Hollywood Producer Matt Tolmach’86 on the Impact of a Beloit Education
Beloit alum Matt Tolmach’86 majored in Literary Studies and Composition Writing, now rebranded Creative Writing, and went on to pursue a career in film production. Tolmach is best known as the former president of Columbia Pictures and has been the executive producer of “The Amazing Spider-Man” franchise, “Spider-Man:Homecoming,” “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Venom,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” and “The Armstrong Lie.” The Round Table interviewed Tolmach over the phone this week to learn about his transition from Beloit and his views on Beloit’s reputation in the professional sphere. `
The Round Table: For clarification for the readers, can you describe your current job title?
Matt Tolmach: “I am a producer. I produce the “Jumanji” movies currently, I produced “Venom” last year, I have an insane television show on Hulu called “Futureman.” Before that, I was president of Columbia Pictures for a number of years.”
RT: What was your experience like at Beloit as a student? Extracurriculars?
MT: “I edited the Round Table; I was also the co-editor [in chief] for a semester in the fall of 1985. There was nobody sort of watching over us and so I fired one [op-ed] off and it was interesting, it was sort of a wake-up about who your audience is. I also studied abroad in England at the University of York and it was incredibly intimidating… but I was ready for that. I had really been given the tools, and the English department was very, very competitive, but it fully, fully translated. So I was really grateful for that. But I was really, really happy to come home.”
RT: So Beloit was very impactful for you?
MT: “Yeah, about three years ago I was honored there and I flew in and I gave a very long speech and Bierman published it and the whole premise of it was about why I went to Beloit and what Beloit means to me, because someone in a moment told me… “you should go to Beloit.” And I was like, “Okay.” And my point was, we all need to do that for people. That’s the power of Beloit. It’s this too-well-kept secret. The nature of my experience at Beloit was so powerful and meaningful for me that it’s probably impossible for me to sum it up in a single experience. I love that school; I still love it.”
“[When I spoke at Beloit] I ended up writing about the people… to this day I say to people, if we sit and have dinner with five people I went to Beloit with, you will not find five more interesting people. They were strange and interesting and unique and funny and misfits; a brilliant group of misfits. But I really talked about one professor, who to me, was emblematic of what Beloit was about, and that was [former Professor of English] Tom McBride… He was a mythical creature and he was so brilliant and intimidating and he would teach so Socraticly and it was terrifying. But he was also asking you to be accountable for one thing: and that is to have a point of view. So he would tease that out of you. He really demanded that you think and talk about your experience with the work. And he would entertain whatever your point of view was as long as you took it seriously. At the core of [my Beloit experience] was the education, and at the core of it was this professor. I don’t think he would fit anywhere else. I think he was Beloit.”
RT: Can you describe your career trajectory after Beloit?
MT: “I graduated in 1986. I immediately regretted it. And I moved to Hollywood; my grandfather had been a really legendary agent and had gotten me a job in Los Angeles, and it was sort of this mad dash to finish college and I was in a hurry to graduate, and I was like, ‘What have I done?’… I started working for a television producer and then I worked for Michael J. Fox and ran a production company with him, and then I went to work with a woman named Amy Pascall and followed Amy to Columbia Pictures. And then I was a studio executive for many years. I also got married and had a son, and made a documentary about Lance Armstrong that I’m really proud of. So I did a lot of things with my life. And now I have a 12 year old son who is a great little student and an extraordinary lacrosse player, and I played lacrosse at Beloit, so everything comes full circle.”
RT: What does it mean, in your own words, to be a Beloiter?
MT: “For me, it was always about thinking differently. We do all the same things that everybody does, but we were always given the gift of [being allowed to go] out on a limb and declare what something meant to you with a level of intention and integrity… and I think it gave us the most extraordinary education, and I think it was about being around people who were also willing to think differently… It is a tiny place, but when I was there it felt huge. It felt big and exciting, and that was the magic of it. I think that part of the magic of these colleges is that you are allowed to lose yourself in that world, for a short period of time. And it forces you to create a community there, and that’s just something magical about it. And I don’t know what it feels like today, because my experience was my experience, but as I said to my son, I’d be very happy if he went there. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t any frustrations… but I was always happy to come back.”
RT: What tools, if any, does Beloit supply students that can be applicable in the workplace?
MT: “I only know what I do and my experience, but I do feel very strongly that Beloit, again, gave me the courage to speak up and express myself and have a point of view, and over the years I’ve had a lot of people that I interview that want to work for me… and I never look at a resume. I want to talk: ‘Tell me something. What movies do you like? What are you reading?’ And those are the tools that I hope they give people, maybe not in every business but in mine, is to be interesting and to be interested… So I moved out to Hollywood, and the one thing you have to be able to do here is to read something and have a point of view about it. And that’s really all it is. Really, if you can sit in a room with creative people and have a point of view and be able to really speak to it, and speak confidently and say what you feel and what you think, you’re at least on your way.”
RT: Has your view of Beloit changed in the past few years, given current issues with enrollment and retention?
MT: “It honestly makes me sad to think that things aren’t going well at the school, because it occupies such a special place in my heart. And it bums me out. And I’m not sure Beloit has figured out how to tell people who they are and what it is. Beloit needs to figure out what it is and what it means. Because there are so many schools, and it’s such a big choice, and people put such a big emphasis on [choosing a college]… but very few people have heard about [Beloit]. But [my choice] came down to one person telling [me] one thing. I think it’s two things; I think it’s really hard to be a small liberal arts college, and it’s really hard to be a small liberal arts college that not everyone has heard of. So what do you do? And I’ve talked to Scott about this, and I’m not running a college… but I think you become very clear about who you are, and why you’re special and different. And Beloit may not be for everybody, and that’s okay! Be who you are.”
Tolmach’s next films in production include the “Jumanji” sequel, “Morbius” starring Jared Leto, and an adaptation of the novel “The Rosie Project.”