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Ben Affleck’s, Baz Luhrmann’s, Christopher Nolan’s Relationships With Jeff Robinov

To understand how Warner Bros Pictures filmmakers may feel about today’s developments, my conversations below may provide some intel. When rumors about Jeff Robinov being forced out as President of Warner Bros Pictures Group first surfaced this spring (Related: NEW WARNER BROS SHAKE-UP: Jeff Robinov Quitting Movie Studio After No New Contract Offered), I spoke to Ben Affleck to get his thoughts on what he called their “dream relationship” during and after The Town and Argo:

On the record. We have history. After Gone Baby Gone [2007] was well regarded but didn’t make money. The phone was not ringing off the hook. but Jeff called. ‘I’m a fan. I loved the film. Let’s sit down and have coffee. I’d really like you to direct movies for us. What do you want to do.” I went from no scripts to 15 Warners’ scripts, he was giving them all to me. He was the only person at a studio doing that. I also have a great relationship with Sue Kroll. But with Jeff, I never hear from anybody to make changes. I’m not told, ‘It tested poorly. Fix it.’ He sticks with me through screenings. I needed $1 million for a couple of reshoots on The Town. ‘You’re the horse I bet on,’ he tells me. ‘I believe in filmmakers.’ It’s a dream relationship.

When George [Clooney] moved his deal out of Warner Bros, all the projects didn’t move with him. Jeff gave me the script for Argo after calling George and Grant [Heslov] to see how I’d hit off with them. I stayed on budget. But I always felt if I had a problem I could call Jeff. Argo was viewed as a very challenging movie itself, skewing older when the public wants a superhero movie. But those two guys – jeff and Sue – really found a way to sell the movie. Sue supported by Jeff was 100% on board. They’re almost a symbiotic relationship. It was obviously an incredible year but if they wouldn’t have bet on us, if they’d not spent a lot of money on us, we wouldn’t have won the Oscar. It was a wonderful experience and why I want to support Jeff.

I’ve seen Jeff’s sensibility change into his job, gracefully and gradually leading with a lot of authority. I have spoken with [Jeff] Bewkes and Kevin [Tsujihara] and Barry [Meyer] but not in great detail as things are evolving at the studio. I’ve kept abreast. I’ve talked about it to Jeff. He’s what I really care about. How we’re going to make it down the road or get along without him I don’t know. Jeff naturally was very disappointed when he didn’t get the top job. He and I have spent a lot of time cultivating this relationship and I never thought that would have culminated in this career high or the most incredible year of my life.

Again, on the record, I don’t know what I would do if Jeff weren’t there. I don’t know from my view anyone else there who knows how to make movies. I would like to support him. So many places are filled with frustrations and run by people who haven’t been sure-footed or have the right taste. Hopefully, it’s about taste. Not everybody has it. Picking Zack Snyder was not obvious. Being able to take risks and make decisions not supported by conventional wisdom. Studios have the power and don’t often cede the power to the director.”

I also received this on-the-record statement from Baz Luhrmann at the same time, which was right before The Great Gatsby hit theaters in May:

Last year, when we were moving towards a Christmas release date for Gatsby, Jeff Robinov said to me, ‘Perhaps you’ll be able to make the release date. But will it be the movie that you want it to be? If you had more time to work on the visual effects and music, would you have a better chance of realizing your vision for the film?’ Jeff was resolute that the most important thing was for me to do my best possible work, and by moving ‘Gatsby’ to the summer, he gave me the time and resources to do it. He showed incredible leadership in not being concerned with the possible media controversy about moving the release date; his sole concern was that Gatsby be the best film that it could be. For which I’ll always be profoundly grateful.

But no Warner Bros Pictures film relationship is more important than with Christopher Nolan. According to several accounts, Robinov’s relationship with Nolan began right after Memento was released in March 2001. Within a month, Nolan’s agent Dan Aloni called Robinov and told him he should meet with the helmer. At first Nolan was going to direct Troy (released in 2004) but wasn’t feeling it. With that Robinov asked if there was anything else Nolan wanted to do – and learned that the director had always had an interest in Batman. At the time, the studio didn’t have a take on a reboot of its lucrative DC Comics franchise. But Nolan came in and brilliantly pitched Robinov who immediately set up a meeting with then studio chief Alan Horn who also bought into it. Read More »

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Harry Potter Inc: Warner Bros’ $21B Empire

