OSCAR MOGULS: Amy Pascal Q&A

The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:

Sony Pictures Entertainment
17 Nominations: 8 The Social Network, 1 Salt, 1 Country Strong, 1 Animal Kingdom, 1 Another Year, 1 Barney’s Version, 1 Inside Job, 1 In A Better World, 1 Incendies, 1 The Illusionist

DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: How do you think this awards season has been in terms of quality, quantity, excitement?
AMY PASCAL: My own feelings about it are that this is one of the most exciting times we’ve had in the business for a long time. Because all the movies that we tell ourselves we can’t make — ballets, westerns, dramas, everything that are the hardest things to make — those are the movies that are not only winning awards which is fantastic, but also those movies that are commercial. We won’t see a fascinating season like this for a while.

DEADLINE: What do you think of the competition?
PASCAL: I like all the other movies.

DEADLINE: Well, I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, Kings Speech is a great HBO movie’…
PASCAL: Everybody says that stuff.

DEADLINE: If it comes down to The Social Network vs The Kings Speech, why should people vote for your movie over the other movie?
PASCAL: I don’t want to campaign, you know? That’s not my job to say why people should vote for The Social Network and not something else. I think we have a lot of competition. I think the other movies are really good. There are performances in all the movies that are astonishing. There are virtuosos directing them. But Social Network is a different kind of movie. It breaks different kinds of barriers than those movies were trying to do.

DEADLINE: At what point in this project did you get into the process?
PASCAL: Actually, the way that it happened was we had made 21 which had been a project at MGM, and Elizabeth Cantillon had brought that over when she came to be an executive here. And through the relationship that we had with Dana Brunetti and Kevin Spacey and Ben Mezrich we got an early look at the proposal for the book Ben wanted to write about the origins of Facebook. Scott Rudin was the one who thought Aaron Sorkin should write the screenplay. We all knew Aaron but it was Scott’s relationship with Aaron so he’s the one who contacted him first for sure. We all felt pretty lucky to get Aaron. And Aaron came in with a fantastic take on the material, but at that point Ben hadn’t finished the book.

DEADLINE: Did it occur to you that maybe you should wait and let Ben finish the book?
PASCAL: No, because Aaron and the filmmakers had a very good take on the story they wanted to tell.

DEADLINE: What at that point was your relationship with Scott?
PASCAL: Scott and I had been working together from the 1980s. He was the one who convinced me to be a studio executive for him at Fox. In terms of Sony, when he had his deal at Disney we always kind of had a second look deal with him. But you know Scott has such excellent taste and he makes so many great movies that he and I have always been going back and forth in trying to work together.

DEADLINE: So it’s all coming together and obviously a big concern must have been ‘Oh my
God, we’re writing about this really rich powerful guy. What the hell is going to happen to us?’
PASCAL: Oh, you mean when we were making the movie? Well, here’s what I think the real challenge was. You have to make the main character likeable. They’re allowed to have like one flaw, but they have to be likeable. And what Mark Zuckerberg did to protect the thing that he was building was to do things that he had to do. I never felt he was unlikeable, but definitely Mark Zuckerberg is not your traditional hero. And I think that’s why Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is so wonderful.

DEADLINE: People feel strongest about the Andrew Garfield character, Eduardo Saverin.
PASCAL: Andrew, or Eduardo, is definitely the heart of the story. He’s the emotional character who wants the relationship and is betrayed. But you know what’s so beautiful is when they were making the film, Jesse and Andrew became like best friends. And so they’re so adorable together. You know all of them, Justin Timberlake, Arnie Hammer, they’re like a little gang now.

DEADLINE: People have said to me that if David Fincher doesn’t win best director for The Social Network it’s only because he’s so “unpopular” around Hollywood.
PASCAL: I’ve worked with David a couple of times. We are now on our third movie together. Ever since Panic Room he’s been developing things at our studio and The Social Network was the first thing that came together that we did together. And David is definitely an iconoclast but David expects people to work as hard as he does and he holds people to a standard that he holds himself to. And that’s really the way it works. First of all, I think David has a much bigger heart than people give him credit for. Those of us who know him well know that secret about him. He doesn’t like the marketing process. He doesn’t embrace it. He doesn’t necessarily embrace everything everybody wants him to do. He is very David.

