To understand how Warner Bros Pictures filmmakers may feel about today’s developments, my conversations below may provide some intel. When rumors about Jeff Robinov being forced out as President of Warner Bros Pictures Group first surfaced this spring (Related: NEW WARNER BROS SHAKE-UP: Jeff Robinov Quitting Movie Studio After No New Contract Offered), I spoke to Ben Affleck to get his thoughts on what he called their “dream relationship” during and after The Town and Argo:
On the record. We have history. After Gone Baby Gone  was well regarded but didn’t make money. The phone was not ringing off the hook. but Jeff called. ‘I’m a fan. I loved the film. Let’s sit down and have coffee. I’d really like you to direct movies for us. What do you want to do.” I went from no scripts to 15 Warners’ scripts, he was giving them all to me. He was the only person at a studio doing that. I also have a great relationship with Sue Kroll. But with Jeff, I never hear from anybody to make changes. I’m not told, ‘It tested poorly. Fix it.’ He sticks with me through screenings. I needed $1 million for a couple of reshoots on The Town. ‘You’re the horse I bet on,’ he tells me. ‘I believe in filmmakers.’ It’s a dream relationship.
When George [Clooney] moved his deal out of Warner Bros, all the projects didn’t move with him. Jeff gave me the script for Argo after calling George and Grant [Heslov] to see how I’d hit off with them. I stayed on budget. But I always felt if I had a problem I could call Jeff. Argo was viewed as a very challenging movie itself, skewing older when the public wants a superhero movie. But those two guys – jeff and Sue – really found a way to sell the movie. Sue supported by Jeff was 100% on board. They’re almost a symbiotic relationship. It was obviously an incredible year but if they wouldn’t have bet on us, if they’d not spent a lot of money on us, we wouldn’t have won the Oscar. It was a wonderful experience and why I want to support Jeff.
I’ve seen Jeff’s sensibility change into his job, gracefully and gradually leading with a lot of authority. I have spoken with [Jeff] Bewkes and Kevin [Tsujihara] and Barry [Meyer] but not in great detail as things are evolving at the studio. I’ve kept abreast. I’ve talked about it to Jeff. He’s what I really care about. How we’re going to make it down the road or get along without him I don’t know. Jeff naturally was very disappointed when he didn’t get the top job. He and I have spent a lot of time cultivating this relationship and I never thought that would have culminated in this career high or the most incredible year of my life.
Again, on the record, I don’t know what I would do if Jeff weren’t there. I don’t know from my view anyone else there who knows how to make movies. I would like to support him. So many places are filled with frustrations and run by people who haven’t been sure-footed or have the right taste. Hopefully, it’s about taste. Not everybody has it. Picking Zack Snyder was not obvious. Being able to take risks and make decisions not supported by conventional wisdom. Studios have the power and don’t often cede the power to the director.”
I also received this on-the-record statement from Baz Luhrmann at the same time, which was right before The Great Gatsby hit theaters in May:
Last year, when we were moving towards a Christmas release date for Gatsby, Jeff Robinov said to me, ‘Perhaps you’ll be able to make the release date. But will it be the movie that you want it to be? If you had more time to work on the visual effects and music, would you have a better chance of realizing your vision for the film?’ Jeff was resolute that the most important thing was for me to do my best possible work, and by moving ‘Gatsby’ to the summer, he gave me the time and resources to do it. He showed incredible leadership in not being concerned with the possible media controversy about moving the release date; his sole concern was that Gatsby be the best film that it could be. For which I’ll always be profoundly grateful.
But no Warner Bros Pictures film relationship is more important than with Christopher Nolan. According to several accounts, Robinov’s relationship with Nolan began right after Memento was released in March 2001. Within a month, Nolan’s agent Dan Aloni called Robinov and told him he should meet with the helmer. At first Nolan was going to direct Troy (released in 2004) but wasn’t feeling it. With that Robinov asked if there was anything else Nolan wanted to do – and learned that the director had always had an interest in Batman. At the time, the studio didn’t have a take on a reboot of its lucrative DC Comics franchise. But Nolan came in and brilliantly pitched Robinov who immediately set up a meeting with then studio chief Alan Horn who also bought into it. (more…)