Amy Pascal always made an unusual studio chief. In order to gain that power she had to play the game better than the boys. Anyone who has ever spent time with her knows how smart she is, how much she gets movies. But she has never been your standard-issue Hollywood suit. While she has adapted to the increasingly corporate bottom-line thinking that governs Hollywood–enabled by her Sony co-chairman Michael Lynton, who walks and talks like a suit– she’s always had better taste, and relationships with talent and their agents, than most studio heads. She hasn’t been invested in marketing and distribution and business deals. With her it’s all about making movies.
But we do not need to feel sorry for Pascal as she moves to her deluxe Sony golden parachute producing deal. Only Rupert Murdoch’s ex-lieutenant Peter Chernin has ever done so well with an exit package. And Pascal will now be free to release her inner producer without having to worry about losing her job. Fear has always governed studio heads who exercise undue caution, worry about short-term market share bragging rights instead of real long-term returns, and make the wrong movies with the right excuses: “Ridley Scott won the Oscar for ‘Gladiator’! The Wachowskis made ‘The Matrix’ trilogy! Will Smith always opens movies! We needed to establish those action figures! We needed product to fill the foreign pipeline!”
Yes, Pascal was also free with Sony spending, which she has been pressured to trim back. It’s so much easier to justify in a climate of fear the need to spend more on A-list directors, writers, cast and crew and VFX, which in turn lead to more spending on marketing to back up that investment. ‘Twas ever thus.
Here’s why losing her job could be the best thing to happen to Pascal–and Sony. Instead of “substituting other people’s needs for what you think,” as she told Brown, she can own her ideas and focus on making movies that are as smart as she is.
1. You can’t handle the truth!
Pascal was miserable that the Sony Hack revealed her freewheeling use of email in talent negotiations over such projects as Scott Rudin, Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs,” which went to Universal, and “The Interview,” the Sony comedy that led to destructive retaliation from North Korea. But the emails going public (which Pascal abhors the media for releasing) may well lead to a stronger studio. And for Pascal, she admitted, “it was strangely freeing.”
Those emails revealed a studio head who catered to talent and paid the consequences. Sony was right and Seth Rogen was wrong about the possible real world ramifications of “The Interview.” Pascal should have forced Rogen to fictionalize Kim Jong-un. Now she’s willing to say in public that talent are “bottomless pits of need”–while reminding us that they are also “this magical thing that no one else can be.”
Read even a fraction of those emails and it was clear that studio insiders were largely smarter than their conservative final decisions. They knew better but still did the wrong thing. I get the sense over the past few months that the studio has emerged from this shit storm stronger and more self-aware. Lynton, who is moving to New York, will have his own job on the line as he exercises his green-light authority and looks for someone to supervise three very powerful producers. Pascal joins Tom Rothman (ex-co-chairman of Fox now at Tristar) whose initial slate is promising and Jeff Robinov (ex-Warner Bros. chief now at Studio 8), who is just ramping up.
Wait, are we talking about Sony or Disney? Clearly, whether by sheer opportunism or design, Sony has emerged with a label system much like the one constructed by Disney’s Robert Iger, who hired ex-Warner Bros. veteran studio chief Alan Horn to manage the mighty egos and slates of Pixar (which is run by Disney animation czar John Lasseter), Isaac Perlmutter and Kevin Feige’s Marvel and Kathleen Kennedy’s Lucasfilm, charged with bringing back to life the “Star Wars” franchise. Why not hire the best producers in town to make your movies for you?
2. Saving “Spider-Man.”
The jewels in every studio crown are its franchises. And Sony has leaned on their hard-won right to the “Spider-Man” franchise for a long time. But Marc Webb’s second “Spider-Man” installment –starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone–did not deliver “amazing” blockbuster numbers. In fact, Marvel’s remarkable launch of a non-marquee comic “Guardians of the Galaxy”–without established stars–outperformed Sony’s better-known “Spider-Man.” Why?
Because it was old wine in new bottles. Pascal had already figured out that she had to take a different direction with the 6th “Spider-Man” iteration (without Garfield and Stone) and various spin-offs (which could include a Gwen Stacy Spider-Woman). The negotiations with Marvel had already begun before the Sony Hack to allow Spider-Man to travel. In a digital and viral world, it only feeds the Sony franchise to allow Spider-Man to visit the Marvel universe. And who better than Marvel production czar Feige to advise on the best ways to do that?
On its own, Marvel has devoted itself to burnishing and protecting its brand. Feige stays focused on staying true to the Marvel universe, which is where all the comic book characters live. He has built one story after another knowing that they all intertwine, intersect, relate to and build on each other. Marvel’s power lies in creating a consistent world that fans want to be part of and revisit.
I want to see what Pascal does now, as she embarks on this new adventure, unfettered and no longer seeking to placate and please. She’s got Angelina Jolie’s “Cleopatra” and Paul Feig’s all-female “Ghostbusters,” too. Let’s see what Amazing Amy can do.