EXCLUSIVE: Ending a three decade run at Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal is moving her Pascal Pictures into a first look deal with Universal Pictures. Deal comes at the end of the four-year producing pact Pascal made at Sony in June, 2015, when she stepped down as chairman of the SPE Motion Picture Group after 20 years at the helm.
Led by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley, the studio is making a substantial commitment to the next chapter of Pascal’s career. In Pascal’s most recent iteration as Sony-based producer, her credits include the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, the Oscar nominated The Post and Molly’s Game, as well as blockbusters Venom and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Upcoming is Spider-Man: Far From Home and the Greta Gerwig-directed Little Women, which opens Christmas Day with a cast that includes Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Meryl Streep. Pascal will continue to produce the sequels and is partnered with Phil Lord & Chris Miller on the Spider-Verse universe spinoff for TV, and an arsenal of projects she either acquired directly with Sony money or her discretionary fund.
Pascal will be joined by her lieutenant, Rachel O’Connor, a longtime Sony creative exec who joined her when Pascal formed her shingle. Pascal will start off at Universal with a blank slate, and she said, an admiration for the creative team there and the risks they take regularly in their slates. Pascal watched as Langley saw the potential and acted decisively on such properties as Straight Outta Compton and Get Out. They have never worked together before, beyond when, two years ago, Pascal and Donald DeLine chaired the Producers Guild Awards and presented Langley with the prestigious Milestone Award.
Pascal and Langley shared the similar trait of responding viscerally to material and its potential and being relentless in capturing it. I can remember when they went head to head for the rights to the EL James phenomenon Fifty Shades Of Grey, a multi-million dollar auction Langley won because the author wanted the film released on a prestige label, which she had in Focus. The trilogy transitioned to Universal proper by the time they were released. Pascal was heartbroken. Their instincts were sound, as the trilogy grossed over $1 billion. Pascal showed the same conviction as producer when she read the Liz Hannah script The Post one afternoon and put up her own money to buy it later that night. Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep committed quickly as did Stacey Snider at Fox.
“I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than making movies for Ron Meyer, Donna Langley and Peter Cramer at Universal,” said Pascal. “Donna’s vision for the company is inspirational on every level, from the brilliant leadership team she’s assembled, to the studio’s diverse selection of movies, to the impressive film making partners who call Universal home.”
Said Langley: “Amy has had one of the most prolific careers of anyone in our industry. I’ve been grateful to work alongside her throughout my career, previously as competition and now as partners. Her expertise, passion and sensibility for great storytelling is evident across each project she touches and we’re fortunate to benefit from her wealth of industry knowledge and her unparalleled relationships.”
Added Universal president Cramer: “Amy has a keen eye for projects that have both critical and commercial appeal, which we saw time and time again with the projects that she shepherded at Sony, as well as with the films that she is developing and producing now,” said Cramer. “We are thrilled to welcome Amy to the Universal family, and we know she will be an important contributor to our slate in the years to come.”
Pascal said she leaves Sony with a sense of gratitude toward Sony chief Tony Vinciquerra and Sony Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman, the latter of whom was the first person she befriended at Sony after coming there to work for Dawn Steel. “Only someone who has been a friend for 30 years as Tom has would understand why it was time for me to take this new adventure,” Pascal said. “He’s a mensch. he doesn’t like anybody to know that, but he is. We had great success together, and we’ll have business well into the future, including the Spider-Man franchise.”
During her time in the exec suites, Pascal and her team had hits that include American Hustle, Captain Phillips, two earlier iterations of Spider-Man, the James Bond films Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall; Moneyball, The Social Network, 21 Jump Street, Zero Dark Thirty, the Men in Black films, Julie and Julia, Sense and Sensibility, Superbad, A League of the Own and Groundhog Day.
Pascal said the move wasn’t precipitated by anything other than her deal expiring, and her sparking to the Universal courtship and feeling it was time for a change. This was much the same as when she exited as chairman to try her hand at producing, after the studio was gutted and she was personally embarrassed by the ordeal of having the studio’s private correspondence and confidential employee information stolen and disseminated by hackers working for the government of North Korea as the studio prepared to release The Interview. Rothman, whom Pascal had installed to head the revived TriStar label, took the reins when she exited.
“I wouldn’t wish an experience like that [the Sony hack] on my worst enemy,” Pascal told Deadline. “It was the most horrific moment of my life, and how could it not be? But the fact is, we continued to make movies together, and we got past it. I have to give much of the credit to Bryan Lourd, who was a guardian angel and so instrumental in helping me get past it. I worked very hard to become a producer. When it first happened, I realized you think you know stuff from being an executive so long, but I had no idea who to talk to, what exactly you were supposed to do on a set, even where to sit. I learned the real stuff about moviemaking by being on the set, shutting up for quite a long time and listening.”
The length of Pascal’s Sony stay is perhaps best illustrated by the studio chieftains who came and went while she was there. That started with the late Dawn Steel, followed by Peter Guber & Jon Peters, Mark Canton, Frank Price, Howard Stringer, Michael Lynton and John Calley, the latter of whom she said “promoted me and gave me my first real leadership role. To me he was the greatest.”
For his part, Rothman said: “Everyone at Sony Pictures, myself first among us, loves Amy. We are profoundly grateful for all her immeasurable contributions, both current and past, to our success. And the great news for us is that our partnership will continue for many years to come with her ongoing work on Spider-Man and other key titles. We are very happy for her.”
Pascal’s deal was made by CAA and attorney Alan Wertheimer.