Christopher Massimine is a leader in Entertainment whose been integrally involved in Emmy-winning television shows, Grammy-winning music campaigns, Oscar-winning films, and Tony-nominated theatrical productions.
Chris is currently the Managing Director of Pioneer Theatre Company, which is the state theatre of Utah; and he recently launched (and grew in 3-months time) Imagine Tomorrow LLC an international firm founded to shepherd and source capital for creative works.
He is a past Vice Chair for MENSA International, was the co-founder of the Immigrant Arts Coalition, is a minority owner at Pietra Diamonds, and the immediate past Development Chair at The Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York.
Chris is the definition of Influencive. A month away from turning 35, he has already:
- Been recognized as professional theatre’s youngest CEO (in the US) when he was just 27 years old;
- Made as name as one of the world’s most well-respected trailblazers in gaming, having worked behind the scenes as a producer in charge of production, development, and media direction for blockbuster titles including multiple installments of Resident Evil, The Legend of Zelda, Wolfenstein, Doom, and the Batman: Arkham series;
- Spoken on behalf of the arts for the United Nations, in front of Congress, and as an appointed special advisor to New York City and New York State;
- Produced the most successful Off Broadway production in the past decade with Fiddler on the Roof (in Yiddish);
- Acquired a keen reputation for producing critically-acclaimed International Indie Films and being a regular go-to executive on studio productions;
- Shepherded some of reality television’s greatest hits like Jersey Shore and Paris Hilton’s My New BFF;
- Received the distinguished Humanitarian of the Year Award from the National Performing Arts Association’s Action Committee, along with the Key to the City from the National’s Capital (Washington, D.C.);
- Was inducted into the Producers Guild Hall of Fame;
- Conceived some of the world’s most memorable advertising campaigns from Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” to Old Spice’s “Scents For Gents” and “Muscle Man.”
- Founded an international capital sourcing and resource development firm for creative innovation in entertainment, lifestyle, and tech.
By looking at him, at an opposing 6 feet 2 inches, you’d think this rugged “Mr. Clean” is a no-nonsense titan, when quite the contrary, he’s really just a big teddy bear— and a very animated, fast-spoken teddy bear at that!
I was able to connect with Chris over the phone to get caught up with his recent enterprises. Here’s how it went:
Chris, you’re a Unicorn in the Entertainment Industry. Those who are in the know have enormous respect for you and consistently say you work around the clock. Do you sleep?
What an opener! The rumors are true. I’ve never been very good sleeper. I have a lot of trouble winding down and shutting off. I’d say I used to average around 4 solid hours a night. But, it’s quality sleep.
You do know the quality sleep’s gone now that you’re a new father?
So I’ve heard.
Among your current projects you’ve got a film in pre-production; 2 video games in post-production; started writing columns for 3 publications, one of which (Entrepreneur) is an international “top 3 magazine”, as its Entertainment Industry Expert; have just announced Pioneer Theatre Company’s Fall season; and on top of that you just launched and then immediately grew a new company. And now you’re a dad. What else is going on?
When you put it like that, I’m apparently a glutton for punishment. Well, actually, there is one more thing: I started an Instagram (@chrismaspresents) in December to help emerging business leaders discover their pathway to success. We have, what I refer to as “working groups,” wherein we collaboratively discuss strategy and plan measurable actions. Each person is paired with an accountability partner to help with the process.
It seems to be working and right now it’s free. If it continues to be in demand, it’s going to require additional resources to keep it going. That’ll cost something, and whatever that price point will be, will be the course admission fee. We’re not there yet, and when/if that looks like an eventuality you’ll be the first to know.
Speaking of coursework, you’ve been at the University of Utah, captaining the administration of their professional theatre Pioneer Theatre Company since 2019. What was that shift like from NYC to Salt Lake City, Utah?
There was definitely a culture shock component to relocating. I’m very direct. That’s not really the way of the West. I’m adjusting, just like with anything new or new-ish, it’ll continue to take consistent efforts and as long as the passage of time prescribes.
Are you a Latter Day Saint yet?
