Chris Joseph Columbus was born on September 10, 1958 to Alex Michael Columbus, an aluminum plant worker and coal miner, and Mary Irene (née Pusker), a factory worker, and is of Italian and Czech descent. He was raised in Champion, Ohio but was raised and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio before going on to study film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He was inspired to work in the film industry after watching The Godfather when he was 15 years old.
Columbus sold his first screenplay as a sophomore while at NYU, but had trouble after graduation selling his fourth script.
When I was in college I wrote a script. I remember when I did this script, ‘on spec’ they call it – you don’t get paid to write it but I was just out of college and I wrote this script called Gremlins. It was sent to 50 producers and everyone rejected it. Literally 50 producers and studios, and nobody picked it up. But Steven Spielberg picked it up and read it. And I got a call in my loft in New York and my roommate said, [nerdy voice] ‘Steven Spielberg’s on the phone.’ And I said, ‘Who is this?’ And he said, ‘This is Steven Spielberg.’ And then he flew me out to L.A. That was my first big break…
His career started as a screenwriter with an early association between himself and Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg’s production company. While there he worked on notable scripts such as The Goonies (1985) and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985).
Columbus also credits his agent with his eventual success.
“I had an agent who really believed in me. He would get my material into people’s hands.”
The late 1980s would be the beginning of his directorial fame. His directing debut was the teen comedy Adventures in Babysitting (1987). He would go on to direct Home Alone (1990) and its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Only the Lonely (1991), and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).
Columbus also grew fond of producing, which he did in addition to directing many of the same movies. This double duty started with Nine Months (1995) and continued with a multitude of other movies such as Stepmom (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999), Rent (2005), I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009), and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010). He also directed and produced the first two installments of the Potter series and was a producer for the third. Columbus founded his own production company in 1995. He named it 1492 Pictures as a play on his namesake, Christopher Columbus. He also co-founded a new animation studio, ZAG Animation Studios, with Saban Capital Group and ZAG entertainment.
Columbus enjoys the everyday American characters who struggle to save family traditions in an ever changing culture and society.
I can understand the validity of showing people the ugliness of the world, but I also think there is a place for movies to leave people with a sense of hope. If your film isn’t going to do that, I just don’t think it’s worth making.
Most of the leading characters in his films are children or teens who are struggling to overcome difficult situations (many times these situations are cause by adults) and are coming of age.
Columbus married choreographer Monica Devereux in 1983. Together they have four children: Eleanor (born 1989), Brendan (born 1992), Violet (born 1994), and Isabella (born 1996). Many of his family members obtain cameo roles regularly in his films.
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- Role Call: Awards, Trailers, and Fishy Tales - In our final Role Call for March, we check out a few trailers, get a glimpse of a barely covered Professor Trelawney, and celebrate as members of the "Potter" cast are honored with numerous awards! All that and more in this week's Casting News!
Chris Columbus’s daughter, Eleanor, was the reason behind her father joining the Potter universe. She was 10 or 11 when she began reading the books and urged her father to do the same. He finally gave in and read the first book. His initial thought was that if would make an amazing film! At that time there were about 25 directors in line in front of him for the job. At one point, he heard Steven Spielberg was attached and almost gave up hope on directing the movie. However, Spielberg decided to pass, opening the door once again for Columbus.
I had a copy of the script which was watermarked with my name and heavily coded so I couldn’t make copies of it and I decided to do a rewrite – not because the script didn’t work but because I wanted them to see what my vision of the movie was. I added [notes] on how I would shoot a certain scene, with all camera angles and the way I would shoot them. I rewrote it in about ten days as a sort of director’s guidebook and when I went into the meeting, I was the last director to be interviewed. I put the script on the table and said, ‘Well, err, I’ve rewritten the script free of charge,’ which never happens. Nobody does anything free in Hollywood and I said, ‘This is how passionate I am about the project. Even if you don’t want me to do the movie, I’d like you guys to know how insane I am for making this film.’
