Robert Iger, CEO and Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, sat down with Dean Elizabeth Daley of the School of Cinematic Arts Friday afternoon to discuss his new book. The event was hosted by SCA and Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in the Ray Stark Theater on campus.
His book, “The Ride of a Lifetime,” details his journey to becoming CEO of one of the biggest media conglomerates in modern history. Signed copies of the book were available for purchase before the event. Iger announced that all proceeds from the book sales will go to scholarships — at Annenberg and some other universities — to help improve diversity in journalism, but did not provide any further specifics. According to an Annenberg official, the funds will go toward an endowment for a scholarship for graduate students. Willow Bay, Dean of the Annenberg school and wife of Iger, introduced the CEO before he took his place on the stage in front of a crowd that was standing room only. Both Bay and Iger were journalists earlier in their careers.
This endowment was not the only mention of his commitment to diversity and inclusion in media landscapes. He spoke frankly about how he believes an increase in the volume of content and distributors will allow studios and corporations to tap into talent that has not had a chance to shine.
“I think we haven't even come close really to tapping into the talent of the world,” Iger said. “And that's a whole other issue, which is talk about representation and diversity. I think the traditional movie and television businesses have a lot more room to improve representation of those that are making, we're creating for them. And I think there are large communities that are still untapped in that regard.”
Iger’s visit to the university was timely. After releasing his book in late September and the launch of the long-awaited Disney+ launched this Tuesday, Iger admitted that he hasn’t had free time in quite a long time. He mentioned in response to a student question, however, that it is important for him to have creative time to himself during the day.
“I try to have something creative on my calendar every day when I've had a day that is just a set of meetings about bureaucracy,” Iger said.
Though Iger is the face of Disney, a company known for its acquisitions and mergers, he made it clear that brand independence and culture is a high priority for him and the company.
“I like what he said about taking risks and also staying on brand because yes, the Walt Disney Company has to enforce certain standards, but I do think he does a good job letting each individual brand kind of maintain their identity, whether it's like Fox Searchlight, Marvel, or Pixar. And I think they do a nice job with them,” said Sarah Voss, a senior studying communication. “I'm glad he talked about it.”
The CEO didn’t mind indulging the “Star Wars” fans in the audience.
“We did Rogue One, which we actually think was a great film,” Iger said. “So much so that we're making…” He caught himself before revealing anything more. “No, we haven't made any announcements about that.”
“I didn't expect him to drop Rogue One news,” Billy Gould, a junior studying cinema and media studies, said in reference to Iger mentioning a potential sequel. At the moment, this sequel is not confirmed by Disney or Lucasfilm.
“I also really liked that he talked about being humble and not thinking of yourself as your title, like considering yourself on a level with your people who are like technically your subordinates, but not treating them as subordinates,” Gould said.
He also mentioned that “Star Wars” director J.J. Abrams is still making changes to the ninth film in the franchise even on a tight deadline.
“J.J. Abrams is working really hard and finishing the Rise of Skywalker, the next Star Wars, which comes out in December,” Iger said. “Yesterday he sent me a new beginning of the movie and now he's got five days to finish it.”
The conversation was not just about the latest Disney news. Dean Daley mentioning the difficulty of the past semester for the USC community, wherein nine students died. Iger provided insight on how to grieve as a community and an organization.
“I think, often, the best thing is for them to have company, the company of others,” Iger said. “And I also think information is really important too. Being candid, being candid quickly, sometimes even without all of the information.”
He mentioned the importance of putting those grieving above how things will look.
“But I often find while you obviously have to be careful and you have to try to be factual, but often your zeal to get words right or get all the facts right, it takes way too much time. And in that period of time there are a lot of people that need more and they don’t get it because of conservatism or some conventional wisdom that isn’t necessarily correct.”
Correction: A previous version of this story attributed the detail about the endowment for graduate students to Iger. However, this information came from an Annenberg official.