BREAKING: After coming through a major fall restructure and flying out of the gate with two box office hits in 2014 and overhauling Fast & Furious 7 so it can resume production in March, Universal Pictures chairman …
Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley Re-Ups To 2017, Adds Oversight Of International And Marketing Divisions
(A version of this story first appeared Sunday.)
Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was a defining moment of the 20th century. That is even the case for someone like me, who was born after November 22, 1963, in the shadow of the president’s murder. Most of my generation can tell you where they were when they learned of the shooting of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, but everyone of a certain age can tell you where they were that tragic day in Dallas. With the passing of the WWII generation and memories of Pearl Harbor, only 9/11 is as seared into our souls now as much as 11/22. In remembrance of the 35th president, I asked some of the industry’s most notable and insightful individuals — a few of whom had seen JFK just before his death — where they were when they heard the news of the shooting and what they experienced that day. Here’s what they told me:
Ron Meyer – Vice Chairman, NBCUniversal
I had just gotten out of the Marine Corps and I was living in LA. I was working at a men’s clothing store and we heard this news. You know, I was in the Marines during the Cuban missile crisis, during the blockade, so we really felt we knew him and that you had direct involvement with him because, at least during that time, everything that happened to him affected us. We could have gone to war if he’d ordered it. So when he was killed, you felt that someone who had been an integral part of your life, my life, was gone. I was young, 20 years old, but it was the most unexpected loss. You know, my family escaped from Nazi Germany – so to us, he represented the hope of the world. It was tragic.
Jeffrey Katzenberg – CEO, DreamWorks Animation
I try to focus less on November 22nd and more on November 8th, the date in 1960 when Kennedy was elected president. I was only 9 at the time, but that election, with its down-to-the-wire finish, suddenly made me aware of the excitement and possibilities of politics. Three years later, Kennedy’s assassination was devastating beyond words. But, for me, it further heightened the impact of his 1,000 days. While I was still in middle school, I went to work for another dynamic young leader, New York Mayor John Lindsay. JFK’s example inspired me then, and it inspires me still.
Bill O’Reilly – Host, The O’Reilly Factor; Author, Killing Kennedy
Back in November of 1963, I was a 14-year-old freshman at Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. I was sitting in Brother Carmine Diodati’s religion class when the loud speaker crackled, and the school principal announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. He then put the CBS radio report on the loudspeakers all over the school. The students were stunned. Few of us said anything.
When I got home that afternoon, my mother was watching CBS on television. Her mother, my grandmother’s name was Winifred Kennedy. So the O’Reilly family had a direct emotional tie to the much more famous Kennedy clan. In the weeks that followed, life got back to normal for the teenagers on Long Island. But my friends and I will never forget the first time we heard of the treacherous assassination.
Governor Jerry Brown talked about the promise of California and played up the state’s economic comeback during a campaign fundraiser Thursday at Disney Studio boss Alan Horn’s Bel-Air home. …
The AFM, which gets underway tomorrow, will see a record influx of Chinese companies and execs. But that’s not the only draw for Mainland players this week. The 2013 U.S. China Film Summit kicks off today in LA …
His re-election is a year away and as much of a sure thing as anything can be in politics but Hollywood moguls unsurprisingly are already opening up their check books for Jerry Brown now. A $1,000 to $27,200 …
UNIVERSAL SHAKEUP: Adam Fogelson Out, Donna Langley Sideways, Jeff Shell In, And Ron Meyer Up As Studio Taken By Surprise
UPDATE: The studio has made this official. (See release below.)
BREAKING… SHOCKER! In a shocking development, Adam Fogelson will exit his post as Universal Pictures chairman, with Jeff Shell taking over Universal Studios. Ron Meyer is becoming the sole vice chairman of NBC Universal through 2017, and Donna Langley has been promoted chairman of Universal Pictures. Shell, who comes from the studio’s parent company Comcast, had been running Universal International. With that strong international background under his belt, he is coming to Hollywood.
To say this is a stunner is an understatement. I saw the Universal gang last night in Toronto for a drink before the premiere of the Ron Howard-directed Rush, and if he knew there was something amiss at the time, Fogelson is a world-class actor. They all headed back this morning and the change was made while they were flying. That’s when the turbulence hit.
