CINEMACON 2016: Will Rogers Pioneer of the Year – Donna Langley, Universal

What is it about the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation that most appeals to you?

I just love what it’s about: it’s dedicated to helping people in our industry who have fallen on hard times and recognizes people who have dedicated their lives and professional careers to our business. Sometimes unfortunate things happen, and everybody needs a little helping hand now and again. The work they’ve done over the years is really incredible; they’ve got a great support network and team of professionals working with people less fortunate than others.

Diversity is a hot topic in films today. In 2015 some of Universal’s biggest hits also showcased a diversity of talent: from a multiethnic cast in Fast & Furious 7 to tackling social issues in films like Straight Outta Compton and The Danish Girl, films with women in key creative roles like Pitch Perfect 2 and Fifty Shades of Grey, and female-driven comedies like Trainwreck and Sisters. Do you believe part of Universal’s success is due to its inclusiveness?

First of all, we want to make films that resonate with all types of people around the globe. That’s what we’re passionate about—finding stories that people can identify with and that resonate with them emotionally. If that means that films like the ones you’ve mentioned have reflected different cultures and different types of experiences and situations, then that’s a great thing that we’re very proud of it. We believe that reflecting all the different people that make up this world means great business.

You’re actively involved in some very interesting programs targeted at helping women thrive. Can you tell us more about those organizations and why they speak to you?

There are so many issues and problems around the world that you could look to tackle. For me, I wanted to focus my attention on a couple of different areas under the theme of mentoring women —both in the business and outside of it, either here at home or globally. I’m on the board of Vital Voices, a wonderful organization that dedicates itself to supporting women all around the world in many different ways, with the idea of bettering communities by giving women a helping hand. I really liked the Big Brothers Big Sisters Hollywood Mentorship Program that we participated in, because it helps high school girls by pairing them with business mentors in the film industry and allowing them a peek behind the curtains of the film business—showing them that if entertainment is actually something they’re interested in, they can go study for it and develop it as a career. It’s not as if there’s no place for you in Hollywood if you’re not singing or dancing. It’s a big industry made up of different jobs and disciplines. One of the goals and achievements of that particular program is that every year they send six or seven girls to college with a full scholarship, with the idea that they can come out at the other end and we can increase our diversity in the film industry.

Congratulations on a very strong 2015 at the box office, all without the help of superheroes no less. As we all know, success at the box office is never a guarantee, but hits and misses can both be influential in carving a path for the future. What were some of the lessons that led to a record-setting 2015?

One of the things that we were required to do, not having built-in IPs (intellectual properties), was to build them ourselves. When you look across franchises like Fast & Furious, Pitch Perfect, or Bourne, you see that they’re all based upon the work of filmmakers and producers who came together to create really great chapters of bigger stories. They might not look like traditional franchises, but if they’re well produced and marketed you can really build upon their popularity and create franchises.

News Stories