BREAKING NEWS… UPDATE: She has signed a non-disclosure agreement and therefore can’t talk publicly to the media. But, making no secret that she was negotiating her exit from MGM after taking the job in April 2008, Mary Parent this afternoon is now officially out at the studio where she was Chairman of the Motion Picture Group and Co-CEO. It’s a sad ending to Parent’s struggle to revive the debt-ridden cash-strapped studio and get it producing and distributing movies again against huge odds. That she was able to accomplish anything at all, even a few releases and co-productions, is testament to her professionalism and personality. Hollywood needs to salute her.
Parent and her staff, meanwhile, has had to go into the Century City offices every day for months and basically do nothing. “A really good group of people came in here to sit on the bench in their prime. What wasted capabilities and wasted potential,” she has told pals. In private conversations with Hollywood, she called it “a perfect storm against us” of events that sank her management team. She’ll probably catch her breath before thinking about another job. (The offers are just coming in now.) In the end, she like everybody else puts all the responsibility for the studio’s demise on Harry Sloan and his inability to tell the truth. “In a weird way, it’s like coming off a bad relationship,” she told a friend Friday. “I married the wrong guy and woke up pregnant.” (see below for more)
Meanwhile, on the financial front, MGM has just issued a statement saying its lenders received additional financial information today related specifically to the original proposal made on October 7th that recommended Spyglass Entertainment chiefs Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber take over management of the studio once it emerges from pre-packaged bankruptcy. Sources tell me this info is not related to a proposed MGM merger with Lionsgate. But, in order to give the lenders sufficient time to review the new information, the original voting deadline has been pushed back a week to 5 PM on October 29th, the same day the latest forebearance expires. The Spyglass plan would transform MGM into a pure production company and close down its marketing and distribution divisions. That would certainly cut costs in the short run. Coupled with the equity that Spyglass would bring to the table, a streamlined MGM would lower its debt and have a shot at raising new funding to finance its own pictures. That would let Barber and Birnbaum do what they do best, which is to lower risk by making domestic and offshore distribution deals. On the other hand, MGM would have to pay others to distribute and market its films — and those fees could be comparable or higher than the monies saved on overhead.
But back to Parent: On March 13, 2008, Deadline wrote the headline, Desperate MGM Studios Throws Hail Mary, about her hiring by Sloan who’d been MGM/UA’s swaggering CEO since October 2005 after Sony and Comcast and Providence Equity Partners and TPG Capital paid roughly $5 billion in debt and equity to acquire the moribund studio from its majority owner Kirk Kerkorian. But that transaction also created MGM’s killer $3.7B debt ue in July 2012 and Sloan couldn’t tell the truth about how bad the studio’s situation really was year after year. In 2009, the studio finally announced it was taking steps to restructure. For months up til then, and for months after, MGM debtholders and equity stakeholders fought for and against forcing MGM to declare itself insolvent and/or repay its massive debt. Parent arrived at the studio shortly before all hell had broken loose.
MGM had been arguing that the best way to maintain the value of the studio’s assets was to stay in the production business. And thus allow the $250M interest due in April 2010 to get replenished from MGM’s revenues like box office. So it became clear that Parent’s job was to hold MGM together with the equivalent of chicken wire by partnering with studios left and right who were willing to front the costs of each film. She also made some of the slate with the money from United Artist’s stalled deal with Merrill Lynch. In the meantime, studio topper Sloan stupidly waited until the worldwide credit crisis had begun to try to put MGM on firmer financial footing. It fell to his production boss Parent to lobby everyone to get ahead of the coming 2012 crisis with the intent of freeing up the company from some of this long-term debt to allow additional capital to finance more productions for her. By then, she had assembled a smart team, including Cale Boyter as EVP of production and Michael Vollman as EVP of theatrical marketing for the MGM worldwide motion picture group and president of marketing for United Artists, and Erik Lomis as President of Distribution. But make and market and distribute what?
Deadline heard Parent could have had walked out the door with her contract paid off given all the angst. But she decided to stay and keeo her fingers crossed. “Everyone’s linked arms and we’re full steam ahead,” she told reporters at the time, thinking she had “a fighting chance”. Valkyrie was UA’s and before her time, and she inherited Fame which didn’t work. The first film she greenlighted, Hot Tub Time Machine, wasn’t a hit though it was silly fun. But she bought a comedy on spec and hired Kevin James before he’d done Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Co-financing Sony execs were so blown away by a screening of Parent’s Zookeeper that the film was moved to a primetime July 2011 slot. Parent and her team put together a killer package for the Robert Ludlum novel The Matarese Circle with David Cronenberg directing and Denzel Washington and Tom Cruise going mano a mano. She also assembled a Three Stooges package with Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro as well as Pete and Bobby Farrelly directing. She made the Drew Goddard-directed Cabin in the Woods, co-written by webfan favorite Joss Whedon. She ordered a remake of Red Dawn. And the future held out hope for The Hobbit, James Bond, Pink Panther, etc.
Now, Red Dawn and Cabin In The Woods are made and stuck on the shelf at UA. The rest of the slate is in limbo.
Parent, a former Vice Chairman of Worldwide Production for Universal Pictures, was responsible for oversight of worldwide theatrical production, distribution, marketing, and business affairs for MGM. During her tenure at Universal, she oversaw the planning, development and production of the studio’s annual slate of films and was responsible for Meet The Parents, Meet The Fockers, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Seabiscuit, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The American Pie franchise as well as the Academy Award-winning Gladiator, a co-production with DreamWorks. Parent originally joined Universal in 1997 as a SVP and rose steadily through the ranks. She then partnered with Scott Stuber in an exclusive producing deal on the Universal lot. Before that, she was an exec at New Line and an agent trainee at ICM.