Exec was under fire over disappointing 1997 film slate

Suffering from a box office slump, Warner Bros. performed self-surgery Tuesday afternoon, firing Chris Pula, president of domestic theatrical marketing, after less than a year on the job. Pula’s boss, Sandy Reisenbach, exec VP of corporate marketing and planning, takes over Pula’s duties until a replacement is named.

The word was delivered to Pula in person by WB chairmen and co-CEOs Robert Daly and Terry Semel.

“This was a very difficult decision, but one we felt we had to make for the good of the company,” Daly and Semel said in an official announcement.

Daly told Daily Variety, “It just didn’t work out,” but declined to comment further on either Pula’s performance or WB’s poor showing at the box office recently.

Pula joined WB earlier this year after a three-year run as marketing prexy at New Line Cinema. Before New Line, Pula was senior VP of marketing for 20th Century Fox. He was the first president of a WB division in recent history to come from outside WB ranks.

An obviously shaken Pula told Daily Variety, “Maybe we were all naive to think it would be an easy transition. I’m surprised and disappointed.”

He described the WB atmosphere as “warm, compassionate and familial, which is why I took the job.” He emphasized that his exit was not due to “personal dynamics.” “It’s not about me being in jeans,” he said.

But Pula was known to be under fire over the failure of WB’s 1997 film slate, including such B.O. disappointments as “Conspiracy Theory,” “Fathers’ Day” and “Mad City.”

The studio has been taking heat from the media in recent weeks as well as from critics in the industry who have cited the studio’s lack of deals with hot new directors and the lackluster results of pics by WB standbys such as Clint Eastwood’s “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

An outspoken exec, Pula was known to be critical of WB’s recent product line. But Pula said he had good expectations for WB’s slate for the first quarter of ’98, having prepared the releases of “Fallen,” “Sphere,” and “The Avengers.”

It remains to be seen how WB’s upcoming marketing challenges, such as Stanley Kubrick’s Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman starrer, “Eyes Wide Shut,” will be handled.

In this regard, Daly and Semel sought to reassure exhibitors and filmmakers alike on the interim appointment of Reisenbach, saying, “We are lucky to have someone of Sandy’s expertise and talent willing to take on extra duties so we don’t miss a single beat.”

Reisenbach joined WB in 1979 from Grey Advertising to head up theatrical marketing, assuming his current position in 1989. Ed Frumkes, international theatrical prexy, remains responsible for overseas marketing and distribution.

Daly said no replacement for Pula was on hand and that no one had been interviewed for the job.

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