Despite a bleak economy and an uncertain media landscape, Viacom is very certain that Brad Grey is the man to run Paramount Pictures.
The conglom has re-signed Grey as chairman and CEO of the studio through January 2014.
The move comes amid a tumultuous year at Paramount and parent company Viacom. In December, Viacom slashed 850 jobs — 7% of its total workforce — including an estimated 100 positions at the studio.
Still, Paramount and Grey are coming off a strong 2008, finishing in the top spot in global market share with a $2.04 billion box office haul. Viacom chief exec Philippe Dauman was quick to extend Grey’s contract for another five years.
“Philippe approached me a couple of months ago and said he would love me to make a new deal,” Grey told Daily Variety. “We discussed it for a bit and quickly came to terms. Even in this most challenging environment, I feel very optimistic about where we are at Paramount.”
Among his accomplishments, Grey cited a number of films he was most proud of making, including Oscar hopeful and commercial success “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as well as “Transformers” and “Babel.” He also lauded the executive team he has assembled, which includes such Grey hires as vice chairman Rob Moore, president John Lesher and production prexy Brad Weston.
Grey took the reins of the studio in March 2005 with a mandate to reinvent Paramount from the bottom up. In the ensuing years, the studio has strengthened its overseas distribution presence and become a domestic marketing force, releasing such tentpoles as “Iron Man,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”
“When I got here, I said it would take five years to turn it around and put our imprint on the studio,” Grey added. “I am probably most proud of the DreamWorks deal. It was exactly what we needed at the time.”
When the deal was inked in 2006, critics said Par overpaid by shelling out $1.6 billion for DreamWorks. But the following year, DreamWorks boasted its best year ever at the box office, contributing mightily to Paramount’s coffers.
Still, for much of 2008, Paramount faced the daily distraction of DreamWorks’ looming exit. In the fall, DreamWorks finally extracted itself from the studio fold and launched as a stand-alone company, though not before some messy settlement negotiations. Although the exit saved Paramount $50 million a year in annual overhead, it also signaled the studio would be forced to reduce its slate. Within weeks, Par announced it was winnowing the target for its number of annual releases from 25 to 20.
With a five-year deal in place, Grey will now enjoy the kind of stability that has largely eluded the studio under his stewardship. Grey’s tenure has been marked by drama, including a series of high-profile exec departures such as Donald De Line and Gail Berman.
Over the past year, the studio implemented a number of cost-cutting measures including almost entirely shuttering its Paramount Vantage label, which had spawned such awards-season contenders as “Babel,” “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.”
“Consistency and sustenance is so important in our business,” Grey said. “And I think stability is so important for any studio, particularly at a time like this, because we can focus on (beefing up) our brands and greenlighting films. I think we’re finally firing on all cylinders.”