Even during his early days as a child performer, Howard knew that he wanted to be in charge of his productions.
One of the most popular filmmakers in the industry today is the soft-spoken Director/Producer Ron Howard. Even during his early days as a child performer, Howard knew that he wanted to be in charge of his productions.
Today he can boast of being at the helm on more than three dozen films, and many of them have been recognized with numerous awards. Howard is also the force behind a number of acclaimed television shows, such as Fox TV’s “24” and critical darling “Friday Night Lights,” through his Imagine Entertainment production company, which he founded with Producer Brian Grazer in 1986. Additionally, the new NBC series “Parenthood” is based on his hit movie. “[Parenthood] is a project that I really cherish,” says Howard. “It is probably the most personal film that I’ve been involved with, and something I hold near and dear.” He adds that it is gratifying to see that his idea, which was born 20-some years ago, evolved into a TV production that is “so beautifully executed and entertaining.” The show is currently filming at Universal Studios and in locations around Los Angeles, including University High School in West L.A.
Thanks to his creative imagination, Howard has earned many accolades, including a Best Director Academy Award for A Beautiful Mind, and he shared the Best Picture Oscar with Co-Producer Brian Grazer. Last year, Howard was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for Frost/Nixon. His first Directors Guild of America (DGA) nomination was for directing Cocoon in 1985. Howard has since won DGA Awards for A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 and was recently nominated for Frost/Nixon.
Howard knows that Hollywood loves to categorize directors by film genre, but he has avoided that with the diversity of his work. “A long time ago, I sort of stopped trying to look at projects as genre exercises,” Howard says. He explains that in the early days of his career, it was important for him to stretch. The industry knew him as a longtime sitcom actor, so he had the opportunity to direct comedies. "And they were successes," he notes. However, he wanted to grow even more, and the mix of comedy and drama in the movie Parenthood helped him achieve that goal.
From his point of view, Howard says the state of the industry’s economic landscape doesn’t make it easy to launch productions. “It’s always a challenge in movies and in television, probably more so today than ever,” he notes. “But with [the ‘Parenthood’ series] under Executive Producer and Writer Jason Katims’ auspices, things have gone very smoothly. [At Imagine], we just keep trying to find projects both in movies and in television that feel like they are breaking new ground and feel like they are doing something that entertains the audience in a way that makes me and Brian proud.” Howard insists that the “Parenthood” TV series “falls into that category.” It’s a contemporary re-imagining of the film following a multi-generational family who shares the headaches and joys of parenting. The production is from Imagine Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, with Emmy-winner Thomas Schlamme (“The West Wing”) directing the pilot.
Howard was pleased with the theatrical success of Parenthood, which he produced and directed in 1989. And, although there was a long wait in between the movie and the first attempt at bringing it to TV in 1990, Howard says he always thought it was a great idea to turn it into a series. Married 35 years to his high-school sweetheart Cheryl, and a father of four, Howard calls this show “a great creative experience about the unbelievable ups and downs of parenting — the absurdity of it, the pain of it and also, significantly to me, the nobility of it.”
Despite his varied film and TV background, Howard says, “First and foremost, I consider my day job to be producing and directing. I don’t consider myself an actor anymore. The most important thing is that you can take very personal ideas and you could present them to an audience in entertaining ways, and present a point of view on the screen. That’s what I’m interested in.”
Among the great leaps in technology in recent years, Howard embraces the advancements made in editing. “I think digital technology has made experimentation in the editing room so much easier,” he says, emphasizing that movies are made great in the editing room. “Editing is one of the most advanced technologies. Certainly the Avid has been a great help in so many ways. You can play with it, and explore with it.” When making a film, Howard admits that he hates the casting process: “It’s daunting. But I love rehearsal time. That’s when I storyboard the sequences. Later, I make good use of the storyboards in the editing room.”
Howard believes that the push for 3D productions is exciting and has the most amazing possibilities, especially when combined with digital effects. “Filmmakers can think of something and actually put it up on the screen,” he says. “James Cameron did [that] so remarkably with Avatar. You can create almost 100 percent of what you can imagine. That's something you couldn't say 10 years ago."
Overall, Howard doesn’t think technology has detracted from the filmmaking process. “[Technology] has just broadened the possibilities to realize what’s in the director’s mind,” he says. “It all boils down to great story-telling. I’m a fan of technology if it can be used in an authentic way.” Howard points out that he has used various forms of technology in his movies, including Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Apollo 13, which is the last movie he shot on film. He says that each project was filmed in a unique style with the help of special effects.
Regarding the movies made at Imagine that have collectively grossed billions of dollars, Howard admits that he doesn’t know the secret to the success. “You never know why one movie is a success and another is not,” he says. “There’s no way of telling; it’s the most fragile media in my opinion.”
Howard’s own early days in film and TV sound like they would make a great Hollywood script. As an actor, Howard first won over television audiences at age six when he appeared on the scene as Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1960. He then burst onto the big screen in The Music Man in 1962. “At age eight, I wanted to be an actor/director/writer/producer,” Howard recalls. “I worked with Henry Fonda and showed him a Super 8 film I had made; he told me I should become a director.” Later, film and TV Producer/Director Garry Marshall built his long-running sitcom “Happy Days” around Howard. Then George Lucas cast him in American Graffiti in 1973. In 1976, Howard starred in Eat My Dust for filmmaking legend Roger Corman. He talked Corman into giving him a shot at writing and directing the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto, a film Howard also starred in. To this day, Corman praises Howard’s work on the film, calling him a natural director.
After getting his start in 1977 with Grand Theft Auto, Howard has directed the popular films Splash, Cocoon, Gung Ho, Willow, Backdraft and Ransom. He now moves with ease between producing big-screen projects and television from his Imagine headquarters, where he has more than a half-dozen movies in development and on his preproduction slate. “Brian and I back each other up,” says Howard. “And so whatever the passion is, that’s where the support is.”
In addition to TV’s “Parenthood” getting his attention, Howard currently has at least six films on his plate, including Cowboys and Aliens and a Gus Van Sant project he is producing. He is also looking forward to seeing another one of his critically-acclaimed Imagine Television productions, “Arrested Development,” turned into a movie to be directed by Mitchell Hurwitz for Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Following on the heels of his acclaimed films Angels & Demons, Frost/Nixon, The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man, The Missing, A Beautiful Mind, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Far and Away and Apollo 13, Howard is currently getting ready to direct his next feature (reported to be a comedy with Vince Vaughn).
Howard and Grazer have since produced a string of box-office hits at Imagine. As for why the partnership with Grazer works so well, Howard explains, “We are very ambitious. We work great together. We respect each other, [and] even though we sometimes come at a project in a different way, we always come out on the same page. When we see something eye to eye, we always make that our number-one priority. We support each other in our individual efforts. When we find something that we think deserves all the attention of the company, we pull out all the stops.”
What does Howard hope to achieve in his career? He admits that his goal was always to be a leader in the industry. He chose directing and producing “to be in control, and I hope that people will simply enjoy taking a look at my productions.”