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With 18 months left on his contract, is Warners film studio chairman Toby Emmerich exploring job opportunities? While it is far from clear that Emmerich will leave the studio after more than 20 years, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that David Geffen in recent weeks placed a call to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos to inquire whether there might be a possible role for Emmerich at Netflix.
Geffen, 78, and Emmerich, 58, were both guests at a January dinner hosted by music mogul Jimmy Iovine; Emmerich started out in the music world and worked at Atlantic Records from 1987 to 1992; Geffen has credited Atlantic cofounder Ahmet Ertegun with giving him a start in the record business. Sources close to Emmerich say he had no knowledge of Geffen making any calls on his behalf. Others with knowledge of the situation say top Netflix executives did not see a place for Emmerich at the streamer. A source close to Sarandos said “no call was placed to him, and there was no discussion about a position.” A Netflix spokesperson declined to comment.
Emmerich was rumored to be departing in December; instead, he was given full control of films not only for theaters but also for HBO Max. Hits during his tenure as a top executive include Wonder Woman, Crazy Rich Asians and A Star Is Born. Misses include 2019 films The Goldfinch and The Kitchen. The exec was named president of the film studio in 2018 and promoted to chairman the following year. Emmerich’s contract was last renewed in October 2019 and runs through the end of 2022.
A WarnerMedia rep, when asked for comment about Emmerich, confirmed that the exec is under contract and stated, “Any other speculation is just that, speculation,” noting that he “has a wonderful relationship with [studio chief] Ann Sarnoff and there is no truth to the rumors.”
One Emmerich associate speculated that a call from Geffen to Sarandos may have been intended to help Emmerich gain leverage in a future negotiation with Warners.
Another industry veteran says that while Geffen has said he no longer wants to be involved in the entertainment business, he still likes “to move chess pieces around” and has been making behind-the-scenes calls “just looking for action again … trying to extract information, like the old days.” If he gets someone a job, this person adds, “he calls in favors for the rest of your life.” This person adds that Geffen played a major, previously unreported behind-the-scenes role in getting Paul Simon to sell his music catalog to Sony Music Publishing, a deal that was announced in March. Geffen did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s been a challenging several months for Warners, particularly for Emmerich. As THR previously reported, Emmerich — along with COO Carolyn Blackwood — was a key player in Warners’ surprise December move to put the studio’s entire 2021 slate of films on the HBO Max streaming service the same day they open in theaters. The studio faced backlash — including rebukes from directors Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve. Sources say Warners wrote big checks to some of those who had movies affected by the decision, such as Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves. For some talent reps, resentment lingers. One agent with important movie clients says that when he challenged Emmerich about the move, “His answer was, ‘Are we supposed to have called above-the-line people from 17 movies?’ The answer is yes.”
In explaining its decision, the company said its analysis was that theaters could not open meaningfully before the end of 2021. Not even two weeks later, the first vaccine shipments went out in the U.S. In April, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told Recode’s Peter Kafka that certain 2022 movies will have an exclusive theatrical window and Cineworld said the studio had struck a deal to show certain films exclusively in theaters for 45 days before streaming, though the terms of that agreement are not clear.
Calling the episode “bumpy,” Kilar said, “If I had the chance to do it over again, I think it’s very fair to say that we would have taken a couple more days to see if we could have had even more conversations than we were able to have.” (It is not clear that the studio had conversations with any of its creative partners.)
Warner Bros. higher-ups are also concerned about the performance of the studio’s critically important DC movies. Warners had also faced negative publicity from the studio’s response to Joss Whedon’s alleged abusive behavior on the set of Justice League. Stars including Ray Fisher, Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa have said publicly that there were issues during Whedon’s tenure on the film, which he finished after Zack Snyder left the production.
The March release of the Snyder version (at a cost of at least $70 million) renewed attention to the claims, with Fisher, who played Cyborg in the film, continuing to allege abusive, racist conduct on the project and accusing the studio of not seriously investigating his claims (which WarnerMedia fiercely denies).
This story first appeared in the May 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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