To hear retiring Warner Bros Domestic Distribution president Dan Fellman describe his last few years at the studio, he sounds a bit like Michael Corleone, the guy who wanted out but kept being drawn back in. “For me, this is the long goodbye,” said Fellman, who today formalized his expected exit in December after 37 years at the studio. “I attempted to do this after Alan Horn left, but Jeff Robinov came in and asked me to stay for a couple years to help through the transition, and then he had a quick departure. Kevin Tsujihara then came in, from the home video division, and asked me to say a couple more years. As you know when the release was issued when Kevin set his team, that decision was already made to change the structure of the distribution and marketing group. It was always going to be me leaving in December, but it seemed silly to make me a lame duck.”
Fellman said that he will finally follow through with his long-held desire to form a new company and work with other studios on films. He’ll also work on some Warner Bros films, he said, including the ones that Clint Eastwood makes. He said there was no friction between him and Sue Kroll, who solidifies her position at the studio by consolidating both global distribution and marketing under her control. His exit means a real change of the old guard, following the exits of Sony Pictures’ Jeff Blake and Universal Pictures’ Nikki Rocco.
Fellman has watched the business move from an enterprise where films had a chance to breathe, to the current situation where they launch globally and do the majority of revenue run in a much quicker time.
“I can remember that when I started, the first big movie was the original Superman,” he said. “It opened Christmas and we accomplished two things. It was the widest release in the studio’s history, and it posted the biggest three day gross. That was $7.1 million for the weekend, on 500 theaters. Cut to the chase where Harry Potter 7B, the last one, we opened at midnight and grossed $43 million. That night, maybe on 10,000-12,000 screens. You could work a movie back in the day, when we weren’t out there buying millions of dollars of network TV. You opened limited, in maybe one or two markets, and took your time. Back when Manhattan booked into Radio City Music Hall, it was such an impressive booking, and the first available run north of Manhattan was Stamford, and South of that was Philadelphia. Today, ours play nine theaters in Manhattan and 3000-4000 in the rest of the country.”
As for career high points, Fellman said, “I think back on The Hangover, coming up with the October release date for Gravity, breaking The Lego Movie in February, working Clint and Chris Nolan, working on American Sniper and the Oscar pictures Argo, The Blind Side, Million Dollar Baby, The Departed and Happy Feet, which brought us Best Picture in both live action and animation. I recall bringing in William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty with the idea of rereleasing The Exorcist, and watching the reissue do $100 million in business.”
Fellman also counted as highlights pioneering the big Imax release in 2003 with the first Matrix sequel, and being one of the main proponents in the conversion from film to digital and satellite deliver to theaters, which he feels will become the sole method of distribution shortly.
“I’m leaving at a time when the business has a chance to break the $11 billion domestic mark this year,” he said. “This has been a great ride, it was a great place to work. I’ll finish out the year, and hope my phone will ring a little bit.”