Michael De Luca Exits Sony for Universal Producing Deal

Michael De Luca
Austin Hargrave

"I didn't feel pressure because we had a possible replacement in place before the thing actually went down," says De Luca, referring to Charlie Hunnam's exit from Fifty Shades of Grey. "It's just called being prepared. But I am on Twitter constantly. I am a masochist. I'm into the fandom, so I was aware of what was coming the first time around, when Charlie Hunnam wasn't what most readers pictured."

Leaving Sony's executive suite behind, the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' producer is shifting to a producer deal at Universal.

Michael De Luca has left Sony and is headed to Universal Pictures, where he is expected to sign a new producing deal.

De Luca, 49, has a longstanding relationship with Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley, going back to their days together at New Line Cinema, and he recently produced the hit Universal release Fifty Shades of Grey.

De Luca, who joined Sony as its president of production in December 2013, issued a statement Thursday evening. "I literally wish I could be in two places at once, but the opportunity to resume my producing career right now, including the possibility of continuing on the Fifty Shades trilogy, makes this the right choice for me at this unique moment in time. I look forward to continuing to work with Columbia on my existing productions there."

Sony motion picture group president Doug Belgrad issued a statement of his own, saying, "Mike will always be family to us. He is one of those guys who can do it all. As he transitions back to producing, we're thrilled that we'll be continuing to work with him on several Sony projects."

When Amy Pascal stepped down as co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment in early February in the aftermath of the Sony hack, both De Luca and Belgrad were among those mentioned as possible replacements. Instead, SPE chairman Michael Lynton opted to name Tom Rothman, the former Fox exec who was running Sony's TriStar unit, as chairman of Sony's motion picture group.

Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter in a Feb. 25 interview, "I'm very confident in the level of executive talent here, and I prize stability," predicting that no changes were imminent at the studio.

While some observers attributed De Luca's decision to make a move to the fact that he was frustrated and wanted to play a bigger role at Sony, others pointed to the role he'll have, and the financial windfall he'll realize, in the future Fifty Shades sequels. The first Fifty Shades installment, which De Luca produced with Dana Brunetti and the book's author EL James, has grossed $564 million worldwide since it was released in February. Just last week, Sam Taylor-Johnson, who directed the first film, announced she was not returning for any of the sequels, which do not yet have release dates or even a script for the first sequel.

De Luca spent the first half of his career in Hollywood's executive suites, rising to become president of production at New Line, and then in 2001 moving to DreamWorks, where he served as president of production until 2004. It was then that he became an independent producer, with a first-look deal at Sony's Columbia. He surprised many when he took the Sony production job in 2013, since, at the time, he was enjoying a successful run as a producer with critical and commercial hits like The Social Network, Moneyball and Captain Phillips. And at the time, he'd already become involved with Universal's Dracula Untold and Fifty Shades. But the exec perch did offer a few things the life of an indie producer, even a successful one, lacks: stability and security. And with Pascal's future at the studio already attracting plenty of speculation — even before the hackers hit the studio in late 2014 — De Luca may have foreseen other executive opportunities opening up at the studio.

At Sony, De Luca shared the president of production title with Hannah Minghella, and he's been busy in that post. He was to have overseen Sony's new female-centric Ghostbusters along with Rothman and Belgrad. He was developing a remake of the 1983 action thriller Blue Thunder, with Brunetti producing, which got underway this month with the hiring of writer Craig Kyle. And earlier this month, he and Sony bought a sci-fi pitch with franchise material from producer Matt Tolmach and writer Kurt Johnstad.

Moving his base of operations to Universal would mark a reunion of sorts for De Luca and Langley if they hadn't already been working together on Fifty Shades, which Langley closely oversaw for the studio. The British-born Langley was working as a hostess at the hot '80s club Roxbury when she first met De Luca, who offered her her first film job at New Line. And she considers him a mentor, telling THR in 2011, "The thing I admire about Mike is he's able to stay connected to his gut instinct. And his batting average is as good or better than the people doing more traditional number crunching."