Jeff Katz emerges as an American Original

05.07.09 9 years ago

20th Century Fox

Talk about a company name designed to look good in headlines.  I’ve always loved Terry Gilliam’s infantile urge to name his production company Poo Poo Productions, just so lawyers would have to have serious conversations about Poo Poo, but I think most sane people want a name that conveys an attitude and suggests what you should expect.  I like it when people bite off more than they can chew right out of the gate.  If you name your company “Bad-Ass Ninja Robot Shark Productions,” and you’ve got a logo that’s four and a half minutes long and cost $2 million, you are making an inherent promise to your customer.  I always laugh at the way people try to either go vague or “aha!” cute.  And I wonder if there are people who regret their company name after living with it for a while.

All things I pondered as I opened the press release for Jeff Katz’s new entertainment company, American Original.  I met Jeff many years ago at New Line, as a junior executive there.  He was incredibly young at the time… I think 13 or 14… and he had already had this wild other earlier career in the world of professional wrestling.  And talking to him, I was amazed not that New Line had him meeting with people to discuss genre movies, but more that they would even let him in the building.  He was way too real, too unpolished, too in love with movies and genre fare and comic books and pop culture to be anyone who any corporation would let make any degree of decision.  It does not surprise me at all that he would announce his new company today as a “nerd machine.”  It does not surprise me at all that he’s only 30 and he’s not only worked for two studios (he had a good run at New Line before making the jump to Fox, where he was hired specifically to be the House Nerd.  It does not surprise me at all that he’s a really good comic book writer (his Booster Gold stuff is, yes, gold), since he seems to ingest comics and video games and pretty much everything nerd on a steady IV drip.

It just surprises me when something like this actually happens to people who should be making these choices.  It’s rare.

[more after the jump]

There are a lot of good executives working in this business, smart guys, guys with good taste, guys who will go to bat for material they like, and they’ll mean it.  But those guys rarely have power.  They are rarely the guy who says yes or no.  They are always several people down the food chain.  And in the moments those guys do have real power, they rarely have it for long, because they tend to make marvelous, mad, irresponsible choices, and we get really great movies as a result.  In my experience, some of the smartest people I’ve ever dealt with in the 15 years I’ve been working as a writer are the people whose good advice didn’t matter because they didn’t have enough muscle.

Jeff was a big part of making “Wolverine” happen.  It’s always a group effort, of course, especially on giant-budget filmmaking, but he was absolutely one of the people who helped keep the film moving.  And that momentum, after that big-ass opening weekend, combined with his geek cred from the last however many years of his work, is what seems to be paying off in this announcement.  It’s well-timed, this partnership with Top Cow to develop comics and then turn around and represent the material in other media.  It’s certainly not the first company to do this… I know Radical is working hard to get their first few films up and running, and they’ve got a lot of energy invested in the books they’ve put out so far.  I’ve read many of them, and I think they’re professional, but they’re stiff so far.  They don’t feel like they’re enjoying the comics they’re putting out.  Like they’re so ready to get to the film adaptations that they’re not really putting out books so much as sneak previews.  I’m hoping that as an author and a co-publisher, and with an established comics company onboard as well, Katz is going to break that mold and put out books that are worth reading as books.  And maybe those books can work in tandem with films, and it can all exist without any of it being placeholders or just an effort to establish an IP.  I think we all understand how you have to build things across multiple platforms for it to make real economic sense these days, especially if you want to paint on any kind of big canvass.  The trick of it is actually putting out a lineup of content that lives up to the potential.  I can only imagine the roster Katz is eyeing right now. 

There’s a lot of familiar business-speak in this press release, but I’m telling you… Katz is one of the good guys.  This has potential.  Here’s what they sent me for publication:




LOS ANGELES, CA (May 7, 2009) —- Studio executive, producer and comic book author Jeff Katz (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, FREDDY VS. JASON, SNAKES ON A PLANE, BOOSTER GOLD) has launched American Original, a new entertainment company that will provide content across multiple platforms geared to the growing genre consumer base as well as provide services to genre creators themselves, it was announced today. The newly launched entity will consist of multiple divisions, including publishing and film & television production, all operating under the American Original banner.

Katz, a former Vice President of Production at 20th Century Fox and New Line Cinema who oversaw production of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, is one of the leading players in Hollywood’s genre community. Targeting the savvy genre audience, which has become one of the most lucrative and desired markets in Hollywood, American Original–playfully referred by Katz as the ‘Nerd Machine,’ will stand as a credible and authentic voice for the comic industry and its fans within the Hollywood community while creating the genre production business model of the future.

