Dedicated and Decorated

Countless people fantasize about becoming Olympic athletes, but few make it to the gold; even more dream of success in Hollywood but get no further than waiting tables in LA. But Hal Haenel (BA ’81) is lucky: As the executive vice president and general manager of studio operations at 20th Century Fox and a two-time Olympic medalist, he’s tackled both of those lofty goals.

Calling his job a “big logistical puzzle,” Haenel manages the day-to-day operations at Fox Studios, making sure each production has the necessary space and equipment.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” he says. “Each day presents a new set of problems for me to solve.”

Soon after graduating from Columbia in 1981, Haenel moved to California and—thanks to a lead from former cinematography professor Jack Whitehead—landed his first studio job as a purchasing agent at Cine Pro in Hollywood, which housed an equipment rental facility and a small stage used by major studios. That gig led to an operations job at Hollywood Center Studios, where he facilitated the production needs of TV shows ranging from Jeopardy to The Addams Family.

With his master logistical skills, Haenel also found time to immerse himself in sailing, a hobby he’d picked up as a teenager. He began competing internationally in two-person keel boat sailing with his partner, Mark Reynolds. “What was so great about my job at the studio [was that] I’d work like a maniac all week, but they’d give me the [time to compete],” Haenel says with a laugh. “I look back and wonder how I ever figured out how to do that.”

In 1988, Haenel and Reynolds sailed for the U.S. Olympic team, bringing home some precious hardware from Seoul, South Korea. “In ’88, we won the silver, and we felt deflated because it wasn’t the gold,” Haenel says. “We broke our mast, so we didn’t win. It was frustrating…but it gave us the drive to go back in ’92 to win the gold in Barcelona.”

Today, Haenel’s Olympic medals are prominently displayed on his mantle at home, but sailing has taken a backseat to his job at 20th Century Fox. Since joining Fox in 2003, he has managed logistics for award-winning TV shows such as House and How I Met Your Mother, along with major film productions like The Wolverine and last year’s Unbroken.

“Every day is different,” he says. “Are we going to rig a plane or helicopter inside a stage today? Will we shut down a parking garage and blow something up? The nice thing about this job is you have your agenda, but you never know what it’s going to be.”
—Sean McEntee (BA ’14) and Hannah Lorenz (’16)