He met with J.K. Rowling in England and won her over by promising the film would stay true to Britain and use an all-British cast, even though he was American. There were only a few exceptions to this rule, including cameos by all of his own children. His daughter, Eleanor appeared in the first two Potter films as Susan Bones. His other three children all had cameos in Chamber of Secrets. They are among very few Americans to have appeared on-screen.
Columbus was responsible for the initial casting and crew.
… Putting all these people together was really a matter of finding people who had the same level passion and enthusiasm for the book, who really knew the material and who really loved the material…. The people like (production designer) Stuart Craig were obsessed with the world and here was a guy that was committed to making it feel real on screen. That’s the thing because we wanted Hogwarts to feel real.
Arguably, his biggest contribution was the Golden Trio.
We struck a goldmine, especially with the central three because you’re casting ten year-olds and you have no idea how they’re going to grow up. Yeah, we had some great screen tests. Obviously, from Emma’s (Watson) screen test it was obvious she was Hermione. There was no question of that.
There is a fan-favorite story about the casting of Daniel Radcliffe. The story goes that David Heyman and Steve Kloves were at a theater when they saw Dan with his parents and thought “That’s Harry Potter!” However , Columbus says that was not the way it happened, necessarily. He had seen a multitude of actors but hadn’t found what he wanted until he saw the BBC production of David Copperfield (1999). He was convinced Radcliffe was his Harry Potter. But Radcliffe’s parents were reluctant, so they kept looking. Finally, the theater story comes into play. Heyman called Columbus to tell him he had seen Radcliffe at a production of Stones in His Pockets and Columbus told him to talk to him. Heyman was already friends with Radcliffe’s father, Alan. After the two talked, and Radcliffe senior knew who would be working on the movie, Radcliffe’s parents finally decided to let him audition.
Rupert was amazing in his first audition and really the key for Rupert, Dan and Emma was seeing them all [together],…what convinced everybody about those three was the screen test of the three of them together. There was a tremendous amount of chemistry and charm and that was the moment.
Columbus was also responsible for casting Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, John Cleese, Robbie Coltrane, Fiona Shaw, Richard Griffiths, Warwick Davis, Mark Williams, Julie Walters, and many others. He gives credit to many children, grandchildren, and friends in the convincing of many of the adult cast to sign on to a “children’s movie.”
Originally, Columbus thought he wanted to stay with the series for its entirety. However, exhaustion took its toll. He was producer and director for the first and second movie, but went on to only be a producer for the third. After that, he and his family, who had been living in London during production, were ready to move back to the United States. In the end, he has said he is proud of what he was able to do, he admires what the other three directors did with the later films, and he still expected to see Richard Harris as Dumbledore. His time on Potter also inspired him in his work on a book series House of Secrets, which you can read more about under the Authorial Work tab.
A lengthy article reflecting on Chris’s acquiring of the directorial role, as well as the process in making the first three Potter films (Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets as director, Prisoner of Azkaban as producer), can be found at Empire Online.
Chris Columbus is not only know for his work on the silver screen, but also in the pages of books. Along with Ned Vizzini, Columbus is the co-author of the series House of Secrets. The first book by the same name was published April 2, 2013 by Balzer + Bray. It is categorized as a children’s novel. The protagonists of the story are the three children of the Walker family: Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor. Their goal it to find a secret book and to save the lives of their parents. The three children discover that they are actually characters in a book written by Denver Kristoff who was the original owner of the house the Walker family just purchased. In Kristoff’s book their parents are dead, but Denver’s daughter, the “Wind Witch,” offers to free the Walker parents if the children find the secret book that she cannot touch. This series was inspired by the Harry Potter series and Columbus considers it a “cousin” to the Goonies which he wrote the script for. It is meant to be an inspiration for children to continue reading, so there are a number of classic books mentioned in the story that are real.
