Sean Bailey wasn’t necessarily considered everyone’s first choice to replace Oren Aviv as Disney’s new president of production.
His credits don’t include the kinds of pics company topper Robert Iger has been saying the Mouse House should be making more of — especially dramas like Miramax’s “Gone Baby Gone,” Warner Bros.’ “Matchstick Men” and Fox 2000’s “Best Laid Plans.”
But Bailey won the job Thursday by impressing Disney’s top brass while developing and producing “Tron Legacy,” which unspools in December. His appointment came with yet another round of executive musical chairs and layoffs, this time in the studio’s distribution, homevideo and marketing and publicity departments.
On the new “Tron,” not only were execs happy with the visuals, but they liked Bailey’s big-picture approach to the project, which not only includes turning it into a new film franchise, but also spinning it off into a TV series, comicbooks and videogames, not to mention theme park attractions.
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Iger tapped former Disney Channel head Rich Ross as the studio’s new chairman for taking just such an approach. He wants Disney’s films to play not just in theaters but also across multiple platforms, the way Ross handled “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.” Each pic should be seen as a high-profile opportunity to mint considerable coin for Disney’s various divisions.
“Our industry is evolving rapidly and, in order to remain at its forefront, we are adapting our organization to be more agile, creative and responsive,” said Ross.
Bailey understands that strategy.
He formed production shingle Live Planet with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Chris Moore in 2000, and TV projects that were developed there, such as “Push, Nevada,” “The Runner” and “Project Greenlight,” were seen as stepping stones to other forms of entertainment, including films, Web series and games.
Live Planet had a deal with Disney, and when its film arm was shuttered in 2008, Bailey formed a new banner, Idealogy, that also landed on the Mouse House’s lot. Its deal is up for renewal this year. Films developed there fit with what Ross is looking for.
They include “Tron Legacy,” as well as a reboot of “The Black Hole”; “Hexum,” an actioner about a worst-case-scenario analyst; war thriller “Liberty,” which Bailey also wrote; and a remake of the 1983 comedy “Valley Girl,” in development as a musical at MGM.
One project Ross wasn’t looking for was the reboot of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” which McG was set to helm and Bailey was producing. Ross pulled the plug shortly after becoming chairman, citing creative and financial concerns.
For TV, Idealogy set up, at ABC, “The Unlimited,” about a Texas basketball coach who discovers his recently deceased father was one of the world’s most brilliant minds and that he’s inherited the genius.
While discussing “The Unlimited,” Bailey said, “I’ve always admired superhero origin stories. This is something like that, only a little more grounded.”
That kind of admiration for caped crusaders will come in handy now that Disney owns Marvel Entertainment and will look to adapt comicbooks not yet set up at other studios.
His experience working with actors like Affleck and Damon, as well as studio execs while setting up various projects around town, will also prove beneficial to Bailey as he now has to work closely with producers like Jerry Bruckheimer; Marvel’s Kevin Feige; Robert Zemeckis; and Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider at DreamWorks, among others with deals on the lot.
Bailey will oversee all aspects of live-action development, film production and physical production for Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures.
“I look forward to working with the studios’ impressive array of talented filmmakers to create entertaining, inspiring films that uphold the legacy and quality of classic Disney movies and capture the imagination of our global audiences,” Bailey said in a statement.
Ross considered a number of executives and producers at the studio to replace Aviv, whose resignation came suddenly on Tuesday. Senior exec Jason Reed, who many thought would land the job, was one of them.
“Sean brings great creative instincts and considerable filmmaking experience to his new role,” Ross said in a statement and praised Bailey’s “close relationships throughout the creative community.”
The Bailey move wasn’t Ross’ only executive change Thursday.
Ross also announced that longtime president of domestic distribution Chuck Viane will take on all aspects of international sales and distribution across 70 countries in addition to his ongoing responsibilities overseeing domestic sales and distribution operations as prexy of distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Disney also has ousted another top exec, president of international distribution Anthony Marcoly. Exec had been with the company for more than 20 years.
The studio didn’t reveal the move in the official release that announced Viane’s new expanded role. Viane now reports to Bob Chapek, prexy of distribution for the Walt Disney Studios.
The studio also eliminated dozens of jobs in its homevideo division, which Chapek oversees, as part of a belt-tightening move.
Ross also restructured other posts, including shifting Christine Cadena from her role as senior VP of marketing, synergy and franchise development to become senior VP of multicultural initiatives, leading all diversity and multicultural efforts.
Michelle Sewell has been upped to senior VP, global publicity, overseeing the domestic and international publicity departments. She had primarily focused on international publicity efforts at the studio. Sewell will report to the head of marketing, a position yet to be filled after the departure of Jim Gallagher.
And John Nicoletti now becomes VP, global communications and Paul Roeder moves to director, global communications.
Heidi Trotta, senior VP of studio communications, will stay on as a consultant for a transitional period.
Cadena, Nicoletti and Trotta report directly to Ross.