Rich Ross continues his spate of executive hirings by tapping the industry veteran to lead Shine America’s in-house business and legal affairs department. Jeffrey Schneider has been named to the newly created position of EVP Business and Legal Affairs & General Counsel. “Jeff’s tremendous professional experience within our industry makes him the ideal executive to lead our business affairs team as we continue to aggressively expand our footprint in both scripted and unscripted television programming,” said Shine America CEO Ross, the former Disney Studios chairman, in a statement today. Schneider will be based in LA. Previously Schneider had been EVP Business Affairs, Entertainment & Digital Networks and Integrated Media at NBCUniversal since 2011. Before that he was SVP Business Affairs and Deputy General Counsel for Lifetime Television Networks. Last month, Shine America named Linda Giambrone EVP & Head Of Production and also boosted its marketing and research units.
Shine America’s Rich Ross to Keynote at Australian Conference
Rich Ross, recently installed CEO of Shine America, will give the keynote address at the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association conference March 14 in Sydney. Also due to speak are Barney Francis of the UK’s Sky Sports, Discovery Networks Intl. CEO Mark Hollinger, Foxtel Richard Freudenstein, and Viacom Media EVP Colleen Fahey Rush. – Don Groves
Benjamin Millepied To Run Paris Opera Ballet
Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied has been named the new director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. He will take up his post at the historic Palais Garnier in Paris’ 9th arrondissement beginning September 2014. Millepied, who also danced in Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-nominated Black Swan and met his wife Natalie Portman on the film, has spent most of his career in the U.S. and founded the L.A. Dance Project last year. He told The New York Times he would continue to work with the experimental group until he and Portman move to Paris. A notoriously intense ballet company, Palais Garnier’s troupe was the focus of a 2001 documentary, Etoiles: Dancers Of The Paris Opera Ballet, directed by Nils Tavernier.
Former Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross is returning to television, this time on the production side. Ross has been named CEO of Shine America, taking the reins of the U.S. outpost of Elisabeth Murdoch‘s Shine Group. He will start in January. Ross had a very successful run as President of Disney Channels Worldwide, overseeing global hits like Hannah Montana and High School Musical, before he moved to the feature side in 2009 for a rocky two-and-a-half-year term that ended in April.
At Shine America, Ross will replace current CEO Carl Fennessy. Fennessy, formerly co-CEO of Shine Australia, was brought to the U.S. in mid-2011 to succeed then-Shine Americas CEO Emiliano Calemzuk when he left in January 2012. After helping Ross with the transition, Fennessy will return to Australia where he will resume his duties as co-CEO of Shine Australia.
Ross and Shine Group chairman Murdoch have known each other for 20 years. “Rich is a world-class executive and the ideal leader to build on our extraordinary momentum at Shine America. We all welcome him warmly,” she said. “On behalf of everyone at Shine, I would like to thank Carl for his outstanding leadership over the last 18 months. He will be missed in America as much as he will be welcomed home in Australia.”
Shine America’s slate includes unscripted series MasterChef on Fox and The Biggest Loser on NBC, which will soon be joined by The Face on Oxygen. The company, whose scripted series originally consisted of Reveille’s The Office and The Tudors, has been ramping up scripted development and recently landed its first scripted pilot, The Bridge on FX, and first Spanish-language production, Minuto Para Ganar on MundoFOX. The company also recently launched New York-based format label Ardaban.
