Iger appoints former Warners topper to head all studio

In choosing Alan Horn to replace Rich Ross as chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, the company has found a move-in-ready exec for the Mouse House.

When Bob Iger revealed the new hire Thursday afternoon, many in the biz quickly branded Horn the “anti-Rich Ross,” and with Horn assuming the helm Disney won’t have to deal with the intense scrutiny that plagued its former studio chief.

After all, Horn couldn’t be more of a fit for Disney when he assumes the post on June 11.

During his 12-year-tenure as president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Horn proved to be a conservative leader who implemented the kind of corporate mandates that Iger has been pushing on his own exec ranks.

That includes focusing more on launching tentpole family properties, backed by higher production budgets, that will benefit the rest of the company’s divisions through TV shows, live events, videogames, music, toys and other licensed merchandise, web properties and theme park rides, once they perform at the worldwide box office.

For Horn, that mandate was already manifested in Warner’s “Harry Potter” franchise, whose seven films have taken in more than $6 billion at the box office, minted millions more from merchandise and generated three theme parks so far, based on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction in Orlando, Florida.

Given his resume, Horn won’t ruffle any feathers. Where Ross’ TV background made him an outsider who was never accepted by the film community, Horn presided over a studio known for its filmmaker-friendly first-look deals with actor-producers such as Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Morgan Freeman and Robert Downey Jr. Warners also has used Village Roadshow and Legendary to co-finance many of its larger films.

At the same time, Horn will continue to carry out Disney’s desire to target foreign auds with its films after he helped popularize the idea of worldwide “day-and-date” releases of franchise films such as the eight “Harry Potter” pics, the three Christopher Nolan “Batman” movies, “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Hangover” and “Inception.” The global view is something Horn considers his biggest accomplishment at Warner Bros., spotlighted after “Troy” hauled in much of its coin overseas.

Horn had run WB with chairman and CEO Barry Meyer since October 1999, when they replaced longtime toppers Bob Daly and Terry Semel. While there, Horn oversaw the studios’ theatrical and home entertainment operations, including the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, direct-to-DVD arm Warner Premiere, Warner Bros. Theatrical Ventures and Warner Home Video.

His strongest characteristics as an exec are his affability and charm, his confidence managing creatives and his financial acumen.

In addition to the “Potter” pics, Horn also produced during his tenure “The Dark Knight,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Happy Feet,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Departed,” “Batman Begins,” “Million Dollar Baby,” the second and third “Matrix” films and the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy.

Before joining Warner Bros., Horn co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment, where he served as chairman and CEO and produced “A Few Good Men,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers,” “In the Line of Fire” and the “Seinfeld” TV series. Horn also served as president and chief operating officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and was chairman and CEO of Embassy Communications.

“Alan not only has an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience in the business, he has a true appreciation of moviemaking as both an art and a business,” Iger said. “He’s earned the respect of the industry for driving tremendous, sustained creative and financial success, and is also known and admired for his impeccable taste and integrity. He brings all of this to his new role leading our studio group, and I truly look forward to working with him.”

In the weeks of speculation following Ross’ departure from Disney, Horn wasn’t on anyone’s lists of obvious candidates — with the exception of Iger’s, of course. The expensive hire shows how nervous Iger may be in the face of criticism of his handling of the studio after Ross.

For Horn’s part, many believed the exec, at age 69, would take a smaller role in the entertainment biz after being forced out at Warner Bros. last year, replaced by a three-person “office of the president” filled by motion picture group prexy Jeff Robinov, TV group topper Bruce Rosenblum and home entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara. Horn said then that he wasn’t looking for a producing deal with WB.

Ironically, Horn told Variety that when he decided his next move, “There’s not going to be a big announcement.

“I’m a very decisive person — I’ve had to be in this job — and I’ve decided that I don’t want to decide until I’m out of this office,” he said before departing WB (Daily Variety, March 31, 2011). “It’s really been an all-encompassing job when you’re releasing 24 movies a year, so I’m looking forward to unplugging. I won’t be reading four screenplays over the weekend and reading a book that we’re trying to turn into a film.”

Horn also made it clear when he was pushed out last year that he was not ready to retire.

“I really enjoyed being part of the studio, I love movies and immersed myself in movies,” Horn told Variety on Thursday.

But after consulting on projects like “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (on which he serves as an executive producer), and WB’s new live stage division in New York, Horn found himself with “more free time than I was accustomed to.”

