The best possible route for a former studio chief –Jeff Robinov should take note–is to find a well-funded new home where you can make big movies with as much freedom and autonomy as possible. Let go of the all the stress and ego concerns and power-mongering that climbing up the studio ladder demands. Twentieth Century Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman, who essentially ran production while his surviving co-chair Jim Gianopulos kept a closer eye on managing the studio and the bottom line, has landed on his feet since leaving Fox in January after 18 years at the studio.
At a time when they have been under some pressure after a string of summer losers, Sony CEO Michael Lynton and SPE co-chairman Amy Pascal are creating a joint venture with Rothman–that means he’s putting some of his own skin in the game–and giving him the TriStar Productions label. Rothman will develop, finance and produce motion pictures and television programming for worldwide distribution through Sony Pictures.
Sony is providing some financing for the new entity and will retain all distribution rights worldwide, while Rothman will serve as Chairman of TriStar Productions (thus hanging on to that title) and will maintain an equity interest in the venture. And he doesn’t have complete autonomy, as he’ll be reporting directly to Lynton and Pascal. That means they have greenlight authority over the movies he makes. Which is only right if they’re paying for them.
Also, Sony will be funding this new operation at TriStar: Rothman will be hiring in-house creatives and marketing execs while relying on Sony Pictures’ infrastructure. This means that Sony is emulating the Label structure that is working so well at Disney and Fox, where Rothman worked closely with Fox 2000’s Elizabeth Gabler and Fox Searchlight Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula. Columbia is the label Pascal uses for her in-house productions; she also supervises Sony Pictures Animation. Clint Culpepper runs his fiefdom at Screen Gems and New York-based Michael Barker and Tom Bernard run the autonomous Sony Pictures Classics. Steven Bersch is president of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, which will still use the TriStar Pictures banner for pick-ups.
Rothman will also be able to seek outside partners and investors for this new venture. He expects to produce up to four films per year–much the same as DreamWorks at Disney–all of which will be released under the TriStar Pictures banner, and will develop television long form and series programming for Sony Pictures Television. That’s de rigeur in this business today–it’s where the real money is.
Rothman worked with Pascal in the late 80s for Dawn Steel at Columbia when it was in Burbank. “I admired her hugely then and I admire her more now,” he stated. “She has a truly exceptional film mind. I have known and respected Michael just as long. Together they run a superb company, loaded with outstanding executives at every level, including Steve Mosko, with whom I share a special heritage. From working with both Fox 2000 and Searchlight for many years, I have seen how effective a diversified filmmaking strategy can be, and the opportunities today in television are obvious.”