BREAKING… SHOCKER! RICH ROSS OUT AT DISNEY
“It was a very difficult decision. Very. But his team lost faith in him. The town, as you know, never wanted him to succeed. And it was just the wrong fit,” a Disney insider tells me, explaining Walt Disney President/CEO Bob Iger’s decision announced today to fire Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross. Iger began discussions several weeks ago with Ross to end his tenure. But, after 2 1/2 years in the job, Ross’ own slate of movies had not even bowed: Peter Hedge’s The Odd Life Of Timothy Green (August 15th), Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (October 5th), Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful (March 8th, 2013), Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp under the Jerry Bruckheimer banner (May 31st, 2013), Maleficent (March 14th, 2014) starring Angelina Jolie. The rest of Disney’s release slate consist of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation, Marvel, and DreamWorks pics. Disney strenuously denies there are any problems with Ross’ upcoming films. Instead, insiders strenuously complain about Ross’ personality:
“He had an ‘awareness’ issue,” a Disney source explains to me. “Sometimes people, when they’re put in a different place, they manage it well. And sometimes they don’t. It has nothing to do with the slate of his upcoming films. They’re fine. It’s just about leadership and management. Rich didn’t make the transition. He got caught up in the trappings of the job rather than the specifics. What it became about was we saw him making stupid mistakes. Focusing on things that were not important like parties and celebrities. People that were doing business with us in the film business not only internally but externally were complaining that they were having a hard time doing business with him.”
Rare indeed is the movie mogul who isn’t arrogant. But as much as Ross’ style and substance were the problems, and of his own making, so was his situation, which wasn’t. Because the Walt Disney Studios has become unmanageable. Among Ross’ most vocal detractors were Disney’s mega-shareholder Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter, Pixar/Walt Disney Animation Studios chief creative officer and mega-exec John Lasseter, mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and DreamWorks mega-filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider. The fact is that these powerful personalities — oh, hell, let’s call them what they are: major-league pricks — have come together in one place making so many demands on the parent studio that it’s hard for anyone who finds himself nominally in charge able to keep them all satisfied. Interestingly, Ross’ predecessor, the famously people-pleasing Dick Cook, did for a time and maybe could have continued well into the future. But Iger fired him, too.
Ross arrived at a watershed time for the studio: shortly after Iger entered into the 2009 deal with Marvel. The comic book, TV, and film entertainment company’s Israeli owner Ike Perlmutter is not just a notoriously tough custumer but a budget-obsessed megalomaniac besides a recluse. He has taken control of Disney’s consumer products division already (firing here, fixing there), and my sources tell me he is making Iger’s life miserable with back-seat managing of everything, especially Walt Disney Studios. (“Iger has real problems with Ike. That’s the real story,” one of my insiders tells me. ”Bob thought he could handle him. But Ike is uncharmable.”) Lasseter had the full force of then mega-stockholder Steve Jobs behind him, and singlehandedly caused the film studio to back the loser live action picture John Carter. DreamWorks, of course, drove two Universal and Paramount crazy with their constant complaining before it started to give Disney the same mistreatment beginning in 2009 and continuing through War Horse. Meanwhile, Jerry Bruckheimer’s films were falling out of favor at the box office. Now Bruckheimer is pissed that, after all the hits he’s delivered in the past, under The Lone Ranger‘s ‘favored nation’ deal negotiated with the studio to deflate a bloated budget, he (+ Depp + Verbinski) get paid big bucks only when Disney recoups.
And then there is Iger himself, infamous for firing top executives just when they’re about to turn their divisions around.
BREAKING… Below is what fired Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross just sent to his staff, followed by a statement from Disney Chairman Bob Iger. But make no mistake about it: Ross did not simply decide to step down – he was fired. He was named Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios on October 5, 2009. Previously, he’d been the very successful President of Disney Channels Worldwide overseeing global hits like Hannah Montana and High School Musical. His ouster now ends his 15+ year Disney career which included one of the most public and worst film failures in Hollywood — John Carter, a $200M writedown for the Walt Disney Co:
For the last 15 years, I have had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people on behalf of the world’s best loved brand. During that time, we’ve told some amazing stories around the world, created successful TV programming, movies, and franchises that generated new opportunities for the company in the process.
I’ve always said our success is created and driven by our people – whom I consider to be the absolute best in the business. But, the best people need to be in the right jobs, in roles they are passionate about, doing work that leverages the full range of their abilities. It’s one of the leadership lessons I’ve learned during my career, and it’s something I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to as I look at the challenges and opportunities ahead.
