Worldview CEO's Exit Followed Cruel April Fools' Day Prank
UPDATED: Christopher Woodrow joked about his COO's death, then abruptly left a film-finance powerhouse in flux.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On April Fools' Day, Christopher Woodrow, then CEO of top film financier Worldview Entertainment, sent an email to select contacts with word that his COO, Molly Conners, had been hit by a car in New York and was in the hospital. Several hours later, he followed up with a message saying she had died.
Sources who received the emails tell THR they were shocked by the news, then upon learning it was a prank, they were even more shocked by such poor taste. Many were nonetheless surprised in early June when Woodrow, 36, abruptly exited the New York-based Worldview amid unspecified allegations of personal misconduct. (He declined comment.)
The ouster comes as Worldview, backed in part by Franklin Templeton heiress Sarah Johnson Redlich and represented by CAA, has become one of the biggest players on the indie film scene. It has helped bankroll more than 25 movies, including Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman (out Oct. 17), and recently announced it will put up a piece of his next film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Woodrow, an investment banker before launching Worldview in 2007, reveled in his close ties to talent. At Cannes in May, Worldview sponsored the glitzy amfAR AIDS benefit at the Hotel du Cap, where Woodrow and Conners were serenaded by singer Robin Thicke. Worldview also partnered with New York party queen Amy Sacco and The Weinstein Co. to throw a three-night Bungalow 8 party at a nightclub just off the Croisette.
And Woodrow was also especially proud of Worldview’s newly renovated digs at the Lefcourt Normandie building at Broadway and West 38th (the same penthouse space where Jane Fonda’s famous exercise videos were shot). The Worldview office boasts a rooftop patio, screening room and bar.
Conners has been appointed the company's acting CEO, and insiders insist it's "business as usual," though no one will comment on Woodrow or the prank.
Connors, a former lobbyist and documentary producer, didn’t have a financial background when joining Worldview in 2009, but her contacts proved invaluable, including Johnson, who became a partner in Worldview in 2011 (it was then that Worldview took off). New Jersey lawyer Maria Cestone is Worldview’s other partner.
Helping Conners run the company -- which is backing Warren Beatty's Howard Hughes biopic and John Hillcoat's Triple Nine -- is new president Clifford Werber, a veteran film executive. Still, Woodrow's exit comes at a precarious time. He recently engineered a five-year co-production and distribution deal with The Weinstein Co, and Worldview announced $200 million in new capital at Cannes. But it's not clear whether deals for the new money have closed. And while several Worldview titles have won critical acclaim and awards attention, including Nicolas Cage’s Joe, none have been a commercial breakout at the box office.