What DreamWorks' Stacey Snider Means for Fox

Illustration by: Kyle T. Webster

As Spielberg's partner preps for a move to a suddenly red-hot studio, one insider asks: "Why do we need her?" as she comes, one says, only with a "keep the good times rolling" agenda

This story first appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

The optics aren't ideal. Stacey Snider, having struggled as DreamWorks CEO the past several years, appears set to take a top job at Fox just as that studio is ablaze with hits.

"What a lot of people are discussing internally is: Why do we need her?" acknowledges a Fox executive. (Snider's position is not official, and partner Steven Spielberg hasn't released her from her DreamWorks contract, which runs through 2014, despite hiring former Turner exec Michael Wright as CEO on Sept. 4.) The question seems fair: If a group of strong executives has come up with a winning formula, why fix what doesn't appear broken?

But many industry observers and some Fox insiders say Snider, 53, has strong creative relationships that could attract new filmmaking talent as well as management experience that could enhance the studio's strategy and take pressure off chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, 62. They agree that Snider will begin by walking very softly and carrying a pom-pom rather than a big stick. "Stacey's very smart and very competent, and her agenda will be to keep the good times rolling," says an executive who has worked with Snider.

When THR revealed Snider's planned segue to Fox in February, the studio was in a drought. But the floodgates then opened, with each division contributing: The main Fox studio, or "big" Fox, had X-Men: Days of Future Past and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; Vanessa Morrison's animation unit came up with Rio 2 ($496 million); Elizabeth Gabler's Fox 2000 had what is likely to be 2014's most profitable movie with The Fault in Our Stars ($294 million on a $13 million budget); and the Fox Searchlight unit is in awards contention with Wes Anderson's hit The Grand Budapest Hotel and the upcoming fall titles Wild and Birdman. Fox, which traditionally manages for profitability, could finish the year No. 1 in domestic market share for the first time since 1983.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks has lacked a big win since Spielberg's Lincoln in 2012. This year, it only has released the video game adaptation Need for Speed, which broke even with more than $200 million worldwide, and Lasse Hallstrom's The Hundred-Foot Journey, which has drawn a respectable $46 million domestically since Aug. 8. (DreamWorks has taken to preselling foreign rights in Europe, Africa and the Middle East; Disney, which distributes its movies, has the rest of the world.) Other recent films, such as 2013's WikiLeaks movie The Fifth Estate and Vince Vaughn's Delivery Man, have floundered.

But Snider has many fans among filmmakers with whom she has worked at DreamWorks. "The pedigree of a studio head is defined, of course, to a large extent by wins and losses," says Shawn Levy, who has made the Night at the Museum films for Fox and Real Steel for DreamWorks. "But it also is defined by esteem and relationships in the creative community. In that regard, there is no one finer than Stacey Snider." David Heyman, producer of the Harry Potter films and the upcoming DreamWorks movie The Light Between Oceans, says Snider read the M.L. Stedman novel on which the latter film is based more than once and "talked to the author with great understanding and sensitivity." Hallstrom also praises Snider for offering thorough and thoughtful notes on scripts. On his Hundred-Foot Journey, he adds, her suggestions came so much from her own experience that "you get hooked right away on wanting to do it. It's an inspirational idea rather than a studio note."

Beyond supporting filmmakers, however, there is a lot to manage at Fox. It has been two years since the hands-on Tom Rothman departed as co-chairman, leaving Gianopulos to oversee five film divisions as well as distribution, marketing, home entertainment, digital, business affairs and international sales. Even as Rothman left, it was known that Gianopulos would bring in a creative partner, and while it was Rupert Murdoch who initially homed in on Snider, Gianopulos embraced the idea. "He wants to be liberated from some of the day-to-day to focus on the bigger picture," says one executive. While it's unclear what Snider's title will be, it is sure to convey that she will start a notch below Gianopulos.

Still, Snider likely will get a big portfolio, and she will need all of her diplomacy skills to win support. "I don't feel like she's going to try to maneuver because she can't," says an exec who has worked for her.

That should be welcome news to Emma Watts, president of production at "big" Fox. Watts, 44, is a polarizing figure whose admirers cite her brains and work ethic while detractors complain of brusque manners and poor communication skills. In May, even as she faced rampant speculation about her job, Watts delivered a franchise-best X-Men film ($745.8 million worldwide), followed in July by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ($641.7 million). "Emma has straight-up kicked ass," notes Levy. In August, Watts renewed her deal for three years, and Levy -- close to both Watts and Snider -- believes the two will make a strong team: "There's legitimate mutual respect and a really sincere intention and anticipation of working together."

Of course, Snider's most scrutinized relationship will be with her boss, Gianopulos. Some suspect Snider, who ran Universal for seven years, inevitably will want more power. But a Murdoch lieutenant dismisses that idea. "Jim's not going anywhere. Rupert loves Jim," says this person, adding that hiring Snider was "not necessarily done out of need but opportunity."

Given Fox's performance at the time, though, it might have seemed like need. But Harvey Weinstein, who worked with Snider on Cinderella Man and the Bridget Jones movies, says the move is a long-term play. "I've been blazing hot before and still you put somebody new on your team, and in a year that person just sustains you," he says. "I'd rather have a bench full of MVPs than just a couple of MVPs who had a good season."

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