Film producer and studio chief Nina Jacobson experienced a mercurial rise to power, followed by a precipitous fall from grace and a professional rebirth - all before the age of 50. Fresh out of colleg...
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Born in 1965 in Los Angeles, Jacobson went on to attend Brown University, majoring in semiotics, but with inclinations toward becoming a doctor or veterinarian. After college, she moved to Hollywood and started her career as a researcher for documentary films for Arnold Shapiro Productions, before segueing to researching feature films for producer Lauren Shuler Donner. On her way to becoming a studio executive, in 1987, she landed a job as a story analyst for the Walt Disney Company's Sunday night television movie division. Moving swiftly and steadily up the ladder, the then-23-year-old Jacobson went to interview with mega-action producer Joel Silver during the 1988 writers' strike, jumping to Silver Pictures, where she served as director of development. She lasted a year before getting fired sight unseen by the new head of Silver's company. From there, she went to work for producers Laurie McDonald and Walter Parkes, then running their own production company in connection with Universal Pictures, before making the move to the studio herself.
At Universal, Jacobson started as a junior executive, where she worked on a spate of Jean-Claude Van Damme films and became known as the "body count" executive. Following a promotion to senior vice president of production, she oversaw the development and production of such films as "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" (1993) "Dazed & Confused" (1993) and "Twelve Monkeys" (1995). It was during her days at Universal that Jacobson came out as a gay woman, first at work, and then in The Hollywood Reporter, where she stated, "I don't take it for granted that it's been such a non-issue in my career. I'm working in Hollywood at the millennium. If I were working in a different city, a different state, a different industry, it would be very different." Jacobson jumped ship to DreamWorks SKG, where she originated the idea for the animated film "Antz," (1998), based on her experience as a corporate drone and a nature documentary that her girlfriend happened to be watching, as well as developed the Harrison Ford thriller "What Lies Beneath" (2000). One of Jacobson's notable accomplishments was the discovery of a script by M. Night Shyamalan called "The Sixth Sense" (1999). Suitably impressed, she championed the screenplay while still at DreamWorks, making the transition to Disney in connection with that studio's purchase of the script.
Named President of Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, along with studio chairman Dick Cook, Jacobson oversaw such films as "The Alamo" (2004), "Ladder 49" (2004) and "The Princess Diaries" (2001), as well as Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" (2000) and "Signs" (2002). Cook's savvy about assets, coupled with Jacobson's rapport with talent, proved a winning combo. Under her watch, the studio also embarked on a venture to explore venerable Disney theme park attractions as possible movie ideas, which resulted in the enormously successful "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, as well as the less successful and critically disappointing, "The Haunted Mansion" (2003).
Jacobson's business relationship with Shyamalan began to take a turn with 2004's "The Village." Although still a financial success, the film, with its bizarre plot twist and reduced focus on the supernatural, drew mixed reviews and was not a blockbuster like his previous efforts. Shyamalan and Jacobson's growing differences were made public with the publication of the book, The Man Who Heard Voices, an account of the making of the director's latest effort, "The Lady in the Water," over which the two of them also clashed. The book, by Michael Bamberger, significantly raised Jacobson's profile with the general public, and detailed her concerns with the wunderkind's script, which led to Shymalan leaving the studio and making the film at Warner Brothers.
As Disney began announcing plans to reduce its lineup of live-action films, especially under the Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures labels, Jacobson became the first high-level casualty of the proposed restructuring. In July of 2006, the "girl with the golden gut" was released from the company in a shocking way - with Cook reportedly calling to tell her the news while she was in the maternity ward, assisting her long-time partner in the birth of their third child. Despite the record-breaking summer performance of Disney's sequel "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), she had been hearing rumors and wanted reassurances that her job was safe. It was not. Cook told Jacobson, who had two years to go on her three-year contract, that Oren Aviv, the studio's marketing chief, was replacing her as president of production. Before her termination, she had reportedly been approached by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner as he formed his own post-Disney plans, but she declined his offer. Cook offered Jacobson the usual production deal at the studio, which she also declined. "I would rather start fresh with something new," she told the press. "I feel very sad to be leaving a job that I have loved."
Catlike in her professional agility, Jacobson was soon back on her feet, founding a production company of her own, Color Force, and signing a first-look, three-year producing deal with her former employer DreamWorks by the end of 2006. Even as she entered the next stage of her career, she witnessed the final vestiges of the previous one, as Disney's "The Game Plan" (2007) - a Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson family-drama Jacobson had overseen - opened in first place at the box office. Although the DreamWorks deal yielded no fruit, Jacobson's first Color Force production most certainly did. Based on a hugely popular series of children's books by Jeff Kinney, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (2010) was a family-friendly comedy following the misadventures of 11-year-old Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) as he tries to navigate the treacherous waters of middle school, accompanied by his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron) and constantly terrorized by his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick). While not a blockbuster hit in the traditional sense, the film's modest budget combined with a solid theatrical performance made it enough of a success to merit the green light for a sequel soon after its release.
"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" (2011) - Jacobson's second project as the head of Color Force - once again found the hapless Greg trying to avoid embarrassment at the hands his goofy pal, Rowley, his mom and of course, his reprobate brother, Rodrick. Once again, although critically-maligned, the kids franchise enjoyed enough of a loyal following to merit a third installment. That summer, Jacobson's first adult themed film made its way to theaters. Based on the bestseller by David Nicholls, the romantic drama "One Day" (2011) essayed the life-span of the circuitous love affair of a seemingly mismatched pair (Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess). Despite noble performances by its attractive leads, the film met with mixed reviews and vast indifference from moviegoers. A far bigger gamble, although one that could potentially reap huge rewards, was the highly anticipated dystopian survival adventure "The Hunger Games" (2012), starring Jennifer Lawrence and based on the juggernaut book franchise of the same name by Suzanne Collins. A more modest bet that same year was the third entry in the chronicles of Gregg Heffley - "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days" (2012).
By Matthew Reynolds
From classic movie palaces to the state-of-the-art IMAX screens.