In a development that surprised even studio insiders, New Line Cinema marketing prexy Chris Pula is ankling his three-year pact and moving to Warner Bros. as president of theatrical marketing.
Pula, 41, will segue to WB effective early next year, taking over the domestic theatrical marketing duties of departing prexy of worldwide advertising and marketing Rob Friedman. Latter is moving to Paramount Pictures as vice chairman of the Motion Picture Group.
Pula will be working with president of international theatrical distribution Ed Frumkes. He will work in tandem with Warner Bros. exec VP of worldwide creative advertising projects Joel Wayne.
Pula’s departure from New Line resolves a yearlong internal power struggle with New Line distribution and marketing president Mitch Goldman. It also comes after a tumultuous year for New Line at the box office and inside the company.
Goldman will return to overseeing both of his titular divisions, posts he held until last year when New Line chairman Robert Shaye upped Pula to president of marketing, triggering the internal friction with Goldman who refused to give up his title. Goldman said he had no immediate plans to hire an advertising executive to replace Pula on the creative side.
Pula, meanwhile, said it was a difficult decision to leave New Line. “I’m not necessarily looking for a resume item, but at the same time, it’s the best job there is,” Pula said of the WB post. “I’m leaving the greatest department for the brass ring.”
Pula, who is known as an outspoken, occasionally outrageous, but highly creative executive, will be an interesting match for the more buttoned-down Warner Bros. types.
Some questioned how Pula, who usually rides a bicycle to work, showing up in jeans and T-shirts, will mesh with the corporate style of Warner co-chairmen Bob Daly and Terry Semel.
Asked if he would wear a suit each day, Pula said: “Well, I have one. I’ll have to check if it’s still in style. Is Nehru still around?” He added, “It’s not like I’m going to walk in there in a gingham dress.”
Even though Pula’s name had been floated almost immediately after Friedman announced his departure at WB this fall, Pula’s choice was still a surprise to many on the Warner lot.
“We think he is a terrific and creative executive,” said Robert Daly, Warner Bros. Chairman and co-CEO. “He is very colorful, very refreshing and very bright. I think he has done a fabulous job at New Line.”
Pula will not handle corporate communications, duties that Friedman had personally overseen.
But he will work more closely with Frumkes, WB’s president of international theatrical distribution. Pula will report to Daly, Semel and Sanford Reisenbach, Warner Bros. executive vice president of marketing and planning.
In searching for Friedman’s replacement, the studio had been considering people inside and outside the industry, according to studio officials.
Said one studio executive: “If you want an experienced person in the business, there aren’t too many.”
Two weeks ago the studio asked New Line about the possibility of Pula being released from his contract. Warner Bros. had spoken to him several months earlier and decided at that time to also look at other options.
In fact, the studio had been in negotiations with McDonald’s Corp. senior marketing maven David Green who would have relocated from Chicago. The studio had also made overtures to an unidentified executive from DMB&B, New York, and MGM/UA marketing president Gerry Rich. Additionally, Warner Bros. had spoken to Sony marketing president Robert Levin.
Shift in thinking
Sources said a sudden shift in thinking came about. “Something happened last week,” one high-level marketing source said. “After that, all of a sudden they started talking with Pula again.”
Pula’s forte is creative marketing. However, the job also includes media buying, promotion and publicity. “It loads us up on the creative advertising side,” one Warner Bros. insider said. Others in marketing circles agreed. “They already have Joel Wayne. They now have two creative guys.”
“Many of the people here were getting really anxious because we have 37 movies scheduled for release next year and there was no one at the top,” one WB employee said.
On the lot, Pula’s name was met with positive feedback from producers curious to see who would oversee the marketing of their films.
“Seeing (Pula’s) energy for new opportunities makes it really great for us,” said Bill Gerber, WB president of worldwide theatrical production with Lorenzo di Bonaventura. Di Bonaventura added: “With the combination of Chris’ creativity and Joel Wayne’s creativity, we just feel that every base will be covered.”
Said Bruce Berman of Plan B Entertainment: “He’s opened some movies to great numbers that nobody thought could be opened.”
At New Line, president and chief operating officer Michael Lynne said the decision to revert back to a single division head for the combined marketing and distribution divisions had been in the works for several months.
Although rumors floated that Pula was in trouble over the poor performance of “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” (a $70 million pic that has made only $32 million so far domestically), Lynne said it was a corporate structure decision to put those divisions together. And only recently, the company opted for Goldman to run them.
“It’s this one-voice idea,” Lynne said. “We really want marketing and distribution to be operating in a unified way. The best way we’ve been able to do that is when they’ve reported through one person.”
New Line marketing exec VP Karen Hermelin will take over Pula’s day-to-day operational duties, reporting to Goldman. Christina Kounelias, senior VP of marketing, will continue overseeing the publicity and promotions department. Goldman said Hermelin and the marketing staff of 35 would continue to handle all New Line’s releases.
“We’re in terrific shape going forward,” Goldman said. “I don’t see a crying need for another level of management, but then again, if we find we need it, we’ll do it quickly.”
At New Line, Pula launched campaigns for such hits as “The Mask,” “Dumb and Dumber” and “Set It Off.” He also worked with the now defunct Turner Pictures to help with the marketing of the upcoming “Michael,” starring John Travolta.
Before joining New Line, Pula spent four years as senior VP of marketing for 20th Century Fox.
Before that, he was with Grey Entertainment & Media in New York as an account supervisor and creative supervisor.
Pula said the move to Warner Bros. represented something of a return for him as one of his earliest accounts at Grey Entertainment was handling Warner Bros. advertising.
(Anita M. Busch contributed to this report.)