Filmmaker relations, franchises key to WB film division, but Universal post could beckon
After two years of speculation regarding the studio’s succession plans, which saw Kevin Tsujihara named CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment on Monday, Jeff Robinov will remain as president of the Warner Bros. motion picture group — one of the most powerful slots in Hollywood thanks to its slate of high-profile franchises and depth of filmmaking relationships.
But even though he has multiple years left on his current deal and has racked up an impressive run at Warners since coming aboard 16 years ago, conjecture about Robinov’s next steps ramped up immediately following Monday’s announcement, mostly centered around the prospect of him leaving Warners for the prexy post at Universal Studios.
The naming of Tsujihara comes on the heels of a triumphant weekend for Warner Bros., which saw Ben Affleck’s “Argo” take the top awards from the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actor Guild for ensemble cast. But for Robinov, being passed over for the CEO post fuels fresh speculation about whether he will continue his duties overseeing the film division — particularly given his enviable track record in dealing with A-list actors, directors and producers.
“Talent relationships have always been Jeff’s strongest suit,” one agent said. “He’s been able to get Ben Affleck to make movies for Warners, which is something every studio would like to have. There aren’t many better jobs.”
Tsujihara emerged from a three-way bakeoff that saw him, Robinov and Warner Bros. TV Group president Bruce Rosenblum in contention to succeed Barry Meyer.
Robinov, president of the motion picture group since 2007, issued a gracious response regarding the selection of Tsujihara.
“I am truly happy and proud of Kevin,” Robinov said. “We are both good friends and colleagues and I think he’s an excellent choice for the job. The company will be in great shape under his leadership.”
But beyond that statement of amity, other options may beckon Robinov.
He is seen as a possible candidate to step in for Ron Meyer as president of Universal if Meyer moves into a more corporate role at Comcast. Rumors of such a scenario emerged last fall, but insiders are quick to note that Robinov coming over to Universal is by no means a certainty.
While the exec’s strongest asset has been his relationships with top filmmakers — most notably with Christoper Nolan, shepherd of the Batman franchise and a producer of the upcoming Superman reboot — some insiders at both Universal and Warners say issues with Robinov’s well-known toughness in internal management matters may have cost him the top job at Warner Bros. That would likely factor in if Universal does consider him for Meyer’s job.
Robinov is responsible for more than $2 billion per year in spending on production and marketing and has a solid relationship with the affable Tsujihara. It’s widely known that Robinov and Rosenblum have a chilly relationship and it was believed that Robinov might have ankled his post had Rosenblum become CEO, which might have opened the door for New Line topper Toby Emmerich as a replacement.
Robinov has held sole greenlight authority over feature films since April 2011, when Alan Horn — now Disney’s film chief — departed from Warner Bros. as studio prexy-chief operating officer.
During Robinov’s his tenure, Warner Bros. has remained at or near the top of the box office, thanks largely to betting big on tentpoles such as the Harry Potter pics, “The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” the “Sherlock Holmes,” “Hobbit” and “Hangover” franchises and “Inception.” Its marketing team, headed by Robinov ally Sue Kroll, has received high marks for its ability to generate consistently strong box office on a worldwide basis.
In 2013, Warners has remained prolific at a time when most of its rivals have reduced their output. The studio’s key project this year is the Zack Snyder-helmed “Man of Steel,” which aims to reboot the Superman franchise. Other notable titles are Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi tentpole “Pacific Rim,” Bryan Singer’s “Jack the Giant Slayer,” “Hangover 3” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”; next year’s significant entries include “Lego,” Doug Liman’s sci-fier “All You Need Is Kill” and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again.”
Further out, the studio’s planning a “Justice League” tentpole — encompassing DC Comics mainstays Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Green Lantern — on the order of Marvel’s “The Avengers.” Will Beall is scripting but no director has been attached yet.
Stakes are high for “Man of Steel.” Other than Nolan’s Batpics, Warners has not been able to effectively exploit the DC library. Its 2011 “Green Lantern” underperformed, and a “Justice League” film wouldn’t likely be in theaters before 2015, as Warner’s top brass has indicated that they are awaiting the results of “Man of Steel,” which opens June 14, before moving further ahead.
Robinov, a former talent agent, has maintained an impressive filmmaker roster at Warner Bros., including first-look deals with Snyder, Affleck, Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”), Robert and Susan Downey, Bradley Cooper, Tom Hardy, Clint Eastwood and “Harry Potter” producer David Heyman. The studio has three dozen first-look, financing and distribution deals, more than any other studio.
Warner Bros. reorganized its motion picture group and handed the reins to Robinov in 2007, promoting him from prexy of production. That realignment was designed to allow Horn and Meyer to concentrate on big-picture issues while Robinov oversaw pics from start to finish — and to put him on par with Rosenblum and Tsujihara.
Robinov was tapped as Warners head of production in 2002, shepherding the “Harry Potter,” “Batman” and “Superman” franchises while the studio won best-picture Oscars for “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Departed.” He also oversaw production of “300,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Syriana” and the “Matrix” trilogy.
Robinov joined the studio as senior VP of production in 1997. He came to the studio from ICM, where he repped the Hughes brothers, the Wachowskis and Christopher McQuarrie. He started his career as a tenpercenter at Writers & Artists.
Justin Kroll contributed to this report.