In the fall of 2016, I sat in the audience at the 140 Conference in Los Angeles, waiting for my turn to speak. Four interpreters in training silently rotated their shifts in front of me, their hands translating the words of one ten-minute presentation after another. There was a dizzying array of speakers, many names that were unfamiliar to me.
I watched with interest as Howard Rosenman took the stage. I didn’t recognize his name, but I recognized the movies he produced: Father of Bride, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Family Man.
I sat mesmerized as he spoke. I always recognize people who are truly passionate–there’s an energy about them that’s electrifying and exciting.
What was his story, I wondered. How did he end up producing those blockbuster movies?
I got in touch with Howard and he answered my questions with such passion that my fingers could hardly type notes fast enough.
Howard was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens, New York. From a very young age, Howard loved going to the movies and he wanted to be an actor. At the age of nine, he narrowed down his focus: he wanted to be a producer. Howard shifted directions after high school–he graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in Literature and then decided to become a doctor. After two years in medical school, Howard headed overseas with a cousin to serve as a medic in the Six Day War. “My parents are seventh generation Jews, I have thousands of cousins living in Israel.”
Thirty days later, Howard met Leonard Bernstein, a conductor, pianist, and composer from the New York Philharmonic.
“I know a guy just like you back in New York,” he told Howard.
Indeed, Howard had previously worked as a waiter in a New York restaurant and Mr Bernstein recognized him. He gave Howard tickets to his concert. At a party afterwards, the two of them talked and really connected. Right then and there, Leonard offered him a position to join his film crew as a gofer for an upcoming documentary, Journey to Jerusalem. As they worked together, Howard found himself enjoying the whole process of filming and creating the documentary.
Howard returned to the hospital to continue his journey to become a doctor. In the middle of assisting an operation for an amputation, Leonard’s words reverberated in his thoughts:
“You are a storyteller. You will never bow to the mistress of science, you’re too passionate for the arts.”
Howard made up his mind–he was going to go to New York and pursue a totally different path with Leonard as his mentor. It’s a path that lead to over 40 years of Hollywood and many movie stars as friends. “Making movies and storytelling, that’s my passion,” Howard said.
And passion, Howard says, is something that you love so much that you will go through any obstacles to do it.
Today, Howard is 71 and he’s busier than he’s ever been. He’s currently working on a book, a mini-series, and a documentary all at once. The movie business continues to be a tough one to navigate as the average time between conception to screen is seven years and some take as long as twenty. Through it all, Howard’s energy and passion have remained high. He’s doing what he truly loves to do. While ageism is rampant in Hollywood, especially for older actors, Howard has some advice for people who are navigating their mature years: “Stay passionate! Have patience and tenacity.”
“Let me tell you about my mother,” he continued. “At the beginning of the century, she was six years old and walking to school when the Nazis came up to her and pushed her down. She got up and continued to walk. They pushed her down again. She picked up her books, dusted off her dress, and continued to walk. Tenacity–that’s the lesson I got from that.”
So, of all the movies you’ve produced, which one is your favorite, I asked.
“All of them are my favorite,” he said. “You spend so much time on them that you’re so in love. If you don’t have the love of them, you can’t produce them.”
Now that’s passion.