UPDATE: Warner Bros. Legal Team Strategizing Jeff Robinov’s Exit

jeff-robinov
Jim Spellman/WireImage

But motion picture group chief's exit from studio appears inevitable

UPDATE:  Warner Bros. lawyers are trying to figure out how to proceed with the impending exit of Jeff Robinov, according to a person close to the studio. The legal team is evaluating what it would cost to fire the 54-year-old executive versus crafting a more amicable parting which would mean a smaller settlement.  Another source familiar with the charged atmosphere in Burbank, characterized the current situation as “untenable” — which hopefully means a resolution will come quickly. It’s clearly clean-the- slate time  under newly minted chief executive Kevin Tsujihara, who is about to replicate on the movie side the kind of management shift he made  just weeks ago in the TV division.

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Jeff Robinov isn’t happy in his job, nor is Warner Bros. happy with him.

As expected, the parties will likely part company in coming weeks.

However, Robinov has not resigned his post as president of Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group, as reported by several news outlets on Thursday. Nor is he expected to quit since that would preclude him from getting a multi-million dollar settlement on his contract, which expires at the end of 2014, plus an additional severance package. If he gets pushed out as his former colleague, Warner Bros. Television Group chief Bruce Rosenblum, did last month, he would then be entitled to collect what’s owed him.

As of late Thursday, there were no settlement talks between Warner Bros. or its parent company Time Warner and Robinov’s legal team.

Reps from Warner Bros. and Time Warner did not return multiple calls to Variety seeking comment for this story. Nor did Robinov respond to an inquiry.

Tensions between Robinov and his bosses, newly installed CEO Kevin Tsujihara and Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes, have escalated to a boiling point that few believe can be resolved. Robinov’s relationship with Tsujihara has been particularly frayed since Tsujihara took over as chief executive and has been more hands-on in the movie division. Robinov had been accustomed to a lot of  latitude under his former bosses, Warner Bros.’ outgoing chairman Barry Meyer and former Warner Bros. president Alan Horn.

Robinov took the week off from work (apparently to deal with personal matters such as an operation on his sinuses) and is expected to be back on the Warner lot on Monday. That said, the situation with his future there was described by one knowledgeable source as very “fluid.”

At the moment, Robinov has no other job lined up. He has no interest in being a producer, according to people who know him well, and would like to find another top studio job. But there are no such openings at the present time. The only potential slot is at 2oth Century Fox, where chairman Jim Gianopulos is known to be looking to bring in a No. 2 to help oversee the movie studio.

But sources insist that would be an unlikely move for Robinov, given that he would want the same greenlight authority he has at Warner Bros. Gianopulos, who was only recently given sole oversight of the studio after News Corp. ousted his longtime co-chair Tom Rothman, is not about to give up or share that authority.

With no job prospect in sight and no chance of a payout if he quits, Robinov has no motivation to abruptly walk away from his present post without being shown the door.

Robinov has been openly expressing his discontent at the studio ever since losing a nearly three-year run-off in January to succeed Meyer as chairman-CEO of the studio. In recent weeks his anger and unhappiness have been even more evident, say people who work with him.

He has been telling his colleagues that he doesn’t see a future for himself at Warner Bros. because his bosses have not given him a vote of confidence and assurances that they want him to stay after his current deal expires.

The upheaval with Robinov comes at an awkward moment, say some Warner insiders, noting that this is a time when the film team is basking in the glory of “Man of Steel’s” super debut last weekend. But Robinov has not been there to celebrate and congratulate those who work for him. The Superman movie opened with global ticket sales of $200 million.

Also, people at the studio were surprised when Robinov left the June 10 Gotham premiere party for “Man of Steel” after just 15 minutes.

Robinov’s impolitic behavior — which also included him hanging up on Meyer when he delivered the news that home entertainment honcho Tsujihara had been selected as his successor — has hurt him with the Warner Bros. brass despite his skills as a creative executive.

It is unclear when the next shoe will drop, but it is sure to be soon. There is speculation that once Robinov leaves his position, everyone on his team, including production president Greg Silverman, marketing chief Sue Kroll and distribution head Dan Fellman will report directly to Tsujihara at least until he can figure out a succession plan.

The Warner Bros.-Robinov rift adds to the management turmoil at the studio that was long known as the most stable of the majors.

Rosenblum, who competed for the top spot along with Robinov and Tsujihara, left the studio in May. Last week, he joined Legendary Entertainment as president of the company’s newly launched television and digital media division.

