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OSCAR MOGULS: Rich Ross 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:

WALT DISNEY STUDIOS
12 Nominations: 5 Toy Story 3, 3 Alice In Wonderland, 1 Tron: Legacy 3D, 1 The Tempest, 1 Tangled, 1 Day & Night

DEADLINE’s Nikki Finke: You’ve never done an Oscar campaign before. These weren’t even your movies. What was the biggest challenge you were facing?
RICH ROSS: For me to be able to support films that I didn’t greenlight was putting me in the brain of a marketer. I certainly knew I was lucky that I saw Alice In Wonderland before it was complete, and I saw Toy Story 3 way before it was complete. I think what made it very easy for me, in all honesty, was working with Tim Burton on Alice or working with John Lassiter — people who pour their heart and soul into these movies. And seeing how these movies both performed and were talked about and heralded is no less thrilling because I didn’t greenlight them. I see the faces of the people who win and you know they are thrilled. And that makes me happy. I would say that the most challenging situation was coming in and coming up with a strategy of support. At the same time you don’t have relationships which people have had for 20, 30, 40 years with the different organizations who determine the outcome of those races — people in the Directors Guild or people in the Producers Guild or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or the National Board of Review. These are many, many organizations aside from the critics who are giving out kudos.

DEADLINE: But you had Oscar consultants.
ROSS: We already had Tony Angelotti on the animation side, and we had Kira Feola on the live action side. They’ve split up the responsibilities. And the late Ronni Chasen was working on Alice In Wonderland, too, because she had worked with the Zanucks for a very long time. So Dick had asked me if it was possible to bring in Ronni to help support the film, and of course to support the filmmaker we said sure.

DEADLINE: It must have been such a blow for everyone at Disney when she died.
ROSS: Well, it was beyond shocking because I saw her the night before and she was very much in the heat of the moment because she was very close with the Zanucks and so when it happened it was very tough.

DEADLINE: You’ve done plenty of Emmy campaigns. What is the difference do you think now?
ROSS: The Emmy campaign is so much more targeted because you’re really going for one group of people who are voting on that series of awards. The Oscar campaign difference is the diversity of the groups. You have to thread the needle. You are going from literally that first National Board of Review list through every critics group that are in Iowa and St. Louis to all the Guild groups til you get to the Oscar nomination and an Oscar win.

DEADLINE: Let’s talk about Alice in Wonderland first. It didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.
ROSS: My feeling on Alice was I knew going into it we had a proverbial issue of timing. Obviously, it made a billion dollars. But that doesn’t help you. It opened in March. So it was about getting people to remember what they saw. Aside from the problem of when they do see it, the No. 2 challenge is commercialism which seems to come up every year. Last year the ultimate was with Avatar vs The Hurt Locker where people felt Avatar already had its success because the box office was there. It’s not that it doesn’t get attention but it’s definitely a challenge in terms of people’s interpretation of the Awards season. And one of the curious things for me was Mia Wasikowska who was doing her first film and held together a $150 million plus film that made a billion dollars. And when people are talking about breakout stars, I would stand around talking about her, and they are like, ‘Really?’ Now she’s getting huge movies and I believe she will be a huge star. But to me that was the most curious.

DEADLINE: And then Tim Burton has been pretty much ignored by Oscar voters.
ROSS: I think he’s clearly at the top of his game. This was a giant year for him and I assume he wanted to be appreciated. I do believe that day will come before it has to be an honorary Oscar. And I don’t believe it will be a small movie, Nikki. I do believe it will be some substantial commercial film where people will say, ‘It’s about time.’ Read More »

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HOT TRAILER: Disney’s ‘Prom’ Trailer

By | Wednesday February 9, 2011 @ 10:20am PST

This is the first movie release which Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross greenlighted:

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Disney’s Chuck Viane Retiring: Dave Hollis Promoted To EVP Theatrical Exhibition Sales/Distribution

BURBANK, Calif. – January 31, 2011 – Chuck Viane, president of Global Distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, announced today that he will retire in July after 25 years with The Walt Disney Company.

“Chuck is one of the most knowledgeable and savvy individuals in the film industry,” said Rich Ross, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. “Throughout his distinguished career at Disney, he has proven himself to be a rare legend, deeply respected by those who have had the privilege to work with him here as well as by exhibitors and colleagues around the world.”

Coming from the exhibition arm of the industry, Viane joined Disney in 1985 and has helped shepherd the Studio’s distribution operation through rapidly changing technological and economic times, including significant international expansion. As a result, the Studio’s distribution arm reached the domestic billion-dollar plateau 13 times during his tenure, setting the stage for the Studio in 2010 to become the first to have two billion-dollar earners in the same year, with Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3.

“Being on the front lines at Disney over such an exciting period in the film industry has been an extraordinary experience. I’ve worked on the best projects, I’ve worked with the best people and I’m proud of the things we’ve accomplished together,” said Viane. “Now I’m looking forward to watching my grandkids grow – and maybe getting to sleep in on Sunday mornings.”

