Warner Bros.' Kevin Tsujihara Talks 'Gravity,' J.K. Rowling and Tentpole Strategy

Kevin Tsujihara
Kevin Tsujihara
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Warner Bros. is happy to be back in the J.K. Rowling business, CEO Kevin Tsujihara said Saturday at an entertainment law conference, but he downplayed his own role in the coup that will see the studio release a series of films spun off from the Harry Potter franchise.

“There’s never any one person who does anything,” Tsujihara said. “I don’t think it was anything I did.”

That’s not quite how Rowling saw it -- the deal “would not have happened without him,” she said -- but no matter: Tsujihara preferred to give credit to “our great studio.”

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That’s the same studio that released this weekend’s hit Gravity, which Tsujihara called “a fairly risky movie.” That risk seems to have paid off; the film is tracking to do $48 to $50 million in its U.S. debut this weekend.

“Go see it tonight!” Tsujihara said, to laughter from the crowd.

Tsujihara's remarks came during a lunchtime keynote interview conducted by veteran entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer at the USC Gould School of Law -- Beverly Hills Bar Association Institute on Entertainment Law and Business. The sold out event was attended by more than 700 attorneys and executives.

Tusjihara covered a wide range of topics, including tentpoles generally: “There needs to be a balance [of tentpoles vs. moderately budgeted films], but there’s a risk in releasing non-branded movies, especially during the summer.”

Still, he said, “there is a tendency to go to the well [on sequels] too many times.”

Many of those tentpoles were co-financed via a slate deal with Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures, but that 2005 deal expires next year and was not renewed. “We had a great run with Thomas and Legendary,” Tusjihara said, but he added that the two parties’ interests ultimately had diverged.

Neither one is out of the slate financing business, however. Warner’s did a slate deal earlier this week with RatPac-Dune Entertainment, while Legendary reached an agreement in July with Universal.

Also on the subject of franchises, Tsujihara said that the lack of superhero movies other than the Superman and Batman franchises had been a “missed opportunity,” but added that the studio had “huge plans for a number of other DC properties on TV.” Perhaps one hint in that direction: “We need to get Wonder Woman on the big screen or TV.”

Tsujihara had other thoughts on television as well. He said that the CBS-TWC retransmission fight would increase pressure for a la carte and over-the-top offerings. He also spoke of being surprised at some content, such as HBO’s upcoming The Leftovers, to which his reaction was a stunned “wow!”

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