DEADLINE: Someone at Paramount once told me a hilarious anecdote about David and how he refused to bow down to Oprah just to have her publicize his movie Benjamin Buttons. And everybody was saying to him, ‘But this is so important. You don’t understand,’ and he’s like ‘I don’t give a damn about Oprah’.
PASCAL: Right, well I don’t know about that story. But we didn’t have problems like that and David has been a great partner on this movie. And the very difficult thing of course is that as all this awards thing was starting he was already in Sweden shooting The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

DEADLINE: That’s the best thing that could have happened to all of you.
PASCAL: I think it was definitely the best thing that could have happened to him. I think he was very happy to avoid all of the awards campaigning. Here’s the thing about David: he’s very shy. I don’t think he likes getting up in front of people and public speaking.  I think he’s really comfortable on a movie set. I think he is a born director in every sense. And he likes putting forth the people who work with him, not himself.

DEADLINE: Talk about what it was like working with Aaron.
PASCAL: I have to admit it was very easy working with Aaron, because we had one meeting with him and he said was he was going to do it, and then he delivered his script a couple of months later. And I think Scott Rudin probably worked really hard with him on the script. But by the time I saw the script it was virtually perfect. There was no drama. Michael and I definitely greenlit when we read it.  It was that clear to us. And when he gave it David, none of us made any changes pretty much.

DEADLINE: And what was it like working on the movie with Scott. I know he’s been working very hard during this awards season to put his reputation for brutality behind him and now come across as warm and fuzzy. But you worked for him. I’m sure you had to dodge a couple of ashtrays.
PASCAL: Well, everybody who knows Scott has to dodge a few ashtrays.

DEADLINE: So is Scott evolving and finally growing up?
PASCAL: You know, I was looking at him when he was on stage at the Golden Globes and it struck me for the first time really, maybe it should have before, but Scott has become a real statesman in our business.  I thought he was quite gracious and eloquent despite the fact that he was super nice about me, too. But when I looked at him, I thought how in the old days David O Selznick and all those people were the statesmen of the movie business because they made films. And then more recently people who’ve become statesmen in this business have been the business people. And that’s been true for the last probably 20 years. But I think Scott is the first statesman in a long time who is that because of the films that he has consistently made and the way he has pushed the envelope and supported writers and directors in a way that I think other producers haven’t.

DEADLINE: But hasn’t the once powerful role of producer declined because the studios really control everything and directors have all the power?
PASCAL: I just don’t think that’s true. It doesn’t work that way at this studio. We believe in our producers, we rely on them, and they do all the hard work. They get none of the glory but they do all the hard work.

DEADLINE: At what point in this process, whether the first time you read Aaron’s script or the first time you started seeing dailies, did people start mentioning the word Oscar?
PASCAL: Well, I want to say one thing about this, OK?  This was a $40 million movie that was about a bunch of really cool dudes at Harvard creating Facebook. Never once until people started seeing the movie did we think about it as that kind of movie. Never. I mean, we didn’t make it because of that.  Never even thought about it until we saw the film and then obviously the film was a really good movie.

DEADLINE: But Terry Press who is known for aggressive Oscar campaigns was brought on pretty early in the process. So somebody at Sony must have said to themselves, Oscar.
PASCAL: Well, the movie was a really good movie and deserved everything that it could have. Let me go with that. But we didn’t make it for that reason, that’s for sure.

DEADLINE: And when you hire somebody like Terry Press for an Oscar campaign for something like Social Network what are you hoping or expecting her to do?
PASCAL: This is a little bit of a new experience for us, this whole Oscar thing, as you well know. To me it seems like it’s about getting people to see the movie. It doesn’t seem like it’s about relationships or whatever because I don’t know what good that does anybody. I think the recognition that this is getting is because it’s really good.

DEADLINE: There was so much curiosity about the movie and about Aaron’s script that Pete Hammond reported about how the early Social Network screenings were just packed. So you didn’t have the problem that a lot of other movies have which is just getting people to screen it.
PASCAL: I think people are always really interested in what David is up to. I think he is a treasured filmmaker in our business because he’s always trying to push the envelope in one way or another. He is unafraid. I also think people had read Aaron’s script and knew how good it was. And also we put together this fantastic collection of young actors that probably seemed really sexy to everybody. And definitely I would like to put those actors in every movie we are making — Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara and Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg. I mean, we’re going to keep working with all these guys forever.

DEADLINE: One publication which shall remain nameless wrote a whole story about how it’s been something like 23 years since Columbia Pictures won an Oscar…
PASCAL: Ah yes, that story I’m familiar with.

DEADLINE: How will you feel if The Social Network breaks that long string of losses for Best Picture?
PASCAL: It will feel great. But it feels great already.

OSCAR MOGULS: Harvey Weinstein Q&A

    1. It is SOOO obvious Amy wants an Oscar. I’ve heard it has been a source of embarrassment for her that no Sony movie has received a nomination under her reign.