Columbus originally began this story as a script for a movie called Stones of Time in 1999. However, he changed the format to a novel because he was too heavily involved with the Potter franchise at the time to give the then script the attention it needed. The idea formed while Columbus was running along the beach and thought about one of the San Francisco’s “painted ladies” houses floating in the ocean. Ned Vizzini was offered co-authorship for helping Columbus who was a novice at novel writing. The two authors lived over 300 miles apart (Columbus s in San Francisco and Vizzini in Los Angeles), so the collaboration was largely done over email. At one point during the editing stage, Columbus was in Italy. He would work on the book during his day and send it to Vizzini before going to bed. Vizzini would get the email in Los Angeles and would work on it during his day which was night for Columbus in Italy. With this schedule, the book was being worked on for almost 24 hours straight every day. The book was introduced at New York Comic-Con in 2012 and that was only the third time the two authors met in person.
J.K. Rowling was a go-to confidant in garnering advice for the novel and is quoted on the back of the first book saying
A breakneck, jam-packed roller coaster of an adventure about the secret power of books, House of Secrets comes complete with three resourceful sibling heroes, a seriously creepy villainess, and barrel loads of fantasy and fear.
The character Denver Kristoff was based on famous authors Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft. The name is also a puzzle of the two authors’ names. “Den” is simply “Ned” spelled backwards and the “ver” comes from the “V” in “Vizzini.” The last name “Kristoff” comes from “Chris.” Another character, one of the Walker children, Eleanor, has a special meaning to her name as she was named after Columbus’s eldest child.
The series is set to be a trilogy and the film rights have been picked up by Rise Entertainment with work to be done by 1492 Pictures.
At an event in Winnetka, IL on 4/21/13 (which MuggleNet attended), Chris revealed:
One of the reasons Ned and I wanted to write this book was that we designed it in a sort of cliffhanger sort of way. This is kind of like pulp fiction, back in the ’40s and ’50s they used to write these books – serialized novels – like Doc Savage, and The Avenger, and they would end with a cliffhanger. Each chapter would end with a cliffhanger and you would be forced to read more… kids ate them up. So we thought that if we could end each chapter with a cliffhanger and have kids not be able to put this down, when they finished the book they’d say ‘I really liked that book; I want to read something else.’ And maybe they’d pick up Ray Bradbury short stories or H.P. Lovecraft, or even the person who originated the idea of a serialized novel which is Charles Dickens. So we’re trying to create a love of reading. My wife and I spend a lot of our time in book stores, it’s a big part of our lives. And so, to now have this in book stores is really a grand achievement.
Awards & Nominations
Awards & Nominations
Chris Columbus has won or been nominated for over 20 awards during his career. Below are some of the more prestigious ones.
- 1985 Nominated for Best Writing for Gremlins
- 1986 Nominated for Best Writing for Young Sherlock Holmes
- 2002 Nominated for Best Director for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- 2003 Nominated for Best Director for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
BAFTA Children’s Award
- 2002 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with David Heyman and Steve Kloves
- 2003 Nominated for Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with David Heyman and Steve Kloves
- 2004 Awarded Best Feature Film for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with Alfonso Cuarón, David Heyman, and Mark Radcliffe
- 2012 Nominated for Best Picture for The Help with Michael Barnathan and Brunson Green
- 2012 Awarded Movie of the Year for The Help with Michael Barnathan and Brunson Green
- Gremlins (1984), Columbus’s fourth script, was written as a dark satire of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
- Had a cameo in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) as a man in the toy store – he was holding his daughter Eleanor Columbus
- Frequently is involved with composer John Williams
- At one point, was attached to direct Fantastic Four (2005)
- Was attached to direct Spider-Man (2002) but turned it down to join the Potter series
- Stands at 5′ 8½” (1.74 m)
- Lived in Steven Spielburg’s Universal bungalow for a year while rewriting the script for Gremlins
- Schoolmate of writer/director Charlie Kaufman
- Was referenced by the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory in the episode “The Pirate Solution” where the characters celebrated Columbus Day by watching Goonies, Gremlins, and Young Sherlock Holmes, all films written by Columbus
Connect with Chris Columbus
Connect with Chris Columbus
Fan Mail Address:
William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
9601 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5213