Warner Bros. executives. Film are on the same page with David Zaslav? – The Hollywood Reporter

ONEAfter the many months of dating – the meals spent flirting with every agent that matters and every executive with a vague hope of running some part of the Warner Bros. David Zaslav.

Relieved as everyone was to be rid of AT&T’s management, the evaluation of the new regime’s choices began. There have already been complaints about the head of CNN Chris Light of people inside the cable network, many of whom are still sitting shiva for the deposed jeff sugar. A June 5th story in The New York Times newspaper said that a month into Licht’s tenure, “some journalists at CNN” are wondering if “he can navigate a sprawling, heavy global news network beyond what hasn’t been a good, really bad year.”

Michael DeLuca and Pam Abdy |, on the other hand, will likely be welcomed into the film community with open arms. Together they have decades of experience in the industry, and De Luca’s relationships with talent in particular have been a selling point for Zaslav. (He’s certainly watched what Hollywood does to outsiders who start making pronouncements without a goodwill ambassador to guide and protect them.) De Luca’s affability helped him compete for talent and material when he was in office. MGM, a studio that wouldn’t have been top of the list for anyone with something good to sell. But the most potent attraction is always money, and De Luca is known for spending it. This seems to be very much at odds with Zaslav’s natural inclinations and, given the debt, it is imperative to keep a tight rein on costs.

Even some of De Luca’s friends worry about what will happen. “He’s a friend of talent, he’s a passionate advocate of certain types of projects,” says an executive who knows him well. “Will this be enough in a large corporate environment?”

A high-profile veteran player actually laughs when asked to prognosticate. “I love Mike. But Mike has been totally consistent in making movies that are flashy and lose a lot of money,” he says (with some hyperbole). “Zas says, ‘Let’s make hits for less money,’ and then you hire a guy who does the exact opposite.” He says another longtime source: “The idea of ​​fiscal responsibility and creative freedom? Someone’s head is going to burst.”

Certainly De Luca and Abdy spent money on MGM, although a source says they stayed within the development and production budgets they were given. His tenure as president and president, respectively, was to make the drifting studio appear to be in the game to help garner a sale. (The logic of this is unclear, as the Bond franchise and library were the real assets of the block.)

Insiders saw De Luca’s hiring there then – and at Warners now – as evidence of the CAA’s great persuasive powers. Bryan Lourd. And certainly many CAA customers benefited from the deals that followed. Paulo Thomas Anderson done licorice pizza, Lady Gaga starred Gucci house, Joe Wright and Peter Dinklage done Cyranoand so on.

MGM was in the awards talk and licorice pizza was the studio’s first best-picture nominee since rain man in 1988. But sources say leaders at Amazon, which acquired MGM for a rich $8.5 billion in March, were stunned by the tens of millions of losses on the slate. To be fair, the movies were released in theaters during the pandemic. But licorice pizza cost about $50 million and grossed a paltry $32 million. Cyrano was dead on arrival. And Amazon has a few more in the pipeline that should do poorly.

Looking at this history, there are many reasons to see De Luca and Zaslav as a very strange match. “People admire Mike’s taste and love doing business with him,” says an associate of De Luca. “But people, I know, insisted that they give you something smaller, not so big. That’s a big deal.”

Still undefined, however, how big is it? The number of movies and budgets that Zaslav will approve are apparently TBD. Wherever the studio goes, it’s a strange new world for Zaslav, who even on TV is used to dealing with shows at a cost per episode that’s a fraction of a series on one of Turner’s channels.

Over the years, De Luca has zigzagged from executive to producer and back again. Having joined New Line at age 19 as an intern, he rose to head the label and oversaw films that defined him as a man of strong, eclectic taste: Seven, Boogie Nights, Austin Powers, Friday. In 2001, he was expelled amid a string of failures. (He still likes the Adam Sandler debacle Little Nicky.) He established a reputation as a Hollywood bad boy – public intoxication, fights, sexual escapades. The truth – and he’s transparent about it – is that he intermittently struggled with addiction. He has now been sober for four years.

After New Line, he made a stint as president of production at DreamWorks, but it proved to be a bad match. In 2004, he established a production contract at Sony Pictures. What followed, eventually, was the production of credits on best picture nominees. The social network in 2010, moneyball in 2011 and Captain Phillips in 2013. (Scott Rudin was producer on two of them and executive producer on the third.)

De Luca returned to an executive role at Sony in 2013, where he was co-president of production with Hannah Minghella. With studio leadership under pressure to contain spending, Doug Belgradethen studio president, wrote in a November 2014 email to his boss Amy Pascal: “I don’t think Mike really remembers between every moment I tell him how over budget they are, how over budget they are.” Pascal – ironically known as a particularly spendthrift executive – responded: “I want them to understand how to do work like an adult with plans, goals and responsibility. I keep writing the same note over and over like a crazy person.”

(When asked for comment, Pascal now says, “I have spent over 30 years working with Mike and I can say categorically, and without hesitation, that he is one of the most talented, smart, creative and fiscally responsible executives I have ever collaborated with. Quoting a few sentences that were taken completely out of context in a private email conversation is irresponsible, misleading and unfair.”

A few months after the 2014 email, Pascal was ousted in favor of the fiscally prudent Tom Rothman and De Luca left Sony. He went on to a contract with Universal, where he was a producer on Fifty Shades of grey trilogy that grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide. In January 2020, he was named president of the MGM film group.

Looking at this story, some who have known De Luca over the years wonder what will happen next. Is Zaslav really prepared to bet on expensive movies with the necessary marketing expenses? This is new territory for him. “He probably feels like he can handle it, and he’s going to get all the positives from what Bryan did. [Lourd] will provide and he will be able to manage the expenses”, says a former colleague of De Luca.

Some wonder if De Luca and Abdy are once again doing a job they were hired to do at MGM: keeping Warner in the game with an eye on a sale. “How long do you think this will be an independent company?” says a veteran executive. “I say two, three years. This company is going to be bought. … If they can make some good movies and advertise some non-existent ones Harry Potter things, this is a victory.”

This story first appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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