As president of Relativity Media, Tucker Tooley credits his successful collaboration with Ryan Kavanaugh to their differences. “I think any good partnership has to have completely different skill sets and bring something different to the table,” notes Tooley. “Because if you do the exact same thing, you’re just duplicating what each other does.”
Prior to joining Relativity Media in 2007 as president of worldwide production, Tooley was an independent producer whose credits include the Vin Diesel vehicle “A Man Apart” and Lee Daniels’ “Shadowboxer.” At the time, Relativity was co-financing movies, but not producing its own films.
“All of a sudden Ryan was getting scripts, movies submitted in to finance, and I think the light bulb went off,” says Tooley. “So he brought me in to really kind of launch the single picture division.”
Since then, Tooley has overseen production on such key Relativity titles as “Dear John,” “Haywire” and “We’re the Millers,” while overseeing all of the firm’s various divisions.
What initially attracted you to work at Relativity?
At the time, I was an independent producer and I saw the market changing significantly. I kind of saw the landscape as an independent producer changing drastically, and realized that unless you’re aligned with financing or talent, it was going to be really hard moving forward. So, I was in a deal at the time, a producing television deal at CBS, and when Ryan and I initially started talking I couldn’t really get out of that, but I was interested. And then when that ended, it was just kind of an easy choice.
There’s this perception that Ryan is the idea guy, while you’re the hands-on guy. Is that accurate?
Ryan certainly is the idea guy, but he’s more than the idea guy. He’s not so much involved with the day-to-day operations of the company or even the movies, but he’s certainly involved from a creative standpoint — where he excels. I always joke that if Russell (Schwartz) doesn’t work out as head of marketing, we’re going to hire Ryan because he has an intuitive, unbelievable marketing mind. He can break down a trailer in his head and say, “Cut this, this, this and this,” and that’s really a very particular skill that most filmmakers or producers actually don’t have.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I enjoy it all. Coming from a creative background, sometimes it’s challenging to not get drawn into the myopic problem or issue or challenge on the movie. Just to not get so detail-focused on the movies because that’s what you do as a producer — you solve small problems, medium problems and big problems, all day long. And it’s very easy to get sucked into so-and-so wants a bigger trailer or whatever, and so I have to constantly remind myself that it’s a bigger-picture job.
What is the corporate philosophy of Relativity?
The prevailing belief and motivator here is that just because it’s been done one way for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way we should do it. So it’s challenging everybody who works here to look at something that maybe everybody’s looked at through a certain prism for a long period of time, try to turn it on its head and look at it differently. And maybe you’ll find a better way and maybe you won’t, but at least you’re going to approach it from a different vantage point. There is a sign out front that says: “Make, break, reinvent.” That’s at the foundation of our thinking.
What can you tell us about the future plans for the company?
The future of the company, very broadly, is to make sure that our core businesses are doing as well as they possibly can be. Focus on that, and really focus on content. Creating content around our businesses because who knows where we’re going to be 10 years from now. But I do know that content will be valuable, and so if you look at all the pieces of this company, and I said they might seem disparate, they’re not. They’re actually engines that we built content around. And they’re businesses in and of themselves that are profitable. But you can create a ton of content around fashion. You can create a ton of content around sports. Having a digital piece is really, really important because it’s content. And all of that when you put it all in one place has tons of synergy, and so I think the future’s just really locking that in and making sure we’re doing it well.
What do you think is the biggest thing the naysayers have gotten wrong about Relativity?
Every business has its growing pains. So I think every time we went through one of these dips or turns or whatever, people were skeptical that we would make it through. From day one, from the time I started, the press has been skeptical, and sometimes really brutal. And I think it’s because everybody realizes how hard it is to do what we’re doing, and so the odds of failure when you’re tackling something as big as we’re tackling are probably greater generally than the odds of success. We’ve made it through some really turbulent and challenging times in a way that I think ultimately has benefitted us and has made the employees here and our teams smarter and more encouraged and more enthusiastic.
Do you read what they say?
I tend to, like anybody, read the good reviews and not the bad ones. Our biggest financial successes have probably been the worst reviewed, with the exception of “The Fighter.” And some of our best-reviewed movies haven’t done that well, but it’s nice to get good reviews.