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Executive Interview

Meet Christopher Massimine, the Entertainment Industry’s youngest multi-hyphenate MVP

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Christopher Massimine

Christopher Massimine is an award-winning leader in theatre, film, television, video games, and music; a two-time Tony Award nominee; a thought leader; columnist; and arts activist.

In the private sector, Chris is the Founder and CEO of Imagine Tomorrow LLC, an international firm founded to shepherd and source capital for creative works in Entertainment+Lifestyle+Tech. For his day job Chris serves as the Managing Director of Pioneer Theatre Company: Utah’s state theatre, and an affiliate arts organization to the University of Utah.

Chris was a consulting producer on the Oscar-winning films AMY and 20 FEET FROM STARDOM; an Independent film producer, who’s also been a studio producer on films including WRECK-IT RALPH and RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET, VOX LUX, DOOM ANNIHILATION, DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT.

In advertising, Chris ushered in some of the world’s most noteworthy campaigns including Intel’s “Museum of Me”, Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, and Old Spice’s rebrand with “Scents for Gents.” In 2018, he was inducted into the Producers Guild Hall of Fame for exceptional contributions to new media.

In 2019, he was the arts keynote speaker for the United Nations Civil Society Conference. In 2020, he accepted the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the National Performing Arts Association’s Action Committee in Washington, D.C.

 

Table of Contents

Chris, at 27 you were the youngest CEO in the American professional theatre, you’re arguably one of the most influential video game developers of our time, you’ve been a producer on some of the most well-received Indie films in recent years, you’re an activist and a thought leader. To say you’ve done a lot in 34 years is an understatement. Can you tell our readers a little about your impressive background?

First of all, you’re very kind. Here’s the short version. I started off as a professional actor in childhood, I became a science nerd in high school, I had a midlife crisis in college, changed my major from biochemical engineering to dramatic literature, and decided I wanted to pursue producing. And well, I did just that.

 

Tell us about Bioshock.

It was my greatest “rapture!” See what I did there? Bioshock is what cemented my career in gaming. But, before that, while in college, I had landed an internship with the developers of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I always loved video games. It was my most frequent escapism from bullying during early-ish childhood. I was a straight-A student and was picked on often.

It didn’t help that as a childhood actor I was often out of school and in productions, which didn’t give me much time to establish many friendships. When I came home I’d hop on my father’s computer and play all of the PC gaming originals from Sierra Games, Id, Square, and Broderbund Ports, like Final Fantasy, Wolfenstein, and Doom. When I was immersed elsewhere, the world seemed kinder.

 

And now you’re a producer on those series you mentioned: Final Fantasy, Wolfenstein, and Doom.

I am, as well as the series for Zelda, Batman Arkham, and Resident Evil. While working on Oblivion, I made sure I was going the extra mile each and every day. Eventually, I’d proven to be an asset and was asked if I wanted to take on the assistant producer role, which was essentially a glorified executive assistant role, but as with many executive assistant roles, it allowed for me to have an insider’s view of the entire scope of the project.

I forged lasting relationships, and eventually, many years later I’d go on to be the line producer on The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.

 

Before you continue, for our readers, what is a line producer?

A line producer, for video gaming, TV, and film, essentially can be likened to a general manager, overseeing all administrative components of the project and is ultimately charged with maintaining the bottom line. The position usually oversees the functions of unit supervising producers, co-producers, and associate producers.

The line producer generally reports to the lead producer, just referred to as “producer” or “produced by”, a studio executive in charge of production, or in television specifically a “showrunner,” who is the person or persons responsible for concept through the development of a television series- they are often, but not always, writers on the series.

In theatre, the line producers are called executive producers, who oversee multiple productions, and usually have oversight of a general manager who deals specifically with the budget of a singular production, and oversees an associate general manager who is responsible for contracts and negotiations of that singular production.

In film and television, however, an executive producer is a chief fundraiser, or a significant investor, who is not as involved in the day-to-day operations, though has a very important role in decision. Think of an executive producer in film and television like a board of directors and the producer is the CEO/Chair.

In video gaming, executive producers are very differently enlisted, usually as distributor representatives, either on the same level as the lead producer, with both reporting to the game’s majority owner (typically, the distributor, which nowadays is often the studio itself), or in some instances the executive producer is the lead producer’s boss. The title of producer can get very confusing, and we’re only on the iceberg’s tip.

 

It sounds like it! So, back to The Elder Scrolls, you were promoted from within. Then what?

Then, when the time came, I was recommended to 2K Games, which has just reformed from Irrational Games, for an assistant producer position on what was described as a “nautical noir adventure at the height of an alternative reality’s Industrial age.” I had loved the movie The Children of the Lost City, which was immediately what had come to mind. I had my expectations set high.

And they were definitely met. I was given a lot of trusts, and even more so, headway, by my supervisors. The process was almost entirely collaborative and essentially one could say it “took a village” to build the city of Rapture. I distinctly recall the team meeting that I believe propelled me into gaming authority: we were discussing how to best capture the tone of the piece.

What would be the first recognizable piece of music heard. Without hesitation I blurted out, “it’s obviously La Mer (The Sea), right?” Thus was born the musical motif for which the series has become widely known. A few weeks later, in the middle of development, the line producer was reassigned to another project. I was asked if I wanted the job. That was both exhilarating and equally terrifying.

I was just a kid, barely out of college. Something I learned early on in life from my mentor the late Harold Prince was “never say no to an opportunity when you can help it.” So, I said yes. And with yes came many entries into the worlds of film, advertising, recorded music and television.

 

Like Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, Jersey Shore, and the 2012 reboot of Punk’d.

Oh, you’re just pouring salt and lime in old wounds now.

 

Okay. Moving along. How about theatre?

