By Tori Mirsadjadi ’12
Ashok Amritraj, CEO and Chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment and Hyde Park International, spoke at Vita Nova Hall on April 19 as part of an event sponsored by Intercollegiate Media Studies and Scripps Career Planning and Resources. The event was free and open to all 5C students, faculty and staff.
Intercollegiate Media Studies (IMS) at the Claremont Colleges is an interdisciplinary program that investigates social histories, cultural contexts, theoretical approaches and technologies of media forms. The program is oriented toward “independent” narrative forms, documentary, video and digital art and community-based and activist media.
At Tuesday’s event Amritraj showed clips from the films his company has produced, including footage from the not-yet-released “The Double” (featuring Richard Gere, Topher Grace and Martin Sheen). He also discussed how he built a progressive, global independent production company.
“I was not educated in the movie industry,” Armritraj said in a telephone interview before his visit. “I had to learn about it as I went on.” He said that because he came from a different country—India—and was a tennis star with a brother who was also a tennis star, the “family business was tennis” and “it was a real journey” breaking into the business of the movie industry.
Tennis is what brought Amritraj to Los Angeles, when Jerry Buss—who now owns the L.A. Lakers—invited him to play for the Los Angeles tennis team in 1975. Amritraj “took the plunge” into the movie industry by accepting a film role in 1980, but remembers his first five to six years in entertainment as being “very, very tough.” Not only was being an Indian in the United States a struggle in the 1980s, Amritraj said, “Everyone wanted to play tennis with me. Nobody wanted to make a movie.”
When Amritraj played tennis in the 1970s, playing in major tennis tournaments, such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, the hotel he stayed at in London overlooked Hyde Park. Amritraj said he had had his “nicest days” there, and the allusion to the park in his company’s name “brings back nice memories.” He sees his perspective as a tennis star as contributing to his business success, in spite of tennis being “such an individual sport,” because it has helped his ability to focus. He said that tennis, like business, requires skills of hard work, discipline, focus and passion. “My office,” said Amritraj, “is where the creative and business meet.”
Amritraj founded the Hyde Park Entertainment Group in 1999. As an independent studio, Amritraj said, Hyde Park Entertainment can “operate like a mini studio” and is, as opposed to Hollywood studios’ “unweildly, long-term process, more efficient.” The company’s international sales arm, Hyde Park International, has represented films such as “Machete,” “Blue Valentine,” “My Idiot Brother” and “Peep World.” Films produced by Hyde Park include “Bringing Down the House,” “Premonition,” “Moonlight Mile,” “Traitor,” “Shopgirl” and “Walking Tall.”
Amritraj’s appearance on Scripps campus was advertised through the IMS website, and provided background on the CEO’s initial forays into the media sphere, including the fact that Hyde Park Entertainment Group partnered with Imagenation Abu Dhabi in November 2000 “on a $250 million financing deal to develop, produce and distribute up to 20 feature films over seven years—with additional financing for the production of cross-cultural films.” This partnership was extended in 2009 to include Singapore’s Media Development Authority in the funding of several films a year, with an estimated production value of “75 million USD over the next five years.”
“Our industry,” said Amritraj, “is one that’s not for the weak of heart. Discipline and perseverance can overcome everything. It’s less about talent and more about passion.”