With my mouth? Forget it. Though I do have immense respect for the work ethic embedded into their religion.
What’s at Pioneer Theatre Company that made you travel across the country?
Karen Azenberg. She’s my partner at PTC, and its artistic director for a decade now. Beyond Karen, PTC’s a wondrous organization, with so much great theatre being produced by such a committed team. After 7 years as the CEO of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, I had fulfilled my vision for its future, and it was time for my next chapter. I’m a big believer that once you’ve achieved vision, it’s time to pass leadership on and, well, move on, to ensure the company sets new direction with fresh eyes.
Karen’s father, Manny, who jokingly refers to me as his older brother (famed theatre producer Emanuel Azenberg is 87), had become a friend and confident, and collaborator. When I was contemplating my next chapter, without telling him about my planning to depart the Yiddish Theatre, Manny’s intuition let loose a few words over a lunch: “you know, Chris, Utah is beautiful. My daughter Karen’s theatre is searching for a new co-chief. You’d love the mountains, there are real mountains, not these Mickey Mouse hills we call mountains here, and even better, you could have a real quality life!”
Was Manny right?
It’s too early to tell. Keep in mind I only had a little north of 7 months on the job before the pandemic hit the US. So, I haven’t even gone through a full “normal” season cycle yet. In these CoVid-19 times, we’ve adapted our model very differently than what we normally do. As a professional theatre we’re governed by the rules of the entertainment unions; as an arts affiliate of the University of Utah, we’re governed by the University; as part of Utah’s state University, we’re governed by the state.
Those are three different masters, with three different ideas of what can and cannot be done as we find our way through and past the impact of the virus. So, our Theatre hasn’t had live performances, which is what we do, in over a year. A lot of live performance institutions have since “gone dark” or in more extreme cases “closed their doors.” We did the pivot thing. And have been doing it ever since.
For instance, we’ve turned our production shops into production factories, and moved into retail; we created initiative that were community-giveback-focused; we employed artists and creatives through virtual programming, Holiday fare, and installations, where we paid them livable wages when many other theatres couldn’t; and most importantly, and something both Karen and I are very proud of: we’ve stayed committed to our staff, who are the backbone of everything we do here at the Theatre, ensuring there were no layoffs, and keeping everyone in a jobs during these strange times.
The Theatre’s just announced a season starting in the Fall. Do you think that will happen?
I have to think so. I also have to think it’s going to be a tough start. It’s going to be a challenge getting back into the swing of things, also for consumers, and for the experiences that add value to theatre, like going out to dinner before a show, and sticking around the lobby after the curtain call for a behind-the-scenes program.
Has the pandemic impacted your work in other areas?
It’s definitely had some profound influence on just about everything in which I’ve been involved, film, TV, and video games are no exception. The difference being Theatre is outfitted for live audiences, so the disruptive impact is that much harder to overcome.
Both of my upcoming video games were delayed due to CoVid-19. The Inventor hasn’t yet filmed, and is stop-motion animation, so I have to believe that will be a little more manageable no that people are being rather widely vaccinated.
The Inventor looks incredible! As officially described, “written and directed by Jim Capobianco, the Academy Award nominated writer of Pixar hit Ratatouille, The Inventor is a new stop-motion adventure film about the life of Leonardo da Vinci.” What can you tell us about the film?
I think it’s a very special project. When I first learned about it via an Industry colleague, I didn’t wait a minute to research the lead producer, Robert Rippberger, and when we connected, I basically threw myself at it. The Inventor has everything you want in great cinema: a timeless story with brilliant writing, a cast that’s going to deliver extraordinary performances, and an underlying message in the power of curiosity meeting intention to “invent” magical outcomes.
It’s got it all. And I’m so humbled to be involved. Once in a lifetime you’re lucky to find yourself at a crossroad and know in stepping past the line that things will be forever changes and you’ll have made a difference. Well, I’ve been blessed to have had this moment four times: when I produced Bioshock, when I produced Fiddler, when I signed on with The Inventor, and now as a father.
You’re a class act. Thank you for taking the time for this interview.
Thank you for listening.