Earlier this week film industry insider/reporter Nikki Finke opined about the many problems plaguing Sony Pictures, which is of course the studio that produces the Spider-Man films. According to Finke, the problems start with in-fighting among execs and, most importantly, making bad movies that shockingly disappoint at the box office. In the first part of her piece she mentions the disappointing performance of the Spider-Man reboot films.
Her summary is not a flattering portrait of Sony’s Amy Pascal, who has publicly stated that Sony will never let go of the Spider-Man franchise.
More below the fold…
On June 19th, I emailed Sony Pictures Entertainment Vice Chairman Jeff Blake and asked if he was leaving the studio. “Up in the air. Will know soon. Promise to tell you,” he replied. To which I responded, “OK. Please tell me first.” His Sony bosses Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal were trying to force Blake into retiring rather than demonstrate to Hollywood that they were firing the beloved 22-year studio veteran as the sacrificial lamb for all of Sony Pictures’ many problems. During the last 3 years, the studio’s summer event pictures had not lived up to expectations beginning with 2012′s reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man. What no one knew is that Lynton and Pascal had nearly fired Blake exactly a year ago as the fall guy for Summer 2013′s box office disappointments like After Earth, White House Down, Smurfs 2, and Elysium. Just like she’d done during last summer referring to Blake’s health, Pascal a few weeks before Blake’s forced departure on Tuesday was again mentioning to media that, after 22 years in his very exacting big job, it was time “for Jeff to take care of himself”. What she really meant to say, but didn’t, was “for Jeff to take the heat off Michael and myself”.
The announcement of Blake’s departure was made on Tuesday. He kept his word and tried to tell me first but Lynton had already made a deal with Deadline. (Blake did call me early that morning, only I was fast asleep after a late night of reporting.) Later that day Blake turned in his Sony Blackberry and set up a personal gmail account. He was out. It followed a dismal Sony Summer 2014 box office when the reboot sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 disappointed (more on that in upcoming Part Two), several other films fell short, and last weekend when Sex Tape bombed. The timing made it look as if that was his fault, too. “What I’m telling my people on the way out is, ‘Tell the truth’. You just can’t give everybody what they want to hear. And to test films outside of Los Angeles. They loved Sex Tape in LA but not in Kansas City,” Blake told me when we finally spoke. “We’re the only ones touching the consumer, so I encouraged people to find out what the real world thinks. You don’t have to be out on a ledge to relay what the rest of the world is saying. But the truth is the only way out of here.”
In part one, Finke looks at the disappointing performance of 2013’s After Earth, White House Down, The Smurfs 2, Elysium and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. In the summer of that year Sony reported a loss of almost $200 million.
Finke mentions an exchange she had with Sony’s Amy Pascal regarding the Spider-Man reboot:
When I told Pascal that I planned to write about Sony Pictures right around this time, she completely freaked out. The summer before she’d screamed at me for posting that 2012′s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot had disappointed at the box office – even though it had. In May 2013, she kept insisting to me that After Earth would do fine – until the day it was released and clearly a domestic disaster. Only then did she start talking candidly.
So many times I have seen people comment or ask how films that bring in $700+ million can be considered ‘disappointments.’ I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve had to point out that Sony is ‘cash strapped,’ meaning they have a definite money problem. The films they are releasing are performing poorly, especially when you consider production costs and what they planned to do with money they didn’t get. It’s one thing to announce movies for the Sinister Six, Venom and Spider-Man – but it’s a very different thing to come up with the money to produce them and an even more different thing to get those films to produce at the level they need them to in order to keep making them. Today’s world is seeing high returns from overseas markets that are expanding, namely from Asia. With that, the goal posts are pushed further back. Twenty years ago a movie did great if it made $150 million domestic. But now studios now look for things that can get close to earning a billion worldwide. Especially when they are big, flashy super hero films.
I look forward to the second part of Nikki Finke’s look at Sony, in which she has already hinted at discussing the disappointing Spider-Man films further. When she posts it at her site I will give some commentary here. It’s clear that she feels a sympathetic allegiance to the Sony exec (Jeff Blake) who was just forced out; she admits as much. However, the disappointing performance of Sony’s pictures is something that the industry and the media outlets covering it have been discussing for quite awhile now. Here, Finke lays out a picture of a dysfunctional executive team in direct relation to Sony’s box office headaches.