Aiming to bolster its executive ranks, Sony Pictures Entertainment has named veteran producer Michael De Luca to the post of president of production at Columbia Pictures after nine years in a first-look deal with the studio.
De Luca will move into the slot in late February once he’s completed his producing work on a pair of Universal projects — “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Dracula Untold.”
The appointment marks a return to the executive suite for De Luca, who held top slots at New Line and DreamWorks before launching his producing career in 2004. As a producer, he’s delivered Sony’s most successful recent release in “Captain Phillips” along with “The Social Network,” “Moneyball,” the Ghost Rider franchise and “21.”
The move also comes at a time when the film studio has been through a rough year with several major flops. Two weeks ago, the studio announced it was trimming its slate and moving to cut costs.
Sony’s only upcoming tentpole franchises are the heavily recognizable “Spider-Man” and James Bond, which it has been sharing with MGM. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is slated to open May 2, 2014 and the next installments have been set to bow June 10, 2016 and May 4, 2018. The 24th Bond movie will open in the U.S. on Nov. 6, 2015.
De Luca will partner with Hannah Minghella, who’s been president of production for Columbia Pictures for the past three years. Each will now carry that title and oversee development and production for Columbia. Both will report to Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad.
“Mike has worked with us on several of our highest-quality and most commercial recent films, and he’s nurtured many of our generation’s most important filmmakers,” Belgrad said. “Likewise, Hannah is a tremendous creative executive who has made major contributions to our entire slate, in particular our key ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Jump Street’ franchises. Together, Hannah and Mike will be a formidable team.”
Sony also announced Friday that Belgrad has been given an expanded role within the motion picture group, while continuing to oversee Columbia’s slate of films and creative staff.
“Doug’s role has continued to evolve over the past few years, so I am pleased we will continue to benefit from his extraordinary business and creative expertise,” said Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment and chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group. “I am confident this leadership team will help guide our company to further success, and I want to congratulate Doug and Mike on their new roles.”
Minghella noted that Columbia previously operated with two presidents of production between 2003 and 2008 when Belgrad and Matt Tolmach held the posts. Belgrad and Tolmach were promoted to the presidency in 2008 and Belgrad became the sole president in 2010, when Tolmach segued into a studio producing deal to produce the rebooted “Amazing Spider-Man” franchise.
De Luca’s company, Michael De Luca Prods., has had a production and development deal with Columbia Pictures since its formation in 2004.
De Luca and Dana Brunetti are also producing “Fifty Shades of Grey” for Universal and Focus, based on the bestselling book “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James. He will stay on through the completion of both “Fifty Shades,” which is currently in production, and work on “Dracula Untold,” which is in post-production.
Universal’s Focus Features is opening “Fifty Shades” on Feb. 13, 2015. Uni will open “Dracula Untold,” starring Luke Evans, on Oct. 17, 2014.
Prior to setting up his deal at Sony, De Luca served as DreamWorks’ production head and oversaw the live-action division and the production of Todd Phillips’ “Old School” Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” between 2001 and 2003.
Before joining DreamWorks, De Luca served as president and chief operating officer of New Line Productions and oversaw the launching of the “Friday,” “Blade,” “Austin Powers” and “Rush Hour” franchises.
Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton disclosed on Nov. 21 that the studio had launched “a shift in emphasis from motion pictures to television production” along with a focus on cost-containment. Sony has hired Bain & Co. to help it identify cuts in its studio division, with estimates that $100 million or more would be targeted via overhead and potential layoffs.
Although the studio has seen success with the fall release of “Captain Phillips,” it had a rough summer with “White House Down” and “After Earth” proving disappointments. Sony Pictures recently reported a loss of an estimated $182 million in the second quarter ended Sept. 30, with sales revenues dropping by 13% in U.S. dollar terms as the company cited lower TV licensing, a weaker home entertainment business and smaller theatrical revenues — specifically mentioning the poor performance of “White House Down.”
Amy Pascal, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, announced on Nov. 21 that the studio would reduce its film output to “closer to 18″ movies per year going forward, from the “low 20s” in recent years. She said the studio would release four movies next summer, down from nine this year.
Sony Entertainment has been pressured this year by Third Point’s Daniel Loeb, a major shareholder with about 7% of the company. Loeb has criticized the studio for lagging behind competitors in profitability.
Besides “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and the 24th Bond movie, Sony’s key upcoming titles include “American Hustle,” opening Dec. 13; “The Monuments Men,” with George Clooney directing and starring; “22 Jump Street” and “Sex Tape.”
Variety reported on Oct. 25 that former Warner Bros. film chief Jeff Robinov was in early talks with Graham King and Sony Pictures to set up a new film shingle and fund through which he can produce a slate of movies. Sony Pictures has also been in talks for a three-year co-financing deal with Blue Anchor Entertainment that would bring between $300 million and $350 million in equity to the studio.