OSCAR MOGULS: Tom Rothman 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:

FOX
12 Nominations: 5 Black Swan, 6 127 Hours, 1 Unstoppable

DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: How would you characterize this Oscar season?
TOM ROTHMAN: I think it’s been a really good season, actually. Between Black Swan and 127 Hours we’re doing great. So I feel actually pretty ecstatic about it. But we’ll see what happens. If I have a disappointment, I would say it’s one that’s common and consistent in almost every awards season in the modern era. That often times in the technical category, some of the master craftsmanship in a lot of big, commercial pictures tends to be overlooked, even though it’s the highest level of work — the editorial work, the cinematography, the sound in particular. It’s as if it’s not fashionable, that commerciality is inconsistent with the craft. But I would say this season is a really good representation of a number of high quality films. And I happen to be a person who still very much wishes that there were only five slots for Best Picture. 

DEADLINE: I agree.
ROTHMAN: I regret that change. Because I believe that, in the orgy of self-congratulations that is the Hollywood awards system, when everything else in our world is common, what made the Academy Award nomination for Best Picture so special was exactly how rare and exactly how hard it was. Was it unfair? Was it brutal? Yes. You know I still to this day am pissed off that Cast Away didn’t get a nomination. OK, guess what: it didn’t make the final five. Unbelievable. But what that does is that means when you make it, it’s special and it’s rare and it’s fabulous, right? And that’s what it had. That’s what made it different than everything else. That extrapolated it from everything else having 10 or 20 different awards…

DEADLINE: And now that there’re 10 slots…. 
ROTHMAN: Given that fact, it’ll work out well for us this time because the Fox family has two films. So I would be arguing against my own interests. But having said that, I think that the good news this year is that there’s a really good range of really interesting, quality pictures. And the thing that I find very gratifying about this Academy Award season is all of us who are generically referred to as ‘Hollywood,’ as if it is a monolith, which you know that it is not, well, it’s said that Hollywood makes terrible pictures, and Hollywood only makes crap — guess what. No, it doesn’t. It actually makes some great pictures, and look at them all. We make great, in my opinion, mainstream, commercial pictures like Unstoppable, which got a ‘90’ on Rotten Tomatoes. Nobody in the world makes an exciting character-driven action picture better than that. And Hollywood has got great ground-breaking movies like Inception, like The Social Network, at the same time it’s got True Grit. I mean, that’s a film that is about as traditional a genre as you can get, right?

DEADLINE: And this Oscar season was incredibly competitive among family fare.
ROTHMAN: And, by the way, I’m sorry but you can wait a long time in life until you see a movie as good as Toy Story 3. So my point is, that what I find gratifying about this season is I think it’s revelatory. So take a movie like Black Swan, which is making $100 million dollars, and so this is why I’m asking you, is it an art film or is it a commercial genre film? Well, I’ll tell you the answer to that: it’s both. But I also go back to a picture which hasn’t done as much at the box office that I think it deserves, which is 127 Hours. And I don’t want to take anything for granted, but I believe this picture is going to get some new recognition.

DEADLINE: How much does it pain you that voters don’t want to see a man cut off his own arm?
ROTHMAN: I had the idea for the ‘I kept my eyes open for 127 Hours’ campaign. I said, ‘Let’s make it a challenge’. Come on, man-up or woman-up, because the truth of the matter is when you see the movie it’s not worse than Jackass in a lot of places. And the other thing is, come on, half the movies I see I’ve got to close my eyes for a few seconds. But I actually don’t consider that it’s the Academy members’ ‘job’ to do that. I consider that’s our job, and I’ll tell you why: because the Academy members reflect a certain part of the audience. I think it’s our job to excite and to interest those people, and to make the films compelling enough. And I think over the years the Academy has often recognized films that didn’t have appeal at the box office. But I do think it’s important that those guys can see the films they’re voting on.

DEADLINE: And see them on a big screen.
ROTHMAN: Yes, see them on a big screen. I do think that we’ve hoisted ourselves on our own petard by making screeners the norm. But, at the end of the day, however you’re going to see it, wherever you’re going to see it, I’m of the belief that it’s really ultimately great emotion of any kind, whether it’s the scares of Black Swan or triumph in 127 Hours or perseverance in The King’s Speech, that matters.