After several meetings with Iger, Horn found “the opportunity to come into this storied company — this worldwide iconic company — too exciting to pass up,” Horn told Variety. “This is family branded entertainment. I like that stuff.”

When offered the job, he said, “I can do this. I can work with this iconic mouse.”

Horn will now oversee worldwide operations for the Mouse House, including production, distribution and marketing for live-action and animated films from Disney, Pixar and Marvel, as well as marketing and distribution for DreamWorks Studios films released under the Touchstone Pictures banner. Disney’s music and theatrical divisions will also report to Horn.

Iger has been adamant in wanting to go off the Disney lot to land Ross’ replacement, and to keep Sean Bailey as president of production and Alan Bergman as president of the studio. He never wanted to split the chairman role between those two well-regarded execs. And not filling the post wasn’t an option.

During a call with analysts to discuss Disney’s Q2 earnings results in May, Iger called the studio “a big, complex, global business that involves multiple entities, multiple moving parts, that all need to be coordinated very, very carefully and very, very aggressively.”

“The studio markets and distributes those multiple entities and gets involved with many issues related to both the making of the movies at those individual units and distribution and management of those movies, as well as the library and all the other aspects of the studio that exist, like the live entertainment business, our Broadway plays and the music business. Maybe that’s a way of my saying that this is a business that probably requires someone to run it.”

Horn said he has no initial plans to overhaul the executive ranks and bring in his own staff.

“I’m coming in by myself,” he said. “I like the team (Iger’s) assembled here. I always come into a situation with ‘If it ain’t broke don’t change it.’ My intention is to get to know the people. It’s far too premature for me to suggest anything. I’m coming in alone and look forward to meeting the people that are here and working with them and getting to know the company. Let’s see how it goes.”

Several names had been mentioned around town for the job, including Marvel’s Kevin Feige, DreamWorks’ Stacey Snider, and producers Nina Jacobson, Mary Parent, Scott Stuber, Joe Roth and former Disney exec Oren Aviv, now heading up marketing at 20th Century Fox. But those individuals wanted to remain filmmakers or marketers, and not spend their time managing the studio’s various divisions and meeting with heads of Disney’s other arms to make sure each operation is in sync — especially as the company looks to launch franchises that boost every division at the company.

Earlier this week, Iger told investors at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in Gotham that he wants a studio team capable of creating better live-action pics “on a more consistent basis” after the recent “John Carter” debacle topped a recent record of some uninspired or badly executed pics. Company recorded a $200 million writedown for “John Carter.”

Upcoming tentpoles, greenlit by Ross, include Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” Jerry Bruckheimer’s “The Lone Ranger” and “Maleficent.” Marvel Studios also has “Iron Man 3,” “Thor 2,” a “Captain America” sequel, and an untitled pic slated for May 16, 2014. Pixar also has “Monsters University,” “The Good Dinosaur,” an untitled pic set inside the brain, and a film centered on the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos forthcoming.

“Our results on live-action have been inconsistent,” Iger said. But “the strategy for our motion picture group is very clear”: two animated films a year from Pixar and Disney; two Marvel films a year; six to eight Disney branded live-action pics; and a distribution deal with DreamWorks Studios.

Horn said he welcomed the chance to “collectively represent an opportunity to cross-pollinate” projects “as appropriately as possible.”

One veteran producer called Iger’s decision “a stabilizing move.”

“Iger hates the movie business and now he can tell Spielberg, Bruckheimer and Stacey Snider to call Alan,” said the producer. “And it enables Alan to leave the business on his own terms.”

The DreamWorks principals welcomed Horn’s stewardship at Disney.

“Bob Iger has made a great choice in naming Alan Horn as the chairman of the Walt Disney Studios,” said Snider on behalf of herself and Spielberg. “Congratulations to both of them. Alan has been at the forefront of some of the best and most successful films of our time. We look forward to working together, hopefully adding to that record of achievement.”

Warner Bros. brass also was quick to endorse Disney’s decision to hire Horn.

“Alan was a terrific partner in every sense of the word,” said chairman-CEO Barry Meyer in a statement Thursday. “He has a profound understanding of the filmmaking process as well as the ability to bridge the creative and business sides of a studio. He’s been a part of some of the most popular films produced in the last decade, and we’re very happy for him. All of his colleagues at Warner Bros. wish him the best.”

Wall Street also gave the hire a thumbs-up Thursday, with Disney’s stock up 51¢ to close at $45.71 and gain 1.1%, and another 17¢ after the market closed.

Dave McNary contributed to this report

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