Fogelson had the studio on a roll but his emphasis was on domestic distribution and marketing first. Given Shell’s expertise, the mandate going forward will be to emphasize a global game plan. The prospect that a Shell game was in the works, in this exact scenario, was rumored months ago, when Shell bought a house in Hollywood. But they were denied by the studio at the time. After weathering rumors that Comcast tried to get DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to return to Universal, or that longtime chief Meyer would retire, all the rumors died down. Fogelson, a level-headed exec who came out of marketing to take the top job and replace Marc Shmuger, seemed to be on stronger footing with Langley. After weathering a rough period including losers like Battleship, the motion picture group turned the corner last year with hits like Ted, and was doing better than a lot of other studios lately, and they are No. 2 in market share behind Warner Bros. Both of them were re-upped in late 2011 through 2014.
The momentum certainly helps Langley, who has taste and strong relationships with talent, something that will help Shell as he gets going. The studio has the stability of the hit-making family film division, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, and a coterie of long term producing deals with the likes of Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and Scott Stuber. They also just made an overall deal with Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull’s financing and producing company which left Warner Bros.
Dallas Buyers Club, one of the most anticipated films of the year and certainly this Toronto International Film Festival, made its debut Saturday night to a standing ovation. Star Matthew McConaughey lost tons of weight in order to convincingly play Ron Woodroof, an early victim of AIDS who extended his life by illegally pioneering into the world of drugs designed to stem the disease. With much advance Oscar buzz for the Focus Features release, Dallas Buyers Club recently moved into early November from its original December release date. There was heavy anticipation not only for Saturday night’s 10 PM screening but also earlier when I caught it at a morning press showing. Bottom line: It does not disappoint and contains the expected Oscar-caliber performance certain to finally gain a Best Actor nod for McConaughey – and also a surprising turn from Jared Leto, just superb as a transsexual AIDS patient who befriends Ron. It would seem an absolute no-brainer that both will be sitting front and center come March 2nd at the Dolby Theatre when Oscar winners are announced. If there are two better performances by anyone this year I have not seen them.
At the Ciba restaurant late night party following the screening, Focus Features President James Schamus was beaming. Not just from the reaction to Dallas, but also because he pulled off a coup at dawn (he told me) sealing the deal for the hilarious and well-received Jason Bateman directorial debut Bad Words. It went for $7 million – a steal considering the potential of this R-rated comedy I predicted would sell in a minute. Universal‘s Ron Meyer, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley were also celebrating that coup and the success of their specialty division’s Dallas triumph. But this night belonged to the cast and crew, especially McConaughey whom Schamus told me at May’s Cannes Festival was delivering ”the performance of a lifetime”. This was a project, according to producers Rachel Winter and Robbie Brenner, that took nearly 20 years to bring to the screen. A good chunk of that was made of the blood, sweat, tears and never-say-die tenacity of Brenner who said she just kept pushing that Dallas rock up the hill no matter what the odds.
EXCLUSIVE ANALYSIS… UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Every movie studio has its fair share of hits and misses because success is cyclical in Hollywood. What goes up must come down, eventually. (Sony Pictures is having a troubled summer now after years of successful releases. Once stable Warner Bros Pictures just went through an executive upheaval as did Fox and Disney before it. Paramount had a film drought last year. And so on.) But then a studio’s fortunes go back up. Such is the case with Universal Pictures. For the past 12 months, its filmmakers have been on a winning streak from June 2012 to now – in other words, after the release of its embarrassingly bloated bomb Battleship and before that a string of stinkers. In the last year Universal has released 14 films with 10 opening #1: Snow White And The Huntsman, Ted, The Bourne Legacy, Les Misèrables, Mama, Identity Thief, Oblivion, Fast & Furious 6, The Purge, and this weekend’s Despicable Me 2 which broke records here as well as overseas. Not even counting DM2‘s grosses, the studio amassed $3.2 billion at the worldwide box office which was more than in any 12-month period in Universal’s history. The slate also has been the most profitable not only for Universal (not adjusted for inflation, higher ticket prices, or 3D premium sales) but compared to every major Hollywood studio except Disney. I’ve learned that Legendary Entertainment‘s Thomas Tull could announce his selection of a new financial, distribution, marketing, and production partnership as early as this week after kicking tires all over Hollywood – and his choice is “likely” NBCUniversal. That’s a big vote of confidence for the movie side led by chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chair Donna Langley who report to Universal Studios president/CEO Ron Meyer.
