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Photo: Plan B Entertainment’s founder Brad Pitt attends the premiere of the movie “Ad Astra” during the 76th Venice Film Festival/Andrea Raffin/Shutterstock/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel
It wasn’t too long ago recently that I finally got the chance to see ‘Minari’. And while I didn’t review it, my thoughts on the masterpiece of a film pretty much echo Hollywood Insider’s review (and those who’ve already sung the movie’s praises) and its sentiments: it’s a moving exploration of the American Dream told through a specific cultural point of view while also feeling universal, with pitch-perfect performances and thoughtful directing. But I already had a feeling I was in good hands when the film started and I saw the production logos for both A24 and Plan B.
We’ve covered A24 in the past: it and Annapurna Pictures are among the best studios right now in championing individual voices and creative freedom for auteurs and filmmakers. And one production company in particular that shares their love of bold visions and occasionally collaborate with them is Plan B Entertainment, co-founded by Brad Pitt; in fact, a good number of their films have gone on to critical acclaim and/or awards success. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the production company behind some of the more intriguing films to come out in recent years.
A Brief History and The Goal of Plan B Entertainment
Pitt co-founded Plan B Entertainment in 2001 with then-wife Jennifer Aniston and the late veteran movie producer Brad Grey. Among the company’s first features were the 2004 historical epic ‘Troy’, which starred Pitt, and Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ in 2005. That same year Pitt became the company’s sole owner after he and Aniston separated and Grey left to become the CEO of Paramount Pictures. 2006 saw the release of Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’, which Pitt co-produced; that film went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards and it would be the first of several Plan B productions to either win Best Picture or be nominated.
With Pitt as the company’s CEO, film producer Dede Gardner served as president for several years until she was joined by Jeremy Kleiner with the two serving as co-presidents since 2013. Gardner and Kleiner do the bulk of the work in terms of setting up and guiding new projects and seeking talent, with Pitt presumably being more hands-off (with the possible exception of films that feature him) or mostly taking executive producer roles. Nevertheless, he has established a company mindset in which the duo are encouraged to seek out and back interesting works.
“Brad Pitt has encouraged a culture of that: watching and trying to understand what an artist is doing and what they want to say”, said Kleiner in a 2016 conversation with IndieWire. “If you read about something that causes you to be curious about it, follow the curiosity and see where that takes you. That philosophy has led us to some very interesting people and their films”. Gardner echoed the sentiment in the same conversation, saying Pitt “believes in the shelf life of movies, he doesn’t believe in the notion that a movie has to see a successful opening weekend to work. He reminds us all the time of the movies that we discovered long after their initial release, and he believes that we should tell stories that we feel like we would die if we didn’t…It’s enabled us to be very liberated in our ambitions”. And indeed that mindset has led the company to work with some very talented filmmakers.
Looking at the Plan B Films Featuring Brad Pitt
It stands to reason that when you have your own production company, you’d leverage the opportunity to have more control over your career and projects whenever possible. And Pitt is no different, co-producing some of the films he’s starred in. The most commercial and mainstream of them is definitely ‘World War Z’, which is exactly what it promises: a zombie action horror film on a global scale. Nothing wrong with that, and I remember enjoying it when I first saw it. In second place would probably be ‘Moneyball’: though a sports movie (a generally reliable subgenre), it offered something different by focusing on a niche subject—the true story of how a baseball manager built a team through unorthodox statistics—and still turning it into an accessible and captivating drama.
But some of his other acting vehicles were a bit riskier. ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ deconstructs the Jesse James myth through a contemplative and revisionist take on the Western. ‘The Tree of Life’, from director Terrence Malick, is an epic yet meditative exploration of the meaning of life told through the prism of a Texas family: not exactly a four-quadrant movie. ‘Killing Them Softly’ is a pitch-black deconstruction of the gangster movie with a very cynical outlook on America. And while it is a space adventure movie, ‘Ad Astra’ is definitely a more cerebral and slow-paced fare. Still, Pitt managed to shepherd these films to critical acclaim even if general audiences were more lukewarm.
