I frequently write that all moguls are morons. Because I can’t believe the dreadful mistakes they commit on an almost daily basis. The content is terrible. The process is tainted. It’s an accident when a movie is good and comes in under budget. Everyone in Hollywood is part of a very broken system. Feed it with praise and the players will never step back and say, “What the hell are we doing even playing this rotten game?”
Case in point: Warner Bros. Pictures president of production Jeff Robinov expects his long-delayed promotion to head of the movie studio to finally come through in January. You’d think that, after green-lighting so many bloated films that haven’t performed at the box office, making so many unnecessary remakes and readying more, and failing to create any new franchises, he’d lose his job. Instead, he’ll be rewarded by his boss, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. president and COO Alan Horn.
Of course, something untoward could still happen to make Horn change his mind. I wonder what that could be . . .
How about this: Robinov has made a new decree that his studio is no longer making movies with women cast as the main lead. This comes to me from three different producers, so I know it’s real. The official policy, as expressly articulated by Robinov, is that a male has to be the star of every pic. I’m told he doesn’t even want to see a script with a woman in the primary position (which at WB now is missionary).
This Neanderthal thinking comes after both Jodie Foster’s The Brave One (even though she’s had big recent hits with Flightplan and Panic Room) and Nicole Kidman’s The Invasion (as if three different directors didn’t have something to do with the awfulness of the gross receipts) underperformed at the box office recently. “Can you imagine when Gloria Allred gets hold of this? It’s going to be like World War III,” one producer told me. So I put in a call to Glo, who commented, “If that studio confirms that their policy is to now exclude women as leads, then my policy would be to boycott films made by Warner Bros.”
To be honest, Robinov is just echoing Hollywood’s long-standing sexism. His main mistake was in stating aloud what most studio execs think and do in private. And that in and of itself makes him a moron. I gave Robinov many opportunities to deny my DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com posting, but he repeatedly backed down. (Instead, I was awakened by a call from a studio head telling me he’d received a call from Robinov asking for advice on “how to have a better relationship with Nikki Finke.” The studio head, who works for a rival to Warner Bros., advised: “Don’t lie to her.”) Only after the news of his decree became widely disseminated, and the studio was flooded with angry calls and e-mails, did the studio jump into damage-control mode. “Contrary to recent reports in the blogosphere, Warner Bros. is still committed to women,” said the Variety article, adding that Robinov “is offended by rumors of his cinematic misogyny.”
But the facts speak for themselves. Robinov is acknowledging that the studio is reassessing the strategy of making action pictures starring women. He has three pics currently in production and six in pre-production, and not one stars a woman as the main lead of the film. He’s nixed Wonder Woman as a stand-alone film, downgrading her to just one of four superhero characters in the proposed Justice League. And he doesn’t believe there’s been an actress who can carry a movie worldwide since Julia Roberts. This past weekend, Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? doubled the gross receipts of George Clooney’s adult legal drama Michael Clayton, which wound up doing way worse at the box office than Foster’s The Brave One. Yet Robinov wouldn’t dare decree his studio won’t make movies starring Gorgeous George (even though, except for his ensemble movies, not one Clooney-starring pic has ever opened big). And Jeff also isn’t saying, Hey, Tyler Perry is onto something, so let’s make more films for African-Americans.
Now let’s look at Robinov’s overall performance. His Batman Begins and the upcoming sequel are just rewarmed content that originated at the studio back in 1989. His Superman Returns dates back to 1978, yet performed so weakly that it’s not yet deemed worthy of a follow-up. He inherited Harry Potter and Ocean’s Eleven. He messed up the sequel possibilities to 300, the studio’s one big bona fide original hit this year. He can’t make a romantic pic that couples want to go see on Friday date night. His successful comedies are few and far between. He can’t boast a big horror franchise. He even tried to fuck with Clint Eastwood over Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby by pulling budget and marketing purse strings tight, even though everyone but Robinov knew those films were Oscar bait.
The problem at Warner Bros. Pictures is that its moviemaking system prizes loyalty and patience and off-the-balance-sheet financing more than originality or creativity. (Which is why I pity those pathetic Time Warner shareholders.) Even successful execs who don’t observe the strictly enforced chain of command are quickly axed. “This is a company that wants to look like it’s run by a bunch of people who have a creative vision,” an insider tells me. “But the truth of the matter is that Jeff will get his promotion because he’s in complete submission to quarterly reports and bottom line. Decisions get made on the basis of financial projections without taking into account the actual content. They look at columns of numbers. Nobody ever says, ‘Does anyone want to see this movie?’ ”
Robinov joined Warner Bros. Pictures in 1997 from ICM as senior veep for production, then moved up to exec veep for production in November 2000, and landed as president of production in July 2002. When Robinov’s predecessor, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, was fired, no one could quite believe that Robinov was given that job because of his personality, or lack thereof. People frequently comment how Robinov has little visible charm and lacks the polish to be a corporate player.
“Alan Horn is a gentleman,” a source tells me, “and you simply can’t find someone who is more the polar opposite in terms of temperament, demeanor and presentability than Jeff Robinov.”
Three years ago, Robinov had a successful slate of pics and expected to move atop Warner Bros. Pictures. But his movies have been failing since 2006, and that’s making him increasingly tense and uncommunicative and moody. He also perspires profusely, running his wet hands along his shaved dome when he gets nervous. There’s ample reason for his flop sweat: His boss Horn hates reading bad press about the studio. Meanwhile, Robinov himself is terrified of reporters and clumsy in dealing with them.
It was always going to be difficult, anyway, to promote Robinov because of his friction with president of domestic marketing Dawn Taubin, who has long had Horn’s ear and refuses to report to Robinov. But the logjam has taken its toll on widely liked and respected exec veep Kevin McCormick, who’s itching to take over Robinov’s job.
It’s not that there’s pressure from within to promote Robinov so much as there’s pressure coming from the top of Warner Bros. People forget that Horn’s job is to be president/COO to Barry Meyer’s chairman/CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., and not just to run Warner Pictures, but to run Warner Bros. as a whole and help oversee the studio and movies and TV and DVDs and new media and theme parks. But Horn remains too film-centric in Meyer’s view. “Alan had to be willing to shift his focus and broaden it and at the same time decentralize the movie side,” a source says. “Until he did that, Jeff could never move up to that larger role.”
So Robinov will be upped. Unless something happens to derail it. I wonder what that could be . . .