Oh, I was already years into producing theatre. However, I can say with completely candor, I hadn’t the slightest idea for what next would be in store.

 

Which was?

A lifetime in constant motion. From the moment I took on Bioshock, my life has never stopped. I wouldn’t even know what to do with myself with free time. In my experiences, I’ve learned when I’m keeping busy, and that can be targeted personally as well as professionally, I force myself to be decisive and more open-to-and-aptly-equip for change.

Talking about change, as the managing director of Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, Utah, you’ve had to shutter live performances for over a year. What’s that been like?

Oh, it’s been dreadful. Theatre is the whole reason I got into the entertainment field. It’s like having been separate from your child at birth.

 

Which reminds me, you’re a new father. Congratulations! How are you managing that with everything else going on?

Oh, I have all the feels. And none of the sleep. He’s very consistently awake and alert.

 

Does your son have a name?

Bowie Mercury Massimine.

 

Get out of here! How do people feel about that in Utah?

It’s a mixed bag. People have very strong opinions for or against, and really nobody in the middle.

 

Do you foresee the return of live performance any time soon?

I think the live entertainment Industry is ready. I think audiences want to be ready. It’s going to be a long road ahead, and I’m optimistic. At Pioneer Theatre Company we’ve just announced a return to the stage slated for the Fall.

We have a great artistic director in Karen Azenberg, my partner at the helm, at Pioneer Theatre Company. She’s programmed a great “feel good” season, which is something we all could use coming out of this pandemic.

Before the pandemic took hold, we launched a branding campaign under the tagline “your ticket to feel.” This coming season we’re focused on giving audience their “ticket to feel…good!”

 

Less feel good, and more darker, but just as exciting, are the video game titles you’re currently working on: Resident Evil Village and Gotham Knights, both in post production. Bioshock 4 is rumored. Is there anything you can you tell us about what we can expect from those titles?

Unfortunately, I can’t say too much. NDAs are pretty much under legal lock and key. What’s available for public consumption is already out there. I can though, speak to the first two titles, and say, which is something that has already been noted, those titles are will take a big leap towards pivoting the series in substantial new ways. When you get to a point with any point in achieving widespread brand awareness and critically-acclaimed success you have no other choice than to take a leap or things can very quickly become stagnant and lose traction that’s incredibly challenging to make a “come back”.

 

Taking a leap is a good segue to my next question: where did the idea for your company Imagine Tomorrow come from?

I’ve always wanted to serve the greater good. I know that can be subjective, however, I maintain that there are some things in this life that are genuinely good and evoke positive change. Over the years, I’ve developed a network of collaborators who buy into the same values as I do.

We’ve founded our relationships on integrity and the commitment to drive decisions, or rather to choose, based on empathic reasoning over financial gain. At Imagine Tomorrow, we strive to create a progressive impact in our endeavors. Our mission is to develop impactful creative projects that inspire humanity to do good. We generate resources for these projects through way of venture capitalism.

 

So the company operates like brokerage firm?

In part. We call Imagine Tomorrow a “creative hub.” Our work isn’t just about connecting projects to investors, its about stewarding the projects, it’s about building the teams, it’s about bringing expert voices to the table for a stronger outcome, both artistically and financially. If we move forward on a project you get the whole package.

 

How have you scaled?

Right now there are 9 of us in 4 different locations, well, 5 different location if you want to count me working from home at Utah. We have a site manager for each office: New York, Delaware, California, and the UK. They oversee the operations, contracts and negotiations, and fiscal responsibility for each location.

Each site manager directly supervises a development executive who is charged with actively searching for and cultivating projects of interest in the entertainment, lifestyle, and tech sectors that are good matches for our mission and our investments’ network. Beyond that, we have third-party analysts, accountants, and legal. We grew very quickly, within a quarter year.

Right now, we are exactly where we need to be and I don’t foresee the need for additional growth, especially given my responsibilities to Pioneer Theatre Company, which comes first and foremost to me professionally, and my family, which comes first to me personally. Then of course, there’s The Inventor, which is my new labor of love.

 

For our readers, The Inventor is an upcoming stop-motion animated feature film about Leonardo da Vinci, with the voice talents of Daisy Ridley (Star Wars), Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose), Matt Berry (What We Do In The Shadows), and Stephen Fry (Gosford Park). How did you get involved with that?

It’s actually pretty straight forward. A colleague of mine who used to run one of the major film studios (MGM) brought the project to my attention. I did my research. I reached out Robert (Rippberger) the lead producer, and in a nutshell, told him I absolutely love the story concept, and asked whether he would welcome another set of capable hands. We hit it off. We both share some very similar values.

He’s a powerhouse, not to mention he’s younger than me, and I think that’s just wonderful. I’m very fortunate to be aboard.

 

You mentioned values. As an entrepreneur, what is it that actually motivates and drives you?

Hope and kindness. I believe the world is rich with upside opportunity. Many people forget that when you can so easily choose to focus on the bad, which is much more actively visible. It takes hope to believe something that isn’t easily seen, or isn’t yet there, can and will take shape. And it takes kindness to bring people along with you to “get there”.

 

What excites you most about your industry? Where do you see it heading in the near future?

I believe you create your future. I believe that future isn’t Industry specific, rather personally driven. We each have so much more power than we give ourselves credit. Where the future goes for me, may not be aligned with my contemporaries, and yet both futures can exist, for our, and within our fields. With choice comes the opportunity to create: mine is in the pursuit of that which is “good”. And by doing good, I can provide the space for others to shape their futures. What does that do? It sustains hope and it reinforces kindness. A future in building togetherness, that’s my pathway.

 

What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?

Be curious. Be bold. Be the example for others to learn from and to grow.

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