EXCLUSIVE: George Clooney, who yesterday sent his Smokehouse Pictures partner Grant Heslov to Hollywood to show Sony and Fox a first cut of their Oscar-season period film The Monuments Men, has spent most of his career navigating the challenge of making provocative movies at studios obsessed with tentpoles. While he’s won Oscars — the latest the Best Picture prize he shared with Heslov and producer-director Ben Affleck for Argo — Clooney is also the guy who kept a photo of himself as Batman prominently displayed on his office wall, as a cautionary reminder of what can happen when you make movies solely for commercial reasons.
Working on post-production for his latest directing effort in Italy to ready for Sony’s December 18 release, Clooney spoke to me about his new movie and how it’s getting harder to make films like Monuments, Argo and the Smokehouse-produced August: Osage County. The discussion turned toward recent critical comments made by Third Point LLC hedge fund head Daniel Loeb and the pressure he is placing on Sony Pictures chiefs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, centered around the under-performing back to back summer films After Earth and White House Down. Loeb, whose fund controls 7% of Sony stock, is pressing for Sony to spin off its entertainment assets and likened those misfires to historic flops Waterworld and Ishtar. Though Clooney and Heslov base their Smokehouse Pictures banner at Sony, and Loeb’s influence is growing there, Clooney has never been shy about standing up to what he feels is wrong. So, buckle up.
Said Clooney: “I’ve been reading a lot about Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund guy who describes himself as an activist but who knows nothing about our business, and he is looking to take scalps at Sony because two movies in a row underperformed? When does the clock stop and start for him at Sony? Why didn’t he include Skyfall, the 007 movie that grossed a billion dollars, or Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained? And what about the rest of a year that includes Elysium, Captain Phillips, American Hustle and The Monuments Men? You can’t cherry pick a small time period and point to two films that didn’t do great. It makes me crazy. Fortunately, this business is run by people who understand that the movie business ebbs and flows and the good news is they are ignoring his calls to spin off the entertainment assets. How any hedge fund guy can call for responsibility is beyond me, because if you look at those guys, there is no conscience at work. It is a business that is only about creating wealth, where when they fail, they get bailed out and where nobody gets fired. A guy from a hedge fund entity is the single least qualified person to be making these kinds of judgments, and he is dangerous to our industry.”
Why is he dangerous? (more…)