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John Lasseter’s Skydance Hire Sends Hollywood Executives, Animation Insiders Reeling

Hollywood was jolted Wednesday by former Pixar honcho John Lasseter’s hire for the top job at Skydance Animation, blindsiding the studio’s filmmaking partners, employees and the industry at large.

One current Skydance staffer expressed “disappointment” to Variety over CEO David Ellison’s decision to bring on Lasseter, who was put on leave from his post atop Pixar Animation Studios and Disney Animation after workplace misconduct allegations surfaced last year. Lasseter apologized for “missteps” at the time and his consulting deal was not renewed by Disney when it expired at the end of 2018.

Lasseter’s “baggage” in the form of those accusations are disheartening, said the staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. It also stings that Lasseter, who has had a lengthy and storied career, doesn’t particularly need the job, the insider added. Many talented and underrepresented people in the animation industry were capable, they said.

Paramount Pictures CEO Jim Gianopulos and his executive team at the studio, which has an exclusive deal to co-finance, market and distribute Skydance films, were shocked by the announcement Thursday, several individuals said. Paramount will be responsible for putting the Skydance Animation movies, now under the control of Lasseter, into theaters.

“He’s a talented guy but, really, has there been any contrition?” wondered one film executive who declined to be identified.

In November 2017, before he took a sabbatical, Lasseter publicly expressed an apology to “anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form.”

He has not been heard from since, though he is expected to address his new charges and senior staff in the mid-city Los Angeles offices of Skydance Animation in the coming days, according to people with knowledge of his plans.

A top Hollywood dealmaker wondered why Lasseter would immediately assume a leadership role and “jump into the deep end” rather than re-enter the industry with a simpler production deal with Skydance. This would theoretically allow the animation guru to produce content with a team of familiar colleagues who “clearly don’t have any issue with him,” the individual said. “He has a lot of fans in this business.”

Ellison addressed Lasseter’s past in a companywide memo, the central thesis of which was stated plainly: “We have not entered into this decision lightly.”

If Lasseter is successful at Skydance, he will be one of the first industry figures to mount a career comeback in the #MeToo and Time’s Up era. Some publicly traded companies that engaged Lasseter in meetings about a potential deal were concerned about the optics and legal issues surrounding his past misbehavior.

Skydance hired an outside law firm to investigation the accusations against Lasseter, talking to more than 20 people, including Lasseter himself. After he was cleared, Skydance brought him abroad.

Gene Maddaus contributed to this report. 

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