Job has less appeal to hands-on producers seen as top candidates

Rich Ross resigns as Disney Studios chief

As Disney chief Bob Iger considers who to tap to run the company’s film studio, following Rich Ross’ resignation Friday, the job may be harder to fill than many might think.

A high-profile post of Walt Disney Studios chairman — or the top film post at any of the majors these days — increasingly is losing its allure as a job producers aspire to land.

The reason: The role is less about making movies and more about keeping corporate chiefs happy during earnings season. As some former studio chiefs told Variety, it’s a “desk job” few want anymore.

With congloms focused on increasing profits, they’ve become more averse to taking risks that could produce a “John Carter” — a pricey $250 million film that won’t reap millions in additional coin from videogames, toys and other merchandise, not to mention a theme park ride at Disney’s parks.

Still there are candidates emerging for Iger’s shortlist.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is considered by many on the Disney lot to be Iger’s top choice, Variety has learned.

It’s believed to be up to Feige as to whether he wants the job, and all of its attendant corporate pressures.

Marvel Studios already is a powerful center within the Mouse House through hits like the “Iron Man” pics, “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” — which Disney started benefitting from after it bought the comicbook giant for $4 billion in 2009.

Iger is relying heavily on Marvel to deliver the young male demo to Disney after building a strong girls biz with its princess and fairies lines.

“The Avengers” is expected to open big at the worldwide box office when it bows May 4, and retail giants like Target and Walmart have started touting stocked shelves with related merchandise.

Disney executives praise Feige’s ability to focus on both the creative elements of Marvel’s films, while keeping a close eye on the business side of the film biz. Under Feige, Marvel Studios launched new franchises — “Iron Man,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” — while reining in overhead and production costs through long-term deals with actors and taking full advantage of production tax incentives.

In 2009, for example, Feige brokered an unprecedented nine-picture deal with Samuel L. Jackson to portray Nick Fury in various Marvel films. Other actors, which include Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Anthony Hopkins also have multi-pic deals.

Feige joined Marvel in 2000, and has been involved with the company’s other films like the two “Incredible Hulk” films, the “Spider-Man” franchise, “X-Men” trilogy and “Fantastic Four” at Sony and Fox. He became president of production at Marvel Studios in 2007.

Since then, the company’s comicbook pics have generated well over $5 billion at the box office and the top studio job could be considered Feige’s reward for proving himself as one of Hollywood’s more prolific producers.

Even with the positive reviews surrounding “Avengers,” the film marks a rare feat in combining characters from four other Marvel franchises into a pic that’s been planned through intricate plot lines and character appearances since 2006.

There is a catch however: Sources at Disney say Feige is more interested in continuing to make Marvel’s movies and would be surprised if he took a more corporate role that would take him away from the creative process.

Naturally, Iger is considering other candidates, as well.

Those include Disney’s president of production Sean Bailey, a well-liked exec who is filmmaker friendly and was key in shepherding last year’s bigscreen revival of “The Muppets.” He also recruited Sam Raimi to helm “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” Guillermo del Toro to reboot “The Haunted Mansion” and David Fincher to direct “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” He also was instrumental in paring down the budget for Jerry Bruckheimer’s “The Lone Ranger” to a level that saved its greenlight after production was halted.

Iger also is considering DreamWorks topper Stacey Snider and producer Joe Roth, whose “Alice in Wonderland” earned $1 billion and is behind “Oz” and “Maleficent,” starring Angelina Jolie. Roth was chairman of Walt Disney Studios from 1994 through 2000 before exiting to launch Revolution Studios, so he has experience in running the division. “Battleship” producer Scott Stuber and former MGM chief Mary Parent also are seen as contenders. Both had run Universal Pictures.

Sources tell Variety that Snider is expected to remain at DreamWorks and won’t ankle for Disney. Most on the shortlist hadn’t been approached by Iger, as of Friday afternoon.

For now, Iger will rely on Bailey and Disney Studios president Alan Bergman to run the film arm, whose sked is set for the rest of this year and 2013.

And Marvel has prime dates locked down for its films on the calendar.

Marvel Studios has “Iron Man 3,” skedded for May 3, 2013, while “Thor 2″ will bow July 26, 2013, and a “Captain America” sequel unspools April 4, 2014. An untitled pic is slated for May 16, 2014, and could be filled by a film version of “Ant-Man,” to be directed by Edgar Wright, “Doctor Strange,” “Runaways,” “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Inhumans” or “Guardians of the Galaxy,” all in development.

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