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Movie Producer and Dean, School of Filmmaking,
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
As a movie producer, Jordan Kerner, MBA/JD 76, chooses projects that can enlighten as well as entertain. It’s a philosophy that has guided virtually all of the movies he has worked on, from Less Than Zero to his latest production, The Smurfs.
“I hope viewers come out of the theater fully entertained, and I hope that five years later all the messages resonate inside of them,” says Kerner.
In addition to producing movies, Kerner has led the School of Filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts as dean since 2007. Blending his film-making career with education, Kerner ensures students study and work with professionals. While producing The Smurfs, Kerner enabled more than 50 students to shadow the director, cinematographer, and others creating the $110 million movie, which opened in July and has grossed over half a billion dollars in worldwide receipts.
As dean, Kerner also is focusing his lens on multidisciplinary entertainment business jobs, collaborating with UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State to craft a joint degree program. He traces the idea to his experiences with the University of California. In 1972, he entered UC’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Wanting to expand his studies to include business and public policy, he created a proposal for a joint degree with what is now the Haas School.
While in school, Kerner founded Comm/Ent, a journal concentrating on communications and entertainment law. After passing the bar, he worked in the motion-picture department of a Beverly Hills law firm and then for CBS, Universal, and ABC before co-founding a production company in 1986 that is now called Kerner Entertainment.
In the late 1990s, Kerner started talking with the family of Peyo, the Belgian cartoonist who created the Smurfs, about making a movie, promising to be faithful to the characters. Kerner’s respectful approach to Charlotte’s Web (2006), convinced the family to sell him film rights.
When developing scripts, Kerner shares his ideas about pertinent lessons with the screenwriters. His films have explored the importance of nurturing friendships and combating bias against sexual preference (Fried Green Tomatoes); the impact of substance abuse (When A Man Loves A Woman); and treating those who are different with respect (The Smurfs).
“In The Smurfs, that permeates the film,” Kerner says. “I think these are really important lessons.”—Kim Underwood