DEADLINE: Do you think last year Academy voters got the full impact of Avatar by seeing it on 2D screeners on their 2D televisions? Some people think that’s why it didn’t win.
ROTHMAN: I actually don’t think that’s true. The good news about Avatar was that it was the largest box office in the history of the movies by a substantial margin, and the truth of the matter is that made it a natural target. People saw that movie as it was meant to be seen — on the big screen. So I don’t think it hurt the picture. And, by the way, the movie was great in 2D, too, because it wasn’t just the technical stuff that was great, it was the story. So I don’t think that’s right.

DEADLINE: Should the Academy have a special 3D category soon?
ROTHMAN: Not now, I don’t know, someday maybe.

DEADLINE: Was it your strategy to time the wider distribution of Black Swan to awards season?
ROTHMAN: We had a plan with that movie, a very disciplined plan, and we stuck to that plan, which was the movie was hot in September and we held that power. Who was it that said, ‘Don’t fire ‘til you see the whites of their eyes?’. And believe me the temptation was there. We knew how great the picture was. Was there a temptation not to open that movie in four or five cities but to blast it out there in one weekend? Big temptation. But we stuck to the plan and built a rollout that used the momentum of the movie to push itself, because Darren Aronofsky made an exceptional movie. So, yes, in that case the awards season was all part of it.

DEADLINE: Every awards season we have what I call ‘badmouthing,’ where one frontrunner gets badmouthed by rivals. Avatar got badmouthed and The Hurt Locker got badmouthed last year, and before that A Beautiful Mind, and before that Saving Private Ryan. Why does this happen?
ROTHMAN: You’re not going to like my answer and probably won’t print it.

DEADLINE: I’ll print it.
ROTHMAN: Because people like you need something to write about. I don’t think it happens…

DEADLINE: You don’t think it happens?
ROTHMAN: Nope. I think it’s incredibly overblown and irrelevant. We have a situation now where there is a blog for every lamp post in Hollywood. There are as many blogs as there are traffic lights. They want to write about something and get noticed for something, so that’s it. It bleeds and bleeds. I don’t myself believe it’s prevalent. We’ve never engaged in it, and I don’t think the vast, vast majority of people engage in it. You may call me Pollyanna but I honestly, truly believe that it doesn’t happen.

DEADLINE: Trust me, it happens. So the way Fox has run its awards, you have Twentieth Century Fox with the big commercial movies, and then you have Fox Searchlight with the specialty films, and, of course, other divisions, so big Fox can always be guaranteed to have one or two movies in the mix for Oscar.
ROTHMAN: For every studio, you’re prevalent in some years and not in others. This company has won 11 Best Pictures over its history. It’s won countless Best Actor/Actress awards that come from any and all divisions. And I will tell you what the basic philosophy is, which is, it is our job to successfully program exciting, original pictures for all audiences.

OSCAR MOGULS: Jeff Robinov Q&A
OSCAR MOGULS: Brad Grey Q&A
OSCAR MOGULS: Amy Pascal Q&A
OSCAR MOGULS: Harvey Weinstein Q&A

  1. I’ve never worked for him but I like his comments the best of any of the ‘moguls,’ especially the comment about the blogosphere being this machine that has to make mountains out of mole hills 24/7.

    I’m getting tired of just the sheer AMOUNT of entertainment news that pops up every day. Is there more going on in the biz these days than ten years ago? No. There’s just more outlets that know that the only way to get traffic and eyes on their advertisers is to blast a CONSTANT barrage of “news” stories that are 90% non-news.

    Twitter postings are now a legit and oft-quoted source for news. Just think about that for a second.

    Focus on the movies, the content, enough with the ‘glamour’ and the ‘filler’ and the ‘reality’ stars and the backstabbing and the botox and the rumors and the…[fill in your most-loathed bullshit here].

  2. another great interview. 127 is a phenomenal film and I hope it does well on DVD and Blu-Ray. It would have made my top 5 cut

  3. Ironic that Black Swan, a Searchlight Movie, where the filmmaker is given the freedom to make his or her movie will be the most profitable movie for the Fox Family this year. Instead of taking credit for this, Rothman should apply what made this successful to big Fox. Crazy thought but maybe ignoring producers, hiring 20 writers, and taking films away from directors is not the best way to make good films.

    1. It’s going to be very interesting to see if Darren Aronofsky will get the freedom to make “The Wolverine” the way he wants it. Because you just know that movie is doomed once Mr. Rothman begins to meddle with it. That man has ruined more movies than I can count.

