Photo: Bob Iger, left, Kevin Feige, Rich Ross and director Jon Favreau at the premiere of "Iron Man 2" in April 2010. Credit: Eric Charbonneau / Le Studio.
Irreplaceable or no replacement necessary? Normally, when a top executive at a studio or network is pushed out, the successor is waiting in the wings. Yet Walt Disney Co. does not yet seem to have a plan on how it will replace Rich Ross at the top of its movie studio, which has some wondering if the job in fact actually needs to be filled. Analysis from the New York Times.
Help Wanted: Experienced executive who can turn around an unstable film studio and manage the egos of some of Hollywood's biggest power players including Pixar animation guru John Lasseter, DreamWorks partners Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Marvel chief Ike Perlmutter.
Reward: Not much.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bog Iger, in other words, won't have an easy time finding a new studio chairman to replace Rich Ross.
Once considered one of the most powerful and sought-after positions in Hollywood, running the 89-year-old Burbank studio behind "Snow White," "Mary Poppins," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" now seems about as desirable as playing Goofy on a hot day at Disneyland. The buzz in Hollywood since Iger fired Ross last Friday has been less about who's angling for the job and more about who would want it.
The reason: Iger's strategy of turning Disney into a collection of brands means that most of the films it releases are not overseen or greenlit by the studio chairman, as they are at rival companies. Next year, for example, Disney will release five movies (including two 3-D re-releases) from the Pixar and Disney animation units headed by Lasseter and Ed Catmull; two superhero films from Marvel, a subsidiary run by CEO Perlmutter and President Kevin Feige; and at least one from DreamWorks, the independent studio that has a distribution deal with Disney.
The studio is responsible, however, for advertising and releasing the movies from all of its brands and partners, meaning Ross' successor are easy targets for blame if those pictures don't work. People close to Disney but not authorized to speak publicly say that Lasseter, Feige and Snider are all intimately involved in marketing plans and were bitter about having their films promoted by inexperienced outsider M.T. Carney, who Ross hired in 2010 and had to dismiss early this year.
Though Ross' departure came soon after the failure of "John Carter," for which Disney is taking a $200-million write-down, people close to the studio said it had more to do with his inability to win allies inside and outside of Disney. Lasseter, Perlmutter, Snider and Spielberg were all said to have been unhappy with his leadership, and numerous lower-level employees at the studio, plus agents and producers around Hollywood, complained that Ross did not clearly articulate the types of projects he wanted or his vision to transform the studio.
In addition, Ross replaced nearly all of the seasoned movie executives at Disney with less experienced hands. Some, such as production president Sean Bailey, are well-liked, but others, such as Carney, were spectacular failures. (So far, Carney's successor, Ricky Strauss, is winning higher marks.)
Thus, less than three years after he stunned Hollywood by replacing veteran Dick Cook with Ross, who had a successful tenure running Disney Channels Worldwide but had never worked in the movie business, Iger must go back to the drawing board — again.
Disney's CEO is now faced with the humbling task of finding a chairman capable of endearing himself or herself to colleagues and Hollywood's creative community who also possesses the skills to update the studio for the digital age — one of the ostensible reasons Cook was fired. Click here for more of this story and others in the LA Times.
The Skinny: Thursday's headlines include a fight between broadcasters and the FCC over disclosing political advertising information on the Web, a push by some cities to hide satellite dishes, a look at what TV shows may be on the way out, and analysis of whether Walt Disney needs to replace Rich Ross as chairman of its movie studio.
Photo: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images.
Broadcasters bulk a political ad disclosure. Every election year, politicians spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying commercials. It's a big part of their election-year bottom line.
"It may not be good for the country but it’s going to be good for CBS," joked CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves during an investors' conference last fall.
It's no secret how much politicians spend on advertising. Television stations are required to not only keep records on every commercial bought by a candidate, but that information is also available to the public. The only catch is that anyone interested in seeing the stats has to visit a TV station and ask to look at the public file to get access to how much money a local station is getting in election dollars.
On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to require TV stations to put that same information on their websites. While it may not seem like a big deal to take already public files and put them online, the broadcasters are not happy.
