Roger Birnbaum was born in Teaneck, New Jersey. His father worked in textiles and the construction industry.
Roger was a member of the graduating class of 1968 at Teaneck High School. His classmates included future movie critic Leonard Maltin and composer Alan Silvestri. None was voted "most likely to succeed."
Silvestri and Birnbaum were best friends in high school. They've continued their friendship in Hollywood.
"Roger Birnbaum and I first met on the Little League field in Teaneck when we were 11," Silvestri says. "I played for a funeral home and Roger for a hardware store." (The Record [Bergen County, New Jersey], 10/27/99)
Birnbaum was educated at the University of Denver, where he booked entertainment events, musicians, and speakers. He left school a year before graduation to pursue a career in music, starting out as a secretary for A&M Records in California.
"I just felt that in that age of liberal arts, I had been liberally arted," he said. "It was time to go into the world. I wasn' t going to be a doctor, lawyer, or scientist. This was not my calling. So I said `check please, I have to go.' " (The Record, 2/2/94)
Birnbaum drove a cab for a Bergen County company. "I think it lasted a week," he said of the job. "The first person who got in my cab was a pregnant woman who said `Take me to Holy Name Hospital -- now.' I said `Oh, this is exciting.' The last passenger I ever took was a drunk who tried to rob me. I said `Okay, that's it. I don't need this job.' "
Birnbaum became an NBC page in Manhattan. He lasted a few weeks giving studio tours. Then he took a job logging tv programs for NBC. It bored him.
Birnbaum accidentally ran into an acquaintance in Manhattan who had managed a band he had booked at the University of Denver. That meeting led to work in the recording industry -- from an entry level secretary to an A&R (artist and repertoire) employee for A&M Records in California. He eventually became a vice president of both A&M Records, then Arista Records and also worked for producer/music mogul/Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood.
From Hollywood.com: "After spending five years as an executive in the recording industry, Birnbaum expanded his horizons when he joined the Robert Stigwood Organization (RSO) in the late 1970s as special assistant to the chair. While working at RSO, Birnbaum assisted Stigwood during the productions of the feature "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), the stage version of "Evita" (1978 in London; 1979 in the USA), and successful albums for artists like Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees. Working in conjunction with Henry Winkler at Monument Pictures, Birnbaum produced "Young Sherlock Holmes" and "The Sure Thing" (both 1985). In his brief stints as president of the Guber/Peters Company (c. 1985-87) and later United Artists (c. 1987-88), he oversaw efforts that helped realize a series of respected and generally popular productions including Barry Levinson's Oscar-winning "Rain Man", "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" and "Gorillas in the Mist" (all 1988) and Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989). Joining Fox in 1988, Birnbaum established an amicable working relationship with chairman Joe Roth which led to a 1991 promotion increasing his interaction with marketing, video and international affairs. In 1993, Roth left Fox to form Caravan Pictures, an independent producing company headquartered at Disney. Birnbaum was a salaried producer until Roth became chairman of Disney in 1993, when Birnbaum became Caravan's head."
Birnbaum met Henry Winkler around 1980. He became president and a producing partner with the actor in Monument Pictures. Their first film was " The Sure Thing," directed by Rob Reiner. Next they made the 1985 adventure film "Young Sherlock Holmes."
Birnbaum married commercial actress Pamela West in 1986. They'd met on a blind date. In 1987, they had a daughter Claire.
Roger became president of production for Guber-Peters Company at Warner Brothers in 1986.
"A lot of people get paralyzed in the decision-making process," Birnbaum told Hit & Run. "They didn't. Jon would say, 'I have a dream,' and Peter would say, 'I know how to get it done.'"
Roger found Jon Peters infuriating. They were in a meeting over the movie Tango & Cash with screenwriter Randy Feldman. Roger gave some ideas. Jon yelled at him. "Shut up! I didn't ask you to pseak in this meeting! I'm the producer of this movie, I don't need you to speak." Birnbaum left the room.
A few days later, Jon called Roger and asked him to do something for him. "I didn't want to do it, because I thought it was immoral... And I said, 'No, that's your mess, you do it.' He said he was going to come down to my office and break my jaw. I said, 'I'm right here.' I never expected to see him.
"He came barreling into my office and he grabbed me by my shirt, pulled my face up to his, and he said to me, 'I am worth a hundred million dollars, motherfucker. What have you got?' And I said, 'I have self-respect.'" (Hit & Run, pg. 160-161)
Guber and Peters then agreed to let Birnbaum out of his contract so he could move to United Artists, while maintaining his participation in the films he developed, including Rain Man. But Gubers and Peter denied him a producing credit. Director Barry Levinson, at the end of the film, gave Birnbaum a special credit.
"I always liked Peter and I was heartbroken when he did what he did to me," Roger told Hit & Run. "It was like, 'What else do you need in this world?' If they'd given me what I deserved, and what I was due, would it have changed their lives at all? No. Would they have respect from one more person in this business? Yes."
