In Rothman, Sony has tapped an industry veteran with ties to A-list talent to lead it as it struggles to recover from a cyber-attack that exposed its emails, budgets, salaries and institutional information to public scrutiny. That hack, launched by North Korea in retaliation for the Kim Jong-un assassination comedy “The Interview,” led to Pascal’s ouster and cost the studio tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and lost ticket sales.
Rothman has led Sony’s TriStar Productions since 2013, having previously served as chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment for 12 years alongside Jim Gianopulos.
To nab the coveted job, Rothman beat out Doug Belgrad, Pascal’s former number two and the president of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s motion picture group, and Michael De Luca, Sony president of production. Both men are expected to remain with the company in their current jobs, according to two individuals with knowledge of the situation.
It was also announced that Sony has extended Michael Lynton’s contract as chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment and as CEO of Sony Entertainment. It’s a vote of confidence for an executive who found himself at the center of the hacking storm.
Rothman has a long leash to implement changes. His pact is for five years, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation.
Many on the lot expected Belgrad, praised for his financial acumen and popular among executives, to be the winner of the bake-off. It appears that Rothman’s relationship with talent and prior experience running a studio were key reasons he emerged as the victor.
Rothman’s appointment could ruffle some feathers on Sony’s Culver City lot. At Fox, Rothman was known for keeping costs in check and for his hands-on management style with major productions. However, he also has a prickly personality and a temper that sometimes put him at odds with Fox’s corporate leadership.
Few could deny Rothman’s talent, however. Many of the years he spent at Fox set profit records for the studio, and Rothman’s track record includes the two of the highest-grossing films in cinematic history, “Titanic” and “Avatar”; over $40 billion in worldwide box office; and more than 150 Academy Award nominations. Though his ouster from Fox was stormy, he maintained relationships with key talent, luring the likes of Jodie Foster and Ang Lee to the TriStar label.
In a statement, Lynton praised Rothman for knowing “this business inside and out.”
“Tom’s creativity, strong talent relationships and track record of enduring films and commercial success are unparalleled in this industry and exactly what we are looking for to grow our film business,” said Lynton.
Mopping up after the hacking won’t be the only challenge that Rothman faces. He must also try to right Sony’s financial ship and launch a slate of franchise-friendly fare, drawing on the studio’s “Spider-Man” and “Ghostbusters” film series. In 2013, activist investor Daniel Loeb slammed the studio’s management for greenlighting a series of flops such as “White House Down” and “After Earth” as part of a campaign to get Sony to spin off its entertainment properties. At the time, Loeb’s hedge fun Third Point was one of the company’s biggest stakeholders.
Projects at TriStar established under Rothman include Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk,” which centers on World Trade Center tightrope walker Philippe Petit; “Ricki and the Flash,” a comedy about a former rock star with Meryl Streep; Lee’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”; Foster’s “Money Monster,” a financial thriller with George Clooney; and “The Lady in the Van,” an adaptation of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed play with Maggie Smith. He will continue to oversee those productions and the TriStar label will stay in place, an individual with knowledge of the situation said.
Rothman previously founded Fox Searchlight, headed worldwide production for the Samuel Goldwyn Company from 1989-1994, worked at Columbia Pictures from 1987-1989 and was an entertainment lawyer and independent producer.