“The genre audience has been derisively labeled with a variety of names – ‘fanboys,’ ‘geeks,’ and the like. The word that I would use is ‘winners,’ said Katz. “While the bad news is that we are only a niche, the good news is that the future of entertainment is a future built on niches. This audience is expanding and is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the new entertainment model. We are, by our very nature, the early adopters that generate the most sought after quality in Hollywood today – pre-awareness.”

One of the first two divisions to be launched, American Original Press, will join forces with Top Cow Productions, the comic book publisher behind last summer’s hit WANTED and the highly successful video game THE DARKNESS, to seed IP for distribution across all entertainment platforms.

Via a strategic partnership with Top Cow, American Original Press will publish up to 10 titles per year with a goal of building a print library to develop those properties across film, television, Internet and gaming platforms. Katz will own and produce all titles under the American Original label, with Top Cow’s Matt Hawkins and Marc Silvestri exec producing select titles. Additionally, transporting the old model of the comic publishing business into the 21st century, American Original Press is the first publishing house of its kind to offer creative talent a percentage of the gross revenues over the life of the IP.

“When Jeff first quit his cushy job at Fox in this economic climate I thought he was crazy,” said Top Cow President Matt Hawkins. “Then he told me his plan and I knew immediately that Marc Silvestri and I wanted in. Jeff is one of those kinetically charismatic and driven guys that you want to be in business with. We believe in his vision of the future and look forward to working together to push the new model forward.”

The second division, American Original Entertainment, will focus on developing original and adapted film and television properties and presenting them to the marketplace. Ben Austin, a veteran of Fine Line, New Line and Fox, has come aboard as Director of Development at American Original Entertainment, the production arm of the American Original label.

American Original has also assembled an Advisory Board, which includes comic genre veterans Richard Donner and Ralph Winter, and former New Line distribution chief David Tuckerman.

Over the next few weeks, American Original will be announcing additional executive hires as well as creative partners across a wide range of media, culminating in the official American Original launch panel at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego.

A college dropout driven by a childhood love of genre films and comic books, Katz, 30, has established himself as one of the leading names in Hollywood’s genre community after only a decade in Los Angeles. Katz started in the world of talk radio at age 15 followed by a three-year-stint with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. Eventually dropping out of Michigan State after his freshman year, he called upon his childhood hero and pen pal, New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye and secured a position at New Line as an unpaid intern.

Katz quickly rose through the ranks at New Line, becoming an executive at the ripe age of 24 with the release of the long-gestating horror crossover FREDDY VS. JASON, which grossed $36.4M in its opening weekend, then the highest horror film opening of all time. At New Line, Katz rose to Vice President of Production by age 27 and oversaw development and production on films ranging from the cult hit SNAKES ON A PLANE with Samuel L. Jackson and the current cable television stalwart SHOOT ‘EM UP with Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti.

In 2007, Katz went to Twentieth Century Fox as Vice President of Production and was thrust into development of the X-MEN movie universe. Katz oversaw production of the tentpole release X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE starring Hugh Jackman, which grossed a whopping $160M in worldwide box office last weekend.

It was during his time at New Line that Katz embarked on a successful second career as a comic book writer with his first work published by Image Comics in the 2005 anthology THE WICKED WEST. In 2007, Katz signed on to the biggest success of his comic book career, BOOSTER GOLD with DC Comics. Teaming with comic book superstar Geoff Johns, Katz’s run on BOOSTER GOLD was an unexpected success both critically and commercially, putting Katz on the map in a second industry. While on location in Australia the Katz-created horror crossover mini-series FREDDY VS. JASON VS. ASH (the unofficial sequel to FREDDY VS. JASON) became a hit for Wildstorm & Dynamite and a sequel mini-series based on a story by Katz titled FREDDY VS. JASON VS. ASH II – THE NIGHTMARE WARRIORS begins shipping in June. Katz was recently named one of the “9 to watch in ’09” by Newsarama, one of the top comics sites on the web.

Over the years, Katz has further solidified his status as a leading genre authority, appearing prominently in the successful genre documentaries GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE & FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM, HALLOWEEN: 25 YEARS OF TERROR and HIS NAME WAS JASON. He was also honored as the youngest member of the Hollywood Reporter’s prestigious “Next Generation” Class of 2007, recognizing his unique credibility in both film and comics. In autumn of 2008, with post-production on X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE well underway, Katz shocked the genre community in the movie industry by resigning his position at 20th Century Fox, which he did to lay the groundwork for what he calls “a new model for a new time.”

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