The Mark of Zoradi
When Mark Zoradi took a job with the Walt Disney Company in 1980, one of his first assignments was to explore what was then a brand-new and barely budding market: Home video.
That was long before the days of Netflix and Blockbuster. In those days, pretty much the only video stores in any town were seedy establishments whose inventory consisted primarily of porn flicks.
Zoradi didn't want to put the likes of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty on the same shelves with X-rated fare, so he sought a different outlet for distribution—and wound up with Fotomat, the former drive-thru chain for processing photos. That was almost three decades ago, and now, of course, Disney DVDs are available all over the world.
In that time, Zoradi has been a steadily rising star at the company; he was instrumental in securing worldwide distribution for Disney movies, and he played a key role in starting up the Disney Channel on cable TV in 1983.
Today, Zoradi, 53, is President of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group and one of the most powerful players in Hollywood. He oversees marketing and distribution of all films from the company's two main studios—Disney and the more adult-oriented Touchstone Pictures (Dan in Real Life, Wild Hogs, Apocalypto).
The latest Disney flick, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, hits theaters this week, and just five months from now comes Prince Caspian, the next installment in Disney's biggest franchise, The Chronicles of Narnia. The first film, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, was a massive hit for Disney and co-producer Walden Media in its release in late 2005.
The Narnia franchise means much to Zoradi not only because it's such big business, but as a Christian, Zoradi has long been a fan of C. S. Lewis and his writings.
Zoradi, a 1976 graduate of Westmont College, and wife Cathy have been married for 31 years. They have three grown kids—Michael, Katie and Laura.
In the summer of 2006, Disney reorganized and cut 20 percent of its staff, reportedly to focus more on the Disney brand and to cut back on the company's more adult-oriented Touchstone brand. Tell me more about that change in focus?
Mark Zoradi: This really was the creative vision of [Walt Disney Pictures Chairman] Dick Cook, a longtime Disney guy. He got everyone to rally behind, "Let's focus on the name on the door." He got us all asking, "What is our biggest strength?" Our biggest strength is our Disney product. So we have reduced our movies slate down to 12-14 pictures per year, with 80-85 percent of those being Disney-branded [and the others Touchstone].
We looked at the Disney brand and said we'll be good as long as we are careful about three things: We don't have bad language, we avoid uncomfortable sexual situations, and we avoid gratuitous violence.
That doesn't mean we can't have great action adventure, like Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, and National Treasure. Or that we can't have great emotion and love stories. The Disney brand can be very broad. But you draw a line. And by doing that, we send a message not just to parents but people of all ages—that if it is Disney branded, you are going to get certain things for all ages, kind of like our theme parks.
Elaborate on that?
Zoradi: If you visit one of our theme parks, when you go into Fantasyland, you're going to have Disney branded rides for little children. If you go into Tomorrowland, you are going to go on Space Mountain, or Adventureland, there's Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones—they are clearly Disney, but targeted at an older audience. So, we can make movies for ages 8-80, as long as we are careful with these three things—avoiding bad language, uncomfortable sexual situations, and gratuitous violence.