“They are killing it,” emails one film financing expert I respect. “Since January of 2012, Universal has beaten Sony, Warner Bros, Paramount, and Fox on ‘cash on cash’ (TCCR) return. And if you look at their next two years, it is filled with sequels (10 in their 25 next pics) which should lead to terrific profits plus lower volatility. And they have event pictures and several brands such as Fifty Shades Of Grey and Wicked (touring in 40+ countries). It’s an amazing run. I never expected this. To be honest, I’m not their biggest fan.”
I’ve learned this short and stunning turnaround actually was the result of a plan by Universal execs to target overseas audiences who make up 70% of theatrical box office and intentionally create international franchises. “They executed well and succeeded. On Ted they got lucky. But that is what happens when you have enough at bats,” a source tells me. Now Uni wants to have potential franchise pics start in the $80M to $100M range if not a well-known brand. They’ll spend more on a sequel.
This strategy followed months of media predictions that all three studio heads would roll (separately or together) because of what was suddenly seen as deep systemic problems at the studio. Universal became the subject of speculative article after speculative article. Remember the bruising Uni brass suffered last summer when Battleship failed and rumors fanned that Comcast had courted DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to take over?
And then in the middle of all that, the boss, Comcast EVP/NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, decided to sit in on Universal’s Monday motion picture meeting for senior Universal execs. Burke at the time only visited his film outpost about once every financial quarter (more often this summer). This Xanax moment took place while Burke was in town for a weekend wedding then atypically stayed on. It had to be made clear internally that he was not coming to fire anybody or commence layoffs. But Comcast folk are a tight-lipped bunch and the silence only added to the “where’s there smoke/there’s fire” chatter destabilizing the studio even more than any inaccurate journalist could. The fact is they didn’t know what to say. Though entertainment vets, Burke and Comcast chief Brian Roberts were “not used to the fishbowl nature coverage of the movie business. That everything which happens, true or false, gets the industry talking,” as an insider explained to me at the time.
For awhile, it looked as if Comcast would be no different than so many other corporate and private investors who came to Hollywood dreaming of big profits only to leave with empty wallets. (Remember, at one point early on during the acquisition and then regulatory period, Comcast seriously contemplated selling the film studio.) “Comcast just weren’t prepared to have movies like Ted make so much more money than anyone imagined - and then to have Battleship do so much less than planned. There’s virtually no other business around where your plans for the year in 24 hours go up and down,” a Comcast exec explained to me back then.
Fogelson self-consciously ran the meeting with Burke watching and said to staff afterwards about his Comcast overlords, “They’re genuine grownups. They’re not panicked. They want to run and grow an extraordinary business. And as for the immediate effects of Burke’s visit, I feel completely supported as I did before.”
Of course, no one believed Adam. Instead, he and Donna and Ron ignored the public humiliation and predictions they were about to be shitcanned and kept their heads down. It didn’t help when Comcast revamped its own logo to include NBC’s famous peacock but not Universal’s spinning globe. Now things are looking up.
For the most part, Universal has achieved its turnaround
BREAKING: Remember the bruising that Universal Pictures brass received over the summer when Battleship failed and when rumors were published that Comcast had courted DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to return? Now, Universal’s Ron Meyer, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley have reason to take a bow. The studio, which passed the record for Universal’s domestic grosses back in October, is now on course to blow past its global record, even before Les Miserables gets released on Christmas. Grosses aren’t profits, of course, but hits like Safe House and Ted certainly have created some momentum. Here is the official release:
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA, December 20, 2012—Universal Pictures today announced that 2012 will mark its best year at the worldwide box office in the studio’s 100-year history with global theatrical grosses exceeding $2.927 billion to date. Universal broke its domestic record ($1.127 billion) in October and the studio will surpass its international record ($1.716 billion) Friday, December 21.