      What would be better is for Michael & Amy to stop wasting money at Sony and stop laying people off. My guess is that they are delaying the inevitable 2011 layoffs (third year of layoffs) until after the Oscars.

      They are both so out of touch and Sony employees knew this fact after last year’s company wide meeting. Outsourcing almost the entire IT department, but happily announcing the addition of Yogurt Land to the lot. What effed up priorities!

      King’s Speech is going to win. It was a better movie with more established actors and didn’t portray women poorly as Social Network.

      1. Yougurtland makes money… IT costs money. And everyone who is crying about Social Network’s portrayal of women seem to forget; 1)There are two extremely intelligent and strong female characters. 2)The portrayal of women other than those two is a direct result of the college men’s (the lead characters) view of the world and how women fit into it. It’s kind of ridiculous that people are pinning Sorkin for a misogynistic script when he wrote and extremely accurate account of how Mark, Eduardo, and Sean viewed women.

        But yes King’s Speech will probably clean up.

        1. I’m not sure who these two “extremely intelligent” and “strong” women were.

          Rashida Jones’ character was purely an exposition vessel (about as bad as Ellen Page in “Inception”). She was there SOLEY for the purpose of nodding so Zuckerberg can say things Sorkin wanted him to say and not be talking to an empty room; screenwriters recognize these characters a mile off and we try to avoid using them, but sometimes even good ones like Sorkin slip up and throw one in. If he had more time with the script he probably could have come up with a better solution, but in one of the script’s few weak spots he gives us Ms. Jones as basically a disembodied head nodding so Zuckerberg can speak.

          Rooney Mara’s character was verbally clever, in the way that ALL of the characters in the film were, but she breaks up with a guy who is a complete jerk and treats her like dog crap. I mean, good for her, but I hardly think that qualifies her as extremely strong and extremely intelligent. She’s doing what most sensible would do in that situation.

  1. solid interview about a very talented and cool and successful exec in Amy Pascal. Interviews such as this one is why Deadline is so vital and ahead of the game.

    So kudos to Nikki and the rest of the kick-butt gang !!!

  2. Always liked Amy… she’s one of the few studio executives that stands out. She comes across as someone who is easy to communicate with and work with; which is a great asset to have in an industry of egos. Hope she stays at Sony for years to come.

    1. Yes she thought the article was going to be headlined Oscar Diva.

      What must all the people who were laid off at Sony think when they see that photo?

  3. WTF-This woman is responsible for a billion dollar corporation and
    she poses like Michelle Pfeiffer “The Fabulous Baker Boys” for an article for the Oscars. Does she sit at pitch meetings likes this or decide how many employees she will let go today. As one of her better decisions she made “What Planet are You From?”
    Dont remove this post.
    2030BTD

  4. God, I love this site.

    What a fantastic interview… asking tough questions and asking them again if necessary. Amy’s answers are the perfect mix of honest and discreet. Really liked that she called David an iconoclast. This is why Deadline is the pillar of film journalism.

    I’m over the fact that King’s Speech will probably win. Social Network is the best film of the year, and I’m just happy it exists and I can continue to watch it.

    One thing that I thought was brilliant about it, but goes unmentioned is Eduardo’s character. Everyone involved in the movie has called him’ the heart of the movie.’ And he is. But what Sorkin and Fincher did with him was just what they did with the rest of the characters: make him a bit naive and morally questionable. He is the heart of the movie, but he also has weaknesses: he starts hooking up with the Asian girl that is obviously just a groupie, and when he shuts down the bank account, Mark tells him to come sign some papers because a deal has been made. Eduardo is happy to have his cake and eat it too, and if he thought his friendship with Mark were worth something he would have said “that’s great and all, but we still need to talk about this trust issue.” Instead he just smiles and goes with it, expecting a fat check. Not remarkably relevant, but just one of the reasons why this movie is brilliant.

  5. Well, everybody who knows Scott has to dodge a few ashtrays.

    Only in Hollywood could a “man” have attempted to assault employees (including female employees) for 20 years and not had his fat, pudgy ass stomped into the ground by now. Rudin is a lucky man indeed.

  6. Oh you gotta love how slippery these execs can be in their answers. First Pascal says “I don’t want to campaign, you know? That’s not my job” and a few sentences later she says “TSN breaks different kinds of barriers than those other movies were trying to do”. Hahaha these execs never miss an opportunity to plug their product.

  7. Thanks.. I liked the interview a great deal.

    LOVE Amy..and I love that shot of her.

