Who’s the boss?

Studios fumble with jumble of exec titles

When news surfaced Dec. 6 that Paramount execs John Lesher, Rob Moore and Brad Weston were poised for promotions, one of the key questions asked was what the new reporting structure would be.

It took more than a month for an official answer.

That kind of murkiness is increasingly common in the exec suites of all the studios. Even Sony Pictures’ elevation of Peter Schlessel to president of worldwide affairs last week had many wondering just whose affairs — personal? romantic? — the job might encompass.

While a clear internal reporting structure is essential to most businesses, at studios, the delicate balancing of seniority, ego, creative authority and perks dictates keeping the exact details of who’s where on the totem pole a bit hazy.

Before their promotions, Lesher, Moore and Weston all reported to Paramount chief Brad Grey. But that changed when Paramount Vantage prexy Lesher inherited the No. 2 creative spot at the studio, a post previously filled by Gail Berman, to whom Weston once reported. Somehow, Grey figured out a way to make Weston’s reporting to former agent Lesher palatable to the longtime production veteran. Moore, on the other hand, continues to report to Grey.

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All this obfuscation of reporting lines helps explain why at film studios, unlike insurance companies, there are a multitude of various presidents. The standard joke is, “Who’s the president of parking?”

The Paramount case illustrates an industrywide adage: Salaries, titles, perks and number of assistants are important, but the crucial ego-booster or -buster is your position within the reporting structure.

And, ego aside, studios and networks find it difficult, if not impossible, to structure rigid reporting lines in creative fields. In nurturing a project, a studio exec cannot seek approvals from senior management as each step — each rewrite, each casting idea — moves toward the final greenlight.

Still, each studio relies on an internal pecking order, which they are loath to reveal because of the touchy nature of the information. And each major has a different way of handling the volatile issue.

Following the announcement that Berman was exiting last year, Grey stated that DreamWorks topper Stacey Snider, Weston, Lesher and former MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies topper Scott Aversano would all report to him. Snider berated him for lumping her together with executives with limited or no greenlight power.

Unlike Paramount, Sony’s structure sees the marketing and distribution divisions reporting to not one but two people. Jeff Blake, chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution for the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group and vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, reports directly to studio toppers Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton. But Pascal exerts greater influence than Lynton on marketing decisions.

“There is no question that Amy is in marketing meetings and calling the shots,” a Sony exec says.

By contrast, Fox Filmed Entertainment’s Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman share the reins of their entertainment fiefdom equally, with 20th Century Fox production topper Hutch Parker reporting to both of them, as do marketing prexies Pam Levine and Tony Sella and distribution head Bruce Snyder. Fox 2000’s Elizabeth Gabler and Fox Searchlight’s Peter Rice also answer to Gianopulos and Rothman.

Disney’s production head Oren Aviv oversees the studio’s film labels while motion pictures group president Mark Zoradi oversees worldwide marketing and distribution. Both report to studio chairman Dick Cook.

Universal shook things up in October when it upped Adam Fogelson to president of marketing and distribution and Eddie Egan to prexy of marketing. Fogelson reports to U chairman Marc Shmuger and co-chairman David Linde. Under the restructuring, Egan answers to Fogelson as does longtime distribution prexy Nikki Rocco, who previously answered directly to Shmuger and Linde.

Warner Bros. also revamped its motion picture group last month, leaving Jeff Robinov with greater authority as prexy of the newly formed Warner Bros. Pictures Group. The move, which took effect Jan. 1, gives Robinov oversight of worldwide marketing and distribution in addition to overseeing production for all studio releases. The presidents of domestic and international marketing and distribution now report to Robinov rather than his boss, Alan Horn, who they previously answered to.

But unlike the other major studios, Paramount found itself in the unenviable position of dealing with a pending restructuring under the full glare of the media, leaving Grey to come up with a creative solution to assuage Weston’s ego.

As one Paramount executive quipped at the time of the news of Weston’s looming promotion, “What are they going to do, make him super-duper president of production?”