A makeover of the Sony Pictures Entertainment film marketing operation that began earlier this year gained steam Friday with the news that the unit’s president of domestic marketing, Dwight Caines, will be replaced by Christine Birch, who returned to the studio a little more than three months ago.
Josh Greenstein, SPE’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution, announced the management makeover in a memo to staff members. He said that Caines, whose contract is up this fall, “wanted to make a change and explore other opportunities after the ‘Ghostbusters’ marketing campaign is completed.”
The female-powered comedy remake premieres July 15 and Caines will leave later in the summer. Although insiders said Caines’ exit was voluntary, it had become clear since Greenstein lured Birch back to Sony — where she previously had worked for 12 years — that she and Caines had overlapping duties. A revamp seemed inevitable.
The email to staff Friday also announced the elevation of Andre Caraco, another longtime Sony veteran, to the position of co-president of domestic marketing for the Motion Picture Group. He will report to Birch, who will be supervised by Greenstein.
The moves come after a period of some turmoil and previous executive changes at Sony. The first week of June brought news that Sony TV chairman Steve Mosko and Motion Picture Group President Doug Belgrad were both leaving the company. Mosko’s destination remains unknown, while Belgrad exited to put together his own film finance and production outfit.
Though the TV unit has mostly been a strong suit, Sony’s theatrical releases have continued to struggle – with domestic box office for this year (through June 19) sixth and last among the major studios. An incursion into the studio’s computers by North Korean-backed hackers created more tumult in 2014 and had finally began to settle in early 2015 when Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton instigated another seismic shift: hiring the demanding, cost-conscious Tom Rothman to replace Amy Pascal as the new chairman of the Motion Picture Group.
The moves in the marketing unit are just the latest in what has been a topsy-turvy year. Eighteen months after his arrival from Paramount in the fall of 2014, Greenstein moved in March of this year to trim and revamp the marketing and distribution operation.
SPE revealed it would lay off 20 of 600 marketing and distribution employees. At that time, Greenstein appointed Danielle Misher and Damon Wolf co-heads of marketing for the genre label Screen Gems, the “adult” picture unit, TriStar, and for new acquisitions. Like this week’s new appointees, both of those executives came from inside the Sony family: Misher previously oversaw marketing for Screen Gems, and Wolf was an EVP of marketing and creative advertising at Sony Pictures.
There is considerable pressure on the marketing team, and the rest of Sony’s film division, to reverse a lackluster run.
The studio has weathered too many bombs like 2015’s Cameron Crowe pic, “Aloha,” and this spring’s Sacha Baron Cohen flop, “The Brothers Grimsby.” There are high hopes for recovery in the second half of 2016 – built on offerings like the Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy “Ghostbusters” remake; the re-imagined Western “The Magnificent Seven,” led by Denzel Washington; the latest thriller from author Dan Brown (of “DaVinci Code” fame), “Inferno;” and two buzzy awards-season pictures – “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee, and space thriller “Passengers,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.
Though he started in early 2015, the full impact of Rothman’s appointment Lynton will only begin to come into focus after those films and others that are not holdovers, greenlit by the previous administration. Even before the announced departure of Belgrad last month, Rothman had already moved to remake the studio’s executive ranks. Last August, he picked Hannah Minghella to replace him as president of the studio’s TriStar label. He moved David Beaubaire from TriStar to an executive vice president of production at Sony’s principal filmmaking operation, Columbia Pictures. And he teamed Beaubaire with Palak Patel, a former Roth Films exec who also got an executive vice president of production title at Columbia.
In Birch and Caraco, Greenstein tapped two executives with long histories at Sony.
Birch previously spent a dozen years at the Culver City lot before moving on to jobs at DreamWorks, FilmDistrict and Universal’s Focus Features label. At DreamWorks, she took part in the launch of “Transformers” and “The Help.” At Focus, big titles included “London Has Fallen” and “The Theory of Everything,” which earned a best actor Oscar for Eddie Redmayne.
Caraco has been within the Sony family since 1989, when he joined TriStar Pictures as a junior publicist. Within five years he had become vice president of national publicity at Columbia Pictures. In 2006 he became executive vice president of motion picture publicity for Sony Pictures marketing and distribution worldwide. His publicity work set the state for many films, including “Casino Royale,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “The DaVinci Code.”
Greenstein called the duo “the right executives to launch the incredible new slate we have rolling out this year.”
Syracuse University grad Caines got his business start at Chase Manhattan Bank, where he launched the company’s first call center for personal computer banking users. He started at Sony in 1997 as the director of market research. In 2005, he became Sony Pictures digital marketing division. He later moved up to become president of marketing for all of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
In his memo, Greenstein praised Caines, who he said “built a world-class digital marketing function from the ground up, and transformed the way we market our films to consumers.” In his own note to co-workers, Caines said he would work toward a smooth transition and said he was proud to have been the first digital marketer to be appointed head of marketing at a major studio.