Scott Forman’s passion for philanthropy was ignited at a very young age, when the 9-year-old son of an exhibition family first visited the Variety Boys and Girls Club in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. That was the beginning of a lifelong devotion to charitable work for the Warner Bros.’ executive VP and general sales manager for domestic theatrical distribution. Forman continues to support that club and is on the board of directors of Variety Tent 25 and the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation.
In 2007, Forman and his son Jeremy created Jr. Variety, the first teen-based industry charity of its kind. Forman was also a driving force in the establishment of the popular charity auctions at ShowEast, ShoWest, and CinemaCon.
Forman began his distribution career at Columbia Pictures, then served as regional director for Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco at MGM/UA. He joined Warner Bros. in December 1989 and was promoted to his current post in March 2017.
ShowEast 2019 will honor Forman with its prestigious Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award at the show’s closing-night awards ceremony on October 17. Boxoffice Pro spoke to the veteran executive by phone.
Tell me about your early exposure to the Variety Boys and Girls Club.
The other side of my family is with the Pacific Theatres/Arclight circuit. My father is Jerry Forman, who ran the circuit for a long time. We moved down from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California in late 1971, and shortly thereafter, at the Halloween party in October of ‘71, my dad asked me if I was interested in going down to the Variety Boys and Girls Club. And that started what has turned into a lifelong association for me with the Variety Boys and Girls Club. It was a chance to really see how less fortunate people live day in and day out and how appreciative they were for anything and everything that the club provided for them. It connected with me and has been something that helped anchor me for the rest of my life.
Is this a tradition that your father was involved with too?
I continued a family tradition of caring for the industry and giving back. No, they didn’t spend the time that I’ve spent at the Boys and Girls Club, but the Pacific side of the family—my father, [his cousin] Michael Forman, and now [Michael’s son] Chris, who runs Pacific—has always been very focused on industry philanthropies. My dad’s connection to the conventions goes back to his being one of the original visionaries to create ShoWest, which became CinemaCon, all with the notion of giving back to the industry that had given him so much, and trying to bring people together for the greater good of everybody instead of just being focused on one’s own company.
These humanitarian efforts really do seem to be pervasive throughout the industry.
Well, I think that’s one of the most special things about the work we get to do. Obviously, it can be a lot of fun to work in entertainment and to talk about movies and the like, but one of the things that really separate our business from so many others are the close connections and sometimes multigenerational family connections, a lot of them with strong regional circuits aligned with philanthropy and giving back. In the olden days of our industry, the places where the Variety tents popped up were usually based on there being large exhibition companies in those cities and families that were committed to philanthropy driving those tents, which helped Variety take off so many years ago.
This spread to another generation with Jr. Variety. How did that come together?
My mom and dad introduced me to the Variety Boys and Girls Club when I was 9. And at about that age, my oldest son, Jeremy, who’s now 26, and subsequently his sister, Felicia, who’s now 23, and our youngest son, Bailey, who’s now 20, I tried to get each of the kids involved in charity and started regular trips down to the Boys and Girls Club with them. And Jeremy, when he was in sixth or seventh grade, came to me and said, “Dad, I want to do more than just give away our old clothes and have you and Mom write checks. What can we do? What can me and my friends do?” And so Jeremy and I sat down and wrote up a program that became Jr. Variety, following the mission statement and the guidance of what big Variety does. I have always been involved with Tent 25 out of Southern California and was involved with International Variety for a while. We used the mission statement of Variety and created something that guided these kids. Jeremy and I started it, and then I brought in people from the industry, people like Pat Gonzalez from Paramount. During the nine and a half years that we had Jr. Variety up and running, Pat was my constant partner in philanthropy, as she is with all the philanthropic stuff I do. We put it into place when Jeremy entered ninth grade. It was for high school kids from different schools to come together, learn the basics of philanthropy and fundraising, and how to give back and make a difference. Many of these kids came from more affluent families and [the goal] was to get them in touch with the real world and let them experience what I experienced at the Variety Boys and Girls Club, that feeling of giving back and truly making a difference and being there to pick other people up instead of just always being on the receiving end. And with the industry support and a lot of support from people at Warner Bros., we were able to create something that was pretty special that brought a lot of kids together. I think we raised about $675,000 in those nine-plus years.
