Executive Firings: What's Behind Hollywood's Season of the Witch Hunt (Analysis)
Daniel Loeb appears to have accomplished at least part of his goal of shaking up Sony Pictures. The hedge fund manager, whose Third Point holds nearly a 7 percent stake in the studio, sharply criticized its "overspending on numerous projects" after a punishing summer that saw two big-budget flops, After Earth and White House Down. Seeking a new public face, Sony's leaders Lynton and Pascal drafted crisis PR veteran Charles Sipkins as its new corporate spokesman in August, and a few weeks later longtime studio mouthpiece Steve Elzer revealed he would exit by year's end. Sony then axed worldwide marketing president Weinstock and replaced him with digital marketing head Caines and international marketer Nigel Clark.
Weinstock is expected to be the only top executive shown the door, insiders say, as the studio focuses on reducing spending and finding a co-financing partner -- which many see as Sony's most pressing need. Currently, the studio is one of only two majors without a massive slate-financing partner. (Disney, the other, is content to self-finance its films.)
Sources say Lynton made a major push to land David Ellison's Skydance Productions before the deep-pocketed company re-upped with Paramount. He also flew to China to woo the Wanda Group. As with Skydance, he couldn't close a deal. "We're always open to potential financial partners," Sipkins says, declining comment on specific suitors.
Meanwhile, as its parent studio looks for money, sources say genre label Screen Gems, whose films have been fully financed by Sony in the past, also is hunting for new sources of funding. Screen Gems, led by Clint Culpepper, typically receives four distribution slots per year, but one source says it may be in danger of losing a slot if it can't line up additional financing.
Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad is likely to lose a slot as well as Sony entrusts its old TriStar Productions label to former Fox exec Rothman, who plans to produce up to four films per year. Sony will provide financing for the new entity and retain all distribution rights worldwide. "Nobody knows how [the Rothman arrangement] will work," says a source with strong connections to the studio. "Tom has been very gracious in saying anything Sony executives want, they get."
Producers and dealmakers with the best material might well decide to pitch to Rothman before approaching anyone else at the studio since he's perceived as "most receptive" and most likely to pull the trigger as he gears up.
Loeb initially argued Sony should spin off its entertainment business, but the board of directors balked and decided to hold on to its showbiz assets. Now, a source close to Loeb says he will no longer publicly agitate for change and will either sell off his shares or quietly hold on to them.
Moving forward, Sony is looking to create new franchises. High on its list to move quickly into production is Goosebumps, to star Jack Black and be directed by Rob Letterman.