After earning a B.S. in finance at the UO in 1980, Mark Christiansen envisioned a career as a stockbroker or banker. But with interest rates sky high and the stock market at rock bottom, his job hunt was fruitless.
When Christiansen's father, a film buyer for a small company, suggested he apply to major film companies, Mark sent out cursory letters and résumés "mostly to get my dad off my back," he recalled. He didn't make a single follow-up call.
Christiansen's complacence was richly rewarded. Columbia Pictures made him an offer, and a wildly successful--if accidental--career in the film industry was launched. Christiansen spent seven years being steadily promoted in sales management at Columbia, followed by eight years at MGM. His final two years at MGM were spent as senior vice president of operations and administration.
In 1995, Christiansen was recruited to head operations for theatrical distribution at the fledgling studio DreamWorks SKG, formed by the powerhouse triumvirate of Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Dreamworks is the first large U.S. movie studio to open in over fifty years.
Christiansen and other managers in DreamWorks' distribution company were asked to recommend and design systems for marketing and distribution. The business plan they were presented called for one-quarter the head count of a standard film studio.
Fortunately, DreamWorks' corporate culture encouraged unconventional thinking.
"We knew we'd have to do things differently. From the beginning we took the attitude that we'd have to make the systems work a whole lot harder for us than had been done in the past," Christiansen explained.
Since Katzenberg had been chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and Spielberg had released most of his films through Universal, the gauntlet was laid to create a distribution company that was at least as responsive as Universal and Disney.
"But we had a mandate to do it with very few people," noted Christiansen.
They had less than two years before DreamWorks' first film was released to pull together the people and develop the systems for the distribution company.
Among the creations pioneered by Christiansen and his co-workers is a system that allows DreamWorks to receive direct nightly electronic feeds from the A.C. Nielsen research company that detail gross revenues for 85 percent of the theaters in the U.S.
"This system allows us to do very detailed analysis on a theater by theater, film by film, genre by genre basis," said Christiansen.
"This venture is the most exciting thing I've done in my career," Christiansen noted. "We started from nothing, and in a pretty short amount of time we put together a full-service distribution company with about a quarter of the people other large studios use."
"The University of Oregon was the springboard for my career," he explained. "I remember several professionals talking to my classes there. Those enthusiastic first-hand accounts were so much more compelling and inspiring than case studies. I hope I've been able to return the favor."