Universal's Adam Fogelson on Legendary Rumors, 'Fifty Shades' and Movie Woes

Matt Belloni Adam Fogelson - H 2013

Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson insists his studio isn’t searching for new outside sources of money -- even as industry speculation centers on whether Universal will partner with Thomas Tull's Legendary Pictures.

In a keynote Q&A Wednesday at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Power Lawyers breakfast, Fogelson said Universal often is approached by possible financial backers and has turned away several proposals. "They did not meet our needs," Fogelson told the crowd of entertainment attorneys and executives. "We are under no pressure to take a financing partner at all costs."

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Legendary, which has financed a healthy chunk of Warner Bros.' movies for the past few years, is considering whether to end the co-financing arrangement at the end of 2013. Universal has been mentioned as one possible suitor.

Fogelson made his remarks in a 30-minute conversation with THR executive editor Matthew Belloni in front of most of those profiled as Hollywood’s Top 100 at Spago in Beverly Hills. The event was sponsored by Samsung Galaxy, City National Bank, Southern California Porsche Dealers, ADR Services and JAMS.

Janice Min, THR's editorial director, introduced Warner Bros.' soon-to-retire chairman Barry Meyer; newly-minted Warners CEO Kevin Tsujihara was also on hand, as were members of the studio's legal team; Universal executive vp and general counsel Maren Christensen, attorneys Ken Ziffren, Jeanne Newman, Alan Wertheimer, Jason Sloane, Howard Weitzman, Daniel Petrocelli, Larry Stein and many more.

Meyer introduced John Rogovin, Warners' executive vp and general counsel, who received THR's annual Raising The Bar Award. The studio's much-anticipated Superman movie, Man of Steel, hits theaters on June 14 -- following Rogovin's years of work to secure rights in litigation that is still ongoing.

“In DC Comics, legend has it when Metropolis needed a superhero, it called the Man of Steel," Meyer said. "When the Man of Steel needed a lawyer, he called John Rogovin.”

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Fogelson, in his usual candid fashion, spoke about the challenges of heading a studio with fewer franchises than some of its competitors. But the studio has made big strides in creating its own with Ted, Despicable Me and the Fast and Furious movies, the sixth of which opens this weekend.

Universal is home to one of the most-discussed book adaptations in years, after paying $5 million through its Focus Features division to bring E.L.James' best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey to the screen. And while the studio spent “gobs of money” to acquire the rights, Fogelson said he believes the movie can be made at a mid-range budget and has a built-in audience among those who read the best-selling novels -- no matter how raunchy they are.

“To dismiss a phenomenon like this because somebody says you can't write explicit sex scenes for women is insane," he said.

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Asked about his movie budgets and behind-the-scenes moves, Fogelson said making movies is “the world’s largest spectator sport." That can be a problem when re-shoots and other changes are needed but create an image that a project is troubled. The result, said Fogelson, can sometimes be, “You don’t have the freedom to do the work and craft the story.”

Fogelson said the biggest change he has seen in nearly four years in his current job is the shift from a belief that you can be guaranteed a gross of $100 million or more worldwide. “Something in the last year and a half has changed,” said Fogelson. “If you’re making something nobody wants to see, no matter how you flog it, nobody will want to see it."