The issue is not putting what a candidate spent on commercials online. But broadcasters are concerned about listing what specific commercials on specific shows cost. Even though by law candidates get the lowest rate available for commercials in the weeks leading up to an election, broadcasters worry that other advertisers could use that information to leverage their own negotiations.
"One poker player would, in effect, have had at least a partial glance at the other's hand," broadcast networks CBS, NBC, ABC Fox and Univision wrote in comments filed jointly at the FCC.
There is also fear that one station could learn what another is charging and then undercut its rates with advertisers. On top of that, broadcasters think it is unfair that political advertising on cable is not required to be disclosed. That, too, may change down the road, Washington insiders say.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has a different opinion. In a speech at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention last week, he said broadcasters resisting the commission's proposals, are "against technology, against transparency and against journalism."
Media watchdogs and academics also think the broadcasters are overreacting. Andrew Schwartzman, senior vice president of the Media Access Project, said it is ironic that "broadcasters, who as journalists advocate for freedom of information laws, now want secrecy when it comes to their own operations."
For more on the debate, please see the story in Thursday's Los Angeles Times.
Daily Dose: News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch's claims during testimony Wednesday in Britain that he doesn't talk much business when he's out and about with high-powered politicians may sound dubious to many, but to some company insiders it rings true. Inside News Corp., Murdoch often frustrates his lobbyists by spending too much time gossiping instead of pursuing the company's business agenda in meetings with top lawmakers, even after being given specific talking points. That's not to say the Murdoch message doesn't get through anyway. Once, after a meeting with a powerful congressman had turned into small talk, a lobbyist expressed annoyance at the blown opportunity. "That's what I have you for," Murdoch responded.
Not my fault. During his second day on the stand as part of an inquiry into media ethics, Rupert Murdoch said with regard to the phone hacking scandal at his British newspapers that he was the victim of a cover-up. According to the Associated Press, Murdoch said he and his son James, who oversaw the tabloids, were kept out of the loop about the extent of the hacking. All I'll say is remember it's usually the cover-up that ends up taking you down more than the crime itself.
Photo: Emily Blunt and Jason Segel star in "The Five-Year Engagement." Credit: Universal Pictures
Can pirates scuttle romance, farce and a crowded box office field?
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits" is the latest computer-animated production from England's Aardman Animations, the studio behind such films as "Chicken Run" and "Wallace and Gromit." In the U.S., Aardman's films have sometimes struggled at the box office: Last year's "Arthur Christmas" only grossed $46 million domestically, but pulled in $100 million abroad. That will probably be the case for "Pirates," which has already opened in 46 foreign countries, including the U.K. and Australia, and taken in a total of $56 million.
The well-reviewed movie, featuring the voices of actors Hugh Grant and Salma Hayek, follows a buccaneer who is vying for the title of pirate of the year. The picture, which is being released by Sony Pictures, cost about $55 million to produce.
It may take half a decade for the couple in "The Five-Year Engagement" to make it to the altar, but the romantic comedy will quickly outrun the competition to the top of the box office this weekend.
The movie starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt is expected to debut with a solid sum of $18 million to $20 million, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.
The film about a troubled relationship is likely to perform far better than three other movies hitting theaters this weekend. Both the horror film about Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven," and the 3-D stop-motion animated "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" will probably each start off with a moderate $12 million. "Safe," an action flick starring Jason Statham, is projected to collect a soft $8 million on its debut.
"The Five-Year Engagement" marks yet another collaboration between Segel and writer-director Nicholas Stoller, who met while working on Judd Apatow's short-lived 2001 television show "Undeclared." The actor co-wrote the picture with Stoller, and Apatow produced the film. Segel and Stoller's first feature film was the 2008 comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which wound up grossing a respectable $63 million domestically.
In 2010, Stoller penned "Gulliver's Travels," which Segel starred in -- and while the film made a paltry $42 million stateside, it ended up raking in nearly $200 million overseas. Their most recent partnership came with last year's "The Muppets," which ended up being a solid hit with a global total of $158 million.