I believe in this extraordinary Walt Disney Studios team, and I believe in our strong slate of films and our ability to make and market them better than anyone else. But, I no longer believe the Chairman role is the right professional fit for me. For that reason, I have made the very difficult decision to step down as Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, effective today.
It has been my honor to work with such incredible teams – at Disney Channels Worldwide and The Walt Disney Studios and the many other Disney businesses I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with. I know I leave the Studios in good hands and, even on separate paths, I am confident we are all destined for continued success.
Statement from Bob Iger, Chairman/CEO, Walt Disney Co
For more than a decade, Rich Ross’s creative instincts, business acumen and personal integrity have driven results in key businesses for Disney, redefining success in kids and family entertainment and launching franchises that generate value across our entire company.
Here is Rich Ross’ internal email to the entire Walt Disney Studios staff confirming, as I first reported exclusively on Sunday, that worldwide marketing head MT Carney leaving company. Following it is MT Carney’s exit message sent to …
EXCLUSIVE UPDATE: I’m hearing that Disney has set The Lone Ranger to start production February 6, 2012. That re-establishes one of the most intriguing examples of a star-driven film that was unplugged because of high budget and put back together in a way that gives the studio a chance to recoup its costs. Though The Lone Ranger has arguably the world’s most bankable movie star in Johnny Depp, it also is a Western, which (as evidenced by the lackluster performance of Cowboys & Aliens), doesn’t as a genre do strong business overseas. I expect this to be formalized by tomorrow.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, October 11, 4:38 PM: Well, it took a week longer than I thought it would, but Disney has finally reached a meeting of the minds on The Lone Ranger with director Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The studio is expected to formalize a new start date imminently and announce it is moving forward and putting Depp back in the saddle as Tonto, with Armie Hammer as the title character. It looked like the studio was going to announce last week when the picture brightened for the film, but it will be this week’s business instead. I don’t think Disney was able to salvage its December 21 release date because production won’t start in New Mexico until early next year.
The original plan was to begin shooting this fall. That was until, as Deadline revealed on August 12, the studio shockingly pulled the plug on a project it feared could come in at between $250 million-$275 million. The risk of such a figure on a Western became more glaring after Cowboys & Aliens had just turned in a severely disappointing domestic gross, to be followed by an even worse offshore performance, proving the adage that most Westerns don’t travel well. Cowboys & Aliens will be a costly money-loser, 50% shouldered by DreamWorks and the other half split between Universal and Relativity Media. On Lone Ranger, there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes drama as the three principal players made concessions in their deals, and worked on the script to salvage the spectacle that made the movie worth making in the first place while bringing the budget down to a more manageable figure in the $215 million range.
EXCLUSIVE: Deadline told you a week ago that things were looking up for The Lone Ranger for the first time since we broke the shocking news on Aug. 12 that Disney had pulled the plug over budget. I’m hearing that the studio is likely to have everything resolved by next week, and can start rehiring crew so that the picture will be ready to begin production in January or February. How that late start impacts the Dec. 21, 2012 release date remains to be seen, but Johnny Depp will get to play Tonto (Disney wouldn’t make the movie without him), and Armie Hammer will be back in as the title character. Ruth Wilson, the scene-stealing killer from Idris Elba’s British cop series Luther, is also expected back as the female lead.
Disney has gotten to this point after a painful overhaul of the movie by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski to bring to $215 million a budget the studio feared could reach $250 or more. Verbinski’s struggle has been to reach that number while retaining enough of the spectacle that made them say yes in the first place. The cutting process has included the reworking of deals for Depp, Verbinski and Bruckheimer, and trimming the production budget and the long shoot. That would enable Depp, Gore and Bruckheimer to re-team after making the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films together. The Lone Ranger is one of several huge-budget films that Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey are managing. The others include John Carter, the Andrew Stanton-directed adaptation of John Carter of Mars with Friday Night Lights‘ Taylor Kitsch in the lead role, which has a budget around $250 million; and The Great and Powerful Oz, the Sam Raimi-directed James Franco-starrer, which is hovering around $200 million.
