EXCLUSIVE: There is anxiety in Culver City today as word gets around on the Sony lot that significant layoffs are coming as soon as Monday. “You wouldn’t be wrong to describe it as a high state of panic over here,” said one. I will disclose the layoff specifics when I learn them, but it’s not a surprise that this is happening; it was considered an eventuality when Sony hired Bain & Company to figure out a way to cut $100 million in operating costs across movies, TV and the music operations. Staffers from that consulting company have made their presence felt on the lot. This attempt to run more efficiently came out of the discussions that Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton had with Kazuo Hirai after minority shareholder Daniel Loeb ragged on the studio after a string of flop films that included After Earth and White House Down. My sources expect the pain to be spread around, but there will be more corporate cuts than in the creative ranks. It is considered more a course correction than anything.
Of those executives leaving this month at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Matt Brown, executive VP of worldwide commercial is retiring effective March 31. In December it was announced that David Bishop, president of the Home Entertainment division, was also departing this month after his contract wasn’t renewed.
While Sony disclosed during those announcements it would tone down its feature output in favor of TV, I have to say that if anything the studio seems as ambitious as ever. It has been one of the busier buyers of material this year, particularly with Michael De Luca joining Hannah Minghella to share the title of president of production. They’ve got more buyers on that lot than there are at any other major studios, between Columbia Pictures, Tom Rothman’s TriStar, Clint Culpepper’s Screen Gems and the Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions guys. The studio is coming off Best Picture nominees Captain Phillips which grossed $218 million worldwide, American Hustle which has done around $250 million worldwide, a Robocop remake that didn’t crush it here but did $220 million worldwide, and The Monuments Men which has grossed $117 million so far. Sony is rebooting films like Men In Black and Ghostbusters while aggressively broadening its Spider-Man universe; Rothman is well along to making as his first movie the ambitious To Walk The Clouds, the experiential 3D film that Robert Zemeckis will direct with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Philippe Petit, the aerialist who crossed the Twin Towers in 1974. Doesn’t sound to me like a studio in retreat. Stay tuned on the layoff front.