Universal Pictures, which produced "Five-Year-Engagement" with Relativity Media for about $30 million, is clearly trying to draw parallels between "Engagement" and last year's success story "Bridesmaids." Advertisements for "Engagement" have played up the similarities between the two films, which both center on weddings and were produced by Apatow. The posters for "Engagement" even feature the same bright-pink lettering that was used to market 2011's female-centric "Bridesmaids."
“The Raven,” meanwhile, stars Cusack as legendary 19th century author Poe, who ends up encountering real-life re-enactments of the frightful stories he himself dreamed up. Relativity acquired the $26-million film for about $4 million from production and financing company Intrepid Pictures.
Cusack, 45, has promoted the thriller extensively on English and Spanish-language media programs. The star has had a mixed track record at the box office in recent years. Two years ago, he starred in Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic “2012,” which raked in a massive $770 million worldwide.
And “1408,” the last horror film he appeared in alongside Samuel L. Jackson, grossed a strong $72 million in the U.S. and Canada. But he has also appeared in a number of independent films and romantic comedies that failed to attract moviegoers, including 2007’s “Martian Child” and 2005’s “Must Love Dogs.”
The violent "Safe" stars Statham as a former cop who is down on his luck when he decides to help protect a young girl from international gangs. Lionsgate is releasing the movie in the U.S. and Canada on behalf of film finance company IM Global, which produced the picture. Lionsgate's financial risk, therefore, is only the expense of advertisements and prints.
Outside of the ensemble action film "The Expendables," Statham has only had decent box office success in the last decade. Most of his films have made under $30 million in the U.S, including the two he starred in last year, "The Mechanic" and "Killer Elite."
Meanwhile, while the Disney release of Marvel Entertainment's "The Avengers" doesn't hit U.S. theaters until next weekend, the film is bowing overseas this weekend in 42 foreign countries. On Wednesday alone, the Marvel production collected $17.1 million in 10 international markets. The picture performed best in Australia, where it grossed $6.2 million, the second-highest opening day of all time in the country behind the final "Harry Potter" film's debut last summer.
hoto: Super Mario Galaxy 2. Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum
Mario takes a fall after three decades of success. Nintendo on Thursday posted losses of more than $500 million for its fiscal year -- its first annual loss since the Japanese gaming company began publicly reporting its financial results in 1981.
The maker of Mario and Zelda games in January telegraphed that it would post steep declines in sales and a substantial loss for the year ended March 31. Thursday's results were roughly in line with its grim forecasts, as both sales and losses came in slightly lower than expected.
The Kyoto company, which manufactures the Wii and DS game consoles, recorded a $534.6-million loss on $8 billion in revenue, compared with a $960.5-million profit on $12.6 billion in sales the year before. On Jan. 26, Nintendo warned investors that it would likely post a $804.3-million loss on $8.2 billion in sales.
While sales came in lower than expected, losses narrowed as a result of a weaker Japanese yen.
Still, the rapid rise of inexpensive smartphone applications for mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and Android phones have weakened Nintendo's once-dominant grip on the portable games market. In addition, sales of its Wii console have slipped precipitously as players gravitate to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, both of which have higher graphical processing power and a more robust online entertainment offering than the Wii.
The 123-year-old company, which started in 1889 selling playing cards, is pinning its hopes on its upcoming Wii U, its next-generation console that is scheduled for launch later this year in time for Christmas.
Dow, who had been on a medical leave of absence since January, was expected to step down in the wake of a mounting controversy over a lack of financial control of an organization that controls more than $2 billion in assets on behalf of the Screen Actors Guild's 125,000-plus members.
The board of trustees for the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension and Health Plans said in a statement that it had appointed Chris Dowdell, the current chief operating officer, as interim CEO.
"It is with great regret that we accept our CEO Bruce Dow's decision," the statement said. "For the last 28 years, Bruce has been instrumental in assisting the trustees in designing and managing many of the benefit programs actors enjoy today."
U.S. Labor Department officials have been investigating reports that another former senior pension plans executive allegedly embezzled millions of dollars by receiving kickbacks from several companies that did business with the funds.
