Dwayne Johnson is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but he doesn’t do it alone. In 2012, fresh off the success of Fast Five, Johnson co-founded his own production company with Dany Garcia called Seven Bucks Productions. Johnson and Garcia both serve as co-founders and co-CEOs of the company, but when it comes to actually running the development and production of the specific film and TV projects that get made, Hiram Garcia is the man with the plan.
Hiram Garcia has known Johnson since he was a teenager, and began collaborating creatively with the actor when creating the character of “The Rock.” When Garcia was invited to come onboard The Scorpion King to help out with Johnson’s titular character, he knew immediately what he wanted to do with the rest of his life: he wanted to make movies.
Garcia then began the process of doing the work—attending classes, working on productions, and learning everything he possibly could about the art and business of filmmaking. And after collaborating with Johnson for years, in 2017 Hiram Garcia was promoted to President of Production at Seven Bucks Productions, tasked with running the various projects on a day-to-day basis. Since that time, Garcia has helped shepherd hits like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rampage, Skyscraper, and upcoming projects like Disney’s Jungle Cruise.
So when I was offered the chance to speak with Garcia—one of the key people in charge of getting some of the biggest movies around made—for an extended, exclusive interview, I jumped at the opportunity. Minutes into our conversation, it became clear that Garcia is not only a massive fan of film and filmmaking, but a very smart study of the moviemaking business as well.
Throughout the course of our wide-ranging discussion, Garcia talked a bit about his background and how found himself in the role of president of production, the guiding philosophy of Seven Bucks Productions films and how that led to one big creative disagreement on Rampage, his close collaboration and friendship with Johnson, and how the smash box office hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle came together.
We also discussed a few of Seven Bucks Productions’ most high-profile upcoming projects, including what fans can expect from Jumanji 3 (including a potentially new environment), how Hobbs and Shaw will have a Lethal Weapon-like vibe and why David Leitch was the perfect director for the project, why Big Trouble in Little China won’t be a remake, what’s going on with Johnson’s DC Films debut Black Adam, and much more.
If you’re at all interested in how movies get made, I can assure you Garcia has a lot of fascinating stuff to say in this interview. Moreover, Garcia is clearly a passionate fan of film and storytelling, and candidly discusses how he goes about toeing the line between creative expression and the realities of the moviemaking business. I could have peppered him with questions for hours more, but in the time available we covered a lot of interesting ground. Check out the full interview below.
So how did you come to find yourself involved with Seven Bucks Productions, and what was the path to your current role as president of production like?
HIRAM GARCIA: Obviously I’ve known Dwayne [Johnson] for a very long time, since I was 13. I was originally a music major in college, and when I graduated I looked at the music business, and it just didn’t seem like a good fit for me after I interned a little bit, and I was kind of lost in between, and I always helped Dwayne out creatively with stuff, for the character of “The Rock.” We have very similar sensibilities and a similar sense of humor; we used to have fun with it. And when he got Scorpion King, he knew I was kind of lost career-wise, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but he knew I was a creative guy and he said, “Hey, why don’t you come do Scorpion King with me? Let’s try it out.” And the moment I got on set I was like, well, that’s what I want to do. I want to be a producer.
And I kind of refocused my life from that point and went and took some scriptwriting classes, and I started working as a P.A. in commercials in South Florida, and I even did a little bit of second assistant directing and so forth and kind of really wanted to climb my way up from the bottom, learn the ropes. I always kind of knew that as a producer you’re attached to everything on set, so it was important to me to get a sense of what everyone does.
After kind of putting in this time, I just came around where I circled back with Dwayne as well as Dany, the co-owner of Seven Bucks. She had started managing him, and me and Dwayne started working together again and that was actually, that summer, quite apropos for what we’re about to do—it was the summer that he and myself and Chris Morgan created the Hobbs character for Fast and Furious 5.
Oh that’s cool.
GARCIA: We had the invite to do Fast 5 and we had an amazing summer kind of just laughing and creating this larger than life character who had ridiculous and fun one-liners and kicked ass, the whole deal. And from there, we just had this synergy that started going with Dany and Dwayne and myself, and we all had ambitions to start this company. Similar to Dany and Dwayne, who are always the hardest workers in the room, I like to try and keep up with them. I just kind of kept my head down and did as much as I could to listen, learn from all the great producers we worked with, watch as many movies as I could, just always pay attention, and always try and keep a macro perspective on the business and work on relationship development, constantly keep ideas coming, creating concepts that would work for us. And as our company started to grow and we were looking to fill a lead position, it worked out that I ended up being a good candidate for it.
I was honored to be selected for it, but I think we had all kind of grown this company together and felt such a connection to it that it was a natural fit, and I’ve got to tell you, when they were kind enough to select me, I was so proud and so honored to kind of run with it now, because Seven Bucks has basically been my life and breath every day. It’s funny. Dwayne and I were just having this conversation, and we both looked at each other and we were like, “You know we’re crazy, because we don’t stop.” Like, we just don’t stop working.
The question we’re always presented with is, “Hey, how do you guys do it?” And sometimes it’s a funny question because we’re like, “I don’t know, I think we just keep trying.” Because we’re so fortunate, but we all had that similar hunger where we just want to do great things, and we want to entertain on the biggest scale and leave a positive imprint on our audiences and with our material. So I was very fortunate, it was a great fit, and here we are now and I get to talk to Collider, so it must be a good path, right?
