Columbus Piazza named through generous gift
The kids in the Ohio town where Chris Columbus grew up, like kids everywhere, loved to make crank calls. They would open the phone book, find the name for Alex Columbus — Chris’s father — and dial and then ask to speak to Christopher.
“My father would hand me the phone, and all I’d hear on the other end were howls of laughter,” said Columbus. “The crank callers didn’t expect to actually find someone named Christopher on the other end.”
Faced with jokes all his life — “Hey Christopher: Is the world round or flat?” — Columbus knew he could either ignore the taunts or develop a sense of humor and embrace his name. He chose the latter. His company, 1492 Productions, and his daughter’s name (Isabella) give witness to this.
So, too, will the new development on the west side of the campus. Thanks to his gift to the school, the new plaza overlooking the Pacific Ocean will be named Columbus Piazza in recognition of the film director’s Italian roots and the sense of discovery that he shares with the famous explorer.
Chris Columbus’s creative spirit has already led him to write 15 scripts, direct 17 and produce 18. He sold his first script while a sophomore at NYU and has since become one of America’s most successful filmmakers, having directed Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter movies and Rent.
Columbus is now supervising the production of Night at the Museum, currently being filmed in Manhattan with Robin Williams and Ben Stiller. He took time from his busy schedule to speak with Genesis editor Paul Totah.
Q. What motivated your generous gift to SI?
A. My daughter Eleanor transferred into SI in her sophomore year. When she came, she fell in love with the place. She introduced me to the world of SI and to what a truly amazing place it is.
I felt the gift was an important donation for many reasons. High schools often take a back seat to universities, but they shape the future for so many kids. I rarely have seen a high school as strong or as committed to each student as SI is.
Q. At the premiere of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, you compared SI to Hogwarts. Can you elaborate on this?
A. SI is similar to Hogwarts in that it cares for and pays so much attention to all its students. With other schools the size of SI, certain kids can get lost. I can’t imagine that happening here. As a graduate of a Catholic elementary and high school in Ohio, I also know the value firsthand of Catholic education.
Q. You’re from New York and the industry is in Hollywood. Why do you make your home now in San Francisco?
A. Three of my four children were born in Manhattan, where I lived for 17 years. I thought I would live the rest of my life there. When I came to San Francisco in 1993 to direct Mrs. Doubtfire, I fell in love with the city. I saw some cultural similarities with New York — San Francisco is really a hybrid of New York and many European cities — but this is an easier, friendlier place to rear children. Making Mrs. Doubtfire was such a wonderful experience, that my wife and I realized we wanted to move here.
Q. What gives you more satisfaction — writing or directing?
A. I like alternating between the two. When I write, I find that the hours are better, and I spend more time with my family. But I also like directing because I have complete control over the process. I also like the excitement of going to the set every day and making decision that will last forever on film. There is a certain intensity to shooting a film; if it’s a good experience you never want to leave it. But I also need to take some quiet time to write between projects.
Q. Which film do you point to as your best work?
A. I’m most proud of the film version of Rent. It’s the best work I’ve done, with the Harry Potter films being a close second. Rent was an emotional experience. I waited eight years to do this project, and I persisted because it’s a movie that kids need to see. It deals with issues of diversity, acceptance and tolerance — words that have lost their power and importance in today’s world. The movie gave me a chance to remind kids of these values and to tell an emotional story. I like doing stories that sweep up audiences and move them somehow, either to laughter or to heartbreak.
Q. Can you speak to the role of the director and writer as storyteller?
A. Storytelling is important in two ways. First, stories can be relevant, discussing the world from a political point of view as a reflection of what’s going on in society. As I’ve grown older, that role is starting to become more interesting to me. Secondly, storytelling can be pure entertainment. The world is always difficult, and movies give us the ability to forget about everything for two hours in a theatre. I’m attracted to both kinds of storytelling. Movies such as Schindler’s List will stand the test of time and be used as a teaching tool for years to come. Still, you can’t underestimate the value of a great comedy and laughing yourself silly.
Q. Is there a movie you’re dying to make that you hope will define your career?
A. I haven’t found one yet. I was fortunate to begin working in the industry at 21. Now, at 47, I still have another 20 years. I’d love to continue making films. I don’t know what the future will bring. I do know that I’m interested in so many causes and issues.
There are advantages to being 47. With each film, I have learned lessons and gotten better. With each film, I’ve been able to grow as a filmmaker. I hope I never stop learning.