Clinton Randolph Culpepper1
|Father*||Joseph Tandy Culpepper (12 Sep 1923 - 29 Sep 1991)|
|Charts||Joseph Culpepper of Morgan Co., GA: Descendant Chart|
|Last Edited||9 Jan 2010|
- Clinton Culpepper: He’s Behind the Guffaws and the Gore
Michael Cieply, The New York Times, April 21, 2009
LOS ANGELES — If the stalker thriller “Obsessed,” which opens on Friday, tops the box office, Clinton R. Culpepper will cement his reputation as Hollywood’s king of the schlockbuster.
Clinton R. Culpepper is president of Sony’s Screen Gems.
The president of Screen Gems, a unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Mr. Culpepper, 53, has quietly helped build the film industry’s most consistently successful manufacturer of genre films. Genre films are, loosely speaking, low-cost movies that appeal to a specific audience — whether for horror, science fiction, rude laughs or spiritual inspiration — by fulfilling expectations more than challenging them.
Once the province of third-tier operators who often sent them straight to video, genre movies have become increasingly important financially, tapping niche audiences whose money would otherwise be left on the table.
This year, Screen Gems is poised to release five films, a quarter of Sony’s schedule.
Even studios like Fox Searchlight, Paramount Vantage, and Miramax, which lean toward awards contenders like “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Babel,” or “Doubt,” have been flirting with crowd-pleasers.
And companies as substantial as Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment have claimed much of this year’s box office with niche pictures like “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail” and “The Haunting in Connecticut.”
Sandy-haired, thin and nearly as relentless as the more famous Weinstein brothers — who started their Dimension Films genre brand while running Miramax Films for the Walt Disney Company — Mr. Culpepper has worried less about taste than drawing power. Though he has backed more sophisticated fare too, he fostered a long string of hits that includes “Prom Night,” “Quarantine,” and the “Resident Evil” and “Underworld” series.
Big studios envy the returns from such films, but have seldom excelled at making them. That is largely because they are expected to pay full price for talent, and generally avoid some of the tawdry excess that made a minor hit of, say, Lionsgate’s “My Bloody Valentine 3-D.”
Enter Mr. Culpepper.
Little known to the public at large, he has a considerable fan club in Hollywood — one that may grow larger with the release Friday of “Obsessed,” a stalker thriller starring Beyoncé Knowles.
Sony does not disclose separate profit figures for Screen Gems. But its modestly budgeted films reach break-even when, on average, they have taken in roughly $20 million in revenue, and more than 80 percent turn a profit, according to people who have been briefed on the figures but spoke on condition of anonymity because the data is confidential.
Along the way, Mr. Culpepper has shown that genre films, if correctly designed, can reliably score in theaters.
About a month ago, he supervised a table reading by a corps of black actors led by Chris Rock. The script was their forthcoming movie, a remake of the British farce “Death at a Funeral.” The film was conceived by Mr. Rock, who fell in love with the 2007 original and figured the same conceit, about a dotty family come to bury its patriarch, would grab an audience if it were done with an African-American twist.
The project happened to match one of Mr. Culpepper’s favorite genres of late: the white comedy, done black.
One of the things Mr. Culpepper has proved is that a major corporation like Sony can prevail in such a niche game, long dominated by smaller, nimbler players — but only if operators like himself are shrewd enough to survive the internal politics of companies in which big studio units like Sony’s Columbia Pictures have pride of place.
“One of the things the current management here emphasizes is cooperation,” said Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures.
It helped, said Mr. Lynton, that the unit was formed without oversize ambitions. “It really didn’t come out of a business plan or a grandiose scheme,” said Mr. Lynton. “It grew organically.”
Mr. Culpepper declined to be interviewed for this article. But at least a dozen other past and present associates, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to protect relationships with the studio, described an operation that blossomed largely because it was confined to movies that nobody else at Sony could figure out — or, sometimes, didn’t want to touch.
Mr. Feingold, who left Sony in 2006, said he successfully argued that a newly established Screen Gems, under his aegis, would help get a handful of science fiction and action thrillers into theaters, vastly enhancing their appeal on video.
Mr. Culpepper, who had been helping Mr. Feingold make and acquire straight-to-video movies, took charge of production.
An early hit, “Resident Evil,” based on a video game and with the relatively inexpensive Milla Jovovich in the lead, quickly turned into a popular franchise around the world. “Underworld,” produced by Lakeshore Entertainment, similarly used a female star, Kate Beckinsale, to attract young male action viewers and became a multifilm series.
There were some disappointments. Early on, Mr. Culpepper backed “The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy,” a gay-themed feature that was the first movie directed by Greg Berlanti, then writing for the television series “Dawson’s Creek.”
It was handed to Sony Pictures Classics for distribution as an art film, and had only a modest run in theaters, said Mr. Berlanti, who nonetheless calls Mr. Culpepper his “guardian angel.”
But the urban market opened up with “You Got Served,” a hip-hop themed dance comedy that took in $40 million at the box office in 2004.
Mr. Culpepper had by then struck an easy relationship with Will Packer, an Atlanta-based filmmaker who brought him a low-budget picture, “The Gospel,” that was originally intended for release directly on video.
Mr. Culpepper helped turn it into a modest box-office hit, in part, by taking some of the film’s players on a tour of black churches, where they cultivated the audience by handing out promotional hand fans.
Mr. Packer later brought Screen Gems a major hit with “Stomp the Yard,” another dance-themed film, which took in more than $60 million in 2007.
By Mr. Packer’s account, Mr. Culpepper also showed him a script for another studio’s Christmas dramedy, and suggested that a similar film about a black family would sell tickets. The result was “This Christmas,” another box-office hit that took in $50 million.
More recently, Mr. Culpepper proposed that Mr. Packer undertake a remake of “The Big Chill,” Columbia’s music- and angst-driven 1983 hit about baby boomers turning 30. But this time, it would be done black.
“How cool would that be?” Mr. Packer recalls Mr. Culpepper asking him. The notion is now being turned into a script.
“His eyes just lit up.”.