At the 2014 New York Film Festival premiere of “Gone Girl,” Twentieth Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos seemed visibly relieved to have Stacey Snider finally join the studio, after months of speculation that this capable executive would join him from DreamWorks. Now, almost two years later —and after a 25-year career at Fox —the studio has confirmed that Gianopulos’ contract will not be renewed after it expires on June 30, 2017, when he will graduate “upstairs” into an executive role at parent company 21st Century Fox.
This follows a transition for Snider that has not been smooth. While the veteran exec has the right mix of skills to run a studio (and did so at Universal with Ron Meyer), knows how to manage a team of executives, and how to develop, produce, and release movies that are smart and four-quadrant friendly, entering the Fox landscape proved to be a challenge. That’s because she was an outsider coming into a well-oiled machine.
Long-entrenched Fox senior production executive Emma Watts supervised fall hits “Gone Girl” and “The Maze Runner” and summer smashes “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and “The Other Woman,” followed by 2015 blockbuster “The Martian,” 2016 smash “Deadpool,” and the not-so-great “X-Men: Apocalypse” this summer. Established presidents Elizabeth Gabler (Fox 2000) and Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula (Fox Searchlight) were running their respective semi-autonomous labels.
And Gabler, at least, still answered to Gianopulos. So Snider had to tread carefully while Gianopulos remained in charge. Now Lachlan and James Murdoch are giving her the reins to truly oversee production for not only the Fox studio but also Fox Animation/Blue Sky Studios, Fox International Productions, Fox 2000 and Fox Searchlight, and take over sole oversight of the studio’s global theatrical marketing and distribution. So Watts, Gabler and the others will have to either give Snider her due or move on. But even when he moves over to a consulting role over the studio, Gianopulos will likely have a strong say in international operations as well as all things James Cameron, who’s still on board for four mighty “Avatar” sequels.
Snider was CEO and co-chairman of DreamWorks Studios, where she was a partner with Steven Spielberg, producing such Oscar contenders as the musicals “Sweeney Todd” and “Dreamgirls,” and Clint Eastwood’s World War II series “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima,” as well as “Tropic Thunder,” “Transformers,” and “Eagle Eye.” The company’s more recent releases included “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” “War Horse” and the Academy Award-winning films “The Help” and “Lincoln,” co-produced with Fox and directed by Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar in the title role. DreamWorks is now Amblin again, with partners Participant and Reliance, at Universal, which Spielberg physically never left.
After an eight-year stint at DreamWorks, with blessings from Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who jockeyed for her to join him and DreamWorks Animation at Fox, Snider was lured to the studio by Gianopulos and News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, who has since relinquished the management reins to his sons.
A no-nonsense career executive trained by the likes of Peter Guber, Ron Meyer, and Jonathan Dolgen, as Universal motion picture chairman Snider learned the media business in bootcamps run by Vivendi and General Electric. She commandeered billion-dollar global release slates, juggled budgets and survived big-budget fiascos. She went toe-to-toe with gonzo gorillas like Barry Diller, Brian Grazer, Michael Mann, and Russell Crowe. At the same time, she recognized that adding women to movies like the “The Fast and the Furious” only made them palatable to a larger number of moviegoers.
Hollywood respects Snider as a clear-eyed, organized, tireless, hip, reasonable, accessible, script-savvy executive who can handle talent. Universal’s Meyer was sorry to see Snider go when she left running the motion picture studio as chairman to join DreamWorks in 2006. Some of the Universal franchises she originated and oversaw include the “Bourne,” “Mummy,” “American Pie,” and the “Meet the Parents” series. Other highlights were Oscar contenders “Erin Brockovich,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Seabiscuit,” “Ray,” “Lost in Translation,” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
Before she came to Universal, Snider was president of TriStar Pictures, where she worked on such films as “Jerry Maguire,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “As Good As It Gets” and “Philadelphia.” She came to Tri-Star following her position as executive vice president of Guber Peters Entertainment.
Gianopulos and his team did well after co-chairman Tom Rothman left, enjoying a record-breaking year at the global box office in 2014. In 2015, however, they fell to fourth place domestically with 11.3% market share, while Universal celebrated its industry global record, with 21.3%. So far in 2016 Fox is in second place with 18.6% while Disney is soaring with 30.3% thanks to labels Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.
Snider should be able to improve the performance of Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios, run by Vanessa Morrison, which is not the powerhouse it was under Chris Meledandri. (He’s now running Universal’s successful animation label Illumination and will eventually take over DreamWorks Animation when that deal is consummated.) Blue Sky’s recent output includes “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” two “Rio” movies and “The Peanuts Movie.”
Gabler’s Fox 2000 Pictures produces a wide array of smart films, from Oscar-winner “The Life of Pi” to “The Fault in Our Stars” and “The Book Thief.” Coming up is “Hidden Figures,” a ’60s NASA drama directed by Greg Mottola starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer as brainy behind-the-scenes mathematicians who buttressed the astronaut flight program during the Cold War space race. Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons co-star—a year-end platform is a possibility for the Martin Luther King weekend 2017 release.
Steady as they go is Searchlight Pictures (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wild,” “Brooklyn”). Since they took over the division in 2009, Utley and Gilula have guided such films as Oscar-winners “12 Years a Slave,” “Birdman,” “Black Swan,” and “Crazy Heart.” Claudia Lewis has recently left running in-house production for the division, which produced “The Descendants”and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” among many other films. Like hundreds of other Fox employees, she took a buyout. Coming up in the fall is Nate Parker’s Sundance pickup, widely expected to be an Oscar contender, “Birth of a Nation.”
Meanwhile around Hollywood, the studios are in some flux as the inevitable digital fallout takes its course. Every management change brings executive musical chairs and once-valued projects thrown into turnaround.
Sony’s management shakeout continues with Doug Belgrad moving from president to producer on the lot, with ex-Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman, now chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, hiring his replacement, Fox executive Sanford Panitch, who ran the local language division, Fox International Prods.
Paramount’s fortunes are anyone’s guess as decrepit Viacom owner Sumner Redstone throws out board members and denies that he wants long-time lieutenant Philippe Dauman to sell the studio. Waiting in the wings are CBS chief Les Moonves and Tom Freston, who used to run MTV —until Redstone punished him for not buying MySpace.
Over at Warner Bros., studio chief Kevin Tsujihara has re-upped production president Greg Silverman and global marketing and distribution head Sue Kroll, suggesting that for now, despite a weak year at the box office (market share: 12.1%), the studio will stay with current management.