The American Film Institute Conservatory has a new dean in producer Richard Gladstein, and he shamelessly chased down the job.
Gladstein — president of Film Colony, producer of Best Picture Oscar nominees “Finding Neverland” and “The Cider House Rules,” as well as a bevy of Quentin Tarantino movies — comes to a Los Feliz hillside campus that is still bruised after two fractious years under the last dean, Jan Schuette, who last November agreed to step down at the end of June.
No one is more surprised than Gladstein at how much he wanted the gig. He put in a long stint with Harvey Weinstein at Miramax Films, where he started as head of production in 1993. “Oddly it was the same day that Disney bought the company,” he said. “So my first-day press conference with Jeffrey Katzenberg was my initiation. The AFI feels akin to that. The place is bursting with creativity, with wonderful people. This is the best mission ever: Having done great work, with great resources, they’re in need of a little structure.”
Approached by AFI CEO Bob Gazzale in January, Gladstein researched the AFI by calling a number of teachers and graduates, from casting director Heidi Levitt to cinematographers Janusz Kaminski and Caleb Deschanel. “With each conversation, as I learned more, I became more interested,” he said. “Regardless of the turbulent recent waters, it was about the outcome. The AFI fellows were extremely happy and the work was brilliant.”
Tired of the lonely grind of pushing indie projects uphill, Gladstein looks forward to working with other people and answering to Gazzale. At the AFI Conservatory, over five terms in two years, 28 fellows earn their MFA in six disciplines — writing, producing, directing, editing, production design and cinematography — and deliver 84 short films. “It’s the most productive studio in Hollywood,” said Gladstein, who signed on as AFI Dean for three years.
His plan is to apply to the Conservatory what he’s learned from producing movies: “The objective is to first identify, develop, and clarify a story, then unite the people, tools, money, personnel and crafts to effectively tell that story. Once we identify our story, then we unite and tell a story together: just like making a movie.”
While he still has to finish up post-production on Steven Bernstein’s “Dominion,” starring Rhys Ifans and John Malkovich, about the last days of heavy-drinking Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, after that, he said, “everything is on back burner.”
Other AFI deans include Robert Mandel, Frank Pierson, Robert Wise, and Antonio Vellani.