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October 11, 2019

“Now, the Floodgates are Open"

Suzanne Todd ‘86 visits Film Symposium to talk Disney+, Call of Duty, Jexi, and Storytelling

By Ben Del Vecchio

Every Thursday night in the School of Cinematic Arts’s Norris Theater, students from all disciplines across USC gather for a movie, and a conversation. Leonard Maltin’s CTCS466: Film Symposium – the University’s most popular elective course –  sees visits from cinema’s luminaries, with special screenings, panels, and Q&A’s every week. 

This week, Maltin welcomed producer and School of Cinematic Arts alumnus Suzanne Todd ‘86 (Memento, Austin Powers, Across the Universe), who screened and discussed her newest project, Jexi. The film, a new comedy starring Adam Devine, hits theaters nationwide October 11th; in it, Devine plays an iPhone-loving San Franciscan whose new phone A.I., called Jexi, falls in love and becomes obsessed with him.

After working with writer/directors Scott Moore and Jon Lucas on the Bad Moms films, Todd decided to work the pair again on Jexi: “John and Scott, they’re really about the comedy...they like to make entertainment,” Todd told the audience. “It’s refreshing to find people who want to make movies that audiences will like, and that’s their first concern.”

In the modern mediascape, said Todd, you don’t just determine which projects to choose, but which mediums they’re built for; and that’s good for business. “Maybe ten years ago you’d be trying to figure out: is this better suited as movie or tv series?” said Todd. “Now, the floodgates are open. You talk about everything from limited series to series, to a ten minute thing on Quibi or mobile content.”

Todd said that new streaming platforms, including the introduction of AppleTV+, and Disney+, have shifted her approach to developing projects. Her “first look” deal with Disney will see her next project, Noelle –– a Christmas comedy with Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader –– launch alongside Disney+, as the premiere film for the company’s flagship streaming platform. Todd is exuberant about the potential of the Disney+ platform. “I signed up for it! I can’t wait to see The Mandalorian!”


Todd’s work has always spanned mediums and media. On every Call of Duty game since 2010’s Black Ops, Todd has helped push the franchise’s storytelling forward, linking Hollywood writers, including David S. Goyer ‘88 with the games.  “I ended up doing a lot of games for [Activision],” she explained, “I’d look at the games and then make one or two strategic Hollywood hires –- writers, or composers, or character designers.” As someone who has long been into games, she enjoyed the experienced. “It was a little ‘kid in a candy store’ for me, as a gamer.”

Todd also discussed her SCA days and what led her to become a producer. “Interestingly, I had picked producing before I came to film school,” she said. “My parents weren’t in the business, but I had a good friend and her dad was a producer who produced Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and let me work as a P.A. I came here knowing I wanted to produce. So when it came time to do a 480, I was the Belle of the ball. Every 480 director took me to dinner, bought me presents, because nobody had a producer!” 

Todd’s said she gained confidence in producing and storytelling by choosing projects she wanted to make, rather than what the market or the studios dictated. “If you have something that speaks to you, stick with it,” she told the crowd. “That’s all that matters. It’s too hard, otherwise. If that’s not what you’re in it for, then go work at a bank! There’s so many better ways to make money. If you really want to tell stories, then you have to tell the stories that speak to your integrity.”