EXCLUSIVE: In an exclusive to Deadline’s Pete Hammond during Disney’s D23 Expo, Rich Ross made his first comment on The Lone Ranger since I revealed the film had been halted for budgetary reasons. “I’m hoping to do it. I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry and Johnny more than me, so we’ll see how it works.” The surprise is that Ross mentioned Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer but not the film’s director Gore Verbinski. Would Disney be happier making The Lone Ranger without him?
The rumblings I’ve heard since my first story on the stoppage are as follows: Verbinski and Bruckheimer have been working hard to tone down or lose some of the budget-busting spectacular scenes in Justin Haythe’s script. At the same time, Bruckheimer as well as reps for Depp and Verbinski have been discussing ways to defer big chunks of their upfront paydays. Salary among all three likely accounts for $30 million or more. And if the trio’s backend deals weren’t at cash break before, they likely will be now if the film moves forward. Because simply adjusting above-the-line salaries isn’t enough to bring down what insiders told Deadline nine days ago was a $75 million budget gap to get to the $200 million Disney wants to spend on the Western. I’ve heard since that the studio will agree to make The Lone Ranger at $215 million. One major question is whether Verbinski can deliver at that number and retain enough spectacle “wow” factor to give The Lone Ranger a shot at a big overseas gross and sequels.
If Ross’s comments indicate that Disney would be open to making The Lone Ranger with another director, that is taking a big risk with Depp. Outside of Tim Burton, no director has made as many movies with Depp as Verbinski, with three Pirates of the Caribbean films and Rango. Would Depp continue in the movie if Verbinski was moved aside or quit? Good question. The Lone Ranger is a giant risk in the first place because Westerns don’t traditionally perform well overseas. In a DVD-collapsed world, a $275 million film is back to grossing three times its budget to earn out, and that can’t be done without a big overseas reward. Without Depp — arguably the biggest star in the world right now with three of the all-time Top 10 worldwide grossing films — there is no Lone Ranger.
Disney Announces Two New Pixar Films
Who needs Comic-Con when you can do it yourself?
That must be exactly what Disney is thinking as it continues its massive second annual Disney D23/ Expo, the “ultimate fan event” taking place all weekend long at the Anaheim Convention Center right next to Disneyland (the name refers to 1923, the year Walt Disney started his studio). It’s an offshoot of the official Disney Fan Club and includes a ginormous exhibition center with every imaginable opportunity to buy Disneyana, numerous fan events and celebrity-sighting opps, and then there was today’s centerpiece: a near-three-hour preview of movies in the pipeline from Disney, Pixar and Marvel (which announced a partnership with the company in 2009 that is just now gearing up).
Call it “Mickey Con”. It’s all a bit overwhelming, so no wonder it takes three days just to get through it all. The event continues through the end of Sunday.
After his major presentation of the new Disney slate in the gargantuan arena in front of 4200 seemingly rabid fans (and a few more restrained press members), I caught up with Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross in the Green Room for an exclusive interview in which he talked about the possibilities of a fifth Pirate.s of the Caribbean film as well as his first comments on the demise of Pirates team Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer’s about-to-shoot Western The Lone Ranger, which Deadline’s Mike Fleming first reported had been dropped by Disney due to budgetary concerns on the pricey pic. When I asked Ross if there was anything new to report he said, ”Nothing definitive. There is nothing new. I’m hoping to do it, I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry and Johnny more than me, so we’ll see how it works.” And about the possibility of a fifth Pirates? The situation is obviously clouded with the Lone Ranger situation, but again he used the word “hopeful.”