But then my three kids aged out and I was looking to pass it on. And yes, it does take a decent amount of time and no one stepped up to continue it. But I hope and think that with all the kids that we put through the program—we had anywhere from 10 to 15 kids on the board and they had regular monthly board meetings just like big Variety—I’m hopeful that they all got a little taste and flavor of what it is to be a philanthropist and to give back and help others, and hopefully throughout each of their lives they’ll go make a difference. Proudly, I can say that each of my kids has stayed involved and active, and whoever’s in town goes down to the Variety Boys and Girls Club Christmas party every year and they make a number of trips a year with me down to the club. I don’t know if they have the gene, but they certainly have the appreciation for philanthropic efforts and appreciation that we’re lucky to live the way we live, and if we can help others, great. And there’s been a tremendous amount of industry support to help us accomplish whatever we’ve accomplished.
On top of all this, you started the charity auctions at ShoWest and ShowEast. Can you talk about the response you’ve gotten since that began?
Again, it takes an army to get this stuff done. And you would be doing an injustice to give me all the credit for it. Mary Beth Garber and Pat Gonzalez were there with me when we created it. It was the idea of how to monetize some of these things that we had access to that because of our corporate responsibilities we couldn’t put on the internet. So we created the ShowEast and ShoWest options with the help of Mitch Neuhauser and the Sunshines—it was basically just going to them and saying, “Look, we run this convention and it’s a for-profit convention. There is not a philanthropic arm to the convention. What if we were to create an auction at these conventions?” And we brought all the materials and they helped us and allowed us space and supported our ability to put on an auction for delegates to bid and help make a difference in kids’ lives. And Mitch, along with the Sunshines, couldn’t have been better about it. We’ve had auctions now at ShoWest/CinemaCon and previously at ShowEast for a decade or so.
Would you say that growing up in an exhibition family has given you an advantage in your job at Warner Bros.?
I would certainly say I am very proud to be Jerry Forman’s son and to be part of the Forman family and what they’ve meant to the business and what they’ve contributed. Michael Forman and Chris Forman have had very deep philanthropy commitments at Pacific. And my dad’s been keenly at the forefront of running an awful lot of the industry-related conventions and causes for the greater good. So I think if you can get together with businesspeople and do business and have relationships, but also cross over for things like philanthropy and sports and other things in life, it’s gotta be an advantage. We all greatly respect leaders that we’ve worked with. I’m getting the award named after Salah Hassanein, and he recently passed away. I don’t think any of us in the industry don’t know who Salah was, any of us old enough to remember the Salahs, the Bernie Myersons, the Tom Sheraks of the world. It’s hard not to be impressed by the contributions these people have made to our industry and to society.
You’ve been at Warner Bros. for 30 years. Are there any secrets to your longevity there?
Well, I don’t want to curse myself here. I would have to say that with all the philanthropy I’ve been able to do in my career, I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t have a boss like Jeff Goldstein who was willing to support the philanthropic endeavors that we’ve been committed to. And prior to Jeff, Dan Fellman. It takes a village to accomplish anything great, and it takes the team to do it. And I’ve been very blessed with having the Warner Bros. family and Jeff as a boss in particular, who not only would get involved but is very supportive. I wouldn’t be receiving this award, certainly, if I worked for someone who wasn’t a champion of charity themselves.
As you know, it’s a turbulent time for the business, with new streaming services arriving and Disney and Fox merging. With all these seismic changes, what’s your general feeling about the future of the business?
Well, I think we’ve run into seismic changes before with the invention of television and so many other things that have come our way. And every time there’s been a voice out there that said it was the end of what we’ve known, we’ve always reinvented ourselves and thrived. And I think we’ve seen, even with the conversations on windows and streaming and new things that challenge our business constantly, when there’s a movie that comes out that the public wants to see, the public finds it and all ships seem to rise. There has been so much talk over the last few years of where the industry was going and streaming and Netflix and windows, and last year was the biggest year in our industry’s history. And when you have interesting properties that are new, like Black Panther and Wonder Woman and Crazy Rich Asians that are celebrating all people, I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there for us to continue to find great stories and all celebrate an industry that’s been very good to us.
During the golden age of Hollywood, every studio was known for its distinctive style, including Warner Bros. Does today’s Warner Bros. have a distinctive style that you can point to?
Wow, that’s a good one. Well, for a long time we were based on the tentpole strategy at Warner Bros., and we still like to think we’re tentpole-driven. I think today we’re working harder than ever to be a best-in-class distribution company and the distribution company that exhibition most wants to work with, that gets the most out of their projects, and is a great partner.