Final Harry Potter Already Wrecking Foreign/Domestic Records

EXCLUSIVE: With history’s most successful movie franchise coming to an end with the Friday release of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, it’s a good time to ask: How much loot was conjured up en masse? And the answer is startling. You can find about $21 billion by adding up gross sales the series has generated since 1998 from films, videos, video games, licensed merchandise, and books. (See detailed breakdown below.) Time Warner has already seen an estimated $1 billion in profit from the films and its work as custodian of a global entertainment brand. The tally should continue to grow, probably by a lot, with the release tomorrow of Warner Bros’ Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2 — although Hollywood accounting has a way of making profits vanish. (Here‘s how the black magic worked for Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix in a studio accounting statement obtained by Deadline’s Mike Fleming. Though the film grossed $938.2 million worldwide, the document conveys that the film is still $167+ million in the red)

Things have turned out so well that it’s easy to forget what a huge risk Warner seemed to be taking more than a decade ago when it bought the Potter rights. The studio didn’t know how the series would end. And J.K. Rowling, who wrote the series, was a wild card. Many wondered whether U.S. audiences would warm to the all-British movie cast that Rowling required.  “The casting of the kids was the biggest place where it could have gone wrong,” Warner Bros Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov tells me. Some Warner executives also chafed at Rowling’s demands that there be no Potter-related fast food offerings and that Warner show restraint in product licensing. “I can only say now to all the parents out there, if the action figures are horrible, just tell the kids that I said don’t buy them. Sorry, Warners,” Rowling told a 60 Minutes interview.

Virtually everybody agrees now that Rowling was right to keep the franchise faithful to her vision. And Warner was right to embrace that vision down to small details in licensed merchandise. “We had a guideline that was perhaps frustrating to our colleagues in Consumer Products but has held well for us as a company which was to look to create artifacts, not souvenirs,” DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson tells me. She oversaw the Potter franchise from the beginning. Marketing plans also adapted as fans became older and the Potter saga grew darker. “We held on to fans as they aged in a way that’s never been seen before,” Nelson says to me.

Here’s how all of the Potter business decisions have turned out so far:

Movies. The first seven films accounted for nearly $6.4 billion in ticket sales, with 68% of the total coming from overseas, according to Box Office Mojo. The only other franchise that comes close is James Bond: Its 23 films beat Potter if ticket prices are adjusted for inflation.

Home Video. Consumers have spent nearly $3.9 billion globally — with 44% of that coming from the U.S. — to buy 302 million videos of the first six Potter films, Warner says. IHS Screen Digest says that Warner probably collected about $1.5 billion just from domestic video sales, which would more than cover the studio’s estimated $1.4 billion production budget for all eight films. Read More »

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URGENT: Warner Bros Downsizing New Line

EXCLUSIVE: Deadline has learned that New Line will reduce its output from 8 movies a year to just 4. In addition, some of New Line’s personnel will be laid off in coming weeks. It’s all part of Warner Bros newly named movie boss Jeff Robinov plan to “downsize” the division. The mogul has been quite vocal on the need for Warner Bros to cut down on the total number of movies it releases and markets in order to be able to focus attention on its winners. Our sources say that New Line will still be freestanding — just smaller. There are no plans to exit President and COO Toby Emmerich. “But he may not like the new structure of the company and decide to move on,” an insider speculated. New Line was taken over by Warner Bros in 2008 after Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne were shown the door by Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes after a string of expensive box office failures: as many as 550 New Line staffers lost their jobs. Within the past two years, however, New Line’s movie slate has been performing well and adding to the diversity of the Warner Bros film product. In addition, New Line has the two back-to-back movies of The Hobbit in the pipeline, as well as the Bryan Singer-directed Jack The Giant Killer, the musical Rock Of Ages with Tom Cruise and Russell Brand, the spinoff on Valentine’s Day titled New Year’s Eve, the Seth Gordon-directed … Read More »

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OSCAR MOGULS: Jeff Robinov Q&A

The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:

Warner Bros
12 Nominations: 8 Inception, 1 The Town, 2 Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One, 1 Hereafter

DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: Obviously I can’t believe that Chris Nolan was not nominated for Best Director for Inception.
JEFF ROBINOV: Me, neither.

DEADLINE: What was it like at Warner Bros when they announced the nominations? Was it funereal?
ROBINOV: I think we were all disappointed for Chris, more than Chris was for Chris. Chris doesn’t take any of this personally. At least in my experience of him, he’s very sanguine about the whole thing. I just felt very sorry for him because I thought that he deserved it and I know Barry Meyer and Alan Horn and everybody else at the studio felt the same way. Plus, we all had a tremendous amount of pride in the film. You become very protective of it, very parental in a way.

DEADLINE: How do you explain this snub — again?
ROBINOV: He’s never really had, and his movies never really had, the critical support that some of these other films have had. As you go through a lot of the nominations, frankly, it’s just confusing. All of them are good movies and all of them are well directed, but none of them faced the challenges that Chris faced. … Read More »

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