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Francis Lawrence ’91 Directs Blockbuster Movie “I Am Legend”

Francis LawrenceFrancis Lawrence ’91, director of “I Am Legend,” predicted his new movie would be a relative success but he never thought it would break box-office records. The film pulled in more than $76 million in its first weekend, making it the largest December box-office opening to date, as well as the most successful opening yet for a film starring lead actor Will Smith.

“It’s exciting to see the movie achieve this level of success,” Lawrence said. “It was expensive to make, so it had to do well. But we didn’t know it was going to break records.”

“I Am Legend” is a science-fiction thriller that follows the story of Richard Neville (played by Smith), a military scientist, who was unable to stop the spread of an incurable, man-made virus. Immune to the virus, Neville becomes the last human survivor in New York City, and possibly the world. He is in search of both a cure and others who may have survived. The only things in his way are the mutant victims of the plague and time.

“I am proud that the movie is a rich experience that breaks the genre a little bit,” Lawrence said. “It has elements of humor, excitement, emotion, scariness and scope.”

Lawrence’s interest in film began at an early age, after being inspired by classics such as “Citizen Kane,” “Star Wars” and “The Third Man.” He began to seriously study movies as an art form in high school and then enrolled in Loyola Marymount University’s film school.

“The only way to learn to be a director is by directing. Everybody gets the experience of making movies at LMU,” Lawrence said. “There is a real hands-on learning system that you won’t get at other universities.”

In addition to advancing professional development as an undergraduate, Lawrence worked on his personal development, too. He met his wife, Helen ’91, during his freshman year and developed other long-term friendships.

“LMU has shaped my life greatly in terms of friends and family, as well as through its film school,” Lawrence said.

As for those interested in pursuing a career in directing, Lawrence offered this advice: “Just make stuff. Nothing will happen unless you are actually creating stuff.”

“I Am Legend” has been nominated for two 2008 NAACP Image awards: Outstanding Motion Picture and Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture (Will Smith). The awards show will air on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 10 p.m. PST on FOX.