In a major pre-holiday shakeup at Warner Bros, Greg Silverman is stepping down from his post as President of Creative Development and Worldwide Production. Stepping up to the top production post is Toby Emmerich, who already steered production at New Line from his position as President and COO. He will become President and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros Pictures Group and oversee the films generated by both divisions.
Sources confirmed to Deadline late this afternoon that Richard Brener and Carolyn Blackwood will take over running New Line. President of Production Brener, who joined NL as a temp in 1995, was Toby Emmerich’s longtime right hand, and Blackwood made up the other third of the NL power trio as President of Operations and Content Strategy.
Silverman immediately will form a new venture, a fund-based enterprise that will generate film and television properties but also involve investments in tech companies and start-ups, and opportunities in China.
Warner Bros will be a substantial investor in the venture, keeping a studio tie for Silverman, who grew up at the studio and has spent the past two decades there. Emmerich seems ideally suited for the job: Warner Bros chief Kevin Tsujihara set a triumvirate with Emmerich, Silverman and Sue Kroll nearly four years ago, with Silverman concerned with Warner Bros’ slate and Emmerich the New Line pictures.
“Toby is incredibly talented, well-respected and the perfect choice to help us continue the momentum of our film operations,” Tsujihara said. “He has great relationships across the creative spectrum, from writers and producers to directors and actors. He’s also got a track record of producing hit films from all genres at every budget.”
Silverman spoke to Deadline about his departure. Given the rough time that Warner Bros experienced in 2015, there will be those who wonder if he was eased out. He said emphatically that was not the case. He has thought about this venture for several years but wasn’t going to leave until the studio was on firm footing. It is now: Silverman said that 2016 will go down as the studio’s second-most profitable year ever, and the slates for the next several years look strong with superhero, Lego and Fantastic Beasts tentpoles spaced throughout. Silverman has been making private tech investments for several years but wanted to bundle his aspirations into one venture that would not be possible given the duties of his position as production head.
“Six months ago I went to Kevin and told him I wanted to be entrepreneurial,” Silverman told Deadline. “That he responded by having Warner Bros invest was such a demonstration of support and belief that this can be an attractive venture. And the timing feels right. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. Technology, China, TV and digital are all areas I have wanted to go into, but it was just not appropriate for me to be doing, while running the film group. It was a big decision whether to be honest with Kevin, but I trust him, and he more than anyone knows me and has seen how my life is unfolding. I had this desire to be entrepreneurial, and also a love for Warner Bros, where I’ve been my whole career. This fund and the venture seems a good way to reconcile both passions.”
Silverman acknowledged the initial rough footing when he, Kroll and Emmerich stepped in after Jeff Robinov exited the studio several years ago. But he feels the studio is on fine footing.
“Getting an organization back up and running after a managerial change is a lot of work,” Silverman said. “Toby, Sue and Kevin and I worked through a tough 2015, and it certainly took an emotional toll. But then in 2016, you feel how this place can work, when things go well. And there is so much confidence moving forward, because I’ve seen all the movies.“Next year, Batman Lego looks like a monster, and King Kong looks like a global hit and we have Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, and King Arthur, and Wonder Woman, which is such a joy for the studio and fans. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a big film, and there are others like CHiPS, which feels like a real franchise for the studio. And Toby Emmerich’s films are also really humming.
“Then in 2018, there is a second Fantastic Beasts film, and Ready Player One feels like an ambitious movie by the world’s best filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, that will set the world on fire. There is Aquaman with James Wan, and Scooby Doo will be a huge launch and then there is Lego Ninjago. And then there is Ben Affleck’s Batman. I believe the place I love is set to succeed in the long term here, and I can be a bit selfish and think, ‘How do I want to live my own life?’ Tech, China and investing are real passions for me that have emerged over the past few years. But if I didn’t know everything would be OK for everybody here, it would have been a lot harder to start my own thing.”
Silverman has placed an emphasis on China, and it is likely a big piece of the funding in his new venture will come from the region. He has taken many trips there this year on behalf of the studio, which will have Meg ready for 2018, a film Silverman said is a major global tentpole play filmed in China with Chinese actors. Following that will be Brother Orange.
“It is an exciting moment, connecting China to Hollywood and to the rest of the world,” Silverman said. He similarly has spent more time in Silicon Valley for personal investments but felt the limitations, he said.
“I have become voracious about learning about the tech space for my own investments, but in this job, that doesn’t mesh with being a dedicated head of physical production at a studio,” Silverman said. “I’ve avoided conflicts, like investing in things directly tied to media and sticking to areas like food, health, fintech and other industries. There won’t be a conflict going forward, and the nice thing about this situation is hearing the company say, ‘Let’s do it together.’ It was very moving, and probably unique to Warner Bros and Kevin, who is a pretty special leader.”