Ron Meyer turns 68 on Tuesday. So on the eve of his birthday, he finally made a public statement about the August rumors that he would be involuntarily or voluntarily exiting his job at Universal Studios soon. On a panel at the inaugural symposium of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy this …
Arnold Schwarzenegger held his inaugural symposium of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy this afternoon. James Cameron was scheduled to attend but was a no-show – described as “on a creative roll” working on the script for the Avatar sequel – despite prior billing and decades working with Arnold on movies like The Terminator and True Lies. Universal Studios President/COO Ron Meyer joined the former Governor as well as Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chair Rob Friedman, Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer, and American Idol mentor/Interscope Records boss Jimmy Iovine on “The Power Of People and Innovation — Media/Hollywood Leader’s Perspectives” panel.
The former California governor has invited a few friends to the first symposium of his new USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, which the university announced last month. An invite went out today for a September 24 event announcing that James Cameron, Universal Studios president and COO Ron Meyer, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chair Rob Friedman, Imagine Entertainment chairman Brian Grazer and Interscope Records boss Jimmy Iovine will participate. Cameron, who helmed Schwarzenegger in the two Terminator films he starred in as well as in True Lies, will join Meyer, Friedman, Grazer, and Iovine on an afternoon panel titled “The Power Of People and Innovation — Media/Hollywood Leader’s Perspectives”.
Christy Grosz is AwardsLine editor and a contributor to Deadline.
Universal President and COO Ron Meyer this afternoon made an expletive-laced commencement speech to the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Class of 2012. He told the graduating students that the best way to get ahead in showbiz is to ask questions. “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups,” he told the audience. Twice. The longtime studio head also pointed out that despite the cliches “You don’t have to be an asshole to succeed.” He also stressed that finding an agent is the single most important thing a new graduate can do. Ask everyone you meet. “Just don’t ask me,” he warned. The ceremony was dedicated to the school’s founding dean and Oscar ceremony producer Gil Cates. The commencement also honored directors Penelope Spheeris and Shirley Jo Finney with distinguished alumni awards. UPDATE: Here’s the text of Meyer’s speech:
EXCLUSIVE: Joel Silver Going Indie And Making 12-Film Distribution Deal With Universal For Post-Warner Bros Producing
EXCLUSIVE: Well, that didn’t take long. Six weeks after I scooped the news that Joel Silver and Warner Bros agreed to sever their 25-year relationship by the end of the year, the producer has plans to set up shop as an indie filmmaker. And just as I toldja, he’s landed at Universal. This is by no means the ful-frills first-look producing deal he’s had. I’m told that Universal was never interested in a first-look production deal with Silver. His close pal and travel buddy Ron Meyer’s daughter is an executive at Silver Pictures and, because of those relationships, Uni President/COO Meyer supposedly took himself out of the decision-making process. Instead, Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson with Co-Chairman Donna Langley did the deal. Details are still sketchy, But I hear it calls for five years of domestic distribution of product from a new division of Silver Pictures which is going to be called Silver Pictures Entertainment. The 12-film agreement which will be announced soon calls for Universal to distribute 2 to 3 films annually from Silver Pictures Entertainment across multiple genres. Universal will pay for marketing, with a backstop so that Silver is on the hook if the pics don’t earn out. I understand that Silver will have to find financing though Universal may choose to finance certain films but is under no obligation to do so. The first project under the deal will be action thriller Non-Stop which reteams directed Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson who worked on 2011′s Unknown together for Silver’s Dark Castle where Collet-Serra also helmed Orphan (2009) and House Of Wax (2005). Non-Stop is not yet in production and is slated for a 2013 release.
Speaking of Dark Castle, I’ve learned that Universal is interested in distributing that product. But Dark Castle’s slate of movies remain at Warner Bros for distribution through 2013. And after that Silver can take that banner with him for distribution elsewhere or dump it. (Silver is currently embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit with Goldman Sachs over financing for Dark Castle.) Thus comes the quiet finish to one of the most long-term, big-time, noisy, up and down, and ultimately dysfunctional relationships between a film producer and a movie studio.
Los Angeles, CA – Ron Meyer, Universal Studios President and COO, will be the 2012 Commencement Speaker for this year’s UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television’s (TFT) commencement ceremony. Recipients of TFT’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Awards are director and screenwriter Penelope Spheeris for Film and Shirley Jo Finney, the award-winning international director/actor, for Theater, both of whom will receive their awards at the ceremony. This year’s Commencement is dedicated to TFT founding dean and industry legend, Gil Cates. TFT Dean Teri Schwartz will preside over the graduation celebration on June 15 from 4:00p.m. to 6:00p.m. at Dickson Court North on the UCLA campus.
