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Pretty much wherever you are in the world, with or without children, you’ve probably encountered Minions — those cute little yellow blobs with goggles and overalls that speak gibberish. You can thank Chris Meledandri for that. He’s the CEO and Founder of Illumination Entertainment, the company responsible for “Despicable Me” and its spinoffs.
You are the CEO of Illumination. You founded Illumination. But what is your role in the creative process at the company and wrangling all these creative people who are a notoriously difficult bunch to manage?
You know, my responsibility, it’s kind of an old fashioned view of producing which is it starts with the inception of the idea and it runs through the entire making of the film, which involves the writing of the film, the assembly of all the various participants and it takes us all the way through to the marketing, the release of the film and the afterlife of the movie. So it’s all inclusive. But as much as I’m present, the magic in the films I don’t believe comes from me. I believe that comes from our directors and our artists and I’m the enabler.
But we should say, you know where of you speak. You’ve been around for a while. You were involved and did “Ice Age” and “Robots” and all of those. It’s not like “Despicable Me” was your first hit.
No, it’s a great sort of Hollywood moment, which was going from one of the industry’s biggest financial failures to my subsequent film being “Ice Age” becoming one of the most profitable films in 20th Century Fox’s history.
Well tell that story. You lost $100 million worth of Rupert Murdoch’s money for crying out loud.
Yes, it was the second film I was involved with called “Titan A.E.” and it was one of those films that, you know like most films, starts out with great intentions and high ambition but it never quite came together and absolutely crashed and News Corporation wrote down $100 million on the back of that failure.
What’s that like?
It is exceedingly lonely. The best part about it is that for me, I had lived with the perception that a massive failure would actually kill me and I realized that I was still breathing in the aftermath and there was actually something strangely inspiring about that.
You run this company, you have said, quite lean. That you want the ratio of developed projects to produced projects to be quite low. How do you keep that going? How do you keep everybody firing when you’re trying to do that?
Well, it allows you to operate with the assumption that everything that you’re working on is actually a movie. It takes you out of what is a development process that for many years became almost its own industry within an industry. But lots of things that were being developed, most things, never saw the light of day. So I actually find that the low ratio, we’ve been operating at about, for every one and a half films that we develop, we make one. When you’re in that realm, from the moment you start working on an idea, there’s a sense that you’re working on the early stages of making a movie.
Do you have a favorite?
A favorite film? The first “Ice Age” and the first “Despicable Me.” They’re the films that have introduced me to characters that I still feel extremely bonded with.
Correction: A previous version of this post misstated Meledandri’s role at Illumination. He is the sole founder. The text has been corrected.
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