In the span of one year, Toby Emmerich ascended to the chairman role at Warner Bros. Picture Group, shepherded the studio’s record-breaking slate at the worldwide box office, and was selected as the latest recipient of the PGA’s Milestone Award, a kudo that has previously gone to execs including Donna Langley and Robert Iger.
Among the big hits released under Emmerich’s watch last year: “Aquaman,” “A Star Is Born” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” is racking up awards season recognition, while “Crazy Rich Asians” defied Hollywood expectations for a movie with an all-Asian cast.
“You cannot get too caught up in other people’s perceptions of success or failure,” Emmerich says. “And you shouldn’t allow yourself to be cowed when you do fail. Striking out is part of the game. But you have to play to win, and you rarely win when you play not to lose.”
Emmerich became president and chief content officer for Warners in 2016 after a long run rising through the ranks at sister studio New Line. His early credits there date back to the early 1990s as an executive music producer on films including “Above the Rim” and “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”
“There is a much more immediate relationship between audiences and films than ever before, but what hasn’t changed is that great stories and great storytellers are the lifeblood of our business,” he says. “Quality is still the best strategy in the motion picture business.
“It sounds simple, but you need to know who you are making a film for. That dictates everything else.”
Emmerich is especially proud of serendipitous moments when he helped filmmakers bring their projects to life.
“Like working with Nick Cassavetes on casting for ‘The Notebook’,” says Emmerich, recalling Rachel McAdams’ chemistry read with Ryan Gosling on that New Line project. “It was pure magic.”
Another prize moment: when the studio bought “Elf” out of turnaround for Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau went to meet with Ferrell on the set of “Old School,” joining forces on that hit movie.
“I hope that I am remembered as someone who chose films and filmmakers that I believed in,” Emmerich says, “and every once in a while got it just right — enabling movies that stood the test of time.”