Malibu local Ron Meyer speaks to students and Malibu residents about hits, flops and what it’s like to be at the helm of Universal Studios.
By Trevor A Ditzler / Special to The Malibu Times
Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios and local Malibu resident, spoke on Monday at the George Elkins Auditorium at Pepperdine University for the inaugural “State of the Industry Conversation” lecture series. The series is hosted by the university’s Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture.
Guests to the lecture were treated to previews of the upcoming, unreleased Universal films, “Cowboys & Aliens,” starring Olivia Wilde and Daniel Craig, “Paul,” “Fast Five,” as well as two new commercials for Universal theme parks.
Meyer has served as the president and chief operating officer of Universal for more than 15 years, and was at the helm of the studio when Universal produced “Gladiator,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Jurassic Park,” among many other box office hits. Meyer said that though he has achieved tremendous levels of success in the film industry, he had made decisions to let some movies go, which he later regretted.
“I turned down Titanic, for one,” he said laughing.
When asked what film in his career he is most proud of, Meyer did not choose any of the multiple Oscar-winning or box office record-breaking films produced under his leadership, but instead said his overall favorite was “United 93.”
“United 93” commemorated the passengers on United Airways Flight 93 who resisted the terrorists on 9/11. Thomas Burnett Jr., a 1995 graduate of Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management, was one of the passengers of the flight. The passengers wrested control of the aircraft, preventing another hit on a notable target-most believe the hijackers’ destination was the White House-but all aboard lost their lives when Flight 93 plunged into a field in Pennsylvania.
Meyer praised the film’s director and writer, Paul Greengrass, and those involved, saying it was truly a “great movie,” and that it made the audience feel, “Proud to be an American, proud of what people can accomplish.”
The studio head went on to comment that he felt similarly about one other film, “Broke Back Mountain,” which later went on to achieve considerable box office success.
When asked why there are so many bad movies still being made, Meyer said, “No one has ever set out to make a bad movie. Ever. But it happens.”
He further elaborated on the logistics of current students getting a script they had written possibly made into a movie. He pointed out that there are many players in the film industry, and that the major studios only make 18 to 21 films a year.
“You have to say no to a lot of situations,” he said.
Meyer was born in Los Angeles to parents who had fled Nazi Germany in 1939. At the age of 15, he dropped out of high school, and by the time he was 17, Meyer had joined the Marines where he quickly became a boxer. After the Marines, he started in the talent agency business by first working as a messenger at the Paul Kohner agency from 1964 to 1970. He then worked as a talent agent for the William Morris Agency, and then went on to found the Creative Artists Agency with four other friends and fellow agents from William Morris. Meyers currently resides in Malibu with his wife, Kelly Chapman, and has three daughters and a son.
Speaking to his untraditional approach to education, Meyers said to the lecture audience, addressing the students among them, “If I can make it, so can you.”