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A sorcerer of the big screen

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The gig: The 47-year-old Brit runs his own production company on the Warner Bros. lot. His most recent endeavors include the upcoming Christmas Day release “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Robert Downey Jr.; this past summer’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and its forthcoming sequels “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” parts I and II; and the computer-animated “Guardians of Ga'Hoole,” directed by Zack Snyder of “300” fame.

Background: The eldest of three children, Wigram grew up privileged in London, the son of a banker/real estate developer father and a mother who was a fashion editor. His family still lives in England.

PG (Parental Guidance): Wigram credits his father, a scholar, historian and film buff, for sparking his interest in the big screen. “He took me to the movies . . . from a very young age,” Wigram said.There were popular children’s standards such as “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Sound of Music.” But it wasn’t all just kid stuff. Wigram remembers as a 9-year-old seeing the classic 1937 black-and-white adventure film “The Prisoner of Zenda” starring Ronald Coleman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. “At the end of the film, we gave it a standing ovation,” Wigram said. “That was the moment I fell in love with movies.”

Education: Studied French and Spanish literature at Oxford University, where he was a founding member of the Oxford Film Foundation. While at Oxford, Wigram cultivated a relationship with the one person he knew in the movie business: producer Elliott Kastner. Kastner gave Wigram a job reading scripts during his summer vacations. “I was hanging out at Elliott’s office at Pinewood Studios outside London where they were making Bond movies!”

First big break: After graduating from Oxford, Wigram accepted an offer from Kastner in early 1986 to work in Las Vegas on a film called “Heat,” starring Burt Reynolds. Wigram’s title was third assistant director, “which means you stand on the street with a walkie-talkie, you make photocopies and get tea for the director. It was so great!”

Words from the master: Wigram learned that scut work can pay off. His gofer duties included chauffeuring the film’s screenwriter, legendary Oscar winner William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men”). When Wigram, an aspiring writer, asked Goldman how it was possible to write a script while trying to hold down a day job, Goldman told him: “ ‘Get up every morning an hour early before you go to work and write a page, and in 100 days you will have 100 pages -- a script.’ ” Though that was tough advice to follow to the letter, Wigram found the spirit of those words invaluable. “In terms of my career it taught me to go one step at a time, to keep at it and be consistent.”

The power of perseverance: In his spare time, Wigram wrote seven “not very good” screenplays, none of which got made. Again, the exercise wasn’t in vain. “It helped me hone my skills so I could actually later use them on ‘Sherlock,’ the upcoming big-budget movie based on Wigram’s original story and comic book inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales.

The big leagues: After working for Kastner for two years and continuing to cut his teeth at two other small production companies, Wigram received a call in 1996 from a top studio executive at Warner Bros, Bill Gerber, that would transform his career. Over dinner, Gerber asked Wigram if he’d be interested in working at Warner as a production executive. Wigram, who preferred being more directly involved in the filmmaking process, initially said no. Then he came to his senses.

“Luckily, I had friends who said, ‘Don’t be an idiot -- it’s too good an opportunity.’ ”

All about Harry: During his 10 years at Warner Bros., Wigram’s biggest accomplishment was helping the studio acquire the rights to the “Harry Potter” books, now one of the most lucrative franchises in movie history.

Once again, Wigram made the most of a personal connection when his longtime friend London producer David Heyman brought him the first Potter book, which was written by a then-unknown author by the name of J.K. Rowling.

Wigram fell in love with the material and thought it had all the potential cinematic elements -- including spectacle and magic -- that could make for a movie with wide appeal. “The story reminded me of all those wonderful escapist movies I loved growing up,” Wigram said.

Goodbye executive stripes: In 2006 Wigram left the studio, yearning to do what he had always intended. “I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I think I’m a better producer than I was an executive. I’m more hands-on.”

Advice: “Figure out who you are, and whatever job you do, be creative.”

Personal: Wigram lives in Studio City with his wife of 17 years, Lidija, a jewelry designer, and their two daughters, Ella, 12, and Mila, 7.

Ax to grind: “The other thing I love but am very bad at is playing guitar,” said Wigram, who likes the blues. “I’d like to be able to play guitar halfway decently by the time I’m 50.”

claudia.eller@latimes.com


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