Making choices can be the biggest stumbling block to success, says Hollywood film executive Marc Platt, because "you want to use your head to make decisions when you should HTC using your heart.
"It's choices of the heart that, although they are the most difficult to make, are often the most successful and always the most satisfying," says the 35-year-old Baltimore native who became president of TriStar Pictures earlier this year.
Mr. Platt spoke to an assembly of nearly 900 students, faculty and friends at his alma mater, Pikesville High School, Friday after receiving the school's annual Distinguished Alumni Award for his accomplishments in the motion picture industry.
Before his move to TriStar, Mr. Platt spent more than four years with Orion Pictures, first as a vice president and later as president of productions. As the chief creative executive, he was closely involved with the development and production of films such as "Dances With Wolves," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Mermaids," "Little Man Tate" and "The Addams Family."
"The most important, and most difficult, part of my job are the choices that have to be made 15 to 20 times a year. Choices about which films to produce and how to go about producing them," he told the students.
"I trained my mind all through high school, college and law school to make decisions, and yet I have found that the mistakes I have made in my career grew out of decisions that came entirely from my mind, instead of from my heart."
He cited a few examples from his past. Like "She-Devil," the 1989 Meryl Streep-Roseanne Barr comedy that "looked good on paper but failed miserably" at the box office. "It had no emotion," he said.
In 1991, however, came "The Silence of the Lambs." The prospect of a gory story with a not-very-popular British actor [Anthony Hopkins] as a serial killer had not seemed promising to other studios, he said. "But I saw two very important things in the material: the first really intelligent portrayal of a female protagonist . . . and a story about a person who had such compassion for her fellow man that she believed by saving a single life she would make the world a better place."
He encouraged the production, and the film grossed $300 million and won five Academy Awards.
Indeed, as president of a major film company, Mr. Platt has a hand in every aspect of the creative end of movie-making -- from selecting a screenplay to editing the film.
His influence is already evident in the planning stages of his first film project with TriStar -- "Sleepless in Seattle." The romantic comedy, written by Nora Ephron and starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, will be filmed in part in Baltimore, says Mr. Platt.
"The script is peppered with references to the Orioles. I'm their biggest fan west of the Mississippi."
He also was influential in Tri- Star's recent signing of children's book illustrator Maurice Sendak to produce a series of films based on his work. His pursuit and conquest of the unconventional Sendak is indicative of the creative direction of the studio and its leader, who is fast developing a reputation not only for creative genius but also for his ability to get along with people.
That doesn't surprise Pikesville Music Department chairman Richard Disharoon, who says that Mr. Platt's interpersonal and organizational skills were evident even in high school.
"He's always been a super-organized person who can get people to work for him. He has a low-key yet high-powered way to persuade you to do something," says Mr. Disharoon, noting young Platt persuaded 16 faculty members to take part in a production of "Bye Bye Birdie" that he directed during his senior year.
Mr. Disharoon, who has maintained contact with Mr. Platt over the years, recalls his former student as a typical Type-A personality: juggling rehearsals of two plays with roles on the yearbook staff, student newspaper, concert choir and more.
"And all the while he maintained a high academic average," he says. "I think these things have all come together to get him where he is today."
After graduating from Pikesville in 1975, Mr. Platt went on to the University of Pennsylvania for his B.A. and New York University, where he earned a law degree in 1982. Even during those years he appeared in 16 productions and co-produced an off-Broadway play, "Francis," in 1979.
After law school, he practiced entertainment law for a while before joining New York talent agent Sam Cohn, negotiating agreements on behalf of such stars as Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Robin Williams and Cher.
It was in that capacity that he first got to know many of the actors, filmmakers and producers that he would later call on as studio executive to join his productions.
Despite the lessons he's learned on decision-making, Mr. Platt admits, no amount of creative expertise can totally predict a film's critical and commercial success. "But that's what makes the movie industry so interesting," he says.
"I always have an open-door policy. I can't afford not to meet the next Spielberg and I don't know where it will be."