The Studio is pleased

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OSCAR: Disney’s Rich Ross Says “We’re Going For The Best Picture Win” For ‘Toy Story 3′

Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: “We’re going for the Best Picture win. We wanted to have the best movie and the reviews have clearly said that and it’s the number one box office hit of the year so I’m not sure why we would not go for it all,” the Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross told me in a phone conversation this week. He’s talking about their worldwide billion dollar grosser Toy Story 3 which also sits atop Rotten Tomatoes chart of the best reviewed films of the year, at least those in wide release. To that end Disney/Pixar will launch an ambitious advertising campaign aimed squarely at Academy members this week that will blatantly try to associate past Best Picture winners with TS3 by having Toy Story characters enact some iconic images from Oscar winning films like West Side Story, On The Waterfront, Shakespeare In Love, Silence Of The Lambs, Titanic, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King and Forrest Gump (which will feature the Woody character voiced of course by ‘Gump’ star Tom Hanks – get it?). There are potentially more than 20 different ads they will create, but some, like Lambs, which features a disembodied Mr. Potato Head, still are being cleared by various parties. The campaign which uses the phrase ‘Not Since’ will launch with The Godfather Part II in which Lotso, the mob boss-like bear emulates Al Pacino. Since that film (and Rings) were rare instances of … Read More »

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Disney Theatrical Bottom-To-Top Shakeup?

By | Thursday October 7, 2010 @ 12:33pm PDT

EXCLUSIVE: I heard that yesterday the Disney Theatrical Group, which is the theatrical production arm of Walt Disney Studios that puts shows like The Lion King and Beauty & The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Mary Poppins and Tarzan and Aida on Broadway and on tour, is shrinking. It’s closing the Glendale office where I’m told some 50 or so people are based. Among those let go is Carol Nygren, the head of the company’s money-maker Disney On Ice and Disney Live which are part of Disney Live Family Entertainment and overseen by the Disney Theatrical Group. I also was tipped about other recent departures and/or layoffs among several long-term key executives leaving the Disney Theatrical Group’s home at NYC’s New Amsterdam Theater. These include the SVP & General Manager, three Associate Producers (a fourth stays), Head of Talent and Casting Development, Head of Physical Production, and VP Legal.  Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher and his heir apparent David Schrader are now calling this shakeup a “reorganization” (see detailed memo below) as the increasingly hit-challenged division struggles to maintain profits.

The Disney Theatrical Group has always and still does report to the Walt Disney Studios chairman who is Rich Ross of course. Yet Schumacher likes to think he’s running a boutique business that’s not under Ross’s direction. (Hmm.) So here is what’s really going on: Word is that Schumacher’s contract is up for renewal. And Schrader, a former finance manager for American Airlines whose rapid ascension at Disney has caused some raised eyebrows, is positioning himself as the new executive leader with studio brass. Meanwhile, Schumacher recently had his personal deal to produce live-action features for Walt Disney Studios, with a focus on movie musicals, cancelled by Ross. That has caused quite a lot of talk. People don’t seem to like Schumacher, an ex-head of Disney Animation. (One reason cited to me is ”he continues to retell history, all but erasing the success of his former producing partner and lead creative Peter Schneider,” according to one insider. And his “inflated ego is only matched by the size of his office and his ‘above the title billing’ — which is odd, given that he works for a publicly held company.”) Interesting that Schrader’s name is on the memo below — and not Schumacher’s:

From: Schrader, David
Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 2010 12:58 PM
To: #DTG NEW YORK Master List; #DTG GLENDALE Master List; #DTG AUSTRALIA Master List
Subject: Organizational Announcement

Dear Colleagues:
Today we are announcing a restructuring of some specific areas of Disney Theatrical Group (DTG), most significantly Marketing and Distribution, to align us more closely with both the Studio and Disney International organizations.  The new structure will give us more flexibility, focus and strength.  In addition, this simplified structure will allow us to more efficiently deliver our shows

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The Network Builder: Former War Reporter Paul Lee Goes For a Three-peat At ABC

Nellie Andreeva

There is one element in Paul Lee’s background that in my opinion makes him well equipped for his new job as ABC Entertainment Group president. It’s not his 6-year tenure as president of ABC Family, he will find soon enough that broadcast TV is a whole new ball game. It’s not his degree from Oxford either, it is probably too highbrow for the populist nature of U.S. broadcast TV. It is Lee’s very first job out of college as a BBC reporter stationed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, covering the conflict during a particularly critical period. If he wasn’t afraid to step into a real-life crossfire, he probably won’t be intimidated by facing critics and reporters at TCA on Sunday or tough talent negotiations and difficult decisions at ABC in the future.

Lee, who turned 50 a couple of weeks ago, is asked to build a third consecutive TV network almost from scratch. He launched BBC America and put the channel on the map with such series as the British version of The Office and Changing Rooms, both of which were successfully remade by U.S. networks, NBC and TLC (Trading Spaces). Then at ABC Family, he inherited a neglected channel whose purchase had been deemed one of the worst business deals in TV history that was stuffed with repurposed ABC shows, no original series and a dying original movie franchise. He rebuilt the channel with a demo-focused original fare like The Secret Life of the American Read More »

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