UPDATE: Johnny Depp is in Europe right now, but really wanted to make The Lone Ranger. According to one insider, “Let’s see how it all shakes out on Monday. There’s always a chance that it could go. You never know until you know.” The deeper story behind this production stoppage is about how movies are costing too much, studios are giving major pushback, and today’s backdrop of a crazy economy. Everyone involved is still intent on the project and still in discussions to see what can be done. But the studio’s concern is spending over $200M on a Western, even with Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp and a comedic slant. So clearly Disney took drastic action. Now the studio and filmmakers are trying to figure out the next step, either to shop it elsewhere or put it back together at a later date at a lower budget.
EXCLUSIVE: In a stunning development, Disney has shut down production on The Lone Ranger, the Gore Verbinski-directed period Western that was to star Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the title character. Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer and the script is by Justin Haythe. I’m told this all just happened, and Disney pulled the plug because of the budget. I’ve heard the filmmakers were trying to reduce the film’s cost from $250 million (some even say $275 million) down to $232 million. But it wasn’t the $200 million that Disney wanted to spend. And between Depp, Bruckheimer, and Verbinski, the gross outlay on the film is substantial.
When the plug was pulled, the film was still casting up, with Ruth Wilson, the serial killer from the BBC’s Luther series, set for the female lead. And The Lone Ranger was scheduled to be released Dec. 21, 2012, smack up against The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens Dec. 14, and the Brad Pitt-starrer World War Z, which was just slated for Dec. 21. This becomes the second major Western-themed project to bite the dust, after Universal halted a mammoth adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. And is it coincidence that The Lone Ranger halted right after another Western, Cowboys & Aliens, proved a pricey disappointment for DreamWorks and Universal?
Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil Makes Disney Deals For ‘The Night Stalker’ And Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride
EXCLUSIVE: Disney and Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil are teaming up on two new projects: a feature version of the ’70s TV movie The Night Stalker, and a drama about the Midnight Ride made by Paul Revere to warn Colonial militia of the impending British invasion. Depp is the potential star of both films, and he and his Infinitum Nihil partner Christi Dembrowski will produce.
Like many, Dembrowski and Depp had fond memories of the ABC telepic and series The Night Stalker, and they got Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey sparked on a pitch for Depp to potentially play tabloid reporter Carl Kolchak. Originated by Darren McGavin, Kolchak was the dogged journalist first seen in the 1972 telepic (where he hunted a killer who was draining the blood of beautiful girls on the Las Vegas strip) and later in the ABC series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak’s investigations always seemed to lead him to the doorstep of vampires, zombies, werewolves and aliens. For its time, it was pretty scary stuff. The studio will go out to writers shortly. David Kennedy will be exec producer.
Dembrowski and Depp set up the Paul Revere film at Disney with Batman Forever scribes Lee and Janet Batchler writing the screenplay. The film will focus on the Boston silversmith and that 24-hour period in which he made the risky “midnight ride” from Charlestown to Lexington, becoming a seminal figure in the American Revolutionary War. Jon Brown and Infinitum Nihil’s Margaret French-Isaac will be executive producers.
It is a coup for Disney’s Ross and Bailey to be back in business with Depp, right after Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides cracked the $1 billion mark in worldwide gross. It’s the third time that the studio has reached the billion-dollar milestone on a film with Depp in the lead role, after Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Alice In Wonderland. Depp next saddles up for the studio with Armie Hammer in the Gore Verbinski-directed The Lone Ranger.
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.’
These days any time a studio agrees to return an old hit to its producers instead of rebooting it is rare indeed. So my longtime pal Jay Weston is celebrating tonight because Disney’s Bob Iger, Rich Ross, and others at the studio have given back to him the romantic comedy Bell, Book & …
EXCLUSIVE: John J. Nicoletti is exiting as VP of Global Communications for The Walt Disney Studios and returning to flack for the Walt Disney Parks And Resorts. He’ll be replaced by Paul Roeder, a Walt Disney Studios publicist and disciple of chief Disney PR woman Zenia Mucha. “John realized he was …