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Easton native finds success in Hollywood

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He's one of Hollywood's hottest young movie producers, an industry player with a smash new film, a hit cable television series and celebrity pals like Ben and Matt (as in Affleck and Damon) on speed dial.

But Chris Moore is hardly one of those slick and glossy entertainment types. He's more the fun-loving frat-boy-next-door who's made it big -- and can't quite believe his good fortune.

"I've been lucky all my life," says the 36-year-old Easton native, sounding upbeat and friendly, calling from the Beverly Hills area by cell phone. "A lot of great things have happened, and I've been lucky enough to go along for the ride."

Luck -- perhaps. But hustle and perseverance also explain his journey from the Eastern Shore to Harvard, media entrepreneurship and nearly a dozen motion pictures under his belt.

His credits include the Oscar-winning drama Good Will Hunting, and the American Pie teen sex comedies, whose third installment, American Wedding, has been a box-office leader since its $34 million opening two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Moore is finishing up the second season of HBO's Project Greenlight, the Emmy-nominated reality show that follows neophyte screenwriters and directors as they make an original film (and regularly get dressed down by Moore, an executive producer on the film).

"I do get recognized sometimes," says the beefy blond, a University of Maryland basketball fan who often sports Terps T-shirts on the show. "But I'm mostly behind the scenes. You can't be the center of attention [as a producer] and do your job." That gig keeps him busy 24-7.

He is CEO of LivePlanet, the multimedia company he co-founded in June 2002 with Damon, Affleck and writer/producer Sean Bailey. The company produced both Greenlight and Wedding, in conjunction with other outfits. The partners also have various film projects in the wings.

It's a pretty amazing trajectory for a guy whose historic hometown, Easton -- population about 12,000 -- had only one movie theater.

"It was a good life, and a beautiful place," says Moore, who grew up with a lawyer dad and a mom who headed aquatics at the local Y.

He attended the community's lone public high school, forging friendships that remain to this day. He played sports, went crabbing and hung out in Ocean City.

"It's a great part of the world. I give Easton a lot of credit for who I am," says Moore.

Despite the fact that Moore spent a lot of his time watching movies ("In a smaller town, there's not a whole lot to do"), he didn't exactly display an early passion for the art of filmmaking.

He launched his career as a glorified gofer, taking a job as a production assistant with the USA Network.

"I was carrying water," Moore says of the two-summer stint. "I thought maybe I'd work my way up to being a sports producer."

Instead, the enterprising teen networked and subsequently landed an internship in California on a late-night comedy show, Up All Night.

Meantime, the school year was spent at Harvard, studying American history. But it seemed increasingly clear that showbiz was calling. On campus, he would cross paths with another cinematic dreamer -- Matt Damon.

"Matt was a freshman when I was a senior," explains Moore. "He was an actor and lived with some guys I played lacrosse with. We'd talk about Hollywood, have beers and hang out. He was pretty smart."

The two lost touch after Moore graduated and took his first professional job as a literary agent with a small firm, Intertalent Agency. The firm was bought by the powerful International Creative Management (ICM), where he represented writers and directors in film, TV and new media.

Later, while Moore worked to produce his own first film, Glory Daze, he thought of his old pal from Cambridge.

"I needed someone for the lead role, so I called Matt," he recalls. "He couldn't do it but said, 'My best friend Ben would be perfect.' Ben ended up starring in the movie, and we became really good friends."

The rest is the stuff of contemporary Hollywood lore.

Armed with a little script called Good Will Hunting, the trio would embark on a three-year journey that culminated in 1997 when the movie became a box-office sensation. Screenwriter-actors Damon and Affleck were catapulted into the spotlight, winning Golden Globe Awards and Oscars.

Moore saw his own star rise as well. His resume would list a string of films: Reindeer Games, Best Laid Plans, Pop & Me and The Third Wheel.

In 1999, he struck pay dirt with the breakout hit American Pie -- the spirited, grossly funny tale about the raucous high jinks of four high school friends, which gave apple pie a whole new meaning.

Audiences loved Jim, Michelle, Stifler and the rest of the quirky East Great Falls High gang so much that the 2001 sequel, American Pie 2, premiered as the largest box office opening ever for an R-rated film. It eventually grossed more than $300 million worldwide, and the Universal Pictures franchise has raked in more than a half-billion dollars.

"You never know with Hollywood, movies or comedies," says Moore when asked about the trilogy's success. "People like to laugh. Maybe that means we'll get them to laugh. If that translates into people going to see the movie, I'm happy."

Part of a producing team, Moore credits his peers, and Adam Herz -- the screenwriter-producer behind the characters.

"He's awesome," says Moore. "What's fun about these movies is that we all share our crazy stories. A few wild things have happened to friends of mine."

Nonetheless, Moore seems doubtful there will be an American Pie 4.

"At a certain point, it gets to the end," he muses. "It started with a guy losing his virginity and ended with his wedding. This story's over."

So what's up next for Moore?

For starters, he is finishing the DVD versions of Project Greenlight and American Wedding. Two new films, Waiting and Aftermath, are coming. Meantime, he is constantly brainstorming -- about cool new projects, innovative concepts.

"I try to be really good at my job -- that's my thing. We're not curing cancer, we're making entertainment. But if people spend $40 in two hours to come see something, it has to be good."

Asked about his professional style, he admits: "I'm tough -- the type some people love, some people hate. I believe in professional accountability. I shouldn't have to ask you twice to do something."

That work ethic has much to do with his upbringing.

"Growing up on the Shore, I've always seen people work hard. I'm used to working really hard. But I play hard, too," he adds. "I love life, and I think people respond to that."

Moore says he once "chased lots of girls" and partied but now lives quietly in a Santa Monica beachhouse with his longtime sweetheart (Charlie's Angels producer Jenno Topping) and their 2-year-old daughter, Maddie.

He downplays his wealth, which besides movie and cable earnings, includes the sale of Launch Media Inc. (Yahoo purchased the multimedia firm and magazine he co-founded in 2001 for an undisclosed sum.)

"I'm not that rich," he says half-jokingly. "I try to be smart."

That means driving a Ford pickup truck "with nice rims" and very few fancy purchases. He does have a generous streak, however. When his high school buddy Eddie, stationed in Iraq, wrote him recently, Moore sent 100 DVDs and a computer player for the soldiers to watch.

"They're real heroes, and I was glad to help," he says. "People need entertainment. Life is hard enough as it is. For a lot of people, it's fun to go to a movie, laugh and cry and get the bad guy."

Moore says he knows how lucky he is to do what he does. He's encouraging to those hoping to break into the industry but has mostly general advice.

"People look at this as a dream job, ... a fantasy, like being a professional basketball or baseball player. But the best thing about Hollywood is there is no way to prepare yourself."

Moore says his secret is simply reading scripts and trying to get movies and entertainment made that will resonate. "There's nothing special, just sticking with it. You have the power to be a player in Hollywood."

A proud Marylander, he says he gets home two or three times yearly to see his mother, who remains in Easton. He's also excited about the attention Barry Levinson, John Waters and David Simon bring to the region.

He hopes to bring projects to the area, too, and to continue scripting the Chris Moore story.

"It's a great business, and I love doing this -- making movies and TV shows. I see myself doing the exact same thing in the future, only better."

More Moore

'American Wedding' is in theaters now.

'Project Greenlight' airs on HBO Sunday nights at 10:30. The second season finale airs Aug. 24.

'The Battle of Shaker Heights,' the film whose making is chronicled in Greenlight, opens in New York and Los Angeles Aug. 22. (A Baltimore release has not yet been scheduled.)

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