    She is a woman.. intelligent and sexy..nothing wrong with showing all sides of your personality.

    She is one of the few executives I know of. And I love how she supports her films at the premiers too.

  8. in fact,in her opinion,David Fincher is like Christian Bale(they dislike the promotions,they’re dedicated of their jobs,they have a bad public image but above all false) except Bale is more gracious when he’s on the stage(i think Fincher in Golden Globes this year)

  9. Scott Rudin has been a terror throughout the campaign for Social Network. I know friends who work for some of the vendors on the campaign and he has made their lives a living hell. Mean, demeaning, demanding, insulting, obnoxious, toxic…these are all words used to describe him during this process. And never once did he thank any of them. Behavior like this should not be tolerated. I feel sorry for Sony if they are dumb enough to allow him a deal on the lot. I feel worse for the people who have no one standing up for them against this human terror. I hear he’s ill. Hope it sticks.

  10. First of all I don’t see anything wrong with the way Amy is posing on her desk. She’s a fun, very likeable and very accessible person. As far as the employees that were let go at Sony, it’s sad but sometimes cutbacks have to be made just to stay in business. Especially during the worldwide economic downturn.

    Many of us are going through tough times, including myself but to blame someone for something that probably wasn’t even her call, is wrong. Remember after all, she doesn’t own the company. She’s a hired employee just like everyone else. So as an executive she takes the brunt of any criticism for such difficult decisions.

    And somehow, I can’t help but think that a lot of criticism aimed at Amy is due more to the fact that she’s a woman in a position of power. And that shouldn’t be in this day and age but unfortunately sexism still exits. And bad mouthing and haters just happens to come with the job as a matter of fact and I’m sure she doesn’t lose any sleep over the mean spirited jabs at her.

    Now does Sony make great movies under the leadership of such executives? Most certainly! Let’s count our blessings that more people didn’t lose their jobs during the tough times that have swept the industry.

    I for one wish Amy all the best and hopefully when the economy gets better the people that lost their jobs will be hired back, if they haven’t found other work by then.

    Good luck Amy and to all the folks at Sony!

    1. Oh, lighten up a little. I didn’t hear anyone leveling major criticism at her, just poking fun at a fairly odd photo.

      If Scott Rudin donned a fedora and crawled on top a desk or leaned against the hood of Hummer we’d be making fun of him too.

  11. Amy Pascal is a goddess- she’s on her own level. Really has led Sony with a steady hand this past year, pulling in $100m hit after $100m hit for the studio. Doesn’t hurt she seems to be best friends with Angelina Jolie and has got the first look deal on her career.

    Who cares about the picture? She’s just showing she can be a powerful studio exec and still got it goin on.

    1. $100m hit after $100m hit…until The Tourist and How Do You Know. Surprised Nikki didn’t ask about the latter. Amy might claim not to have greenlit TSN with Oscar in mind, but she can’t say that about HDYK.

  12. Amy Pascal is hot and she heads SPE makes even hotter honestly. Successful and hot! Hard to find these days. Good job Nikki and keep up the good work Amy.

  13. “Social Network breaks down barriers?” What crack is Amy smoking over there in Culver City?? What might these barriers be? Enlighten me, Amy. Indulge me. I’m genuinely interested in this answer.

    1. That would be the barrier that used to exist between biopics and complete fabrications.

      (and for the TSN kool-aid drinkers — Mark Z. has had a girlfriend for 8 years who he loves and respects and who is one of the brilliant minds working there since the early days of Facebook. Guess that’s not as cinematic as Asian girls giving blowjobs in bathrooms)

  14. I worked with Amy on a project a few years ago and this was obviously a conversational interview (not email). Great job deadline for getting Amy to talk about this movie!

    Amy is an amazing woman and has kept the studio successful in spite of other Sir Howard placed top executives mind boggling efforts to run the company into bankruptcy.

    Most people I know at Sony would walk through fire for Amy, because they know that they would come out on unburned.

  15. “Bunch of really cool dudes?” I’m not making fun of them. They are set for life. It’s just that cool wouldn’t be the adjective I’d use.

  16. Amy is a great executive and a great person. I’ve worked for Sony before and I would absolutely walk through fire for her. With regard to the layoffs, come on, you know those orders come from Tokyo to make up for losses in other Sony companies!

  17. Amy was a housemate of mine at UCSB for a short while, many years ago. She tried to use the vacuum at the apartment, but it would not work. I told her she had to plug it in! Years later, I find that she is head of Sony Pictures! What a strange, long trip it’s been!

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