Why an Angry Steven Spielberg Confronted Disney's Rich Ross at Dinner

Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The irked "War Horse" director approached the studio chief for not consulting him before Disney marketing chief MT Carney was replaced.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When the long-rumored departure of Disney marketing chief MT Carney was confirmed Jan. 8, the guessing game began: Who would replace the controversial outsider who lacked studio experience? Amazingly, Disney managed to keep its choice secret until a press release was prepared.

PHOTOS: The Making of Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse'

Among those who didn't enjoy the suspense was Steven Spielberg, whose DreamWorks Studios has distributed its films through Disney since 2009. According to multiple sources, Spielberg shared that sentiment during a confrontation with studio chief Rich Ross at the Jan. 12 dinner for the Critics' Choice Movie Awards.

The sources say Spielberg told Ross bluntly he was upset that he wasn't consulted two or three weeks earlier, when Ross decided that Carney had an "out" date and would be replaced. One source says Ross seemed "a little stunned" by the rebuke. Another says Ross deflected the criticism by explaining that the studio had to keep the name of its candidate confidential during negotiations. But, of course, that was beside the point; the War Horse director, Hollywood's 800-pound gorilla, had hoped to be involved in the discussion before Ross made a choice.

STORY: Disney Names Ricky Strauss as Marketing Chief

Meanwhile, Ross' hire, Participant Media president Ricky Strauss, is widely praised as a capable and affable executive, but a number of observers are baffled that Ross chose someone who had never run a studio marketing operation. One source says Disney's secrecy made it difficult for Strauss to arrive to much fanfare. The rampant speculation about who would get the job — executives around town considered virtually every possible choice — led those with ties to Disney to expect a well-known, high-level marketing veteran to sign on, which didn't ultimately happen. DreamWorks and Disney declined comment.