Family & Companions
Joe Roth studied communications at Boston University before settling in San Francisco where he first found employment as a production assistant on commercials and feature films and later as a booker for United Artists. At the same time, the native New Yorker began an association with the Pitchel Players, an improvisational comedy group like Chicago's Second City, that led to his eventually producing the troupe's shows. In 1974, the Players relocated to L.A. and Roth, utilizing then-unknown comic actors like Chevy Chase, Howard Hesseman and Laraine Newman, produced his first film, "Tunnelvision." A spoof of TV programming made for $250,000, the film went on to gross around $17 million. Roth went on to produce such diverse features as "Our Winning Season" (1978), "Bachelor Party" and Christopher Cain's "The Stone Boy" (both 1984). He made his directorial debut with the boxing melodrama, "Streets of Gold" (1986) and went on to helm "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" (1987) and "Coupe de Ville" (1990). In 1987, he and James G. Robinson co-founded the Morgan Creek independent production company, responsible for such films as "Young Guns" and "Dead Ringers" (both 1988), "Enemies, A Love Story" and "Major League" (both 1989) and "Pacific Heights" (1990).
In 1989, Roth moved into the majors when he was named chairman of the Fox Film Corporation, the newly-formed theatrical film unit of the 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. He was the first director since 1935 (when Ernst Lubitsch briefly took over the reins of Paramount) to become the head of production for a major studio. While at Fox, he oversaw such popular features as "Home Alone" and "Edward Scissorhands" (both 1990), "Hot Shots!" and "Sleeping With the Enemy" (both 1991), and "White Men Can't Jump" and "The Last of the Mohicans" (both 1992). In the winter of 1992, Roth announced his resignation from Fox and went on to form (with Roger Birnbaum) Caravan Pictures, an independent production company housed at Disney.
After several successful years with Caravan (with pictures including "The Three Musketeers" 1993, "While You Were Sleeping" 1995, and "Before and After" 1996), Roth was named chairman of Walt Disney Motion Pictures, replacing Jeffrey Katzenberg, who ironically, had been responsible for the Caravan deal. Roth, whose managerial style was referred to as "low- key and contemplative," concentrated on developing Disney's live-action features and attempted to hold costs down, although it also entered into deals with talent as diverse as Ridley Scott, Robert Redford, John Hughes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock and Oprah Winfrey.
Roth initially managed the distinct film divisions, Disney, Touchstone, Hollywood, Caravan and Miramax, but behind the scenes quietly streamlined the Byzantine corporate structure he inherited in order to cut costs. He was also forward enough in his thinking and understanding of the changes in the industry to posit the need for global thinking on the part of studio executives. Still, while there was a need for "brand name" recognition, the really good executive would still have to recognize that "people connect to the emotional values inside stories [and] if a movie connects with audiences here in America, it will connect with foreign audiences."
By 1996, many of his changes had been implemented and Roth was overseeing a revamped Walt Disney Studios, having assumed additional responsibilities for TV production, TV animation and home video. Having made the decision to curtail the number of films released by the studio in a single year to 20, Roth faced several difficult decisions. The production deal with Caravan was altered to allow Caravan to shop to other studios any projects Disney passed on. Additionally, Roth shut down the production and development aspects of Hollywood Pictures but allowed it to continue operating as a releasing label. In restructuring the company, the executive was also faced with having to soothe bruised egos and reshuffle the responsibilities of key players. By the end of the summer (and following the departure of some figures), Roth had consolidated the production process among himself, Richard Cook, Donald De Line and David Vogel.
Roth's efforts clearly paid; Disney led the box office market share five times in six years during his tenure and the studio enjoyed successes with the animated films "Hercules" (1997), "A Bug's Life" (1998) and "Tarzan" (1999), actioners like "Con Air" (1997) and "Armageddon" (1998) and Oscar-nominated dramas such as "The Insider" and "The Sixth Sense" (both 1999).
When Roth announced his resignation from Disney in January 2000, though, it was not much of a surprise within the industry. Having spent more than a decade working in the shadow of powerful men like Rupert Murdoch and Michael Eisner, Roth stated it was time to strike out on his own. (A former insider, however, hinted to the industry trades that part of the reason might have stemmed from Roth's frustration at the limitations enforced by making "brand-name" product.) Whatever the case, Roth wasted no time in lining up talent to join him; Julia Roberts signed a multi-year, nonexclusive three-picture deal agreement with him in February. He then negotiated deals with German-based Senator Films and Toho-Tawa of Japan and announced the acquisition of his company's first project, "Tomcats" (2001), a raunchy romantic comedy with Jerry O'Connell and Shannon Elizabeth. By the time the film went before the cameras, Roth had settled on a name -- Revolution Films -- and had embarked on a series of deals acquiring various projects like an untitled scripts from Lawrence Kasdan and Daryl Quarles, "The New Guy" to team Eddie Griffin and Lyle Lovett, and "The One" to star Jet Li.
Director (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Feature Film)
Moved Pitchel Players to Los Angeles, leased Ashgrove (now Improvisation) Theatre
First film as producer, "Tunnelvision", in which he also appeared
First film as director, "Streets of Gold"
Co-founder, with James G Robinson, of Morgan Creek Productions
Appointed chairman of Fox Film Corporation, newly-formed theatrical film unit of 20th Century-Fox Film Corp.; was also named head of News Corporation unit
Announced resignation from Fox to form an independent film division with Disney (effective January 1, 1993), founded Caravan Pictures with partner Roger Birnbaum; announced ambitious plan to release up to 10 films per year under Caravan banner
Appointed chairman of Walt Disney Motion Pictures, replacing a departed Jeffrey Katzenberg
Shut down Hollywood Pictures as a production company, although it would continue to act as a releasing label
Announced resignation from Disney (January)
Formed Revolution Pictures, with funding from Sony Pictures, Liberty Media's Starz Encore Group and Fox Broadcasting
Directed the comedy "America's Sweethearts" from a script by Billy Crystal and starring Julia Roberts, and Catherine Zeta-Jones
Debut feature for Revolution Pictures, "Tomcats"
Directed Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis in the holiday comedy "Christmas with the Kranks"
Directed the drama "Freedomland," starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore and Edie Falco