It’s a surprising hire in some respects. Wolf, currently an EVP of marketing at TriStar Pictures, Screen Gems, and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, has a low profile in the industry. He replaces Tim Palen, considered to be a giant in the movie business and a creative genius. His hire is part of a wider house-cleaning at the studio behind “The Hunger Games.” Joe Drake has been putting his imprint on the film division since taking the reins as motion picture chairman last winter.
Drake replaced veteran Lionsgate executives Erik Feig and Patrick Wachsberger in February. Both men are leaving to start their own companies, but that shake-up raised eyebrows across the industry because they were exiting after a string of successes. Under Feig and Wachsberger, Lionsgate released the likes of “La La Land,” “Wonder,” and “The Hunger Games.”
It was a homecoming of sorts for Drake, who previously ran the studio for five years, exiting in 2012 to form Good Universe. Palen’s replacement isn’t the only big change he’s instituted since assuming control. Drake has brought in Nathan Kahane, his Good Universe partner, as president of the motion picture group. He also tapped former Good Universe and Disney executive Erin Westerman as executive vice president of production at the company.
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All of this is unfolding as speculation mounts about the long-term future of the company. In 2017, a deal to merge with Hasbro fell through over pricing issues, but Lionsgate has continued to send signals that it would like to be purchased by a larger media or technology company. Vice chairman Michael Burns told CNBC in January that Lionsgate was a “pint-sized bite for some of these giant market cap companies” and therefore would “talk to anybody at any time” about a merger. His comments were widely viewed as the equivalent of hanging a “for sale” sign on the company.
Wolf will stay at Sony through the end of 2018. He has been with the studio since 2014, joining to become head of marketing for TriStar, when the label was relaunched by Tom Rothman as a production entity making adult-oriented fare. In 2015, he partnered with Danielle Misher to also assume marketing oversight for Screen Gems, working on low-budget genre films such as “Baby Driver,” “Don’t Breathe,” and “The Perfect Guy.”
In an internal note to the Sony staff, Wolf thanked Rothman, who has gone on to run Sony’s film division, praising him as “a mentor and a friend.”
“The people I have met and had the amazing opportunity to work with at Sony Pictures will forever hold a special place in my heart,” he wrote. “This lot is filled with creativity, laughter, and spirit that I will always cherish.”
Palen will remain in Lionsgate’s orbit. He will continue to serve as the company’s chief brand officer. Sony plans to replace Wolf at some point.