How I Made It: How I Made It: Emma Watts, 20th Century Fox production president

Emma Watts, 44, has been president of production at film studio 20th Century Fox since 2009.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The gig: Emma Watts, 44, is president of production at film studio 20th Century Fox, a position she’s held since 2009. Under Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Gianopulos, the studio is coming off a strong run of box-office winners, including “Gone Girl,” “The Maze Runner” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

First roles: Watts was born in England and emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, when she was five. She moved to the U.S. to study English literature at UCLA. After college, she got her first job as a production assistant at Herb Ritts’ photography studio, followed by a gig at Def Pictures, the production company of hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons.

Oliver and Co.: Her career hit its stride when she landed a job working for director Oliver Stone. “Being in story meetings with him was amazing,” she said. It also put her in a good position for her personal life. “I met my husband there too, so I have Oliver Stone to thank for my marriage. Not a lot of people can say that.”


Fox job: In 1997, Tom Rothman hired Watts as a creative executive while she was also interviewing for a post at Warner Bros. “I was desperate to get one of those jobs,” she said. “I got a call from Tom, who said it’s down to two people — get some people to call on your behalf. I basically called every single person I knew to convince him I was worth a shot.” This summer, she signed a new three-year deal with Fox.

Finding Fincher: Watts needed a director for “Gone Girl,” based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay). She had one person in mind — “Social Network” and “Zodiac” director David Fincher. She knew Fincher, who hadn’t made a Fox movie since “Fight Club,” would be hard to convince. “I was just relentless,” she said. “He was intrigued but sort of pushed back. It was just a constant courtship.”

Dawn of the reboots: Major studios need franchises, and Watts’ successes have included the rekindling of the “Planet of the Apes” and “X-Men” series. “X-Men: First Class” introduced a new cast in 2011, followed by this year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” For the latter, she brought back director Bryan Singer of the first “X-Men” movie from 2000. She put Matt Reeves at the helm of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” This summer’s “Apes” movie has touched the $700-million mark worldwide, while “X-Men” grossed even more. “Once you have those two juggernauts working the way they have, then it’s about all the chances you can take to build new franchises,” Watts said. The studio has “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and the next “Night at the Museum” installment still to come this year.

Life balance: Her biggest accomplishment, she says, is juggling her family and her career. The mother of three said having kids makes her better at her job. “This division is supposed to make 12 movies a year, and I think you can get burnt out and jaded and your work suffers,” she said. “But you need to stay connected emotionally, and my family demands that. They won’t tolerate anything less than that.”

Hobbies: Her work and family take up most of her time, but she says she likes to clear her head and keep healthy with morning runs and occasional yoga sessions. She and her husband sometimes take mountain biking trips and go hiking with their children.

Big weekend: Watts’ youngest child was born in May, less than five months ago. She gave birth to a girl at 6:30 p.m. on the Friday night that “Days of Future Past” opened. “The matinee grosses were coming in right as she was born,” she said. “It was a great weekend all around.”