Subsid Legendary Pictures, which has been a longtime co-financing and production partner at Warner Bros., is also poised to leave the fold. Robinov and Legendary CEO Thomas Tull have had a tumultuous relationship over issues such as creative control. The relationship began to deteriorate once Horn (now chairman of Disney Studios) was forced out in 2011.

Robinov joined Warner Bros. Pictures in 1997, following five years as a lit agent at ICM, where he repped writers and directors including the Hughes brothers, Wachowski siblings, Chris McQuarrie and McG. He’s known for his talent relationships with certain filmmakers like Ben Affleck, Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan.

While “Man of Steel” had a strong opening and “The Hangover Part III” has performed solidly, tracking for Warner Bros.’ big-budget July 12 release “Pacific Rim,” of which Legendary owns 75%, has been weak. WB is coming off of a disappointing first quarter, with a string of box office misfires, among them “Gangster Squad” and New Line Cinema’s “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.”

Warner Bros. has high hopes for New Line’s “The Conjuring,” which bows July 19 and has had solid response from early test screenings. “We are The Millers,” also from New Line, opens later this summer.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report)

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  1. Bazzy says:

    Argo is amazing. Gatsby is Spectacular. Man of Steel is breathtaking.

    I like Robinov because he raised a lot of money, over 2 mil for MS research, which my relative is battling. When I saw his tape
    at the fundraiser I did my research. A solid executive. Nolan got up and introduced him for the award. My whole table of middle-aged comic geeks was star struck. A memorable event. A legendary exec. He will be fine.

  2. One Sad Producer says:

    For what it’s worth, having worked with Jeff R. while producing a film at WB, he is one of the smartest, straight-shooting and competent high level execs in the business. He is committed to your project, ensuring you get what you need to do it right. In my experience, if you do your job well, there’s no better studio head that cheers you on and watches your back. Anyone who says differently, should probably look in the mirror and ask was I doing my job. This is a HUGE loss, and unfortunately a game-changer for the future of WB and possibly the entire studio business, as one of the LAST truly filmmaker centric studios folds into its new corporate agenda trying to navigate the future… Very sad. If I am Paramount/Viacom I do WHATEVER needs to be done to bring Jeff R. in to make great movies again. Jeff has done a remarkable job, one that’s incredibly tough, fraught with high stakes, LOTS of knives and land mines, and WB Company upheaval for the past three years.

  3. Shafted says:

    First Paula Dean and now Jeff? I didn’t know he made racist comments too!

  4. HS says:

    I remember when Robinov was a lowly assistant at some crappy little nameless production company on La Cienega. I imagine he’s scrubbed that job from his vitae long ago. He was relentlessly hungry and seemed like a cliche straight out of “What Makes Sammy Run?” Wherever he lands after the Bros. Warner, it will be on his feet and already running to get ahead.

  5. Jeff Robinov’s has no desire to work as a producer; and with no passion to produce films, his wish is only to serve not as an executive, but a TOP executive within the film studio system: in other words, a man in service to his own ego. Perhaps, given the right circumstance, we all are also guilty of this sort of vainglory. However, Robinov’s background is not so much having gut-instinct about filmwork as much as relating to talent. Mostly, of course, it’s about money. Who can blame him? To rub shoulers with the gods…and get paid for it. Robinov can show up everyday and not do a damn a thing. Nice work, if you can ge it.

    • JAM says:

      Perhaps, and its just a thought that his tumultuous relationship with Mr. Tull who is considering his future business relationship with the studio is also a factor…. After all Mr. Tull is a financier..who helps mitigate the studio risk….”Show me the Money” and money talks and BS walks……

  6. No love lost there — any studio head so brazen and obdurate enough as to declare “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead” should have never been hired in the first place.

    • Kory Stephens says:

      Indeed!

      Catwoman, Constantine, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern and now Man of Steel all happened on his watch plus the current state of DC Comics. Robinov will not be missed.

  7. Reality Oh Yeah says:

    Plus of course the fact that Man of Steel’s box means little when it is so solidly loathed by those who don’t rubber stamp anything attached to the Nolan name, any big budget undertaking involving geek franchises like comic book characters, and anything that performs well opening weekend. Eliminating those automatic 5-stars, the Meta Critic and Rotten Tomatos verdict goes from mixed to dismal, and making the worst possible foundation for an Avengers-style mega-movie operation for DC/Warner Bros. Any smart man would be running away from the trainwreck as fast as he can.

  8. machavilli says:

    Sad to see someone everyone seems to have gotten along well with the wise leave a good company

    • Karmah says:

      Maybe he’ll receive a parting ‘gift’ box of 64 crayola crayons to color with since he’ll seem to have… “a lot of spare time on his hands.”

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