EXCLUSIVE: In a move that continues the longest standing production deal Universal Pictures has ever had in its 100-year history, the studio has extended its deal with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard through 2016. These mega-producer deals have been getting trimmed all over town, though, and the Imagine deal has shifted from an exclusive to a first-look deal. Going forward, Howard will be able to direct more films elsewhere, and Grazer can produce at other studios. He is now producing the upcoming Academy Awards with Don Mischer. The Imagine extension was just finalized by Universal chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley.
The last deal Grazer and Howard made with the studio was set to expire in 2013. Imagine has made around 50 films since the partners first were brought into the Universal in 1986 by Ron Meyer, at the time Grazer’s former agent at CAA and had just transitioned to the top job at Universal. Like every producer-studio relationship, the Universal and Imagine arrangement has been tested in the past few years. The studio said no to The Dark Tower, a feature trilogy and two limited-run TV series adapted from the Stephen King novel series that Howard was to direct, with Javier Bardem starring and Grazer producing with Akiva Goldsman and King. The filmmakers continue to develop the project and expect to make it elsewhere. Universal and Imagine also mutually decided to not go forward with Cartel, a drama that Asger Leth was going to direct.
Universal this month is launching a yearlong 2012 centennial celebration with an ambitious and almost unprecedented film-restoration effort, a new logo, a swarm of special-edition Blu-ray movie packages, theme park celebrations emphasizing their film history, special events, premieres, and a major social media campaign. Like Paramount, which is also embarking on a centennial celebration, the emphasis here is making the old seem new again. Key among Universal’s plans is the complete restoration of 13 films that showcase a large part of the history of the studio — from 1930′s All Quiet On The Western Front to 1993′s Schindler’s List.
When I spoke with Universal president and COO Ron Meyer on Monday morning, his excitement about this opportunity to mark the studio’s storied past and take it into the future was evident. “One hundred years is such a great milestone,” he said. “I am a movie lover. It’s such an important part of the American culture, a part of the heritage of this country. I think we have a responsibility to our employees, to the public to celebrate not just a milestone but celebrate the movie business, and this gives us a reason to do it.” He emphasized the centerpiece of this yearlong effort: the restoration of many Universal classics each uniquely repping their own decades.
Films chosen to get the full restoration treatment — in addition to the aforementioned All’s Quiet and Schindler’s List — are both 1931 versions of Dracula, Frankenstein (1931), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Abbott and Costello’s Buck Privates (1941), Pillow Talk (1959), To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Birds (1963), The Sting (1973), Jaws (1975), and Out of Africa (1985). That’s actually 12 titles altogether, but there are 13 films since the studio is restoring both 1931 versions of Dracula — including Bela Lugosi’s famous English-language picture and the Spanish version that was filmed on the same sets at night. Pillow Talk repping the ’50s was one of Universal’s biggest hits ever to that time, earning an Original Screenplay Oscar and Doris Day’s only Oscar nomination. It seems an interesting and inspired choice to me, and to Meyer. “What a great movie,” he said. “I have four children who don’t know these movies. They don’t know a Doris Day movie or Rock Hudson movies. And they are going to enjoy them when they see them. Once they see it they can appreciate it. There’s no way for even 30-year olds to know some of those movies unless they are film buffs.”
Ron Meyer sent out this memo to Universal staff today. ID-PR is handling the event:
As many of you already know, Universal will mark its 100th Anniversary in 2012. This is a proud and exciting moment for our company, which celebrates the studio’s rich history and cultural impact. In January, we’re going to be unveiling an extensive year-long campaign that includes a significant restoration commitment for some of our most beloved films, fan engagement through special events, a home entertainment offering, theme park activities, promotions, and fun social media and web outreaches. All of this is designed to connect a new audience to our extraordinary library of films, as well as bring these memories back to longtime movie lovers. Part of our centennial celebration includes the launch of a new audio visual and print logo which we will unveil early next year.