression and that there are political limits but something like that doesn’t really exist.
The only one that can set a limit is the audience. If someone wants to make a very strong political film whether it’s democratic or conservative and requires 1 million dollars for his production , the possibilities are that the money will be granted. If he requires 100 million dollars the possibilities for funding that kind of movie with that budget are almost 0.
It’s not the political side of the move that makes the production of such a movie difficult,
but it’s about whether or not it will entertain. If you direct a movie like Harry Potter people will
come to watch it and get entertained but if you make a movie like Fahrenheit 9/11 people will be informed from that movie. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a very rare case as most of political movies don’t have a big audience thus it’s very hard to be produced.

How do you explain that there is not a large number of people that are interested in politics?

People that are interested in politics read, learn and talk with friends, movie theater is part of an important vessel for such ideas. But I believe that the majority of people for a movie theater translates as a 2 hour entertainment in a dark room. I believe that making movies is the strongest communicative tool in the world but differs on how you use it. Studios are responsible to their audience and what they project. I don’t believe that studios have the luxury to become “vessels” of propaganda for political reasons, that’s not their mission, they are companies. It is important to offer all the tools to make movies that they politically inspire their audience but that’s not their role, that’s the role of journalists,television and newspapers.

Have you ever been offered money to produce a political movie with a propaganda content?
Yes, that happens all the time. Sometimes they don’t know because practically when you have the money you can make any movie you want and you will find someone to distribute your movie, but the big question is who’s going to watch it.

What is your personal preference regarding a movie? Do you like low or high budget movies?
I don’t prefer the low budget or very expensive productions. The question is what’s the right amount to spend on making a movie. If you want to give the picture of the destruction of the planet and the whole New York City that is devastated by tsunami and then ice age, you can’t do it with 2 million dollars.

Do you hang out with Greek-Americans?
Of course, I am a proud member of the “Greek Mafia” of Hollywood (laughter). The members are Nia Vardalos, Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, Michael Chichlis, Melina Kanakaredes, Alexander Payne and Phedon Papamichael, I hope I didn’t forget someone. There is a strong relationship among Greeks whether they are first or second generation. Every year we celebrate Easter at my house.

When do you plan to make a movie that most of the crew would be Greeks and part of the mafia?
I think that’s been already accomplished. I’ll share the story with you. I was out for lunch with my agent and we were talking for many different things. Suddenly he tells me that “you have to meet a fellow Greek that works here and he is a director”- Alexander Payne, and I said Alexander Payne is Greek? I’ve always watched his movies and I liked them but I never imagined that he is Greek, so the very same day I called him and told him that “I always liked your movies and I believe you are a good director , now that I know that you are Greek it’s a must to go out for dinner and get to know each other. So we went out and down the road we did “Sideways” were cinematography was done by Phedon Papamichael.

How often do you visit Greece?
Every year. I have many friends there.

Do you plan on sending your children to a Greek school according to the Greek-American tradition?
My plan is that currently their grandmother has the role of the teacher in order for them to learn Greek and school comes later.

Are you planning on making a movie based on Greek history and mythology?
Not at the moment. I believe that because of the negative effect from the audience on Alexander and Troy we would like to wait until we get a good idea and make it into a very good movie that will be accepted by the audience with no doubt.

Would you like to share with us, how you celebrate Easter at your house?
This is the official celebration of the Greek Mafia. One thing I can tell you for certain is that we have a live band that plays amazing Greek music but after drinking some wine we take over the stage and sing.


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