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HOW I MADE IT: ADAM FOGELSON

A movie promoter keeps it in the family

Universal Pictures marketing chief Adam Fogelson learned the ropes and some valuable life lessons from his favorite mentor: his father.

April 19, 2009|Claudia Eller

The gig: President of marketing and distribution for Universal Pictures. The 41-year-old executive is responsible for overseeing the advertising, promotion and publicity campaigns for the studio's movies and DVD releases, which have included such hits as the current release "Fast & Furious," the fourth film in a franchise that so far has collectively grossed more than $825 million worldwide; "Mamma Mia!," which racked up $600 million in global ticket sales; "Ray," for which Jamie Foxx won a best actor Oscar for his role as music legend Ray Charles; and the Steve Carell comedy "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Background: Born in New York, Fogelson moved to Los Angeles in 1970 at age 3 when his father, studio marketing veteran Andrew Fogelson, was sent here to open Warner Bros.' West Coast marketing office.

Fogelson says he had a charmed childhood and to this day remains very close to his father and mother, an educational therapist who helps disabled children, and younger brother, who runs an animation company. "It sounds boring but it was the furthest thing from boring. My parents and brother are the most interesting people I've ever met."

Self-admitted oddball: "I have to confess I was an odd child. I was much more comfortable hanging around older people . . . as much or more than people my own age." On the weekends, even as a young boy he preferred playing golf with his dad and his cronies to having sleepovers with his peers.

One of his cherished childhood memories: sitting around the dinner table with his parents; his dad's onetime boss, producer Ray Stark; and iconic movie director John Huston.

Like father, like son: "I loved watching my dad work in this business," said Fogelson, whose father headed marketing at Warner, Columbia Pictures and United Artists. Fogelson and his father often talked about how fun it would be to someday work together.

During his college years at Stanford, where he produced radio broadcasts of the school's basketball, football, baseball and volleyball games, Fogelson was sure he was going to be a sports broadcaster.

Then, in his senior year, on New Year's Day 1989, he had an epiphany after listening to Al Michaels' Sugar Bowl broadcast from New Orleans. "I realized that if I got to the top of my profession, I would be spending New Year's Day away from home and that all of the plane trips and hotel rooms that made it so much fun while I was a college student wasn't where I wanted to be when I turned 40."

Now, a year past that age, Fogelson lives in Los Feliz, eight minutes from work with wife Hillary and their two daughters, Willa, 5, and Harper, 2.

The path: After graduating with a communications degree in 1989, he went to work at his father's marketing consulting firm, AFA Co., learning the business and some valuable life lessons from his favorite mentor. Top among them: "Always put your family first, and never lose sight of your point of view."

After five years, frustrated about the limited role marketing then played in the filmmaking process, Fogelson decided to try his hand at screenwriting. "Marketing people were being handed the movies and told 'Here, go make this work,' so I wanted to see if I could enjoy some time at the head end of the horse."

In 1996, he moved to New York, where Hillary, then his girlfriend, was attending New York University. He wrote two scripts, but neither sold. Though he paid his bills by working part time for his father, after 2 1/2 years as a struggling writer he knew it was time to get a real job.

In early 1997 he moved back to Los Angeles to take the head marketing post at independent home video and movie company Trimark Pictures -- against the advice of nearly everyone he knew. "The perception was that they didn't have any real expertise in film and if I went there it was destined to fail."

But Fogelson figured if he could create just two standout campaigns he'd get an "inordinate amount of credit" in the marketing community. That's precisely what happened when his campaign for the low-cost urban period drama "Eve's Bayou" helped sell tickets by giving it "a commercial mystery thriller patina," and his movie trailer for the little-seen sci-fi horror flick "Cube" brought his work to the attention of rivals.

Big break: In 1998, Fogelson landed at Universal Pictures as vice president of creative advertising. Four years later he became president of marketing and in 2007 he was given added responsibilities overseeing distribution and having a say in when movies get released.

Personal best: Fogelson said he's most proud of his campaign on the first "American Pie," which was a break-out hit in 1999 that few saw coming. The plot follows a familiar teen comedy formula: Four high school seniors make a pact to lose their virginity before the prom. "Not necessarily the stuff of box-office gold," Fogelson said.

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