"Every part of it is fascinating," Birnbaum said of filmmaking. "Developing the material, casting, finding the right director, shooting ... and even working with the problems of changing the story while you're shooting because you've discovered things about the characters that are coming to life as you're making the movie."
"And part of being hands on," he said, "is hiring the right people." (The Record, 2/2/94)
SF Examiner: "He [director Victor Salva] paid for his crime [videotaping himself receiving sex from a 12-year old boy], he paid his debt to society," said Roger Birnbaum, head of Caravan Pictures who also recently produced "Dead Presidents" and "The Big Green."
"What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie." Birnbaum said he was tipped about Salva's conviction halfway through filming "Powder" and confronted him. Told only the basics, Birnbaum elected to neither dismiss Salva nor inform the entire cast and crew. Instead, Birnbaum said, "Key production people were told to keep an eye out for anything, just in case." Nothing improper was observed, Birnbaum said.
From Minneapolis Star Tribune 5/26/95: The director of "Powder," a new Walt Disney film about a troubled teenager, is a convicted child molester who once videotaped himself having oral sex with a 12-year-old actor.
The film's release Friday in 1,200 U.S. theaters has prompted the molestation victim, Nathan Winters, now 20, to go public with his ordeal to protest Disney's employment of filmmaker Victor Salva. On Monday night, Winters and five friends picketed outside the industry screening of "Powder," handing out leaflets about Salva's conviction to hundreds of Hollywood executives.
"Please don't spend your money on this movie," the leaflets urged. "It would just go to line the pockets of this child molester."
Disney and the film's producer argue that Salva has served his time.
Salva confessed to having oral sex with Winters in 1987 while directing him in "Clownhouse," a low-budget film about three boys terrorized by clowns.
Salva, sentenced to three years in state prison, served 15 months and completed parole in 1992. Salva, 37, said in a prepared statement Tuesday that he regrets his actions. "I paid for my mistakes dearly," he said. "Now, nearly 10 years later, I am excited about my work as a filmmaker and look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to our industry."
Roger Birnbaum, whose Caravan Pictures made "Powder" for Disney, said: "He paid for his crime; he paid his debt to society. What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie."
Salva won the director's job for "Powder" because Birnbaum was so impressed by his original script. The movie is the story of a boy with telekinetic powers and pure white skin, which repels his peers.
The actor who plays the teenage Powder, Sean Patrick Flanery, is 29, but Birnbaum said Monday he could not state definitively whether all others in the youthful cast were 18 or older.
LA TIMES: Reports that the actor [Harrison Ford] was upset with her revelation are unfounded, says Roger Birnbaum, chairman of Caravan Pictures. "Harrison, director Ivan Reitman and I all found out about Anne' s homosexuality before we hired her and it made no difference to us, " he said. "Harrison had veto power over casting and was immediately supportive. If Anne did something heinous, that might interfere with the public's ability to accept her in the role. The only thing she did was love another human being. . . . I can't imagine why it's an issue."
Intermedia saw two thirds of its value wiped out within hours on Monday after it cancelled its imminent merger with production firm Spyglass Entertainment and slashed its earnings forecast. Intermedia's Neuer Markt-listed stock fell as much as 66% before recovering slightly to Euros 7.21, down more than 62%. The company said that Nigel Sinclair and Guy East, who had been expected to step down to make way for Spyglass co-chiefs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, would now continue as co-chairmen.
Rob McKinnon writes about the movie Simon Birch: "I met with the immediately likable ROGER BIRNBAUM, one of the film’s producers, who is also one of Hollywood’s most respected and prolific producers. He was in Houston accompanying the film’s youthful stars JOSEPH MAZZELLO and newcomer IAN MICHAEL SMITH. I asked him how he had come to produce a film which, according to many social critics, Hollywood doesn’t produce and, in fact, is so spiritually bankrupt it can’t produce. He said, "When Mark came to my office with the thought of making a film from Irving’s expansive novel, he told us a complete story which was an encapsulation of all of the feelings and all of the emotions of the novel, but he had it take place in one year. I’m an emotional person and I know that people go to the movies to laugh or to cry or to be scared and I just felt that this was going to be a very powerful story.
". . . when Johnson turned in the screenplay, it was exquisite and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we should try to make this movie. Of course the big issue now was who is going to be Simon Birch. Who was going to be this kid? Because if you didn’t find this kid you weren’t going to have a movie."
From Hoover company capsules: "Spyglass funds three to four films a year through its partnership with J.P. Morgan Chase bank, and it distributes movies through an exclusive deal with The Walt Disney Company, which owns a 10% stake in Spyglass. The company also has pay-TV deals in Europe with CANAL+ Group, Sogecable, and the financially troubled Kirch Media. Spyglass was founded in 1998."