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Swan Song - Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey Saved The Best For Last

Posted By Michael Ventre, Thursday, January 24, 2019

Los Angeles contains a handful of enclaves especially renowned as dream incubators to those with the entertainment industry in their career crosshairs. Beachwood Canyon arguably is principal among them. Nestled in the hills beneath the Hollywood sign, Beachwood is where Nathanael West set a good chunk of his nightmarish Tinseltown classic The Day of the Locust. It is where Harry Bosch occasionally roams in the Michael Connelly detective novels. Don Siegel shot parts of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers near Beachwood Market. It is where scores of writers, actors, directors, musicians and other artists migrate to in search of a creative community.

It is where Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen began Temple Hill Entertainment, the film and television generator behind the Twilight franchise, current releases First Man and The Hate U Give, and much more. Godfrey and Bowen have ended their 10-year partnership, but this is one of the rare occasions when the happy ending belongs in the lead: Godfrey is now president of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group, and Bowen plans to move with Temple Hill to Paramount to make pictures there when the company’s deal with Fox runs out.

“The shorthand of knowing how he does his job and how people at that company do their jobs will give me great confidence that, when they’re producing movies for us, I’ll know what I’m getting,” Godfrey explains. “I have a feeling we’ll still be working together.”

The company began as a dream, the result of four ambitious young dudes—Godfrey, Bowen and two roommates also entering the business—sharing a house on Temple Hill, working their way up the industry ladder and hoping the seductive glow of the Hollywood sign would brighten their respective futures.

“The work days were exciting,” Godfrey recalls of the mid-1990s. “We’d come home, sit over a glass of bourbon or a beer and talk about what we did that day. We’d trade stories. There was such excitement about being in the business and figuring out how to help each other get ahead.

Marty Bowen (right) on the set of First Man with fellow producer
Isaac Klausner. Photo credit Daniel McFadden

“Certainly those conversations,” he continues, “and our wondering ‘Where are we going to be in five years? Where are we going to be in 10 years?’ were origins of Marty and I thinking out loud that maybe someday we could have our own company.”

That day came more quickly than they perhaps expected. Bowen had been an agent at UTA and wanted to move into producing. Ordinarily the traditional path toward that goal moves slowly. Bowen opted for the express version: lunch with one New Line executive; the impassioned pitch from Bowen about the company and a partnership with Godfrey; immediate interest; quickly scheduled dinner with Toby Emmerich, then a top New Line executive; shortly thereafter, plans for the first project.

“The script I talked about in the pitch, I hadn’t even spoken to the writer yet, and I hadn’t talked to Wyck,” Bowen remembers. “I just kind of did a ‘ready, fire, aim,’ as they say.”

Next tiny detail: letting Godfrey in on the plan. “In wonderful Marty Bowen form,” says Godfrey, who was producing for John Davis at the time, “he called me while I was shooting a movie in Hungary (2006’s Eragon), nights, in the middle of the winter, in a frozen quarry. I had just gotten off work and put my head on the pillow at 5:00 in the morning. He called. I said, ‘Marty, I’m going to bed.’“

Undaunted, Bowen filled him in on New Line and their new partnership. “That was the first time I heard that we were starting a company together,” Godfrey laughs. “He agented me. He basically sold me externally before he sold me internally.”

Their first film, greenlit from the formation of the New Line deal, was The Nativity Story, directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Since then, under the stewardship of Godfrey-Bowen, Temple Hill has churned out five installments of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga; the sleeper smash The Fault in Our Stars; three editions of The Maze Runner; The Longest Ride; the TV series Revenge, Rosewood and Mr. Mercedes; and earlier this year, the groundbreaking gay teen romantic comedy Love, Simon and Dan Fogelman’s intricate family saga Life Itself.

The book on Temple Hill is literature. The guys love a good book, and they especially love one that makes you cry. “I was an English major. I loved reading growing up,” Godfrey says, “so for me the natural inclination was taking books I loved and figuring out how to do the best adaptation of those books. We’re both from the South, we always wanted to make movies that were fundamentally from the heart and not from the head. That was a guiding principle. We’d rather be corny than cynical.”