(Laughs) Right. It’s insane to me when I always remember like, “Oh, yeah, in addition to all the massive movies Dwayne’s doing he’s a regular on an HBO series.” Like that in and of itself is a full-time job for any other actor.
GARCIA: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah. Sometimes I think people don’t even realize it. My favorite question is always when one of our partners is like, “Oh, so what are you guys next?” And then it’s like a can of worms, where we’re like, “Well, we’re doing this, and then that overlaps with this, and then it overlaps with this,” and so we always kind of just knock on wood after that, and we’re like, “Man, we’re fortunate.” And it’s good when things are going well and we’re just trying to work as hard as we can and take advantage during that time.
What does your day-to-day role as president of production look like? How do you kind of approach the slate and handle the decision-making process of what’s coming down the pike?
GARCIA: It’s a great question because it’s always two-fold, whereas I think sometimes you’ll get maybe a typical president of production who will kind of be back at a homebase, kind of working from there, but in addition I’m always usually one of the producers on our movies as well. So for me—depending on when it is during the year—typically my day will start with the movie we’re working on or the production we’re on and just kind of making sure that we’re on track for that day, everything’s going well, everything’s in line and we’re off and running.
And then, one of the things that occurs when you work in this business is it is a business of having a ton of boulders. Like, you have a thousand boulders and you’re trying to get each one over the hill, because it is incredibly hard to get things made in our industry. It’s a long process. The average development process of a film is about five years. So every day, once you know the movie’s off and everything is good, you start on the first boulder and want to push it as much as you can that day and do the best as you can to get it closer to the top of the hill, and then you move on to the next one, and the next one, and then you try to give each project a little bit of love and it comes in all different forms, whether it be reading the latest draft, turning notes around, trying to find a writer for a particular project that you have, connecting with the studio executives that you are dealing with on it, trying to make sure that their notes are being addressed. It’s all those things that come while you’re moving these boulders up the hill.
And then, you know, much like we’re dealing with this year, it’s like the perfect storm where you’re filming a movie, you’re developing your next project, and then you have a movie releasing as well, so at the same time you are doing your best to make sure the marketing campaign is going as you like, and as you’re listening to feedback, are there any adjustments you want to make? And where should we be traveling to, where do we want to promote this project? It’s just a lot of juggling and balancing and doing your best to keep everything moving, because again, it is a very slow train line of projects, but you want to kind of keep them all moving. So when one finishes, hopefully there’s one behind it ready to come to the crest of that hill and kind of go over and make that ride.
And then at the same time, you’re looking for new content. You’re digging, you’re reading, you’re making friends and connections and just cooking up crazy ideas, looking for inspiration in every corner. With great pride, I am a nerd within, so whether it be like graphic novels and comics and video games, you know, I’m always surfing the internet. Whatever it is, you’re just always looking for inspiration, because you never know where that next idea is going to come from. There’s never been a greater time in our business for the creation of content, and that’s something that is easy to sometimes lose track of when you are pushing all these boulders, and we always like to make a point to continue to look for new content, new projects, new things that are relevant and that are fun to kind of bring to our audiences.
With Seven Bucks Productions, is there kind of a central motto or a specific kind of film you guys are looking for that you guys kind of try to stick true to?
GARCIA: Yeah, we have this motto that we always say, “It’s about audience first,” right? So we really like to focus on things that we think audiences want to see, because we try and specialize in projects that need to be seen in a theater. I think more than ever, there are a million ways to consume content, whether it be on your phones and iPads and TV and Netflix and so on, but we want to make projects that need to be seen in a theater, because going to the movies isn’t the cheapest process, and we’re respectful of people’s hard-earned money and what they want to spend on, so we try to always focus on movies that have spectacle and truly maximize and fully utilize the benefit of going to a large theater. So we look for that.
We love heart. We always try and find some thread of heart to anchor our stories, whether you’re looking at like Skyscraper and a father trying to get back to his family, or Rampage, you know the relationship that DJ had with George. It’s just something that resonates with our belief in family values and heart, and that can anchor the story. That’s very important for us.
We also always like to make sure that audiences leave happy. In the earliest versions of Rampage when we first got it, there were attempts to kill George, the gorilla. And we’re like, “There’s no way we can kill George and leave audiences happy,” you know? He is such a beloved character, and his and Dwayne’s relationship was so special. We love to leave the audience happy, because ultimately, we know going to the movies is a form of escapism and ultimately, you kind of like to leave that movie feeling good and having had a good time and feeling a little bit better than when you went in there.
That’s something I wanted to ask you about too, because I thought that that was really interesting when Dwayne kind of said candidly that he fought very hard to have George live. Have there been other projects you guys have worked on that you guys have kind re-jiggered to bring it more in line with your overall philosophy?
GARCIA: Rampage was the one that sticks out the most. One, with us being huge animal lovers—I mean, you’re not going to find a team that loves animals more than Seven Bucks. We probably have like 15 dogs among us all, but I think that’s the one that stands out the most where we were like right away, flags went up, we’re like, “There’s no way that George can die at the end of this.” And that kind of is where we got to this point where we were able to have fun with the ending, because we know that there actually was an expectation—for some reason, those kinds of movies usually end with the animal or the special creature dying. So it kind of felt natural to put that in, and I think audiences naturally believed it and it was very fun to bring it back and let them see we were just playing.