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All those years talking to anxious filmmakers about box-office returns, release dates and strategy certainly paid off for Dan Fellman at his retirement send-off.
The power and respect the distribution executive has amassed during the nearly 40 years he’s worked at Warner Bros, including serving as president of domestic distribution since 1999, was on full display at the Nov. 11 bash at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Two of Hollywood’s biggest directors — Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood — delivered the official speeches, while the guest list included Adam Sandler, Hangover director Todd Phillips, producer Irwin Winkler, past Warners chiefs Barry Meyer and Terry Semel, and top theater owners, including Regal CEO Amy Miles.
“Since Dan headed domestic distribution, the box office has grown to almost $25 billion at Warner Bros. That’s higher than the GDP of Ecuador, Guatemala … and Albania. Incredible. More important than all of that, Dan is an amazing colleague and an even better friend. He’s been a mentor to me and a steady presence during some challenging times for the company,” said current Warners chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara before inviting Nolan to the stage.
“To begin at the beginning, my first memorable conversation with Dan was the morning we opened Insomnia . It was pre-email when everyone would get on the phone at 6 in the morning, in your pajamas,” said Nolan, who recalled Fellman predicting that the film would top out at $65 million domestically. He was close: Insomnia earned $67 million.
“I call it the ‘Dan Fellman sweet spot.’ He tells it like it is and knows what’s really going on,” Nolan said. In 2005, despite a flat Saturday on opening weekend, Fellman told Nolan he thought Batman Begins would ultimately get to $200 million. “The numbers that weekend wouldn’t have really suggested that, but he was right and we did. I always kept that in the back of my mind as being very representative of the bridge Dan has formed between the filmmakers and the exhibitors.”
During his tenure as domestic distribution president, Warners has become the only studio to gross more than $1 billion for 12 consecutive years, buoyed by the likes of the Harry Potter franchise and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. He also was a pioneer in terms of teaming with Imax.
Fellman’s retirement was first announced in 2013 when Tsujihara decided to give worldwide marketing president Sue Kroll purview over distribution (she’s held off running domestic until Fellman’s exit).
Those who couldn’t make the gathering wished Fellman well in a video, including George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck and Peter Jackson. (Jackson said talking to Fellman was like talking to “Yoda.”) Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, who did a long stint as president of Warners, also appeared in the video.
“It’s been a great ride,” Fellman said in his remarks. “I think we have built the best distribution team in the country. I’m very proud of you guys. I know we are having a little bit of a slump right now, but our schedule looks fantastic and in the next few years, we’ll be back on top of the heap, where we belong.”
Eastwood, who is particularly close to Fellman, said he expects the executive to come back and release his movies. “Danny, we love you,” Eastwood said. “Have a great evening.”
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