Here’s some Warner news that Jeff Robinov wouldn’t dare deny and Variety wouldn’t dare print (if it even knows): he expects his long-delayed promotion to finally come through in January of 2008. That’s right, the Warner Bros Pictures president of production is telling people the big announcement which was promised him 3 years ago will be made then. Which means that his nightmare of running in place behind Warner Bros Entertainment Inc President and COO Alan Horn will finally end. Unless, of course, something happens to make his bosses change their mind about him. (See my Warner’s Robinov Bitchslaps Film Women )
You’d think that after greenlighting so many films that haven’t performed at the box office, making so many unnecessary remakes and readying more, and failing to create any new franchises, that he’d lose his job. His Batman Begins 1 and 2 are just rewarmed Daly-Semel as was his Superman Returns not yet worthy of a sequel. He inherited Harry Potter and Ocean’s Eleven. He never saw the Oscar potential of Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby because he knew his boss doesn’t like dark films. (Horn likes four-quadrant movies he can sit in his living room and watch with his two daughters. Which doesn’t make him a bad movie exec, either. Also, Horn frequently says The Last Samurai was one of his favorite movies of all time, unable to see its obvious flaws because he has a third-degree black belt in karate.)
But loyalty and patience and off-the-balance-sheet financing are more prized at Warner Bros Pictures than performance or creativity. (Which is why I pity those pathetic Time Warner shareholders.) Even successful execs who don’t observe the strictly enforced chain of command there are quickly axed. Remember when Lorenzo di Bonaventura went behind his boss’s back to complain about Horn to Dick Parsons? Ouch! Remember when Mark Gill began to chafe under Robinov and Horn and exercised independence? Ouch!
“This is a company that wants to look like it’s run by a bunch of people who have a creative vision,” an insider tells me. “But the truth of the matter is that Jeff will get his promotion because he’s in complete submission to quarterly reports and bottom line. Decisions get made on the basis of financial projections without taking into account the actual content. They look at columns of numbers. Nobody ever says, ‘Does anyone want to see this movie?'”
Robinov joined Warner Bros Pictures in 1997 from ICM as senior vp for production, then moved up to exec vp for production in November 2000, and landed as president of production in July 2002. When Lorenzo got fired, no one could quite believe that Robinov was given that job because of his personality, or lack thereof. People frequently comment how Robinov has little visible charm and lacks the polish to be a corporate player. “Alan Horn is a gentleman,” a source tells me, “and you simply can’t find someone who is more the polar opposite in terms of temperament, demeanor, and presentability than Jeff Robinov.”
Over the years, Robinov has watched while most of his contemporaries at other studies have been upped or pushed out. Three years ago, Robinov had a succeeding slate of pics and expected to move atop Warner Bros Pictures. But his movies have been failing since 2006, and that’s making him increasingly tense and uncommunicative and moody. (He also sweats profusely, running his wet hands along his shaved dome when he gets nervous.) Because he knows full well that his boss Alan Horn hates reading bad press about the studio. And because Robinov himself is terrified of reporters and clumsy dealing with them.
It was always going to be difficult anyway to promote Robinov because of his friction with president of domestic marketing Dawn Taubin, who has long had Horn’s ear. But the logjam has taken its toll on widely liked and respected exec vp Kevin McCormick.
It’s not that there’s pressure from within to promote Robinov so much as there’s pressure on boss Alan Horn from the top of Warner Bros. Specifically, Barry Meyer has been urging Horn to take over more of the workload beyond just film. People forget that Alan’s job is to be president/COO to Barry’s chairman/CEO of Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. That’s right: to not just run Warner Pictures, but to run Warner Bros as a whole and help oversee the studio and movies and TV and DVDs and new media and theme parks. But Horn remains too film-centric in Meyer’s view. “Alan had to be willing to shift his focus and broaden it and at the same time decentralize the movie side,” a source says. “Until he did that, Jeff could never move up to that larger role.”
Horn has agreed, so Robinov will be upped. Unless something happens to derail it.