by Anthony Breznican
During his 18 years as an executive at 20th Century Fox, Tom Rothman oversaw two of the biggest movies in history — Titanic and Avatar. But as a juror at the Sundance Film Festival this past week, he has been focusing on some of the smaller, scrappier movies being made on the indie circuit for roughly the catering budget (for a day, maybe) of those kinds of films.
After departing as co-chairman of the Fox studio last year, Rothman has been working as a producer, helping Steven Spielberg bring the man vs. machines epic Robopocalypse to the screen. EW caught up with him at the festival, which bestows its juror prizes Saturday night, to pick his brain about independent film, finding new talent, and just what the state of that robot uprising is right now.
For years you’ve focused on big budget movies, what are you looking forward to as a Sundance juror judging smaller-scale films?
I think it’s really exciting and you know I have a long history at Sundance so Edward Burns and I were laughing about the fact that we’ve ended up on the jury together, and 17 years ago this week, we were here together with what was the first Fox Searchlight movie – The Brothers McMullen – which won the  Grand Jury Prize. That was his first movie, it was the first movie I did at Searchlight, and I’d just started. I’d just come to Fox, and I swore to him that he did not look one day older, and he swore to me that I did not look one day older. And so we agreed to lie to each other.
How involved have you been with Sundance since then?
I always have stayed involved for two reasons. One, my background was in independent film and I was at the very first Sundance Film Festival. I’ve been to all the early ones. I was in the first screening of sex, lies, and videotape, and booked the international rights for Goldwyn. When I got promoted at Fox, I always continued to supervise Searchlight. As much as we were making big movies we had a very eclectic, diversified portfolio of films at Fox and that’s what I believed in. So I got to stay involved through all the Slumdog Millionaires and Beasts of the Southern Wild.