After an audit in early 2009, SAG-PPHP sued two vendors involved in the alleged scheme. In one of the cases, an arbitrator awarded the plans nearly $2.5 million in damages, which a court approved. The plans said most of the money was recovered from an insurance claim.
The alleged embezzlement scheme surfaced publicly in a complaint that former Human Resources Director Craig Simmons filed in September with the Labor Department. In his complaint, Simmons contended that he had been wrongfully terminated in March 2011 partly for raising questions about the alleged embezzlement and for raising questions about Dow's conduct, including allegations that Dow steered business to his wife's insurance company, USI of Southern California.
The board of trustees later said an independent investigator had found that most of Simmons' allegations were false and told SAG members that the fiscal integrity of the plans "remains sound and your benefits are secure." There was no finding by the board that Dow was involved in a coverup.
Multiple marketing heads and other duplication. Lionsgate has decided to solve one of the thorniest staffing problems resulting from its acquisition of "Twilight" studio Summit Entertainment by keeping the marketing chiefs from both studios.
Tim Palen, Lionsgate's chief marketing officer who is coming off of the blockbuster success of "The Hunger Games," has signed a new deal that will keep him in his job through 2015.
However, the studio is also keeping Nancy Kirkpatrick in her current job as president of marketing for Summit, which is now a Lionsgate label.
The unusual arrangement comes after months of speculation within the company and throughout Hollywood over what Lionsgate would do with the duo. It has already merged every other department from the two studios and chosen an executive from one or the other to be in charge. Erik Feig of Summit is now the sole president of production, for instance, while Lionsgate's Steve Beeks oversees their combined home entertainment units.
Palen, a photographer who takes many of the pictures and designs some of the art for Lionsgate's advertisements, is well respected in the community and said to be a favorite of Chief Executive Jon Feltheimer. Kirkpatrick joined Summit along with its former chief Rob Freidman, now co-chair of Lionsgate's motion picture group, and remains close to him. Both previously worked together at Paramount Pictures.
People close to Lionsgate who were not authorized to speak publicly said the two did not want to share a "co-president" title.
Going forward, Palen will oversee the marketing for movies that were already in the works at Lionsgate, including the upcoming "What to Expect When You're Expecting," "Expendables 2" and next year's "Hunger Games" sequel "Catching Fire."
Kirkpatrick will handle marketing for movies that were in development at Summit before it was acquired by Lionsgate, including November's final "Twilight" film, "Breaking Dawn Part 2," as well as "Step Up Revolution" and next year's "Ender's Game," based on the classic science-fiction book.
It remains to be seen how the two will work together once the movies Summit already had in the works before the merger have all been released and Lionsgate has only one movie slate. Given his new contract and chief marketing officer title, however, Palen appears more likely to retain the top marketing job.
Photo: A DirecTV dish. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press
Political debate. Broadcasters are fighting with the Federal Communications Commission over a proposal from the regulatory agency to put financial details about political advertising online. While information such as what a candidate spent buying commercials is already available to anyone who visits a TV station, broadcasters are reluctant to put that same material on the Internet. A look at why they are resisting the FCC's effort from the Los Angeles Times.
Popping the bubble. Not only are the networks busy assessing their pilots to decide what new shows they'll order for the fall, it's also time to decide what current programs they will bring back. TV Guide looks at the shows that are on the fence.
Those unsightly satellites. As satellite TV grows in popularity, some cities are griping that the dishes make neighborhoods look ugly, notes the Wall Street Journal. There are even efforts to require dishes to be placed somewhere other than the front of houses or apartment buildings. The satellite industry is fighting back, arguing this would discriminate against their business. Maybe the satellite industry can have a contest to come up with a prettier dish. Personally, I find dishes look kind of cool. It makes me think I live in England, where there are dishes all over the place.
Inside the Los Angeles Times: Believe it or not, there is actually a debate about whether people should be allowed to text during movies. Hey, why stop there? Why not be able to watch videos on your iPad while looking at the movie?
-- Joe Flint
Follow me on Twitter. It will be enlightening. Twitter.com/JBFlint
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