Studio chairman Rich Ross was let go today from Disney, after a tumultuous two and a half year run as the head of the studio. He came into to replace Dick Cook, who ran it for eight years. Heads of studios tend to fall into two categories: those who hope be like the old school heads and stay in the position until they’re virtually dead, or fresh blood that often last for a brief spell. But what does this really mean for movies?
Unfortunately, Ross’ run was short enough that many of the projects to which he’ll be to blame for or succeed with are still in production. In fact, some of the films yet to come out this summer were likely started during his predecessor’s run – films like Wreck-It Ralph and Brave. While super-expensive productions like The Lone Ranger and Oz: The Great and Powerful won’t be seen until next year.
But the main bone of contention would be John Carter. Which is interesting because John Lasseter must have been pushing for Andrew Stanton - his fellow Pixar alum – to make and fix that film, and word was that Stanton had his finger on the marketing for quite some time. So why would Ross take the fall? It’s still his fault that the company lost $200 Million dollars. And that came a year after Mars Needs Moms, which cost the studio over a hundred million. That may have been Cook’s fault, but the books are the books, and one of the biggest studios in the world can’t have that much failure. And then there was the modest performance of Cars 2, and a number of minor films that didn’t make much of an impression (like Prom).
His run included some modest hits like The Muppets, but it was also marked by films that either weren’t his (like Alice in Wonderland and Pirates of the Caribbean 4), or were not the franchise starters that were hoped for (Tron Legacy). The studio had a number of hits, and is now home to Marvel Studios and Dreamworks, but many of their wins – like last year’s The Help – were from their dependants. And though Ross could see The Avengers as something of his, it seems that when it comes to their partners you get only blame, while success is someone else’s win.
What does this mean for movies, though? What it means is that there will be a new head looking at films like The Lone Ranger and Oz The Great and Powerful or even The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and they may not want them to succeed. No one wants to lose money – but no one wants the last guy to look good. When your shelf life is this quick in business, your ideas may not come to light until after you’ve left so if any of those films work the success will go to how it was marketed, or someone other than Ross.
What it also means is that if Disney has an off summer, and if Brave doesn’t connect or fails to work (which – sadly – we’ve been hearing might be the case), they’ve got someone to blame.
I’m reminded of a great scene in Steven Soderbergh‘s Traffic:
You know, when they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said – “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said – “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said – “Sit down, and write two letters.”
Do the politics of studios interest you?