Bio: Paul Junger Witt has long been a leading figure in the business of film and television. He began his career at Screen Gems, the television division of Columbia Pictures Corporation. While there, he produced The Partridge Family and won his first Emmy award as the producer of the television film Brian’s Song. After one year with Spelling-Goldberg, where he produced The Rookies and seven television films, he formed Witt/Thomas Productions and Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions with partners Tony Thomas and Susan Harris. This production company became one of the most successful in the history of American situation comedy. He produced the multiple Emmy-award winning series Soap, Benson, Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Blossom, Beauty and the Beast, The John Larroquette Show, and others.
Mr. Witt’s first feature-film production was First Born in 1984. His film Dead Poet’s Society won an Oscar for best screenplay and was nominated for best picture. He also produced Insomnia and the 1999 Three Kings, the first film produced by Coast Ridge Productions. The film stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube, and was directed by David O. Russell.
Mr. Witt is a key supporter of the Virginia Film Festival and sits on the University of Virginia’s Arts Council. He is a former chairman of the California State Park and Recreation Commission and continues to serve as a commissioner. He is also an active board member for several organizations, including the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema & Television, the UCLA Executive Board for the Medical Sciences, Environmental Defense, Environmental Media Association, and the Santa Barbara Channel Keepers. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia.
Expertise: Innovation and the Business of Film
Fellowship Focus: During his Batten Fellowship, Paul Junger Witt, one of Hollywood’s most prominent producers, will work with his faculty hosts to develop case studies and other materials based on his experience producing the 1999 film Three Kings, set at the close of Operation Desert Storm. The making of this movie, from his championing of the project through the film’s release, is a compelling story of innovation and entrepreneurship.
He believes that mastery of business has become a must in the film industry, and his experience with Three Kings exemplifies this. The pace of change in the industry has been increasing, presenting more and more challenges and highlighting the tension between assured profit and serious content. Three Kings represents an increasingly rare effort to work innovatively within the industry constraints of a major studio. Directed by David O. Russell, the challenging content of the film is matched by the highly creative technique of the filming itself.
The cases in this project will parallel the balance every entrepreneur faces between risk and return on investment, between contributing to the social sphere and working within constraints. The project will engage faculty of various disciplines—operations, finance, marketing—and students interested in the connections between the media and many business disciplines.
During his fellowship, Mr. Witt will help develop a multimedia companion to the case material and will work with faculty to generate an article on building reputation through risk taking, drawing from the success of Witt/Thomas Productions in television and film. He will also participate in the Darden Producers Forum, which is cosponsored by the Media, Entertainment, and Sports Club.