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And he also had a hand in producing films that featured him in smaller supporting roles, like ‘The Big Short’ and ‘12 Years a Slave’. One is a bleak yet very entertaining examination of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and the other is a brutal and powerful look at American slavery. And both films went on to critical acclaim and success at both the box office and the Academy Awards. As you can see, being an actor-producer gives Pitt the chance to star in and make the kind of movies he wants to make: to take risks and follow his own personal interests.
Encouraging Return Collaborations
And said risk-taking extends to Plan B projects that don’t feature him in the cast. That willingness to give filmmakers creative freedom and let them take risks is enticing: it’s how we get offbeat takes on the con artist movie (‘Kajillionaire’) and the superhero genre (the ‘Kick-Ass’ movies). And it fosters a good working relationship, such that repeat collaborations with the company follow.
Both ‘Jesse James’ and ‘Killing Them Softly’ were written and directed by Australian filmmaker Andrew Dominik and his upcoming film ‘Blonde’, a fictionalized take on the life of Marilyn Monroe starring Ana de Armas, is also produced by Plan B. The company also backed two Adam McKay-directed films: ‘The Big Short’ and Dick Cheney’s biopic ‘Vice’. ‘Ad Astra’ and the haunting period adventure drama ‘The Lost City of Z’ both hail from writer-director James Gray. And David Michôd wrote and directed both ‘War Machine’ (a satire of the war in Afghanistan which starred Pitt) and the Shakespeare-inspired ‘The King’.
Plan B was even a pretty frequent collaborator of Ryan Murphy. They produced two of his films: 2006’s ‘Running With Scissors’, and ‘Eat Pray Love’ starring Julia Roberts. On the TV side of things they co-produced his 2008 TV pilot ‘Pretty/Handsome’ which wasn’t picked up; they also co-produced the critically-acclaimed TV movie ‘The Normal Heart’, which tackled the AIDS crisis, and the miniseries ‘Feud: Bette and Joan’.
Championing Diverse Filmmakers and Stories
We already mentioned ‘Minari’ at the top of the article. That film is a good example of Plan B’s commitment to seeking out stories that are interesting or offer a different perspective. And a side effect of that is greater visibility and representation for stories from POC filmmakers.
In the case of ‘12 Years a Slave’, that film also served as a breakthrough hit for director Steve McQueen. And one year later in 2014, we got ‘Selma’, a riveting and star-studded look at the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo); and likewise the success of ‘Selma’ boosted the profiles of both Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay. Plan B is also responsible for Bong Joon-ho’s follow-up to ‘Snowpiercer’, the genre-bending and idiosyncratic ‘Okja’: a movie about a young Korean girl and her animal best friend that’s also a commentary on the meat industry and definitely not family-friendly. And in 2019 there was ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’, a poignant tale of a young Black man’s efforts to reclaim his family home in the face of an increasingly gentrified city which benefited from lead actor Jimmie Fails’ personal connection to the story.
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Circling back to repeat collaborations, the ones that almost immediately came to mind come from writer-director Barry Jenkins. Plan B had the good fortune of shepherding two of Jenkins’ works, both of them critically-acclaimed and award-winning masterpieces. ‘Moonlight’ is a sensitive and incredible coming-of-age tale/character study of a young gay Black man in Miami, as well as a look at the complicated family dynamics found in the Black community. And ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is a moving story of enduring Black love in the face of overwhelming institutional racism. And it would appear that Jenkins is happy with his collaborations, such that they’re reteaming for the upcoming Prime Video limited series ‘The Underground Railroad’ based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
There’s the aforementioned ‘Blonde’ and ‘The Underground Railroad’. Other projects in development include ‘Wrong Answer’ from Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan; an adaptation of the bestselling novel ‘Women Talking’ from director Sarah Polley and starring Frances McDormand; a documentary on singer and musician Chris Cornell; and a reunion with ‘Minari’ director Lee Isaac Chung.
Regardless, the breadth and variety of projects past, present, and in the works is a testament to Plan B’s commitment to stories from talented writers and directors with clear points of view and fresh insights. It’s also a testament to Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner’s good taste in material, and Brad Pitt’s willingness to leverage his star power to produce some great films.
By Mario Yuwono
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