Warner Bros. Eyes Slimmed-Down Movie Budgets Under Toby Emmerich

Toby Emmerich and Kevin Tsujihara - Fist Fight Premiere - Getty - H 2017
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Insiders are predicting that the film studio's new president (a 'Goldfinch' movie is his first greenlight) could slash budgets and exert tighter control on non-tentpole pictures.

Toby Emmerich was announced as president of the Warner Bros. film studio in December, and Hollywood has been watching since with interest, not to say wariness, for signs of how he will run the place. Industry insiders are hoping some light will be shed June 22 when executives gather at the Montage Laguna Beach for an off-site retreat.

Emmerich, 54, has yet to greenlight a movie that truly bears his stamp. But sources say that first project will be The Goldfinch, an ambitious project based on the Donna Tartt novel, with John Crowley (Brooklyn) directing. That should stir some excitement. It may also soothe some who have business with Warners and who have been concerned that Emmerich could reveal plans for what one important producer calls the "New Line-ization" of the studio. That would mean on projects that don't fit into the Warners silos — Lego animated movies, Harry Potter spinoffs and D.C. Comics films — the studio would look to slash costs and avoid auteur directors who want final cut. There would be exceptions — notably Clint Eastwood and Chris Nolan.

Emmerich ran Warners' New Line label for eight years, overseeing such moderately budgeted hits as The Conjuring and We're The Millers, and was an executive there for many more. "Toby has a real strong loyalty to New Line," says one film agent. "Those are his boys that he's worked with for 20 years. He may be funneling more projects to New Line. He definitely knows New Line's development like the back of his hand." So far, he notes, Emmerich has yet to move out of his offices at New Line. (He has spent considerable time planning a reconfiguration of the Warners offices with the aim of creating more communal spaces but has yet to pull the trigger.)

But a source familiar with Emmerich's thinking says he not only hopes to foster a collegial spirit but to tackle the big questions hanging over the industry, such as whether there is a way to succeed at making movies outside the franchise tentpole world — romantic comedies, thrillers, Westerns, who knows? Further, this source says Emmerich was offered the opportunity to merge New Line with the Warners studio and passed because he prefers to keep pipelines representing different sensibilities. As for remaining in his old offices, this source says Emmerich had hoped to bring the various elements of the studio — animation, DC and live action — into closer proximity, but his original vision proved too costly to implement. A thriftier version attempting to achieve the same goal is in the works.

An executive with longstanding ties to Warners praises "the refreshing pragmatism and personality of Toby," but sees Emmerich placing his feet carefully because of the impending AT&T acquisition of Time Warner. With that $85.4 billion deal looming, this executive and others believes Warners chairman CEO Kevin Tsujihara is anxious about his own future and delegating more power to Emmerich than he did to the previous top film executive, Greg Silverman, in the hope that the studio's performance will improve and the new bosses will be placated.

Previously Tsujihara was "trying to be Barry Meyer and Alan Horn, rather than just being Barry Meyer," one veteran involved with Warners says. (This is an allusion to the previous regime, in which Meyer was chairman of Warners overseeing all its businesses and Horn was president, overseeing the film studio.) Still, Emmerich faces some constraints, such as the fact that Sue Kroll, the president of worldwide marketing and distribution, does not report to him. Whether that creates tension that must be addressed is a subject of speculation among Hollywood observers. (Industry sources say Kroll has been building her own relationship with AT&T global marketing officer Lori Lee recently.)

While the executive with ties to Warners thinks it is an overreaction to predict that Emmerich will preside over the total "New Line-ization" of the studio, he does expect some key elements of New Line culture to be incorporated: Budgets are likely to be slimmed down and final-cut directors may be avoided. He believes the studio can hold on to control of final cut and still hire A-list filmmakers. As for budgets, he says, "Outside the silos, there has been a big waste of money on projects that don't make sense." Under Emmerich's leadership, he adds, "they're not going to make a movie like The Judge with Robert Downey Jr. for $60 million. For $35 million — maybe."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.