×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Universal Shakeup: Why Jeff Shell Is Grabbing the Movie Spotlight

Observers thought Langley, not Fogelson, would be bounced

Adam Fogelson’s forced departure as chairman of Universal Pictures and Jeff Shell’s arrival as its new movie chief sends a strong signal that media congloms today are just as concerned with the “big picture” of where Hollywood is headed as they are with the individual pictures that populate their annual slates.

Since Fogelson was promoted from his former post as marketing head to movie chairman in October 2009, he was focused on helping turn around the studio, which was limping behind its rivals following a string of flops that included “Duplicity,” “State of Play,” “Land of the Lost,” “Public Enemies” and “Funny People.” His predecessors, Marc Shmuger and David Linde lost their jobs as a consequence, and were replaced by Fogelson and Donna Langley, who had been the studio’s production prexy. Langley, as it turns out, was promoted Monday to Fogelson’s job.

Fogelson and Langley (pictured) began preaching that they wanted to pursue projects that were responsible risks. In 2011, that strategy started paying dividends with hits like “Fast Five” and “Bridesmaids.” Fogelson’s bosses at Comcast also seemed on board with the direction, re-upping both Fogelson and Langley in the fall of 2011 with contract extensions that would keep them in their jobs until the end of next year.

Since the re-up, the pair has had a relatively strong track record with hits like “Les Miserables,” “Ted,” “Fast and Furious 6” and most recently “Despicable Me 2.” They also encountered some treacherous bumps in the road with the costly flops “Battleship” and “R.I.P.D.”

Even prior to the release of those underperformers, Fogelson began showing  a cautiousness about which movies he would greenlight and those he wasn’t willing to back because their upside potential did not outweigh the financial risks.

For example, the studio put the brakes on Guillermo del Toro’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” a $125 million horror film that the director insisted be released with an R rating.

Even with James Cameron also on board to produce and Tom Cruise attached to star, Uni did not believe the picture would make enough money, especially overseas, and shut the project down in pre-production.

Fogelson was also involved in the decision to pass on Ron Howard’s expensive epic adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” book series into three films and a limited TV series for NBC over a six-year period. Javier Bardem was in talks with the studio to star with the planned film-to-TV crossover. Uni put the project into turnaround, and Warner Bros. has also since passed on the adaptation.

As for Langley, It had long been rumored that when the day came for Comcast to shuffle Universal’s film deck, it would be her, not Fogelson, who would be dealt out of the game.

As several insiders tell Variety, Langley’s longstanding relationships with agents and producers and her experience in developing movies may ultimately have given her the upper hand.

Langley is credited with aggressively pursuing and eventually landing the movie rights to E.L. James’ bestselling trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which every major studio (except Disney) was hot to buy in the spring of 2012. Uni and its specialty film unit Focus Features will market and distribute the projected three pictures, the first of which is scheduled to hit theaters on Aug. 1, 2014.

In her elevated position, Langley will continue to serve up potential movie ideas, but now to a different boss: Shell, who will focus on big picture matters dictated by an ever shifting landscape in which old business models are being unseated by new technologies and changing consumer demands.

NBCU will now have to work out an exit package for Fogelson, whose contract still had more than a year to run. As for where he goes from here, some are speculating that he may return to the marketing world he knows well. Fogelson did not return Variety‘s calls.

Uni, which as of Monday had not offered Fogelson the usual production deal, simply bid the just-removed studio chief a brief farewell in the 10th paragraph of its release announcing the management reorg.

More Film

  • General Delegate of the Cannes Film

    Cannes Reinstates Advance Press Screenings, But Favors TV, Radio Journalists (EXCLUSIVE)

    Following last year’s backlash by film critics over changes to its screenings schedule, the Cannes Film Festival has decided to reinstate morning press screenings for movies having their gala world premieres in the evening. But there’s a catch: Only a few hundred journalists — mainly from TV and radio outlets — will be admitted, and [...]

  • Someone Great

    Film Review: ‘Someone Great’

    There simply aren’t enough modern romantic comedies that cherish the merits of female friendship in the aftermath of a romantic breakup. There are even fewer that feel like a personal, lived-in experience. Female-driven raunchcoms (like “Girls Trip”) have explored this territory to a certain extent, though many stop short of delivering genuine poignancy (like “Rough [...]

  • Actresses take part in the #metoo

    Cannes Grows More Inclusive, Boosts Number of Female Filmmakers

    In 1946, the inaugural year of the Cannes Film Festival, Barbara Virginia’s surrealist film, “Tres dias sem Deus” debuted in competition. Over the subsequent seven decades, as it has grown in stature to become one of the world’s premier film gatherings, Cannes hasn’t matched that early promise in highlighting female artists. Finally, the powers that [...]

  • Rocketman

    Cannes: 2019 Lineup Includes 'Rocketman' and Films by 13 Women

    The 72nd Cannes Film Festival has announced its lineup, unveiling an official selection that includes 13 female filmmakers, a number of genre movies, more American titles than last year and an opportunity for Elton John to make a star turn on the Croisette. Twelve of the 47 films announced Thursday are directed by women (one [...]

  • Cannes Unveils 2019 Official Selection (Watch

    Cannes Lineup Announcement: How to Watch

    The 72nd Cannes Film Festival is announcing the films chosen for “official selection” — including those competing for the event’s coveted Palme d’Or prize — in a press conference Thursday starting at 11 a.m. in Paris. The livestream of the press conference is available here. (Please note that the broadcast seldom starts on time.) Last [...]

  • Godzilla

    'Godzilla' Owner Toho Poised for Expansion in Hollywood

    Toho, the largest movie group in Japan, is expanding a subsidiary in the U.S. with a view to working more with Hollywood. The company said that its existing Toho International Inc. subsidiary has been injected with $14 million (JPY15.4 billion), through a share issue subscribed to by the parent company. The subsidiary has existed since [...]

  • View Conference Opens Registration for 2019

    2019 View Conference Opens Registration, Calls for Short Film Competition Entries

    Registration is now open for the 2019 edition of the View Conference in Turin, Italy. No speakers have been announced yet, but past conferences have featured some of the world’s top creative talents in visual effects, animation, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. Last year’s edition featured composer Hans Zimmer, Paramount Animation topper [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content