UPDATED with more details: It came down to Tom Rothman and Doug Belgrad, and someone had to lose in the battle to succeed Amy Pascal. Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and CEO Michael Lynton today went with Rothman, the head of TriStar and former longtime co-leader of 20th Century Fox’s filmed entertainment division. Rothman this morning was named chairman of SPE’s Motion Picture Group.
At the same time, Lynton also got a vote of confidence from Sony’s Japanese owners: He has been extended as chairman and CEO of SPE and Sony Entertainment CEO. It was an open question whether he might move back to New York (he still might) and do something else, after all the turmoil and missteps in handling the blow-back of the hacking scandal surrounding The Interview.
Much of the chatter around town during Oscar weekend centered around Rothman, when initially it seemed that Belgrad might have an edge since he was essentially being groomed for the post. But perhaps the studio’s reputation for lavish budgets and talent coddling favored Rothman, who at Fox was seen as very fiscally responsible and hands on, and a tough guy who could say no and maybe even took some pleasure in it.
If that style challenged filmmakers, Rothman seemed to mellow at TriStar, where he landed after being pushed out of the Fox job in early 2013. He christened TriStar with a taste-maker slate, and attracted strong filmmaker talent including Robert Zemeckis, who helmed the ambitious 3D film The Walk with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, and Ang Lee, who collaborated with Rothman at Fox on Life Of Pi and who is prepping Billy Lynn. Lasting 12 years at the helm of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Rothman knows as much about managing a major studio as any executive in Hollywood.
“I have had the benefit of working with Tom both as a studio executive and a producer, and I think Tom is one of the better people at balancing creativity and business,” said Jon Landau, who worked with Rothman as the producer of the James Cameron-directed Avatar. “He is extremely smart in both areas. He has the ability to be at the top of his game in both business and creativity at the same time. Tom has an opinion about things. Watching dailies as a studio executive, you have a responsibility. It’s not a pleasure, it’s something that you look at and you’re supposed to look at it with a business sense, and sometimes Tom has an opinion about casting and editing and he should have an opinion about that. Oftentimes, people don’t and as a studio executive you must because you have that responsibility.”
To Lynton, he was a choice of stability following a period of unprecedented turmoil. For Japan and Wall Street, he was the best, if conservative, face for a movie division that came out of a situation when Sony’s computers were hacked, information was destroyed, films were dispersed online along with an avalanche of embarrassing emails served up to bottom-feeding media outlets that embarrassed particularly longtime head Pascal. She and Lynton were left hanging out there all alone as other studios and the MPAA declined to even voice support. The wide release of The Interview was canceled by major theater chains and then the studio put together a patchwork run with independent houses and VOD, at least salvaging some of its losses. Pascal exited to become a cornerstone producer on the Sony lot who’ll join such films as Spider-Man and the Ghostbusters reboot.
“Tom has had an extraordinary career and we are thrilled to have him run the Motion Picture Group,” said Lynton. “Tom’s creativity, strong talent relationships and track record of enduring films and commercial success are unparalleled in this industry and exactly what we are looking for to grow our film business. Having run Fox Filmed Entertainment during a time of great successes and growth for that studio, and then producing at TriStar here at SPE, Tom knows this business inside and out like few others do.”
Said Rothman: “I am grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to lead the Motion Picture Group. I have had the pleasure of working closely with the exceptionally talented teams at SPE for the past year, and I am excited to build on those relationships in this new role. I want to thank Michael and Amy for their support ever since I came to the lot with TriStar. I am thrilled at this rare opportunity to lead the Motion Picture Group at such an exciting and transformative time for the studio.”
Under the new structure, Lynton will continue as Chairman and CEO of SPE. Rothman’s role and oversight will be specific to the Motion Picture Group, and he will report to Lynton. Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television, will report to Lynton.
Rothman will keep a hand in steering the slate he put together at TriStar; aside from The Walk and Billy Lynn, other upcoming pictures include the Jodie Foster-directed Money Monster with George Clooney, and Ricki And The Flash, in which Meryl Streep will play an over-the-hill rock star.
Rothman ran Fox with Jim Gianopulos and during that reign, the studio released Cameron’s record-breaking films Titanic and Avatar, and a slew of other hits that grossed over $40 billion in worldwide box office, and launched franchises that include X-Men in all its spinoffs and iterations, and Planet Of The Apes.
“He’s a super smart guy. We brought him in from Goldwyn to run Searchlight and then he became an executive at Fox and then he succeeded me,” said Bill Mechanic, who worked with Rothman for about seven years in his days as an executive at Fox. “He’s a proven manager and is excellent at cost control. He can manage in the current phase of the business where everyone is after franchises. He is familiar with franchise management and built an executive team in the production and development ranks and ran marketing and distribution in all that time so he is skilled in all the areas that you are looking for in running a large studio today; he’s probably as good a choice that you can find.”
Finding new franchises will be a major focus for Rothman. While Ghostbusters looks fresh under director Paul Feig, Amazing Spider-Man ran its course with director Marc Webb and star Andrew Garfield over two films, and recently, Marvel’s hitmaking impresario Kevin Feige was named to produce the next freestanding pic with along with Pascal.
Rothman, who came into the business as a lawyer and then ran art house fare when he ran Samuel Goldwyn Jr’s company, is also a film buff who is as steeped in Hollywood lore as anyone you might talk shop with. Now, it’s up to him to create the next chapter for a studio that is in ebb, but which has a strong roster of executives — Belgrad is considered one of its sharpest, but it is unclear how not getting the top job will impact his future or his desire to stay — and the pieces in place to create a strong second wind. That includes a major deal with Studio 8, the new company backed by ex-Warner Bros picture picker extraordinaire Jeff Robinov.
The studio was already engaged in franchise building. Just last week, production president Michael De Luca (who was oft-mentioned as a candidate for this job) made a deal for Sniper Elite, a series of novels by one of Chris Kyle’s American Sniper co-authors, for a franchise Navy SEAL hero character that Sheldon Turner is writing for Jaume Collet-Serra to direct.
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