I will go on record in saying that I knew this day would eventually come, but now that it’s here I still find myself shaking my head. This morning Jeff Blake (he’s on the left in the above photo, in case you were confused) stepped down from his post of Chairman Worldwide Distribution and Marketing at Sony Pictures, leaving a void at the studio that will be impossible to fill.
I’m honored to have worked with him during those years, starting when he came to the studio in 1993 as President of Distribution, and continued until my departure from the company last year. It isn’t a stretch to say I have never learned more from anyone in my life. Jeff had an uncanny knack of making everyone in both Distribution and Marketing feel like they were a part of the Sony team. Not just his team, but Sony’s team, because Jeff never gave you the feeling that you were working for him. He felt we were all in this together and that came through every day we were fortunate enough to call him our leader.
When I first met Jeff I was a district manager in the New York office and soon thereafter I was lucky enough to become Eastern Division Manager where I worked closely with him and immediately understood how brilliant, hard-working and downright hilarious the man was. When he came to the New York office from time to time he would insist on walking through the office saying hello to everyone in the department, from the top sales executives all the way down to administrative assistants. The look of shock on a recent hire’s face as the chairman walked through the floor saying hello was priceless. One time I had a new employee come up to me and say “no really, who was that guy?”. Speaking solely from the distribution side he loved the sales guys and always made us feel like we were key contributors to the company’s overall success.
I know that many of us in the industry would wait with bated breath for his legendary Friday and Saturday night 1 AM faxes. I always thought that somewhere in Southern California he hid a joke writer in a small cage. This man can’t be this funny, can he? His stories were legendary, from wanting to shoot out O.J.’s tires during the famous slow speed chase on the opening night of “Wolf” to hysterical speeches given during Sony employee anniversary parties to the many oft-quoted Jeff-isms, the man’s sense of humor was infectious.
It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles in 2009 to become President of Distribution that I really saw Jeff in action on a day-to-day basis. He had a welcoming way about him whether he was hanging out with Adam Sandler or James the Security Guard. He was one of the most upstanding human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing-he would never sell you down the river or point fingers. Again, he made you feel we were all in this together and was responsible for spotting and promoting talent such as Rory Bruer, Marc Weinstock, Josh Goldstine, Dwight Caines and so many others, And no one, and I mean NO ONE, worked harder than Jeff Blake.
As public of a face for the company that Jeff was, he was equally private away from the office. He rarely socialized at industry parties but his one true love that he had, other than his family, was going to LA Kings games. I used to sit ten rows behind Jeff and his wife at Kings home games and, knowing how much he valued his privacy and time away from the office, I always extended a cursory “Hey Jeff” when I’d see him, which was answered with a “Hey Jim” and then we’d go to our separate seats. This was his time and I always respected that. It was always reassuring to see Jeff and his wife Barbara, sporting her Kevin Westgarth jersey, in our section even if we only exchanged quick hellos.
For me, this probably won’t sink in until I go online and see pictures of the first non-Jeff Sony premiere. He has been one of the key faces of the studio for so many years. He is someone that enough good things can’t happen to for the remainder of his movie career, wherever that takes him.