  4. I love how Nikki calls him out on his BS about badmouthing. Give me a break. Even if he is not engaging in it, to say it doesn’t happen and blame the whole thing on the press is ridiculous.

  5. 127 Hours would have been better and made more money if they had cut away from the arm being cut away. It was a big turnoff and excessively grotesque and exploitive. They could have cut to a long shot above the ravine and hear him scream then go back to him wrapping a shirt around his bloody stump. There was no reason to show the amputation and they deserve the criticism for showing it.

    The real travesty is that Marmaduke wasn’t one of the 10 Best Picture nominees. Forget about Cast Away getting left out. That’s terrible but it’s much worse that the Academy could overlook the historic cinematic achievement that was Marmaduke. This just proves what terrible snobs they are and it also proves how brilliant Rothman is. He makes films that get nominated but the really good pictures are forgotten come awards time. Its a disgrace.

    1. In part, 127 Hours is ABOUT the extent we will go to survive. So you can’t cut around the amputation scene (pun intended)… or else the movie is deflated and Aron Ralston’s huge decision to amputate his own arm is simply a footnote. You must make the audience experience that moment as much as cinema allows.

      “You can’t take the head in the box out of the head in the box movie”. – Fincher’s response to a complaint about the ending of “Se7en”.

      1. Fincher didn’t have to show the head in the box just having Pitt open it and reacting to it would have been enough. Alfred Hitchcock would not have shown a severed head in a box and he would not have shown a man cutting off his own arm. In Psycho you never actually saw the knife penetrate Janet Leigh in the shower you only saw a lot of fast cuts that implied the knife penetrating.

  6. I inhaled sharply when I saw that Nikki even managed to get an interview with Rothman, who truly is the antichrist of studio heads.

    How many years has it been since Fox was truly great? Did that end with Joe Roth leaving 20 years ago? It used to be an event to see the Fox logo at the beginning of a movie. Now it’s just a shortcut to mediocrity.

    1. Have you ever been in a film with the Fox logo at the beginning? Let me tell you, it was a thrill for my son. It was not a mediocre thing. Fox Searchlight is a godsend for filmmakers and actors….

  7. The man is afraid to make good movies. It’s so sad. He and Jim have dumbed down that studio beyond belief. He also doesn’t like to pay his partners. I could make him a 200 million tomorrow and see not a dime until I hired a team of lawyers and spent whatever I was owed.
    He needs to be called out for this practice as it’s wrong.
    It’s actually against the law.

  8. Rothman is great. He’s impossible to work for, dogmatic and micro-managing. But he loves movies, and probably has the best business mind of all the studio execs. He started Searchlight and his little appearances on Fox MOvie Channel are actually great TV.

    The dingbat posting un Ron Tothman seems to overlook that Fox has be best profit margins, by far, in the theatrical game. That’s nothing to demean or trivialize. IF you share money, you make less money.

    This is a business.

  9. Nice to read his comments re:the under appreciation of Sound as an art form and an intellectual property. It’s a bit of an alchemy that most outside of the craft take for granted.

    1. Yes, great to see a studio even acknowledge the existence of sound designers, but I’m not as crazy that he’s quick to throw the praises at the blockbusters (i.e. LOUD and BOMBASTIC).

      Yes, the big action blockbusters are often LOUD and BOMBASTIC, but doing LOUD and BOMBASTIC does not always equal high quality of work. Sometimes when working with sound less is more, and you can do sublime work in quiet films.

  10. With the art house films he is ok because he lets them do their own thing but when it comes to the bigger tent pole films this BS of keeping films under two hours is one example of why I think the man is a joke.

    The man does love film and his intro to films on FMC is interesting at times.

  11. Rothman likes to bleed his partners dry and make them beg. It’s a horrible practice. Why doesn’t he get called on it? It’s very disappointing.

  12. I don’t really like how he runs the studio but I’ll give him credit for being one of the few guys who is willing to risk pissing people off by publicly saying what he really thinks (except for the negative campaigning thing. While it’s not as bad as it was in the pre-broadband era (with the Shakespeare in Love/Saving Private Ryan battle as the pinnacle) it still goes on).

  13. Concise, elegant questions, Nikki… FYI Simon Beaufoy at WGA Awards was largely overlooked by the media; he is huge talent from The Full Monty to 127 Hours. He likes “outsider stories” and almost nothing seems to raise his pulse as far as rattling his concentration. He is a pro’s pro re: writing.

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