From left, producers Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Robert Teitel and executive producer/UPM Tim Bourne take a moment to relax
on the set of
The Hate U Give. Photo credit Erika Doss.

A prime and current example of the written word transformed into wondrous cinema is First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle, adapted by Josh Singer and starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. To give you an idea of how long a journey it took from book to screen, Isaac Klausner was Godfrey’s assistant 10 years ago when Temple Hill first acquired the rights to the James R. Hansen bestseller about astronaut Neil Armstrong. Now Klausner is Temple Hill’s film president.

“They’ve been incredibly supportive to those eager and ready to take on responsibilities,” Klausner says of the Temple Hill culture. “Everybody participates in staff meetings and has a creative voice.”

Selling Oscar-winner Chazelle on a project is not easy these days, given that since his success with both Whiplash and La La Land, he can typically be found chased by unruly mobs of producers waving scripts in his face. But Temple Hill managed to turn his head.

“When I first met Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner, they asked me if I was interested in Neil Armstrong,” Chazelle recalls. “I told them honestly, ‘Not really.’ But because of their persistence and their passion I agreed to review some documentaries and other materials they sent me about this story. Within days I was obsessed.

Wyck Godfrey confers with cast member Ryan Gosling
on the set of
First Man. Photo credit Daniel McFadden.

“Working with this team of producers has been an incredible experience,” he adds. “They supported my vision for the film and added to it with their wealth of research and knowledge of the subject matter. They fought for the movie, championed it, worked on both the macro and the micro, put out fires left and right. They were there every step of the way.”

Obviously the Twilight series represents a very different set of characters and ideas from First Man. But again, it’s a penchant for adapting books that move people that brought the Temple Hill team to the popular collection.

“Despite the fact that neither of us is a 16-year-old girl, I think doing a movie and a series of characters as beloved as the ones from Stephenie Meyer brings with it a responsibility for making sure they came out well and making sure the girls love the movies and continue to love them,” Bowen observes. “That’s a responsibility we took very, very seriously. That was a special time in our lives.”

The Hate U Give, released this year, is a different kind of young adult title that drew the interest of the Temple Hill collective. Written by Angie Thomas, the novel tells the story of a young African-American woman and how she deals with the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. Adapted by screenwriter Audrey Wells and directed by George Tillman Jr., it opened to glowing reviews.

“Getting to work with authors like Angie Thomas, with first-time authors who have never had a book turned into a movie, to be the kind of conduit that allows them to take that journey, is incredibly gratifying,” professes Godfrey. “To me the baseline is that if the author loves the movie, then we’ve done a great job. And, even better, if that movie represents a different experience for them of the story they’ve created … my goal is to take the movie beyond the book audience to a whole new audience.”

The Temple Hill catalogue is lengthy and impressive. But the Temple Hill story continues to be told, despite the partnership split.

“I’m a psychiatric cliché,” admits Bowen. “I literally went through all the emotions after you lose somebody. All of them, from nostalgia to sadness to anger to relief. I did them all. At the end of the day, Temple Hill is not about two people. It’s really not. There are still 10 or 11 of us doing the same thing. We probably just don’t laugh as much."

While Bowen finishes his Fox deal and prepares for the long traipse in cross-town traffic from the Fox lot to Paramount, Godfrey settles in as a studio honcho. “It’s exhilarating,” he says. “I’m probably too dumb to be scared, although I probably should be. As a producer you just focused on the movie that you wanted to make and you let your passion and creative energy push the project up the hill. You didn’t have to worry about an entire slate of films in every genre, across multiple years, that you’re mapping for the future. That’s been a great challenge but a really exciting one, and I feel blessed to be able to tackle a new job at my age.”

Says Bowen: “I told him I don’t mind him dating other people for a while, but if you ever want to come back here, your office is available.”

And to think it all started with a dream in a town famous for them, in a neighborhood steeped in them, in a house that realized at least a couple.

“That house,” Godfrey says of the one he once shared with Bowen on Temple Hill, which then begat Temple Hill, “provided the platform for us to become friends.”

- Lead photo and last photo by Monica Orozco

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