Fox Film Chief Stacey Snider Tries to Calm the Troops After Disney Deal

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Stacey Snider

"People are subdued and stunned," said one Fox film executive.

Under normal circumstances, 20th Century Fox Film chairman-CEO Stacey Snider would have been in Washington on Thursday for the world premiere of Steven Spielberg's The Post, the Pentagon Papers drama starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

But Snider canceled the trip in order to speak with anxious executives following the official announcement that Disney intends to buy big parts of 21st Century Fox, including the film studio, which includes Fox proper, Fox 2000 and Fox Searchlight. The $52.3 billion acquisition, which must now be approved by regulators, would dramatically alter the Hollywood studio landscape by ending the decades-long rule of the six major studios — Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. — and reducing the number to five.

Fox's film empire, rocked to the core by news of the proposed marriage, could become a production entity within the Disney stable alongside Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar, all run by Disney Studios chief Alan Horn, who also oversees Disney's live-action studio and Disney Animation, in addition to its various silos.

Snider, whose future post-merger is in question, convened a series of smaller meetings with staff. On the television side, Peter Rice, president of 21st Century Fox and chairman-CEO of Fox Networks Group, held several town halls.

"People are subdued and stunned," said a staffer attending one of the sessions with Snider, who said she would hold office hours all day if anyone wanted to talk privately. A human resources manager also said there will be an effort to retain people so that employees don't bolt during the merger process, and that a bonus retention pool is being set up.

Following the announcement of the proposed merger, Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger himself said during an investors call that Disney is expected to keep Fox proper, Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000 as a production venture. Iger also said the Fox assets would allow Disney to expand its tentpole business. "But we also like being in the business of making quality movies. We're very impressed with what Fox Searchlight has accomplished from a quality perspective, and with Fox 2000, we fully intend to stay in those businesses," he told reporters. Iger also added there is a place for an R-rated Deadpool.

While the exec didn't discuss the future of specific Fox executives, he said: "I've always been impressed with them as competitors."

One insider said Snider urged the troops to "keep the faith," and that it is business as usual until the merger closes 12 to 18 months from now. "Those are the marching orders," the person said.

Yet if a merger goes through, there are destined to be major layoffs on the marketing and distribution side, since Disney doesn't need redundant operations.

"If you're on the production side, you might be okay," said another Fox insider. "Everyone else, not so much."

At the first of the town hall meetings organized by Rice, employees working across the various television divisions were likewise told the merger approval could take 12 to 18 months, although some insiders think it could be fast-tracked. Taking to the stage were Rice, Fox Television Group co-chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman and FX Network and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf.

There was no guidance provided as to what the leadership structure would look upon the Disney acquisition, with the execs saying they know very little about their own futures.

Pointing to other companies Disney has bought — Lucasfilm, Pixar and Marvel — Landgraf said Disney recognizes the importance of preserving a company's culture.

Employees were also cautioned that there's a chance the merger could fall through, hence the importance of business as usual.

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