Tuesday, February 10, 2015






Amy Pascal Keeps Sony’s Marquee Projects in Portfolio, Now as a Producer



LOS ANGELES — Amy Pascal may be giving up the Sony Pictures crown, but she’s keeping the jewels.

In a deal announced late Monday, Ms. Pascal will join the producing team for Sony’s most important film property — the Spider-Man series — when she steps down as the chairwoman of the studio’s movie operation in May. Landing the blockbuster franchise ranks her alongside Hollywood’s most prominent producers.

Ms. Pascal is also expected to join the producing team of the studio’s “Ghostbusters” remake, according to people briefed on her exit package who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She is additionally expected to tackle “Cleopatra,” an epic starring Angelina Jolie that has long gestated at Sony; a project involving Dan Brown, the author of “The Da Vinci Code” series; a “Little Women” adaptation; and a live-action Barbie movie.

 Over the longer term, Ms. Pascal is looking at Broadway projects that include adaptations of “Tootsie,” “Groundhog Day” and “This Is It,” a 2009 Sony documentary that followed rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s planned comeback concerts.

Sony also said on Monday that Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, would join Ms. Pascal in producing the next Spider-Man film – a type of insurance policy that the series will regain its creative footing after mediocre results for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” last year. As yet untitled, the movie will be released in July 2017. Andrew Garfield, who has played the central character in the last two installments and who has expressed an interest in moving on, will not return.

Avi Arad and Matthew Tolmach, who were producers of the last two Spider-Man films, will transition to lesser roles on the next Spider-Man movie. Both men, however, will remain fully involved with Sony’s other Spider-Man projects, including the villain-focused spinoff “The Sinister Six.”

Together, the deals with Ms. Pascal and Marvel signify a structural transition at Sony, which was struggling with uneven box-office results long before it suffered a devastating cyberattack in November. Like other studios, Sony will become less an operation run by an auteur chief — for the last 18 years, Ms. Pascal — and more a federation of powerful filmmaking arms competing for coveted release dates.

Whoever succeeds Ms. Pascal will have to play broker among the fiefs. Ms. Pascal, lured by the attractive new deal and drained by the pressures and embarrasment of the hacking crisis, announced her departure last week. She declined to comment.

Thomas E. Rothman, the former chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment, is now in charge of Sony’s rejuvenated TriStar division. Jeff Robinov recently brought his Studio 8, financed by China’s Fosun Group, to Sony after leaving his post as the top movie executive at Warner Bros. Another Sony division dedicated to lower-budget urban comedies and horror films, Screen Gems, is run by Clint Culpepper.

Mr. Rothman and Mr. Robinov have only just started to assemble what are expected to be dozens of films that, alongside the contributions of Ms. Pascal, will shape Sony’s creative signature through much of the next decade. Mr. Rothman and Mr. Robinov will work together on one early film, Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a story of an Iraq war veteran.

Ms. Pascal’s presence on so many films will inevitably crowd producers who might otherwise have had her slot. While there is a long history in Hollywood of departing studio chiefs cherry-picking producing projects, the extremely wide latitude being given to Ms. Pascal has already started some grumbling in the film industry’s producing ranks.

In addition to Spider-Man, Ms. Pascal is moving toward some film projects with messy histories. Infighting over “Cleopatra” became public in December, when private emails stolen by hackers and published online revealed a vitriolic exchange between Ms. Pascal and the producer Scott Rudin over Ms. Jolie’s involvement.

“Barbie” has also encountered difficulties. Sony acquired rights to the Mattel doll after Universal tried, and failed, to find a way to match the perfectly pert Barbie persona to a film with contemporary sensibilities. Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, a seasoned producing team, were hired to film a version that was once expected to begin production last year, but did not.

Among her other planned film projects, “Little Women” has been a signature property for Ms. Pascal. Early in her career at Sony, when she was a production vice president, she shepherded a 1994 version to theaters, helping to establish her reputation for having a strong interest in women’s films and ambitions that went beyond pop moviemaking.

Ms. Pascal’s exit deal, among the richest in Hollywood history, will guarantee her income of $30 million to $40 million over four years, according to people briefed on its terms. Her package also includes a percentage of profits on movies she produces and roughly $9 million annually for office costs and discretionary acquisition of scripts.

The agreement ranks in opulence with the farewell 20th Century Fox package given to Peter Chernin when he left as president of the News Corporation in 2009. Among the prime Fox properties Mr. Chernin joined as a producer was the reimagined “Planet of the Apes” series, which went on to generate more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office.

Spider-Man is a Marvel character, but Marvel sold Sony the movie rights in 1999 and has had almost no involvement since. As part of the agreement with Marvel announced on Monday, Marvel can include the Spider-Man character in its own movies — starting, perhaps, with “Captain America: Civil War,” which will arrive in May 2016.

Sony will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the stand-alone Spider-Man films.

The Spider-Man series came to Sony when Ms. Pascal helped connect the project with Laura Ziskin, a friend who resigned as president of Fox 2000 in 2009 and quickly set up shop as a producer at Sony. With the immense success of “Spider-Man,” which had about $822 million in worldwide ticket sales after its release in 2002, Ms. Ziskin helped reinvigorate the studio. (She died of breast cancer in 2011.)

Two more sequels, both starring Tobey Maguire as the title character, delivered mammoth ticket sales. But Sony’s last outing with Spider-Man — its original deal with Marvel requires the films to keep coming — did not perform as well as its predecessors, taking in about $706 million at the global box office in 2014.

While Sony has struggled to keep Spider-Man vibrant, Mr. Feige has delivered hits like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

“We always want to collaborate with the best and most successful filmmakers to grow our franchises,” Michael Lynton, Sony’s chief executive, said in a statement.







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